Santana: Cy AND MVP?
September 11, 2006
Before everyone starts jumping to conclusions and begins switching AL MVP votes from Papi, Jeter, Dye, etc. over to Johan Santana, remember to keep logic in the equation. I'm as guilty as the next guy - you see a starting pitcher just DOMINATE down the stretch, helping a team close the gap in a pennant race, and you can't help but think that pitcher is as valuable a commodity as there is in the league.
Step back, take a deep breath, and let logic rear its plain Jane head. If Johan Santana continues his brilliance and the Twins make the playoffs, I will desperately want to pencil him in as my MVP. From a distance, Santana prevents long slumps and steadies the ship whenever it starts to rock. Inch up a little closer, however, and you realize that Santana does very little (read: nothing) to prevent slumps in those 80% of Twins games where he doesn't play. Losing four in a row and winning the fifth is nice if Santana helps the cause in that fifth game, but it doesn't really help Minnesota win any of the NEXT four games, either. His value can only be calculated when he plays, unless you include things like leadership, support, etc. I don't have a problem rewarding players for the extracurricular stuff, but I certainly am not going to vote for a guy simply because a couple writers or announcers say that Player A keeps the clubhouse loose and makes everybody better. I can't quantify "makes everybody better" unless it's on the field.
For example, it is said that rookie phenom Francisco Liriano studied Santana like a hawk and, watching their deliveries, you couldn't tell them apart if their names weren't on their jerseys. How much credit does Santana deserve? If it were that easy, wouldn't everyone be throwing like Gibson or Koufax or Seaver or Ryan or Clemens or Santana? The majority of the credit goes to the talent and work ethic of the guy THROWING the pitch; the rest is minimal.
Going back to a Hot Corner I wrote in July 2005, I calculated the percentage of plate appearances of which pitchers and hitters have an affect. In today's game, a pitcher must have OVERWHELMING numbers to overcome the amount of time he watches from the bench. Santana is the best pitcher in the American League hands down, but even 20 wins and 242 innings (his current pace) just isn't enough to warrant an MVP award. Read the archived column for the full explanation.
Often the case is made for a pitcher because no single hitter does enough in that given year. Voters tend to lean toward players on playoff bound teams, reducing the pool even more. Personally, I focus more on teams that overachieve thanks to a valuable performance by an individual rather than overall record. If the Pirates won an unexpected 81 games and Jason Bay hit 70 home runs, would you give the award to someone else simply because Pittsburgh still finish 10 games back in the Wild Card race? Ludicrous.
Depending on your stance for a DH as MVP, David Ortiz is putting up the best statistics. Jermaine Dye is impressive at the plate AND in the field, so his name should be included. I'm not a fan of Derek Jeter and believe that it is tough to pick an MVP in a New York lineup full of bashers in recent years, but with the myriad amount of injuries the Yankees have suffered this season, I can at least see justification for Jeter's name in the mix. If you want to stick with Minnesota, what about that guy behind the plate, leading the league in batting? He doesn't take four out of five days off and manages to affect the game about as much as a single player can. If it has to be a Twin in your book, make it Joe Mauer and leave the Cy Young for Santana.