Saturday, August 16, 2008

Gammons: Soto for MVP???

Here is a good read from the Peter Gammons Blog-


Joe said...

Can someone copy and paste the article for those of us without Insider access?

cubsfan82 said...

Here you go joe-

The thought came out of nowhere. "You should," a Cubs player said, "be talking up Geovany Soto as the MVP. Think about it."

A rookie catcher as MVP? "Take his position, take what our pitchers have done, take his production," the player continued. "Who in the National League is more valuable?"

The first point is that on the Ides of August there is no clear choice for MVP. Albert Pujols (.342 BA, 24 HR, 75 RBIs, 28 intentional walks, 1.053 OPS) and Ryan Ludwick (.304, 30, 90) have carried the Cardinals to contention in a year when no St. Louis lead has been safe. Lance Berkman is hitting .333 with 25 homers and a 1.042 OPS, but the Astros' dash is for .500. The two leading home run hitters, Ryan Howard and Adam Dunn, are hitting in the .230s.

Chase Utley is certainly in the race, with 30 homers and 80 RBIs. So is Ryan Braun, with similar numbers. One magic September might push David Wright past everyone.

One can make the argument that Carlos Quentin is the American League MVP, with his 32 homers and 90 RBIs, or Josh Hamilton, leading both leagues in RBIs. Relative to the season, Alex Rodriguez (second in OPS, 27 homers) is within a big September of contention, although one can argue that Mike Mussina is the most valuable Yankee. In Boston they'll argue that with 22 homers and a .322 average Kevin Youkilis -- third in the league in OPS behind Milton Bradley and A-Rod -- is the rightful MVP due to his daily grind, and his willingness to play two corner infield positions and hit in any spot in the batting order. Look, Youkilis is fourth in the AL in extra-base hits, but that Aubrey Huff, Ian Kinsler and Brian Roberts are 1-2-3 tells us that well into the new drug testing policy, statistical years like 1998 aren't coming back, at least not soon.

So when one looks at Soto and sees that his 18 homers, 69 RBIs and .870 OPS are second among catchers to Atlanta's underappreciated Brian McCann (21 HR, 69 RBIs, .933 OPS), then appreciate what he has done as a rookie handling the Chicago pitchers. In total, the suggestion that he be considered for MVP is at least thought-provoking.

The larger issue is catching itself. And how remarkable it is that Soto, who signed as a third baseman, converted into an All-Star rookie catcher and became the frontispiece of what right now is the best team in baseball.

A number of general managers and managers were asked, "What is an average major league catcher?" The answers essentially involved someone who can handle pitchers, who is unselfish, and who is athletic (and please, compare no one to Russell Martin and Joe Mauer on that count).

"The average catcher in the American League," says one GM, "is anyone not named Mauer."

"A well above-average catcher for me would be Mauer," says Rays manager Joe Maddon, a former catcher and noted catching mentor. "An average catcher would have to have the mental acumen to take charge of your staff and display a caring that can be felt by all the pitchers. Next, he has to have the receiving ability and stamina to play at least five games a week. Throwing, I would like to have at least average arm strength with a quick release and accuracy. He has to block balls well and is fearless on plays at the plate. He should be the best worker on the team, and hitting, I would settle for .250 hitter with around 10 home runs or better."

"We are," says Maddon, "describing the player who wears 'the tools of intelligence.'"

The average major league team gets a .256 batting average with 11 homers and a .711 OPS from its catchers. The Cubs, for instance, are tied with the Braves and Angels with 22 homers from the catcher position, lead the majors in catchers' OPS at .863, and -- if one talks to the Cubs' pitchers -- have two catchers in Soto and Henry Blanco who care more about their pitchers than their own numbers. Earlier this season, Soto struck out eight straight times in Washington, but on the bus to the airport he was joking around when a teammate reminded him of his strikeouts.

"Hey, we won the series, the pitchers were great, and today we had a shutout," Soto shot back. "What's better than that?"

"That," says Ryan Dempster, "was not lost on the pitchers."

Red Sox farm director Mike Hazen says "catcher is the only position where we ask young players to develop in two different jobs. They have to do catching drills, sit in on pitchers' meetings, learn scouting reports and don't get the hitting reps that other position players get. There's a lot to learn." As Brandon Inge says, "When you catch, there is no downtime."

The physical grind is a reason there are only 10 catchers in the majors who have played enough to be qualified for the batting title -- McCann, Soto, Mauer, A.J. Pierzynski, Martin, Kurt Suzuki, Yadier Molina, Bengie Molina, Ramon Hernandez and Jason Kendall. McCann and Soto are the only catchers in that group with more than 12 homers. McCann (.933), Soto and Mauer (.858) are the only ones above .800 in OPS. None has knocked in 70 runs.

Now, there are some players not qualified for the batting title who are clearly developing into above-average catchers. Chris Iannetta has a .902 OPS and 14 homers. Ryan Doumit is hitting .329 with an .898 OPS. Jesus Flores has an .755 OPS. Kelly Shoppach is at .828. All have made quantum leaps handling their pitchers, as has Chris Snyder in Arizona.

"It took me a lot of work in the minors, but I learned that my job is to get the best out of the pitcher, to work for and with him," says Soto, who also has the advantage of being bilingual. "I know we win with pitching, and what I contribute offensively is secondary. Hey, it's all about winning, not stats."

If Geovany Soto doesn't wear down in September and ends up with close to 30 homers and 90-something RBIs and "Go, Cubs, Go" is ringing down Waveland Avenue, perhaps he'll end up in what appears to be a muddled MVP race. Odds are that he won't end up in the MVP finals, but in mid-August it is an intriguing thought, especially when the thought itself comes from one of his pitchers.

Joe said...

Thanks cubsfan!

I like how Gammons called us the best team in baseball. I've been worried about the Angels after the Texeira trade... but nice to get a vote of confidence from Gammons.