Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Albert Pujols wins National League MVP Award. Baseball's New and Improved Steroid Policy!

Albert Pujols National League MVP

Albert Pujols, the big bopper of the St.Louis Cardinals continued to dominate National League pitching in 2005, as he has done since he broke in to the big leagues in 2001, and was rewarded for his efforts by being voted the National League Most Valuable Player. ESPN excerpt:

NEW YORK -- Albert Pujols won his first National League MVP award, beating Andruw Jones in a close vote Tuesday.

The St. Louis Cardinals
first baseman ended Barry Bonds' four-year winning streak, receiving 18 first-place votes and 14 seconds for 378 points in balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Jones, the Atlanta Braves center fielder, got 13 first-place votes, 17 seconds and two thirds for 351 points.

Chicago Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee
got the other first-place vote and was third with 263 points.

Pujols was second in the NL with a .330 average, five points behind Lee, and hit 41 homers, trailing only Jones (51) and Lee (46). Pujols tied for second in RBI with 117, 11 behind Jones.

The 25-year-old Pujols has put up remarkable statistics in his first five major league seasons, averaging 40 homers and 124 RBI to go with a .332 average. Jones led the major leagues in home runs for the Braves, and batted .263. He has won eight straight Gold Gloves.

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Pujols is off to an historic start to his career. Check out his numbers.

What impresses me most about Pujols is that he has gotten better at controlling the strike zone as he as progressed. Even in 2005, without a lot of protection behind him in the Cardinals' batting order, Pujols did not try to expand his strike zone just to try to make things happen. He took a career high 97 walks, yet still finished second to Jones in RBI despite the fact that Scott Rolen was hurt much of the season, and his replacements in the St. Louis lineup were mediocre at best.

The same could be said for Jones, who, like Pujols, spent much of the year being the only Brave hitter healthy enough to play every day, but the peripheral numbers like batting average with runners in scoring position tell us that the voters made the correct choice for MVP.

As ESPN's Jayson Stark pointed out in his pre-vote column, Pujols batted .329 in those situations while Jones hit just .207. Imagine how many more RBI Jones could have had if he'd simply managed to match his season .263 during those occasions.

Stark also gives a thoughtful post-mortem analysis of the AL MVP vote here. In it, he pointed out that a similar gap existed between A-Rod's and David Ortiz's performance in categories like men in scoring position, late-inning close game and blowout game scenarios. Excerpt time again:

Alex Rodriguez had 24 more at-bats with runners in scoring position than David Ortiz this season -- and still drove in 18 fewer runs. That ought to tell you something. But if it doesn't, we'll spell it out for you.

Ortiz hit 62 points higher than A-Rod did with runners in scoring position (.352 to .290) overall. And that's an awfully large gap in a race this close. But that's in all games, in all RBI situations. If you keep looking, you find that as the games got tighter, that gap just kept getting bigger.

In the late innings of close games, A-Rod hit .176 with men in scoring position; Ortiz batted .313. That's a humongous, 137-point difference. But why stop there? Ortiz's OPS (on-base plus slugging) in those situations was 1.224 -- to A-Rod's .813. That's a 411-point chasm.

In the 20 games each of their teams won by six or more runs, A-Rod hit .549, had an OPS of 1.793 and racked up 46 of his 130 RBI (35 percent). Ortiz, on the other hand, batted .277, had an OPS almost 800 points lower than A-Rod's (.999) and drove in only 33 runs (22 percent of his overall total).

But in close games (games that either went to extra innings or were decided by one or two runs in regulation), the numbers look a whole lot different. In those games -- and each team played exactly 65 of them -- A-Rod batted only .243, had an OPS of .805 and drove in just 38 runs (29 percent). Ortiz, meanwhile, clearly tapped some mysterious force that made him even better in moments like that -- batting .321, running up an OPS of 1.116 and knocking in nearly a run a game (62 -- or 42 percent of his overall total).

Roll that info around your brain for a second. Think about what you make of it. All we know is that, when it came time to make our MVP pick at season's end, we had a tough time ignoring figures that staggering. It sure seemed at the time as if Ortiz was stomping up there and driving in the winning run about four nights a week. But these were stats that clearly proved it wasn't a figment of some highlight editor's imagination. David Ortiz really was the best clutch hitter in the sport -- lugging his team into the playoffs like a human tow truck.

To steal a phrase from Double-Down Trent in Swingers, Ortiz was the money baby! Yet he didn't quite get enough love from the MVP voters. Here's some anecdotal evidence that Ortiz should have been the MVP. Last Wednesday, during a lull in my bowling league activity, a bowler from a different league known as Rick the Yankee Fan came up to me and told me that he hoped Ortiz won the MVP because, as near as I can remember him saying: "Friggin" A-Rod only hits homers when we're either six runs ahead or six runs down. In clutch situations he vomits all over himself." This from a YANKEE FAN!!! Well, there you have it, the MLB MVPs.

Baseball's New Tougher Steroid Policy

Major League Baseball also announced today that it is about to adopt a new, tougher steroid policy. ESPN excerpt:

WASHINGTON -- Major leaguers will face tougher penalties for steroid use and testing for amphetamines next season under an agreement between owners and players reached Tuesday after months of negotiations and pressure from Congress.

The deal, which must be ratified by both sides, includes a 50-game suspension for a first failed test, 100 games for a second and a lifetime ban for a third.

"I don't regard this as an interim step, I regard this as the completion of a long process," baseball commissioner Bud Selig said.

Baseball's current steroid penalties are a 10-day suspension for a first offense, 30 days for a second offense and 60 days for a third. The earliest a player could be banned for life is a fifth offense.

Selig rejected calls by some -- including lawmakers -- that baseball adopt the policy of Olympic sports, where a first positive test results in a two-year ban and a second in a lifetime suspension.

Several bills that would increase steroid penalties in major U.S. pro sports are pending in Congress. But Tuesday's news "stops the rush to move legislation through at this time," said Rep. Tom Davis, whose House Government Reform Committee held the March 17 hearing on steroids with Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco.

At that hearing, Selig and union head Donald Fehr were scolded for what congressmen called a weak penalty system. The next month, Selig made a 50-100-lifetime proposal and suggested testing for amphetamines for the first time. In September, Fehr countered with 20 games, 75 games and, for a third offense, a penalty set by the commissioner.

The players' association appeared to pretty much capitulate to Selig's demands from April, except for gaining the right to have an arbitrator review reinstatement decisions. "This agreement reaffirms that major league players are committed to the elimination of performance-enhancing substances," Fehr said in a statement.

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Maybe it is the civil libertarian in me, but I didn't see anything in this article that discussed anything about an appeal process for players who think they tested positive for reasons other than direct steroid use. I seem to recall that a handful of major leaguers and minor leaguers appealed under the current system and were awarded back pay because their tests were found to have been flawed. That's great, but what about the time they missed? Under the current system, the suspensions begin immediately. There is nothing in this article to suggest that this part of the policy will change, and that, in a word, sucks.

Also, not to diminish the importance of ridding the baseball of steroids, but don't McCain and Bunning have anything better to do than act like bullies? Is there nothing more important in their day to day movements, like, say, holding President Ass Monkey's feet to the fire about his leak-ridden cabinet or pre-Iraq war intelligence fixing?

Besides, it's not as if baseball is the only culprit. Does anyone with even slightly more brain power than Preznit Flight Suit Fantasy really believe that some of the biggest NFL players got as big as they are simply by eating Wheaties? And that line about adopting the testing program the Olympics uses is just as big a joke. Christ, how many athletes are still being banned from competition as we speak?

Anyway, I'm sure we haven't heard the last on this topic. I just hope the incidence of positive tests disappears quickly so that "the game was better in my day" fossils like Bunning will stop saying stupid(er) things like erasing the stats for this era of play.

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