Most (and Least) Valuable Players, Chicago’s favorites, and base thieves


Overall base value (OBV) is a well-tuned forecasting tool for Most Valuable Player Awards.

Consider the past couple of seasons. Aaron Judge and Paul Goldschmidt respectively led the American and National League in OBV in 2022. They also took home the leagues’ MVP trophies.

The 2023 OBV champs were Shohei Ohtani in the AL and Ronald Acuna Jr. in the NL. They, too, won the year’s Most Valuable Player honors.

It’s too early to handicap the 2024 MVP races with much accuracy. But we do have one month in the books, so let’s take a look at the early frontrunners.

If you’d like to learn more about how OBV is calculated (and what it means), you can click here. Or perhaps it will suffice to know that a positive OBV indicates one of two things:

  • A particular batter reached more bases than the average big leaguer would have attained under identical circumstances.

  • A given pitcher surrendered fewer bases than his typical counterpart would have yielded under the same conditions.

Juan Soto of the New York Yankees reached 97 bases and made 85 outs in 31 games through the end of April. The average batter would have attained 56 bases in the same number of outs, which means that Soto was 41 bases ahead of the big-league norm.

Soto’s resulting OBV of plus-41 was the best in the American League as of the morning of May 1. Baltimore’s Gunnar Henderson was a close second at plus-38.

The National League MVP race is considerably more lopsided. Mookie Betts of the Los Angeles Dodgers piled up an OBV of plus-59 in the first month of the season. Runner-up Elly De La Cruz of Cincinnati was 16 bases behind.

Here are the top 10 players in each league:

It logically follows that a negative OBV is an sign of underperformance by a batter or pitcher.

Leagues don’t hand out Least Valuable Player Awards. But if they did, underwater base-value scores would be the ideal tool to determine the contenders for such an unhappy designation.

A pair of pitchers, Alex Wood of the Oakland Athletics and Kyle Hendricks of the Chicago Cubs, surged to the top — bottom? — of the LVP races in their leagues with identical OBVs of minus-37 at the end of April.

Here are the players who struggled the most in the first month of the season:

Let’s face it: Chicago is a one-team town.

The Cubs have a firm grip on fans’ hearts throughout the city and surrounding region, a dominance that is unrelated (or perhaps only slightly related) to how terrible the White Sox have been playing as of late.

Chicago’s baseball imbalance has existed for decades. Take a look at the graph, which depicts regular-season home attendance at 10-year intervals for the Cubs (red bars) and White Sox (black bars).

The Sox, as you can see, actually outdrew the Cubbies by 23 percent in the 1960s. But the trend has run in the other direction ever since, with the gap becoming especially pronounced since the turn of the century.

The Cubs drew 30.34 million fans between 2000 and 2009, trouncing the White Sox (22.03 million) by 38 percent — despite the Sox winning a world title in 2005. (And yes, the Cubs outdrew them in that single season, too, even though they finished with a losing record.)

The gap widened to 67 percent in the 2010s, and it stood at 47 percent after the first two years of the current decade. (I eliminated 2020 and 2021 from the calculations because of Covid.)

Let me reiterate: Chicago is a one-team town.

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We’ve already examined the pacesetters and tailenders in OBV through the first month of the current season. This week’s quiz extends the theme to other statistical categories. Can you identify the following major-league leaders through the games of April 30?

Look to the bottom of this newsletter for the answers.

1. Which big-league batter had the most hits in the opening month?

2. Who drove home the most runs?

  • A. Alec Bohm

  • B. Marcell Ozuna

  • C. Salvador Perez

  • D. Juan Soto

3. Who stole the most bases?

4. Which pitcher piled up the most strikeouts?

5. Who issued the most walks?

Base stealing is on the upswing, but Rickey Henderson’s career record of 1,406 stolen bases is in absolutely no danger.

Only eight active big leaguers have stolen more than 200 bases, and none has more than Starling Marte’s total of 345 in 13 seasons with the Pirates, Mets, and three other clubs. That means Marte is still 1,061 steals behind Henderson.

Below are the 10 highest SB counts for players who are currently playing in the majors (or in the case of Jean Segura, hope to return). The figures were tabulated by Baseball Reference:

The Detroit Tigers endured a shocking experience during the week of April 30 to May 6, 1984. They lost two games in a row.

The Boston Red Sox scored back-to-back victories over the Tigers on May 2 and 3 by respective scores of 5-4 and 1-0. Both games were tight to the end, with Detroit leaving the tying run on second base in consecutive ninth innings.

Jack Morris suffered his first loss of the year in the latter game, despite allowing only one run on five hits in nine innings of work. His record for the 1984 season stood at 5-1.

The ’84 Tigers, who are rated as the greatest team of baseball’s Modern Era (1961 to the present), reverted to form thereafter. They closed the week with a three-game sweep of the Cleveland Indians.

Detroit’s record on the morning of May 7, 1984, was 22-4, good for a five-game lead over the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East.

The New York Mets were burrowed deep in last place in the National League on this date 62 years ago.

The Mets were saddled with a 4-16 record at daybreak on May 7, 1962, leaving them 13 games behind the league-leading San Francisco Giants (20-6).

New York played only four games between April 30 and May 6, with rain and a Sunday curfew forcing the cancellation of two other contests. The only victory in the week was a 12-inning affair on May 6 that ended with the Mets two runs ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies, 7-5.

The season was less than a month old, but manager Casey Stengel was already admitting to being frustrated by the ’62 Mets, who were destined to become the losingest team of the Modern Era. “The amazing Mets are in an amazing slump,” Stengel sadly told reporters in early May.

1-A. (All four of these batters had at least 42 hits, but Betts led the pack with 46.)

2-B. (Ozuna ended the month with a total of 31 runs batted in.)

3-B. (Each of these four baserunners stole at least a dozen bases, topped by De La Cruz’s 18.)

4-D. (Glasnow set the big-league pace with 53 strikeouts as of the morning of May 1.)

5-C. (Paxton led the majors with 22 walks in the opening month.)

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