Monday, September 15, 2014

Martinez MVP?

Martinez has had an MVP-caliber season, but does he deserve the hardware? (zimbio)
Now that the Tigers are back in first place there's been some talk about Victor Martinez for AL MVP recently. Setting aside the fact that this award has been Mike Trout's to lose for months now, I want to talk about his candidacy for a minute.

For starters, Martinez is absolutely a legitimate MVP candidate. I think it's pretty safe to say that he's been one of three best hitters this year. He has the third-best wRC+ (162) in baseball, tied with Andrew McCutchen and behind only Trout and Jose Abreu. He's second in wOBA (.407) to Abreu. also has the best OBP (.400) in the majors as well as the second-best batting average and OPS, third-best slugging percentage and adjusted OPS, and a top-10 spot in basically every hitting statistic you can think of.  He's done everything you could ever ask of a hitter: hit for average and power, get on base, drive in runs, and rarely strike out. By old and new-school stats, Martinez has been phenomenal.

But as great as V-Mart's been with the bat this year, he's not the American League's most valuable player. FanGraphs rates his total contributions at about four wins above replacement--a terrific number, but hardly MVP-worthy (behind a couple teammates as well). Baseball-Reference is a bit more generous and has him at 4.7 bWAR--again a great number, but outside the top-10 when looking at position players.

In fact, both sites rate Martinez's value on par with that of teammate Miguel Cabrera, the two-time defending MVP who won't be making it a three-peat due to a pretty substantial decline in offensive production. Though Martinez has been the better hitter this year, Cabrera closes the gap with his defensive value even though there isn't much of it.

So while Martinez has clearly been one of the best hitters in baseball this year, that's not enough to earn MVP honors because he's primarily a DH, having played just 36 games in the field thus far. I don't mean to say that a DH can never be an MVP (Don Baylor won in 1979 while David Ortiz and Edgar Martinez have come close), but rather think winning should be more difficult for them. When it comes to offensive statistics, they should be held to a higher standard than players who have to field a position for nine innings every day.

In my opinion, to win an MVP a DH must have substantially better numbers than anyone else in the league. He has to lap the field, blow everyone else away. He needs to have the best numbers and lead by a considerable margin. When your contributions come solely from your bat (and legs, but most DH's don't run very well, which is often why they're there to begin with), you better have some otherworldly numbers to make up for sitting on the bench the rest of the time.

And Martinez's numbers, great as they are, aren't head and shoulders above everybody else's. Abreu's are equally awesome, and so are Mike Trout's. Jose Bautista's aren't far behind. Martinez might be the best hitter in the American League this year, but not by much
Now if he were hitting around .350 with a four-digit OPS and more power, that would be a different story. He'd have a real case then.

I'll readily concede that Martinez, despite what WAR says, has been the most valuable position player on the Tigers this year. He's been huge out of the cleanup spot for them, providing consistently tremendous production all season long (from both sides of the plate, to boot). I think he should finish in the top five, maybe even the top three if he goes on one last tear. But he's not the American League MVP; that's been Mr. Trout for a few years now.

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