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Rob Neyer hates the Cardinals

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  • Rob Neyer hates the Cardinals

    Before we really get going today, I'd like to present a couple of lists. The first, courtesy of the amazing Lee Sinins, presents the top 10 National League hitters in Runs Created Above Average, which is essentially what it sounds like (absent clutch hitting):
    Code:
    Derrek Lee      84Albert Pujols   76Miguel Cabrera  53Jason Bay       47Brian Giles     45Carlos Delgado  42Bobby Abreu     36Adam Dunn       34Morgan Ensberg  34Jeff Kent       32David Wright    32
    And another, courtesy of our ESPN.com's own sortable statistics: the top 10 National Leaguers in on-base percentage:
    Code:
    Albert Pujols  .434Todd Helton    .432Brian Giles    .424Derrek Lee     .422Bobby Abreu    .415Nick Johnson   .405Lance Berkman  .405Jason Bay      .395David Wright   .393Carlos Delgado .392
    You'll see a lot of players on both lists, which shouldn't be a surprise since on-base percentage is the single most important hitting statistic. There's also a player you don't see on either list, and if you think about it for a moment, you'll probably realize who's missing. Which brings us to a letter that came over the e-transom Saturday:



    Dear Rob,

    The NL MVP debate is raging. Andruw hit another homer today [and two more Sunday!] and is having an excellent year by his or any standards. So it appears to be Jones vs. Pujols. I know you're on record as saying you'd vote for Pujols (and even Lee before Jones), but on ESPN.com's very pages, I stumbled upon something that made me chuckle. The MVP is supposedly all about what a player means to his team, right? So I glanced at the Cardinals and Braves "team" pages and found the following tables:

    Code:
    2005 Team LeadersCAT  BATTER          AMTBA   Marcus Giles   .302HR   Andruw Jones     46RBI  Andruw Jones    118R    Marcus Giles     93SB   Rafael Furcal    39OPS  Andruw Jones   .950
    
     2005 Team LeadersCAT  BATTER          AMTBA   Albert Pujols  .337HR   Albert Pujols    39RBI  Albert Pujols   107R    Albert Pujols   116SB   Albert Pujols    14OPS  Albert Pujols 1.063
    Are we overthinking this? I keep hearing how Albert is surrounded by better players than Andruw is. Is that true? Better pitchers I suppose, but last time I checked, Andruw trailed Giles and Furcal in Win Shares (though he since may have caught Furcal). One week it's "The Braves rookies providing a huge lift," and the next it's "A. Jones is carrying the Braves on his back!"

    Just because Albert is doing what he was expected to do doesn't diminish his "value" to the team. Or does it?

    Thanks, Ryan

    The Cardinals have scored 4.95 runs per game; the Braves have scored 4.80 runs per game. St. Louis has shown a slightly more potent offense this season, particularly if we consider their home grounds (from 2002 through 2004, Busch Stadium was slightly more pitcher-friendly than Turner Field). If the Cardinals really are the better-hitting club, it can be attributed to (among other things) the hard, cold fact that Albert Pujols has created substantially more runs than Andruw Jones has created.
    But wait; before you fire up your e-mail program, let me see if I can anticipate most of your arguments …

    But Rob, Pujols has benefited from better players around him!
    Really? If Pujols is the better hitter (and we know that he is) and he were surrounded by better hitters, then wouldn't the Cardinals have scored significantly more runs than the Braves have scored? In fact, the Cardinals have a slightly lower team OPS, and if you remove Pujols and Jones from their respective teams, the Braves' advantage would only grow.

    Yes, the Cardinals have Jim Edmonds (when he's healthy enough to play). And the Braves have Chipper Jones and Jeff Francoeur, both of whom have been fantastic (even better than Edmonds) when they've played … and together, they've played more than Edmonds. Yes, the Cardinals have enjoyed Larry Walker and Reggie Sanders (when they've been healthy enough to play). And the Braves have enjoyed Marcus Giles, who's been excellent all season.

    But Rob, Andruw Jones is a Gold Glove center fielder, and Pujols is just a first baseman!
    Yes, well, it's funny how these arguments go. If Jones were a first baseman and Pujols were a center fielder, I'd be getting lectures about the importance of defense at first base, and perhaps even the contention that Jones saves his fellow infielders 50 errors per season (I know, it sounds crazy, but you should see my e-mail).

    The "problem," though, is that Andruw Jones simply isn't a Gold Glove-quality center fielder any longer.

    I know, I know … I just lost at least half of you (and all of you in Georgia, probably). But I hope the rest of you will stay with me for a few minutes more.

    Range in the outfield is largely a matter of judgment and speed. There's no denying Jones' judgment, and at one time there was no denying his speed, either. From 1998 through 2000, Jones stole 72 bases and was caught only 22 times. In those same three seasons, he also tripled 19 times.

    And now? From 2003 through yesterday, Jones stole 13 bases, was caught 12 times and hit nine triples. Do stolen bases and triples perfectly reflect a player's fundamental speed? Of course not. But as players age, they typically 1) gain weight, 2) get slower and 3) lose mobility. I've been told that Jones doesn't steal bases any more, not because he's not as fast as he once was, but because now he's a power hitter and power hitters aren't supposed to steal bases (you dummy!).

    Which would seem to make sense, until you actually look at Jones' career. In 1998, Jones hit 31 home runs and stole 27 bases; in 2004, he hit 29 home runs and stole six bases. In 2000, Jones hit 36 homers and stole 21 bases; in 2003, he hit 36 homers and stole four bases.

    All of this is little more than doodling, and I wouldn't even bother mentioning it -- except all the numbers back me up. Whether it's Baseball Prospectus' defensive ratings or MGL's Ultimate Zone Ratings, the sophisticated metrics all suggest that Jones was, until a few years ago, a superb center fielder, among the best who ever played the position, but since roughly 2003, he's been merely good.

    Not that there's anything wrong with that. But given Pujols' (and for that matter, Derrek Lee's) vast edge in offensive production, playing just a good center field simply doesn't make up for the difference in value. Home runs are power, and power shows up in slugging percentage. Jones' .612 slugging percentage is excellent, but ranks behind Derrek Lee's (.630) and Pujols' (.631). Jones' .360 on-base percentage is solid, but ranks well behind Pujols' (.434) and somewhat behind 29 other National Leaguers. With runners in scoring position this season, Jones is batting .222 in 167 at-bats.

    But Rob, Andruw Jones is more valuable than Albert Pujols, because without Jones the Braves wouldn't be in first place!
    Actually, that's arguable, but for the moment let's assume it's true. So tell me, where's the cutoff? If a team finishes the season with a 10-game lead, should all of its players be declared ineligible for the MVP? Should the cutoff be 12 games? Fifteen? The Giants won the West by 15½ games in 2003; shouldn't we rethink Barry Bonds' MVP? The Athletics won the West by nine games in 1990; did Rickey Henderson really deserve his MVP?

    Are we overthinking this? You're not and I'm not, but a lot of people do. "Value" is about doing things that create wins for your team. Andruw Jones simply hasn't created nearly as many wins for his team this season as other players have for theirs.

    Jones will, of course, win the MVP Award. It's been decided by the chattering classes. The story's been written already: 1) Braves suffer injuries, 2) A. Jones hits a gazillion home runs, 3) Braves win yet another division title, 4) A. Jones must be most valuable.

    This sort of thinking -- which leaves aside the considerable contributions of Chipper Jones, Marcus Giles, Rafael Furcal, Bobby Cox, Leo Mazzone, John Smoltz, Tim Hudson and all those rookies -- is the same sort of thinking that placed Shannon Stewart fourth in the MVP balloting two seasons ago, on the strength of two months of essentially league-average hitting.

    I could be wrong. Andruw Jones might be the best and most valuable player in the National League this season. A few years ago, after Roger Clemens won the Cy Young Award, despite posting just the ninth-best ERA in the American League, somebody made a pretty convincing case that he really was the best pitcher in the league. Or at least that he was close.

    But to my knowledge, nobody's made that sort of case for Andruw Jones in 2005. His supporters have fallen back on opinions, biases and story lines that can easily be summarized in one or two sentences.

    Here's a new story line for you: (1) Writers and fans pay attention to statistics that matter the most; (2) writers and fans define "valuable" in a consistent and meaningful way; (3) Andruw Jones finishes third or fourth in National League MVP balloting; (4) Bobby Cox is named Manager of the Year; and (5) Leo Mazzone gets elected to the Hall of Fame.

    Gosh, that's a good story. I can't wait for the movie.

  • #2
    Zing.

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    • #3
      That might be the most pro-Cardinal piece Neyer has ever written. He must be ill.
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      • #4
        Another of the ESPN whipping boys, Peter Gammons, called Carpenter the best pitcher in baseball this season in his Sunday collumn.
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        • #5
          Originally posted by Lippa@Sep 12 2005, 04:45 PM
          Another of the ESPN whipping boys, Peter Gammons, called Carpenter the best pitcher in baseball this season in his Sunday collumn.
          Fucking East Coast Bias!

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          Can't buy what I want because it's free..."
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          • #6
            Originally posted by *007*+Sep 12 2005, 04:46 PM-->
            QUOTE(*007* @ Sep 12 2005, 04:46 PM)

          • #7
            Originally posted by Lippa@Sep 12 2005, 04:45 PM
            Another of the ESPN whipping boys, Peter Gammons, called Carpenter the best pitcher in baseball this season in his Sunday collumn.
            My God, if you can't see that he's the best pitcher in baseball this year, then you're simply blind. All this tells me is that he's undeniably the best and the east-coast bias can't even come up with a spin to make it not seem so.
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            • #8
              I guess he hasn't gotten his daily dose of Beane Protein.
              When you say to your neighbor, "We're having a loud party on Saturday night if that's alright with you," what you really mean is, "We're having a loud party on Saturday night."

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              • #9
                Nice try, Neyer. Trying to fool us with reverse psychology.
                The noise was good, but I thought they phoned in a lot of the funk.

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                • #10
                  Originally posted by gibsongirl@Sep 12 2005, 09:04 PM
                  Nice try, Neyer. Trying to fool us with reverse psychology.




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                  • #11
                    Originally posted by kah@Sep 12 2005, 03:45 PM
                    That might be the most pro-Cardinal piece Neyer has ever written. He must be ill.
                    ++

                    I guess the stats proved Pooh's value. He still thinks Cox is the Manager of the Year though. I don't. It should be Tony. But what do I know?

                    I'm a homer, so sue me.

                    Cy Young--Carp
                    MVP--------Pooh
                    M.O.T.Y.---Toe-Knee

                    There you have it. The Cardinal Triple Crown.
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                    • #12
                      Cox is certainly a legit pick. The difference between Pujols and Jones, however, is not that small.


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