Alfonso Soriano: NL MVP?

With the injury to Albert Pujols, the National League Most Valuable Player is at least temporarily back up for grabs. Pujols can probably miss 3-4 weeks comfortably without losing the inside track to the award, but let’s examine another candidate if only to highlight the kind of season he is having. Washington Nationals leftfielder Alfonso Soriano has transitioned remarkably well into both a National Leaguer and an outfielder. Two and a half months ago, Soriano was refusing to play his new position in a preseason game for the Nats. Many predicted a turmoil-ridden stint in Washington that would likely end before the season ran out. Instead, Soriano is having a career year and actually receiving some accolades for his improved play in left. Neither Soriano nor the Nationals have discussed an extension, but you can bet that the team is far more interested in one than they were in the preseason.

With his 22nd home run last night, Soriano raised his pace for 2006 to 60, which would set a new career-best by 21 (2002). During the 2002 season, he was just one home run from becoming the 4th member of the 40 HR-40 SB club. If he maintained his current paces, he would be the lone member of the 60-30 club. In fact, he is on pace to set watermarks in home runs, runs batted in, walks, batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage:

Year Team AB R H HR RBI BB SB BA OBP SLG
2006 WAS 239 44 74 22 45 19 13 0.310 0.363 0.628
On Pace WAS 656 120 203 60 123 52 35 0.310 0.362 0.625
2005 TEX 637 102 171 36 104 33 30 0.268 0.309 0.512
2004 TEX 608 77 170 28 91 33 18 0.280 0.324 0.484
2003 NYY 682 114 198 38 91 38 35 0.290 0.338 0.525
2002 NYY 696 128 209 39 102 23 41 0.300 0.332 0.547
2001 NYY 574 77 154 18 73 29 43 0.268 0.304 0.432
2000 NYY 50 5 9 2 3 1 2 0.180 0.196 0.360
1999 NYY 8 2 1 1 1 0 0 0.125 0.125 0.500



But is it good enough for MVP consideration? First off, his Nationals are 26-33 and very unlikely to finish to the season above .500. Fair or not, that alone eliminates him from several ballots. Winning the MVP as part of a sub-.500 team just doesn’t happen. There are exceptions, most recently Alex Rodriguez nabbing the hardware as part of a 71-91 Texas Rangers team, but there have been too many cases where a superior player on an inferior team gives way to the leader of a winning team. Rodriguez once again comes to mind as he clearly outclassed Miguel Tejada in 2002, but Tejada’s A’s had 31 more wins and a playoff berth. So from the outset, Soriano is unlikely to get the proper consideration that his numbers warrant (should he hold/improve the pace of his numbers). Thus, we’re already engaging in a hypothetical situation.

Looking at it hypothetically allows us to examine the statistics that are typically overlooked in the voting process. First, let’s look at Win Shares. Hardball Times gives us a look at the leaders thus far:

(*note-I’ve eliminated Pujols, who is obviously first and also the pitchers assuming, maybe incorrectly, that the MVP will go to a hitter)

Through 5/26/06

Year  Last  First  Tm  Lg  Pos  Batting  Fielding  ExpWS  WSP  WSAB  TOT WS
2006 Berkman L HOU NL 1B 10 0.8 5 1.009 7 11
2006 Abreu B PHI NL OF 9.6 0.9 5 0.986 7 10
2006 Utley C PHI NL 2B 8.9 1.3 5 0.937 6 10
2006 Beltran C NYN NL OF 6.5 2.4 4 1.007 6 9
2006 Giles B SD NL OF 7.9 1.2 5 0.777 5 9
2006 Ensberg M HOU NL 3B 8.9 0.6 5 0.828 5 9
2006 Estrada J ARI NL C 5.1 2.7 3 1.019 5 8
2006 Winn R SF NL OF 5.7 2 5 0.667 4 8
2006 Lee C MIL NL OF 7.9 0.4 5 0.739 4 8
2006 Delgado C NYN NL 1B 7.2 0.8 5 0.721 4 8
2006 Cabrera M FLA NL 3B 7.1 0.6 5 0.725 4 8
2006 Lopez F CIN NL SS 6.7 1 5 0.652 4 8
2006 Jones A ATL NL OF 6.8 1.5 5 0.756 4 8
2006 Soriano A WAS NL OF 7.4 0.9 5 0.738 4 8
2006 Walker T CHN NL 1B 5.7 1.1 4 0.731 4 7
2006 Bonds B SF NL OF 6.7 0.5 4 0.883 4 7
2006 Wright D NYN NL 3B 6.6 1 5 0.666 4 7
2006 Johnson N WAS NL 1B 7.1 0.3 5 0.665 4 7
2006 Fielder P MIL NL 1B 6.6 0.6 5 0.685 4 7
2006 Roberts D SD NL OF 6 1.2 4 0.73 4 7
2006 McCann B ATL NL C 5 1.9 3 0.901 4 7
2006 Dunn A CIN NL OF 6.4 0.7 5 0.642 3 7
2006 Greene K SD NL SS 4.7 2 5 0.618 3 7
2006 Kent J LAN NL 2B 4.9 2.1 5 0.683 3 7
2006 Vidro J WAS NL 2B 5.8 0.9 5 0.639 3 7
2006 Hawpe B COL NL OF 5.7 1.4 5 0.678 3 7
2006 Reyes J NYN NL SS 6.2 1.3 6 0.623 3 7
2006 Kearns A CIN NL OF 5.9 1 5 0.617 3 7



Soriano finds himself in a tie for fourth with some elite company ahead of him; winning elite company. I wouldn’t be surprised if an updated version has Soriano closer to the top as he has hit .347 (16-for-46) with six home runs and 13 runs batted in since May 26th. While the numbers may change, the players involved will likely just be jockeying for position most of the season barring injury. Only a few standouts appear to be out of their league including Johnny Estrada, Todd Walker, Dave Roberts, and the now-injured Brian McCann.

The next non-standard statistic I like to look at when assessing the best of the best, is Baseball Prospectus’ VORP (Value Over Replacement Player). Defined by the site as: “The number of runs contributed beyond what a replacement-level player at the same position would contribute if given the same percentage of team plate appearances. VORP scores do not consider the quality of a player’s defense.” I have once again removed Pujols (#1 here as well) and give the next 10 through yesterday:

# NAME TEAM POS LG YEAR PA PA% AVG OBP SLG SB CS MLV PMLV VORP
2 Miguel Cabrera FLO 3b NL 2006 245 11.40% 0.349 0.437 0.593 6 1 28.5 23.8 32.5
3 Jason Bay PIT lf NL 2006 260 11.50% 0.305 0.427 0.614 5 1 27.0 21.1 30.0
4 Chase Utley PHI 2b NL 2006 259 11.50% 0.323 0.398 0.541 6 3 18.1 20.2 27.5
5 Alfonso Soriano WAS lf NL 2006 259 11.40% 0.310 0.363 0.628 13 7 24.0 18.2 25.8
6 David Wright NYN 3b NL 2006 255 11.10% 0.327 0.400 0.559 8 1 21.0 16.3 25.5
7 Nomar Garciaparra LAN 1b NL 2006 175 7.50% 0.363 0.423 0.624 2 0 21.5 17.0 24.3
8 Nick Johnson WAS 1b NL 2006 249 11.00% 0.296 0.415 0.539 5 2 19.4 13.0 23.0
9 Carlos Beltran NYN cf NL 2006 211 9.20% 0.266 0.389 0.572 8 2 14.2 14.5 21.4
10 Andruw Jones ATL cf NL 2006 248 10.80% 0.289 0.355 0.546 3 0 13.1 13.4 21.3
11 Edgar Renteria ATL ss NL 2006 230 10.00% 0.320 0.401 0.465 6 2 11.6 13.7 20.7



This is why Soriano refused to play left field. His value (over replacement) as a second baseman figures to be much higher than at a deeper, more offense-oriented position like left field. Given his production to this point, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that Soriano would be second to Pujols in VORP if he were still at 2nd base. He nearly edges Philadelphia second baseman Chase Utley as a left fielder. Cabrera and Bay have the same team liability as Soriano playing on two of the worst teams in all of baseball.

Aside from the collection of traditional stats, Win Shares & VORP are, in my opinion, two of the best measures for judging for a Most Valuable Player. Last year, Pujols and Rodriguez both justified their wins by finishing atop their respective leagues in Win Shares. Pujols was 2nd to Derrek Lee is VORP. In 2004, three Yankees topped Vladimir Guerrero in WS, but only Gary Sheffield garnered significant consideration finishing second. Based on the early WS & VORP returns, I don’t think that Soriano is going to have a particularly strong case for the MVP in 2006… at least not the “real” baseball MVP.

His power-speed combination coupled with his eligibility at 2nd base make Soriano a fantasy baseball owner’s dream. As expected, he has provided the most valuable non-Albert fantasy season to date. My primary reason for doing this exercise was to see if I was blurring the lines between fantasy & real with my Soriano assessment. I was.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: