Fool Me Once, Shame On You...
"It's deja vu all over again!"
Sean McAdam wrote an article for ESPN.com on Wednesday, August 20, entitled Ichiro leads long list of AL MVP candidates. Although Ichiro Suzuki is not at the top of most sabermetricians' lists of MVP candidates, he apparently is the choice of many baseball writers and analysts (including ESPN's Peter Gammons, Joe Morgan, Tom Candiotti, and Tony Gwynn).
I don't have a problem with Ichiro's inclusion per se. However, I cannot for the life of me understand how Alex Rodriguez could be overlooked again. In fact, A-Rod wasn't even mentioned as one the top seven candidates by McAdam. Not only is he worthy of serious consideration this year, a strong case could be made on behalf of Alex The Great winning the MVP in 1996, 1998, 2000, 2001, and 2002. Amazingly, A-Rod has never won the award despite the fact that the talented and productive shortstop has clearly been the A.L.'s best player over the past seven-plus years.
RCAP 1 Alex Rodriguez 425 2 Manny Ramirez 363 3 Edgar Martinez 331 4 Bernie Williams 319 5 Jim Thome 302 T6 Derek Jeter 283 T6 Jason Giambi 283 8 Nomar Garciaparra 266 9 Roberto Alomar 242 10 Ken Griffey Jr. 225
Ichiro vs. A-Rod
Forget for a moment about whose team is in first place. Instead, ask yourself, "Which player do I want on my team?" Do you really think Seattle wouldn't still be in first place and Texas in last place if they switched teams? Or is the difference in won-loss records more a function of pitching (5.70 ERA for Texas, 3.77 ERA for Seattle) than anything else?
THE TALE OF THE TAPE
BA OBP SLG OPS Ichiro .338 .379 .464 .842 A-Rod .305 .400 .602 1.002
Oh, and another thing, the guy with the higher OPS also plays the more demanding position (SS vs. RF). Granted, Ichiro is a Gold Glove outfielder (and arguably one of the best defensive right fielders of all time), but A-Rod is a Gold Glove shortstop (and an excellent defensive player in his own right).
OK, what about the fact that Ichiro plays in an extreme pitchers' ballpark and A-Rod plays in an extreme hitters' park? Good question. Let's examine that a bit closer.
ICHIRO'S HOME-ROAD SPLITS
BA OBP SLG OPS Home .341 .392 .473 .865 Road .336 .366 .457 .823
Is Ichiro really hurt by playing his home games at Safeco Field? Although the Mariners in general hit better on the road (.289/.358/.451) than at home (.266/.341/.402), Ichiro's stats are actually better at home across the board.
Perhaps a more fair comparison would be to compare Ichiro's numbers on the road vs. A-Rod's.
ROAD STATS ONLY
BA OBP SLG OPS Ichiro .336 .366 .457 .823 A-Rod .287 .391 .574 .965
A-Rod's OPS advantage over Ichiro barely declines from .160 overall to .142 on the road, suggesting the difference in home ballparks is not that great of a factor.
I guess I really shouldn't be too surprised if Ichiro were to win the MVP Award over A-Rod. He won it in 2001 despite having similarly inferior stats so why not repeat the mistake in 2003?
ICHIRO VS. A-ROD, 2001
BA OBP SLG OPS Ichiro .350 .381 .457 .838 A-Rod .318 .399 .622 1.021
I think I could better handle the voters' bias toward Suzuki over Rodriguez if the former were the middle infielder and the latter the outfielder. But, with Ichiro being an OF and A-Rod a SS, I find it a bitter pill to swallow. Don't get me wrong. I believe Suzuki is a fantastic player--a high average hitter who can run extremely well and field his position with the best of 'em. There is no doubt in my mind that Ichiro is underappreciated when viewed through the looking glass of sabermetrics. The irony though is that A-Rod seems to be even more underappreciated by the MVP voters.
The fact that Ichiro's salary ($4,697,000) is substantially lower than A-Rod's ($22,000,000) may make him a more affordable player but not necessarily a more valuable player. And isn't it the latter that we're voting on here?
Does the MVP have to be on a winning team? How do we define "winning"? Does a team have to win the World Series? Or the pennant? Does finishing first in one's division qualify? How 'bout just making the playoffs? Or is it enough to be on a team with a winning record? Rather than being so vague, let's add some definition here, folks. If baseball wants to change the "Most Valuable Player" award to the "Best Player on the Best Team", then I say fine, go ahead and call it that. But let's not kid ourselves anymore and allow that player to call himself the MVP. "BPBT", yes; "MVP", no.