No. 602 Juan Gonzalez (Number 55 Left Field)

Ok for my many fans. I am going a lot out of order here. The other night I thought of a great article about Juan Gonzalez and decided I should do it now. I could write the article without putting it under his name but what would I write about when I get to him. I did that with Catfish Hunter, and I will probably repeat a lot of that article and give an update on my feelings when I get to him. However, enjoy this right now especially if you’re a Juan Gonzalez fan as I don’t expect to write another article on him.

On Page 240 and 241 of Bill James Win Share Book Bill does a comparison of the actual MVP award to the actual award. Sometimes he makes a comment. For the 1969 comment he has the Win Shares MVP for the American League as Reggie Jackson with 41 as compared with the actual MVP as Harmon Killebrew with 34. That is fair as even though they have similar offense statistics Jackson played in a park a lot more difficult to hit in and was a better fielder at his position than Killebrew was at his. Bill does comment “That we might get a different answer in this year if we had scoresheets”.

What did he mean by that? Let’s go through a little history. In 1969 baseball went into two divisions. Minnesota and Oakland were put into the Western Division with two expansion teams, Seattle and Kansas City. The Twins had a new manager in Billy Martin. Martine looked at the setup. The expansion teams were going to be weak. Martin knew he had a better team than the 7th place team in 1968. Also, the teams finished in the top 5 were all Eastern Division teams. The only team that finished in front of them from the west were the young Oakland A’s.

Billy knew this was a talented young team. He wasn’t worried much about the other teams in the division. He knew that the Twins had to beat the A’s to win the division. This turned out to be true. When they weren’t playing each other, the Twins won 84 games and the A’s won 83. However, the Twins won the season series 13 games to 5 giving themselves a 9-game cushion at the end. In stories I read Billy’s play was to intimidate the A’s with the running game with steals of home and aggression on the base path. Guys tell how this confused the A’s and gave the Twins an advantage. However, it helps if your big slugger, Killebrew has statistics like this in those 18 games, a batting average of .435, 11 homeruns and 34 RBIs. He had an on base percentage of .541 and a slugging percentage of .942. So that is what Bill James meant by looking at the box scores. It was known at the time the Killebrew killed the A’s that year helping the Twins to an easy division title.

So, what about going through the box scores. I didn’t but Baseball Reference did to come up with a new stat called Championship Win Probability Added (WPA). Guess who led the league in it in 1969. Right Harmon Killebrew with 11 wins helping his team to the championship. Reggie Jackson was second with 9.1. No one else has more than 7.0. I don’t think this is a final thing, but it is something besides how did a player did overall (WAR and/or Win Shares) that should be strongly considered.

By the way just to let you know Killebrew is 18th on the all-time list in this category. I don’t think the whole baseball history has been calculated, but since Babe Ruth is the all-time leader, I think they have gone somewhere in the teens in the 20th Century. He was also the lead the league all three years the Twins made the post season in his career.

I was thinking of this when I saw Juan Gonzalez mentioned in something I read. I thought Gonzalez won two MVPs that were controversial in 1996 and 1998. I know Gonzalez had a lot of RBIs and his team the Texas Rangers won tight races both times. I know other players had more WAR than he did. So, I decided I will see how he and his competitors did in Championship WPA. As I write this paragraph I haven’t yet looked. So, let us take a look together.

First, we will look at 1996. Texas beat the Seattle Mariners by 4 and a half games. Here are the top 8 in RBIs:

1. Belle • CLE 148
2. Gonzalez • TEX 144
3. Vaughn • BOS 143
4. Palmeiro • BAL 142
5. Griffey • SEA 140
6. Buhner • SEA 138
7. Thomas • CHW 134
8. Rodriguez • SEA 123

Cleveland won their division easily. Boston was 3 out of the wild card and Seattle 2.5 out of the wild card. Baltimore was the wild card winner. Here are the top six of the MVP vote:

1. Juan Gonzalez Tex 290 Points 11 First Place Votes WAR 3.8
2. Alex Rodriguez Sea 287 Points 10 First Place Votes WAR 9.4
3. Albert Belle Clev 228 Points 2 First Place Votes WAR 5.7
4. Ken Griffey Jr Sea 188 Points 4 First Place Votes WAR 9.7
5. Mo Vaughn Bos 132 Points WAR 5.6
6. Rafael Palmeiro Bal 104 Points WAR 4.5

Ivan Rodriguez the Texas Ranger catcher got the other first place vote and finished 10th in the voting.

So, by WAR Gonzalez is an embarrassing selection. Part of the problem was most of the voters thought the two Seattle players really stood out. However, they might have had problems making them first and second as Seattle didn’t even make the playoffs. It is obvious either Rodriguez or Griffey should have won. but what does Championship WPA say about the vote. By the way I would have voted for Rodriguez.

Well surprise, surprise Edgar Martinez was first. He didn’t even get an MVP vote. Second was Alex Rodriguez my choice for MVP with 4.2 wins added. Palmeiro was third with 4.1. Griffey was fifth with 3.1. Imagine how the other Mariners played. Gonzalez was the only MVP top 6 player in the top 10 with 2.5. He ended up in 10th place in the category. This stat didn’t help him at all in 1996.

Now for 1998. This time Gonzalez led the league in RBIs. Here are the top 8 in 1998:

1. Gonzalez • TEX 157
2. Belle • CHW 152
3. Griffey • SEA 146
4. Ramirez • CLE 145
5. Rodriguez • SEA 124
6. Martinez • NYY 123
7. Garciaparra • BOS 122

Texas won their division by three games over Anaheim as Seattle was not in contention. Albert Belle now with the White Sox also played for a team that wasn’t really in contention even though they finished second. The Yankees team with Tino Martinez was one of the greatest of all time. Boston was the wild card team. Now let us look at the MVP vote:

1. Juan Gonzalez TEX 357 points 21 first place votes WAR 4.9
2. Garciaparra BOS 232 points 5 first place votes WAR 7.1
3. Derek Jeter NY 180 points 2 first place votes WAR 7.5
4. Ken Griffey Jr. Sea 135 points WAR 6.6
5. Mo Vaughn Bos 135 points WAR 5.6
6. Manny Ramirez Clev 127 points WAR 5.3

Alex Rodriguez finished 9th in the voting but led the league in WAR with 8.5. Right now, I would make Jeter the favorite, but it is a tough choice. Now let us look at Championship WPA.

Jim Edmonds of Anaheim led the league with 2.3 additional wins. What a low total. Gonzalez was second with 2.2. Mo Vaughn had 1.6 for sixth place and Garciaparra had 1.5 for seventh. Jeter, Griffey, Ramirez nor Rodriguez was in the top 10. I still go with Jeter. He helped a great team achieve greatness.

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Gary Fletcher

Interesting take on MVP voting, Doug. Generally speaking, MVP awards tend to be assessed on the basis on seasonal summaries – single season statistics, which player’s team did the most winning (for that season), plus reputations based on previous years. But here is something that is considered, but not consistently. The eye catching, single game (single important game) heroics of contenders for the award. Certainly that brings the shared MVP award of Willie Stargell in 1979. Stargell wasn’t close to being the best player in the NL in 1979, nor did he have anywhere near the best season in 1979,… Read more »