Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Why couldn't Quentin be the AL MVP?

Alternate title: Why Jon Heyman is not as insane as he first appears.

The MVP picks made by SI.com's Jon Heyman are, at first glance, totally crazy. He picks Manny Ramirez for National League MVP and relegates Albert Pujols to fifth on his ballot -- behind C.C. Sabathia, Ryan Howard and Brad Lidge. He gives Francisco Rodriguez -- he of the seven blown saves, more than all but four American League relievers -- the nod as American League MVP. He doesn't even list Tim Lincecum among his top three Cy Young candidates in the National League, selecting Johan Santana, Sabathia and Lidge instead.

But a closer look at one of his ballots reveals that Heyman might not be entirely insane.

(Note to self: You're about to agree with Jon Heyman, sort of. You'd better be awfully sure of your position. Are we good? Good. Let's go.)

Behind K-Rod on the American League MVP ballot, ahead of Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis of the Red Sox as well as Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer of the Twins, is Chicago's Carlos Quentin. What that says to me is that if you managed to convince him that Rodriguez was a ridiculous choice for MVP, Quentin would be his next choice.

And that gets me to thinking: Shouldn't Quentin be getting more love for American League MVP than he's getting?

Everyone seems to be on the same page with the same knee-jerk reaction: Quentin broke his hand on Sept. 1 and hasn't played since; therefore, he's not going to win the MVP.

But why shouldn't he?

Quentin, it's worth pointing out, finished second in the American League in home runs (36), ceding his lead to Miguel Cabrera only on Sept. 27. Nonetheless, Quentin finished with 36 home runs and 100 RBI, and he finished third in the American League in OPS behind only Milton Bradley of Texas and Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees.

His OPS+ (on-base-plus-slugging adjusted for ballpark and league) of 149 is higher than that of Pedroia (123), Grady Sizemore (128), Mauer (135), Morneau (135) and Youkilis (145); as far as I can tell, only Rodriguez (153) has a better OPS+ among American Leaguers.

No, Quentin didn't play during the final month of the season. But he was one of the big reasons that a team that wasn't supposed to contend this season spent most of the season in first place and eventually captured the American League Central in a one-game playoff. He played in 130 games, and he more than put up the numbers needed to win the award.

He's not going to win it. But the numbers he put up during the first five months of the season -- particularly if you're of the opinion that Sabathia ought to garner some hardware consideration in the National League -- are worth considering rather than being automatically disqualified.

New to the beat

To all of you who happen to stumble into this space in the early part of October, welcome. In theory, this should be a source for information and insight on Boston's pro spots teams -- primarily the Red Sox and Patriots, but also the Celtics and Bruins whenever time and interest allow.

I start work for the New Hampshire Union Leader on Oct. 1; I'll be covering Red Sox and Patriots home games as well as writing occasional feature stories. That's where most of the material for this blog will originate.

Quick intro: I'm 25 years old, an Exeter, N.H. native and a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. For the past two years, I covered Division II football and basketball for the St. Cloud (Minn.) Times; in the unlikely event that it matters to anyone, you can see my most recent blog here.

Shoot me an email anytime at brimac930@gmail.com. My attitude toward sports journalism is that I just happen to be someone with an opportunity to ask the questions any fan of the game would ask if he or she had the opportunity; if I'm not asking the questions you want me to ask, by all means, let me know.

Lester might be Red Sox ace

Don’t look now, but the Red Sox might be starting the ace of their staff in Game 1 after all.

No, Josh Beckett’s oblique hasn’t miraculously healed itself in time for the right-hander to take his turn in Anaheim on Wednesday night. No, Daisuke Matsuzaka and his 18-3 record aren’t going to move up in the rotation. No, Curt Schilling hasn’t talked his way onto the postseason roster.

Jon Lester, at this point in the season and his career, might be the Red Sox’s ace.

OK, OK. Hold on. Let’s look at this. The left-hander was just named the American League Pitcher of the Month for September after going 4-1 with a 2.14 ERA; he won the same honor in July after going 3-0 with a 2.05 ERA. Only Cleveland’s Cliff Lee twice won American League Pitcher of the Month this season, and Lee is going to win the Cy Young Award going away.

Lester pitched pretty well in May (2-1, 2.97) and June (3-0, 3.03), too. And while no-hitters can be fluky, his no-no certainly has to be another point in his favor.

Since his stinker at Toronto on Aug. 23, he’s 4-1 with a 2.01 ERA and a .218 opponents’ batting average. Before that stinker, he’d gone 6-1 with a 2.59 ERA in his previous eight starts.

For the season, the left-hander struck out 152 and walked 66; his ratio was better than that of contemporary Felix Hernandez (175 to 80) and similar to that of Scott Kazmir (166 to 70).

And the quality start, while not a perfect stat, is certainly a good measure of the consistency a team needs out of its ace. You don’t have to throw eight shutout innings every time out; you just have to put your team in position to win every time out. A No. 3 or No. 4 starter lays more than an occasional egg. It happens.

An ace, though, comes through just about every single time. And a look at the number of quality starts delivered by Red Sox pitchers this season might surprise you:

* Matsuzaka: 14 (48 percent of starts)
* Beckett: 16 (59 percent of starts)
* Tim Wakefield: 18 (60 percent of starts)
* Lester: 20 (61 percent)

Those 20 quality starts rank Lester 10th in the American League; Chicago’s Mark Buehrle leads with 24,while Lee, Roy Halladay (Toronto) and Zack Greinke (Kansas City) are tied for second with 23. All four qualify as aces. Ervin Santana (Angels) had 22 and is an emerging ace; Mike Mussina (Yankees) had 21 and clearly was the best his team had this season.

His second American League Pitcher of the Month nod means you have to think seriously about where he stands in the discussion for the league's Cy Young Award. Lee should win unanimously after going 22-3 for a lousy Indians team, and Roy Halladay won 20 games with a 2.78 ERA for the Blue Jays. Beyond that, though, who would you take over Lester? Other than those two, only Dice-K and Justin Duchscherer had a better ERA among starting pitchers with a minimum of 140 innings, and Duchscherer hasn't pitched since Aug. 21.

Lester might have had the third-best season of any pitcher in the American League. Who'd have thought?

A year ago, at 23, Lester pitched the final game of the World Series because he had to wait until Game 4 for his turn to roll around.

This year, at 24, Lester might just be the staff’s ace.