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Mets can't top Rollins in war of words

Roberts could still go to Cubs; Garcia update

Posted: Monday February 25, 2008 3:05PM; Updated: Monday February 25, 2008 4:19PM
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Jimmy Rollins
Jimmy Rollins came through on his boast from last spring, and he's ready to do it again this year.

Also in this column:
Cubs still seek Roberts
• Bonds, Sosa looking for work
• Clemens: Party on

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Mets may unseat the Phillies as NL East champions this year, but there's no sense in trying to beat NL MVP and trash talker extraordinaire Jimmy Rollins at his own game.

Quiet Mets star Carlos Beltran gave it a surprise shot when he got to camp, borrowing Rollins' exact line from last spring in declaring the Mets as "the team to beat." But as Phillies pitcher Brett Myers noted, "Sequels are never as good as the original.''

And then Rollins chimed in the next day, "Has anyone ever heard of plagiarism?''

Beltran, a nice, laconic, well-groomed fellow, stunned folks with his rare back-page fodder. But Rollins holds the patent. He gets all the credit, with only an assist from the Mets for their reaction last spring. "I thank the Mets,'' Rollins said. "They took it upon themselves to take it personally.''

Beltran and other Mets types are understandably excited about the acquisition of ace pitcher Johan Santana. Yet the Mets should hold their tongues now for two very good reasons: 1) They had their chance last spring when Rollins spoke, but to a man, they were afraid to speak up, a reticence that was later reflected in the way they played -- scared; and 2) Philly beat the Mets to a pulp down the stretch, winning the last seven head-to-head games.

Beltran gave it a shot. But under the circumstances his words came off as a pale impersonation of the master.

Sorry VORPies, Rollins was the right choice

Rollins acknowledged that his brash "team to beat'' prediction probably helped him win the MVP. Of course, it didn't hurt that he hit 30 home runs, scored 139 runs and slugged .534 while batting leadoff and playing a superb shortstop for a division champion.

The Rockies' great slugger, Matt Holliday, finished second, but even a Rockies person told me in the playoffs last October that Rollins deserved the MVP, just as that Rockies person believed their shortstop Troy Tulowitzki deserved the Rookie of the Year (the Brewers' Ryan Braun wound up winning a close vote for that award). That person believed that great offense combined with stellar shortstop play should have been enough to take the awards, not a bad thought at all.

Even so, I wasn't shocked that stats people have taken issue with Rollins winning the MVP award. There are numbers crunchers out there -- including a firejoemorgan.com author who wrote a guest piece in Sports Illustrated last week -- who believe baseball writers rank somewhere between morons and idiots for voting Rollins as MVP over David Wright, who had a higher VORP. The stat people seem to believe VORP -- a Baseball Prospectus statistic that stands for Value Over Replacement Player -- defines a player, but why haven't many of them championed last year's VORP leader (Hanley Ramirez) as MVP instead?

I assume the stats guys favor Wright because he played for a contending team. I guess the rule is this: Highest VORP wins unless the VORP champion is playing for a loser.

If Wright's offensive stats were slightly better than Rollins', and I will accept that they were, especially considering the respective ballparks they play in (VORP accounts for ballparks), shouldn't Rollins get points for playing a superb shortstop compared to Wright's slightly-above average third base? And shouldn't Rollins get credit for showing extraordinary initiative and leadership? For helping his team barrel into the playoffs from seven games back with 17 to go, as opposed to Wright's team, which perpetrated a historic choke?

Though the Mets' collapse was no fault of Wright's, for the MVP to come off the all-time choke team, he'd better have a greater advantage in stats than this: Wright outhit Rollins .325 to .296, but both hit 30 home runs and Rollins beat Wright in Runs Created by 13. Wright's big advantage apparently comes down to the fact he got on base more often (his on-base percentage was significantly higher, .416 to .344), usually via a walk (he had 94 walks to Rollins' 49). To the stat guys, walking is more thrilling and much more valuable than actually winning the pennant.

Rollins a stylemaster too

Rollins repeated his stance that he loves to see style go with substance, an opinion he said he formed while growing up in the Oakland area and idolizing Rickey Henderson.

In today's game, Rollins rated four other players whose style he can admire:

1. David Ortiz
2. Manny Ramirez
3. C.C. Sabathia
4. Jose Reyes

Someone asked Rollins if his DP mate Chase Utley shows any style, and Rollins said no, but that he's working with him. With a little work, Rollins said Utley could dream to become "the face of Tasty Cakes.''

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