Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Awards Roundup / Baseball Card News 

So the last of the postseason awards are in. Turns out the writers got it right for the most part. I was sure they'd give Albert Pujols the NL MVP, but Bonds won it in a landslide, as he should have. A-Rod won the AL MVP, as well he should have (see my massive two part AL MVP breakdown from late September). Roy Halladay won the AL Cy Young, again in synch with my late-season pick (though I'd been leaning Tim Hudson during the postseason, Ben Jacobs does a good job of explaining why). Eric Gagne took home the NL Cy Young. Some will argue that a relief pitcher simply can't be as valuable as a starter because of the gap in innings pitched, and they have a point. At the same time, if you're ever going to give a Cy Young to a reliever, you give it to Eric Gagne this year. Since "value" is not in the name or description of this award, I have no problem with the writers doing so.

I've already discussed the Rookie of the Year results for both leagues (Angel Berroa was both my choice and the AL winner, but the writers got the NL award all wrong). Most agree that the NL ROY vote was ludicrous, but surprisingly there's been a lot of hubbub about the AL voting as well. It's old news now, but two writers left Hideki Matsui off their ballots in protest of his eligibility, thus costing him the award (of course two other writers left Berroa of their ballots, but their motivation seemed to be stupidity rather than malice). This elicited an outburst from the Boss and a whole lot of hand wringing and finger pointing. But the most interesting thing that emerged out of all of this is the fact that Matsui may actually have deserved the award. Turns out that Kauffman Stadium was just a hair shy of Coors Field as far as inflating offense goes. Taking park factors into consideration (which I did not do in my analysis), Matsui's numbers become more impressive than Berroa's.

But things are hardly that clear cut. In my AL ROY breakdown, I had chosen Jody Gerut over Matsui before I even got to Berroa. Looking at the 2003 park factors on Baseball-Reference (in which Kauffman actually outranks Coors 113 to 112), Jacobs Field was a more severe pitchers park than Yankee Stadium this past season (93 to 96), which lends extra credence to my selection of Gerut over Matsui. In comparing Gerut and Berroa back in October, I wrote, "on a different day I might be convinced to pick Gerut, as Berroa's .792 OPS and .268 EqA make it difficult to give him any kind of award." This just might be that day. Berroa gets extra credit for his basestealing and for playing a more difficult position very well, as well as for his extra playing time and for performing well on a contending team. However, the last shouldn't really count, the second to last is less significant for the Rookie of the Year award (the competition for which often includes players who are not opening day starters, or even on an opening day roster), and when park factors are taken into account, Gerut outperformed Berroa to the degree that the award should rightfully be his regardless of the extra dimensions in Berroa's game. Or maybe not. The point is that, even if Matsui was "robbed" by those two protesting writers, and even if park factors give him a clear offensive advantage over Berroa, I'm still not convinced that he deserved the award, regardless of whether he played in Japan, Columbus or Timbuktu.

Shifting gears to the second "Where's Matsui?" controversy of the past week, in light of the above, Godzilla's absence from the 2003 Topps All-Rookie team is not as ludicrous at it may seem upon first glance. The Topps chooses nine players from both leagues. Thus there are three outfield spots. Scott Podsednik was clearly the best rookie outfielder in the majors this year. I've already mentioned that I had selected Jody Gerut over Matsui in my own AL Rookie analysis. That leaves one spot for either Matsui or Rocco Baldelli. Now, I don't know if the Topps team requires three outfielders or a left, right and centerfielder. If the latter, Baldelli is the only possible choice, despite Hideki's 40-plus-game stint subbing for Bernie Williams. If the former, then Matsui has a beef. But as much as Matsui was easily the better hitter in 2003, Baldelli was a threat on the bases, unlike Matsui, and was a more sensational fielder than Godzilla. I'm not saying Baldelli should have gotten the nod over Matsui, but that Matsui would have been, at best, the third outfielder selected to the team, thus making his absence far from a travesty.

What is a travesty is Barry Bonds' decision to opt out of the Major League Baseball Players Association's licensing agreement. To begin with, he's undermining the union. The MLBPA often operates in the best interest of its highest paid players (meaning Bonds), but in this case it fulfills a more traditional duty to insure it's least powerful members an equal take of the licensing earnings (estimated at about $30,000 per year). Bonds is the first union member not to sign the licensing agreement in its thirty-year history.

Just as importantly, he's screwing over the fans. By not signing the licensing agreement, Bonds is preventing his name, number and image from being used in video games, on baseball cards, or on official MLBPA merchandise, including Giants jerseys. As far as baseball cards go, only Topps has the right to negotiate with players individually (which has resulted in some curious omissions, notably pre-1968 Mary Wills, pre-1988 Kevin McReynolds, pre-1999 Alex Rodriguez and, thus far, Jason Varitek). So while there is a chance that a 2004 Topps Barry Bonds will still become a reality, the other card manufacturers will not be able to include Bonds in their regular issue sets. Bonds can license himself individually, but will not be able to appear in his Giants uniform for endorsements. Video gamers will have to make due with a generic player with Bonds attributes, or a create-a-player feature, much like they did when Michael Jordan pulled a similar stunt in the late '90s.

My biggest fear in all of this is that it will set a precedent for other big-money players (and other Scott Boras clients--oooh, that man is evil) to opt out of the licensing agreement in the future, wreaking havoc on the baseball card industry (my primary concern), and the shakey, but slowly improving marketing of the game in general. Hopefully that fear is unfounded, as no NBA players followed Jordan's.

In other baseball card news, Rob Neyer reports that the stats on the backs of the new Topps cards now include OPS. Very cool. I usually wait until May to get the complete set all together (I have a good 20+ years of Topps sets at home), but I may just have to plunk down for Series 1 early this year.

posted by Cliff at 10:45 AM

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