Wednesday, September 22, 2010

MVP Countdown

In a philosophy class we had a debate about cause and effect. The teacher told a story that went like this: a man is pushed off of a very tall building by Mark Buehrle. Midway down, as he passes a window, he is shot in the head by Hawk Harrelson. When the man hits the ground, he is pronounced dead. Who killed him?

The answer, of course, is AJ Pierzynski, because his evil knows not the limitations of time and space. But it’s the debate that is important. Who is most responsible for the ultimate outcome?

MVP debates are a little like that. You can evaluate the cause and effect any number of ways. If Cuddyer can’t play first base, does Thome have the impact he did? Are the dozen leads that Liriano handed over to the bullpen worth more than the 50 Jesse Crain helped preserve?

Recently I turned in my votes for the top 10 Twins MVPs. But I thought I’d go through my ballot with one of each player’s bigger games and some thoughts added.

#10 – Danny Valencia

9/1 vs. Tigers – In the bottom of the 10th, Valencia singles to drive in Michael Cuddyer and win the game 2-1

He’s hitting, he’s hitting in the clutch and his defense has been much, much better than advertised. Plus, he has signed my kid’s scorecard before a Twins game. Twice. Sucking up to the judge’s kid is always a very solid strategy, just like dancing with the hot bridesmaid’s niece. Heady ballplayer, that Valencia.

#9 – Michael Cuddyer
8/31 vs. Mariners – Cuddyer has two hits, two RBI, a run and draws a bases loaded walk that brings in the tying run in a 4-3 Twins victory.

His offense has been bad, and his defense is nowhere near Morneau’s standard. Of course, he’s also played out of position and been out there just about every damn day….

You know what – I’m not going to take a lot of crap about this pick. I can’t statistically quantify what a manager of a baseball team does to help it win, and I don’t sweat that. Why should I worry about statistically quantifying what a leader in the locker room brings? This is the manager’s choice for MVP, and he sees a hell of a lot more of that stuff than any of us do. And there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that there is something going on behind the curtain. So Cuddy makes the list, and I’m not going to apologize for it.

#8 – Jim Thome
8/17 vs White Sox – After the White Sox grab a 6-5 lead in the top of the tenth inning, Thome hits a two run home run in the bottom of the tenth off left-hander Matt Thornton to give the Twins a 7-6 win.

9/6 vs Royals – The Flag Pole game.

What can be said that hasn’t been said? He’s the only guy that gets two big games on this list because signature moments follow this guy like crazy follows Mike Tyson. Gawd, but I’m looking forward to seeing what he is capable of in the playoffs.

#7 – Justin Morneau

6/4 vs. Milwaukee – Morneau homered to give the Twins an early lead, and then led off the eleventh inning with a double and eventually scored the winning run.

Ladies and Gentlemen, here is your leader in Win Probability Added (easily my favorite stat for evaluating an MVP) for the Twins hitters. That’s how big of a monster Morneau was in the first half of the season – that three months after he quit playing, only now is Mauer close to Morneau’s impact.

I’m going to say it – what the hell is going on with his head? Either we don’t want to pry, or everyone is keeping it awfully close to the vest, but how do we not know specifically what the deal is here? The day after this happened, we thought he might be out a couple of days. Instead it’s three months, going on eight? Is it asking too much for an explanation with some specifics?

#6 – Jesse Crain

9/14 vs. White Sox – Holding a slim 4-3 lead and with the bases loaded and one out, Crain strikes out Paul Konerko and Manny Ramirez. The Twins win the game and drop the Sox seven games back, essentially ending the pennant race.

Basically, I’d accept anyone above and including this spot being the MVP. It’s that close. It’s personal preference. Any other year, he’s in the top five, but this year is just too loaded. It’s not a knock, Jesse. You’re The Wizard of Oz in 1939.

#5 – Delmon Young
7/18 vs White Sox – Twins come back by scoring four runs in the bottom of the ninth to win 7-6. Young has two hits, including a home run and the game winning single.

If the season ended at the end of June, Morneau would have been MVP. If it ended at the end of July, it would have been Delmon. His slump in August and the fact that I grit my teeth on any ball hit to left field is why he’s fifth on this list.

#4 – Brian Duensing
8/14 vs. Oakland – Duensing throws a complete game, three-hit shutout.

All he has done is everything the team has asked him to do. I feel like he’s been overlooked in this discussion. He was the best reliever in the first half of the year and a suitable replacement for Cliff Lee in the second half. I don’t know how he’s not winning this thing.

(And if you’re looking for futher proof, this is the guy that leads all Twins in WPA.)

#3 – Francisco Liriano
4/27 vs. Tigers – Liriano outduels Justin Verlander, pitching eight innings, giving up just four hits and no runs.

Remember this winter, when we got all excited about what Liriano was doing in the Dominican? He lived up to, and surpassed, the hype. What’s more he seems to be growing both as a pitcher and a professional in each start. Let’s give him the rest he needs and see how far he takes us. I think it will be pretty far.

#2 – Carl Pavano
7/17 vs. White Sox – Pavano throws a complete game in a 3-2 win over the White Sox and veteran Mark Buehrle.

Why Pavano over Liriano? Mostly to drive Nick Nelson crazy. But also because I would just rather have the extra 28 extra innings that Pavano provided than the four fewer runs that is the difference between their ERAs. I have no problem going the other way. For what it’s worth, Liriano has the better WPA score.

#1 – Joe Mauer
6/17 vs. Phillies – After trailing 9-4 entering the ninth inning, the Twins tie the game up on a two-out home run by Mauer. The Twins eventually win the game in eleven innings.

I cringe about making the default choice, but I despise people choosing the wrong guy just to be different. As recently as a week or so ago, I was touting others over Mauer, but upon reflection, he’s done it all. He’s hit like a fiend, been a difference maker in games (+2.58 WPA) and also brings the defense at a demanding position. It isn’t sexy, but Mauer is the team MVP.


ubelmann said...

What specifics do you really need to know about Morneau? He's had multiple concussions in his life. Growing up as a hockey player, it's not unlikely that he's had multiple sub-concussive trauma to his head as well. Plus, we don't have any methods for healing brain injuries. If Morneau is having problems, there's nothing to know other than he's not ready to come back yet.

It is very common for someone recovering from a 3rd or 4th (or even 1st or 2nd) concussion to have headaches and suffer from the inability to focus on even everyday tasks. Depression is also very common, and with each next concussion it takes longer and longer to get back to normal.

Just today, I noticed this story about a 28-year-old soccer player whose career has effectively been ended by multiple concussions.

Even if Morneau makes it back eventually--and if he isn't even on a rehab assignment now, I can guarantee he won't be participating in the playoffs--he will be at an even higher risk of danger if he suffers another concussion.

I mainly hope that he's able to get back to feeling normal on an everyday basis, but I fear that this will be struggle for him for a long time.

Anonymous said...


While the list is nice I think you've downplayed Michael for team MVP. I wouldn't make him the team MVP but he should be in the top five.

Since Justin went down Michael has played everyday until the day after we clinched. Mauer got days off including for his knee. Kubbell for his wrist. Thome for his back. Danny for his hamstring. Delmon got days off. The pitchers are handled to give
them days off.

You made a point in a previous post that Mauer's offense had suffered in part because he wasn't being given rest. Michael has suffered in part because of the nonrest. So shouldn't he get the same benefit of the doubt?

Furthermore no offense to Thome and his long homeruns especially the one that the umps stole from him in Cleveland, but Thome hasn't even DH everyday and his baserunning speed usually means that he might have to be removed and a light hitter inserted in the lineup. Cuddeyer has stolen bases and ran them very aggressively as part of the Twins spirit.

And there have been some nights when Gardy has had Mike play somewhere else because of injury (2nd base while we're debating Hudson and don't have our recalled) CF when Repko wasn't around for Spann to get rest or replaced if Spann got kicked out of the game.

Stuff like that counts a whole lot more than one or two memorable at bats or pitching appearances.

Walter Hanson
Minneapolis, MN

John said...

Two reactions:

Ubelmann, I'm not downplaying the seriousness of this injury. But if this was an injury to any other part of his body, and we originally thought it wasn't too serious, but instead it kept him out for three months, we would know more. That's what I want. What symptoms is he showing? What seems to trigger it? What are the treatments or rehab routine?

Walter, I agree that Cuddyer's production has probably suffered from all his time on the field, and I won't quibble about where he is on the list. I can see him being higher or lower.

But I'd still put him below Thome. Thome hasn't had one or two big moments - he's had several monster games. The Dh thing is a good point, as is the baserunning. and you can give Cuddy's move credit for even putting him in the lineup. But looking at WPA, Thome ranks near the top on the team and Cuddy has a negative value. His offense has really hurt this year.

Mike M. said...

I think what makes this Twins team really special is that so many players have contributed to its success, which is why it is difficult to single out any one player as the MVP. The fact that this team has played .700 ball since losing one of the league's top first-half MVP candidates is really remarkable.

Jack Ungerleider said...

I'm not a doctor (and I don't play one on television or elsewhere). Earlier this year, maybe around the time Morneau went down, I heard/saw a story about concussions where they describe a concussion as basically a "bruise on the brain". Just like a bruise anywhere else on your body how long it takes to heal depends on many factors. Add that to the what ubelmann said about the issues associated with multiple concussions and not only can you not predict how long it will take someone to recover, you can't really be sure what treatment other than rest will have an effect.

So I guess my point is you're not hearing anything because there probably isn't anything to tell.

ubelmann said...

Exactly, Jack. When you're recovering from an injury like this, there just isn't much to say. Eventually the symptoms go away or they don't.

Also, this isn't really like a knee injury or something. A brain injury is going to be a lot more personal, and it has a lot more significant effect on your day-to-day life. I've seen people struggle with this before, and they have difficulty opening up to friends and family about the full details of the situation, let alone millions of people you're not actually close with.

Jim H said...

I like Thome a lot. He has been a valuable contributor this year. The thing is though, his value is entirely tied to his home runs. In the games he plays and doesn't hit a home run, he is basically Butera with the bat. He can't run and can't play defense and can't play DH everyday. The idea he is more valuable than Cuddyer shows you how overvalued a home run is.

In the games Thome does not homer, one could logically argue that one would be better off with Punto or Castilla DHing. Now in the games that he homers, Thome has made huge contributions. Still that means there will be at least 130 games this he contributed little or nothing.

Again, this is not a knock on Thome. He has been great, but his contributions don't really come close to those of a starting position player or a starting pitcher.

Rieux said...

Jim H, that's just nonsense. Thome has 16 doubles, 2 triples (!) and 60 walks to go with his 25 home runs. His OBP is .412, which is better than anyone else on the team except Morneau and, ahem, Pavano (3-for-6 = .500)--neither of whom is likely to be counted on to get on base in the postseason.

Take away his round-trips and Thome is still having a fabulous season for a 40-year-old. The notion that he would then have "contributed little or nothing" is absurd.

Jim H said...

Actually, if you figure Thome BA without the homeruns, that is subtracting 25 from hits and 25 from AB's his average is 207. You may think my post is nonsense and you can make some points about his walks and the fact that pitchers have to be careful of him. Still in the games he didn't homer he hasn't contributed a lot.

Anonymous said...

After reflecting for a long time on this post, I think you've got to make D.Y. #1. IF he doesn't have the July he has, the Twins are out of shouting distance come August 1. Mauer was in that particular mix as well, but I think #5 is just too far south for the man who carried the team when their team mojo was at it's absolute lowest.


Dr. Truth said...

Jim, why in the world would you replace Thome's HR's with outs to demonstrate a point?

I'll pull a Jim H to try to illustrate Thome's value: Just think, if you add 25 HRs in 25 ABs, and he's got 50 HRs, and is hitting over .320! Now that's value.

O said...

"So Cuddy makes the list, and I’m not going to apologize for it."

Can you be any more pompous?