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More on Mora

Those of you who are regulars at the Baseball Primer may already know about this, but Rich Lederer has written a keen analysis of the 2004 performance of the Orioles' Melvin Mora on his blog, Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT.

Lederer expresses surprise at how overlooked Mora's season was in the AL MVP voting. Mora finished 18th in MVP points despite having offensive statistics comparable to the first- and third-place holders, Vladimir Guerrero and Manny Ramírez—all while playing a tougher defensive position (albeit not outstandingly). Mora's point total of five (for one eight-place vote and one ninth-place vote) tied Texas Rangers Hank Blalock and Mark Teixeira, and it trailed such luminaries as Paul Konerko (seven) and Mark Kotsay (eight). I'm going to guess that both of Mora's votes came from the Baltimore writers, who had a chance to view his brilliance over the entire season.

Mora and teammate Miguel Tejada (who finished fifth in the voting with 123 points) had fantastic offensive seasons that deserve mention among the best seasons ever at their respective positions. As Lederer points out, Mora's 2004 was just the 17th time since 1900 that a third baseman has compiled a batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging average greater than 20 percent above the league average in the same season. (Including OPS in the criteria, as Lederer does, is redundant: if both OBP and SLG are at least 20 percent above the league average, then their sum will always be at least 20 percent above the league OPS. Just do the math.) Meanwhile, Tejada had the best season by a shortstop in the majors, although Carlos Guillén gave a stiff competition for that honor until getting hurt in September.

Everybody in the BBWAA loves a winner

If the Orioles had been in playoff contention after the All-Star break, both Mora and Tejada would have gotten more consideration for MVP, since the baseball writers who vote for the award have historically preferred players on winning teams. This is unfair to the stars of losing teams, who find their chances of winning the award greatly diminished through no fault of their own. But that's the way the voting has gone, and the vague language on the award ballot does not dissuade the voter from showing a bias toward "winners." Tejada benefited from being on a contender in 2002, when he took home the MVP for the AL West champion A's despite having inferior statistics to A-Rod, so he is in no position to argue with this year's result. Mora, though, has a legitimate beef with the writers, as does Guillen, who tied for 24th.

Occasionally the writers have recognized great individual performances by players on bad teams—Andre Dawson's 1987, Cal Ripken Jr.'s 1991, and Álex Rodríguez's 2003 come to mind—but this usually happens when there are no clear choices among the best players of the winning teams.

This year, though, there was no shortage of legitimate candidates on the playoff contenders. In addition to Guerrero and Ramírez, there were Gary Sheffield (2nd in the voting), David Ortíz (4th), Johan Santana (6th), Michael Young (8th), and Mariano Rivera (9th). Ichiro Suzuki (7th) and Iván Rodríguez (10th) managed to make the top ten despite playing for poor teams. But the players taking up spots 11-17 in the vote all played for winning teams. These players were not clearly better than Mora, but they had the good fortune to play for contenders. Of the 31 players that appeared on at least one AL MVP ballot, a mere seven played for teams that finished under .500 (in addition to the five already mentioned, Cleveland's Víctor Martínez and Travis Hafner were 21st and 24th, respectively).

There are other reasons why Mora was almost invisible in the voting. For one, his defensive struggles early in the year did not help him. Also, the three weeks' worth of games that he missed in the middle of the season due to injury dampened his counting stats a bit. Mora is a balanced hitter who excelled in many categories, but he did not put up the huge power numbers that the MVP voters love. His 27 home runs finished back in the pack, and he did not accumulate the high RBI total that is typically favored by voters, finishing with 104, far behind the leaders. Although he led the league in a major statistic, on-base percentage (.419), OBP is still undervalued by too many people who cover the game on a regular basis. He was second in batting average at .340, but he was overshadowed in that category by the runaway leader, Ichiro.

Make no mistake: Mora was plenty good in 2004. He had a full plate of top-ten finishes in other categories, including runs (111, 6th), doubles (41, 6th), slugging (.562, 5th), hits (187, 8th), extra-base hits (68, 8th), and times on base (264, 6th). The complex metrics that adjust for park, league, and position rate Mora's 2004 season highly as well. He was fourth in VORP, twelfth in the AL in Win Shares, eleventh in WSAA, and twentieth in WARP1, which scores starting pitchers more highly than the other methods. (VORP was more generous to Mora in part because it does not rate the quality of a player's defense.) Hitting second or third in the Orioles' lineup in 2004, Mora was both a table setter and an RBI man, and he did both jobs admirably. He just didn't do enough of the things that MVP voters like, and he didn't play for the right team (i.e., a winning one). Not that he should be overly concerned about that; he's plenty valuable as he is, no matter how the voters vote.

Peripheral hardware

Mora and Tejada picked up other postseason awards, so their exploits did not go totally unnoticed. Both received Silver Slugger awards (voted on by league managers and coaches) for being the best offensive performers at their positions, and their fellow players voted them both to the Sporting News AL All-Star team.

Somewhat surprisingly—though perhaps not deservedly—Mora beat out A-Rod for both awards. A-Rod played better defense at third base, was more durable than Mora, and was hurt offensively by his home park while Mora was helped by his. All those factors cut into Mora's apparent edge in production. Mora may have deserved the Silver Slugger, but I probably would have voted for A-Rod as the league's best overall third baseman.

Bonus round

The Silver Slugger and TSN nods were nice, but of all the postseason awards, the MVP is the brightest feather in a position player's cap. Monetary incentives are often included in players' contracts that award bonuses for winning the MVP or placing in the top ten. Indeed, Mora's current contract contains up to $350,000 a year in performance incentives. Although the specific bonus triggers were not publicly disclosed when he signed the contract last January, it's certainly possible that he missed a payout because of the MVP voters' favoritism for "winners." He may have lost a chance at another hunk of dough for not making the AL All-Star squad in July; the only reason Joe Torre left him off the team is that Mora happened to be injured at the time and was unable to play in the game. If Mora's contract has incentives for top-ten MVP finishes or All-Star selections, then the Orioles should pay him those bonuses for 2004 even though he missed on both counts. He clearly had the type of season that those bonuses were meant to reward, and he would still be enormously undercompensated even if all the incentive awards were applied.

All things considered, Tejada deserved to be the Orioles' MVP in 2004. His durability, steady fielding at shortstop, and strong offensive production made him a worthy choice. But Mora was significantly more dangerous with the bat than Tejada, exceeding his fellow infielder by some 90 points of OPS, including a huge 59-point edge in OBP. With improved defense and better health, Mora could make himself impossible to ignore in the MVP race. But given the peanuts the Orioles are paying him ($2 million this year, $3.5 million in 2005, and $4 million in 2006 not including incentives), Baltimore should be quite content to have more of the same from Mora.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on November 26, 2004 1:21 AM.

The previous post in this blog was Birds make low-risk investment in Stockstill.

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