The Most Valuable Player in Baseball Might Surprise You

When you think of the best, most valuable players in baseball, what names come to mind? Albert Pujols, probably. Or maybe Chase Utley, Derek Jeter, Evan Longoria? There are plenty of big names out there that the average fans look at as the best players. This year, though, it wasn’t any of those guys. In fact, it was hardly even a big name. In 2009, the most valuable player in baseball, was Ben Zobrist.

Ben Zobrist
Image by Keith Allison via Flickr

Coming into 2009, Zobrist was a little-known utility player, who had never done all that much in the big leagues. He had a decent season in 2008, but hitting 12 home runs in only 62 games, still isn’t going to get you much national recognition. He clearly entered his prime this season, though, putting up ridiculous numbers at the age of 28.

So why is he more valuable than say, Albert Pujols? Well, as amazing as Pujols is, he’s overrated in some respects. I can’t take anything away from his hitting, as he’s obviously one of the best hitters to ever step into the box, but his defense, is nothing special. He had two excellent defensive seasons in ’07 and ’08, but he’s topped out at a 4.6 UZR in his other 7 seasons, and in 2009 he only hit 1.2. He’s still an above average first baseman, but not quite enough of one this year.

Ben Zobrist, on the other hand, boasts a spectacular combination of excellent defense at several positions, and a well above average bat. He split most of his time between second base and right field this year, posting a 15.6 and 11.4 UZR, respectively. He not only has shown that he has excellent range, but his arm was 3.7 runs above average out in right this season.

Now, when you compare the offense of the two, Pujols takes the cake. His .449 wOBA in 2009 was spectacular, even when compared to the .408 clip Zobrist put up (the NL average is .329, the AL average is .302).

Joe Mauer
Image by Keith Allison via Flickr

So, when you factor in both offense and defense, Albert Pujols comes in at 73.3 runs above average, while Zobrist comes in at 66.1. When you factor in the league differences, Zobrist was worth 8.5 wins, while Pujols was worth 8.4. Obviously, it’s extremely close, but when you consider the fact that Pujols made $14.4 million this season, and Zobrist made $415k, it’s pretty remarkable.

So I’m saying Zobrist deserves to win the AL MVP award, right? Actually, no. Joe Mauer comes in at a close 3rd place behind the two in WAR, and when you think about the fact that catcher’s defense isn’t quantifiable, and therefore doesn’t factor into WAR, you have to assume that Mauer would easily pass both of them. Joe Mauer is your MVP, but Ben Zobrist is a close second, not just in the AL, but in all of baseball.

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  1. Peter

    October 19, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    Hmm… I read blogs on a similar topic, but i never visited your blog. I added it to favorites and i’ll be your constant reader.

  2. Dana

    October 19, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    Griffin, before you write how Albert Pujols’ defense isn’t all that special, maybe you need to watch him on a regular basis. There’s not a better, consistent, wide-ranging first baseman in the league. Do yourself a favor and watch some Cardinal games on and see why he is a proven Gold Glove winner – offensively and defensively!

  3. Griffin Cooper

    October 19, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    Dana – I have no way of watching Cardinals games, as I’m not an subscriber and I live in Seattle, but that doesn’t really matter, because I’m a firm believer that well thought out and calculated statistics can tell you much more than just watching the games.

    Albert Pujols is a good defensive first baseman, but he’s far from the best in the league. Here are all of the first basemen in the NL who had better range than him this season, via Fangraphs:

    Adrian Gonzalez, Derrek Lee, and Ryan Howard, as well as 4 others in the AL.

    There’s no denying that he’s an incredible player, but let’s not be so quick to give him more credit than he deserves.
    .-= Griffin Cooper´s last blog ..A Good Piece on Kenji Johjima =-.

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