Underappreciated? That's a Mora
When the Quad hits your eye like a big-a pizza pie
That's a Mora
When the MVP voters don't treat you kind like they've had too much wine
That's a Mora
(With apologies to Dean Martin)
More than anything, putting together The 2004 Quad Leaders allowed me to appreciate just how well Melvin Mora performed last season. It's a shame the writers who voted for the Most Valuable Player Award failed to give him his proper due.
Mora was one of only three players in the American League to place in the top ten in all four of the Quad categories (on-base percentage, slugging average, times on base, and total bases). The other two players--Vladimir Guerrero and Manny Ramirez--finished first and third in the MVP balloting. Mora? Tied for 18th.
Only two of 28 writers even saw fit to vote for Mora. One writer listed the 32-year-old Venezuelan 8th and the other 9th. By comparison, all 28 voters had Guerrero and Ramirez on their ballots and nobody placed either player lower than fifth.
Did Guerrero and Ramirez really do that much better than Mora? Let's take a look.
AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+
Guerrero .337 .391 .598 .989 154
Ramirez .308 .397 .613 1.009 152
Mora .340 .419 .562 .989 149
I don't know about you, but I can't discern much of a difference in their rate stats. Mora had the highest batting average and on-base percentage, Ramirez had the best slugging average and on-base plus slugging average, and Guerrero had the number one on-base plus slugging normalized for both the park and the league.
Hmmm. It must have been something in their counting stats. Well, perhaps. All three players reached base essentially the same number of times but Guerrero and Ramirez outdistanced Mora in total bases by 57 and 39, respectively.
Guerrero 266 366
Ramirez 263 348
Mora 264 309
Let's call the rate stats even while giving a slight edge to Guerrero and Ramirez in counting stats. But is the difference enough to justify Vlad and Manny finishing 1st and 3rd in the voting and Mora T18th?
Mora, the father of three-year-old quintuplets, plays the most difficult position of the three although not all that well, I might add. However, Guerrero is no better than an average right fielder in spite of his strong arm and Ramirez is barely acceptable in left. Mora and Guerrero are faster and better baserunners than Ramirez.
Then what is it that the voters see that I don't see?
W L PCT PLACE
Anaheim 92 70 .568 1st
Boston 98 64 .605 2nd
Baltimore 78 84 .481 3rd
Ahh, Guerrero and Ramirez played on winning ballclubs while Mora, working on a three-year, $10.5 million contract, played on a losing team. A cynic might say that Vlad and Manny had the good fortune of playing for two owners who were willing to spend over $100 million on their team's payrolls. The Baltimore Orioles, on the other hand, spent just $51 million or about half the Angels and 40% of the Red Sox. Put a red uniform on the popular and versatile Mora and I gotta think he would have contended for MVP honors.
I'm not mocking the selection of Guerrero as the MVP nor am I questioning the fact that Ramirez placed third. Far from it. I actually had Guerrero and Ramirez in those exact same spots on my ballot for the Internet Baseball Writers Association Awards. If anything, I am guilty of underestimating Mora myself as I listed him eighth--as high as any voter from the Baseball Writers Association of America but lower than he deserved.
Not only did Mora get on base and drive runners around the bases with the best in the league, but he was arguably the most consistent player in all of baseball. Melvin's splits tell it all. He hit righties (.352/.419/.567) and lefties (.303/.418/.545). He hit at home (.356/.452/.605) and away (.327/.389/.525). He hit in the first half (.347/.433/.556) and second half (.333/.406/.567). He hit with nobody on base (.334/.409/.597) and with runners on base (.346/.430/.521). He even hit when batting second in the lineup (.354/.444/.594) and third (.331/.400/.541). No matter the situation, Mora flat out raked last year.
Unbeknownst to most, Mora actually had one of the better seasons among third basemen in the history of the game. As a point in fact, he is one of only 17 players at the hot corner to put up rate stats that were 20% better than the league average across the board.
SINGLE SEASON TOTALS, 1900-2004
AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS >= 120 vs. LEAGUE AVERAGE
RANKED BY RUNS CREATED ABOVE POSITION
YEAR RCAP AVG OBA SLG OPS
1 George Brett 1980 85 145 137 166 153
2 Wade Boggs 1987 83 137 138 138 138
3 George Brett 1985 74 128 133 144 139
T4 Al Rosen 1953 73 124 122 154 139
T4 Joe Torre 1971 73 140 129 146 138
6 Wade Boggs 1988 66 141 147 125 135
7 Ken Caminiti 1996 65 121 120 147 135
8 Home Run Baker 1913 64 127 123 142 132
9 Chipper Jones 2001 63 123 126 137 132
10 Wade Boggs 1983 62 136 136 121 128
T11 Melvin Mora 2004 55 126 124 129 127
T11 Edgar Martinez 1992 55 132 123 141 133
13 Minnie Minoso 1951 45 121 120 127 124
14 Pete Rose 1976 43 123 123 120 121
15 Harry Steinfeldt 1906 37 129 124 134 129
16 Rogers Hornsby 1919 35 120 121 124 122
17 Bill Madlock 1976 31 129 125 134 130
That's not a bad list. Of the ten players listed above Mora, four of them (George Brett, 1980; Al Rosen, Joe Torre, and Ken Caminiti) were MVPs in the year shown. The other six finished no worse than 12th (Wade Boggs, 1983). Even the players below Mora fared better than he did in the MVP voting, ranging from Minnie Minoso (who played more games at 3B than any other single position that year although he played more often in the OF than 3B) and Pete Rose, fourth, and Edgar Martinez, 12th. For the record, there was no MVP voting in 1906 (Harry Steinfeldt) or 1919 (Rogers Hornsby).
First in OBP. Second in AVG. Fourth in OPS+. Fifth in SLG and OPS. Who could that have been in 2004? That's a Mora.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]