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Thursday, November 20, 2003

It's hard to define what exactly "Most Valuable Player" means. Here's my version of who should be the MVP of a league:

If I were starting a team, or if I have a team behind a Rawlsian "veil of ignorance," and I could have this past year's version (statistics, overall performance, and intangibles both offensive and defensive) of any player, who would I take? Who would be the most valuable?

If we're talking about the American League in 2003, there's only one serious choice. And he was in fact the man who was chosen - Alex Rodriguez.

That's why I think Jayson Stark is a moron.

Yeah, the Rangers finished in last place and were out of the pennant races fairly early. (They wouldn't have finished last in any other division in the majors, but we needn't split hairs.) Yes, they'd have presumably finished in the same place without A-Rod.

However, to conclude from this that Rodriguez by definition cannot be most valuable is to penalize him for factors largely outside his control. Alex Rodriguez should not be blamed for his lousy teammates, or for the fact that the entire pitching staff was terrible. Unless he's also the GM, it's not A-Rod's job to run the team; unless he's also the manager, it's not A-Rod's responsibility to determine the best game-level and team-level strategies for the Rangers.

Rodriguez had his usual outstanding season, so outstanding that it's obvious that even Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter, and Miguel Tejada, probably three of the top dozen or so hitting shortstops ever, pale in comparison.

The only possible argument along these lines is that A-Rod, with his notoriously massive contract, inhibited the Rangers from fielding a more competitive team. (Of course, Stark doesn't even bother making this argument.) However, it would make more sense to the blame team management for this contract. And, even then, at least when they pay A-Rod all that money, they pay him to play well. Compare this with paying Chan Ho Park good money to play poorly, or Rusty Greer good money not to play at all. Besides, baseball is not a salary cap league - Rangers ownership could have chosen to spend more money on player salaries if they had wanted to, so there is not a defineable opportunity cost to having Rodriguez on the roster.

The hitters who came closest to A-Rod in terms of offensive production were Manny Ramirez and Carlos Delgado, who play easy defensive positions, and don't even play those positions particularly well. Neither one is as useful on the bases as Rodriguez. In the case of Delgado, his team turned out not to be much more of a contender than the Rangers.
Stark's suggested of David Ortiz, who, while a useful cog in the Boston offensive juggernaut, is very much a one-dimensional player.

A shortstop who hit better than Ortiz did? How could you not choose that person for MVP?

As for pitchers, I have a hard time believing that even the best pitcher, who either only pitches once every five days or for one or at most two innings at a time, can be more valuable than the best everyday position players, at least in this day and age. (Perhaps in the days where most starters completed most of their games and pitched in four-man rotations, they had a stronger case.)

All in all, I'm happy to see that the media for once got the MVP voting correct.

As for the bellyaching about Hideki Matsui not winning the Rookie of the Year: Angel Berroa was better, a fact obscured by media hype about Japanese imports, media hype about the Yankees, and people who pay entirely too much attention to RBI numbers.


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