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Tuesday, 26 July 2011

A Case for MVP

Living in Canada and watching the Blue Jays and, formerly, the Expos we have been given a chance to see some truly great feats and fantastic players that may be lost on our American counterparts. Whether it was Carlos Delgado’s amazing 2000 (.344/.470/.664/1.134, 41 HR, 137RBI), Bill Stoneman’s two no-hitters (’69 and ’72) or something as small as watching John Macdonald show his range and start a double play. Well, for the past season and a half us ‘Nuckers have been privy to catch first hand the evolution of Jose Bautista. Every season there are numerous players in the league that are deserving of the most valuable player award and this year is no exception. We currently have 8 players who are batting over .320; we have 3 players with a legitimate shot at 30/30, 2 that may catch fire and go for 40/40; 18 players with an ERA below 3! And one with an ERA below 2! (for the record there have only been 20 pitchers who have won the MVP award since 1931 in the American and National league combined; most recent was Dennis Ecklersley in ’92 for Oakland).

I will attempt to gloss over his hitting accomplishment because they are well documented. Last year Joey-Bats hit a franchise record 54 home runs, which also lead the major leagues, out pacing juggernaut Albert Pujols by 12. In doing so he became the 26th player in MLB history to hit 50 long balls. Bautista also drove in 124 runs, took 100 walks and finished with a final line that looked like this: .260/.378/.617/.995. Not bad for a journeyman outfielder.

So how does one come back from a career season? And when I say career season I mean his previous high in home runs was 16. Well for Jose that would mean coming out and looking to top almost every category he set last year. Should he continue at the current pace he is on he will finish with 55 home runs and 124 RBI’s. Although at points this season he was on pace 60 plus home runs. But where Jose has really shown growth is in his slash line. Most notably his current batting average stands at 70 points higher that last year for an astounding .330 average, which put him third in the league. Joey-Bats also has increased his onbase percentage (.466), slugging percentage (.682) and his on-base plus slugging percentage (1.148). It should be noted that Bautista also leads the majors in all three of these categories. Jose is also projected to draw 144 walks, again leading the majors. I mean we are approaching Barry Bonds type numbers here during his bobble-head years.

Thanks to the beauty of the game and the incessant needs of its followers to sort through and follow stats I would now like to round out my argument with some additional stats. A relatively new stat to the game of baseball is WAR, or wins above replacement. Roughly speaking WAR tells you how valuable that player is to that team: i.e. how much more valuable is said player over a replacement player. During 2010 Jose finished with a WAR value of 6.9, good for 8th in the league amongst batters, ninth overall. Side note for later: eventual AL MVP winner Josh Hamilton was first, finishing with a WAR of 8.7. This year Jose is leading all eligible players with a WAR of 7.0. (All WAR numbers are down this year, not sure why maybe a revision of the formula) Not sure how WAR is going to factor into the minds of those doing the voting but by this standard Jose is the most valuable player in the league.
Jose’s skills with the lumber are what get the people talking, but his skills with the leather are certainly not to be discounted. Jose has played the majority of his time with the Jays in right field and at third base. Now highlight real catches and plays are nice to see, which Jose has (see this years all-star game for one), they don’t necessarily denote a quality defender. For that we need to go back to our stats. In the field Jose sports a respectable .981 fielding percentage and a range factor of 2.24. When he moves back to third he is even better with a .980 fielding percentage and a 3.06 range factor. Jose’s range factor would top the league when he qualifies at third.

Most valuable player seems like it should be easy to decipher and apply, but for the brain-trust at MLB they seem to include other factors that don’t always need to be included, such as how the team finished. For me I think of it as “what player did the most for his team” or “how much worse would this team have been without said player” in the case of poor finishing teams. Making the playoffs can not usually be boiled down to one player. By all accounts, statistical or otherwise, Jose should be the MVP. His numbers are there. Last year with the year he had he finished fourth in MVP voting; this year his numbers are even better and more impressive. His game is all-round. He plays steady defense and contributes in the field. And he is a dedicated team player. Jose happily made the move back into the outfield for the start of the season to allow some players the Jays thought were going to develop to play third. Following the collapse of those dreams, and some excellent outfielders stepping up for the Jays, he made the move back to third. In sports there is generally an attempt by sportswriters to over dramatize all moves made but Bautista moving back to thirst nary caused a stir, save for the fantasy community who have been severely depleted at third due to injury and age.

When you watch Jose play you see unworldly concentration and focus. He plays hard and he plays to win. From a player who set a major league record by being the only player to play for five teams in one season, which happened to be his rookie campaign (good luck winning ROY with half your bags still packed), to home run champion it has been a wonderful ride for the Blue Jays faithful. The Jays don’t always make moves that please the fans but when you can pick up a player like Joey Bats for “a player to be named later” you have to smile. Jose is 30 this year and should be able to put up a few more campaigns like this one but if he doesn’t, if Odin should take back his hammer, then hopefully Jose will have an MVP award on his mantle to commemorate his final evolution as a player.


Jason Schweizer
(guest columnist and loving it)

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