By: Andrew Gardner
Pittsburgh, PA - The Most Valuable Player award is not easily defined, which makes arguing over who will take home the prestigious accolade so fun to discuss. Should the MVP of the AUDL be the best player in the League talent wise, regardless of how well their statistical season went? Should the MVP be solely based on their statistical output regardless of their intangibles? There is not a de facto right recipient, but I will make the case that Max Sheppard checks all the boxes you would want in an MVP award winner.
The 2019 AUDL season brought forth five MVP finalists, Indianapolis’ Travis Carpenter, San Diego’s Travis Dunn, Washington DC’s Rowan McDonnell, New York’s Ben Jagt, and Pittsburgh’s Max Sheppard. When comparing these All AUDL 1st Teamers, the easiest thing to compare is their regular season stats (this is a regular season award).
Metric #1: Statistics
Sheppard and Jagt were able to reach a very rare plateau in 2019, achieving 50 goals and 50 assists in the same season, the first time in AUDL history that feat was achieved during a 12-game regular season. Sheppard edges Jagt in assists (by one) goals (by 3), and +/- (by 3). Jagt edges Sheppard in blocks (by 4). It’s worth noting that McDonnell leads all finalists with 59 goals, but falls 8 assists shy of Sheppard.
At only 15 goals and a +/- rating of 55, Carpenter’s stats are decidedly distanced from Sheppard, Jagt, and McDonnell, and it’s tough to overlook this large disparity when using a single vote. Dunn’s numbers also pale in comparison, which leads us to a closer inspection of the numbers for the ‘big 3’.
Sheppard: 22 Throwaways, 6 drops, 91.4% passing percentage, 98% catching percentage, 316 tocuhes, 285 points played.
Jagt: 24 Throwaways, 7 drops, 90.4% passing percentage, 98% catching percentage, 323 touches, 311 points played.
McDonnell: 23 Throwaways, 3 drops, 94% passing percentage, 99% catching percentage, 466 touches, 326 points played.
Unfortunately, sabermetric statistics we use in baseball to calculate complex performance standards like wins above replacement isn’t available to us. Statistics won’t tell the whole story, but it’s a great place to start. Analyzing where the ‘big 3’ stand, Sheppard seems to separate himself from the pack. His counting stats (goals/assists/blocks) are much higher than McDonnell’s in totality, and Sheppard’s secondary stats are marginally better than Jagt’s. Am I splitting hairs? Yes – but there isn’t much of a choice when the decision is so close.
Metric #2: Value
I like the objectivity of numbers, but the real debate begins at the subjectivity of value. Naturally, all five finalists brought tremendous value to their teams in 2019, but who provided the most relative to the team they played for? Carpenter is the first person you look at to jump straight to the top of the page. His air defying layouts propelled the ‘underdog’ AlleyCats to their first Midwest division title since the Madison Radicals joined the League. However, as a consensus Top 10 team in the pre-season rankings, the AlleyCats may have surprised pundits for their Final 4 berth, but their final rankings were not tremendously shocking.
Enter the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds, who entered the year as the 20th team out of 21 in the pre-season AUDL power-rankings, only ahead of the winless Detroit Mechanix. After going 0-3 to start the season, the Birds captured 8 wins in their final 9 games to secure the #2 seed in the Midwest division, a run that would propel the Thunderbirds nearly 12 spots in the power rankings, the largest jump a team would see from pre-season to final rankings.
While the exceptional play from Thomas Edmonds, Anson Reppermund, Jimmy Towle and others contributed to that boon, Sheppard assisted or scored a goal on a mind-boggling 43 percent of Thunderbird points during the regular season, the highest percentage for anyone for any team during the 2019 AUDL season.
The New York Empire on the other-hand failed to struggle for much of the 2019 season. While games were close, May 11th, 2019 and June 1st, 2019 both 1 goal victories over the DC Breeze and June 22nd, 2019, a 1-goal victory over the Raleigh Flyers, the Empire relatively cruised through their season as the #1 overall team in the League, locking up a playoff spot early-on. Jagt in those close games was crucial to the Empire’s success, but there were many instances where players like Jack Williams, Harper Garvey and Jeff Babbitt flooded the stat sheet as well. It doesn’t take away from what Jagt accomplished this season, but Sheppard’s value is undoubtedly elevated by playing in must-win games for 11 of the 12 regular season contests.
The Stadium Game
With all eyes on the Chicago Wildfire and Thunderbirds on WatchStadium.com on July 13th, 2019 with a chance to not only clinch a playoff spot, but host a home playoff game, Sheppard lead the team to a 29-16 obliteration of the Wildfire. Sheppard tossed 8 assists and scored 6 goals (nearly 50% of Thunderbird scores!) and none were better than this highlight goal below, an exclamation of sorts for the season Sheppard had.
The Surprise Game
Sheppard provided no bigger value than on July 6th, 2019 at Detroit (0-10). Playing with only 16 players, the Thunderbirds took an injury riddled, depleted roster to Mo-town in a must-win game to keep their playoff hopes alive. At one point down 6 goals in the 3rd quarter, Sheppard played in 25 of the final 27 points in the game that concluded with a Jon Mast goal thrown to Sheppard for the 2OT victory. With the score 19-16, down 2, Sheppard was responsible for every score the rest of the way for the Birds, throwing 7 assists and scoring 2 goals.
The Inaugural AUDL All-Star Game and Draft
Serving as the Thunderbirds All-Star representative for the inaugural AUDL All-Star game in Madison, Wisconsin, Sheppard was drafted 20th out of 30 players. Players were drafted by team captains Rown McDonnell and Kevin Petit-Scantling, and while these players may have picked their friends or people they just wanted to play with, there’s something to be said about Sheppard who was drafted 20th and going on to win the AUDL All-Star MVP award, posting 3 goals, 5 assists, 2 blocks and 22 of 23 throws. If value is an important metric in evaluating the most valuable player, Sheppard checks that box.
Quotes from Around the League
“After watching the [AUDL All-Star Game] closely and scanning the postgame statistics, making Max Sheppard the MVP was not a hard call… He also played with a steady composure and assertiveness that fit the tone and intensity of the evening, deferring to teammates at times and taking over appropriately on occasion. Perhaps fans around the league were not too familiar with Sheppard prior to Saturday night, but his performance on the big stage will elevate his stature going forward. Helping his Pittsburgh Thunderbirds team qualify for the playoffs in the competitive Midwest would be an even bigger boost for Sheppard and his burgeoning superstar career.” – Evan Lepler, AUDL announcer and columnist
“I'm no flatball genius, but I know the sport pretty well and have watched [Sheppard] play a lot of games. Just when I think I know what he can do, he blows my mind again. Trying to capture his creativity and explosiveness in words on the live-stream is one of the most enjoyable challenges of my side-gig with the T-Birds and AUDL.TV.” – Matt Weiss, play-by-play announcer for the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds
“You could tell some people were nervous, as they had probably never been in a showcase situation before, while others, like Max Sheppard, were completely ready to put on a show.” – Jonathan “Goose” Helton, San Diego Growlers player on Max Sheppard’s AUDL All-Star game performance
Sheppard put up gaudy numbers and was by definition one of the most valuable players to his team. A player and coaching based vote to determine electives was announced in early August and Sheppard took home the accolades for best cutter, best speed, and best hammer. He earned the Steel Spirit Award for the 2nd consecutive season (playing in every single AUDL game), and was voted 1st Team All-AUDL.
What do you think? Is Sheppard your 2019 AUDL MVP? Let us know!