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Voices from the Basement: So, what's YOUR definition of "value"?

Kevin: As of Friday night, Barry Bonds is hitting .361/.607/.799 in 2004.

Let that sink in for a minute. .361/.607/.799. If the season ended today, Barry would have done the following:

1) Shatter his own record for on-base percentage in a single season
2) Shatter his own record for OPS in a single season
3) Be the first man in baseball history to have at least a 1.400 OPS in a single season
4) Win the National League batting title

The list goes on and on; Barry would also break his own record for walks drawn in a single season. However, it seems that most members of the media and baseball fans are dead-set on giving the National League MVP trophy to one of the Three Amigos in St. Louis: Jim Edmonds, Albert Pujols, or Scott Rolen.

My question is why. I think part of it has to be an anti-Bonds sentiment: People have grown tired of him winning the trophy, and many despise the man for being surly with the media. But MVP trophies shouldn't be given out based on who the nicest guy is among the best players in the league. It should be given to who's done the most for his team, and in that category, Bonds beats the daylights out of Edmonds, Pujols, and Rolen. Just look at the 2004 numbers, with VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) listed in parentheses.

Edmonds: .304/.420/.650 (68.1)
Rolen: .321/.408/.609 (66.3)
Pujols: .322/.406/.644 (77.1)

Just for the record, Bonds' VORP is 112.2. So how could there be any doubt that Bonds should take home his fourth consecutive MVP trophy, and seventh overall? Let's just say people can come up with some funny definitions of the word "value." ESPN.com's Ray Ratto penned an interesting column (http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/columns/story?columnist=ratto_ray&id=1868418) about why Bonds won't win the award. Here's an excerpt I found to be particularly interesting:

This association with the best team is typically, and rightfully, very helpful to MVP candidates, because value is defined by what you do to make your team as good as it can be, and there isn't a lot of head room between where the Cardinals are and how much they can improve. That's why Todd Helton hasn't gotten any MVP trophies yet.

This is where the definition of "value" gets all messy. If a player's value is all about what he does to help his team win ballgames, should the MVP not be the player who does the most to help his team win ballgames, regardless of how many games his team has won? For example, Alex Rodriguez lost the MVP award to Miguel Tejada in 2002, even though A-Rod had the better season. The format is the same as last time, with VORP in parentheses:

Rodriguez: .300/.392/.623 (94.7)
Tejada: .308/.354/.508 (66.4)

So if A-Rod got on base more than Tejada did and hit for more power than Tejada did, how in the world could he be considered less valuable? Because Tejada's A's won 103 games, and A-Rod's won 72. The baseball writers, for some reason, factor in team success when it comes MVP votin' time, and more times than not the wrong guy gets the award because of it. A-Rod did more to help his team win 72 games than Tejada did to help his win 103, and therefore was the more valuable player.

My fear is that Bonds won't get his just due in 2004 because of the Cardinals' sparkling record. It's a shame, too, but this horrible malfunction of the system can be solved by remembering one thing: The best player in the league is always the most valuable player in the league.

Daniel: Most Valuable Player. In the NFL, NBA, and NHL, it is near impossible for an MVP-type player to put up the kinds of statistics needed to win the award without copious amounts of help from his teammates. So, in a sense, the MVP award in those sports is also a team award. In this vein, I can understand the concept of looking at the team's record and performance to help evaluate a player's value.

In baseball, this couldn't be further from the truth. The only offensive statistics that are influenced by team play are RBI and runs scored (meaning they should be ignored when assessing the value of a single player). Other than that, a hitter pretty much does his own dirt and earns his own stats. This being the case, I really don't understand how a team's record in baseball should hold as much sway as in other sports.

You've pretty much broken down how the stats show Bonds superiority over, well everyone else in the NL. But one factor hasn't really been brought up, and that is that Barry Bonds does something for his team that no other hitter in baseball does now, and perhaps no other hitter has ever done in the history of the game.

He actually does make his teammates better. Jeff Kent and Rich Aurilia can attest to this phenomenon, having had their career years batting before and after Bonds.

But those two players are not with the Giants anymore, having been replaced with Ray Durham and Neifi Perez (at least for most of this season). Despite this downgrade, and despite not having any hitters in their lineup that would be in any other team's 3-4-5 slots, the Giants are near the NL lead in runs scored. How?

Bonds' presence affects 4 other spots in the lineup besides his own. The 2 and 3 spots in the order will likely see more strikes because the pitcher doesn't want to walk them on base with Bonds coming up to bat. The 5 and 6 spots in the order will likely see more strikes since Bonds is on base so much, and they don't want to walk Bonds into scoring position (if indeed Bonds walked beforehand). The Giants hitters around Bonds simply have more opportunity to cut loose and hack at better pitches, thus leading to the Giants having the 5 players who've been batting around Barry most of the season having 52 RBI or more, and leads to J.T. Snow.

Snow, since being put in the 2nd and 3rd slots in front of Bonds, has had a July of .364/.456/.623, and an August of .443/.547/.803. Are you kidding me? J.T. Snow? Snow has an OPS of .940 on the season after having 2 months of dreadful hitting, all because he was moved in front of Bonds. If this isn't proof of Bonds' abilities to make players around him better, I'm not exactly sure what is. MVP for sure.

Kevin: I don't agree with your statement that in other leagues, "it is near impossible for an MVP-type player to put up the kinds of statistics needed to win the award without copious amounts of help from his teammates" for various reasons. I have my own theories about misleading statistics in the NFL, but perhaps that's another topic for another time. It's almost football time again, and Dante Hall begins his second reign of pigskin-returning terror on September 12.

However, you ARE right when you say that Bonds makes his teammates better. I generally don't believe in such things, but there can't be any question that the guys who hit in front of him get better pitches to hit. Of course, it's then on those players to put the good part of the bat on the ball and line it into an alleyway, but that's a secondary trouble.

What makes this even better is "making your team better" is one of those cliche prerequisites for earning votes as the MVP. If the writers don't have that to use against Bonds anymore, I guess their leverage will be cut down to his surliness. But that isn't without precedence; remember Mo Vaughn winning the 1995 AL MVP over a clearly more deserving Albert Belle?

Daniel: Sure, we'll discuss the NFL in another forum, but in the meantime, I wonder how any NFL offensive player could do anything without people to block for him. All the time.

These MVP votes are most interesting nowadays. With the ascension of sabermetrics, and baseball beginning to stand head-and-shoulders above other sports in regard to the different types of stats that can be brought to bear to evaluate player performance -- well, let's say baseball is the thinking man's sport more than ever. That being said, a lot of the people who are using sabermetrics the most are of a younger generation (and yes, I mean you, Kevin). The people with an MVP vote, however, are made up primarily up of older gentleman, many of whom who either don't like too many statistics beyond batting average, HR's and RBI's, or don't feel that stats tell enough of a story. They are the ones who tout team record and whatnot as a large factor in their voting.

This is why Bonds for MVP will never quite be a sure thing. The statistics really do tell an inarguable case, but many of these gentleman don't want their vote handed to them on a silver platter, the courtesy of a bunch of numbers and percentages. They WANT to think about their vote (possibly as a measure of their own self-importance), and they want to convince themselves of who is MVP. Bonds is too simple, too easy of a pick -- no challenge there. Rolen, Pujols, Edmonds, Beltre...now, there are picks they must think about, picks that need explanation. And for people who consider themselves intelligent, those picks are more attractive. And don't forget that most with a vote are writers and broadcasters -- these people want emotion, and they want a story. Bonds doing his thing for the umpteenth year in a row isn't exciting enough, and they would find it difficult to extol his virtues. After all, they've done it six times before, right?

Kevin: If the voters want a story about their choice for MVP, they need look no further than Bonds, in my opinion. He isn't just "doing his thing"...he's making history in the process. If a guy with an on-base percentage of more than .600 isn't a story, I don't know what is.

Sadly, I don't think Bonds will ever be appreciated enough, even though he's probably going to be the all-time home run king and the best player of all-time by the time he decides to hang up the spikes. We'll never see another player dominate the game as he has since 2001, but because of the BALCO accusations and Barry's supposed ability to be a total jerk, the man probably won't get his just due. Because of everything he's done for the game, that's extremely unfortunate.
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