Thursday, July 24, 2008

One of These is Not Like the Other

The way it's playing out right now, there are three candidates for Yankees' team MVP.

Two will be extremely obvious. You can probably guess them right now without me saying anything else, and you would be more than justified.

The third, however, will be so outlandish as to make you want to stop reading this blog all together. In fact, if you were to go by stats alone, this player would probably be in contention for least valuable. Curious? Keep reading.

Let's start with the first two blindingly obvious candidates: Mike Mussina and Mariano Rivera.

Mike Mussina

This is a guy that was supposed to spend 2008 competing for the five spot in the rotation. The only reason he started in the two spot at all was because Andy Pettitte started the season on the disabled list (remember that?).

He didn't have an exceptional April, either--two starts against the Red Sox will do that to you if you keep pitching to Manny Ramirez--but since then, he has gone 10-3, with just one start, against Baltimore, bad enough to remind one of 2007.

How good has Mike Mussina been this year? Check this out:

Last year, all season, Mussina struck out 91 batters.

This season, on July 24, he has already struck out 81.

Last year, he walked 35 batters; this year, past the all star break, he's only walked 16--and none in his last start.

His ERA? At 3.29 it's the lowest it's been since his first year with the Yankees. In 2001.

You can also look at it this way: if Mussina makes ten more starts this season, and only wins five of them, he'll still finish with 18 wins...and the way he's pitching right now, the Yankees will probably win more than five of his remaining starts

It's not just that Mussina has been so valuable to the Yankees this year; it's that no one expected it--probably not even Moose himself. When the Comeback Player of the Year discussions start, his name will be mentioned, not just because of how well he has done for himself, but because of how much he has meant to the Yankees in 2008.

Mariano Rivera

Let's start with the obvious here: closers are not supposed to have career years at the age of 38, but that is exactly what Rivera is doing.

Rivera might not have the saves that Fransico Rodriguez of the Angels has, but that's because saves are a by-product off wins. As the Angels have the best record in baseball, Rodriguez has more save opportunties. Unlike Rodriguez, however, Rivera has so far converted all of his opportunities.

I've gone over Rivera's crazy stats before, but if you need a refresher:

ERA: 1.21 (career best)
SO/BB: 13.5 (career best) (54 K/4 BB)
BAA: .168
OBP: .198
SLG: .232
OPS: .430

Rivera has always been immensley valuable to the Yankees. For the past 11 years now, if Rivera's healthy and the Yankees are winning after eight innings, you can almost guarantee a win a the Yankee column.

This season, however, he's pitching on another level.

Right now, the rest of the bullpen looks just as untouchable as Rivera, but earlier in the season, when that wasn't the case, Rivera was still the one guy the Yankees could count on to get themselves out of a tight spot.

Closers aren't supposed to have career years at age 38, but Mo's could not possibly have come at a better time.

Right. So those are two of the blindingly obvious team MVP candidates. While it's hard to quantiy value to a team, both Mussina's and Rivera's stat lines give you some idea as to the type of seasons they are having.

The next guy I'm going to suggest is not having a career year. Not even close. He's only hitting .222, has no home runs, no speed and isn't actually supposed to play every day.

At the same time, he's so good defensively, he is one of the few that can change the way another team plays a game.

If you haven't guessed by now that I'm referring to Jose Molina, well, you've not been watching a lot of Yankee baseball this season.

When the Yankees traded for Jose Molina last year, they weren't looking for another starting catcher; they were looking for someone that could spell Posada who hit a bit better than Wil Nieves.

Molina fit the profile, and the Yankees gave up very, very little to get him.

Value is relative--it's based on how much more (or less) you get from someone (or something) than you expect.

The Yankees expected a competent defender that could manage to get on base once in a while, too.

What the Yankees got was a catcher that has thrown out nearly 50% of all baserunners attempting to steal, helped Mike Mussina become the de facto ace of the Yankees staff, worked well with every pitcher in the rotation, and, oh yeah, he's played in 64 of the Yankees 101 games thus far--well on pace to break his career high of 78 games played in 2006.

Granted, he doesn't hit much, but if everyone else in the Yankee line up starts to hit--as they've done during this, their second longest winning streak of the season--Molina's defense more than makes up for his weak bat.

Consider it like this way: Mussina and Rivera are putting up seasons that could make them contenders for league MVP if not for 1) the league's MVP bias against pitching, 2) Cliff Lee and 3) Francisco Rodriguez.

Jose Molina is much more important to the Yankees in terms of suiting their needs right now, than he would likely be to any other team.

Oh, and one more thing:

Molina's tough as nails. In the 2-1 Yankee win over Boston during the July 4 weekend series, Molina was hit by a pitch while catching in a region that, for reasons of gender and anatomy, I will never fully understand what it feels like to get hit there.

He stayed in the game.

In the Yankees 4-3 win over Oakland last Saturday?

Molina stuck his knee out with the bases loaded to take a HBP for the team and win the game.

The next night?

He ended the game by throwing out a runner trying to take second.

The last time the Yankees had a back up catcher that meant as much to the team as Jose Molina currently means to the Yankees? Think 1998, with Joe Girardi and a young Jorge Posada.

So there you have it. My three candidates for team MVP (please do keep in mind this is team, and not league, MVP).

Two of them you probably guessed right off the bat; the third, probably not so much.

Enjoy the day off--exciting weekend coming up!


  1. That was extremely well written.
    I agree with all three of your nominees... maybe add Cano as he starts to heat up? (I could see him continuing this multi-hit game hitting streak for a bit as he seemingly hits everything wherever he wants). I would have to say however that Mussina without a doubt has my vote for Team MVP and comeback player of the year... what's your opinion on signing him on another year or not?
    (I am SamVA on LoHud by the way)

  2. Yankeeslifewomen/SamVA: I haven't added Canò because a team MVP is generally someone that's performed all year. Robbie will probably be the second half MVP, if previous doings are any indication, but that doesn't change the fact that he was nearly an automatic out the entire month of April.

    For Mussina, if he can pitch like he pitches this year I'm all for bringing him back

  3. Rebecca - Musssina seems like an obvious choice for MVP, but I agree with you about Molina. Beasides throwing out base runners, the pitching staff loves working with him, especially Moose who he was catching even with Posada there. Molina calls a good game and gives the pitchers all of the credit afterwards. This was one of Brian's biggest moves last year before the trade deadline - trading for Jose.

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  5. Mussina and Mo have been outstanding. That's really all that can be said. We wouldn't be three behind if it hadn't been for them.