Now About That National League MVP Race
In response to the Internet
war battle argument slapfight polite exchange of opinions that’s broken out between Tyler Kepner (Yankees beat writer for the New York Times, one of the finest in the business, believes Mark Teixeira should be the overwhelming favorite for AL MVP), Rob Neyer (friend of JonahKeri.com, though Rob wins based on sound logic, not favoritism), e-migo Joe Posnanski and others over who should win AL MVP, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek response that advocated for Victor Martinez taking AL honors, Rafael Betancourt in the NL.
For the record, my actual AL pick would be Joe Mauer. Even if the Twins lost 110 games. With apologies to Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford, Ben Zobrist and Derek Jeter (all better choices than Teixeira), Mauer’s the guy as of right now.
But what about the NL? The reason we haven’t had a Twitter war about the senior circuit, aside from the fact that esteemed Cardinals writers Bernie Miklasz (@miklasz), Derrick Goold (@dgoold) and Matthew Leach (@matthewhleach) are among the most stat-literate souls in the biz, is because Cardinals Nation would merely be joining the rest of America in handing the award to Albert Pujols right now.
Pujols would seem to be the clear choice based on the major offensive stats (1st in On-Base Average, Slugging Percentage, Home Runs and Weighted On-Base Average, 2nd in RBI, 3rd in Batting Average). But even making the huge adjustment for position and stacking him up against fellow superstars like Hanley Ramirez, Chase Utley and Ryan Zimmerman (all of whom get bonus points for playing tougher positions), Pujols still comes out on top. Given the Cardinals’ hold on first place, and my own history of stumping for Albert even when St. Louis is a non-contender, this would seem to be a slam dunk.
Except it shouldn’t be. As much as I’ve supported Pujols in the past, I also fully endorse the MVP award’s willing inclusion of pitchers as candidates. Of course most baseball writers (and many fans) don’t. Which is how you get a situation similar to last year, when out of 27 ESPN.com baseball writers polled last year, I was the only one to back Cliff Lee for AL MVP.
Anyway, go back to FanGraphs’ value rankings, only this time for pitchers. You’ll find that Tim Lincecum is having one of the best seasons by any pitcher in the past quarter-century. He’s at 7.3 Wins Above Replacement as we speak, which in monetary terms means *he’s been worth just over $33 million for the Giants so far this season. Meanwhile Pujols has been worth a full Win less, at 6.2 WAR ($27.8 million).
Here are some other Lincecum stats (all rankings are MLB-wide, not just NL):
1st in ERA (2.19)
1st in xFIP (2.70 – xFIP measures outcomes a pitcher can control, namely strikeouts, walks, and home run rate adjusted to league average)
1st in strikeouts (205)
1st in innings per start (7.2)
You can’t even play the contender card in this argument, because the Giants are very much in the thick of the pennant race too, and unquestionably would have little to no chance without Lincecum.
Lincecum is having the kind of season that could rank up there with Ron Guidry’s 1978, Dwight Gooden’s 1985, Greg Maddux’s early-90s peak and…well, not Pedro Martinez’s 2000, but that might be the best performance by a starting pitcher that we’ll see in our lifetimes.
There are still nearly 50 games left to play this season. But if Tim Lincecum keeps up this pace, he should be the choice for NL MVP.
*(For those of you who are unfamiliar with Wins Above Replacement or the corresponding monetary formula: WAR measures the numbers of games a player helps a team win — using a combination of offensive and defensive value, adjusted for position to reflect positional scarcity — when compared to the average Triple-A veteran or waiver wire pickup. FanGraphs takes average free-agent salaries, divides by WAR, then calculates the going rate per Win. The going rate in 2009 is about $4.5 million per 1 WAR, which is how you get the above dollar figures for Lincecum and Pujols.)