And now for the rare sports break....
I'm going to lay it all out on the table. I'm a Yankee fan and, yes, I'm biased. But I think one can make a strong argument for Derek Jeter as AL MVP.
First I'm going to lay out the ground rules.
1) The MVP can generally only come from a team that is in contention. In the extraordinary case where a player from a bad team has a spectacular season and his competition from the good teams are mediocre, it might be possible. However, this season is not an example of that rare situation. My argument assumes that a player's value on a poor team is less than a similar player's value on a good team, everything else equal.
Assume player X's value adds 10 wins to his teams total and they make the playoffs. Now further assume that player Y's value adds 20 wins to his teams total and they only lose 90 games instead of 110. Which player is more valuable? If we assume that making the playoffs is the most important attribute of a team's (regular season) performance, player X's increase to his team's performance is greater than that of player Y's to his team.
Moreover, everything works on a spectrum. On the right end is the playoffs; on the left is a miserable season. The farther left a team is, the better its players must do. As we move to the right, a player's value increases and his numbers need not be as good. If a team makes the playoffs, its players are equal to the players on the other playoff teams.
2) The number of games a player plays is very important. Even if player X is great on a per-game basis, if he only plays 120 games he is requiring his team to play a backup for 42 games. If player Y plays 162 games at a worse per game basis, he could be more valuable overall.
3) No pitchers. They're too hard to compare to players.
Some minor rules:
A) While OPS. (onbase percentage plus slugging percentage) is the most important stat, OBP. (onbase percentage) is the more important. I'll explain why. OBP. measures how many times a player reaches base, or put in a different way, how many times a player does not make an out. SLG., on the other hand, measures what a player does in those instances when he gets a hit. A player's job is to not make an out. Outs are the currency of baseball because they are finite. A player who does not use up his team's currency is more valuable than a player who scores runs every time he gets a hit, but makes far more outs. The former gives his teammates more opportunities to score runs.
B) Hitting is more important than fielding, baserunning, and intangibles. But those are important as well and can add a lot to a player's value if the hitting measures are close.
C) Not all hits are born equal. A hit with a runner in scoring position is more important than a hit with no one on base.
OK, here we go. Given my above rules, Travis Hafner and Manny Ramirez are ineligible under Rule 1 and 2 (The Red Sox haven't been competitive since August) and Grady Sizemore under Rule 1.
Here are the other candidates who are left:
1) Derek Jeter
2) David Ortiz
3) Vlad Guerrero
4) Jim Thome
5) Jermaine Dye
6) Paul Konerko
7) Joe Mauer
8) Justin Morneau
9) Frank Thomas
10) Jason Giambi
Three of these players are DH's, which means they are zeros at defense. Now that's not necessarily a bad thing because other players might be negatives defensively. But they don't add anything defensively.
Weeding Out The Pretenders
From this list Ortiz has the highest OPS. But numbers can misleading. Take a look at Jeter's numbers (via Yahoo Sports). His numbers actually increase when runners get in scoring position. Now compare those numbers to Ortiz. Look at how his numbers go down as the situation gets more important (with the exception of bases loaded). Jeter actually has a higher SLG. with runners in scoring position and with runners in scoring position and two outs. His OPS. is higher in both those scenarios as well.
33 of Ortiz's HRs came with no one on base. With men on and two outs, he only had three more RBIs than Jeter.
Despite Ortiz's superior OPS. numbers, it's hard to justify giving the MVP to a player whose numbers went down as the situation became more important. And I haven't even started looking at the other advantages Jeter has.
Next we can knock off Vlad Guerrero. His OPS. is only .34 points higher than Jeter's and his batting average is lower. While his OPS. with runners in scoring position and two outs is a few points higher than Jeter's, his OPS. with runners in scoring position is paltry. One might argue that no one pitches to him with runners in scoring position, but then how do explain the 62 point difference in OBP. between him and Jeter?
Furthermore Rule 1 comes into play here. Given that Jeter is a shortstop, has better overall numbers with runners on, and stole 19 more bases while being caught the same number of times, Jeter wins.
Next comes the White Sox bashers. First remember Rule 1 applies (although it would only matter if the numbers are almost even).
Jim Thome's OPS. is much better than Jeter's with runners in scoring position. However his OPS. with runners in scoring position and two outs is almost three hundred points (!) lower. The disparity with bases loaded is even worse.
Thome does have a higher OPS. with runners on and two outs (although he has a lower AVG. and OBP.). But Jeter has the advantage in intangibles. He has far more stolen bases, plays a gold glove shortstop and his VORP is 16 runs higher (put simply, Value Over Replacement Player is the measure of how many runs a player creates over a replacement player who would have to play if the starter was injured or traded). Applying rule 1, Jeter has to get the nod.
I'll look at Dye later, so next comes Paul Konerko. Konerko is an easy one. His OPS. is barely 30 points higher and Jeter has better numbers across the board with runners in scoring position. If Thome can't top Jeter Konerko sure can't.
Now we come to Justin Morneau. Morneau suffers from the same problem as Konerko. Jeter has much better numbers with runners in scoring position, a substantially higher VORP, and six more Win Shares (more on this in relation to Dye). And to top it off, he wins in the position, baserunning, and intangibles category.
Frank Thomas is no better than Morneau or Konerko. He has a monster OPS. with no one on and no outs, but his numbers go down in other situations. Nope.
Jason Giambi is surprisingly good. His numbers with runners in scoring position are better than Jeter's and he's almost as good with runners on and two outs. However his VORP is over thirty runs worse than Jeter's and he played 15 less games. And he has ten less Win Shares.
The Real Competition
The three best candidates are Jermaine Dye, Joe Mauer and Derek Jeter.
Let's compare Dye first. His OPS. is 100 points higher, and his OPS. with runners in scoring position is about 70 points higher. His OPS. with runners in scoring position and two outs is a little lower, but Jeter has a huge advantage in OBP. in both situations. His bases loaded numbers are substantially lower. With runners on and two outs Dye has a much better OPS. and Jeter's OBP. advantage is only 30 points. It's close but Jeter wins because of Rule 1, baserunning, position, VORP (almost 14 runs), and Win Shares (Win Shares are a measure of how many wins a player adds to a team). Jeter had 33 wins shares to Dye's 26. And what do you know? 7 wins is the difference between the Yanks (best record in the league) and the White Sox (not in the playoffs).
Mauer is even closer. His OBP. and SLG. are slightly better, making his OPS. 34 points higher. His OPS. with runners in scoring position is a little lower (1.041 to Jeter's 1.063) with a higher OBP. (.497 to .482) and his OPS. with runners in scoring position and two outs is much higher (1.200 to Jeter's 1.075). Runners on and two outs is a staggering 1.181 to .996 for Jeter.
These numbers are big disparities. It's very close but Jeter wins for a few reasons: His VORP is almost 13 runs higher, Jeter has two more Win Shares, he stole substantially more bases (and is an excellent baserunner), and I have to give him the advantage in intangibles.
Jeter vs. Mauer might be a case where my Yankee bias shines, but I think I've made a strong argument for Jeter against all the other players.
Jeter For MVP!
Next up will be NL MVP, which is much easier.