Alex Speier and Rob Bradford go toe-to-toe to determine whether Dustin Pedroia or Kevin Youkilis is more deserving of the American League MVP award.
OK, Alex. I have a pretty good idea where you're going to be coming from in this debate regarding whether Kevin Youkilis or Dustin Pedroia is more deserving of the American League MVP. You crunched the numbers. You wrote your stories. You sang karaoke at Youk's wedding.
But I think I have some pretty good ammunition to back Pedroia's case. And, to be honest, the voters for this award will not be digging as deep as you did. (Maybe you should have printed out some Delmon Young-esque pamphlets.) So not only will I win this debate, but Pedroia will also win this award. So, go ahead, start firing back.
SPEIER'S OPENING ARGUMENT FOR YOUKILIS
I did kill at the reception with a powerhouse Tom Jones performance, but that has nothing to do with my case for the rightful winner of the Most Valuable Player award.
First of all, I’m not touching the question of who will actually win the MVP this year. You and I both know that the most deserving candidate (cough-Pedro in ‘99-cough) doesn’t always win. It wouldn’t be any surprise to me if a guy like Twins first baseman Justin Morneau ends up bringing home the bacon (presumably Canadian bacon) for the second time in three years.
That being the case, I’m simply looking at whether Pedroia or Youkilis is more deserving of the MVP. Here's a quick look at how the two of them did this year:
Let’s be perfectly clear here: Dustin Pedroia had an incredible, historic season. He is one of just eight second basemen since 1901 to hit at least .325 with 15 homers, 15 steals and 100 runs.
All that, and a Gold Glove? Pretty amazing.
And thanks to those well-rounded contributions, Pedroia was…the second-best player on his team in 2008. Youkilis had better numbers than Pedroia in virtually every category except for batting average and steals. By now, only neanderthals (no offense intended to the little Geico men) would suggest that average matters more than on-base percentage, and I'll take power over stolen bases any day of the week.
Youkilis was, simply put, a beast. He was all over the A.L. leaderboards: .312 average (6th), .390 OBP (6th), .569 slugging (3rd), .958 OPS (4th), a homer every 18.6 at-bats (10th)…
The list of accomplishments was pretty incredible. On a team that lost David Ortiz, Mike Lowell and Manny Ramirez for significant stretches of the year, Youkilis shouldered the load. In the 174 at-bats when he occupied the cleanup slot, he hit .299 with a .399 OBP and .569 slugging mark, marks that were basically identical to those of A-Rod.
His defensive versatility, meanwhile, impacted the team enormously. Not only did Youkilis excel while being shuffled around the lineup, but he also could flip from corner to corner while playing Gold Glove quality defense.
Youkilis’ ability to play third base—with little discernible drop-off from Lowell—was crucial in allowing the offense to feature a productive backup like Sean Casey (.322 average, .381 OBP) in Boston’s season-long struggle with injuries. The 29-year-old was the cure-all for anything that ailed the Red Sox in 2008.
Moreover, unlike Pedroia—who endured a massive slump in May and June—Youkilis was incredibly consistent. He had at least 15 RBIs every month of the season, and his lowest OPS of any month was .857 in April, a mark that still ranks as All-Star caliber. Youkilis hit .314/.381/.552 in the first half, then had an even more dominant second half (.310/.403/.595).
Simply put, Youkilis had more impact on his team in 2008 than did Pedroia—which is saying something, given that Pedroia is a worthy MVP candidate.
I’ll stop there, since I’m not interested in a first-round knockout. A TKO perhaps, but I want to give you the chance to surrender. But let’s just say I’m pulling a few punches...
I don't just have a pamphlet in favor of Youkilis' merits, I've gone all Scott Boras-style with a binder for this throwdown. You ready to give up yet?
BRADFORD'S OPENING ARGUMENT FOR PEDROIA
Alex, Alex, Alex. If I knew how to write that sympathetic sound of pity here I would.
This is going to be easier than I thought.
You throw out all of these numbers accumulated by Mr. Youk, all of which remind us what a Youktastic year Youk Youked off. But there are a couple of flaws in your argument. First, many of the categories you point to for Youk’s above-averageness are tailored toward the type of middle-of-the-order player he represents.
Slugging? Homers? Of course Dusty isn’t going to match-up. But that is nothing more than a quick aside. Where you truly lost your way was mentioning the number of leaderboards Youk was “all over.” It’s one thing to be “all over” a leaderboard, and quite another thing to be at the top of it.
Here we go (insert yawn here) …
These are some of the categories that Pedroia not only was ahead of Youkilis in, but, in many instances, ahead of everybody else in the American League, as well:
Runs: 118 (1st).
Hits: 213 (Tied for 1st).
Doubles: 54 (1st).
Batting average: .326 (2nd)
Stolen base percentage: 20 steals, one caught stealing (1st)
Total bases: 322 (4th)
Percentage of swings and misses on pitches faced: 8.1 (1st)
Multi-hit games: 61 (1st)
Games with 3 or more hits: 23 (1st)
Games with 4 or more hits: 7 (1st)
And I’ll save the final statistical ammunition for further down the page. And I can’t believe you actually wanted to bring up the versatility card, which we both know (not that it matters in this debate) MVP voters care about as much about as Dwight Shroot’s beet harvest.
Good for Youkilis for moving from one side of the diamond for another. He did a whizz-bang job, to be sure. But if you want to enter defense and versatility into the argument, start with Pedroia’s Gold Glove and end with the notion that he hit in each of the top four spots in the Red Sox batting order. Youkilis … oh, I forgot, leadoff isn’t for him. I’ll tell you what’s not for Pedroia … not raking!
SPEIER'S REBUTTAL FOR YOUKILIS
I was afraid it might come to this. A tip of the hat for your effort, but I’m afraid it’s time to crush you.
Pedroia’s MVP candidacy was built on his ability to beat mediocre pitchers like piñatas. But he was merely solid against the best pitchers in the game, hitting .289 with a .784 OPS in 197 at-bats against pitchers with a 3.50 ERA or less.
Youkilis, meanwhile, was as good as anyone in baseball when it came to hitting elite pitching. He hit .309 with a .958 OPS, eight homers and 33 RBIs in 149 at-bats against pitchers who finished the year with an ERA of 3.50 or less.
Youkilis had a walkoff hit against Roy Halladay in April. In September, he faced Cy Young winner Cliff Lee four times, walking three times (including once intentionally) and blasting a two-run homer. These games were the tip of the proverbial iceberg in Youkilis' MVP resume.
He was the best the Red Sox had to offer against other teams’ aces. That has to count for something…actually, that has to count for quite a lot. And Youkilis was clearly the class of the A.L. MVP race when it came to beating good pitching, as you'll see in my snazzy chart (page 27 of the binder, in case you want to follow along).
Want more? With runners in scoring position, Youkilis was an absolute monster, hitting .374/.445/.646, while Pedroia slightly underperformed his overall stats (.307/.365/.466/.831).
It was well and good that Ozzie Guillen sang the praises of "a jockey...a guy who just came from being on top of Big Brown," and that he couldn't stop talking about how crazy it was to intentionally walk a guy of such unassuming stature. But let's face it—the much-discussed intentional walk issued by the White Sox manager in September was the only one that Pedroia received in 2008.
The second baseman finished the year with only one walk for every 14.5 plate appearances. Teams were willing to pitch to him.
Youkilis? Not so much. He walked roughly one out of every 10 trips to the dish, and took seven intentional walks.
In September, when opposing teams had a full season of evidence to consider how to pitch to both batters, Youkilis was walked once every six times he stepped to the plate, while Pedroia was getting walked about half that much.
There is no doubt teams were treating Pedroia like a game-changer by the end of the season. But they were treating Youkilis as an even more formidable opponent, and rightly so. Youkilis was the better, and more valuable, player this year.
I know, I know...You like to make the argument that the voters look at the black ink, trying to find the guy who led the league in the most categories. But it's the height of absurdity to look at the leader of categories that don't mean anything or to follow blindly the tyranny of the majority. You're cherry-picking a bunch of statistical categories that are about as meaningful as the fact that Youkilis led all of baseball in density of facial hair.
Who would you rather have? The guy who led the league in hits (Pedroia, 213) or the guy who reached base with more frequency? Would you rather have the guy who led the league in doubles or the guy with more extra-base hits, including more homers?
I think you and I both know the answer...Youk!-S!-A! Youk!-S!-A!
Borrriiing … Don't try and blind us with charts and graphs. Powerpoints don't fly in this space.
I was waiting for this dual-pronged line of defense from you. Youkilis hit good pitching. Youkilis walks. Youkilis has a beard like Bradford.
First of all, just as walks won’t get you off the island, walks won’t get you in the MVP argument. I’m not devaluing the art of the on-base percentage, but c’mon. You’re putting your faith in me tipping the chapeau toward the Walkapalooza. Pedroia makes things happen. He puts 23.6 percent of the pitches he sees in play, and actually converts them to hits at a higher percentage than anybody in baseball.
And then comes your above-average pitching platform. It was a nice story when you wrote it, but leave it back in September where it belongs. Because, guess what, a baseball season is full of all kinds of pitching, and you have to be able to hit all of it.
If you truly want to get into this – producing when it counts – well, I’m sorry, I’m going to have to bury you right here.
In close and late situations – when, no matter what kind of pitching your facing, you better come through – Pedroia hit .368. Youkilis? .272.
And that’s not all. I can see you’re desire to instantly jump up and shout, “But, but, but … on-base percentage in those situations. Youk must have walked!” Wrong. Close and late on-base percentage: Pedroia .419, Youkilis .384.
In the words of the more qualified MVP candidate: “10 Red Bulls and a butt-whoopin!”
SPEIER'S CLOSING ARGUMENT
I recognize that Pedroia is a uniquely compelling figure. He defies logic, and at times, belief. You have to rub your eyes when you watch the tiny guy with the unorthodox swing hit the ball 400 feet. It may be more fun to watch Pedroia play than anyone else in baseball.
But don't let the emotional appeal of his candidacy fool you. Youkilis was the better, and more valuable, player. Both players were exceptional defenders, but it was Youkilis who could apply that skill to multiple positions. Both players were huge offensive performers, but it was Youkilis who had the more meaningful contributions across the board, who was more consistent and who delivered the thump against the best pitching.
And let's not forget that Youkilis is a pretty compelling story in his own right. Whereas Pedroia was a second-round draft pick, Youkilis went undrafted as a junior, then was left on the board in the eighth round as a senior.
He spent his minor-league career getting pegged as a guy with freakish plate discipline but no other discernible skill set. He has since gone on to turn himself into an above-average to elite defender and one of the top power hitters in the American League while still exhibiting the same constant max-effort intensity that Pedroia delivers.
All of that makes for a pretty good backstory on the guy who deserves to win the American League MVP.
BRADFORD'S CLOSING ARGUMENT
No more words are needed ... I'll let the pictures tell the story. Not only an MVP candidate, but one of the greatest actors of our generation.