When it comes to baseball play-by-play, few are better than Dan Dickerson and Dave O’Brien. They aren’t broadcast partners — Dickerson is the voice of the Detroit Tigers; O’Brien calls games for the Boston Red Sox and for ESPN — but they did pair up for this interview.
The well-informed duo addressed questions prior to Wednesday night’s game at Fenway Park. The topics were: the Most Valuable Player award in the American and National leagues, pitcher stats and the Cy Young Award, the Joey Votto OBP/RBI debate, and the impact Jose Iglesias has had on his new team.
AMERICAN LEAGUE MVP
Dan Dickerson: “To me, because it is Most Valuable Player and not Player of the Year, there is a lot of subjectivity. I actually kind of like that. It’s not just ‘who is the best player?’ That word, ‘valuable’ — if you look at the definition of how you’re supposed to vote — allows you to say, ‘OK, I think this guy had more value to this team than that guy had to another team.’ The numbers might not exactly say that, but it’s your subjective feeling.
“Last year, having witnessed what Miguel Cabrera did all season long, I thought, without him, the Tigers don’t win the division. I think that’s the definition of a Most Valuable Player. Without Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers don’t make the postseason. That’s not to downgrade anything Mike Trout did. I just though Cabrera held more value.
“This year, you have a triple-crown winner who is exceeding those totals in all three categories. There are other metrics, as well, and the fact remains, this guy remains astounding. He’s also come up with big hits in the late innings — in the last month — that were crucial hits that changed games. For instance, in Cleveland, he hit a home run in the ninth inning one time, another in the eighth inning. All of a sudden, the Tigers sweep a four-game series against the team that’s currently chasing them. They were three games behind going into that series. Those kind of things make you go ‘Wow.’ Incredibly, he’s actually lifted his level of play this year.”
Dave O’Brien: “Is there any way to undervalue Miguel Cabrera? The great debate last year, of course, was obviously with Mike Trout. Is anybody having a year that would make it a controversy this season, in regard to Miguel Cabrera? Not that I can see. I think he’s a runaway winner. The only question now is whether he becomes the first man ever to win back-to-back triple crowns.
“His value to this team is off the charts. The funny thing is, as we speak, they’re 10-2 without him in the lineup. That’s a fascinating stat for me. Jim Leyland will explain it one way, but probably the best way to say it is that they have guys who have played at a higher level when he’s not in there. Not that they want to keep taking that chance, of course.”
NATIONAL LEAGUE MVP
Dan Dickerson: “Andrew McCutchen catches my eye because of all he does. The offensive numbers maybe don’t jump out at you, but that’s a pitcher-friendly ballpark. I think it’s one of the toughest for run scoring this year. It’s tough for home-run hitters. He’s still putting up great numbers and playing great defense.
‘With Clayton Kershaw, you can make an argument for a pitcher, like Justin Verlander a couple of years ago. He’s put together a season for the ages. Of course, he’s in a pitcher-friendly ballpark. I don’t think he’ll get there, but he’s having an unbelievable year.
“Yadier Molina is a great defensive catcher who might win the batting title. It doesn’t have to be a battle of a guy who won the WAR. The guy with the highest WAR doesn’t have to be the MVP. It’s a useful tool, and that’s why I like WAR. It reminds you that a really good defensive player, who can also hit, is worth a lot.
“A player like Brendan Ryan can rate out well even though he doesn’t hit a whole lot, because he plays extremely good defense. I’m assuming Yadier Molina is right near the top in WAR right now, because of his combination of offense and defense. I don’t think WAR is the argument settler, but it sure is a useful tool.”
Dave O’Brien: “The guy who might be best defender winning the batting title — if it happens — would be [notable]. Yadier Molina has become such a better hitter. We saw the number recently when we had the Cardinals for the ESPN game. At least in terms of Wins Above Replacement, Matt Carpenter was perceived — at least in that narrow definition of value — to be a more valuable player for the St. Louis Cardinals than Yadier Molina. But I think if you walked onto the field and polled the full roster of both teams playing that night, not one player would indicate Matt Carpenter is more valuable to the fortunes of the St. Louis Cardinals than Yadier Molina.
“Molina captains that team and he captains that pitching staff. They had a losing record when he was out, and I think you can directly correlate that to his not being there, especially with a young pitching staff. There have been an extraordinary number of rookies pitching for the Cardinals this year, and you need to have a mature defender — and game-caller — back there to guide those kids. He’s done that.
“Molina is probably the odds-on favorite to win in the National League, which would give you back-to-back catchers winning the MVP, and maybe even the batting title. Andrew McCutchen will also be in the running, with the way he’s come on in the second half. In the first half, he had a couple of mediocre months, but in the second half he’s really come on strong.”
THE VALUE OF JOEY VOTTO
Dan Dickerson: “I don’t think you can argue with the numbers. He creates runs. I’m not sure how much more you can ask out of a guy. It’s off the charts. If you had a team full of Joey Vottos, you’d be scoring about nine runs a game. There’s great value in what he does. I understand what people are saying, but I guarantee you one thing, Dusty Baker likes having him in that lineup every day.”
Dave O’Brien: “He gets a lot of criticism in Cincinnati for not swinging at pitches that even people within his own organization believe he should kill. In their opinion, he should drive in more runs. His RBIs, compared to what he did as the Most Valuable Player a couple of years ago, are down markedly.
“His great value to driving the Cincinnati Reds is getting on base. He has an excellent on-base percentage. He also has the ability to not get sucked into swinging outside his strike zone where he thinks he can drive the ball. The same controversy ensued here in Boston with J.D. Drew. J.D. refused to go outside his strike zone. He’d take ball four. He certainly had his critics, and I thought there were nights he could have done more damage with hittable pitches.
“Another thing that happened with Drew — which hasn’t happened with Votto, yet — is that umpires started to turn on him a little bit. His called strikeouts rose, and basically the communication to him was, ‘Swing the bat.’ Votto has such discipline that he stays away from those pitches entirely, and I wonder if the time will come when he’ll change his philosophy.”
THE CY YOUNG AWARD AND PITCHER STATS
Dan Dickerson: “Max Scherzer has said it all year long: Wins can be fluky. That’s why I liked it when Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young Award with 13 wins a few years ago. I always think of that year Bartolo Colon won it when Johan Santana should have won it. I think Santana had 14 wins that year with the Twins. It’s a good thing we’re now looking beyond wins.
“If Max finishes, for instance, 21-3, that number certainly catches your eye and will influence voters. But the fact remains, Max Scherzer has been incredibly consistent this year. In 16 of his last 19 starts he’s given up two runs or fewer, so he’s put himself in position to get those wins. But I do believe you have to look at the whole picture. How deep does he go into games? How well does he pitch against the best teams? How consistent is he? How often does he give his team a chance to win? All those things matter, and I think we’ve gotten pretty good at evaluating that. It is the Pitcher of the Year; it’s not like the MVP, which is different. When you’re talking Pitcher of the Year, Max is certainly right there.”
Dave O’Brien: “Scherzer has all the numbers. I know Jim Leyland wasn’t happy when someone suggested that if he had John Lackey’s run support, he’d be something like 11-7. I tend to be more old school on wins. I think a true ace will win games. He’ll pitcher deeper into games and give himself, and his team, a chance to win. When his teammates look at those wins and losses… it’s not an automatic victory, but they feel like every time that guy pitches, he should win. The ability to win games still resonates with me.
“In Scherzer’s case, being 19-1 coming in here… he won a game recently where Torii Hunter got him off the hook with a late home run. He was seemingly destined to lose that game. But I would bet, based on what his teammates have said — the guys I’ve talked to — they believe that when Max Scherzer takes the mound, they’re supposed to win that game. His won-lost record has a lot to do with that confidence. It’s the human side of baseball. Whether you’re talking old statistics or new-age statistics, the human side can’t be accounted for.”
THE BRILLIANCE OF JOSE IGLESIAS
Dan Dickerson: “I love what I’m watching. I just love what I’m watching. The way he plays shortstop, with the grace and the energy and the smarts — I think he’s lifting the whole team. He makes plays that are just — how can he not lift you up? Look at the double plays we saw him made the other night. Two were borderline spectacular. He avoided the leg-kick from Mike Napoli and turned that double play. Then there was the one where he tagged Shane Victorino. He’s completely instinctive, plus he has great athletic ability. I just love what I’m watching. I can’t wait to see what this guy does in the years ahead. I haven’t seen too many shortstops like this.”
Dave O’Brien: “There were those who didn’t think — at least a year ago — that Jose Iglesias was a frontline Gold-Glove-caliber shortstop. One of them was Bobby Valentine. He did not have the regard for Jose that the rest of us did. Not defensively, and certainly not offensively. He pinch hit for him in the middle of an at bat, and really went out of his way to embarrass the kid. He thought there was a lot of smoke and mirrors with Jose’s defensive ability.
“If you ask Shane Victorino or Dustin Pedroia about the double play that was turned here the other night, they’ll tell you it’s not smoke and mirrors. Victorino was going first to second and Pedroia hit one to short. Iglesias tagged out Victorino with a swipe and threw to first base. The look on both of their faces was, ‘What just happened there?’
“I think the Tigers are delighted with the trade. They’re set for the next decade at shortstop. He’s going to save so many runs. The kid can flat out play.”