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Friday, November 23, 2001

The Ten Most Questionable MVP Awards in Baseball History

Don puts an historical spin on the Ichiro award controversy.

You Think Ichiro! Was Bad? Check Out These Choices?

I know that everyone?s favorite sub-species of homo sapiens, the stathead,   is still reeling at the recent announcement that Ichiro   Suzuki was the American League Most Valuable Player of 2001.

The hue and cry (possibly the most redundant phrase extant: look it up sometime?)   over this occurrence is not likely to diminish for some time. While many sportswriters   (including my old sparring partner Rob   Neyer at ESPN.com) have tried to put a band-aid over this, for most   dyed-in-the-wool (yet another highly redundant phrase?where ELSE would you put   the dye, unless you were casting it, that is?) stat-mongers, this is the worst   voting outrage since?

Since?

Now that?s the question   that should be on the minds of those venting their frustrations at the failures   of baseball?s meritocracy. (The failure of meritocracy in general is a more   interesting topic, but we?re in the wrong line of work for something like that.)

Just what is the   anatomy of error in Most Valuable Player voting over the 71-year history of   the award? Just how often have the baseball writers picked the same player that   ?advanced statistical methods? designate as the best player of the year in each   league?

And which have been the   most questionable MVP picks? Where does the selection of Ichiro Suzuki   rank in that anti-pantheon of decision-making?

To do such a study properly,   mind you, would take a book. That book, however, would run the risk of tedium,   because it would have to evaluate a whole set of statistical measures, attempt   to discern particular patterns of bias, and generally go into more detail than   even the average stathead is willing to wade through. The general fan population   would stay away from such analysis in droves.

So what can we do to summarize   this? What I decided to do was lean on the only current method that is readily   available for purposes of historical comparison?Total Baseball?s rating   system, known to most of you as Total Player Rating (TPR). (As you know,   Bill James has a new method out?sort of, that is; while we?ve been assured   by his legion of admirers that it?s wonderful, we don?t have all the data, so   we can neither evaluate it nor use it.)

So it?s TPR to the rescue.   Here?s how it works: we look at the TPR of the player winning the MVP award   in each league for every season since 1931 (when the BBWAA was authorized to   conduct the vote) and compare it to the TPR leader for that season. The difference   (if any) is logged, and then we see which MVP winners are furthest away from   the ?sabermetric MVP? as determined by Total Player Rating.

Once we do that, we can   assemble a ?top ten? most questionable MVP picks list.

There are some caveats that   those of you who wish to check the data here must keep in mind, however. As   many of you know, TPR has some quirks?mostly in how it handles defense. In more   than a few cases, its component for this aspect of player performance?measured   by a stat called ?fielding runs??is clearly out of reasonable bounds, and colors   the overall rating.

What I?ve done is to adjust   certain seasons where a player?s rating has been unduly affected by this quirk   in the system. When ?fielding runs? represent more than 25% of a player?s rated   performance, they?ve been removed from the ranking.

This was necessary in just   about two dozen seasons (out of 142 MVP awards). You?re free to disagree with   that decision, but remember this is meant to be a quick-and-dirty (ever wonder   why there?s no contrasting catchphrase ... ?slow-and-clean??) look at the matter   in question.

Before we look at the top   ten list, here are a few related facts:

?The writers and TPR have   agreed on the identity of the MVP 30% of the time (43 times). The NL writers   have matched TPR 20 times, while the often-malinged AL writers have done so   23 times.

?The average ?distance?   from the media choice and the sabermetric choice is 1.16 TPR. It?s a little   higher in the AL (1.21) than in the NL (1.12), which means that the writers   in the AL?remember, they?ve matched the sabermetric choice a few times more   than the NL writers have?get further out of whack than their NL counterparts.

?It?s clear that the introduction   of the Cy Young Award in 1957 has affected the way writers think about the MVP   award. Prior to existence of the Cy (from 1931-56), pitchers won 11 MVP awards   out of 52 total, or 21%. From 1957 on, pitchers have won only 8 MVP awards out   of 90, or 9%.

Another related stat has   to do with the number of pitchers who are ranked as the ?sabermetric MVP? but   who were not voted the award from the writers. From 1931-56, this happened six   times (about 11.5% of the time). Since 1956, it?s happened 14 times (out of   90 possible awards, or 15.6% of the time).

?A big factor in winning   the MVP award is playing on a team that wins a pennant or a division. Out of   142 MVP awards, 99 of them (70%) have been given to players on such teams. The   AL voters correlate more highly (73%, of 52 of 71, as opposed to the NL?s 66%,   or 47 of 71).

Non-pennant winner MVP recipients   are a bit more likely to match up between the writers? assessment and the sabermetric   choice. Fifteen of the writer-TPR matches are from the forty-three players on   non-pennant winners, or 34%. The writer-TPR matches on pennant/division winners   are a bit lower (28%); the closeness of these numbers indicates that the two   variables probably have little relationship to one another.

?The AL writers have been   in a serious slump over the past decade. They were ahead of the NL going into   1990, but their mean distance from the sabermetric winner has been the worst   of any decade since the award was created (1.94). This fact is reflected both   in the noisy disapproval of statheads, and in the Top Ten list of most questionable   MVP selections that you?ll find below.

Another way to look at MVP   voting patterns would be to catalogue how the players? component stats rank   in the league. Baseball writers haven?t had the benefit of sabermetric measures   for more than seventy percent of the time frame in question, and they clearly   have demonstrated more than a little resistance to those tools in the past twenty   years, preferring to rely on a hard-to-pin-down combination of traditional stats.   (It?s often charged that only the ?Triple Crown? stats?batting average, home   runs, and RBI?get utilized, but the evidence shows that this isn?t really the   case.) Such a statistical anatomization, however, would be part of that book   that we?re NOT writing here?

10. Dick Groat,   1960 NL (-3.1)

Groat, shortstop for the pennant-winning Pittsburgh Pirates, led the league   in hitting (.325) and finished third in hits (186). TPR suggests that Willie   Mays was the best player in the NL that year (first in hits, fourth   in runs, stolen bases and slugging average, third in triples, total bases and   batting average), though he had strong competition from Ernie   Banks, Hank   Aaron and Eddie   Mathews), but the Giants finished fifth (in an eight-team league), 16   games out.

9. Ken Boyer,   1964 NL (-3.4)

Boyer, the long-time star at third base for the Cardinals, was apparently rewarded   for his fine career as a result of St. Louis? September pennant charge. He was   the RBI leader (119), and finished fifth in walks (but with only 70; this was   the sixties). TPR shows another close race for top player between Mays (who   led in HRs, doubles and slugging average), and Ron   Santo (who led in triples, on-base percentage and walks).

8. Jackie   Jensen, 1958 AL (-3.4)

Jensen, playing right field for the Boston Red Sox, batted behind Ted   Williams for most of the year and wound up leading the league in RBI   (122). He was fifth in total bases, doubles and homers, second in bases on balls.   Boston finished third, but was only four games over .500. It?s likely that the   aversion to consecutive awards that the BBWAA has shown is at work here; Mickey   Mantle had won the MVP in 1956 and 1957, and the writers apparently   were loath to hand it to him a third time, even though TPR shows that he was   the top player in the AL.

7. Maury Wills,   1962 NL (-3.4)

Seduced by all those stolen bases, the NL writers voted for Mr. Excitement,   the ever-aggrandizing Mr. Wills, who, in addition to those 104 steals (a new   record at the time), was second in runs, second in hits, and led the league   in one other offensive category?triples. (Actually, he was tied for first with   three other players). TPR, as was often the case from 1954-65, deemed Willie   Mays to be the top player in the league. Wills and the Dodgers probably   would have won the pennant in a breeze if Sandy   Koufax? finger hadn?t impersonated a grape midway through the season,   but they didn?t, dropping a playoff series to Mays? Giants that was?well, a   lot stranger than its predecessor in 1951.

So far we?re 2-2 in terms   of pennant/division winners vs. also-rans for our ?questionable? MVP winners.

6. Mo Vaughn,   1995 AL (-4.0)

Now here?s one that will get the foam oozing from the mouths of statheads everywhere.   The AL BBWAA probably wasn?t as bad at MVP voting as it looks, if you consider   that they would not, could not, and did not bring themselves to vote for Albert   Belle, who was clearly deserving of the award in 1995 and 1998.

With that ambient condition firmly in place, Vaughn was the lucky recipient   of the booby prize, thanks to his tie for first (with Belle) in RBI. Vaughn   cracked the top five in only one other offensive category (total bases), while   Belle led the league in homers, doubles (tied with Edgar   Martinez), and slugging average.

The Red Sox did win their   division in 1995, but the Indians went 100-44, which isn?t too far off the pace   of the 2001 Mariners and 1998 Yankees, who followed in their footsteps of AL   domination.

5. Yogi Berra,   1955 AL (-4.3)

The baseball writers of the fifties were in love with catchers, and two catchers   in particular: Berra and Roy   Campanella, who each won three MVP awards in the first half of the decade.   Berra?s awards in 1951 and 1954 weren?t nearly as far-fetched as this one was.   Yogi didn?t even the lead the league in RBI in ?55, finishing third, and didn?t   crack the top five in any other offensive category. A bushel of other players   were ahead of him according to TPR, led by Mickey   Mantle .

4. Frank McCormick,   1940 NL (-4.4)

McCormick, a big, tall first baseman for the Cincinnati Reds, had his two best   years for the pennant winning teams of 1939-40. The writers picked the worse   of his two seasons, however, to anoint as MVP-worthy. In 1939, Frank at least   led the league in RBI. It appears that, as with Boyer, the writers bestowed   a kind of ?cumulative? award here, based on the fact that McCormick had finished   1-2 in RBI in these two years, 1-1 in hits, 4-1 in doubles, 2-2 in total bases,   and somewhere near the bottom each year in walk percentage. TPR suggests that   either Claude   Passeau (the Cubs? crafty righty who won 20 games for a sub-.500 team)   or Arky Vaughan   were the best players, but Johnny   Mize would have been my #1 vote had I been there.

3. Marty Marion,   1944 NL (-4.5)

This is probably an award cooked up in the back room somewhere, as I?ve always   suspected was the case when Willie   Stargell somehow managed to ?tie? Keith   Hernandez in 1979. (I don?t know what the procedures are for safeguarding   the MVP vote, but they?re probably even worse than the conditions in Florida   this time last year.)

Marion was a great shortstop, and the Cards had just won their third pennant   in a cakewalk, but Marty is the only player to win an MVP award without finishing   in the TOP TEN of any offensive category. He beat out the Cubs? Bill   Nicholson by one vote, which is seven less than Ichiro?s margin over   Jason Giambi.   TPR says Stan   Musial, but it?s taken 71 years (and 73 homers from Barry   Bonds) to get past the three-MVPs-to-any-one-player unwritten rule.

2. Mickey   Cochrane, 1934 AL (-5.1)

Lou Gehrig   won the triple crown in 1934, but the Cochrane-managed Detroit Tigers won the   pennant. Cochrane finished fifth in OBP, but he was not even on the same lap   as Lou. Manager of the year, yes; MVP, no.

1. Ivan Rodriguez,   1999 AL (-5.3)

Here it is, the most questionable MVP pick to date. Pudge had a nice little   season in 1999, and the Rangers did win their division, but he finished just   fifth in hits, seventh in runs, and tenth in slugging average. Pedro   Martinez, one of those pitchers victimized by the increasing role specialization   in award voting, was the top player in the league according to TPR (and a whole   bunch of the rest of us).

Those of you who plunked down your bucks for the most recent Total Baseball   (edition #7) may find that the 2000 AL MVP, Jason   Giambi, looks to be about 4.0 TPR behind Pedro   Martinez. That?s right?so why isn?t he on the list? The main reason   is that fielding runs not only pad some player?s TPR totals, they take away   too much for others. Jason now has the reputation of being a sub-par first baseman,   but the new fielding run computation system that Pete Palmer introduced   penalizes first basemen a bit more than it used to, and drops Giambi?s ranking   with a thud. The distance between Giambi and Martinez is certainly not as great   as the system represents it as being, so I?ve compensated by using Giambi?s   offensive ranking (batting runs, in the Total Baseball system) as the measure   being compared with Martinez? performance.

What?s the final tally for players on pennant/division winners   vs. also-rans? Eight-to-two for winners.

So where does this leave Ichiro Suzuki? How does his   TPR compare to the best player in the AL in 2001?? Exactly how big is that gap?   I?ll leave that question for the active number crunchers among the stathead   brigade. My hunch is that Ichiro probably escapes the Top Ten, however. While   his OPS is about 300 points lower than Giambi?s, he?ll gain ground in fielding   runs and even more in stolen base runs (his 56 steals in 70 attempts are worth   about seven such runs in Palmer?s system).

Somebody out there is going to post the answer, so I?ll just   sit back and let the fur fly (another one of those ridiculous sayings: the only   way this happens is when rich dames in mink coats get on airplanes).

That said, it?s still a seriously questionable choice. The AL writers seem   to have been groping (and they get a lot of complaints about this from the three   feminists who attend baseball games?) for some way to pay tribute to the Mariners?   amazing season; they looked at Ichiro?s hit total?242, the ninth highest total   in baseball history?and enough of them became mesmerized by it to tilt the contest   in favor of the first man in baseball history whose surname is the same as a   brand of foreign car (no, Richard   Dotson doesn?t count; as Johnnie Cochran, now a native New Yorker,   once said: if the spelling don?t fit, you must acquit).

What?s my hope out of all this? That statheads will not escalate   their derision over this vote into full-fledged disdain of Suzuki?who had nothing   to do with the actual vote. The phenomenon is known as ?transference?: statheads   have a deep-seated ideological problem with singles hitters, and an event such   as this one is just what the doctor ordered (as opposed to the apple a day?)   to push them into a merciless air strike of negativism. This little history   lesson was meant to re-affirm that the meritocratic process is inherently flawed,   and that no amount of wailing will tear down the wall. (And frankly, anyone   who thinks that the Pink Floyd was worth a pitcher of warm spit after   Syd?not Marty?Barrett left needs to drink that pitcher of warm spit.)

Ichiro Suzuki?innocent victim of baseball?s bizarre   lip service to multi-culturalism. And you thought that those Luis Bunuel   films were surreal?

 

Don Malcolm Posted: November 23, 2001 at 06:00 AM | 35 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Alan Shank Posted: November 23, 2001 at 01:14 AM (#604261)
In 1987, Andre Dawson led the NL in homers and RBI, with 49 and 137. His TPR was only 2.0, due mostly to a relatively poor OBP of .329. The TPR leaders for that year were:
Eric Davis 7.0
Tony Gwynn 6.1
Tim Raines 5.7
Dale Murphy 5.1
Ozzie Smith 4.9

Despite the homers, Dawson did not even crack the top five in SLG.
Cheers,
Alan Shank
   2. Don Malcolm Posted: November 23, 2001 at 01:14 AM (#604262)
Keep in mind that I was adjusting TPR for the distortions in its secondary measures, and when I did that, Dawson wound up just under Groat on the list. He probably should have been mentioned, but then again people wouldn't have their chance to look smarter than the author (not that this is particularly difficult...).

The one thing that I'd planned to do in conjunction with the article was look at how close all of these questionable MVP votes were. Taking them in order (and including Dawson as "#11"):

Dawson won by 76 points over Ozzie Smith, with the TPR choice (Eric Davis) finishing ninth.

Groat won by 94 points over Don Hoak (!), with the TPR choice (Willie Mays) finishing third.

Boyer won by 56 points over Johnny Callison, with Mays finishing sixth.

Jensen won by 42 points over Bob Turley, with Mantle finishing fifth.

Wills beat Mays by 7 points.

Vaughn beat Belle by 8 points.

Berra beat Al Kaline by 17 points, and Al Smith (the AL getting hung up on its own abbreviation, apparently) by 18--with Mantle finishing fifth.

McCormick beat Mize by 65 points.

As noted in the article, Marion beat Bill Nicholson by 1 point, with Musial finishing fourth.

Cochrane beat Charlie Gehringer by 2 votes (though the voting structure for the award was different prior to 1938). Gehrig finished fifth.

Picking the most egregriously "incorrect" choice, then, might involve combining the two elements here--distance of error via TPR and distance in BBWAA voting points between the winner and the "sabermetric MVP."

In addition to Dawson, there were several other of these questionable votes "bubbling under" the Top Ten. Going in reverse chronological order: Steve Garvey, 1974 NL; Nellie Fox, 1959 AL, Roy Campanella, 1955 NL, Juan Gonzalez, 1996 AL, and Roger Maris, 1961 AL.
   3. Eric Enders Posted: November 23, 2001 at 01:14 AM (#604263)
Like Giambi, Hank Sauer's 1952 MVP award would be on this list of 10 most suspicious MVP awards if it weren't for the inaccuracy of Fielding Runs. Sauer had a lot of putouts in left field that year, in part because the Cubs had a fly ball pitching staff. Sauer also had a lot of outfield assists, presumably because he had a bad reputation and lots of people were trying to run on him. Anyway, that all got him 17 fielding runs for the year.

If we substituted Sauer's fielding runs with those of an average defensive player, his TPR would have been 2.4. That would have put him at -3.2 behind the NL (and major league) leader, Jackie Robinson, who had a 5.6 TPR. Incidentally, according to Total Baseball, the two best players in baseball that year were Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby.

It's pretty clear that Sauer was a bad choice for the 1952 award. Robinson seems a worthy pick, while others have suggested that Robin Roberts (4.1 TPR, 5th in the NL) should have won it. Personally, my MVP vote for 1952 would go to Joe Black, who led the NL in both Pitching Runs and Adjusted Pitching Runs. (However, TB rates Black as only the third-best pitcher in the league that year since he was a bad hitter and, according to TB, also a bad fielder.)

Without making any accusations, it's interesting to note that, according to Total Baseball,

1) The best player in the NL
2) The best player in the AL, and
3) The best pitcher in the NL

were all African-Americans, and none of them won an MVP award. Doby finished 12th in the AL voting. In the NL, Robinson finished seventh. Black finished third with 208 points, behind Roberts (211) and Sauer (226).
   4. Eric Enders Posted: November 23, 2001 at 01:14 AM (#604273)
Just to expand on the above, both 1952 TPR champions fisnished far, far out of the race in the MVP voting. In the NL, Sauer won the MVP with 226 points, while Robinson finished seventh with 31. In the AL, Bobby Shantz won the MVP with 280 points, with Doby in 14th place with 46.

So, the differences were:
1952 NL: 195 points
1952 AL: 234 points

TPR rated Robinson as the best player in the NL three times. The other two years were 1951, when he finished 151 points behind Campanella in the MVP voting, and 1950, when he finished 15th in the voting, 263 points behind Jim Konstanty.

Robinson always felt that sportswriters treated him unfairly after 1950 because he was "an uppity ######." Many of his white teammates, including Carl Erskine, agreed with him. The writers were willing to give him the MVP in 1949, when he less outspoken and still content to be Branch Rickey's "boy." In later years, after he became more outspoken and aggressive, he won the NL's TPR title three years in a row, but had only a 6th place MVP finish, a 7th place finish, and a 15th place finish to show for it.
   5. Don Malcolm Posted: November 23, 2001 at 01:14 AM (#604274)
You're absolutely right on the money, Eric. The Jackie Robinson situation in 1949-52 is something I shouuld have worked into the article somewhere, as it reinforces one of the things that Bill James gets right in his new Historical Abstract--exactly how good a player Robinson really was. As you point out, the most egregrious of these snubs came in 1952, when the Dodgers won the pennant but the writers were clearly alienated by Robinson's militance.

Of course, it's hard to argue that racism was having a serious impact in the MVP voting then, since only two white players won the NL MVP award from 1949-59--Jim Konstanty in 1950, and Sauer in 1952. The AL was slower to integrate, which limited the writers' opportunities to select or snub non-whites. They did so in several instances during this time frame, though (Doby in '52, Bobby Avila in '54, and Camilo Pascual in '59).
   6. Eric Enders Posted: November 23, 2001 at 01:14 AM (#604275)
In the '50s, it appears that writers were perfectly happy to give awards to what could be called the yassuh-boss group of African-American players: Robinson in '49, Campanella in 1951-53-55, Mays in '54, Junior Gilliam in '53, Ernie Banks, etc. However, they were certainly disturbed by Robinson's militance beginning around 1950. They also appeared to dislike Minnie Mi?oso, who was a party animal and was rumored to date white women. Mi?oso's failure to win the 1951 ROY is one of the worst outcomes in the history of that award, and although he consistently ranked among the top AL players in terms of TPR throughout the 1950s, his points in MVP voting don't reflect that very well.
   7. Carl Goetz Posted: November 23, 2001 at 01:14 AM (#604276)
I'd be interested in seeing the worst selections for Cy Young. I have to think that Roger Clemens this year was among them. Also, Pete Vuckovich in 1982 has to rank pretty high on that list. Anyone have any others?
   8. Charles Saeger Posted: November 23, 2001 at 01:14 AM (#604278)
Don wanted me to post this, so I shall.

I think I understand Win Shares well enough to make Win Share estimates well enough for these gentlemen in the AL MVP race. I have a ton of confidence in my fielding estimates (which, as you probably know, are not the ones Bill James would make), but I didn't do some tailoring of Runs Created that Bill James would do. As accurately distributing Win Shares among the hitters requires their Runs Created estimates to equal the team total of Runs scored, it could be a big deal, but it probably isn't here.

Here's the table:

player/rc/outs/net rc/ws hit/pos/ws def/total ws
Roberto Alomar/130/415/92/28.8/Cle 2b/4.0/32.8
Jason Giambi/153/368/121/36.9/Oak 1b/3.4/40.3
Bret Boone/126/451/88/29.6/Sea 2b/9.3/38.9
Ichiro Suzuki/124/475/84/28.1/Sea rf/6.8/34.9
Alex Rodriguez/148/460/107/33.1/Tex ss/6.4/39.6

I just gave the player the entire team total for fielding Win Shares at his position. Everyone except Giambi played 152 or more games at his position. Giambi played 136 games, so we should mentally ratchet down his fielding Win Shares a bit.

ARod isn't hurt by his team. Texas had 154 Win Shares for its hitters, tied with Oakland for third in the league (Seattle had 187, Cleveland had 157). Boston, Cleveland and Detroit had fewer Win Shares to the fielders, so he isn't hurt there either -- the only shortstop to really standout as better than ARod (a few were about as good) is Carlos Guillen. The issue with Texas is that the pitching staff sucked ass, big time.

Cleveland had genuinely awful fielding. Alomar wasn't awful, but he wasn't good. He was a C- fielder this year. Three teams had fewer Win Shares for the second basemen. Seattle, by contrast, had Gold Glove candidates everywhere except catcher and first baseman.

Ichiro, by this method (I'm starting to like it, BTW), isn't a bad selection, but he isn't the right selection (pick between Boone, Giambi and ARod -- none of these is wrong). This is probably why Bill James wasn't too upset about the prospect of Ichiro! the MVP.
   9. Charles Saeger Posted: November 23, 2001 at 01:14 AM (#604279)
>(And frankly, anyone who thinks that the Pink Floyd was worth a pitcher of warm spit after Syd?not Marty?Barrett left needs to drink that pitcher of warm spit.)

You know me, Don. Some of us are of the opinion that, while Barrett was talented, he dragged the band down. Besides, you can't play "See Emily Play" forever -- give me an "Echoes" or a "Pigs (Three Different Ones)" any day.
   10. Don Malcolm Posted: November 23, 2001 at 01:14 AM (#604282)
Thanks, Charlie. I'm going to try to put that table into pre-formatted HTML so that people can read it more easily, but since I can't preview the comment (AHEM), there's no way we'll know if it works until it's posted. Here goes:


player rc outs net rc ws hit pos ws def total ws
Roberto Alomar 130 415 92 28.8 Cle 2b 4.0 32.8
Jason Giambi 153 368 121 36.9 Oak 1b 3.4 40.3
Bret Boone 126 451 88 29.6 Sea 2b 9.3 38.9
Ichiro Suzuki 124 475 84 28.1 Sea rf 6.8 34.9
Alex Rodriguez 148 460 107 33.1 Tex ss 6.4 39.6


Charlie, you might want to work up those Team Win Shares and post an article for the primer site with them; it's likely that Bill's data won't be available for a few months, and I'm sure a number of people will be interested to see what they look like.

Dan, I disqualify the Mercedes boys due to a technicality...the full name for Mercedes is, of course, Mercedes-Benz.
   11. Eric Enders Posted: November 23, 2001 at 01:14 AM (#604283)
How about the battery of Henry Mercedes and Joe Benz? That good enough?
   12. Charles Saeger Posted: November 24, 2001 at 01:14 AM (#604286)
When looking at the one published hitting Win Share for 2001 (Barry Bonds, by Rob Neyer), I realised there must be some positional adjustment James is using, rather than just letting the varying fielding numbers handle it. When you think about, it has to be, or else teams are letting negative performers eat up 400 PAs each year and still be written in the starting lineup each game. (This would make the bizarre paradox of pitchers being more valuable in the AL because the DH rule would prevent them from batting and thus eroding their ratings.)

Ergo, I need to look at this. ESPN.com has batting by defensive position, so this shouldn't be too big a deal.
   13. Don Malcolm Posted: November 24, 2001 at 01:14 AM (#604288)
John Leonard has identified a big goof on my part--a transcription error that left the Williams-DiMaggio 1947 controversy off the Top 10 list, where it clearly belongs.

If you don't adjust for the fielding runs problems, DiMaggio's 2.2 TPR would place him mear the top of the list, 4.7 TPR behind Williams (6.9). In 1947, DiMaggio had a very poor rankiung in fielding runs, which dropped his TPR ranking by a large amount. When we eliminate fielding runs from consideration, however, he still comes in at 4.1 TPR below Williams, and should rank in the Top Ten. (Somehow, when compiling the list, I grabbed DiMaggio's 1948 TPR ranking, which is much better than the '47 ranking, which created only a 2.5 TPR difference between them and is why he didn't make the Top Ten.)

The revised Top Ten list is thus: 10. Boyer 1964, 9. Jensen 1958, 8. Wills 1962, 7. Vaughn 1995, 6, DiMaggio 1947, 5, Berra 1955, 4, McCormick 1940, 3. Marion 1944, 2. Cochrane 1934, 1, Rodriguez 1999.

As for the voting controversy in 1947 (DiMaggio won the MVP award by one point over Williams, 202-201), there is some discussion of the matter in Bill James' The Politics of Glory (p. 312). Since John appears to be a long way from his books, I'm going to quote the relevant passages here:

"What everybody remembers about this award vote [1947 AL MVP] is that one Boston writer, Mel Webb, left Ted Williams entirely off his ballot, which cost Williams the award. As Williams described it in My Turn At Bat, his excellent 1969 autobiography with John Underwood:

'The Yankees won the pennant, which is always a factor [NOTE: 70% of MVP awards have gone to pennant/division winners], so on the surface the vote was OK with me. But then it came out that one Boston writer didn't even put me in the top ten on his ballot.

The writers name was Mel Webb. He was, as far as I'm concerned, a grouchy old guy, a real grump, and we didn't get along... The Commissioner should have gotten in on that, and I don't know what the Red Sox did but they should have gotten in on it too.'

What fans don't remember about the 1947 MVP vote is that three writers left Joe DiMaggio entirely off their ballot, and three others had him eighth or lower, while no one except Webb had Williams lower than seventh."

I cannot locate a complete listing of the voting as referenced by James, but a partial listing that appears in the STATS All-Time Sourcebook shows that DiMaggio received eight first-place votes, while Williams received only three. Yankees' reliever Joe Page received seven first place votes, but finished fourth in the voting (apparently
also being left off many ballots).

If anyone out there knows of a source for the complete voting breakdowns for MVP awards (first-place votes, second-place votes, etc.), please post it. The info at baseball-reference.com is apparently taken from the STATS Sourcebook, which is a summarization of the voting information and doesn't show the complete breakdown. James seems to be referencing something more complete that doesn't appear to be commonly available.
   14. Eric Enders Posted: November 24, 2001 at 01:14 AM (#604295)
Jer, that exact thing has been done in the STATS All-Time Baseball Sourcebook, an essential reference book.
   15. Don Malcolm Posted: November 25, 2001 at 01:14 AM (#604305)
Thanks for the clarifications and the additional information, Dick. After reading your notes, I went back and looked at the seasonal commentaries in the contemporary TSN Baseball Guide (1950), and discovered the following passage:

"An alleged betting coup was reported with the A.L. most valuable poll. As a result, it was planned to announce the results of the future voting immediately after the ballots were tabulated instead of holding the story for future release." (p. 92)

Apparently they were using a special fluorescent brand of whitewash at TSN that year...

It's also interesting to note that the Guide folks couldn't be bothered to provide the voting details for major industry awards for many, many years after this incident.

One detail that Dick doesn't include about the 1947 AL MVP vote is the fact that Yankee first baseman George McQuinn received three first-place votes from the writers--as many as Williams did. Dick, if you happen to have the complete voting results for the 1947 AL MVP in your files, I think we'd all be very interested in seeing them...
   16. Mike Emeigh Posted: November 25, 2001 at 01:14 AM (#604306)
In case it wasn't clear:

Charlie's comment about Carlos Guillen relative to ARod refers to their relative rankings *defensively*, not overall.

-- MWE
   17. Charles Saeger Posted: November 26, 2001 at 01:15 AM (#604316)
Dylan: See above for the RISP argument.

If the Mariners did outperform their RC estimates, I didn't see it, though I didn't figure the entire team individually. Plus, if they did, it would also move Bret Boone up, who is still the best player on the team.

I did make an error in assigning Win Shares to team defense. I corrected for it, which moved Suzuki and Boone up, and Alomar and Rodriguez down (too far down for Alomar, in my opinion, but it accurately assesses the Cleveland defense). I probably need to look at how many WS each position should receive, but I took these from my CAD estimates, and they produce quite reasonable Fielding Runs-style and DWP-style results. I didn't make a positional adjustment, which is necessary, and would move Rodriguez and Alomar back up, Boone up, Suzuki and Giambi down. I think these adjustments would make Bret Boone the clear 2001 AL MVP.
   18. RP Posted: November 26, 2001 at 01:15 AM (#604322)
Re the 1995 award...maybe it's a mistake to say that Belle "clearly" deserved the award, but I think you'd have to really stretch to arue that E. Martinez was a better candidate. Martinez was a slightly better hitter, but you're comparing a DH to an least average (IMHO) RF, so the DH would have to be a MUCH better hitter to make up for the defense. Also, Belle was the best player on the the best team (by far) in baseball, so he doesn't lose anything w/respect to contributions to a contender (or however you want to phrase it). Anyway, this isn't to take anything away from Martinez, who also had a great season and who certainly would have been a better choice than Vaughn.
   19. Don Malcolm Posted: November 26, 2001 at 01:15 AM (#604324)
Dick--Thanks for the details on the 1947 AL MVP vote, and for taking the time to post them twice. The more you look at them, the more fishy they look. But we'd need a separate article on the "10 most corrupt MVP votes"...

To the unnamed one who caught my Suzuki goof--touch?. Moral: never be in too much of a hurry to use a gag line.

Slappy--If you've read my author bio at baseballprimer, you'll know that Edgar is my favorite active player. But I see him as the runner-up to Belle in '95. The other guy who had a great year in '95 and doesn't get a lot of ink for it: Tim Salmon.
   20. jimd Posted: November 26, 2001 at 01:15 AM (#604326)
baseball-reference.com lists Luke Appling as 10th place in '47 with 43 points. It must be an oversight in the TSN article; the points for 9th and 11th place match with baseball-reference.com. Also, Berra is tied for 15th with Allie Reynolds (Henrich 13th, Shea 14th); listing the votes for Berra accounts for all the 2nd place votes.

Are the actual ballots ever officially published? It would sure be interesting to see them from '47 (even with no sportswriter's name attached).

I remember that in 1999, in the aftermath of the Pedro/IRod controversy, the Boston Globe published all of the ballots for the AL
voting. An analysis showed that if you asked the question: "Who was more valuable - Pedro or IRod?", the answer was Pedro, 15-13. Pedro also won similar runoff votes versus any of the other candidates. The difference was that the Pedro supporters also ranked IRod highly, while some IRod supporters ignored Pedro or only gave him mention at the bottom of the ballot.
   21. Charles Saeger Posted: November 26, 2001 at 01:15 AM (#604330)
Looked at the Runs Created STATS published. Ichiro does move ahead of Bret Boone, 135-116, though again, much of this is infield singles and misread by the formula. It still doesn't bring Ichiro even with Giambi (who gains a few runs by this, as well as ARod, and Alomar gains a ton), and we still have positional adjustments in which to factor ... my early estimates (I still have to figure last year's NL and most of this year's AL) would easily knock Ichiro back down.
   22. Paul Wendt Posted: November 27, 2001 at 01:15 AM (#604332)
Eric Enders cited the STATS _All-Time Sourcebook_ for its retroactive awards based on purely sabrmetric criteria, in reply to Jer's hope for something like that.

A collaborator provided me with the quotation from STATS: "We didn't try to guess what the voting trends might have been in a particular era. We concentrated on individual statistics (offensive and defensive) and team performance."

The main point must be the first sentence, which distinguishes the STATS retroactive awards from the hypothetical awards by Bill Deane, _Total Baseball_. The secondary reference to team performance makes me doubt that the STATS retro-awards are purely sabrmetric and guess that they are not what Jer hopes for.

Can someone familiar with the STATS retro-awards explain how they account for "team performance" along with individual statistics?

Visit the cited webpage for Deadball Era (1900-19) retro-MVPs, selected by Bill Deane and STATS, side-by-side in two columns, with introduction and comments by yours truly.

Paul Wendt
   23. Paul Wendt Posted: November 27, 2001 at 01:15 AM (#604333)
Someone cited Bill Deane, _Award Voting_, SABR (1988). Individual ballots are not published there; nor are the intermediate tallies such as Dick Thompson is currently recovering from contemporary news.

Bill Deane relied on intermediate tallies. (I expect that he has some notes, as Dick Thompson does.) Page 12 provides a list of "the discrepancies which have been identified but not resolved", which implies that some were resolved. For example, here are two of the listed, unresolved discrepancies:
"1929 AL (TSN) :: 28 missing points; probably one writer made only a first-place nomination".
"1949 NL :: 3 missing points".

_Award Voting_ is out of date and commercially obsolete after the publication of his "Awards and Honors", _Total Baseball_. It is not entirely redundant. For example, the historical text in the booklet names the "five solid candidates" excluded from the AL1925 MVP award because they were player-managers: Cobb, Collins, Harris, Speaker, Sisler. The AL excluded player-managers and former winners; the NL admitted both.

Paul Wendt
(not Paul Wenthold)
   24. Paul Wendt Posted: November 27, 2001 at 01:15 AM (#604334)
Someone cited Bill Deane, _Award Voting_, SABR (1988). Individual ballots are not published there; nor are the intermediate tallies such as Dick Thompson is currently recovering from contemporary news.

Bill Deane relied on intermediate tallies. (I expect that he has some notes, as Dick Thompson does.) Page 12 provides a list of "the discrepancies which have been identified but not resolved", which implies that some were resolved. For example, here are two of the listed, unresolved discrepancies:
"1929 AL (TSN) :: 28 missing points; probably one writer made only a first-place nomination".
"1949 NL :: 3 missing points".

_Award Voting_ is out of date and commercially obsolete after the publication of his "Awards and Honors", _Total Baseball_. It is not entirely redundant. For example, the historical text in the booklet names the "five solid candidates" excluded from the AL1925 MVP award because they were player-managers: Cobb, Collins, Harris, Speaker, Sisler. The AL excluded player-managers and former winners; the NL admitted both.

Paul Wendt
(not Paul Wenthold)
   25. Don Malcolm Posted: November 28, 2001 at 01:15 AM (#604344)
Paul Wendt?Thanks for clarifying our understanding of the current state of reference sources for MVP voting, and for introducing some other interesting sidelights. Paul?s web page is a very useful compendium of information about pre-1920 baseball.

A couple of comments on your entries:

A collaborator provided me with the quotation from STATS: "We didn't try to guess what the voting trends might have been in a particular era. We concentrated on individual statistics (offensive and defensive) and team performance."

The main point must be the first sentence, which distinguishes the STATS retroactive awards from the hypothetical awards by Bill Deane, _Total Baseball_. The secondary reference to team performance makes me doubt that the STATS retro-awards are purely sabrmetric and guess that they are not what Jer hopes for.

Can someone familiar with the STATS retro-awards explain how they account for "team performance" along with individual statistics?


While I don?t know the exact answer to this, my guess is that ?team performance? is the same criterion used by most ?insider? voters?whether the team won the pennant or not.

Remember that I noted a 70% correlation between MVPs and pennant/division-winning teams for the BBWAA voting history. When we compare the two retro lists from 1901-1919 (leaving out 1911-14), we see that Bill?s MVPs played on pennant winners in 17 out of 30 season-years (57% of the time); STATS? MVPs did so 14 times (47%).

Without commenting on the ?pure sabermetric? quotient in these selections, let me make an analogous comparison using the voting results from the BBWAA era (1931-2001). Players ranking first in TPR during that period have played on pennant/division/wild card winning teams 59 times (if we assume for the moment that Giambi is the TPR leader for the 2001 AL), or 42% of the time.

Of those 59 players who were ?sabermetric MVPs? and played on pennant/division/wild card winning teams, 22 of them were voted the MVP Award by the BBWAA, or 37% of the time.

Looking at the selections by Bill and by STATS for 1901-10/1915-19, and comparing those with the TPR leaders, we find that Bill?s MVP choices match the ?sabermetric MVP? in 15 of 30 seasons, or exactly 50% of the time. STATS? choices match the player with the top TPR value in 18 of those 30 seasons, or 60% of the time.

In that time frame, the percentage of ?sabermetric MVPs? who played on pennant winners was a good bit below the average from 1931 to the present (42%, as noted above). For the years 1901-10/1915-19, that percentage was only 33% (10 of 30). Part of the reason for this, of course, is because the definition of a ?winning team? was stricter prior to divisional play. The percentage of ?sabermetric MVPs? playing on pennant winners was only 35% (21 of 61) from 1931-61 (only through 1960 in the AL); since expansion, 38 of 81 sabermetric MVPs (or 47%) have played on ?post-season teams.?

Bill Deane relied on intermediate tallies. (I expect that he has some notes, as Dick Thompson does.) Page 12 provides a list of "the discrepancies which have been identified but not resolved", which implies that some were resolved. For example, here are two of the listed, unresolved discrepancies: "1929 AL (TSN) :: 28 missing points; probably one writer made only a first-place nomination". "1949 NL :: 3 missing points".

Clearly there?s room for a more complete reference work on MVPs and MVP voting; the folks at McFarland have published infinitely more far-fetched volumes among their many treasures. Possibly someone will get motivated to work on this?

Slappy?You?re certainly entitled to your opinion re the 1995 AL MVP, but kindly watch those attributions. I didn?t advocate the ?best player on the best team? selection method; that was RP. I?ll let someone else (maybe the person who actually writes a book about MVP/MVP voting?) determine how often ?the best player on the best team? is either a) the sabermetric MVP and/or b) the BBWAA?s choice.

Ted Fontenot?I certainly have no problem with you quoting Walker Percy, but I suggest that after the discussion of the ?47 AL MVP vote, you?ve shifted over to a discussion of Bill James, which ideally belongs in a different thread (it appears that the one here at primer from last week, which discussed his new book, has faded into the woodwork).

What would be most interesting, if it is in fact possible to do: a city-by-city breakdown of the BBWAA voting in the 1947 and 1995 AL MVP awards. I really want to know who those three guys were who voted for George McQuinn. Some of the same factors that jimd raised in his note about the 1999 AL MVP race may bear on these two elections?assuming they weren?t just plain rigged, that is. :-)
   26. RP Posted: November 28, 2001 at 01:15 AM (#604347)
Just to clarify, I'm not saying that Belle should have won the 1995 award b/c he was the best player on the best team, just that no one can use either the "his team wasn't a contender" or "he wasn't the best player on his own team" arguments *against* him.

Personally, I have no problem with giving the award to a player on a bad team (e.g., Ripken in 1991), but I do think that in situations where the question of who's the best player is a toss up, the "contender" argument is a fair tie breaker (e.g., I'd take Giambi over ARod this year).

Obviously, the tie breaker is irrelevant in 1995 since both the Indians and Mariners were contenders, but, for that reason, it doesn't give Martinez any advantage over Belle.
   27. Floyd Thursby Posted: November 28, 2001 at 01:15 AM (#604350)
Where is A-Rod's '96 season? Surely a dominant performance from a middle infielder should have wiped the floor with Gonzo (v. 1.1).

And anyone who would rather listen to "Bike" than "Dogs" or "Echoes" is related to Syd Barrett.
   28. Charles Saeger Posted: November 29, 2001 at 01:15 AM (#604356)
Win Shares, take 2

I updated the Win Share estimates for the top candidates. I figured adjustments for position and the effect of the DH on league average (unimportant for these purposes, but important for making league adjustments). I also used the real RC data from STATS, and updated the park data to the standards used in Total Baseball (adjusting for home wins and road losses, separate factors for batters and pitchers).

player rc outs pos park net hit fld ws

Alomar 139 415 8 1.00 109 34.3 4.0 38.3

Giambi 156 368 -13 0.94 112 34.4 3.4 37.8

Boone 116 451 9 0.90 88 29.5 9.3 38.8

Suzuki 135 475 -8 0.90 88 29.6 6.8 36.4

Rodriguez 149 460 12 1.02 119 36.7 6.4 43.1

Same thing to keep in mind with Giambi -- he played about a sixth of his games as a DH, which reduces his defensive value and would increase the positional adjustment. This makes ARod the clear winner, and this doesn't surprise me -- even if he didn't have the best year (which it looks like he did), he is clearly the best player in the league.

None of these guys is a bad MVP choice, by this method. James says 30 WS is an MVP-type year. This also makes ARod look like the wrong choice for the Hank Aaron Award (remove the adjustments, and Giambi is up by 18 runs), but who really cares about that?
   29. Don Malcolm Posted: November 29, 2001 at 01:15 AM (#604357)
I was surprised to see several other recent votes missing: e.g., Pendleton over Bonds in '91 (aside- wasn't there a British automobile called the Pendleton? If there wasn't, then there should have been.) Willie McGee over Doc Gooden in '85, George Bell over Alan Trammell and/or Wade Boggs in '87, Mattingly over George Brett and/or Rickey in '85, Guillermo Hernandez over Cal in '84.

Greg McFarlane?These votes are ?missing? because they didn?t make the top ten. To be more specific, according to TPR, Pendleton trailed Bonds by only ?0.4; McGee trailed Gooden by -1.9; Bell trailed Trammell by ?2.2 and Boggs by ?2.4; Mattingly trailed Brett by ?1.2.

Ripken?s TPR in 1984 was inflated by fielding runs, and when you adjust for that, Hernandez is just barely behind him (-0.1).

Floyd Thursby (who had been dead for about thirty years when the Pink Floyd was formed, his corpse still mouldering down at the end of Arnold Layne?) asks about A-Rod in ?96; TPR doesn?t pick him as the best player of that league. That honor goes to Ken Griffey Jr., with Juan Gonzalez back down the road to the tune of ?2.6. That?s good for about fifteenth place on the list, depending on exactly how far Suzuki trails the AL 2001 TPR leader.
   30. jimd Posted: November 29, 2001 at 01:15 AM (#604359)
Wow. Great writing on Ted Williams, Ted. Teddyites indeed; I love it.

I've always wondered at James's axe-grinding vis-a-vis Ted Williams.
He has speculated elsewhere about the detrimental effects of even short career gaps (if memory serves, Home Run Baker in the original
Historical Abstract, and other places). Yet I recall no musings about what might have been if Ted had followed a "normal" developmental curve without the war interventions. (He had a spreadsheet tool for doing those projections, Brock-2, or something like that. Anyone have that set up and can run it with Ted's pre-WWII numbers?) Of course it was a little easier coming back from WWII because many of the other players were just as rusty.

Just to compare against two current superstars. Comparing Bonds with Ted, I'm using calendar age instead of baseball age because their birthdates are only 3 months apart. Bonds would have been in the service in 90, 91, 92 (two MVP seasons), and in 99, 00. (Would he have hit 73 this year if he had just gotten out; somehow I doubt it.) The 400 home run milestone would be upcoming for next year.

ARod has just completed the 2nd of his three WWII seasons. How would missing these affect his development?
   31. jimd Posted: November 30, 2001 at 01:15 AM (#604366)
I remember an article in a Boston newspaper many years ago about how Williams could have broken 714 (probably written in the year or two before Aaron actually did it). It gave him credit for the time list to major injuries also, which makes it a slam dunk (but I don't believe is fair).

Imagine if Williams did play during the wars, and stayed on for 1961. Maris going after 60 in New York and Williams after 714 in Boston. What a media circus; they didn't think either was worthy of holding Ruth's bat. I bet Williams would have gotten some hate mail too.

Unfortunately, even if Williams had pushed past 714, Aaron still would have gotten a lot of racist hate mail. Only some of the postmarks would be different, I'm afraid. Boston was going through a lot of racial unrest at that time in the aftermath of a court-ordered school desegregation. Aaron's quest for Williams' record would have attracted many of the same sick diatribes. At least Williams would have been on hand to say and do the right things though.
   32. jimd Posted: November 30, 2001 at 01:16 AM (#604370)
Greg, no question that Ted helped get that started in motion. Part of it was that the time was ripe for the idea, but to have the biggest name inductee of that era endorse it was huge. The trustees may have been able to ignore it if it came from one of the veteran's committee selectees. When Ted was inducted, the HOF was about 100 white guys and Jackie Robinson. 5 years after the incident, Satchel Paige was the first of the Negro League inductees. (The BBWAA had also selected Roy Campanella in the meantime.)
   33. Kurt Posted: December 03, 2001 at 01:16 AM (#604380)
I know I'm awfully late on this, but what the hell...

(And frankly, anyone who thinks that the Pink Floyd was worth a pitcher of warm spit after Syd?not Marty?Barrett left needs to drink that pitcher of warm spit.) (from the original article)

"You know me, Don. Some of us are of the opinion that, while Barrett was talented, he dragged the band down. Besides, you can't play "See
Emily Play" forever -- give me an "Echoes" or a "Pigs (Three Different Ones)" any day." (Charles Saeger post form 11/23)

Barrett was probably dragging the band down at some point, but in my opinion the band was dragging him down. Barrett's two solo albums were brilliant; much better than early Floyd and so different from and impossible to compare to "classic" Floyd that obviously they needed to go their separate ways.

Screw MVP's; it's time to start a Syd Barrett thread.
   34. Don Malcolm Posted: December 04, 2001 at 01:16 AM (#604383)
I'm with you, Kurt. One only has to compare the Floyd's post-Barrett work to their European contemporaries (Can, Cluster, Faust) to realize how semi-inspired their contributions were to "progressive" music. Their best post-Syd work is invariably indebted to Barrett or evokes/invokes him directly.

That said, Syd was the genuine acid casualty, and his solo albums are brilliant because they document that decay in astonishing ways--ways that would not be remotely interesting were it not for the fact that the auteur had originally been in possession of one of the most sublime senses of melody in the entire pantheon of rock music. That's what separates him so definitively from the rest of the band, and it's why the first Pink Floyd LP is still rightfully referred to as the first "progressive rock" album.

To put it back into the parlance we've been using, Syd had a very short career, but an incredibly high peak...
   35. Kurt Posted: December 06, 2001 at 01:16 AM (#604416)
Not only that, but as James discussed in the Darrell Evans comment in the New Histroical Abstract, players whose careers have several "movements" tend to be underrated. If Syd had made four albums with Floyd, or four solo albums, with assorted singles, his profile would undoubtedly be higher than it is, having made two Floyd albums and two solo albums. So even his high peak was divided into two movements.

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