What the hell does Most Valuable Player mean? There has long been a debate in sports between those who think that MVP’s are simply the best players and those who think that “value” to a specific team matters more; that an MVP can’t play on a last place team because if the player really were that valuable, his team wouldn’t be in last.
The correct answer, of course, is that the MVP award should simply be given to the best player. (Perhaps in a sport like basketball, where one good player can make such a big difference and nearly singlehandedly carry his team to victory night in and night out, the opposing view can be reasonably argued – but in baseball that’s just not the case. A last place team can have a gold glove caliber shortstop with, say, 47 home runs and a .600 slugging and still be a last place team. That doesn’t mean that that player wouldn’t be valuable on another, better team, and it certainly doesn’t mean that that particular player wasn’t best in the league that year.)
But how do you measure ‘best’ when sample sizes are wildly different? Unlike the NFL, baseball names two MVPs, one for each league, so a player who spent some time in one league and some time in the other earns himself two separate sets of statistics by which to measure success.
Of course, for some this reinvigorates the controversy over the word ‘valuable,’ because how “valuable” can a player really be if he’s only been on a team a few months?
This is an unnecessary controversy though. As we’ve already established that the MVP should go to the best player, we simply have to determine whether a given player was the best in his league in order to figure out if that guy should be the MVP. That he didn’t get a whole season to compete against a subset of peers is a definite disadvantage, but them’s the breaks.
That brings us to JD Martinez, the current Arizona Diamondback and former Detroit Tiger who has lit the NL on fire since his trade from Detroit to Arizona on July 18th. Martinez has been in the thick of the NL MVP discussion despite the fact that he’s only played 59 games in the NL this season. In that time, Martinez hit .306/.372/.761 with 29 homers, 12 doubles, and 1 triple (that’s 42 of his 68 hits going for 2, 3, or 4 bags!) and 65 RBIs. (Fun fact: as of Thursday afternoon, Martinez is tied for second on the Dbacks in home runs despite the fact that Jake Lamb, the guy he’s tied with, has played nearly 90 more games.) His slugging percentage is leaps and bounds above anyone else in the NL (or AL for that matter) and his OPS also leads league. That’s damn impressive for a guy who played less than half his games in the league.
So he’s clearly an MVP candidate, but of which league? Across his AL and NL campaigns, Martinez has socked 45 home runs and driven in 106 runs while batting .306/.380/.699 (and posting a 4.2 bWAR, not that that really counts). The majority of the dominance came with Arizona, so let’s knock him out of the AL conversation to start with.
NL-wise, Martinez has been great. Really great. But there a few knocks against him in the MVP race. A big one is that other players in the league are great, and they played quite a bit longer.
Let’s start with Martinez’s own teammate Paul Goldschmidt. Goldy is the rare firstbasemen who steals bases. This year, he’s swiped 18 of them to go along with 36 bombs, a .302 average, a fantastic .402 OBP, and .572 slugging percentage as the 3 hitter and team leader, while adding Gold Glove caliber defense. His 6.0 bWAR is noticeably higher than Martinez’s.
Next, there’s Colorado Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon, a player who leads the NL in runs, hits, triples, and batting average. He also has a .397 OBP, 36 homers, and 100 RBIs out of the leadoff spot. (Have you looked at Blackmon’s numbers lately? Woah.)
Don’t forget about Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds. Votto has a league leading 133 walks and almost Bonds-esque .454 OBP, which should lead the league for the 6th time in Votto’s career. Joey also has (say it with me) 36 homers, 99 RBI and a silly 7.3 bWAR.
Finally, there’s Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins. Stanton leads all qualified NL hitters with a .625 slugging and leads the MLB with 58 home runs as well. He’s hit .276 with a .373 OBP and a 7.2 bWAR.
I would rather have 155 games of Stanton than 59 games of Martinez. That sucks for Martinez but that’s the way the award works. However, I would also rather have that line from Stanton than the full season stats of Martinez across both leagues so JD shouldn’t have that much to cry over. And not to rub it in, but I’d rather have Votto’s, Goldschmidt’s, and especially Blackmon’s lines over either Martinez’s NL only or full season numbers.
So for me, I’m sold on JD’s non-MVP-ness, but just for good measure and to pacify those of you who are still holding on to that ‘valuable’ word with both hands, consider:
- On July 18th, the Arizona Diamondbacks won an 11-2 game over the Cincinnati Reds to keep pace with the Los Angeles Dodgers and remain 10.5 games back in the division. The win improved the Dbacks to 54-39, good for a .610 winning percentage and an early lead in the NL Wild Card hunt. Arizona was a really good team powered by all-world first basemen Goldschmidt, top notch position players in centerfielder AJ Pollack and third basemen Jake Lamb, and resurgent Ace Zack Greinke, who had bounced back nicely from a disastrous first season in the desert.
- Today, the DBacks, winners of the NL’s top Wild Card spot, sport a 92-67 record. That’s a .579 winning percentage for those scoring at home.
There is no doubt that JD Martinez has been spectacular this season. He has without a doubt been one of the most valuable AND best players in the National League, and a huge part of the reason that Arizona was able to keep rolling so well and clinch a playoff berth; he’ll be a big part of their success in the postseason, should they advance deep into October; he’s a great hitter, and he’s had a great season; he should be very proud, and the Diamondbacks should be thrilled that they have them on their roster.
But all that said, he’s just not the MVP.