This is an article about David Ortiz and the MVP. So, to confuse you, we’ll start with Josh Donaldson. On Wednesday he put on a power show to help the Blue Jays defeat the Diamondbacks, 10-4. This performance prompted Andrew Stoeten to tweet “MVP.” Which makes sense. We are talking about the reigning AL MVP going 2-for-4 with a double, homer, and walk. This prompted me to look up Donaldson’s numbers this season and, no surprise, he’s doing quite well, as you’d expect from Josh Donaldson, as you’d expect when someone knowledgeable is tweeting “MVP”. Specifically, he’s hitting .308/.421/.599 with 24 homers. That’s an MVP slash line.
Last night David Ortiz went 3-for-5 with a homer to bring his line to .330/.423/.673. With 24 homers. That is also an MVP slash line. In fact, for what it’s worth, Ortiz and Donaldson are the only players in baseball with OPSs over 1.000. It’s coming to the end of July and David Ortiz is hitting like the best hitter in baseball. He is a contender for the AL MVP.
Ortiz and Donaldson are the only players in baseball with OPSs over 1.000.
It would be silly to say he will or he won’t win it, because even if he’s been he best so far, there are two plus months of the season left to go. So instead of trying to predict the future, let’s look at what has happened this season. I’m writing this on Thursday evening so many of the sites, including BP, haven’t updated their numbers yet, so this won’t take into account Ortiz’s 3-for-5 game last night, but even so by TAv, David Ortiz is the fourth-best hitter in the American League so far this season. He’s behind Mike Trout, Donaldson, Steve Pearce, and Jose Altuve. So that’s one interpretation.
We at BP think our stats are the best because they are. But there are other stats out there and they can tell a different story. FanGraphs has wRC+ which is similar to our TAv. By wRC+, David Ortiz has a 177, eight points ahead of Donaldson, nine ahead of Trout, and 15 ahead of Altuve. The stat is scaled to 100 with each point being a percent above or below average, thus Ortiz has been 77 percent above average as a hitter this season, and he’s been eight percent better than Donaldson. That’s substantial. It’s only one number, but it’s substantial.
Of course, most MVP voters probably don’t check wRC+. If they check any advanced stat, it’s probably WARP or WAR. The problem for Ortiz here is that both of those stats attempt to quantify both offense and defense and Ortiz, as you may have heard, by virtue of his position, doesn’t play defense. WARP and WAR account for this by docking DHs for the value they aren’t adding by playing the field. Since the DH position doesn’t play a defensive position, it contains a negative adjustment of almost two wins (-17.5 runs specifically). That’s harsh, but you can understand that, for example, center fielder has a tougher job to do than a DH does. However, studies have showed that hitting as a DH is more difficult than hitting while playing a traditional defensive position in the field. WARP doesn’t take this into account.
And it won’t. Any change to WARP or WAR won’t come in time to save Ortiz’s MVP case, so again, if he’s going to win, he’ll have to do it by blowing the competition out of the water. It’s worth noting at this point that Ortiz isn’t blowing anyone out of the water in WARP or WAR. Part of the reason is that both are counting stats (i.e. the more you play the more you get), not rate stats that measure averages, like batting average or slugging percentage and Ortiz, as you might expect of a 40 year old (about the only part of being 40 that he has given in to this season) isn’t playing every day.
Keep in mind, for a DH to win the MVP, he’ll have to clearly out-hit the competition. Ortiz will retire after this season and his stature in the game may lend itself to getting some increased attention for an award such as this, but if at the end of the season he’s as good a hitter as Mike Trout, he’ll lose the award. There’s no way you vote for a slow DH over a fast and flashy center fielder (or a good third baseman, or a good second baseman, or or or…) when everything offensively is equal.
It’s maybe worth expanding on something in that last paragraph. Ortiz has something going for him that other players don’t. He’s an icon, a beloved figure who is retiring with numerous signature moments in his baseball career and he’s 40 years old. It’s entirely possible that Ortiz gets some votes that he might not have had he been a 30 year old guy named Orvid Dartiz.
There’s also historical significance should Ortiz win the MVP because No full-time DH has ever won the MVP award.
There’s also historical significance should Ortiz win the MVP because No full-time DH has ever won the MVP award. Don Baylor won the award in 1974 (the second award given after the implementation of the DH) having played 65 games at DH and 97 in the outfield. That is, for all intents and purposes, he was an outfielder. As it turned out, was the high water mark for DHs as MVPs. In 2000 Jason Giambi won the award while playing 24 of 154 games at DH. After that the pickings are scarce.
Also of historical significance is Ortiz’s age. As you have probably heard by now, Ortiz is 40 years old. In 2004 Barry Bonds won his fourth consecutive MVP award (and seventh overall) at the age of… 39! Well, Bonds’s birthday is July 24, so while it was his age-39 year, he won the award at age 40. But it was his age-39 season, so while he became the oldest winner of an MVP award in baseball history, he didn’t win the award as a 40-year-old. David Ortiz was born on November 18 so he turned 40 after last season and has played the entirety of the 2016 season as a 40-year-old. If he won the MVP this season he’d become both the oldest ever winner of the MVP and the first to win at age-40.
I’m not sure either of those history-making possibilities would impact Ortiz’s chances much. What would would be if he keeps hitting like a maniac. If he does, he may give Donaldson and Trout a real run.