Posted on: October 6, 2008 4:41 pm
Over the last couple of weeks, I've heard a lot of talk on the radio and seen a lot of talk online about the seasonal baseball awards. As a Met fan, it's disappointing that nobody from the team will really be in the running...but in a way, that just goes to show how truly valuable guys like Wright, Beltran, Reyes and Delgado are. When they were putting runs up on the board, the team was winning--and when they weren't, the team was losing. Of course, that's exactly WHY they won't be in the conversation. It was, once again, a brutal last few weeks of the season. MVPs don't end seasons like that foursome did. If I had to choose a Mets MVP, it would probably be Beltran. Consistently underrated because he's not flashy and doesn't overwhelm in any one category, he's simply the best player on the team and among the top 5 in baseball. If you don't believe me, go ahead and look at his stats. Then realize that he also plays an incredible center field, rarely strikes out, and runs the bases almost flawlessly. He doesn't have high steal totals because he steals intelligently, when he has a read and has an advantage. Anyhow, I disgress...
When the votes are tallied, I won't be surprised if Howard walks away with the hardware. Actually, I expect it to work out that way. He has the gaudy numbers, and Philly made the push to end the season due, in large part, to him coming up big. He LOOKS like an MVP and hits in the middle of a potent lineup. However, he's not the most valuable player on his team.
Manny is probably the true NL MVP--he took a team that was pretty good and made them a solid NL playoff team. He's seemingly changed the attitude of the clubhouse from a quiet one to one where suddenly the personality of players has come out. Andre Ethier? James Loney? Matt Kemp? Chad Billingsley? For some reason before the trade deadline they seemed faceless. Solid players, yes...but somehow the electricity that flowed through the team after the acquisition of Manny imbued them with individual identities. I know, there will be fans from LA that argue that they were always exciting individuals and this is east coast bias--but I'm just telling you how it seems from the outside. The young Dodger players just seemed...solid I guess, without being anything particularly special.
Still, Manny can't really be named MVP, just like Sabathia can't really win the Cy Young. Yes, if the award was TRULY given to the player who was most valuable to their respective teams, they'd both be right up there. They're both probably the catalyst that got their respective teams into the playoffs...but numbers being what they are, it's hard to give the award for only a couple months of service.
Aramis Ramirez? Derrek Lee? Geovanny Soto? Yes, they were the heart of a team that lit up the best all-around team in the NL (and possibly baseball) this year. None of them, however, feel like MVPs. Nobody jumps out (and Soto would have to be truly outstanding to win it as a rookie). Nobody really carried the Cubs on their back. The stars of that team are Pinella and Zambrano, with a tip of the cap to Wood.
Then we come down to who I would vote as my #2: Albert Pujols. This isn't exactly shocking, I know...but you just can't argue with how insane his numbers were this year. .357, 37 HR, 116 RBI, 100 R. He walked 104 TIMES and struck out 54 TIMES. Look at that again. It's a 2:1 WALK TO STRIKEOUT RATIO for a power hitter. Are you kidding me? Talk about efficient. Contrast that with Howard, who walked 81 times and struck out 199 times. That's a 2.5:1 STRIKEOUT TO WALK RATIO. Yes, that's what power hitters do most of the time (though not as ridiculously as Howard). That's what makes Pujols' year that much more incredible. Those are Ted Williams-type numbers. OK, maybe not quite Ted Williams, who used to do it at a 3:1 walk to strikeout clip regularly. Actually, it's more along the lines of a guy named Ruth who had a 1.5:1 ratio throughout his career.
Ready for another stat? Howard's OBP was .339--lower than Pujols' AVERAGE. Pujols, on the other hand, had an OBP of .462.
While Howard would be a good candidate, Pujols is simply a better one. Yes, the Cards didn't get into the playoffs...but the only reason they were even in the hunt for most of the year was due to Pujols. The Phillies might not have won the NL East without Howard, but the Cardinals would've been out of it in June without the presence of #5.
So it sounds like I'm running out of MVP options...but I've got one more guy. In the vaunted tradition of Willie "Guillermo" Hernandez, Dennis Eckersley and Rollie Fingers, my MVP would be none other than Brad Lidge.
The incredibly painful part of this is that really the Phillies' MVP for the year was probably the Mets' bullpen, who as a collective unit found new and interesting ways to blow games on a dishearteningly regular basis. Still though, look at what Lidge did for the team from the City of Brotherly Love:
1) Converted 41/41 saves. This has been well-documented, but really is startling. This is a guy, remember, who was basically done in Houston. It's not like he was driven out of town, but his welcome mat was clearly frayed. He was on his way down to the land of the short-lived dominant closers. He also had a 1.95 ERA and struck out 92 while walking 35. Not exactly Eck-esque (which is hard to say), but still pretty good.
2) Did something that goes beyond the numbers. Going into this year, I saw plenty of "you're kidding, Brad Lidge?"-type commentary from Philly fans. I'd feel the same way. However, by the end of April it was clear that he was a different pitcher. Although I don't exactly follow Phillie post-game commentary and locker room talk, that HAD to give the rest of the team a boost. It went from a shaky bullpen situation in 2007 to a sure thing this year. He shortened every game to eight innings. The feeling went from waiting for the other shoe to drop in the first half to him just being formidable in the second half.
3) He gave confidence to a cobbled-togehter (for the most part) pen. Clay Condrey was 5-0 last year, sure. 5-0 with a 5.04 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP. It was unclear how much Romero had left in the tank after a bunch of up-and-down seasons. Over nine seasons, Chad Durbin had a 5.30 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP. In 2007 for Cleveland he was mainly a starter, and a very average one at that. He was injured in 2005. Rudy Seanez is 40...and was last truly "great" in a setup role in about 1994. Scott Eyre is, well, Scott Eyre. He's the definition of average reliever with lifetime numbers of a 4.36 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 515 strikeouts and 316 walks. Even Madson has been unreliable. Yes, he was good in 2004...and he was living off of that.
Was it a coincidence that the Philly pen came together once Lidge came aboard? In that bandbox, any team can put up 7-10 runs a game...but that bullpen shut lots of teams down. Brad Lidge was the catalyst. For his own stats and what he did for a team that needed every win, he would be my NL MVP if I had a ballot.
Posted on: October 2, 2008 5:54 pm
Edited on: October 2, 2008 6:03 pm
After the debacle that was the bullpen last year, Mets management will be quick to overspend for bullpen help going into 2009. Building a great bullpen is a tricky business--it's not only about talent but also timing, psychology, and the kind of value evaluation that is usually reserved for the financial markets (before last week). The obvious splashy choice to shore up a bullpen is to hire a big-time lights-out closer. Unless something crazy happens, the Mets will make a move for the biggest-time, lights-outest closer out there, K-Rod.
On the surface, it sure looks like a no-brainer. He's been amazing since his promotion from setup man to closer going into the 2002 post-season, where he was on the minds of all sports fans as the next best thing. He has gone on to deliver, setting the saves record and leading the Angels into the playoffs again this year. As Mets fans, we can see the parallel here: K-Rod has been a huge factor in the Anaheim of Los Angeles Orange County Angels' consistent success over the last 6 years, in a way that mirrors the performance of a closer on a team around the corner that has meant just as much to their success.
How much of a sure thing is a closer--even at the top of his game--anyhow? They're unusual players, like a place kicker in football, it's hard to tell when they'll just lose their edge. The major difference between the two though is that the closer has his psyche AND his physical well-being to hold onto. Kickers--unless they get a little over-excited (see: Grammatica, Martin) don't run the same risk.
Let's look at a few of the elite closers in baseball over the last 35 years<style type="text/css"></style>:
Rivera, Hoffman, Fingers and Lee Smith have been/were very consistent for an extended period of time. When you look at the exceptions, it really proves how powerful the rule is.
1988: 2.35, 0.87
1988: 1.72, 0.91
1977: 1.62, 0.95
1977: 1.34, 0.86
There's definitely a minor trend here, but nothing that can be extrapolated yet. The history of great closers shows that some last 4-5 years, some last 6-8. Very, very few are able to keep it up past that point. The road to long-time dominance is littered with guys that looked unbeatable for 4-5 years: Gagne, Nen, Percival, Henke, Montgomery, Dave Smith, Tekulve (who we always imitated on the wiffle ball field), Charlton, Howe and so on. It has guys like Thigpen and Davis, who set saves records and then dropped off the face of the earth. Will K-Rod be sitting with Rivera, Smith, Fingers and Hoffman? Will he be this generation's Gossage, who fell in the middle? Will all of the innings and the violent motion put him on that cliff-bound bus that has claimed so many others that seemed untouchable for 4-5 years and then...disappeared?
There's no way to tell, but one thing's for sure. Spending money on a sure-fire closer is never the easy bet that it seems to be on paper.