Second Thoughts: Who is the Indians' Most Valuable Player?
Once the entire baseball season is over, we here at IBI will be running an Indians-centric award roundtable. So as to avoid a hopelessly lengthy read because of the number of participants and categories, written responses will have to be kept short. Because of that, and because this isn't an actual award that we will be voting on (they will be split into most valuable hitter and pitcher), I wanted to use my last Second Thoughts (of the regular season) to try and sort out who the Indians' most valuable overall player has been. At the risk of assuming that there won't be any earth-shattering changes over the last six games, here we go.
First, a few reference points...
Wins above replacement, courtesy of Fangraphs:
Jason Kipnis: 4.0
Yan Gomes: 3.6
Justin Masterson: 3.3
Carlos Santana: 3.0
Corey Kluber: 2.7
Ubaldo Jimenez: 2.6
Ryan Raburn: 2.6
Nick Swisher: 2.4
Scott Kazmir: 2.2
Michael Bourn: 1.8
And, wins above replacement, per Baseball Reference:
Michael Brantley: 2.4
A cumulative order:
Brantley (1.5 on Fangraphs): 1.95
Kazmir (0.9 on Baseball Reference): 1.55
Everyone has their opinions on wins above replacement as a measuring stick. Personally, I like the idea of trying to incorporate every relevant facet of the game into a single number for each player, particularly when you're trying to compare players across the hitter/pitcher line like this.
Both sites obviously use different formulas. Generally, when comparing what I see on the field to what I read in the numbers, Fangraphs presents the more accurate overlap. But again, I am just utilizing them as reference points.
Finally, my personal top five, and while you're here:
Gomes has less than half of the plate appearances that Kipnis and Santana do, so maybe it is completely radical and/or irresponsible to say that he has been the team's most valuable. But even if he regressed to being a league average hitter over the span of a full season (he's been well above-average for his half of one), I think his impact behind the plate would have put him far ahead of anyone else on the above lists.
What we have seen in Gomes this season is an elite defender, which is a far cry from the organization/scout-wide concerns about his ability to catch on the Major League level. He has been one of baseball's best at controlling a running game, while also excelling at calling games and receiving/framing/blocking pitches. Pitchers trust him, and they know that the baserunners they do allow may not stay on base for long because of his arm. For my money, his overall output has been grander than that of any other Indian, despite lesser time on the field.
As Kipnis went in the first half of the season, so did the rest of the offense, generally. As he has hit a mid-season wall for the second straight season, so did the rest of the offense, generally. He was on his way to having the kind of season that garners league Most Valuable Player looks, but instead will finish with a good but not great one. Still, he was undeniable for a good two months, and has remained to be an excellent baserunner and decent defender even when his ability to hit dropped off.
Santana has remained to be one of the most maligned Indians that I can ever remember, and I will never understand why. I will be the first to admit that he is a terrible catcher and should be a permanent designated hitter, but he makes for a really good one. He is sometimes frustrating, and he doesn't succeed in such a traditional way by putting up gaudy numbers, but he is still incredibly productive because of his plate discipline and power.
I debated having a top-five of all position players because I truly believe that a starting pitcher can never have the same impact as an everyday player. But, starting pitching has propelled this team to where it is right now, and Masterson and Jimenez are at the forefront of it. Masterson led the group before the break, and Jimenez has been doing it since (and is probably the best player on the team over the last two months).
Up next: The final home series of the regular season. The Indians will host the White Sox for a two-game set, starting tonight with Ubaldo Jimenez and Hector Santiago in the middle of the diamond.
Sure you could look at a pitcher...but who? Masterson? Hard to give an MVP to a guy that will have missed basically all of September (not his fault he got hurt but still). Ubaldo? Insanely great 2nd half...but it's a 6 month season, not 2.5. Kluber? Hurt and struggling (a bit) down the stretch. Kazmir? Been dynamite in September, but has had some bad stretches and may be only our 5th best starter.
Bench? Guys like Raburn and Gomes have been beyond great for us, but too little time on the field.
Really this is a 2 man race, Kipnis vs Santana. Kipnis wins in WAR thanks to his defense (or should I say, Santana's lack of), which I respect...but been too up and down. Santana has been delivering all year. MVP...and most underrated player on team.
This effort is overwhelmingly a team thing. Tonight it's the Giambino. But Rayburn has been the hands down leader of the Goon Squad. Aviles via the Fox Sports spot the other day is listed as the only one who hasn't a genuine walk off but he broke open a tie with his recent grand slam.
Then in the second half Ubaldo has shocked the world and emerged as a 92 mph incarnation of why we traded for him - the #1 starter who takes the ball on what has been overwhelmingly win day.
I say it has to be Tito and Callaway who share the leading credit for an overall team effort in a special year.
The latest; A 43 year old comes cold off the bench and bails out a closer who gave up 2 dingers to lose a save and lead for the 1st time in his career. Only the SECOND TIME HE'S DONE IT TO ADDISON REED AND THE WHITE SOX THIS SEASON!
And we win. And are a game up in the 2nd wild card.
At 17 games over .500?
This is Harv Pekar territory. Magical realism with an edge.
However, my dad and I still like to sit around and tell ourselves that if we were drafting Cleveland Indians to keep, our first keeper would be Brantley. The stat sheet says otherwise, but the old school eye test wants me to make him our MVP.
So with that in mind, to me the MVP has to be either Masterson or Jimenez. Shoot, I'd name them co-MVPs. Masterson has been good all year and really put himself in "ace" discussion as one of the league's top starting pitchers. Jimenez was quite ordinary if not below average in the first half of the season, but he's been extraordinary in the second half. If I had to pick one it would be Masterson because of his overall consistency, but I'd first pick co-MVPs for the two.
While I do think Gomes deserves to be the everyday catcher next year...this year, it's not really a valid argument to say he's the MVP of the team. Simply not enough playing time, and that is exhibited by comparing WAR across the team. Defensive metrics can be can unreliable, and Kipnis would have a higher WAR if not for his -4.3 fielding number.
As far as offensive contribution when you take playing time into account, the Indians leaders are:
Kipnis (20.9 runs above average)
Gomes and Santana have been roughly equal with the bat, but Santana has done it day in and day out all year, whereas Gomes was used more sparingly in the first half.
Gomes has easily been our best defender by position this year, but Kipnis is generally regarded as being at least a league average defender, and if you see him as league average, his WAR would be a little better than the 4.0 it is now.
Gomes playing: 47-32 (.595)
Gomes not playing: 39-38 (.506)
They're an average team when he sits, and one of the best teams in the league when he plays. That's probably the best argument for him being MVP.
It's a better argument for making him an every day player next season.
Sure, Gomes has played very well, both offensively and defensively, but in the end he'll have played in slightly more than 50% of the Indians' games. I don't think he qualifies based on that no matter how well he's played.