The Best of 2000, part 1

by Warren Menzer

<!-- Article Starts Here --!> Well, another season come and gone, and another Yankee championship. As a Mets fan, I can't say the World Series left this season with a good taste in my mouth, but given a few days to cool off, I think it's time to reflect on the 2000 season. And nothing can help me distance myself from a tough postseason than handing out some individual awards.

First, a small digression concerning my feelings about individual awards. There's a constant debate among fans and sportswriters about the role that a team's quality should play in deciding who should win the end of year awards. Should MVPs and Cy Young Awards be limited to players on playoff teams? To teams "in contention"? To anybody? There is no consensus on the issue, and every year there seems to be an outcry after the awards are announced.

I don't see any reason why the quality of the team should have any impact on who wins the MVP or Cy Young. Baseball is a team game, and the only real "award" that matters is a World Series ring. An MVP or Cy Young, while an honor, is not the point of competition - the point is to win. And only the World Series champs can claim to be the season's real winners. The idea of individual awards like the MVP and Cy Young is to acknowledge individual achievement, not to pat the back of players on the contending teams. Why should the quality of a player's teammates impact whether we recognize him for individual achievement? If a player on a bad team has a fantastic season, there's no reason not to give him full support. After all, it may be the only success he'll see. With that public service announcement out of the way, let's dive right in!

I'll start by narrowing down the field to a few select players - there are many great candidates that unfortunately have a similar, but superior, candidate. Nomar Garciaparra had a fantastic year, but I don't see how anyone could (reasonably) make an argument that he was better than Alex Rodriguez. Frank Thomas is back to his old form, but his numbers don't compare to Carlos Delgado and Jason Giambi. Manny Ramirez had a great two-thirds of a season, but didn't play quite long enough to crack the final four. Honorable mentions go to Darin Erstad, Troy Glaus and Bernie Williams, but here are the top four candidates, and some relevant numbers:

Alex Rodriguez554.316.420.6069.56
Carlos Delgado567.342.467.66011.31
Jason Giambi510.333.476.64711.72

(RC/27 is runs created per 27 outs - basically, a team consisting of 9 Delgado's would score 11.3 runs per game)

Pedro Martinez1861.74217

Let's first try to choose between Delgado and Giambi. For these two players, we can rely nearly entirely on offensive numbers - they both play the same (non-demanding) position, and neither is a Gold Glove winner. Looking at the players' home parks helps Giambi a bit - Oakland is a slight pitcher's park (that foul territory is huge) Delgado has the edge in playing time, which certainly counts in his favor. However, I think Giambi's slightly better rate of production, brought about by his great September, give him the slight edge.

Next, let's compare Giambi and Rodriguez. They are dissimilar in many respects - in size, position, batting eye, speed. What makes them similar is their fantastic run production. The question is, how do these two compare to the players at their own position? Ignoring position, Giambi certainly had a better year offensively, but does he retain that edge when we compare Rodriguez to his fellow shortstops?

The idea of "replacement level" is simple - how much better (offensive) are these players compared to a replacement shortstop or first baseman - the kind of guy your team might be able to get on waivers, or off their AAA team? To do this, I looked at the average levels of run production for shortstops and first basemen, and reduced this figure by 18% (AAA players, in general, produce at a rate 18% below their major league counterparts). We can then take each player's playing time into consideration, and see how many runs they created above this level:

Alex Rodriguez554.316.420.6069.563.8485.9
Jason Giambi510.333.476.64711.725.4382.1

(RAR is "Runs Above Replacement" - this also includes adjusting for park, but Oakland and Seattle are both pitchers parks, so this doesn't make too much of a difference)

You can see how much better first baseman hit than shortstops - about a run and a half a game. This evens out the two - the three run difference isn't very significant. However, if we look at Rodriguez's defense, which was excellent this year, he seems to me to be the stronger candidate.

And then there were two: A-Rod and Pedro. Apples and oranges. Perhaps the greatest position player and greatest pitcher we'll ever see. Well, if we looked at Rodriguez's runs above replacement, can we do the same for Pedro? We can sure try. We need to assign a replacement level ERA - I'm going to use 5.86, which is derived similarly to the replacement levels for the position players. Given Martinez's ERA, home park (which hurts his numbers), innings pitched, and this replacement level ERA, Pedro comes out to about 90 runs above replacement, about 4 runs ahead of Rodriguez.

But A-Rod's glove is certainly worth more than 4 runs (I'd say more like 10), so Pedro is going to have to live with another second place finish to my AL MVP pick, Alex Rodriguez.

After a long blurb about the AL MVP, let's just cut to the numbers of the finalists (Honorable Mention goes to Brian Giles, Edgardo Alfonzo, Richard Hidalgo, Gary Sheffield, Jim Edmonds, and Andruw Jones):

Barry Bonds480.306.440.68811.025.1077.1
Jeff Kent587.334.424.5969.354.3077.3
Vladimir Guerrero571.345.410.6649.785.1066.2

Guerrero has a great arm, but I wouldn't say his defense is enough to overtake Bonds, who is no defensive slouch himself. For hitters, we're faced with a similar problem as in the American League - the up-the-middle player, or the slugger? In this case, I'm going to go with Bonds - unlike Giambi, he is a good defender - better than Kent is at second base.

Okay, let's bring in the obligatory 6'10" candidate:

Randy Johnson1972.64249

Just like last year, Johnson wasn't quite as good as Pedro, but his extra innings nearly make up the difference. Johnson weighs in at about 81 runs above replacement - like Pedro, about 4 runs above his competitor's offensive contribution. And just like in the AL, I'm going with the position player - Bonds certainly is worth more than 4 runs a year with his glove. I'll give Barry Bonds his fourth MVP Award. If only I had that much power.

AL and NL Cy Young
If Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson don't win, I'm going to cry.

Next time, we'll go through the Rookie of the Year candidates, along with some more esoteric awards. Be afraid - be very afraid. <!-- Article Ends Here --!>

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