Preview: AL Most Valuable Player

The final award is probably the one with the most candidates (close to ten players have various cases for the award), but Josh Hamilton seems to be the favorite due to his sparkling performance (and, let’s face it, he’s still getting bonus points for turning his life around, which is extremely impressive but irrelevant to this discussion). Your own Robinson Cano has been awesome this season stabilizing the Yankee lineup, but he’s pretty far back when the wins above replacement numbers do all the number-crunching. Unfortunately, his great season hasn’t been one of the top 5 AL performances of the season, and while you can make an argument to get in the top 5, there aren’t too many to get him into the top spot. I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, especially because I think there’s a half-way decent chance he walks away with the award, but he isn’t the AL MVP. Let’s look at the rest of the arguments.

Josh Hamilton

Let’s start with the favorite, again. FanGraphs has him blowing away the competition with 8.0 fWAR, 0.9 above anyone else, but Baseball-Reference has him 6th, actually right behind Cano. Hamilton’s offensive numbers are staggering—.359/.411/.633 for a wOBA of .447(!)—and his defense (+8 UZR) has been an additional positive and another point of contention. The offense has been legitimately outstanding, and there’s no debate about that (though, there are serious questions about his ability to repeat it, but that’s for another day). B-Ref hates his defense by valuing it 6 runs below average, and if you adjusted it closer to +8 (like UZR), Hamilton’s bWAR of 6.0 would be much closer to Longoria’s 7.7. So who do you believe? I went on record yesterday saying I don’t like B-Ref’s way of doing it because it hated on Zimmerman, but let’s take a look. UZR has seen him as a slightly above-average defender 3 of the past 4 seasons, and while the +8 seems a bit too optimistic, it seems only slightly off. B-Ref’s defensive metric bounces around on Hamilton from 5 to -3 to 8 to -6 this season. UZR seems more consistent, and I’ll take its word for it with less skepticism. We’ll give his B-Ref a win boost.

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Implicit Acceptance

For the past year or so, I’ve been trying to figure out this disconnect between sabermetrics and traditionalists, between newer stats and traditional stats, and between perception and reality in the battle over baseball analysis. I’ve written several posts trying to explain what sabermetrics is (the questioning of previously held truths), the newer advanced stats, and other social phenomena that cause problems in the baseball world. But I’ve always felt like I was swimming upstream, and it didn’t have anything to do with the audience. When discussing these issues, I try to be as patient as possible, and when a significant group of people still don’t come around, I hesitate to blame everything on them. Usually in those situations, there is something structural going on that we’re unaware of which causes problems in communication and understanding, and I have been continually frustrated as to what it is. Now, I don’t expect this to change the world, but I hope it helps if you’re one of the people frustrated because they like the traditional statistics and don’t understand why we need new ones.

The problem (at least partially; there are other reasons—reactionaries, bad explanations, name-calling—but I feel those have been explained in several places) lies in the names we attribute to statistics. People say, “Numbers don’t lie. People do”. Sounds good enough, but it’s not really accurate. The implication, in the baseball sense, is that our forefathers (the game’s creators) have been lying to us for the past century, and that there was some devious plan to mislead the public. It also implies that our forefathers were dumb and unable to come up with good statistics. Both of these notions are incorrect.

With the invention of the box score, statistics became a part of the game, but it wasn’t really a profession in the way it is now. People wanted to count up the statistics and figure out who was better than who, but there really wasn’t too much of an investigation into them. For one, it was a piece of trivia, and second, the technology wasn’t really good enough until the last 40 years or so to really delve into their effectiveness. So, our forefathers allowed, even constructed, traditional statistics based on easy available numbers. Counting stats (hits, home runs, strikeouts) were easy, but someone realized that rate stats (ERA, batting average) would also help because counting stats didn’t tell the whole story. Here’s the problem—numbers can’t just sit there.

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Preview: NL Most Valuable Player

It’s almost the end of the award season, and we all know what that means—MVP awards! Traditionally, the MVP Award is given to the best position player because the Cy Young is considered the MVP for pitchers, but the rules do not exclude pitchers from being MVPs. Understanding that this is the award essentially for position players, I find it odd that the MVP is always the last award given, which implies it is the most important and thus insinuates that position players are more important than pitchers. If pitchers were considered just as good as position players, wouldn’t they let the Cy Young awards go last every other year? And if pitchers and hitters are equal and the MVP Award is not to declare who is the best position player, then why do pitchers win so infrequently? Just in case you didn’t want to follow that philosophical rambling, we’re here today to talk about the NL MVP, and we’ll even give notice that a third party deserves to be a part of this discussion (and his name isn’t Carlos Gonzalez).

Albert Pujols

Let’s start with the perennial favorite, shall we? Pujols’ .312/.413/.596 slash line leading to a .420 wOBA is actually a little low by Pujols’ standards, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been exceptional enough to be the best in baseball. Let’s add in his just ever-so-slightly above-average defense, and Pujols has been worth 7.3 fWAR (7.2 bWAR) this season. He’s second to Votto when it comes to fWAR, but he leads by 0.7 over everyone in bWAR. I realize we’re all starting to get worn down and suffer a little “Pujols Fatigue” to the point where we’re just tired of seeing him win every year, but that doesn’t mean he’s not the best. Why can’t we just enjoy seeing an awesome player be one of the “Last name Ever, first name Greatest”?

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Preview: AL Cy Young

So the raging battle between CC and Felix has come to a head, and we await the official word on who will take home the AL Cy Young Award. I’m guessing a lot of you would like to CC win the award for obvious reasons. He’s the ace of a staff that was in utter turmoil. He’s been worth every penny so far. And he’s one of the better pitchers in the American League. There’s nothing wrong about any of that, but it doesn’t make CC the best pitcher in the AL. His 2.66 K/BB isn’t awesome. His 8.6% HR rate is above-average but not outstanding. His FIP of 3.54 is good but no match against nine others. But those 21 wins. They’re tempting. So are Sirens, and they killed people. So, who’s left?

Cliff Lee

Let’s start with the most interesting case. Lee missed the first month of the season with an injury, but he went on to post an epic 10.28 K/BB ratio over 212.2 innings with an FIP of 2.58, which was good for 2nd-best in the majors behind Josh Johnson’s 2.41. His fWAR of 7.1 is better than even Roy Halladay’s 6.5, and it’s almost a win better than his nearest AL competitor. But his bWAR of 4.3 is almost 2 wins below Hernandez’s 6, and Lee doesn’t even come in the top ten. I mean, WTF, mate? The answer lies in how the two sites calculate their pitching statistics. FanGraphs’ FIP uses K, BB, and HR, and B-Ref uses runs scored against. B-Ref’s WAR hurts Lee because Lee’s ERA (essentially runs scored against) is 0.6 points higher than his FIP (that’s not exactly how it works, but for simplicity’s sake, we’ll stick with that). Sorry, but I’ll trust FIP and the underlying statistics over runs scored. Additionally, Lee pitched 212 innings, and he couldn’t get more than four and a half wins? Really?

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Preview: NL Cy Young

Quick note before we begin. Both of yesterday’s winners were different from my selections, though I noted that they were the primary challengers and threats to win the award, and I have no real problem with either selection. I disagree with both of them because I don’t like the reasoning, but awards are not something to get bent out of shape about. Awards are only important for the players selected (and kudos to them) or Hall of Fame voting, and if one only votes for a player solely based on the awards he gets, the voter has more problems than just that. On to the next award. I think I’ll get this one …

I imagine that this seems to be the most cut-and-dried of the awards. Roy Halladay was the talk of baseball at 2009’s trade deadline before JP Ricciardi refused to trade him, and Halladay, again, became the talk of baseball during the off-season when the Phillies finally made the move with Toronto’s new GM (I don’t want to try to spell it). Moving toward the new season, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind if Halladay would dominate, and the only question was how much he would dominate. 30 wins was thrown out, but that’s nearly impossible. Regardless, Halladay had an extremely successful season in Philadelphia. He went 21-10 with a 2.44 ERA (3.01 FIP) in 250.2 IP, and he racked up 6.6 fWAR (6.9 bWAR). Of course, no one can forget his perfect game during the regular season and his no-hitter in Game 1 of the NLDS in his first career postseason start. Given all that, is there an argument against him?

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Preview: NL Rookie of the Year

The National League Rookie of the Year Award is a bit more of an interesting debate than the American League version. Jackson is fairly clearly the most valuable rookie, and even though there are some other good rookies, they are essentially league-average players. The National League, however, also has several good rookies, but instead of 2-3 win players, these are 3-5 win players, which is fairly impressive. Ike Davis (3.4 fWAR), Jaime Garcia (3.2 fWAR), Jhoulys Chacin (3.0 fWAR), Mike Stanton (2.7 fWAR), and Stephen Strasburg (2.6 fWAR) all have excellent arguments in normal years, but this year we have Jason Heyward (5.0 fWAR) and Buster Posey (3.9 fWAR) as better candidates. I apologize to those other guys, but this argument comes down to Heyward and Posey.

Fortunately, the argument shouldn’t get too far. As I already mentioned, Heyward is one full win better than Posey according to FanGraphs, and Heyward (4.4 bWAR) outpaces Posey (3.0 bWAR) according to Baseball-Reference by even more. If the difference were, say, 0.5 WAR or if there was a disagreement between various sources, I would be more likely to quibble (which is why I mentioned so many players in the AL ROY post), but there really isn’t a disagreement here. A win is a pretty large difference, but you’ll probably hear quite a few arguments in favor of Posey (let’s remember what I said earlier today—this is NOT me saying that Posey is awful; he’s awesome, but production is production when it comes down to season awards). Let’s go ahead and dispel the arguments for Posey.

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Preview: AL Rookie of the Year

After rolling out the always-controversial Gold Gloves and the Silver Sluggers, it’s time to get into the real part of awards season. There will lots of hand-wringing over selections, but let’s remind ourselves that we’re essentially splitting hairs when we look at the best of the best. Today, we’ll look at the Rookie of the Year awards (having both today when the others get their own day tells you how little this one seems to matter to the MLB), but we’ll start off with the AL version before we roll out the NL version later. The AL has several challengers, but they’re all rather unspectacular compared to the NL crop. Austin Jackson took the early lead with an exciting first month, but Neftali Feliz and Brian Matusz made strong arguments as the season wore on. So, will it be the former Yankee prospect, the flame-throwing ex-Brave prospect, or a current division foe?

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Baseball Players Are NOT Role Models

Let’s call this is a pre-emptive strike. Whenever you set players loose for the off-season, a few of them are bound to do stupid things or get caught doing things that are considered illegal, immoral, and/or dumb. Really, whenever you set any group of people loose for a few months with few responsibilities and essentially no supervision, they’re bound to do things that are considered illegal, immoral, and/or dumb, but with baseball players (or professional athletes, in general) the media gets to have a field day with their hijinx. Then comes the outrage from journalists and anyone else with an opinion on how people should live their lives, and it gets even better when they add the line “What will our kids think?”, implying that anyone in the limelight should be perfect angels that demonstrate how our children should act. The idea is that the professional athletes are “role models” for our kids, and they have this clause in their contract that states that they are supposed to be more perfect than the rest of us are. Well, guess what? That’s bull $#!t.

Let’s start with a look at models (no, not people like her, though let’s do on second thought … okay, are we back?) and why we like them anyway. Albert Bandura institutionalized (he didn’t really come up with it, but he was the first to become famous for what he said on the subject) the idea of observational learning into what was called the Social Cognitive Theory. The idea is that a significant amount of what we learn is by observation (again, this isn’t brain-busting, but there’s plenty of good stuff if you want to read more on the subject), and you observe models. Anyone can be models. Parents, teachers, older brothers, and Jack the Ripper can be models of behavior. Essentially, one watches someone do something, and by paying attention and having the physical ability to do it, one can then do what was modeled. Yet, we aren’t monkeys and will not necessarily do what we see. We have to be motivated to do it. There has to be a reward or resulting consequence that we find useful or positive, and if there is such a reward, we will try to model the behavior.

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Perspectives on Baseball

Baseball, to the informed observer, appears to be a straightforward game. Pitcher throws the ball, batter hits the ball, and fielders move toward the ball while batter runs around the bases. There are, of course, a myriad of things that can happen between them, and important to this post, there are a number of ways of seeing, experiencing, and deriving meaning from that play. This post isn’t going to be about small ball or waiting around for the three-run homer. It’s about describing the various reasons we watch/play baseball and, most importantly, the meaning of baseball to everyone involved in the process. At the end we may even learn something from this exercise.

It’s Just a Game

This is probably the most common perception of baseball, but I’m not sure we really understand what that means. When most of us think of baseball, we head back to the fields of our youths, and the inexplicable joy we got from playing baseball. We won. We lost. We learned about teamwork and sportsmanship. Baseball was just a game. This philosophy gives the game a childlike sense of simplicity, and it’s the purest and most innocent of the philosophies. At the end of the day, this philosophy allows us to go home and sleep easy. No judgments are passed, and we accept the outcome, no matter what it is or how it came to be, because it just doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that enjoyment is derived from the experience, which happens because it is a game.

As such, baseball is not equivalent to the MLB. Major League Baseball is a constructed form of baseball, and while it promotes the fact that it has the best players in the world, it only has the best players in the world under certain conditions. Because the MLB is powerful and holds substantial economic sway in the baseball world, the changes it makes are also usually made in the lower levels because an ultimate goal of those lower levels is to send players to the MLB (again, because of the economic benefits). Baseball, however, can be found elsewhere. As a game, someone may decide that Little League, European, Cuban, or Japanese (these are only examples and not the totality of types) baseball is the best or purest form of baseball. They are allowed to believe that. We all have different ideas on how the game should be played, and that may not always be the MLB or American baseball. This recently cost the MLB a good fan because he didn’t like the direction the MLB was headed, and my response to him was that he was not mad at baseball. He was mad at the MLB, and he should find a form of baseball closer to his beliefs on what baseball is.

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