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.