Monday, November 15, 2004

Talking MVP Blues...

Today, given that this is the week the leagues’ MVP awards will be announced, we are going to tackle the subject of the MVP.

No arguing about what the MVP means, whether it’s the best or literally most valuable to his team; whether bringing fans into the seats counts as value (one of the most prevalent arguments for Butt-Rod in years past).

Nah, today we’re just going to look at the stats and break them down slightly, in my decidedly less-than-theoretic manner.

And I’m here to talk about one player.

Yes, Jesus himself – Johnny Damon. Hear me out on this, because hopefully after reading this, no matter which side of the MVP definition you fall on, you can at least see my point of view.

This year, as the leadoff batter, Damon:

a) had more walks than strikeouts for the first time since 2000 and just the third time in his career;
b) had an on-base percentage of .380 and reached base 267 times, which was third in the league;
c) banged out 20 home runs and slugged .477, the second-highest mark of his career
d) drove in 94 runs.

Yeah, I didn’t talk about defense, because no one does these days – when throwing around names like Gary Sheffield, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz for the MVP, it’s apparent that defense doesn’t play much of a role in determining the most valuable player.

It’s interesting, because Damon had a decidedly down year for him — he made five errors this past season, as many as he’s made in the previous three years combined.

Anyway, looking at Damon’s numbers, I would argue that his season is one of the best all-around seasons for a leadoff hitter in recent memory. I discount the efforts of Nomar and Brady Anderson, because they weren’t typical leadoff hitters – there was no other place to hit them, so lead off they did.

Obviously, Rickey Henderson still is held in high esteem regarding the leadoff position, as well he should. With his combination of power, patience and speed, he was one of the best.

But Damon’s job — as it is for all leadoff hitters — is to set the table for the mashers. I’d say that finishing third in the A.L. in times on base would qualify. Even with the black hole of Bellhorn hitting behind him, Manny Ortez combined for 269 RBIs – and I’d bet about 100 of those came from Damon, who scored 123 runs this year – second-most of his career.

Say what you want about the massive attack put forth by the Red Sox this year. But it all wouldn’t have happened without Damon at the top. It would be nice to see that reflected in the MVP voting this week.


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