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Monday, October 01, 2012

The McGill Daily: Batyreva: New statistics shine light on age-old debate

Grandescunt Aucta Coco Laboy.

For a good example of how the MVP has been traditionally decided, let’s go back to the 1995 season. Mo Vaughn is declared the American League (AL) MVP despite significantly under-producing Cleveland’s Albert Belle in almost every statistical category. If we take a look at the sabermetric stats under the hood, the picture gets even crazier. Vaughn’s WAR of 5.2 pales in comparison to Belle’s AL-topping 7.4 WAR – Vaughn didn’t even crack the top 15 in overall WAR that year. However, while WAR is good at measuring individual performance out of context, it is often unreliable when evaluating a player relative to the league, or relative to another player. The statistic Weighted Runs Created Plus”(wRC+) measures precisely how many runs a player has created relative to the league average of 100. For example, a 125 wRC+means a player created 25 per cent more runs than league average. In 1995, Mo Vaughn won the MVP with a wRC+ of 138 in the same year that Albert Belle posted a wRC+ of 174 – that’s a 36 per cent gap in run creation.

So, how did Belle create 36 per cent more runs than the league’s “most valuable player” and receive no recognition? For one, Belle’s surly personality and short temper earned him no love. He frequently attacked fans for shouting racial slurs and making light of his drinking problem. By the infamous 1995 season, his volatility had antagonized the media, who chalked up their MVP decision to “character.” Later, commenting on the MVP debate that year, Vaughn said, “People are looking at the whole thing, and that it’s not just numbers.” This is the common debate over the MVP – is it numbers, or numbers and intangible characteristics like leadership and character?

Will it be “not just numbers” this year? Can we throw things like character and leadership and hustle out the window now that we have shiny new stats like WAR and wRC+?

...However, WAR tells us a different story. Trout’s rare combination of power, speed, athleticism, and the ability to hit for average makes him a valuable contributor in every aspect of the game. He leads the majors with 47 stolen bases, makes spectacular catches in center field seem routine, his arm is a cannon, and his bat isn’t too shabby either. Superlatives aside, Mike Trout has been the life of Anaheim’s team since his debut, and even if Anaheim doesn’t make it into October, he deserves the AL MVP.

Repoz Posted: October 01, 2012 at 09:25 AM | 21 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: sabermetrics

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   1. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: October 01, 2012 at 09:58 AM (#4249773)
The statistic Weighted Runs Created Plus”(wRC+) measures precisely how many runs a player has created relative to the league average of 100.

Not really. It measures the context neutral expected run value of actual events (single, double, HR, etc.). It doesn't measure actual contribution to scoring.
   2. DEF: hates freedom Posted: October 01, 2012 at 10:02 AM (#4249779)
This is quite a momentous event - for the first time ever, someone not associated with the McGill Daily appears to have actually read the McGill Daily.
   3. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: October 01, 2012 at 10:40 AM (#4249807)
This is quite a momentous event - for the first time ever, someone not associated with the McGill Daily appears to have actually read the McGill Daily.

Is this the McGill Univ. student paper?
   4. AROM Posted: October 01, 2012 at 10:42 AM (#4249811)
He leads the majors with 47 stolen bases, makes spectacular catches in center field seem routine, his arm is a cannon, and his bat isn’t too shabby either.


One nit-pick - Trout's arm is no cannon. It's the weakest part of his game, probably average or a bit below. But if you have to have a weakness, that's the one you'd want it to be. I mean, without a great throwing arm it just means Willie Mays has one tool up on him. If his weakness was having no power, he'd be what, Mike Bourn? If it was his bat he'd be maybe Mike Cameron. And if his weakness was total lack of speed but he still had all the bat and power he'd have to play a corner infield spot and call himself Mike Cabrera.

Can we throw things like character and leadership and hustle out the window now that we have shiny new stats like WAR and wRC+?


Those stats aside; character, leadership (yes, from a 20 year old, taking the pressure off King Albert), and hustle would be points in Trout's favor, wouldn't they?
   5. Loren F. Posted: October 01, 2012 at 10:48 AM (#4249819)
What is the wRC+-to-loonie exchange rate?
   6. bob gee Posted: October 01, 2012 at 10:54 AM (#4249823)
i thought at the time that john valentin was the most valuable player in the a.l. that year, wakefield also having more value than vaughn. i don't keep up with war and the variations of it - was belle really better than valentin according to war?
   7. Tim Wallach was my Hero Posted: October 01, 2012 at 10:59 AM (#4249831)
Is this the McGill Univ. student paper?

It is indeed.
   8. Greg K Posted: October 01, 2012 at 11:05 AM (#4249838)
And no one ever posted my sports commentary articles for the University of Regina student paper? I thought we were friends Repoz!
   9. AROM Posted: October 01, 2012 at 11:22 AM (#4249853)
was belle really better than valentin according to war?


Valentin, no, but he was better than Vaughn. And it wasn't close. Change the calculations a bit and you might wind up with different players at the top. But Vaughn was so far behind the others that he should never have been in the MVP consideration.

Belle had slightly better average and OBP (317/401) than Vaughn (388/575). And his slugging percentage was over 100 points better (690 to 575) with equal playing time. Other than hitting you've got a bad defensive left fielder and a bad defensive first baseman.

I see on bb-ref Valentin is ahead of Belle, as is Randy Johnson. Valentin's OPS was 931 - only a bit below Vaughn's 963. The numbers say he was pretty good on defense that year, but even if he was an awful shortstop he's better than Vaughn, an awful first baseman. Tim Salmon beat Vaughn in all of BA/OBP/SLG while playing good defense in right field in a tougher park for a hitter. Frank Thomas and Edgar Martinez were way better at hitting while playing DH. Edgar outslugged Vaughn by 50 while having an OBP almost 100 points better. There were a ton of great MVP candidates in the AL that year, and the voters blew it not so much by refusing to vote for Belle, but by totally missing so many others who were better than Vaughn.

Besides Belle and Vaughn, Edgar got 4 first place votes, and believe it or not, the one other person to get a first place vote was Jose Mesa.

   10. AROM Posted: October 01, 2012 at 11:27 AM (#4249858)
Valentin is ahead of Belle on both Fangraphs and BBref.
   11. JJ1986 Posted: October 01, 2012 at 11:33 AM (#4249864)
When I ran numbers at the time, I had Gar as the best player in the AL.
   12. bob gee Posted: October 01, 2012 at 12:26 PM (#4249962)
thanks arom!

what i vaguely remmeber about that was gammons (95% him) or someone else talking up mo vaughn real early in the year as the catalyst for the red sox doing so well, and everyone else just running with it by the summertime.

laziness. you can find a slew of these bad mvp votes (baylor, gonzalez, burroughs, dawson) by guys with homer/rbi numbers, but lacking the whole package.
   13. John Northey Posted: October 01, 2012 at 01:00 PM (#4250004)
Mo Vaughn was a pretty bad choice. Led the league in RBI and strikeouts. He was a good player, a very good one then. But he was no MVP or even close to it. Back in the 90's the AL voters were RBI addicted and ignorant of positional adjustments.
1996: Juan Gonzalez wins with RBI's but just 3.5 WAR and a 1.011 OPS vs the 16 guys who got votes with higher WAR's including Griffey Jr (solid CF 1.020 OPS) and A-Rod (solid SS then, 1.045 OPS).
1997: Griffey Jr won and deserved it (although Clemens had a year for the ages, but Griffey was the best non-pitcher) but had to lead in RBI to be noticed
1998: Gonzalez again with 157 RBI's while Albert Belle outhit him as did Bernie Williams (while playing CF) and A-Rod having almost double the WAR points.
1999:I-Rod with 113 RBI gets it, while Pedro Martinez has a historic year, Jeter has one of his best, and various others did well too.

I'm glad to see voters have learned a bit since then. Still it is scary to look at how silly those votes were and how bad they seemed at the time too.
   14. Gary Truth Serum Posted: October 01, 2012 at 01:22 PM (#4250029)
Another argument made in 1995 against Belle was that the Indians went 100-44 and a lot of writers/voters said Belle wasn't the MVP because they Indians would have lapped the AL Central without him. Maybe this was just rationalization for not voting for Belle for other reasons, but I remember the argument being made.

In fact, 1995 might have been the pinnacle for such an argument. I'm trying to remember a case since then where a clearly deserving candidate was shut out of the MVP because his team won too much, but can't think of anything.
   15. SoSH U at work Posted: October 01, 2012 at 01:43 PM (#4250055)

Another argument made in 1995 against Belle was that the Indians went 100-44 and a lot of writers/voters said Belle wasn't the MVP because they Indians would have lapped the AL Central without him. Maybe this was just rationalization for not voting for Belle for other reasons, but I remember the argument being made.

In fact, 1995 might have been the pinnacle for such an argument. I'm trying to remember a case since then where a clearly deserving candidate was shut out of the MVP because his team won too much, but can't think of anything.


It wasn't just that. Through July 31, when the Indians had already built about a 20-game lead in the AL Central, Albert probably hadn't been the best player on his own team (Thome, I'd guess). He then hit 31 home runs in what amounted to two months of garbage time (particularly since the Tribe's 100-44 record didn't lead to HFA in any series of the three-round playoffs).

Vaughn was a complete narrative candidate, similar to Pendleton in 1991. He was viewed as the leader of a surprising Red Sox team that whipped up the AL East. Belle was just one of many beasts on the best team in baseball, a club that was the preseason favorite in the AL Central.

Interestingly, if the old divisions had been in place, Belle wins comfortably (since Vaughn's Red Sox go from surprising winner to distant runner-up, while the Slugger Formerly Known as Joey's stunning August-September involves more meaningful contests).

   16. John Northey Posted: October 01, 2012 at 02:29 PM (#4250100)
It was a dumb narrative though wasn't it? It was Vaughn's 5th season in the majors, all in Boston. The past 2 years he hit about the same as he did in '95. Yet those other years he was 17th and 18th in MVP voting. If he had just arrived (like Pendleton in '91, Gibson in '88) then I'd see the argument but he was the same guy he'd been for years for the same team, just his teammates improved.
   17. SoSH U at work Posted: October 01, 2012 at 02:37 PM (#4250108)
It was a dumb narrative though wasn't it?


I'm not supporting the selection (or the narrative). Valentin was obviously a much better selection from Boston, if you needed one. But as a follower of the club, I'd say there was no question Mo was getting the leadership credit throughout that season, so the fact he emerged as an MVP contender wasn't surprising.
   18. AROM Posted: October 01, 2012 at 02:53 PM (#4250132)
Mo Vaughn was a pretty bad choice. Led the league in RBI and strikeouts. He was a good player, a very good one then. But he was no MVP or even close to it. Back in the 90's the AL voters were RBI addicted and ignorant of positional adjustments.


Somehow the NL voters were OK with positional difficulty, giving Larkin the award.

1999:I-Rod with 113 RBI gets it, while Pedro Martinez has a historic year, Jeter has one of his best, and various others did well too.


I-Rod may have been a bad choice over Pedro, but this does not fit the same narrative as the Vaughn/Juan Gone/Baylor "addicted to RBI" pattern. Who cares if Ivan had 113 RBI? That didn't even put him in the league's top 10, and the league leader that year was Manny Ramirez with 165. Did they get the math right? Probably not, but they did award the MVP to a guy who played great defense at a premium position, and did so over other players with much better hitting numbers.



   19. DL from MN Posted: October 01, 2012 at 03:57 PM (#4250204)
There seem to be a TON of people who like to argue about who the best player is in any given year. Yet, in the MMP threads we get relatively few participants. Either we're doing it right or the process (listing 12 names) is too hard.
   20. bjhanke Posted: October 01, 2012 at 04:14 PM (#4250234)
Preach it, DL! One of the things that doing the MMPs for multiple "years", you start to see patterns. Most people use some combination of WAR and Win Shares (DL provides a wonderful list in the discussion thread header) to get the discussion focused. WAR has, for several years, overrated the top pitchers by large margins according to WS. There's got to be a reason for it. Come join us as we try to figure it out and see you patterns you can see. - Brock Hanke (trying to be at least a polite P. T. Barnum)
   21. Moeball Posted: October 01, 2012 at 04:36 PM (#4250257)
I'm glad to see voters have learned a bit since then. Still it is scary to look at how silly those votes were and how bad they seemed at the time too.


If they still elect Cabrera over Trout, I'm not sure they've learned all that much!

BTW, I thought "M. Cabrera" was suspended for the duration of the season for steroids, so how can he win the Triple Crown?...oh, there's more than one M. Cabrera leading the league in hitting? That's very different! Never mind...(nod to old Gilda Radner SNL shtick)


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