October 5, 2006

Numbers Don't Lie for AL Slugger

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I may be a Yankee fan who wants to see Derek Jeter win MVP this season, but I’m not ignorant enough to think he truly was the most valuable player in the AL this year. Sure, he might win the award — and for a change, he is a statistically-valid candidate for it — especially considering its vague criteria, experts’ infatuation with his “aura,” the Yankee’s league-best record, etc.

But I’m not convinced he should win it, statistically speaking. I think the honor should really go to Boston’s designated hitter David Ortiz … just kidding. No, not him either, although last year, I would have believed it. Truthfully, I’m not yet convinced who the MVP in either league was, but I am convinced that one man should feel utterly victimized for not getting mentioned enough.

I present to you a candidate for MVP — not the person I think should win — who has been ignored all season long, in what has become one of the biggest injustices in the sports world this year. Writers have overlooked him since his team fell into the bottom of its division, unjustly naming other players in his place. ESPN hasn’t emphasized his contributions on its highlights in months, focusing on clips of David Eckstein hustling to first base instead. Fans outside of his home city and division have seemingly forgotten about him. Why?

His name is Pronk. You know, “The Best Hitter in the AL.” Still no clue? I’ll give you another hint: Sun Assistant Sports Editor Paul Testa knows.

It’s Travis Hafner, DH for the Cleveland Indians; the team that finished 78-84 and 17 games out of the Wild Card. He may be the best hitter in baseball, and certainly is in his league. Yet, where has his name been through all the talk of AL MVP? Sports Illustrated’s baseball guru, Jon Heyman, named Morgan Ensberg (.235 batting average, 58 RBI, .396 on base percentage, .463 slugging percentage) and Torii Hunter (.278, 98, .336, .490) over Hafner. I don’t care how good you play in the field, that’s a ludicrous decision.

Here’s how good Hafner was this season: He scored 100 runs; was tied for third in home runs with 42 (and was second in at bats per home run at 10.2); had 31 doubles; had 117 RBI, the league’s sixth-best total; drew the fourth-best total, with 100 walks; batted for a .308 average. And he did it all in only 129 games and 454 at bats. And the left-handed hitter faired better against lefty pitchers than righties. And it gets even more interesting.

Hafner led the AL in OPS with a ridiculous 1.098 — the highest average in four years — with league-leading on-base (.439) and slugging (.659) percentages. (No one has slugged that high in four years, too). Hafner also led the AL in secondary average (.570), meaning he gained more bases, when he got on base, than any other person in the AL.

Offense in baseball is all about (1) getting on base, (2) getting as close to home (base-wise) as you can and (3) driving in as many runners (yourself included) as possible. Luckily for us, I just showed you some of the statistics that prove how well a hitter Hafner is at doing this.

On average, no one in the AL has got on base as often as Hafner did (No. 1: OBP), and no one, on average, picked up as many bases as he did when he got on base (No. 2: SLG, SecA). Okay, those two statistics aren’t perfect for measuring No. 2. But here’s one that’s pretty damn good at what it does, and it measures the third ability — creating/driving in runs: runs created per 27 outs (RC27). Hafner led the AL in RC27 (10.3 runs per game), which means if we had a hypothetical team of all Travis Hafners hitting, it would score 10.3 runs per game — an average significantly higher than the next-best AL player (Manny Ramirez, 9.63). Interpret this as meaning Travis Hafner accounts for more runs scored, on average, than any person in the AL.

Okay, I know you’re saying, “this is all great, but having a good season doesn’t mean you’re having a better season than others.” Well, I just showed you that no other hitter lead the AL in the aforementioned three statistical categories, some of the best at determining how good a hitter is. I could argue that Hafner was in the top-10, and was (on average) higher-ranked than anyone else in the usual offensive statistics (the ones I mentioned initially). But those clearly aren’t convincing you if you still don’t believe me.

So, I present you the No. 1 statistic for measuring a baseball player’s hitting and base-running — you know, the things that score runs — against his competition: EqA, or adjusted equivalency average. According to the Baseball Prospectus, the leader in all baseball statistics, EqA is “a measure of total offensive value per out, with corrections for league offensive level, home park, and team pitching.” Translation: the statistic “comparing a hitter to the rest of his league in a quest to find the best hitter around.”

Low and behold, Travis Hafner had a .355 EqA, the highest in the AL and all of baseball. And for those of you who like value over replacement player (VORP), Hafner was the ALs best in that category too. He was the most dangerous hitter in baseball this year.

So what about defense? And I say to you: no one wins MVP because of defense alone. Although, Hafner is no slouch, as past seasons have shown he has good fielding ability at first base.

Last year, Hafner finished fifth in MVP voting, which makes sense because the Indians just missed the playoffs. He won’t win MVP this season since the Indians were disappointing, and because he is a DH (just ask Ortiz). But he was, without a doubt, the best hitter in the AL this year. If you can’t see that by now … it’s no wonder no one’s talking about him.

Josh Perlin is a Sun Assistant Sports Editor. My Pitch will appear every other Thursday this semester.