Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The American League MVP Race

Let me start this by saying that the American League Most Valuable Player this season has to be Joe Mauer. When you get a .367/.434/.611 line from your catcher - who just happens to have 26 home runs to boot - there really should be no debate.

This is no different that the arguments I would have with people who didn't realize just how good of a hitter Mike Piazza was in his prime - putting up sterling offensive numbers at such a punishing defensive position is exceedingly difficult to do. Piazza was robbed of the MVP in 1997, and you could make a very good case that he should have won in 1995 and 1996 as well.

I've found it amusing then, that there has been any push to consider Mark Teixeira as an MVP candidate over Mauer. Teixeira has had a very good year, although his offensive numbers are slightly down from his previous two campaigns. He has not had a season anywhere near as good as Mauer's, however, and it's not a stretch to say that he hasn't even been the best first baseman in the American League.

Player A: .281/.380/.541 with 32 home runs, 101 RBIs and 67 extra-base hits in 590 plate appearances.
Player B: .314/.358/.597 with 30 home runs, 94 RBIs and 69 extra-base hits in 506 plate appearances.

Player A, of course, is Teixeira. Player B is Kendry Morales, the California Angels' first baseman. Morales, a Cuban defector in his first full season as a starter, is outshining Teixeira in most mainstream offensive categories - although you wouldn't know it if you only read the New York newspapers.

Teixeira has a reputation as an outstanding defensive first baseman, even though Fangraphs has him with a -1.1 UZR this season. (That's not bad, by the way; I don't fully understand Ultimate Zone Rating but it seems to be a preferred defensive statistic among people who are serious about analyzing defensive performance.) Morales, meanwhile, is at 2.7 UZR, which suggests he has been better than Tex in 2009.

There is a school of thought that the MVP has to be from one of the best teams in the league, if not the best team. Personally, I would like to expel every student in that school and burn the building to the ground. But even if you gave that line of thinking some credence, Morales stands with Teixeira, considering both of their teams are on the way to a division title.

It's natural that hometown sportswriters end up pushing hometown guys for major awards. Their readers - who are generally fans of the team that the sportswriter is writing about - want to believe that their guy is the best and that everyone else in the league is a bum. That's where "Teixeira for MVP" stories are born; I suspect that the voters will get it right in November.

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