Scott Miller's Starting 9: Should a DH Ever Have a Shot at an MVP Award?

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Scott Miller's Starting 9: Should a DH Ever Have a Shot at an MVP Award?
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1. Should a DH ever win an MVP Award?

No. Heck no. Hail no.

Unless…

There is one avenue toward the MVP award if you are a DH, and one avenue only: A slugger must stack up offensive numbers so massive that they dwarf everything else in his path, from whomever is the runner-up in slugging percentage and homers to that year’s Super Bowl’s television ratings.

OK, so that last part is an exaggeration. But not by much.

Which brings us to Detroit’s Victor Martinez, who is doing everything so far this season except fly the Tigers’ broken charter from Boston to Cleveland. And don’t be surprised if the next time Detroit’s charter plane lands on the disabled list, he both fixes it and pilots it.

After May 18's games, Martinez ranked fifth in the majors with a .331 batting average, fifth in slugging percentage at .595, tied for ninth with 10 home runs and seventh in OPS at .973. As the Tigers roll in the AL Central, he’s popping up on television so often you’d think he had changed his name to V. Martinez and was hanging out with Donald Sterling.

But his most intriguing numbers of all, and this is well worth tracking into the summer just for fun, are these: Through 164 plate appearances, Martinez had more home runs (10) than strikeouts (9).

How cool is that?

Now despite Martinez’s early momentum, he leads the AL in only one department (batting average) and is tied for the lead with the White Sox’s Jose Abreu in another (slugging percentage). His 25 RBI are well behind teammate Miguel Cabrera’s 39.

And being that Martinez bats directly behind Miggy in the Tigers lineup, most of his RBI chances are going to continue to vanish just before he comes to the plate the way those delicious works of art disappear from the plates at Lafayette Coney Island in Detroit.

So while he’s absolutely in the early-season MVP discussion, he’s got some work to do. Much work to do, being that he’s a DH.

Since the position was created in 1973, no full-time DH has ever won the MVP award. Three MVP winners since then did collect many at-bats as a DH, but they played the majority of time at other positions: The Rangers’ Juan Gonzalez in 1996 (102 games in right field, 32 as DH), the Angels’ Don Baylor in 1979 (78 games in left field, 65 as DH, 20 in right field) and the Red Sox’s Jim Rice in 1978 (101 games in left field, 49 as DH, 15 in right field).

There have been years in which a full-time DH has made a case to win an MVP award, and most of those bids recently have been made by Boston’s David Ortiz. Big Papi’s 2004-2006 period was a masterpiece, a time in which his successive RBI numbers were 139/148/137 and his homer numbers were 41/47/54.

But in those years, the Angels’ Vladimir Guerrero (’04), the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez (’05) and the Twins’ Justin Morneau (’06) won the MVP awards.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

In ’06, Ortiz out-homered Morneau 54-34, out-RBI’d him 137-130, out-OBP’d him .413-.375 and out-WAR’d him 5.7-4.3. But Morneau had a significantly higher batting average than Ortiz (.321-.287) and in two key departments contributed defensively because he played first base in 153 games (and DH’d in only four) and his Twins won the AL Central, while Ortiz’s Red Sox finished third in the AL East.

Granted, back in ’06, all most of the mainstream baseball media knew about WAR was that the band had big hits with "Low Rider" and "Why Can't We Be Friends." And over the past couple of decades, award voters (members of the Baseball Writers’ Assn. of America, of which, full disclosure, I am) have increasingly appeared to value contributions toward a contending team.

Given those parameters, the deck remains badly stacked against a DH winning the MVP award. Because by definition, if the pool of candidates is going to be narrowed to those playing for playoff teams, that will nearly automatically eliminate the MVP outliers from bottom-division teams (see: Andre Dawson for the 1987 Cubs).

And once the pool is whittled to players with contending teams, odds are astronomically against a DH given that he is not contributing defensively.

Is this right? I think it is. Yes, DH is a legitimate position and unquestionably should be considered in the MVP debate. But all things being equal, it’s not a fair fight.

As for Martinez, let’s see what happens the rest of this summer. And keep this in mind: Given that the past three AL MVPs have come from Detroit (Cabrera in ’13 and ’12, Justin Verlander in ’11) and that two of the past three AL Cy Young winners have been Tigers, too (Max Scherzer in ’13, Verlander in ’11)…well, if any DH is going to win an MVP award anytime soon, you’d figure he would be tiger-striped.

 

2. ALCS Reversal of Fortune

Yes, if you are the Boston Red Sox, you’d easily still take smoking the Tigers last October en route to a World Series victory. But as for the here and now, that still didn’t make Detroit’s three-game weekend sweep in Fenway Park any easier for the Red Sox to swallow.

When will Boston hit the gas pedal in 2014?

Will Boston hit the gas pedal in 2014?

The World Series champs are scuffling badly enough that they are unrecognizable from their 2013 predecessors. For one thing, they’ve now lost four in a row, something the ’13 Sox never did.

Problems are everywhere. Nobody is hitting consistently behind David Ortiz, making it easy to pitch around him. Ortiz is not seeing as many pitches to hit as he did last year, and he is tied for second in the majors with nine intentional walks.

The defense has been inconsistent. The Sox have had difficulty replacing Jacoby Ellsbury atop the lineup with Dustin Pedroia starting 24 games in the leadoff slot, Grady Sizemore nine, Daniel Nava five, Jonny Gomes four and Brock Holt one. (Ellsbury batted first in 134 games last season.)

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Meanwhile, center fielder Jackie Bradley is slogging along with a .603 OPS and 43 strikeouts in 145 plate appearances. Third baseman Will Middlebrooks is on the DL for a second time this season—and fourth time in three years—with a broken finger. And he’s hitting just .197 while swinging wildly. As the Sox blog Over the Monster notes, Middlebrooks is swinging at 27.7 percent of pitches outside the strike zone.

Ortiz talked at length following the sweep of the Tigers’ strategy.

“They executed their plan: ‘Don’t let Papi beat you,’” Ortiz told reporters. “We need offense, man. We need offense. We need offense. I can see that coming. Everyone just pitching around [me] and doing all kinds of [stuff]. What else can you do?

 

3. Tony La Russa Is a Snake

Matt York/Associated Press

Someone was going to get fired the way the Diamondbacks have been playing this season. Yet when the shakeup came Saturday, someone actually was hired: Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa is Arizona’s new chief baseball officer, reporting to club president Derrick Hall and overseeing general manager Kevin Towers.

It is a bold move for an organization that clearly needs a direction.

Long-term, it may be the Diamondbacks’ best move since acquiring Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling.

La Russa, 69, immediately will tour the Diamondbacks’ minor-league affiliates to familiarize himself with the organization’s talent levelor lack thereof. He also intends to spend time with the amateur scouting department before the June draft.

He will be reunited in Arizona with his longtime pitching coach Dave Duncan, who last winter joined the club as special assistant to the GM/pitching consultant. Duncan has a head start on his old boss and apparently won’t have much positive to tell La Russa.

“I think there’s a difference between a pitcher that can pitch in the big leagues and a pitcher that can pitch on a championship team,” Duncan told MLB Network Radio on Sunday. “I think we have pitchers that can pitch in the big leagues, but we need some top-of-the-rotation type starters, some real anchors for our starting staff.

“I’m in Mobile, Alabama, right now watching the Double-A club play, and this club is leading this division by four games, I think, and I’m trying to evaluate what they have down here. And so far, I haven’t been overly impressed.”

As for how this all affects Towers, stay tuned. Owner Ken Kendrick says La Russa has the “freedom” he needs to make decisions, and that “if we need to buy out contracts because he thinks that’s something we need to do, then we’ll do that.”

Sounds ominous for Towers, who ranks fifth among the game’s GMs in seniority, but Towers over the years is a proven survivor. In San Diego, then-owner John Moores hired Sandy Alderson as the club’s CEO in April 2005, and Towers worked harmoniously with Alderson through Alderson’s departure in 2009.

 

4. Oakland's Plus-Plus-Plus-Plus Sizes

Mark Duncan/Associated Press

Saturday’s Oakland-Cleveland game was delayed in the third inning by a squirrel romping across the Progressive Park field. Statisticians immediately reported that the Athletics’ run differential over the squirrel was in double figures.

Nobody is hotter right now than Bob Melvin’s crew, which has won nine of its past 10 games. And Oakland's run differential right now is off the charts: It is at an astounding plus-95. The next-closest team in the majors is Detroit at plus-54. And no, that’s really not even close.

In sweeping Cleveland over the weekend, the A’s outscored the hapless Indians 30-6. Brandon Moss, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Donaldson…thump, thump, thump.

The A’s might have lost starters Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin for the season, but there are many indications that they aren’t going away despite that. Run differential is one of those chief indicators.

As a point of comparison, the two clubs that led the majors in run differential last season wound up meeting in the World Series. The 2013 run differential leaders, courtesy of sportingcharts.com:

Red Sox +197

Cardinals +187

Tigers +172

Athletics +142

Braves +140

 

5. Cal Ripken Is Safe, Again

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

Not that Cal Ripken’s Iron Man streak is in much jeopardy these days, but it’s standing a little taller again today with Prince Fielder’s streak biting the Texas dust.

 

Fielder’s streak ended at 547 games on Saturday—it was the longest current streak in the majors—because of a neck problem he says dates back to last season. Fielder was diagnosed over the weekend with a herniated disk in his neck and received a nerve-blocking injection that the Rangers hope will allow him to avoid surgery.

Given that he’s hitting only .247 with three homers, 16 RBI and a .360 slugging percentage, the Rangers hope the fact that Fielder has not been a pain in the neck of opponents is related to his own neck pain.

“It makes some sense,” Rangers general manager Jon Daniels told MLB.com. “If you put two and two together, it stands to reason it affected him some. He said there was a lack of strength in his left arm that may have impacted his ability to hit for power.”

With a long history of brawn and playing in a launching pad of a ballpark, the Rangers shockingly rank 28th in the majors with only 27 homers.

 

6. The Show Me a Homer State

Speaking of the Rangers’ power outage, the entire state of Missouri is in a Dinger Drought. Entering this week, the Royals ranked last in the majors with 20 homers and the Cardinals ranked 29th with 23.

 

7. The All-or-Nothing 'Stros

One more homer-related nugget:

The Astros when they hit a home run: 16-11.

The Astros when they do not hit a home run: 1-17.

 

8. Here Kitty, Kitty

Good luck to Tara from Bakersfield, who will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Tuesday's Class-A game between the hometown Blaze and Lancaster. Hmmm, you didn’t know cats could throw? Neither did I, but I trust Blaze pitching coach Tom Browning must be working his magic.

If you somehow missed this story, it is remarkable: Tara is the family cat who saved a boy as a dog was attacking him. Check out the story and video here.

 

9. Guilty Cleats Have Got No Rhythm

The countdown already is on while we await the start of the next A’s homestand. Less than a week now until Monday’s home game against Detroit!

Why the watch? Josh Reddick, of course, who last was heard using the sultry saxophone strains from "Careless Whisper" for his walk-up music. Maybe it won’t create a demand for a Wham! reunion, but it sure has created much chuckling across the baseball and music Internet landscape. Will he stick with it when the A’s return home? Inquiring musical minds demand to know.

Who knows, maybe this will start a movement of bizarre walk-up music that will get people thinking. My favorite so far this year has been Matt Kemp’s timely use of Michael Jackson’s "Black or White" in Dodger Stadium on the Sunday he was dragged into the Donald Sterling swamp.

It always is entertaining when Torii Hunter mixes in the theme from Sanford and Son, which he does from time to time for comic relief when he’s not swinging well.

And maybe my all-time favorite ballpark music moment is one that only happened in the imagination: Remember when the Mets acquired Billy Wagner to close games, and he went with "Enter Sandman" by Metallica, and a New York controversy was stirred because that was Mariano Rivera’s entrance music?

Doing a story on closers’ entrance music, I asked Ryan Dempster—then of the Cubs—which song he would choose if Wrigley Field replaced its organist with a sound system.

Dempster never even hesitated.

I Touch Myself by the Divinyls,” he deadpanned.

 

9a. Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Week

What else?

“I'm never gonna dance again
“Guilty feet have got no rhythm
“Though it's easy to pretend
“I know you're not a fool
“I should have known better than to cheat a friend
“And waste a chance that I've been given
“So I'm never gonna dance again
“The way I danced with you"

—George Michael, "Careless Whisper"

Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has over two decades of experience covering MLB, including 14 years as a national baseball columnist at CBSSports.com.

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball here.

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