Does Teixeira have a case for AL MVP?

Unless he changes his name to Mike Trout and has some pretty impressive plastic surgery, there’s not a strong argument to be made for Mark Teixeira as the AL MVP this season. Teixeira’s +3.3 WAR currently leads the Yankees but he’s only 14th in WAR among AL batters, behind the likes of Logan Forsythe, Kevin Kiermaier, and, well, 11 others. Throw in pitchers and there are seven more above Teixeira. So despite having quite a comeback season and despite being the best hitter on a first-place team, Teixeira isn’t in the AL MVP conversation.

But what if we try hard to put him there? Maybe we can find something we’re missing, some way that, even if things stay as they are through the rest of the season, Teixeira deserves to carry the mantle of best player in the American League. It’s probably a stretch, but what the heck!

Right off the bat, and you know this is going to be good because I’m already resorting to baseball-themed cliche, I should acknowledge that leading the league in WAR doesn’t necessitate winning the MVP, but for our purposes here, it’s an easy way to sort players, especially since the presumed leader in the race also happens to be the leader in WAR. So convenient!

Including pitchers, there are actually 21 players with a higher WAR than Teixeira so far this season. Moving a guy from 22nd to first without him actually doing anything is a lot to ask, but here we go! We can start off by saying this: pitchers shouldn’t win the MVP. Pitching is a completely different position and necessitates different skills and should be judged independently. That’s why pitchers have the Cy Young Award. Do I believe this? No! But it works here and we press onward! So drop the seven pitchers from the list and Teixeira moves up to 14th. That’s progress! I wish all my housing projects were this easily accomplished.

Right now the list looks like this:

  1. Mike Trout
  2. Josh Donaldson
  3. Manny Machado
  4. Jason Kipnis
  5. Lorenzo Cain
  6. J.D. Martinez
  7. Yoenis Cespedes
  8. Nelson Cruz
  9. Brian Dozier
  10. Evan Longoria
  11. Kevin Kiermaier
  12. Logan Forsythe
  13. Ian Kinsler
  14. Mark Teixeira

 

Next up, let’s look at Kevin Kiermaier. Kiermaier is the center fielder for the Rays. He’s having a fantastic defensive season according to the numbers, but his offensive numbers don’t stack up to Teixeira’s. Kiermaier is hitting .244 with a .275 on-base percentage so his numbers don’t stack up well to most major leaguer’s, really. Kiermaier’s WAR total is mostly derived from his defense, a statement that is factually inaccurate because his WAR total is entirely derived from his defense. The problem is it can be difficult to trust defensive statistics, especially in small samples, like, say, any part of a season. That’s not to say that Kiermaier isn’t having the great defensive season the numbers say he is, just that there are some error bars around our knowing it without a doubt, regardless of what the defensive metrics tell us. But that’s not the reason Kiermaier won’t win the MVP. He won’t win the MVP for two reasons. First, Mike Trout plays the same position he does, and second, the voters will never vote for a guy with a .275 on-base percentage because we haven’t all gone back in time to 1965.

So remove Kiermaier from the list and while we’re at it we’ll remove Cain as well for the reason that he, like Kiermaier, is a center fielder not named Mike Trout. That moves Teixeira up to 12 on the list. While we’re at it, we’re kicking Longoria, Forsythe and Kinsler off as well. Their stat line tell us they’re getting significant portions of their WAR totals from their defense and they also tell us they’re not hitting enough to be the MVP.

While we’re at it we’re also going to boot Alex Rodriguez because he’s Alex Rodriguez and the universe loves to dump on him, but mostly because he’s a DH this season and therefore isn’t providing any defensive value at all, and we don’t need to look at any metrics to tell us that. We’re also going to drop Brian Dozier who isn’t hitting anywhere near as well as Teixeira and is someone about who defensive metrics disagree as to the quality of his defensive contributions. I probably should have dropped Kipnis by now too, but I love his on-base ability. Sadly for him (because sure, he’s totally reading this) any advantage he holds in on-base ability doesn’t make up for the huge disparity between his and Teixeira’s power.

Welcome to seventh!

Here’s the list now:

  1. Mike Trout
  2. Josh Donaldson
  3. Manny Machado
  4. J.D. Martinez
  5. Yoenis Cespedes
  6. Nelson Cruz
  7. Mark Teixeira!

 

It’s surprising to think that if he could field at all, Nelson Cruz would be a legitimate MVP candidate. The guy is out-hitting everyone in the AL except Trout and even there it’s a pretty close race. If you were voting solely on who was the best hitter this season in the AL, there’s a legitimate argument to be made for Cruz. It might not be a winning argument, but you wouldn’t be laughed out of the room. The problem comes when you remember that Cruz can’t do anything else but hit. He’s a horrendous fielder and a career-long practitioner of the lousy baserunning arts. Can one be the most valuable player when they can’t do anything but hit? Miguel Cabrera says yes. I say no, Miguel, this is my article, go away!

This brings up an interesting point though. If you only go by offense, the part of the game we feel strongly that we can measure well, Teixeira ranks fourth in the AL in wRC+ and just a single point in behind Josh Donaldson’s third place 156. Cruz is second at 177 and Trout is first at 181. This, my friends, is a dead end.

If you accept that we as baseball fans don’t know things, that’s fine. If you place a healthy skepticism on some of the metrics that FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus use, that’s fine too. You should be skeptical of such numbers until you come to understand where they come from, how they are derived. But even if you discount what some of those numbers are saying, and even if you cherry pick the ones you want to use, and come up with a convoluted article with the premise that a good player but very clearly not the best player should in fact be the MVP, even then you can’t escape the eat-crackers-with-your-eyes-insane amazingness of Mike Trout.

I started this piece because Mark Teixeira is having an excellent season after three down seasons at an age when you wouldn’t think he’d be able to return to his former glory, and that’s interesting and notable. But I also did it because I wanted to discuss the fungibility of statistics and the ways we can interpret them and manipulate them into validating our own viewpoints. Assuming everything continues along at roughly the same pace, Mark Teixeira isn’t going to the AL MVP. That’s a good thing too, because he shouldn’t be. Mike Trout has been much better. Even if you work hard to pick Teixeira, Trout is still much better. But depending on how you look at things, it’s maybe not as outlandish as it might seem to put Mark Teixeira in the outer reaches of the discussion as a ways to note how good he’s been. Mark Teixeira may not be Mike Trout, but Teixeira’s 2015 has been quite an accomplishment for a guy who last season looked like baseball had him figured out.