Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Utley For MVP?

Justin Sablich at the New York Times' Bats Blog is among many noting Chase Utley's recent domination:

The Phillies second baseman took home National League Player of the Week honors last week for his five home runs, he is leading the N.L. in all-star votes, and is even considered to be one of the fittest men in America, according to Men’s Fitness magazine . . .

. . . If current trends continue, Utley will be in the mix for the N.L. Most Valuable Player award. And if he fights off Houston’s Lance Berkman for the honor, Utley would be the third different Phillie in three years to win the award, a feat last accomplished by the Yankees when Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle and Elston Howard earned honors from 1961 through 1963.
I think Sablich is forgetting a couple of guys. Like the chap currently hitting .400 for the Braves. Or the man single-elbowedly carrying the Cardinals. Or even the vitamin water mogul up I-95. Not that Utley isn't deserving, because he's having a transcendent season. But the fact remains that there are multiple attractive MVP candidates in the NL thus far.

Keeping in mind that it's obnoxiously early to even begin thinking about this stuff -- and keeping in mind that this isn't what I think should happen but, rather, what will happen -- I think it's going to break down something like this:

A) In the exceedingly unlikely event Chipper hits .400 for the year, everyone else can go home because they'll give it to him no matter what happens to the Braves. Yes, I realize that .400 hasn't always been a lock for the MVP, but I think it would be the case this year unless Utley hits in 57 straight games or something;

B) If Chipper hits .399 or lower, the MVP will go to the whichever of the glamor boy infielders plays for the team that happens to win of the NL East. Yes, that includes even David Wright, whose stats thus far pale compared to that of Utley and Jones, but who will probably be credited for leading the Mets back from the late May brink, even if the brink wasn't all that treacherous to begin with. Sure, the Marlins could still pull it out, but let's be honest here and admit that Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez need not apply;

C) Pujols muscles into the conversation if and only if the Cardinals win the division or stay in a close race to the very end. He may be the most "valuable" guy to his given team, but with all of the fireworks in the East, he's just not going to get the press and attention he's properly owed absent some "carrying his team to glory" storyline. He's not a lock if the Cards win the division, but if they do he trumps a division winning Wright, I think, and probably trumps a division winning Jones if he's south of .350 or misses a chunk of games. Barring injury or dramatic falloff, Utley probably trumps Pujols.

D) Berkman is better than all of them this year, but unless he breaks a record or something (like, say, the record for drag bunt singles by a guy who slugs .750) he won't win it either because the Astros probably aren't going to be a part of the playoff picture.

E) Wild card: Phillies Phatigue. After Howard and Rollins, are the writers really going to give it to another Phillie? I don't think the writers have truly caught on to how much of a bandbox Citizens Bank Park is yet -- as I mentioned this morning, 30 of Utley's last 43 homers have come at home -- but this isn't like all those Dodgers winning rookie of the year awards, and some writers may have a vague sense that someone outside of Philadelphia deserves it. Probably not though.

Odds are Vegas Watch's game, so allow me to simply set forth my partially-posteriorly derived list of probability in order of most to least likely to take home the hardware:




Tim Kelly said...

I agree with most of what you have to say here but I think you're missing an obvious group of candidates: The Cubs. If they keep up this "best team in baseball" thing through the end of the season, you'd have to think that at least some voters might get caught up in the moment and choose a Ramirez, a Lee, or (GASP!) even a Soriano for MVP. Of course, one of them would have to improve on their #'s to this point to get into the class of Utley, Berkman, Pujols, & Chipper but if it's close at the end of the year, the Cubs story may be too good (for some writers) to pass up.

Craig Calcaterra said...

Not buyin' it, Tim. The Cubs look like they could be the best team in the NL, but for MVP purposes, they smell like the late 90s Yankees. Too many good players for any one to tower above and win any hardware.

Baseball Savant said...

Yeah no way a Cub wins it. Lee and Soriano are only on pace to hit around 35HR and their OPS+ simply aren't great.

Utley is on pace to hit .320-58-143! I can't see him coming close to 60HR but Citizen's Bank is brutal and if the Phillies win the NL East then the MVP vote is over unless like Craig says Chipper can hit .400. I don't think Pujols can do it so it sort of boils down to who wins the NL East. Chipper and Utley are out front with Wright being the 3rd guy.

Daniel said...

From the way it looks, it will be Utley's to lose unless the Phillies completely tank. I agree with the Cubs sentiment - there isn't any one player having an outstanding year, so I don't think Ramirez, Lee or Soriano will be in the discussion. As an aside, Baseball Savant, you have to remember that we're predicting who will WIN the MVP, not who will actually BE the MVP, so OPS+ is unfortunately irrelevant.

It's also unfortunate that Berkman will get no love. He's been pretty unbelievable. But I also think he's going to be the one who falls off the most. Number one, that lineup is doing better than anyone thought it would, so he's going to be hitting with a lot less guys on base if the Astros regress to the mean. Number two, he's been tearing it up from the right side, which is way out of whack with his career norms.

Chipper is outperforming his career norms as well, but since it's inevitable he'll miss 15 to 20 games, he might barely qualify for the batting title but have few enough PA's to make a legitimate run at .400.

I also think Utley has the "new blood" advantage over Pujols. It seems the voters like guys who haven't won it before, unless (like Bonds and A-Rod for a long time), the guy is absolutely above and beyond everyone else. Other than Bonds and A-Rod, only Big Hurt and Juan-Gone have won more than one MVP since 1983. I don't think it's an overwhelming trend, but I think the guy who hasn't won it before makes a slightly better story than the guy who has, so they get a few extra points. Just a thought.

Tim Kelly said...

I will agree that no Cub has yet separated themselves, but to take only two months of performance and say that "no way a Cub wins it" seems a little silly. No Cub is currently the front runner for the award, maybe not even top 10 in the NL, but Lee's '05 and Soriano's '06 tell me that one of them still could turn up the heat.

Shyster makes the argument for how the voters would cast their ballots given a set of circumstances (who wins the East, Chipper above/below .400, etc.) and I think it's worthy to think of how sportswriters would love the dynamic of being able to write the "End of the 100-Year Drought" prediction column and tie it together with their MVP column in late September.

Wookster said...

Ok, so i'm not saying that he's the MVP (Utley or Jones, but don't you think Adrian Gonzalez needs to be on that list? He's the ONLY reason that the Padres won't lose 100 games this season, and after ANOTHER big home run last night (3-run shot in the 9th off of Marmol to pull the padres within a run of the Cubs), I feel like he deserves some mention.

Tony K said...

Chase Utley FTW!

Go Tigers

Alex said...

I think defense should get at least some consideration. After all, Rollins probably got a lot of credit over Holiday for playing a tougher position (regardless of whether he played it well), even if Holiday deserved the MVP more based on batting alone. It seems reasonable, likewise, that Utley's position could be the tiebreaker, especially over Pujols or Berkman. Again, it doesn't matter if he's a truly good 2B, just as long as he's not so bad everyone knows it (like HanRam at SS).

Anonymous said...

...Other than Bonds and A-Rod, only Big Hurt and Juan-Gone have won more than one MVP since 1983...

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

A-Rod has won 3 in a 5 year period. Bonds, 3 in a 4 year period, then after a break, 4 in a row. And by picking 1983, that takes two of Schmidt's 3 out of the list, splits Ripken's two, and neatly eliminates the back to back awards for Murphy. Saying it another way, of the 50 MVP awards in the last 25 years, 32% have been won by multi-time winners.

Or you can look at the Cy Young balloting which is done by the same illustrious group. Since that same 1983 season, Saberhagen (2), Clemens (7), Glavine (2), Maddux (4), Unit (5), Pedro (3), and Santana (2) have won. Out of the 50 awards, 48% have been won by hurlers with multiple awards.

Anonymous said...

Correction: excluding 1983 as done in the prior post means there are 24 seasons, not 25. 16 of 48 winners (1/3) of the MVPs and 24 of 48 (1/2) of the CYAs were repeat winners.

Paul Thomas said...

The key missing factor here is: defense. Utley is, by various accounts, something like the 2nd to 5th best 2nd baseman in baseball, gaining his team about 20 runs a season with the glove.

I felt it was an injustice that he did not win MVP last year (and giving it to Rollins, who was not only worse defensively but a worse hitter on the same team, was an utter joke). So it would be poetic justice for him to get it this year even if he's not quite the top player. I don't know if the voters will ignore the insane seasons that Berkman, Jones and Pujols are having, though. They tend to overlook defense.

Loaf Cobra said...

Pujols should be higher.