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Value Judgment Should A-Rod win the AL MVP? Who deserves the NL Cy Young Award, Schilling or Johnson? Can a Rockies pitcher really be Rookie of the Year? Answers below

Sept. 30, 2002
Sept. 30, 2002

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Sept. 30, 2002

Value Judgment Should A-Rod win the AL MVP? Who deserves the NL Cy Young Award, Schilling or Johnson? Can a Rockies pitcher really be Rookie of the Year? Answers below

The instructions to the 60 baseball writers who vote on the Most
Valuable Player awards could not be more ambiguous. "Dear Voter,"
they begin. "There is no clear-cut definition of what Most
Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter...." All that's
missing is the closing, Sincerely, Dr. Rorschach.

This is an article from the Sept. 30, 2002 issue Original Layout

Trying to define value is what gives the award its appeal. There
are no barstool arguments over who should win the Hank Aaron
Award, which is presented to the best hitter in each league based
team broadcasters' votes. The MVP award, especially the American
League race this year, can occupy patrons well past last call.

Take Alex Rodriguez. Or not. At week's end the Texas Rangers'
shortstop led the majors in home runs (56), RBIs (139) and total
bases (382). He almost certainly will be, for the second straight
year, the league's Aaron award winner. "He's the best player in
the game," Toronto Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi says,
"and maybe the greatest player ever to play the game." But should
Rodriguez be the Most Valuable Player after playing for a
last-place team that was essentially out of the playoff race in
April? More than anything, this year's AL MVP vote is a
referendum on a player's value to a losing team: Should Rodriguez
win the award even though Torii Hunter of the Minnesota Twins,
Garret Anderson of the Anaheim Angels, Miguel Tejada of the
Oakland A's, and Jason Giambi and Alfonso Soriano of the New York
Yankees put up MVP-worthy numbers for playoff-bound teams?

"Tejada has had a fabulous year, and he deserves to be recognized
for that," Seattle Mariners manager Lou Piniella says. "But Alex
is doing things no one has ever done. You could say that Tejada
plays for a winning team and Alex doesn't, but how can you
penalize Alex for that? He's got to be the MVP, in my view."

Another manager, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' Hal McRae, saw this
year's inkblot a bit differently. Rodriguez, he says, "shouldn't
be mentioned in the same sentence with the guys that are on
winning ball clubs. You can't be that valuable when you're on a
last-place club."

Confused? We're here to help (using stats through Sunday). Pull
up a stool. Start by eliminating Hunter (.286, 28 home runs, 91
RBIs), the sensational centerfielder who fell off the MVP pace by
hitting .211 after July 31. Moreover, he batted .244 for the
season with runners in scoring position. Likewise, Anderson
(.310, 27, 118) enjoyed a fabulous year for the surprising
Angels. But he's not likely to reach 30 home runs or score 100
runs, minimal milestones against such stiff competition. That
leaves three players to challenge Rodriguez: Tejada, Giambi and
Soriano.

"I'd take A-Rod," says one AL scout, "not only because he's the
best player in the game but also because he makes everybody
around him better. During a game he's always talking in the
dugout and on the field, helping the young players. If Tejada
gets hot the final 10 days and Oakland wins the division, though,
you have to consider him. It seems like he's had every big hit in
the second half."

Tejada (.303, 31, 124, .368 with runners in scoring position) did
have several September signature hits, the way Chipper Jones did
for Atlanta in 1999 and Giambi did for Oakland in 2000--and both
were MVPs those years. But Tejada feasted on losing teams more
than any of the other three candidates, hitting 48 points worse
against plus-.500 clubs. His September (.275) wasn't as torrid as
you might imagine. Also, he doesn't show up in the top 10 in the
league in slugging percentage or on-base percentage. Indeed, his
OPS (on-base plus slugging) is only .843.

By comparison, Giambi (.307, 38, 114) has an OPS (1.013) within
sniffing distance of Rodriguez's (1.021), and he hit better
against winning teams than against losers. Giambi reached base at
least 20 more times than any other candidate, batted .345 with
runners in scoring position and very possibly could have been
looking at an unprecedented third straight MVP if he had not been
robbed last year by the writers who gave the award to Ichiro
Suzuki of the Mariners. Ichiro became the first outfielder ever
to win the award without landing in the top 10 in on-base
percentage or slugging percentage; Giambi became only the sixth
player to lead the league in both categories for a playoff team
and not win the award. "He's the Yankees' MVP because he's had to
carry the load the whole year in the middle of the lineup and
he's done it," says a scout, who then thinks again. "Soriano,
though ... wow, he's phenomenal. I don't know. It's real close."

Soriano (.305, 39, 100) packs speed and power in historic
proportions. He leads the AL in runs, hits, extra-base hits and
stolen bases--a grand slam achieved only twice, by Ty Cobb in 1911
and Snuffy Stirnweiss of the Yankees in 1945 (a wartime season
without stars such as Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio). Soriano
also has the most home runs, most total bases and most multihit
games of any AL player going to the playoffs. And clutch? If it's
not enough that Soriano is hitting .333 with runners in scoring
position, he also is hitting .330 in the late innings of close
games (seventh inning or later, one-run lead, tied or tying run
at least on deck)--better than Tejada (.316), Giambi (.286) or
Rodriguez (.245).

Soriano, the Yankees' leadoff hitter, rarely draws a walk and
whiffs too often, but as the Blue Jays' Ricciardi says, "He's
like Vladimir Guerrero or Nomar Garciaparra. He's an exception to
the general rules of how you might evaluate a player, because
he's so dangerous in so many ways. He's the complete package."

Tejada, Giambi or Soriano would be fine choices to win the MVP.
That's Rodriguez's problem: There are too many candidates from
winning teams to pick a player off a last-place club. Context
does matter. What were the consequences for Texas if Rodriguez
didn't drive home a runner from scoring position with two outs
(situations in which he hit .214)? And if you believe the
intradivisional games that the Rangers played in September were
meaningful because they mattered toward deciding the pennant
race, can you write off Rodriguez's hitting .209 this month?

Nothing is more valuable in the game than contributing at an
elite level for a playoff-bound team. And no one did it in more
ways than Soriano, a Swiss Army knife of offensive might. He is
the only MVP candidate who made pitchers quake whether he was
batting with no one on base or taking a lead off first base. He
gave the post-O'Neill-Martinez-Knoblauch-Brosius Yankees a new
dynamic offensive personality by turning singles into doubles,
stealing bases with bravado and answering the call for a clutch
hitter. He outran Suzuki, outslugged Tejada and racked up more
extra-base hits than A-Rod. The thinking man's MVP ballot, with a
respectful nod to Rodriguez's peerless season, should therefore
start with Soriano.

Of the 143 MVP winners in history, only six have been leadoff
hitters. And only one Yankee in the last quarter century has
earned the honor (Don Mattingly, 1985). But it's been much longer
since anyone in pinstripes carved up the league quite the way
Soriano has. The MVP race is perfectly clear now. Isn't it?

COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE (RODRIGUEZ) RODRIGUEZCOLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER SORIANOCOLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO (SCHILLING) SCHILLINGCOLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (JOHNSON) JOHNSONCOLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE MARTINEZCOLOR PHOTO: BRAD MANGIN (BONDS) BONDSCOLOR PHOTO: RICH CLARKSON JENNINGS

American League MVP

1 ALFONSO SORIANO, 2B, YANKEES
2 ALEX RODRIGUEZ, SS, RANGERS
3 JASON GIAMBI, 1B, YANKEES
4 MIGUEL TEJADA, SS, ATHLETICS
5 GARRET ANDERSON, LF, ANGELS
6 TORII HUNTER, CF, TWINS
7 ERIC CHAVEZ, 3B, ATHLETICS
8 JIM THOME, 1B, INDIANS
9 NOMAR GARCIAPARRA, SS, RED SOX
10 DAVID ECKSTEIN, SS, ANGELS

YEAR OF THE DUELING DUOS

In the closest Cy Young races ever, it's teammate versus teammate

The Cy Young award carries almost none of the interpretive
intrigue of the MVP. It's the realism of Courbet contrasted with
the abstract expressionism of Pollock. After all, since the
current balloting format began in 1970, only eight of the 64 Cy
Youngs have been decided by fewer than 10 points (the equivalent
of two first-place votes), and there have never been two such
close calls in the same year. However, the simple act of
choosing the best pitcher in each league never has been more
difficult than it is this year.

The 2002 races might bring the first double photo finish, with
vexed American League writers having to choose from among Barry
Zito of the Oakland A's and teammates Pedro Martinez and Derek
Lowe of the Boston Red Sox, while their NL counterparts must try
to split the microfibers that separate the Arizona Diamondbacks'
Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson.

"It's like having twin daughters," Arizona manager Bob Brenly
says, "and they're both up for homecoming queen. They're
identical, and I love them both. I'm glad I don't have to weigh
in on that."

Schilling (23-6, 3.02 ERA, 303 strikeouts in 2501/3 innings) and
Johnson (23-5, 2.40, 326 strikeouts in 251 innings) seem to be
near statistical twins. Could Schilling possibly not win the
award with an eye-popping 9.5 strikeouts for every one walk,
twice that of Johnson's ratio? Actually, yes.

Johnson has been slightly tougher to hit (.210 to .223), and
especially untouchable with runners in scoring position (.146 to
.252). The 0.62 difference in ERA is also significant in this
hairsplitting exercise. Finally, consider how many times each man
pitched like a Cy Young winner. Forget quality starts (at least
six innings with no more than three earned runs allowed), a
template for mediocrity that allows for a 4.50 ERA. Look at how
many times these two delivered what we might call superlative
starts, lasting at least eight innings and giving up no more than
two earned runs, a 2.25 ERA equivalent. Schilling turned in seven
such outings; Johnson had 11. Give the edge, and the award, to
Johnson.

The superlative start count is useful in divining an AL award
winner too. Lowe and Zito each had five; Martinez had 10, an
enormous difference. But wait. Didn't Zito (22-5, 2.74) win the
most games? And didn't Lowe (21-7, 2.45) throw a no-hitter? And
didn't Martinez (20-4, 2.26) fatten up on losing teams (12-0)?
True. But so is all this: Martinez had a lower ERA against
winning teams than Zito or Lowe (2.14 to 3.63 and 2.91,
respectively), more strikeouts per walk (6.0 to 2.4 and 2.7), a
lower opponents' batting average (.198 to .218 and .210), a
better winning percentage (.833 to .815 and .750) and more
strikeouts (239 to 176 and 122).

Finally, most any pitcher, not just Cy Young winners, can win
with generous run support. In a test of mettle, what happened
when each pitcher had less-than-average support--four runs or
fewer? Martinez was 9-4, Zito was 6-5 and Lowe was 6-7.

There has been only one tie in the voting, in 1969 (Mike Cuellar
of the Baltimore Orioles and Denny McLain of the Detroit Tigers),
and that prompted a change: Instead of voting for one pitcher,
writers had to make first-, second- and third-place choices. Only
seven times has a writer ever split a vote between two pitchers,
and there's no need to do so this year. --T.V.

NL Cy Young

1 RANDY JOHNSON, DIAMONDBACKS
2 CURT SCHILLING, DIAMONDBACKS
3 JOHN SMOLTZ, BRAVES

AL Cy Young

1 PEDRO MARTINEZ, RED SOX
2 DEREK LOWE, RED SOX
3 BARRY ZITO, ATHLETICS

AND THE REST OF THE AWARDS...
Barry Bonds will add another record to his list: his fifth NL MVP

After taking an eraser last season to the record-book entries of
the venerated Babe Ruth (slugging percentage and walks) and Mark
McGwire (home runs), Barry Bonds is wiping out the marks set by
other baseball divinities, such as Ted Williams (on-base
percentage) and Willie McCovey (intentional walks), as well as
one he set himself (walks). With Bonds, nothing is sacred.

After another historic season for a pennant contender, Bonds will
win his fifth National League MVP, breaking another record
already in his possession. This time, however, in the 13th
consecutive season in which he will be named on MVP ballots,
Bonds might win unanimously. He deserves to be the 15th such
player since the annual balloting of baseball writers began in
1931.

"There's nobody close to Barry," Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder
Brian Jordan says. "He's going to walk 200 times and still end up
with around 50 homers, 100 runs and 100 RBIs. That's just
unbelievable."

Bonds is the most feared hitter who ever lived, with teams going
to unprecedented lengths to avoid pitching to him. No one in the
league is within 137 points of his record on-base percentage
(.581) or 187 points of his slugging percentage (.796). He is
peerless, and the voting should reflect it.

AL Rookie of the Year

1 ERIC HINSKE, 3B, BLUE JAYS
2 RODRIGO LOPEZ, P, ORIOLES
3 JORGE JULIO, P, ORIOLES

Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi traded for Hinske twice
within nine months last year, once in March while an assistant to
Oakland G.M. Billy Beane--taking him sight unseen from the Chicago
Cubs because he liked Hinske's minor league numbers--and again in
December, three weeks after he was named the Blue Jays' G.M.
Hinske, 25, rewarded Ricciardi's faith with the best production
by an AL rookie (.278, 23 HRs, 82 RBIs) while mostly hitting
second in the batting order. "And his defense is so good,"
Ricciardi says, "he's going to win a Gold Glove someday."

NL Rookie of the Year

1 JASON JENNINGS, P, ROCKIES
2 BRAD WILKERSON, CF, EXPOS
3 RYAN JENSEN, P, GIANTS

Jennings (16-8, 4.62), didn't so much tame Coors Field this
season as he survived it. The righthander with the slick sinker
was tattooed by opposing hitters for a .320 batting average in
Colorado but hung in to win nine games at Coors en route to the
most victories by a rookie since the Reds' Tom Browning won 20 in
1985.

AL Manager of the Year

1 MIKE SCIOSCIA, ANGELS
2 RON GARDENHIRE, TWINS
3 ART HOWE, ATHLETICS

Despite an abysmal 6-14 start, Scioscia guided a team with a
no-name, strike-throwing bullpen and a roster full of players
having career years to the winningest season in club history.

NL Manager of the Year

1 TONY LA RUSSA, CARDINALS
2 JIM TRACY, DODGERS
3 BOBBY COX, BRAVES

St. Louis endured the deaths of beloved broadcaster Jack Buck and
respected pitcher Darryl Kile. Injuries forced the club to tap
the Italian professional league (Jason Simontacchi), an
apparently washed-up veteran (Andy Benes) and even the Milwaukee
Brewers (Jamey Wright) while using 14 pitchers to fill the
rotation. La Russa nonetheless guided the Cardinals to the NL
Central title. --T.V.

National League MVP

1 BARRY BONDS, LF, GIANTS
2 ALBERT PUJOLS, LF, CARDINALS
3 LANCE BERKMAN, CF, ASTROS
4 SHAWN GREEN, RF, DODGERS
5 RANDY JOHNSON, P, DIAMONDBACKS
6 CURT SCHILLING, P, DIAMONDBACKS
7 JEFF KENT, 2B, GIANTS
8 JOHN SMOLTZ, P, BRAVES
9 ERIC GAGNE, P, DODGERS
10 VLADIMIR GUERRERO, RF, EXPOS