Tonight, I get to do the fun part of fulfilling duties as the Seattle/Northwest chapter chairman of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Usually, the job involves collecting membership dues, assigning voting for end of season MLB awards and a whole bunch of monotony you don’t want to hear about. Not tonight. This time, I get to go down on the field pre-game and present our local awards to the Mariners Most Valuable Player, Most Valuable Pitcher and Unsung Hero. Looking forward to it.
We discussed the Unsung Hero part a few days back. Now, let’s look at the Most Valuable Player race because it’s a close one.
You’ve got Franklin Gutierrez, having one of the best defensive seasons any player can enjoy. Then, there’s Ichiro, who put another record season together in the hits department. And also, Russell Branyan, who might have hit 40 home runs had he not been hurt this final month. Jose Lopez is a middle infielder with 25-homer power and an outside shot at 100 RBI. OK, that about covers the candidates.
So, who gets it?
We can look at how Branyan for months was the only serious power threat the Mariners had in their lineup. And those homers were not cheapies either. Most required a tape measure. It felt like the entire month of May saw the offense carried by Branyan at one time or another.
As for Lopez, he provided the type of power not traditionally found in second basemen. We know what Ian Kinsler and Aaron Hill can do. But second base is supposed to be the domain of slap hitters (Bret Boone was the exception, not the rule folks).
But how can anyone look beyond the contributions of Gutierrez and Ichiro in picking an MVP? Both are known for excellence on the offensive and defensive side. What Gutierrez has going for him defensively, Ichiro makes up for with his bat.
There are some numbers that try to quantify “value” though you have to take these, as with any numbers, with a grain of salt.
Over at FanGraphs.com, they use the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) stat and using those to pick between Gutierrez and Ichiro amounts to starting a war because they are both very close.
Gutierrez comes away with a 5.6, while Ichiro has a 5.0.
So, that stat shows Gutierrez to be more “valuable” than Ichiro. But not by much. And — here’s the catch — Gutierrez gets the nod largely because of his defensvie stats. His Ultimate Zone Rating of 27.1 is just off the charts. Combine that with his .763 OPS and you have the makings of an all-star centerfielder.
Ichiro’s UZR is also an impressive 9.4. Not unworldly like Gutierrez’s number, but few fielders are ever going to achieve a UZR that high. Ichiro’s number is still excellent. And his offensive OPS of .852 is clearly better than Gutierrez’s.
Which is why their WAR values are so close.
Keep in mind, though, that defensive stats are still in their infancy and more prone to fluctuations than offensive numbers. There is less certainty involved and stats like UZR are best viewed over multiple seasons.
Which means that a close race in WAR values might mean that a guy leading the race is not necessarily the better player. You could flip-flop it. In other words, this race between Ichiro and Gutierrez — at least in WAR — is too close to call.
I won’t tell you who I voted for this time because I’m representing the chapter. Sorry, this is one tough debate I’m actually going to sit out.
But I want to hear from you. Who is the team MVP?