Should Doc Get MVP Consideration?

The National League Cy Young race has come down to two candidates: Roy Halladay and Adam Wainwright. Most people — in both the mainstream and Sabermetric parties — tend to side with Halladay, and for good reason. Heading into yesterday’s start against the Washington Nationals, he led the league in SIERA at 2.95, twelve points ahead of the closest competitor in Josh Johnson. Wainwright sat at 3.13. Including yesterday’s start, the right-hander has 21 wins, a 2.44 ERA, and leads the league in complete games (9), shut-outs (4), innings pitched (250.2), and walk rate (1.1 per nine innings). He trails Tim Lincecum for the league lead in strikeouts, 220 to 219.

More interesting, though, is the debate around Halladay’s MVP candidacy. Although rare, a pitcher winning the award is not unheard of: Dennis Eckersley was the last pitcher to receive the honor, in 1992 with the Oakland Athletics. As a closer, he finished with a 1.91 ERA and 51 saves in 60 innings of work. The last starting pitcher to win the award was Roger Clemens in 1986 with the Boston Red Sox. That year, Clemens went 24-4 with a 2.48 ERA in 254 innings with ten complete games and one shut-out.

Baseball Reference’s version of WAR (which is better than FanGraphs’ version as it pertains to pitchers) puts Halladay right next to Albert Pujols in a tie for the National League lead. He has put together the best season of his career in his first season with a new team, with high expectations in the thick of a heated pennant race.

Why shouldn’t Halladay win the award, or at least draw substantial consideration? It seems that, since pitchers have their own end-of-season award in the Cy Young, the MVP award has become a hitters-only award, although that is never explicitly said anywhere. Most likely, the NL MVP race will come down to five hitters: Joey Votto, Carlos Gonzalez, Albert Pujols, Troy Tulowitzki, and Adrian Gonzalez.

Others will argue that, since other pitchers failed to win the award with better performances (such as Pedro Martinez circa 1997-2003), Halladay should not be rewarded either. And you can certainly understand the sentiment: Halladay’s stats don’t begin to compare with Pedro Martinez in 1999 when he finished with a 2.07 ERA and 23-4 record in the steroid era. His ERA merited a 243 ERA+ whereas Halladay’s 2.44 yields a 167 ERA+. The past, however, should have no impact on the results of this year’s awards. In 2007, Chipper Jones finished sixth in MVP voting despite a league-leading 1.029 OPS. Jimmy Rollins won it that year despite not even being the most valuable player on his own team. If anything, that’s another reason to take the voting away from the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Based on the fact that the MVP award is still pitcher-eligible, Halladay deserves to be a top-tier candidate along with the likes of Votto and Car-Go. Based on past trends, though, don’t expect the BBWAA to consider Doc. The Cy Young will probably go to Halladay, but the MVP award will not.

For Fourth Consecutive Year, Phillies Are Playoff-Bound

Phillies fans — and the players themselves — are quickly becoming spoiled. The Fightins clinched the division for the fourth consecutive year, this time on the road in front of a mostly-Phillies-friendly, rain-drenched crowd in the nation’s capitol.

The celebrations have become more and more subdued. This team, now veteran-laden, has — for the most part — been there and done that.  They know how to quickly uncork the champagne bottles. Ryan Howard brought his own special pair of goggles to protect his eyes in the mayhem. They know to meet up with the media to relate the experience to their legions of fans.

Business as usual for the Phillies. The team, once given odds lower than 30 percent to make the playoffs earlier this season, is now the heavyweight in the National League. Opposing teams will have to run the gauntlet of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt if they want any shot at advancing. Their pitchers must pass through Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jayson Werth.

Other contenders have blatant flaws. For the Giants and Padres, it’s offense; the Reds, starting pitching; the Braves — well, the Braves have a bunch of issues. The Rays and Yankees have starting pitching issues after their aces (David Price and C.C. Sabathia, respectively). The Twins and Rangers have huge injury issues (namely Justin Morneau and Josh Hamilton, respectively).

The Phillies, for all of the problems they dealt with for much of the regular season, do not have obvious flaws in their armor. Their roster will include two former National League MVP award winners (Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins), a former World Series MVP (Cole Hamels), a former and future Cy Young award winner (Roy Halladay), and a closer who once was perfect for the duration of an entire year (Brad Lidge). Add in the best second baseman in baseball (Chase Utley), the best right fielder in baseball (Jayson Werth, if you label Jose Bautista‘s season a fluke), one of the best relievers in baseball (Ryan Madson) and a host of complimentary parts and you have an extremely potent team stampeding into October baseball.

And that’s why it’s hard to temper the expectations. Anything less than a World Series victory is a disappointment. We heard that line for years from the Steinbrenner administration in New York and scoffed at the arrogance. The Braves had an historic run of success from 1991 through 2005, but only won the World Series once in those 14 seasons (they reached the Fall Classic on five occasions).

In 2007, simply reaching the post-season at all was an accomplishment for the Phils. In 2008, fans felt blessed to see their team in the World Series. Now, as the Phillies try to become the first National League team to reach three consecutive World Series since the 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals, it’s all or nothing.

We are enjoying the golden age of Phillies baseball. With great teams come great expectations. Still, take the time to step back, take this all in and appreciate it.