Monday, August 24, 2009

Derek Jeter on MVP Pace in 2009

After last night's superb performance, it is clear that part-time Manhattan resident, Derek Jeter, deserves serious consideration for the 2009 Most Valuable Player Award in the American League.

In suggesting that the Yankee captain be the 2009 MVP, we mean no disrespect to the tremendous performance of Mark Teixeira in 2009 or to any other 2009 performance. But, we do believe that Derek Jeter is on a pace that should be recognized as the 2009 MVP performance by the Baseball Writers Association of America when they cast their votes in October of this year.

2006 Award

In 2006, Derek Jeter lost the MVP vote in one of the closest votes in history. His numbers were astronomical. He batted .343 and had a .417 on-base percentage. He had 14 home runs and 97 RBIs. Minnesota Twins slugger Justin Morneau won the 2006 award with a .321 batting average, 34 home runs and 130 RBIs. Both the Yankees and the Twins made the playoffs, and the fact that the Twins came from far behind in their division at the end of the season while Morneau rasied his batting average by nearly 100 points seemed to influence some of the voters. Both performances were worthy of an MVP award, but Morneau was chosen.

2008 Award

In 2008, Dustin Pedroia won the AL MVP award. He batted .326 and had a .376 on-base percentage. He had 17 home runs and 83 RBIs. While Pedroia's 2008 performance was quite clearly inferior to Derek Jeter's 2006 performance, Pedroia was a deserving MVP. He was a leader on a team that made the playoffs, and he was the offensive spark of that team. Interestingly, Pedroia was a middle-infielder when he won the award in 2008, and his offensive numbers reflected his position at the top of the batting order where RBIs don't come as easily as they do to those who hit in the middle of the line up.

2009 - Yankee Captain Deserving of Consideration

This year, after leading off last night's game with a home run off of Boston Red Sox ace Josh Beckett and collecting a second key hit later in the game, Derek Jeter is hitting .332 with an on-base percentage of .394. He already has 16 home runs with just slightly less than a quarter of the season to play, and he has 57 RBIs as a leadoff hitter. At this pace, the home runs could end up being greater than 20 and the RBIs could surpass Pedroia's 2008 mark of 83. In essence, Derek Jeter is surpassing Pedroia's 2008 performance, even if he is failing to equal his nearly unimaginable 2006 performance.

The most likely competition for the award comes, ironically, from Derek Jeter's own teammate Mark Teixiera, the 2006 MVP award winner Justin Morneau, and Morneau's teammate, catcher Joe Mauer. Two Yankees and two Twins. In politics, one might often be able to pick a running mate or run as a slate. Such arrangements are not available to these players, and often two players from the same team cost each other votes in the process. Mauer was the only player who had a better batting average than Derek Jeter in 2006, and Morneau was the only player with more MVP votes. However, there is reason to believe that the 2009 voting with disfavor Mauer and Morneau.

Team Success a Factor?

With rare exceptions, MVPs are chosen from teams that make the playoffs. There is a theory that is not shared by all but which is quite powerful and suggests that a player cannot be ultra valuable if his efforts fail to put his team in the playoffs. The old Ralph Kiner story about being told by the owner of his team that though Kiner's season had been spectacular, as a last place team, they could not have finished in a worse position if Kiner had played for another team. "We'll finish last without you." If the regular season is actually a competition for the right to play in the post-season, teams that don't make the post-season can be viewed as failures and their best performers ineligible to be the most valuable players in the entire league, given their apparent lack of value to their own teams.

Individual performances have, on occasion, been so much better than all other performances in the league for a given year that even a player on a last place team has won the MVP award. Alex Rodriguez did it in 2003, and Andre Dawson accomplished the same feat in 1987. These two last-place MVPs had performances that were so outstanding that the lack of success of their teams was overlooked by the Baseball Writers Association of America. But, most writers and most followers of Major League baseball believe that the most outstanding performance of a player on a team that earns a spot in the playoffs is the best definition of the MVP in the absence of a truly unimaginably outstanding performance by a non-playoff bound player, such as the 2003 and 1987 experiences. We should note that ever since 1995, four teams have made the playoffs in each league, and MVPs have almost uniformly come from those four teams. In previous eras, as few as one team from each league would enter the post season, and often, writers would pick the MVP from that one team. In 1934, Yankee Lou Gehrig won the Triple Crown and lost the MVP vote to a player from the team that won the pennant. In 1942 and 1947, the same thing happened to Ted Williams. In 1985, Don Mattingly won the American League MVP when the Yankees missed winning their division by just 2 games.

So, a more refined theory of MVP eligibility might be that 1) any player who far surpasses the performance of all other players is appropriate to consider for MVP; 2) in the absence of one dominant candidate, players whose teams either made the playoffs or came very close to making the playoffs should have an advantage in the MVP balloting.

In 2009, Morneau and Mauer are playing for a team that seems highly unlikely to make the playoffs. The Minnesota Twins have a losing record, and they are in third place in the weakest division in the league. While the Twins may experience a resurgence that changes their status, their current trajectory would leave them out of the playoffs and likely leave both Morneau and Mauer out of the MVP race.

Jeter for MVP

Of the teams that are likely to make the playoffs, the Yankees have the only legitimate MVP candidates. Teixiera and Jeter. Jeter has 21 stolen bases and plays the most difficult defensive position on the baseball field. We know that Derek himself would say that he cares little for individual awards and is focused only on winning a 27th championship for the New York Yankees. He is correct to have that attitude, but the Baseball Writers Association of America should take note: If the season ended today - just one day after Yankee captain Derek Jeter hit the first pitch of the game over the right field fence at Fenway Park in a huge game for the New York Yankees - the sometimes Manhattan resident Derek Jeter would have to be the most deserving. That is the easiest endorsement decision we've ever had at Manhattan Viewpoint.


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  2. I agree. MVP. I'm a Twins fan and I love Mauer but this team can't get over the hump. MVP should go to a player on a winning team when possible.