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Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Baseball Primer’s 2003 National League MVP

So, Bonds or Pujols?

For an assortment of reasons, Barry Bonds missed 31 games this season. That was the only thing that put the outcome of our MVP ballot into doubt, despite an Albert Pujols run at the triple crown. In the end however, there was only enough doubt to sway one of the 9 voters off of Hurricane Barry, as it battered NL pitching into submission (literally whenever runners were on and first base was open) for the 3rd straight season.

 

It wasn’t just Bonds and Pujols as this was a great year for individual performances in the NL. The fact that Todd Helton (and his 168 OPS+) only finished 7th in this field says a lot about the competition.

 

1. Barry Bonds 121 points (8 of 9 first place votes)

 

Bonds did slip a little bit from his superhuman 2001-2002 this year. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still superhuman, the best offensive player since Ted Williams, and arguably the best ever. But it was the 3rd best year of his career and he was down slightly in 2003 from the level he established over the previous two seasons. His offensive environement rose some as Pac Bell played as a neutral park for the first time in its 3-year history. Because of this, the actual decline was a little more than the decline in his raw numbers would indicate. The league and park actually played as the most run-conducive environment of Bonds’ career this year. That a player can drop .050 off of his SLG (while the park-adjusted league rose .023), and .053 off of his OBP (while the park-adjusted league rose .012), while missing 13 more games (and 31 overall) and still be a nearly unanimous MVP explains just how great Barry Lamar Bonds has been over the last 3 seasons.

 

2. Albert Pujols 86 points (1 first place vote)

 

Albert Pujols will likely join the 1954 Yankees, the 1993 Giants, Ted Williams in 1941; Mickey Mantle in 1961; Mark McGwire in 1998, as great teams/players that finished 2nd (‘lost to’ just doesn’t seem right) to what was perceived at the time as even greater teams/players. In almost any year he would have won the MVP award unanimously. Pujols actually led the NL with 41 Win Shares (Bonds had 39). This happens more often than you’d probably think, however. If our voting replicates the BBWAA this will be the 23rd time (the complete list will be posted in the discussion portion) since they started voting in 1931 that a player with at least 40 Win Shares did not win the MVP award.

 

Pujols was amazing, hitting .359/.439/.667 (OPS+ 189). It’s true that Pujols had by far the best year of his career, but people forget that he finished 2nd to Bonds in the BBWAA MVP vote last year also (10th in the Primer vote). He would be a rare back-to-back BBWAA winner if it weren’t for Bonds posting one of the best (arguably the best) 3-year runs in history at the same time.

 

3. Gary Sheffield 64 points

 

It’s amazing, but Sheffield also had a truly great season, a season worthy of an MVP Award in a ‘normal’ year. If the Braves were in the AL 2003, I’d have voted for Sheffield over ARod (barely). In this race, he only gets the Bronze.

 

Sheffield, one of the most underrated stars in the game (and one of my personal favorites) is at the point in his career where he must be seriously considered as a Hall of Famer. His outstanding 2003 doesn’t even stand out in his career as you could argue that is was only his 5th best season. He’s going to start annexing some big-time career numbers over the next 3-4 seasons. He’s at the point where all he has to do is play as a regular for 4 or 5 more years and he’ll pass 2600 hits and approach 500 HR.

 

Interesting fact that a lot don’t realize: Sheffield is still sneaky fast, he’s 30-for-36 as a basestealer over the last two campaigns and he finished 2nd to Derrek Lee in the NL for Power/Speed Number in 2003.

 

He was an absolute steal for the Braves, who gave up Brian Jordan, Odalis Perez and a minor leaguer for the star with the ‘attitude problem’. Moves like that are how you can win 100 games a year, despite playing scrap like Robert Fick and Vinny Castilla on the corners and giving Shane Reynolds and his 77 ERA+ 29 starts.

 

4. Javy Lopez 51 points

 

Here’s where Javy Lopez’s career was in February of 2003: I was offered Javy Lopez and Rey Sanchez for Todd Hundley and Tim Worrell in a Diamond Mind league, and I turned it down without batting an eyelash. Didn’t even consider it as a serious offer.

 

Where is he now? He’s coming off one of the greatest offensive seasons a major league catcher has ever produced. Lopez hit 43 HR and drove in 109 runs in just 495 plate appearances. He hit .328 and slugged .678(!). His being left off two of our ballots is absolutely ludicrous.

 

Sheffield played 26 more games, and that gave him an advantage in the counting stats, but Lopez had one of the greatest renaissance seasons we’ve ever seen.

 

At this point in his career he’s where Roy Campanella was after 1955. Not that Lopez has ever been on that level - except for this year - but he has been a poor man’s Campanella offensively. Campy had a truly awful (OPS+ 75) 1954 season at the age of 32. He bounced back with an MVP year in 1955 (a campaign that was not as great as Lopez’ 2003). In 1956 and 1957 however, Campanella returned almost all the way to his 1954 form. It’s just one example, but catchers in their 30s tend to go the route of Campanella (who was just about done anyway when that tragic accident ended his career) or Lance Parrish (who also had an unexpected uptick - in 1990) as opposed to the route of Carlton Fisk. I don’t expect Lopez to remotely approach his 2003 numbers in 2004, in fact, I’ll be suprised if his OPS+ cracks 100.

 

5. Jim Thome 43 points

 

The most ballyhooed free agent signing in the history of the Philadelphia Phillies paid excellent returns - for 2003 at least. As could be expected, Thome suffered a decline this year, but he was still an outstanding player. After peaking in 2001-02, he returned to the production level he established from 1995-2000. His regressed level was still good enough for an NL home run title, and a fifth place finish in the Baseball Primer MVP voting (he finished second in our AL voting last year. The key to this deal working out for the Phillies is if Thome can maintain this level of play for the next several years. He’s going to be 33, so obviously I’d say the odds are against it, but it’s not an impossible ‘gamble’ for the Phillies to win.

 

6. Marcus Giles 23 points

 

By finishing sixth in the Baseball Primer MVP balloting, Giles has been declared the 2nd best young player in the National League by the staff here at Primer. It’s been quite a ride for the 5’ 8” former 53rd round draft pick. After a couple of years of battling for playing time, Giles arrived for good in 2003. He hit .316, with 49 doubles and 21 home runs. Giles has all sorts of ‘little things’ that add to his resume - 59 walks, 14-for-18 as a base-stealer, 11 hit-by-pitches, he only grounded into 7 double plays and he’s a great bunter. All of those little things, when tacked onto the big things (72 extra base-hits from a secondbaseman) make him an outstanding all-around player.

RK  Player         Pts  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9 10 
 1  Barry Bonds    121  8  1 
 2  Albert Pujols   86  1  8 
 3  Gary Sheffield  64        6  1  1        1
 4  Javy Lopez      51        3  3  1
 5  Jim Thome       43           1  3  2  2
 6  Marcus Giles    23                 1  1  2  3  2
 7  Todd Helton     22           1  2        1
 8  Edgar Renteria  19           1     1  1     1  1
 9  Mark Prior      18           2        1
10T Eric Gagne      14                 2     1     1
10T Jason Schmidt   14              1     1  1     1
12  Bobby Abreu     11              1        1  1
13  Jim Edmonds      8                    2
14  Richie Sexson    7                 1        1
15T Luis Gonzalez    6                       2
15T Scott Rolen      6                 1           1
17  Derrick Lee      5                 1
18T Richard Hidalgo  4                    1
18T Mark Loretta     4                          2
20T Brian Giles      2                          1
20T Ivan Rodriguez   2                             2
22  Jose Vidro       1                             1

 

Joey Numbaz (Scruff) Posted: November 12, 2003 at 06:00 AM | 28 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Joey Numbaz (Scruff) Posted: November 12, 2003 at 03:56 AM (#613931)
As promised the list of 40 Win Share non-MVPs:

Lou Gehrig 1934
Ted Williams 1941, 1942, 1947
Luke Appling 1943
Dizzy Trout 1944
Stan Musial 1949
Mickey Mantle 1955, 1961
Willie Mays 1955, 1958, 1962
Norm Cash 1961
Frank Robinson 1962
Hank Aaron 1963
Dick Allen 1964
Reggie Jackson 1969
Steve Carlton 1972
Joe Morgan 1973
Will Clark 1989
Jeff Bagwell 1996
Mark McGwire 1998
Al Pujols 2003?
   2. Joey Numbaz (Scruff) Posted: November 12, 2003 at 03:56 AM (#613932)
Okay, it looks like this box won't put a list together for some reason, so here they are, separated by semi-colons at least . . .

As promised the list of 40 Win Share non-MVPs:

Lou Gehrig 1934; Ted Williams 1941, 1942, 1947; Luke Appling 1943; Dizzy Trout 1944; Stan Musial 1949; Mickey Mantle 1955, 1961; Willie Mays 1955, 1958, 1962; Norm Cash 1961; Frank Robinson 1962; Hank Aaron 1963; Dick Allen 1964; Reggie Jackson 1969; Steve Carlton 1972; Joe Morgan 1973; Will Clark 1989; Jeff Bagwell 1996; Mark McGwire 1998; Al Pujols 2003?
   3. jwb Posted: November 12, 2003 at 03:56 AM (#613937)
Just another test, with on-topic content:

Rank Player  Adjusted OPS+ Year Bats 
1. Barry Bonds 275 2002 L 
2. Barry Bonds 262 2001 L 
3. Babe Ruth+ 255 1920 L 
4. Fred Dunlap 250 1884 R 
5. Babe Ruth+ 239 1921 L 
  Babe Ruth+ 239 1923 L 
7. Ted Williams+ 235 1941 L 
8. Ted Williams+ 233 1957 L 
9. Ross Barnes 231 1876 R 
  Barry Bonds 231 2003 L 


Yes if you like OPS+, Barry Bonds has posted the best in history and 3 of the top 10 over the past three years. There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived?
   4. mike green Posted: November 12, 2003 at 03:56 AM (#613938)
I agree with the consensus, except for Thome vs. Helton. Helton's road stats: .324/.435/.514; Thome's .282/.416/.537. When you factor in defence, Helton deserves the clear edge. He was the best first baseman in the league this past year.
   5. jwb Posted: November 12, 2003 at 03:56 AM (#613940)
Sorry, that should read "the two best in history." And the test worked. Use the (pre) tag for a fixed spaced font. Woo Hoo!
   6. Joey Numbaz (Scruff) Posted: November 12, 2003 at 03:56 AM (#613945)
Very good point regarding Helton Mike.

I didn't realize it, but Coors played as the least hitter friendly it ever has. The park factor for batters was only 112 this year. The only other times it's been under 120 were 1994 (116) and 1998 (119).

Armed with that knowledge, I would have moved Helton ahead of Thome, I had Thome one spot ahead of Helton.

It's got to be the first time since the Rockies were born that Denver was not the best hitting environment in baseball as well. Both Montreal (118) and Kansas City (113) were better run environments for hitters this year. That's also another reason why I think Livan Hernandez deserves the NL Cy Young Award.

All of the park factors that I mentioned already account for the fact that half the games are on the road as well; they can be directly applied to things like ERA.
   7. Walt Davis Posted: November 12, 2003 at 03:57 AM (#613948)
On Coors, I'm really wondering whether they're monkeying with the humidor. This year, the Rox pitchers were better at home (5.07 ERA) than on the road (5.35 ERA), while the visiting pitchers suffered their usual fate at Coors and the Rox hitters suffered their usual fate on the road.

It's probably random chance or it could be that developing their own pitching is the key to finding pitchers less effected by Coors, but my suspicion is aroused when the only piece that doesn't fit with history is the part when the Rox are pitching and the other team is hitting.
   8. Colin Posted: November 12, 2003 at 03:57 AM (#613949)
So who the heck left Javy Lopez off their ballot entirely?

I actually would have gone with Pujols over Bonds, but strictly on the playing time issue. And even then I think it's very close.
   9. studes Posted: November 12, 2003 at 03:57 AM (#613950)
Regarding Park Factors, the exact same thing happened in Kansas City this year. Batters actually hit better on the road, though the pitchers still got lit up at home.

My conclusion: Park Factors are funky.
   10. Michael Posted: November 12, 2003 at 03:57 AM (#613954)
Regarding park factors. One year park factors are bad. The noise greatly outweighs the predictive value of the 1 year park factors. BP 2001 has a good article on it, and more supporting work has been done on that.

So keep the park factors at 5 years where possible, 3 years at worse (except of course for new parks, where things have to be taken with a grain of salt, and this effects Bonds and Pac Bell obviously).
   11. Graeme Posted: November 12, 2003 at 03:57 AM (#613955)
Does the park factor for Montreal include the stadium in San Juan?
   12. Joey Numbaz (Scruff) Posted: November 12, 2003 at 03:57 AM (#613956)
Graehme, yes, the park factors include San Juan.

I haven't studied it, but when observing I got the impression that it was a great home run park, not so great for other offense, but the HR effect was enough to make it a great hitters park.

Manny Ramirez would be perfect for that park. HR galore and the outfielders have very little ground to cover.
   13. Mike Emeigh Posted: November 12, 2003 at 03:57 AM (#613957)
One year park factors are bad. The noise greatly outweighs the predictive value of the 1 year park factors.

But when looking at the Most Valuable Player award, the only thing that matters is how the park played *this* year. We're not using it here to predict future performance, but to evaluate the value of current performance in this year's context. When the weather in Chicago is unusually cool, for example, Wrigley Field tends to be very pitcher-friendly; if there's a whole season of below-average temperatures, why should any Cub hitter be penalized (or pitcher rewarded) because the park *normally* plays as a hitter's park? This year, it didn't play that way - and in evaluating this year's performance, we need consider this year's context.

-- MWE
   14. Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: November 12, 2003 at 03:57 AM (#613962)
When the weather in Chicago is unusually cool, for example, Wrigley Field tends to be very pitcher-friendly; if there's a whole season of below-average temperatures, why should any Cub hitter be penalized (or pitcher rewarded) because the park *normally* plays as a hitter's park? This year, it didn't play that way - and in evaluating this year's performance, we need consider this year's context.

But I think the more likely explanation in any given situation is that an unusual one-year park effect is a statistical fluke and not representative of the park actually behaving differently. At least, that would be my assumption until I saw evidence to the contrary.
   15. Joey Numbaz (Scruff) Posted: November 12, 2003 at 03:57 AM (#613963)
I'm with Mike on this one.

I think what appears to be a statistical fluke is actually just that parks play different from year to year. The weather was unusually wet and cool in the northeast for the first 2 1/2 months of the season, for example. Parks around the league are changing all of the time these days too.

You've got to look at the park in the context of the season that was played.

I could see going with a slight historical adjustment, maybe 80% current season, 10% each of the last two, if the dimensions haven't changed. But for the most part, I'm a big believer in one-year park factors (adjusted for things like the unbalanced schedule of course).
   16. MNP Posted: November 12, 2003 at 03:57 AM (#613964)
But I think the more likely explanation in any given situation is that an unusual one-year park effect is a statistical fluke and not representative of the park actually behaving differently.

Isn't it possible (probable?) that an unusual one-year park effect is a result of the park behaving differently -- that that is a fluke?

IOW, yes, the park behaved differently. No, we shouldn't expect that to continue.

In any case, whether it's a statistical fluke or representative of the park changing, I think Mike Emeigh is exactly right: it does makes sense to use one-year park effects in determining value, as opposed to predicting future performance.
   17. Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: November 12, 2003 at 03:57 AM (#613966)
Isn't it possible (probable?) that an unusual one-year park effect is a result of the park behaving differently -- that that is a fluke?

IOW, yes, the park behaved differently. No, we shouldn't expect that to continue.


That is possible, but what I'm suggesting is that I suspect it's more likely that the park behaved close to the same, and just by random chance, it appeared to behave differently. That one year isn't enough time to weed out the statistical noise in park effects.

You can see large changes in year-to-year park effects in domed parks, for instance. Not that they couldn't have different conditions, but it'd be less likely and common.
   18. Joey Numbaz (Scruff) Posted: November 13, 2003 at 03:57 AM (#613970)
LSR - yes, you are right, Sosa had 42. When I was reading down the lists, I must have missed it, just saw Bonds' 54 (!) and missed Sosa's.

Dan - The park effect is relative to the league (I realize you know this), so if the parks around the league play differently, the dome's park factor will change. Most of the dome's today are retractable, so the roof might be open 50% one year, 80% the next year, etc.
   19. Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: November 13, 2003 at 03:57 AM (#613971)
Well, I still think the statistical variation outweighs the other factors.

<A >Here's a summary of the BP 2001 study</A> from Batter's Box. And <A >here's a little more from Voros</A> on the subject.

Anyway, we can agree to disagree on this.
   20. tangotiger Posted: November 13, 2003 at 03:57 AM (#613972)
With park factors, you have 5 important considerations:

1 - What is inherent with the park itself? This would cover the surface, dimensions, and all other static variables. You could essentially go back 100 years if the park never changed.

2 - What dynamic things happen at the park? This is climate (temperature, wind, sunlight, a/c, etc). This, I would guess, is highly dependent on the actual date. Therefore, you ONLY want to use 1 year.

3 - What about the other parks? The park factors are always relative to other parks. So, you can have say a domed stadium for 10 years that never changes, but it's PF will change if the "opponent PF" changes.

4 - Not all parks effect all players the same way. If you happen to have a group of very fast, no power hitters playing there, the PF may not be representative of what happens to an average player, simply because you're sample is not made up of average players.

5 - Finally, and most important, sample size, sample size, sample size. All data is nothing more than sample/observation of the true rates. No matter what you do, you have no choice but to regress your sample data towards the mean.
   21. The Original Gary Posted: November 13, 2003 at 03:57 AM (#613974)
I've read a lot of the arguments for Pujols - the primary one being that he played so many more games. Fair enough. But this whole race shows how the idea of playing for a "winner" is a convenience factor for writers to use to justify their motives.

If we agree that Pujols and Bonds are close due to the above, and if we assume that the MVP ought to play for a winner, Bonds wins it, right? But the same writers who, in my experience, have been the type to make this argument have also been seen falling all over themselves pushing Pujols for the trophy, despite playing for a team that would have challenged for last in some other divisions.

If we agree that this is not the case, then ARod wins every year in the AL, right?

To some of these writers: Whatever's convenient to support your illogic, guys, go for it.
   22. studes Posted: November 13, 2003 at 03:57 AM (#613975)
I think David is right on. If you're going to only use one-year park factors, why use them at all? Well, we use them to even out performances in different contexts, right? What is the best way to judge context? Over a very large sample size -- as large as possible.

If there is a statistical fluke in a park's figures, what caused it? Well, it may be that the MVP candidate himself caused it, almost entirely by himself. How are we to judge this? You got me, but the point is that great players can significantly impact park factors in a given year all by themselves.

Oops. Sorry. Didn't mean to get into a self-perpetuating question and answer session.

If you're going to use one-year park factors, I think David is correct. Just use the run scoring environment of that team. I'd rather use five-year factors, or one-year factors regressed toward the mean.
   23. Joey Numbaz (Scruff) Posted: November 13, 2003 at 03:57 AM (#613979)
David, I think you've convinced me. It'd be nice to have those park factors the day after the season, instead of waiting until bb-ref updates them. Does anyone track them in-season?

I would've voted Livan for Cy Young and Pujols for MVP if I'dve known how the parks played this year.

Basically in my head I had Pujols and Barry very close, but I figured the park (based on historical context) made it clear for Bonds. At this point, I won't mind if the BBWAA votes for Pujols or Bonds.
   24. studes Posted: November 14, 2003 at 03:57 AM (#613981)
Joe, I don't mean to harp on this, but David's example, to me, screams for the need to forego one-year park factors and concentrate on longer-term ones.

Was Pac Bell truly a neutral park this year? Well, the Giants' pitchers posted a 3.31 ERA at home and a 4.17 ERA on the road. Sounds like a pitchers' park to me.

Offsetting that, somewhat, was the fact that the Giants scored 398 runs at home, vs. 357 away. Hence, the moderated Park Factor.

Yes, this is probably a statistical quirk, and it seems probable that the Giants hitters will return to form next year.

When you use a one-year park factor, you're penalizing the Giants' batters for overcoming the normal idiosyncracies of the park. You could say that Pac Bell was more of a hitter's park this year. Or you could give the Giants' hitters "credit" for hitting better at home than would be expected.

I'd rather give them credit for a job well done.
   25. Joey Numbaz (Scruff) Posted: November 14, 2003 at 03:57 AM (#613982)
Gerry, just a couple (2-3, maybe 4). I wasn't tracking them, and it was a low enough number that I didn't think it was worth the time to go back and check (I anticipated the question when I was writing), most of the time they lost to another player between 35-39, but sometimes it was to a player in the mid-high 20s (usually a catcher IIRC).

Studes -- to each his own on this one I guess. You're talking small samples I agree. But when you bring multiple years into the question, you aren't comparing apples to apples. Weather, other parks, etc. bring a lot of noise in.

I think the best bet is to look at both to get a range of possibilities and realize you aren't going to get it exactly right no matter what you do. But if forced into a corner (like if I were doing a large study of every player's season-by-season numbers for example) I'd use one-year factors.
   26. marc stone Posted: November 14, 2003 at 03:57 AM (#613988)
Using an extension of the method I use to adjust park factors for schedule effects (Which was published in Visitor's Dugout last year) I was able to do another study(I can email it on request) which used formal statistical tests to look at year to year changes in park factors. The study showed that the variation showed a random pattern and were no more likely in some parks than others (including domes).
   27. David Brazeal Posted: November 14, 2003 at 03:57 AM (#613993)
There is NO WAY Barry Bonds wins the MVP Award this year. I'm not talking about who deserves it...but I've seen no indication from the talking heads that Bonds wins the award this year. The only thing the writers hate more than Bonds is a repeat MVP. It's just human nature to want to give it to the new guy. And Pujols' traditional stats are so good, I say he wins it despite playing on a loser.
   28. Marc Posted: November 14, 2003 at 03:57 AM (#613999)
Hey, jwb, what's the highest OPS+ by a right hander in the 20th century. Conspicuous by its absence.

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