Taking a Look at the MLB MVP Race

Andrew KneelandSenior Writer IAugust 31, 2008

The question has been posed forever. The chant has been yelled for decades. The nicknames have stuck for years.


Just what makes a player overrated? Are we just dealing with emotions, or are other statistics and facts applied?

Likewise, MVP chants have filled sporting arenas and fields for years on end. In the end, is the best player really chosen, or are they really "overrated?"

The baseball season is hitting its prime, as the month of September unfolds, and the races for major awards heat up. The MVP award is slightly less talked about this year than the Cy Young, but let's take a look at who really should be leading the MVP race.

Before I dive in, I would like to make a disclaimer. I realize that there is no award measuring the most valuable player between both the American League and National League. In this article, I do not separate the AL from the NL, but rather look upon both leagues as a whole. When I reach my conclusion, it will be my MVP for the entire league.

One key attribute to an MVP season is the ability to help your respective team. One way to measure this is by looking at a statistic called "runs created." The purpose of this stat is to estimate the amount of runs a hitter contributes to his team.

This is done without taking into account how good the team as a whole is, or where they are in the division standings.

Runs created takes into account hits, walks, total bases, and at-bats. Here are the 2008 leaders (all statistics through August 30):

PlayerRuns Created
Lance Berkman120
Grady Sizemore115
Albert Pujols115
Justin Morneau109
Aubrey Huff105
Ian Kinsler105
Nick Markakis104


As you can see, Berkman is in the lead. He is also among the league leaders in batting average. The league leader in batting average, Pujols, is third on this list. Chipper Jones and Matt Holiday, both among the top five in batting average and both currently receiving attention for the MVP award, are no where to be found. Holliday is 21st on the runs created list while Jones is 28th.

Another statistic that can be used to measure a players' overall effectiveness is win shares. This stat is extremely complicated (in Bill James' book about the stat, he uses pages 16-100 to walk through the formula), but is a pretty basic concept.

For every game a team wins, the three players who contribute the most get one win share apiece. Therefore, if a team wins 100 games in a season, there are 300 win shares scattered among the team.

This statistic can narrow down which player has the biggest impact on his team.

Obviously, the more success a players' team has, the more win shares he will more-than-likely receive. This may be more a matter of personal preference, but MVPs are usually chosen from winning teams. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. Generally, though, the more success a team has, the better the chances a player on the team has of winning the award.

Here are the 2008 leaders:

PlayerWin Shares
Lance Berkman33
Ian Kinsler28
Albert Pujols27
Justin Morneau27
Grady Sizemore26
Hanley Ramirez26
Josh Hamilton26

Berkman remains at the top of the list with a comfortable lead over Kinsler. There are two newcomers, Ramirez and Hamilton. The addition of the latter makes two Rangers on this top seven list. That is interesting because Texas is 17 games behind in the AL West, nearly eliminated from the postseason.

Again, the much-hyped Chipper Jones and Matt Holliday are nowhere near the top. Holliday finds himself at 17th while Jones ranks 35th.

Now before you start ripping me to shreds, I realize that there is a major flaw with the latest statistic when trying to find a Most Valuable Player.

Berkman may have more win shares because he has more plate appearances than anyone else. This would make a player with fewer WS more valuable because he has fewer plate appearances.

For those who are lost, here is an example.

A player with 30 home runs during a season is overshadowed by a player with 10 home runs in a month. The same concept applies. The only way to find out a player's raw win shares is to narrow it down to win shares per plate appearance.

A plate appearance is defined by at-bats plus walks, plus intentional walks, plus times hit by pitch, plus sacrifice hits/flies (PA = AB + BB + IBB + HBP + SH + SF)

This new number will obviously be extremely small, and a tiny difference must be looked as a huge difference. Here are the 2008 leaders for win shares per plate appearance.

Lance Berkman0.0574
Ian Kinsler0.0479
Albert Pujols0.0471
Kevin Youkilis0.0445
Justin Morneau0.0444
Josh Hamilton0.0434
Hanley Ramirez0.0428
Carlos Quentin0.0428

Berkman remains at the top with a huge lead. Clearly, he is the most productive player per plate appearance. Youkilis had been hanging around in the top 10 over the course of these previous two rankings, but finally explodes to fourth on this list. This shows that he is very productive and helps his team win when he gets a chance to bat. The problem is, Boston limits his plate appearances.

If you have stuck with me this whole time, I want to thank you. This was very fun to put together, and I think it is very revealing.

I am just providing these statistics for you to interpret as you want to, but in case you care, here is my personal opinion.

I think that these rankings totally pave the way for Berkman to win the award. As displayed above, he helps his team more than anybody else in baseball by contributing more runs. He also is the most valuable to his team, both overall and per plate appearance.

I don't think there should be any doubt in your mind as to who the real Most Valuable Player is. The real question is: Whom will be chosen by sports writers this year?

Will it be another classic case of overrating someone, or will they actually get it right this time?

It will be fun to find out.

Sources: thehardballtimes.com, retrosheet.com, baseball-reference.com


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