This year was a very good year to have a debate over who should have won the AL MVP award. Unlike what normally happens, WAR did not reach a consensus on who was the most valuable player. In my opinion, there were 3 guys that deserved a shot at winning. They were Jose Bautista, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Justin Verlander. Miguel Cabrera gets an honorable mention, but that's about all he deserves. Now, back to the argument: WAR couldn't reach a consensus, so let's break down the argument for each of the three players starting with a look at WAR:
Well crap....Ellsbury leads a lot in Fangraphs, B-Ref likes Verlander the best, and Jose Bautista has the highest overall average. WAR has effectively told us nothing by this initial look. Therefore, let's look at individual players. Now, much can be said about pitcher and hitters and which WAR works best. Now, part of my research is looking at the process that a player goes through in order to get his end results rather than viewing his end results and giving them the highest regard. Therefore, we will throw out the WAR result for Verlander and focus on his fangraphs WAR and his pitching peripherals. For Bautista and Ellsbury, a combination of oWAR (a baseball-reference offensive metric) and defensive metrics will be used. Let's look at this a little more closely. Here is my MVP ballot with the thought process carried out:
Before I carry on, I want to solidify a few personal views:
1) This is an independent award. Wins are calculated linearly, so creating 4 wins on a 31 win team is as valuable as creating 4 wins on a 131 win team. Nobody should be aided or punished by the quality of the players they are put on a roster with. Therefore, success of the team is thrown out.
2) A win in April is worth a win in September. A home run in your first at bat is as valuable as a home run in your last at bat. Value doesn't change as time goes on. I don't want to hear arguments about "He's on a fist place team" or "he was in the middle of a pennant chase." Each win is just a part of the overall win total. If you win in April, there's less pressure to win in September and you don't have to be in the middle of a pennant chase.
3) I don't care if a guy tailed off after the All Star Break or if he took a while to heat up. He produced an overall level of value during the course of the scheduled 162 game season.
4) Pitchers and hitters are both eligible for the award and can absolutely be worth as much or more than position players. You don't have to play every single day in order to be the most valuable player in the league. A pitcher basically controls one out of every 5 (sometimes 4) games.
Now, onto the ballot with explanations carefully mapped out:
1) Jose Bautista, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
This was not a hard decision for me to make. If I stick to my personal philosophy of using rWAR for hitters and fWAR for pitchers, Bautista wins this award running away. If that doesn't work for people, he also had the highest average WAR. However, I'll look into the individual statistics so that people can get a real sense of his value:
20.2 BB%/ 16.9 K%/ .302 BA/ .447 OBP/ .608 SLG (181 OPS+)
Bautista led the league in home runs (the most valuable of the offensive statistics), walks, slugging percentage (with a .306 ISO to go with it), and adjusted OPS. He was a better hitter than Cabrera, and he played a more valuable position (right field). The best part about Bautista is that his rWAR was almost all offensive value, meaning that it was less likely that his rWAR value was the result of a fluke defensive rating. He led the league in the following stats:
BB% (by almost 4%)
He did this while playing average defense at a position not named first base or designated hitter. Before WAR was created, I think people in the stats world would still have jumped all over Bautista as the MVP.
2) Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Boston Red Sox
While I think Bautista should have been the clear #1 in this vote, determining the second player on the ballot was hard to do. Ellsbury and Verlander finished nearly the same by their respective rWAR and fWAR values, but I think rWAR undervalues Ellsbury's defense, so that bumped his value up in my mind, personally. While UZR is a statistic that is all over the place, Ellsbury has been highly rated in the past, and his scouting report will tell you a lot of the same. The 0.4 dWAR he scored on baseball-reference does not do his true defensive ability justice, which is what I believe gives him the edge over Verlander, and is likely the reason that he scored so much better on fangraphs vs. b-ref. Ellsbury's incredible on-base skills and speed (39 stolen bases) were enough to make him one of the most valuable offensive players in the league, and his superior defense puts him up on an elite level as far as 2011 is concerned.
3) Justin Verlander, SP, Detroit Tigers
Verlander was a dominant pitcher, for sure. However, he was not as dominant as people think he was. Yes, he won the traditional pitcher triple crown. whoop-de-fricken-doo. He didn't come out as the most valuable pitcher by fWAR (that belongs to CC Sabathia as far as the AL is concerned), although his non-FIP fielding independent ERA metrics came out much better than what happened for CC. However, he produced better rate stats over more innings, so the fact that CC came out better in fWAR is sketchy at best, and is another aspect of why I would put him ahead of CC and his teammate Miguel Cabrera. Verlander had a strikeout rate of 8.96 to a walk rate of 2.04. That is some ridiculous stuff right there. Now, in fairness, Verlander also saw a very low (almost fluky) BABIP rate while producing fewer ground balls and more fly balls (not good, especially when your HR/FB rate is 8.8%). Verlander was dominant, but he wasn't the most valuable player in the American League.