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Sunday baseball notes

Why Most Valuable Player should be about more than WAR

Bryce Harper has had a monster second half and it meant something, even with the Phillies falling short.Sarah Stier/Getty

Voting for any award should be a time-consuming process, especially Most Valuable Player because it’s so open-ended.

Here are the instructions given to voters from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America:

“There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier. The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931:

1. Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.


2. Number of games played.

3. General character, disposition, loyalty, and effort.

4. Former winners are eligible.

5. Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.

Only regular-season performances are to be taken into consideration. Keep in mind that all players are eligible for MVP, including pitchers and designated hitters.”

In the end, the voter decides what “valuable” means.

It’s easy to let statistics do that work when voting. WAR captures nearly every way a player can help his team and spits out how many wins that is worth when compared with an average replacement.

Since 2008, every MVP has been ranked in the top three in WAR in their league as calculated by Fangraphs.com or Baseball-Reference.com.

But it shouldn’t be that simple. There’s more to value than just statistics. That’s the whole point of watching games and talking to the people involved. Otherwise, it’s just a spreadsheet.

Here are my choices. I’ll hold off on American League MVP, as that’s the award I’m voting on.

Bryce Harper has had a monster second half for the Phillies, slashing .336/.475/.715 since the All-Star break.Casey Sykes/Getty

NL MVP: Bryce Harper, Phillies. Juan Soto had an .851 OPS at the All-Star break, well below his career average of .972. Washington dropped into fourth place, in part because of Soto’s lower-than-expected production, then traded Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Lester, and others.


Soto has since posted an incredible 1.195 OPS and is among the WAR leaders in the National League. Does that make him more valuable than Harper, whose bat kept the Phillies in contention in the NL East until the final week of the season?

Harper also has had a monster second half and it meant something, even with the Phillies falling short.

Fernando Tatis Jr. had this locked up at one time, but he missed too many games and the Padres fell under .500.

AL Cy Young: Robbie Ray, Blue Jays. Toronto bet on the potential his strikeout totals suggested in giving Ray a one-year, $8 million deal after he had a 6.62 ERA in 2020.

Ray paid off with 32 starts, 193⅓ innings, and a 2.84 ERA.

Gerrit Cole has a good case. But his second half was a significant dip from the first. Nate Eovaldi should finish third or fourth.

NL Cy Young: Corbin Burnes, Brewers. There is a sense of inevitability with Burnes, that the hitter has no chance. He’s averaging 12.5 strikeouts per nine innings and allowed only 121 hits over 165 innings, a mere six of them home runs.

Milwaukee's Corbin Burnes has seemed untouchable at times this season.Aaron Gash/Associated Press

Scherzer dominated for the Dodgers after being traded. But Burnes took it to a different level.

AL Rookie of the Year: Wander Franco, Rays. Adolis Garcia of the Rangers has big numbers, more than 30 homers and 90 RBIs. But he’s 28 and had played 24 major league games before this season, the first in 2018.


Franco, 20, is the kind of player this award should recognize. He joined a contender in June, struggled a bit then became a middle-of-the-lineup hitter with an .818 OPS while playing shortstop. That he’ll play less than half a season matters, but impact matters more.

Cases can be made for Rays teammate Randy Arozarena and Ryan Mountcastle of the Orioles.

NL Rookie of the Year: Jonathan India, Reds. It’s hard to imagine anybody but India or Marlins lefthander Trevor Rogers getting a first-place vote.

India held down second place for the Reds and had an .838 OPS for a team that contended for the wild card until the Cardinals blew by.

AL Manager of the Year: Kevin Cash, Rays. Are his moves guided by the front office? Certainly, and that is true of most teams. But the Rays work hard at improving and their players are fundamentally sound.

The Rays always play hard no matter how often their roster changes, and it flipped quite a bit after winning the pennant last season.

Scott Servais, who somehow put the Mariners in the playoff mix, would be a good choice, too.

NL Manager of the Year: Gabe Kapler, Giants. There are three deserving candidates as Brian Snitker (Braves) and Craig Counsell (Brewers) also had terrific years.

But the Giants, conservatively, won 30 more games than anybody expected with a roster loaded with aging players including Buster Posey, who sat out last season.


The Giants have had sustained production from their bench (17 pinch-hit home runs) and bullpen. Kapler also managed a large group of coaches effectively. Several scouts said over the course of the season how impressed they were with how prepared the Giants were.


Red Sox fell short on vaccine promotion

The Orioles and other teams have been clear with their vaccine messaging — why haven't the Red Sox?Rob Carr/Getty

The large banner stretches across Eutaw Street, just behind right field at Camden Yards.

“Take one for the team, get the vaccine,” it says. The Orioles have the same message on their Twitter account.

There were similar entreaties at many ballparks this season. Some were painted on the field or flashed on the scoreboard during the game. The Yankees are among the teams who offered free tickets in exchange for getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

This past week, the Players Association released a video featuring Tim Anderson, Mookie Betts, Miguel Cabrera, Yuli Gurriel, and four other players advocating for vaccines in English and Spanish.

Where were the Red Sox?

It would be unfair and incorrect to label the Sox as being anti-vaccine. Fenway Park was a busy vaccination site earlier this year and Alex Cora and David Ortiz released PSAs supporting the jab. The team also requires full-time employees to be vaccinated to come to work at Fenway Park.

But it’s also fair to question why the Sox haven’t been more aggressive in promoting vaccines. There were no signs or scoreboard messages at Fenway Park this season and no active players stepped forward as Anderson, Betts, and others did.


The Sox do not lack for a social conscience or a willingness to use their platform. The organization was a prominent supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement last season, installing a large sign across the bleachers at Fenway Park and an even larger message on the billboard they own overlooking the Mass. Pike.

There is still a BLM sign on the third base side of the grandstands this season.

“It’s important for us to be unambiguous about where we stand with respect to Black Lives Matter,” team president Sam Kennedy said last year.

My question to Kennedy was why aren’t the Sox as unambiguous about where they stand on vaccines?

Kennedy pushed back firmly, insisting the team fully supports vaccines.

“We have really, really leaned in with the healthcare community,” he said. “I disagree with that idea. We’ve been promoting vaccines and using team [logos] to support it.”

Sox president Sam Kennedy and the organization have fallen short on vaccine promotion around the ballpark. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

But not since the season started at Fenway Park. There is no banner across Jersey Street or a sign on the Green Monster. There is an advertisement for Moderna, however.

Vaccines have been a contentious issue for the Sox, who failed in trying to convince 85 percent of their players, coaches, and team staffers to get vaccinated. That has been an ongoing source of frustration for Cora and the front office.

The players are governed by the collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the Players Association, which does not mandate vaccines. The Sox were powerless in that regard beyond providing as much education as they could to overcome doubts and misinformation.

In many cases, that worked. But not enough. That should be addressed in the offseason.

But the Sox did have the power to use their ballpark and brand better than they have the last six months. That was disappointing.

A few other observations about the Red Sox:

▪ The four-year, $68 million extension Nate Eovaldi landed after the 2018 World Series looked like a problem when he made only 12 starts the following year. But the righthander has a 3.75 ERA over the last two seasons and made 41 starts.

This season is the first since 2014 that Eovaldi did not miss time with an injury.

Eovaldi, 31, has averaged 97.3 miles per hour with his fastball. But he’s diversified his attack this season with some quick pitches and other mechanical adjustments to make his cutter, curveball, and splitter more effective.

“He’s not just a power guy,” a scout said. “He’s really pitching and using everything he has. He knows who he is. There’s a lot of confidence on the mound.”

Cora also speaks often about the example Eovaldi sets in the clubhouse with his work ethic.

J.D. Martinez (right) is yet to decide on his option for next season.Rob Carr/Getty

J.D. Martinez told WEEI.com that he was “right in the middle” about whether to exercise his $19.35 million option for next season.

The Red Sox can only hope that’s true.

Martinez, 34, has had his worst full season since 2013, the year before he changed his swing and became one of the best hitters in baseball.

He’s also a liability when he plays the outfield, glaringly so at times.

Martinez remains one of best designated hitters in the game. But an expensive DH is a roster-clogging luxury few teams can afford. Chaim Bloom would surely welcome the payroll flexibility.

Because he has until a few days after the World Series to decide on the option, Martinez and agent Scott Boras won’t know if the universal DH will be implemented in the next CBA. That limits the pool of potential landing spots.

But even with a universal DH, Martinez would need to find a team willing to pay him $20 million a year or perhaps $30 million over two years to make walking away from $19.35 million worth it.

That would be a tough job, even for Boras. Martinez’s best move will be not moving.

▪ It is telling that Kevin Plawecki started 10 of the first 25 games in September. Cora values Plawecki’s bat against lefthanders, but there’s also a catching component involved with some pitchers.

It brings to mind John Farrell giving David Ross extra playing time late in the 2013 season, then turning to him to start seven of the 16 games in the postseason.

The Sox hold an affordable $8 million option on Christian Vazquez, who remains productive at a difficult position to fill. But that decision is not as automatic as it once seemed.

Noah Syndergaard has long expressed an appreciation for Fenway Park and the atmosphere in Boston. But he expects to remain with the Mets as he prepares for free agency.

“I’m fairly confident that we’ll reach an agreement and I’ll be pitching here next year,” he told reporters in New York after making his season debut following a two-year absence after Tommy John surgery.


Baker managing his way to Cooperstown

World Series ring or otherwise, Dusty Baker belongs in Cooperstown.John Hefti/Associated Press

The Astros may not be a particularly likable organization. But don’t hold that against Dusty Baker, who now has managed five teams (Giants, Cubs, Reds, Nationals, and Astros) to a division title.

The Astros are booed wherever they go and have dealt with some significant injuries. But Baker kept them on track amid the tumult. His demeanor has been perfect for this group of players.

The last six teams Baker has managed have qualified for the postseason and this marks the 11th time in 24 years he has won at least 90 games.

Baker is 12th all time in victories and fourth all time in playoff appearances with 11. Only Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, and Tony La Russa have more.

Baker does not have a World Series championship as a manager, but he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Extra bases

Shohei Ohtani accomplished his goal of being a successful two-way player. Now he wants to win. The 27-year-old made that clear this past week as the Angels slogged to another losing season. “I like the fans. I like the atmosphere in the organization. But my feelings to wanting to win are stronger,” he said. Ohtani later added, “I don’t think we can win with the way things are.” General manager Perry Minasian tried to muffle any controversy, saying the entire team feels that way. “Nobody wants to play on a losing team,” he said. Ohtani is under team control through 2023 and he’s certainly not being traded. But the pressure is on Minasian and owner Arte Moreno not to waste the prime years of Ohtani and Mike Trout. This is six consecutive losing seasons … At 41, Rich Hill threw 158⅔ innings for the Rays and Mets, his most since 2007 when he threw 195 for the Cubs. Hill is 50-30 with a 3.15 ERA since turning 35. Hill went five innings to beat the Marlins on Thursday and said afterward he hopes to play next season … Seattle’s Kyle Seager has played 1,479 games without making the playoffs, the most among active players. The Mariners haven’t played in the postseason since 2001 under Lou Piniella … Seattle’s Mitch Haniger had 34 home runs through Friday, the most for a player who missed the entire previous season since Willie Mays hit 41 home runs in 1954 after missing the ‘53 season while in the Army … Congrats to Oakland clubhouse manager Steve Vucinich, who is retiring after 54 seasons with the organization. Vucinich grew up only a few miles from Oakland Coliseum and is now in the team Hall of Fame. Red Sox home clubhouse manager Tom McLaughlin presented “Vuc” with a No. 54 off the Fenway Park scoreboard signed by the team when they were in Oakland in July … Kansas City’s Whit Merrifield and Toronto’s Marcus Semien went into the weekend as the only players to appear in every game this season. Merrifield started every game and Semien came off the bench once, on May 1 … Jaime Jarrín, who has broadcast games in Spanish for the Dodgers since 1959, will retire after next season. He is 85. Jarrín is the longest-tenured broadcaster in the majors and one of the game’s best ambassadors. Jarrín, a native of Ecuador, started out rebroadcasting games called by Vin Scully Michael A. Taylor landed a two-year, $9 million extension from the Royals based almost entirely on his defense in center field. Taylor is a career .239 hitter with a .656 OPS but has a 2.7 WAR this season because of his skills in the outfield. Kansas City feels confident it can carry Taylor’s bat with prospects such as Bobby Witt Jr. on the way … Sudbury’s Ryan Cusick, a first-round pick by the Braves in July, struck out 34 with four walks in his first 16⅓ professional innings. The righthander from Wake Forest could be a fast-mover in the minors … Happy birthday to Hall of Famer and noted linguist Dennis Eckersley, who is 67 and still has good moss. Eck pitched for the Red Sox from 1978-84 as a starter and in 1998 as a reliever. He rejoined the organization as a broadcaster with NESN in 2003 and has been making good iron since. Eckersley had 149 victories and a 3.71 ERA as a starter then won 48 more games and had 390 saves with a 2.85 ERA as a reliever.

Peter Abraham can be reached at peter.abraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.