Yesterday, HLP issued the opening salvo in an on going argument he and I have been having about who is the Astros most valuable player in 2009. Today, I present my public response.
Michael Bourn is undoubtedly a great story in 2009. Certainly he's the most improved player in all of major league baseball. We've even had a discussions about whether or not he's in the midst of the greatest one season turn around of all time. But does that make him the Astros most valuable player in 2009? I'm going to argue no.
If we break the argument down to it's most rudimentary measure, WAR, Michael Bourn has had more valuable season than Wandy Rodriguez. In fact, Bourn currently leads the Astros in WAR, which should make the the argument very simple. But where's the fun of debate if we just settle it by who has the highest WAR?
Wandy Rodriguez's 2009 will be known as his definitive breakout campaign; the season that so many of us here have been waiting for since Wandy showed flashes of brilliance in 2007. He is among the top 20 pitchers in many categories including: ERA, xFIP, tRA, tRA* ERA+, K/9, WPA, PRC, K, K/9, IP, shutouts, and AverageGameScore. Just about every fifth day, the Astros handed the ball to an elite pitcher. With the exception of Wandy's absurdly quick regression to the mean for his HR/FB ratio that took place in late May/early June, Wandy has dealt.
In a season that has seen the Astros overuse their bullpen, struggles for those relievers to stay healthy and effective as result of that overuse, and the struggle for health and effectiveness from former defacto ace, Roy Oswalt, Wandy has delivered 28 starts this season average 6.1+IP. The 2009 Astros were not looking towards to batter's box to succeed, they were looking to the mound, and Wandy has delivered for the Astros.
So the argument I'd like to put forth is this: Wandy Rodriguez should be seen as the Astros 2009 MVP because of the simple fact that he has provided tremendous value at an absolutely crucial position. Where as Michael Bourn has been above average in offense and defense—but gets a bump because of his elite speed—Wandy Rodriguez has been elite in just about every facet of his game this year, save BB%. Michael Bourn has been a special story because of the truly miraculous turn around, but Wandy's contributions to the Astros are of more value in the end. Bourn's skill set is functionally handicapped by the fact that the Astros offense can't capitalize on Bourn's speed because he's a cog in the wheel; Wandy's skill sets is not obscured by faulty cogs in the wheel—he's the straw that stirs the drink, so to speak.
I'll admit that this is hardly an airtight argument. It relies on a lot of subjective reasoning that obscures one very clear objective fact: Michael Bourn has provided more value over a replacement level player than any other Astro in 2009. However, I don't think the discussion of most valuable is always served by such a measure. Value isn't a context independent measure. So, in the context of the 2009 Astros, I believe that it's possible to view Wandy Rodriguez's contributions as superior to those of Michael Bourn's speed based skill set.