MVPs for a team's second-best player

I’ve never delved in to win shares on my own blog, but will here today. But first, what are ‘Win Shares’?

Win shares are the creation of the master himself: Bill James. They are a really fun and outstanding metric James first introduced in his 2002 book Win Shares. Bill uses his system to assign a certain number of win shares for each player on a particular team, based on that player’s offensive, defensive and pitching contributions to the team. The statistics are also park-adjusted, league-adjusted and era-adjusted. Of course, Bill is also dealing in advanced metrics – sabermetrics – and not in RBI, wins, etc.

More to the mechanics of it, a win share is a third of a team win. So when the Giants won 92 games in 2010, they had 276 win shares to go around. We won’t go into the complicated formula, we haven’t the time, and so you’ll just have to buy the book. The basic idea is to determine how many win shares each player on a particular team deserves, to determine how valuable each player was. Often, we give too much credit to the offense while taking away from the importance of defense. We won’t do that here, not today.

This brings us to the topic of the day: Most Valuable Player awards. There’s always a lot of debate on this subject. Should it go to the leagues best player? Should it go to the player that was most valuable to his team? Does that player get extra credit if his team makes the playoffs? These are all very fair questions. I won’t bore you with my own convictions.

When the award comes out, there isn’t always consensus on who should have actually won… “There’s no way Ryan Howard should have won, Albert Pujols had a way better season!” It happens. It happens often. A lot of the time, though, the player that loses comes from another team that just didn’t play as well overall; the deserving player was simply overlooked. But how often do they give the award to a player that wasn’t even the best player on his own team?

You’d think it’d be a whole lot harder to overlook a better player when he’s on the same team as the guy that won the award. I assure you, though, it’s not. Would you believe, since 2002, it’s happened close to 20% of the time? With win shares, I’ll show you.

I looked at each season’s voting from 2002, the year of the release of James’ transcendent book, to the present.

There have been 18 MVP winners since 2002, nine American League winners and nine for the National League. I love symmetry. The NL winners, in order: Barry Bonds, Bonds, Bonds, Pujols, Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Pujols, Pujols, Joey Votto. For the AL: Miguel Tejada, Alex Rodriguez, Vladimir Guerrero, Rodriguez, Justin Morneau, Rodriguez, Dustin Pedroia, Joe Mauer and Josh Hamilton. Note: Bonds, Pujols and Rodriguez are greedy buggers.

From 2002-2005 we had some close calls, but the better player on the same team at least won the MVP. In 2006, that changed. Since 2006, I can find three out of ten players (30%) that won MVPs that weren’t even their club’s best player.

Justin Morneau is an excellent player. He had an excellent season in 2006. It just wasn’t that excellent. There were probably upwards of 10 players who had better seasons, pitchers and hitters included. One of those players was Grady Sizemore. Another was teammate Joe Mauer. Go figure.

According to Baseball-reference, Mauer was worth 7.0 wins above replacement (WAR), Morneau just 4.2. Mauer had a slash line of .347/.429/.507 (AVG/OBP/SLG) while winning the batting title — his first of three so far — and playing the much more important position of catcher. Morneau hit .321/.375/.559 while playing the far less important first base, and really not all that well if we’re keeping track of that sort of thing. But Morneau drove in 130 runs to Mauer’s 84 and took home the AL MVP.

Bill James Online (subscription) shows Mauer was far and away the better player with 30 win shares to Morneau’s 26. We have our first flub.

The voters wasted no time and did it again in 2007. Jimmie Rollins is another excellent player. He just wasn’t as good as perennially underrated teammate Chase Utley, at least not that season. It’s also worth mentioning that Pujols was the best player that season with 8.3 WAR, but I guess the voters decided he can’t win every season.

Rollins played every game that season for the Phillies, won a Gold Glove and hit .296/.344.531 with 94 RBI. Teammate Chase Utley hit .332/.410/.566, drove in 107 and did not win the Gold Glove — he’s been hosed more than once, never won one. It’s hard to say why they missed Utley, but they did.

Well, it’s not that hard when it comes down to it using James’ win shares. They each finished with 28 (Utley had 28.04 and Rollins had 27.79). This one isn’t such an egregious mistake, but still.

Again, wasting no time at all, it happened once more in 2008, this time again in the AL. The city: Boston. Joe Mauer probably deserved the award with a ridiculous 8.7 WAR to lead the pack in the AL, but Dustin Pedroia won it.

Everyone loves a gritty, small player that’s way better than he should be. Everyone loves David Eckstein, and he’s not even very good. Pedroia is. He’s really good. He just wasn’t as good as teammate Kevin Youkilis who was worth 6.0 WAR – Or Twins catcher Mauer, as I mentioned.

Pedroia hit .326/.376/.493 while leading the league with 213 hits, 54 doubles and 118 runs. It was quite a remarkable season for a second baseman. There’s no doubt about it. He also took home the Gold Glove. Meanwhile, Youkilis hit .312/.390/.568 with 115 RBI and 29 home runs while playing first, third and a (very) little outfield.

Again, James has Youk the best player on the team with 27 win shares to Pedroia’s 26. This is another close call, but the award didn’t go to even the best player on one team.

The award voters have wised up with the Cy Young award – Felix Hernandez won it for the AL in 2010 with just 13 wins to 12 losses — maybe they’ll reform when voting for the MVP too. But I won’t hold my breath. And, apologies to players like Utley, the Gold Glove voting is even further behind with the managers and coaches in charge of voting. They often go to the incumbents, the players with defensive reputations, and somewhat ironically, those players that performed well offensively.

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Rory Paap writes PaapFly.com and regularly contributes articles to this Web site as well as TheHardballTimes.com

0 thoughts on “MVPs for a team's second-best player”

    1. Don’t take it personally. I bust ass sometimes on posts that don’t get any comments. Also, I’ve heard it said that only one out of 100 readers will comment. So assume the audience is out there, if silent for now.

  1. Another consideration is loss shares. If one player has 28 win shares and 12 loss shares, he’ll be less valuable than a player with 27 win shares and 9 loss shares.

  2. I did that as a joke, because I thought it’d be funny — not that I don’t like comments.

    Scout: glad you’re checking paapfly, thx!

    Not sure on a third-best player scenario. Seems unlikley, but you never know. I’ll check it out maybe.

    That’s the main critique of James’ win shares, the fact that it doesn’t encompass loss shares. I think anyway.

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