Has the Cleveland Indians’ second baseman been the Most Valuable Player?
As Cleveland Indians’ fans are well aware, Jason Kipnis had a fantastic first half. While this is mostly due to an incredible May and June, his overall numbers are still some of the best in the league. His on-base percentage is over .400, a sign of a superstar, and his defense has been uncharacteristically good.
All this production landed Kipnis in the All-Star Game, although he did not receive enough of the popular vote to start in the midsummer classic. Is it possible that his statistics are good enough for him to be the Most Valuable Player of the first half?
Let’s compare the Tribe’s second baseman’s numbers to that of other first half MVP candidates.
It is very noticeable that Kipnis’s numbers are not as good as Trout’s and are only marginally better than Donaldson. The second baseman’s lower power output has severely wounded his potential to capitalize on a high batting average and on-base percentage. One factor that has certainly helped him, however, is his defense.
Perhaps it is clear that Kipnis was not the best player in the American League in the first half. As well as he played for the Cleveland Indians, Mike Trout player even better for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Let’s not forget Josh Donaldson, who played nearly as well for the Toronto Blue Jays.
But there are many other ways to measure a player’s value to a team. One of these ways is the player’s WAR share for his team. This is a simple measure that compares how valuable a player has been to his team instead of simply how good he has been. Arguably, a star on a mediocre team has more value to that team than a star on a loaded team.
Here’s how the top player’s breakdown by WAR share:
I added in Chris Sale to these WAR share calculations since he has been a really good pitcher on a really bad team. The White Sox have the second best pitching rotation in the American League, by WAR, but they also have the worst offense in the league. This offense is so horrible that it has a -3.7 WAR. That’s right, a replacement level Triple-A team would arguably bat better than the Chicago White Sox. Since Chris Sale’s fWAR of 4.1 isn’t quite on the same level as the other players, I’m going to toss him out of consideration for the first half American League MVP.
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These WAR share calculations favor Kipnis more than Donaldson, but they do not give him enough of a boost to take down Mike Trout. He is, however, closer to Trout in value added to the Cleveland Indians than he is in WAR.
Once again, there are other ways to measure a player’s value. This time, let’s look at surplus WAR to see how valuable Trout, Kipnis, and Donaldson are. Surplus WAR takes a player’s WAR and subtracts how many wins he is being paid to produce. For an alternate viewpoint, I will leave the surplus-value in U.S. Dollars on the table as well.
Just as a few notes, I projected the player’s WAR and Value for a full season of 162 games, and I abbreviated a few headings. pWAR means paid WAR; sWAR means surplus WAR, and sValue means surplus-value. These are not standard abbreviations; I made them up for this post. Value, Salary, and surplus-value are given as millions of U.S. Dollars. Finally, the current WAR and value statistics are from FanGraphs.
Jul 14, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; American League outfielder Mike Trout (27) of the Los Angeles Angels poses with the MVP trophy after the 2015 MLB All Star Game at Great American Ball Park. The American League all stars won 6-3. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
Mike Trout has a higher surplus WAR and, thus, a higher surplus value than both Jason Kipnis and Josh Donaldson. Not only this, but Trout has won all three of our value tests with Kipnis placing second in all three. It is worth noting, however, that Mike Trout’s current contract has an annual average value of $24million while Jason Kipnis’s current contract has an annual average value of $8.5 million.
If one readjusts the above table using AAV instead of yearly salary, Kipnis would provide the most surplus value. Technically, Donaldson’s cheap contract for this year would win, but I am assuming that his average annual salary going through arbitration will be higher than the $5.8 million needed to beat Kipnis.
To sum things up, Mike Trout has been the American League’s MVP through the first half, but Jason Kipnis has been almost as good. Should he continue at his first half pace, he will end the year at almost nine wins better than a replacement player. It remains to be seen, however, if he will be able to perform like a superstar outside of his typically good May and June.