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When it Hits the Fan
by Greg Padgett
Previous Columns

Miguel vs. ARod - 09/27/2002

Last night, Miguel Tejada came through for the Oakland Athletics yet again in a crucial situation. For the night he went 4-5 with 2 RBI, 1 run, 1 BB, and 1 SB. Over in the other AL West game, Alex Rodriguez went 0-3 with 3 K as his Rangers failed to sweep a key series with the Angels. Such individual contrast on such an important night of baseball brought to mind the fact that I hadn't yet rationalized my own thoughts on the AL MVP debate.

With the voting about to begin now that the divisional series are in order and the season basically over in the American League, I was thinking to myself if it was possible to create a quantitative value comparison between Tejada and ARod. I know this has been the subject of mind-numbing debate, but I've yet to see a comprehensive breakdown between the two players' perfomance this year. All I hear is either:

  1. "ARod is going to hit 60 HR, so he has more value;" or,
  2. "Tejada has been a clutch performer all year, so he has more value because his team is going to the postseason."
Both are, in reality, very nearly true. ARod is sitting on 57 HR with 3 games left, and Tejada hit a game-tying HR in the 9th to allow the A's to clinch in extra innings (he added an insurance RBI in the 10th). The question is, however: If the two #3 hitters switched places, would ARod have come through in the clutch just as effectively as Tejada?

I think I have an answer to this, and it's coming, but first an overall breakdown. Beforehand, please note two things. First, I'm taking into account only offensive numbers, assuming fielding and baserunning are too close to call (Tejada has a few more errors, yet has played all but 9 innings at SS for the A's this year; their SB/CS stats are a draw). Second, I am not a professional analyst, but I'm going to give this a shot, so take this for only what you think it is worth. All I've done is take data from and draw my own (logical) conclusions. Here are the two players' season numbers at the plate:

        AB  R   H   2B 3B HR RBI BB  SO  AVG  OBP  SLG  OPS 
Tejada  657 104 201 30 0  32 127 36  84  .306 .350 .498  .848 
ARod    615 121 186 26 2  57 140 84  121 .302 .392 .629 1.021
Tejada's advantages: Hits, Doubles, Strikeouts, and Batting Average.
ARod's advantages: Runs, Home Runs, RBI, Walks, and OPS.

ARod is clearly a natural power hitter. His ability to hit the longball (to all fields, even) is unmatched in the league, and it manifests itself by way of his 25-HR advantage over Tejada. ARod has also demonstrated more patience at the plate, compiling over twice as many walks as Tejada. Together, this edge shows in ARod's OPS, which is #3 in the league. Tejada, meanwhile, has 15 more hits, 4 more doubles, and 37 fewer strikeouts. His power numbers aren't shabby by any means (he's #9 in the league in HR), but he is better characterized as a middle-of-the-order contact hitter. Plus, the ability to score is closer than the difference in runs (16) shows; Texas cleanup hitters (mainly Palmeiro and Gonzalez) are batting .291 with 103 RBI and a .912 OPS, in contrast to Oakland, whose #4 hitters (primarily Chavez and Justice) have batted .264 with 90 RBI and a .787 OPS.

The most common argument for ARod is the fact that, while Tejada is having a tremendous season, ARod's numbers just can't be ignored, despite the performance of his teammates. Which numbers exactly are not to be ignored? Presumably his HR total. This is a good point. Before 1998, ARod would have the 5th-highest season HR total of all time. Since McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds, however, HR totals in the 60-range have far less luster. Heck, when McGwire hit 70, he didn't even win MVP. Is this ARod's fault? No. He just plays in the age of the home run, and his numbers have to be taken in context.

Nevertheless, let's give ARod this. All other things being relatively equal, he hits for more power, while Tejada hits for slightly better average. But before the Oakland-bashers cry foul at this last point, let me say that I agree that a .306 hitter is not all that different from a .302 hitter. Moreover, Tejada's had 42 more at-bats to reach the 200-hit plateau. So, to dig deeper I'm going to try and break down the critical requirements to providing value to one's team (namely, getting hits and driving in runs) in terms of a variety of important situations.

How Tejada and ARod fared, batting vs. power pitchers:
              AVG  RBI
Tejada       .303  94
ARod         .268  93
With an 0-2 count:
              AVG  RBI
Tejada       .305  9
ARod         .189  5
After an 0-2 count:
              AVG  RBI
Tejada       .275  13
ARod         .208  13
With a 3-2 count:
              AVG  RBI
Tejada       .208  10
ARod         .190  8
With runners in scoring position:
              AVG  RBI
Tejada       .371  92
ARod         .362  85
With the bases loaded:
              AB  AVG  RBI
Tejada        22 .409  20
ARod          11 .364  12
With runners in scoring position, 2 out:
              AB  AVG  RBI
Tejada        67 .373  37
ARod          56 .214  17
Finally, in close late-game situations:
              AB  AVG  RBI
Tejada        98 .327  18
ARod          95 .242  21

I honestly had no idea how this data would look until I started to investigate, but Tejada's superior production is undeniable.

What does this mean, and where did this all start? I began by asking myself if, for purpose of comparison, Alex Rodriguez would have come through for the A's and propelled them to the divisional title just as Miguel Tejada has done. Well, would he? We can't say for sure, but the numbers are self-evident. Objectively, Tejada is the far better clutch performer, independent of how many games his team has won. To address the critics, I'll concede that yes, if ARod were playing behind Hudson, Mulder and Zito, he would probably take part in more wins. But even the loudest naysayers can't deny the fact that the Rangers' anemic pitching has no direct influence on ARod's clutch offensive performance represented in the above data.

Who, then, is the the MVP? I don't get a ballot, so that's not for me to decide. If the voters think ARod's 57 HR outweigh his comparatively inferior high-pressure performance, then he should get the nod. But for me, the difference in value is clear. Advantage, Tejada.

by Greg Padgett

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