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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Prospectus Feature: Bill James vs. The Noise - Baseball Prospectus

I am a big fan of WAR and even have my own WAR system. Although I don’t agree that we *need* a better value system for use during MVP discussions, I also believe having alternative statistical views helps us find better answers to very complex questions.

Having said that, if Votto was placed on the Astros the outcome of his performance would actually help the Astros get more wins than his production buys with the Reds. That’s because the Astros overall offense would be more efficient in converting his production into runs/wins. This outcome can be easily simulated.

Ultimately, baseball is a team game. Players don’t perform in isolation. The context in which players operate does, then, change their impact on wins. In this I agree with Bill James. That difference, however, is only important for a narrow range of questions, the MVP question being one of them.

For people preoccupied with what happened, the context is very important. For those of us more preoccupied with what’s going to happen, stripping away as much context as possible from past performance is more important because it helps us better project a range of players in a range of contexts.

Virtually all run-scoring events require timely assistance from other teammates. Why should the inherent value of a player depend almost entirely on the contributions of other players, with the sheer randomness of those contributions often amounting to an undeserved out? If Votto’s on-base skills were plopped onto the Astros, under James’ system, his “value” would skyrocket, as the remaining Astros sprayed hits all over the place, uniquely rewarding his on-base skills. While this might true up the ultimate “results” of any team, a player whose value depends heavily on his teammates is not being given his inherent “value” at any time. If this is truly what you prefer, that of course is fine, and it is fine for James to prefer it for his own purposes. But most people, I suspect, would find it highly problematic.

Jim Furtado Posted: November 21, 2017 at 11:13 AM | 13 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: war

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   1. Blanks for Nothing, Larvell Posted: November 21, 2017 at 12:25 PM (#5579420)
While this might true up the ultimate “results” of any team, a player whose value depends heavily on his teammates is not being given his inherent “value” at any time.


There is no "inherent value" in baseball, independent of context and teammates. The thing does not exist. If the rules were different, it might.
   2. John DiFool2 Posted: November 21, 2017 at 12:26 PM (#5579421)
Link goes to the wrong article.
   3. Jim Furtado Posted: November 21, 2017 at 12:35 PM (#5579438)
Fixed the link. Sorry.
   4. TDF didn't lie, he just didn't remember Posted: November 21, 2017 at 12:49 PM (#5579456)
Ultimately, baseball is a team game. Players don’t perform in isolation. The context in which players operate does, then, change their impact on wins. In this I agree with Bill James. That difference, however, is only important for a narrow range of questions, the MVP question being one of them.
Then you're of the camp that the MVP shouldn't necessarily go to the best player? Not a "gotcha" but an honest question. And would you make the same argument talking about the HOF?
For people preoccupied with what happened, the context is very important. For those of us more preoccupied with what’s going to happen, stripping away as much context as possible from past performance is more important because it helps us better project a range of players in a range of contexts.
Many (most?) people are "preoccupied" with both at different times. I'm more concerned with "what happened" when talking MVP or HOF, but I'm more concerned with "what will happen" when talking about the Reds or drafting a fantasy or Strat team.
   5. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: November 21, 2017 at 12:51 PM (#5579464)
The context in which players operate does, then, change their impact on wins. In this I agree with Bill James. That difference, however, is only important for a narrow range of questions, the MVP question being one of them.


Only a narrow range of questions? You wouldn't worry about park effects when signing a free agent or trading for a minor leaguer?
   6. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: November 21, 2017 at 12:57 PM (#5579478)
Only a narrow range of questions? You wouldn't worry about park effects when signing a free agent or trading for a minor leaguer?

In that case, you want the context neutral value, don't you? If the guy gained a lot of value because he hit behind a great OBP guy, you don't want to be paying for that.
   7. 6 - 4 - 3 Posted: November 21, 2017 at 01:11 PM (#5579485)
Here's a question for "the context is everything" group...

Prior to the 1993 season, the Braves acquired Greg Maddux as a free agent. He went on to win the Cy Young Award while putting up 7.5 fWAR.

On July 18, 1993, the Braves traded for Fred McGriff. McGriff went on to put up 3.1 fWAR. The Braves won the NL West by 1 game over the Giants (104 wins to 103), so without McGriff they would have fallen short.

Who was more valuable to the Braves that year? Maddux, who pitched the entire year and put up over twice the fWAR, or McGriff, who was a midseason addition that bolstered the Braves over the top? They almost certainly don't win the NL West without both additions, so are they equally valuable (along with Ron Gant, David Justice, Tom Glavine, etc--basically any player who contributed more than a win)? Is McGriff worth more than Maddux because he was acquired later? Or is Maddux the most valuable Brave that year, because he had the highest fWAR*?

*-or Gant, if you prefer bWAR, although bWAR versus fWAR is of course entirely beside the point.

Note: Maddux has 4.97 WPA and McGriff has 3.53, if that's relevant to your evaluation of players
   8. Walt Davis Posted: November 21, 2017 at 04:00 PM (#5579660)
One thing the context crowd is arguing for, without realizing it, is that the question of "who should be MVP" is nothing more than an accounting artefact. Far from arguing that the dynamics of baseball need to be accounted for, they are really arguing that we aren't counting correctly.

Among the counter-arguments is that Votto would have had little marginal value to the Astros. They won 101 games, how many more realistically could they have won? They led the AL in scoring, how many wins would extra runs really produce? Exactly 1/3 of their games were blowouts one way or the other. They were 19-13 in one-run games ... Votto would have turned some of those 1-run wins into 2-run wins (who cares), some of those one-run losses into tie games that they might win ... and some 2-run losses into 1-run losses.

To give a more obvious example, Ian Happ is probably at least an average MLer, Javy Baez is almost certainly average or better -- they both lost playing time to other (once) good players like Schwarber, Heyward and Zobrist. They lost "value" because they had good teammates -- put them on the Reds or Marlins and they gain value. (OK, Happ wouldn't have started for the Marlins either.)

Votto's "value" would have been maximized on the Yanks where he probably pushes them ahead of the Red Sox or possibly the Rays, Royals or Angels where maybe he pushes them past the Twins for the 2nd WC spot. Or Milwaukee where he pushes them past the Rox and maybe even catches the Cubs (although Thames and Aguilar were pretty productive). This is the old dumb "give the MVP to the best player on the mediocre team that had enough things break right to squeak into the postseason" argument.

So sure, Joey Votto scores more runs and probably drives in more runs if he's on the Astros. But by the supposed logic of the "context crowd", that context quite possibly makes him less valuable than he was on the Reds. Mostly what he does on the Astros is help them increase their margin in games they would have won anyway or decrease the margin in games they would have lost anyway. If his timing was exquisite, he would have helped turn some of those 13 1-run losses and maybe a 2-win loss or two into a win or 50/50 game. If his timing was dreadful, he'd have had no impact on their win total at all or even lost them some games that Gurriel et al helped them win.

Give the MVP to the best player or don't give it at all. Rewarding a player for the work of his teammates makes no sense in terms of his "value", makes no sense statistically and isn't an individual achievement worth honoring. We can change it to a team "best position player lineup, considering both offense and defense and timing and durability and depth" award.
   9. The Duke Posted: November 21, 2017 at 09:26 PM (#5579879)
It’s funny - you can change the “context” of the atmosphere but long before these metrics were popular the same arguments about why Andre Dawson won the MVP were raging.
   10. fra paolo Posted: November 22, 2017 at 11:35 AM (#5580145)
One thing the context crowd is arguing for, without realizing it, is that the question of "who should be MVP" is nothing more than an accounting artefact. Far from arguing that the dynamics of baseball need to be accounted for, they are really arguing that we aren't counting correctly.

I don't know who in this debate is arguing that choosing an MVP using Win Shares or WAR or whatever isn't an accounting exercise, at least insofar as drawing up a short-list is concerned. James' initial article argued that Judge shouldn't even be on a shortlist. James still supports doing the counting.

I have only skimmed this BPro article, and my first impression is that I don't think it is as distinct from the James' position as the author believes.
   11. Infinite Yost (Voxter) Posted: November 22, 2017 at 11:58 AM (#5580174)
I'm of the opinion that there's a vast galaxy of imponderables that constitute "context", at least when it comes to the question of how valuable a certain hit or play might be at any given time in a game, series, or season. Context, in that sense, is irreducible, and therefore (at least to me) of no particular valence when discussing things like MVPs. That's why I prefer to control for the things we can understand (ballpark, strength of opposition) and not try to pretend we can guess how important a home run in the fourth inning of a tie game is as opposed to one in the ninth inning of a tie game, especially as there doesn't appear to be a measurable skill involved in performing better in one situation versus the other. The world is far too chaotic for "context" of this kind to make any sense.
   12. Toby Posted: November 22, 2017 at 08:34 PM (#5580465)
Can we just have two awards?

Guy whose season would make the best Strat-o-Matic Card

Guy whose season would make the most heroic movie screenplay

Seriously. Because both of these things are perfectly reasonable things to want.
   13. Russ Posted: November 23, 2017 at 09:39 AM (#5580542)
Guy whose season would make the most heroic movie screenplay


Are we talking DC heroic or Marvel heroic?

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