Reader Mail (No More Twins! Edition)

My e-mail box is taking on epic, Mo Vaughn-sized proportions, so let’s empty it out a little bit …

Regarding my column on “Fearsome Foursomes” that included a look at the greatness of Joe Morgan‘s playing career, T.H. writes:

Subject: Should Joe Morgan have won five straight MVPs?

Just wondering, looking at the Win Shares and knowing his D and SB%, I’d guess he was robbed by his teammates in 1972 and 1973 … possible? Steve Garvey in 1974!? Ha, his OBA, SLG, HR, SB etc etc were lower than Morgan’s … robbed again.

Five straight! Has it been done?

It’s funny, I got a lot of e-mails from people who were surprised that I had nice things to say about Morgan’s playing days. As I said in the column, “I’ve been very critical of Joe Morgan’s work as an announcer and writer for ESPN and ESPN.com, but there is absolutely no denying his greatness as a baseball player. In fact, I believe Joe Morgan is one of the most underrated and under-appreciated players in baseball history.”

I’ll take it a step further and say that Morgan was the perfect second baseman. He was an offensive force who hit for average and power while controlling the strike zone with incredible plate discipline, and he stole tons of bases at an exceptional success rate. He also played great defense, was a very durable player, never had a bad season, and was, by all accounts, a great guy to have as a teammate.

Now, as for whether or not he deserved five straight National Leagues MVPs …

Win Shares says he didn’t, although it is pretty close. Win Shares has Morgan as the MVP of the NL in 1973, 1975 and 1976. It has him finishing second in 1972, behind Steve Carlton, second in 1974, behind Mike Schmidt, and fourth in 1977, behind Schmidt, Dave Parker and George Foster. He was close enough in both 1972 and 1974 that you could certainly make the case for him being the MVP in both seasons.

According to Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), Little Joe has an even better argument for five straight MVPs. Morgan led the National League in VORP in 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975 and 1976, and finished second to Foster in 1977. Considering Morgan was an excellent defensive second baseman (which VORP doesn’t account for), I’d say Morgan definitely would have been a fine MVP choice in any of those six seasons.

In other words, Joe Morgan was one hell of a baseball player.

As for whether or not five straight MVPs has been “done before” … it hasn’t. When Barry Bonds won his third straight NL MVP last year, it was a record. Now, there are some (myself included) who think Bonds was the MVP in 2000 too, which would have given him four in a row and a chance for five straight this season, but that goes into the land of “What ifs” right along with Morgan’s run in the 1970s.

Following yet another column of mine about the Twins from the past two weeks, Darren writes:

Subject: Enough with the Twins, already!

I’ve been reading your blog for about a year now, and have enjoyed following The Hardball Times website since its inception. I have to say, though, that when I looked at the front page this morning and saw that the subtitle of your latest article began, “Aaron fawns…”, I immediately suppressed a gag reflex and thought to myself, “This is going to be another Twins and/or Johan Santana article, isn’t it?”

When I go to your website, I expect lots of Twins-focused stuff, but I strongly believe that if you want THT and your role in it to be taken seriously, you need to be much less Twins-centric, and a bit more objective (i.e. less fawning). I really don’t care if Santana is the second coming of Grover Cleveland Alexander – you shouldn’t be writing about him every week on a website which purports to give a rounded view of baseball.

(To give an easy comparison, Rob Neyer probably writes about the Royals more than any other team, but if I had to guess, only every 10th or 12th article of his is about the Royals, whereas with you every 4th or 5th article seems to be about the Twins.) Save some of that stuff for the blog, eh?

While I was writing the article about Johan Santana that apparently pushed Darren over the edge, I actually did think that perhaps I’ve been devoting too much attention to him. However, the thing is that I’m not some sort of baseball-writing machine who can equally distribute his writing to the 30 major league teams. I write about what interests me, about the games and players I watch, and about the things I think are important.

Now, I watch a lot of different games and a lot of different teams, but I watch every Twins game. So when the Twins have a guy having the type of season Santana is having, and he’s a guy I’ve been hyping for years as someone who is a special player … well, I’m going to write about him a lot.

I suspect you’d be hard-pressed to find many baseball writers who produce 4-5 columns per week and don’t devote a disproportionate share of their writing to a certain team. You don’t think Peter Gammons covers the Red Sox at ESPN.com more than he does other teams? You don’t think Buster Olney is writing about the Yankees more than one-thirtieth of the time? How about Bill Simmons and the Celtics/Red Sox/Patriots? And perhaps if the Royals weren’t on their way to losing 100 games and they had as much exciting stuff going on as the Twins have, Rob Neyer would write about them a little more (sorry, Rob).

My point is that I recognize how often I am writing about the Twins here, but I’m not going to apologize for it. I’m not doing daily columns on their utility infielders, I’m writing about a guy who, right now, should win the American League Cy Young award. Or I’m writing about how quickly things changed in the AL Central. Or I’m writing about two of the best young hitters in baseball, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.

Incidentally, I looked through my archives and found that, of my last 40 THT columns, dating back to the middle of June, nine have been Twins-related in some way.

With all that said, here’s another Twins-related e-mail, from Matt:

Subject: Johan v. Mulder

I am writing to question your affirmation in Johan vs. Mulder. I’m only slightly versed in sabermetrics, but I do wonder about what kind of factor they use to gauge consistency over the course of the year. I do recall you saying that Santana started out extremely slowly this year and the reason that he is leading Mulder in all of those other stats which you listed today is because of the dramatic turnaround he achieved after the first 8-10 weeks or whatever it took him to get on track. Perhaps, this explains part of why Johan’s wins are at 14 instead of 17.

That’s an interesting question, but I’m not sure it really matters. I mean, if a guy has a 3.13 ERA in 181 innings, does it really matter how he got those numbers? And if it does matter, isn’t it actually better for his team if he started slow in the first month or two of the season and then became dominant down the stretch? Also, there are metrics, such as Support-Neutral pitching stats, that measure a pitcher’s contributions on a per-start basis, rather than as a whole. Santana leads Mulder in that too.

One of my biggest pet peeves is that when a player performs well can really impact the way he is viewed by most fans. This is usually an issue around the All-Star game, when guys who have good first halves and bad second halves are branded “All-Stars” for the rest of their lives, while guys who have poor first halves and great second halves get nothing.

However, it also applies to the Santana/Mulder debate. Santana struggled early in the season and it has led to his consistency being questioned (and by more than just Matt, trust me). Meanwhile, Mulder’s “consistency” is used as a positive. But guess what? If you look at their actual numbers, Mulder has no advantage in the world of consistency, his rough patch just came later in the season, when it didn’t make his numbers look ugly.

Don’t believe me? Look at this …

PITCHER        TIME PERIOD       IP      ERA
Santana        April/May       61.0     5.61
Mulder         July/August     73.0     5.05

Because Santana’s two-month stretch with an ERA in the 5.00s came at the beginning of the season, it got noticed. Because Mulder’s two-month stretch with an ERA in the 5.00s came in the middle of the season, it blends in with the rest of his numbers and goes unnoticed.

Since his early-season struggles, Santana has gone 12-2 with a 1.68 ERA over the course of nearly three months. Before his mid-season struggles, Mulder was 10-2 with a 2.90 ERA in the first three months of the season. What matters in my mind is the end result, and Santana has simply been a better pitcher than Mulder this season. But even if you buy the consistency argument, I don’t see much that would give Mulder an advantage.

On a completely different topic, Tim writes:

Aaron, I’ve noticed on your blog that you talk about playing and watching poker occasionally. And then yesterday you compared Luis Rivas to a 7-2 unsuited starting hard (brilliant, by the way). Are you a good player?

Like seemingly every other guy in his 20s in the country, I’ve gotten heavily into poker over the past couple years. I can’t get enough of it on TV, I read about it almost as much as I read about baseball, and when I’m not writing far too often about Johan Santana, you can usually find me playing poker online. I love it.

That said, like most other new poker players, I stink. I’m getting better, of course, and I’m not a complete disaster, but I’m also not very good. For instance, at the First Annual SABR Convention Poker Invitational (a two-table event that I wrote about upon returning from Cincinnati), I got knocked out very early in the main event and didn’t fair much better in the two tournaments that started up later in the evening.

My online bankroll has such heavy fluctuations that it’s tough to get a handle on exactly how good I am. At the moment, I’m up a few bucks, which makes me think I’m somewhere between Phil Ivey and Howard Lederer. When I’m down this time next week, you’d probably be able to convince me that I’m the worst player in the world.

I find poker fascinating, in part because I can see that it is very possible to improve significantly simply by playing a lot, which makes it different than a lot of other sports/games. In other words, I could play baseball every day for the rest of my life and I still wouldn’t be able to hit a good slider, but I might be able to be a consistently good poker player in a year or two.

I would love to talk poker more, both here and on my blog, but if I’m getting complaints about too much Johan Santana talk, I can only imagine the deluge of e-mails that would come my way the first time I wrote about one of my “Sit-and-Go” experiences.

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