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Monday, September 16, 2002

Who Deserves the MVP?

Shaun doesn’t think any pitcher deserves to win the MVP award.

Webster says something is valuable if it is of great worth. From this we can say the most valuable player should be the player of the greatest worth. The greatest worth, in baseball and in any other sport, means the player who does most to help his team win. If a player does more to help his team win than any other player, and his team doesn’t win, he is still the most valuable player. We know how much a player helps his team by looking at his statistics. If a player has better statistics than any player in baseball, assuming he’s not causing turmoil in the clubhouse or isn’t an awful defensive player, that player deserves the MVP award.

It is virtually impossible for a pitcher, in this day   and age, to help his team win more than an everyday   player. Therefore, a pitcher should never win the MVP   award. In the 1880’s, when pitchers threw everyday,   sure pitchers deserved MVP consideration, but not in   the modern game. Starting pitchers get about 35 to 40   starts a year, while a position player may play over   150 games a year and contribute on offense and   defense. There’s no way the best pitcher, in this day   and age, can help his team win more than the best   position player. Well, I suppose it could happen if   every position player in the league is having an awful   year and the best pitcher is having one of the   greatest seasons ever. But that’s not going to happen   anytime soon, as long as the game is played the way it   is.

There is no way a relief pitcher will help his team   win more than an everyday position player. Therefore,   relief pitchers should never win the MVP award (at   least not in the way. It is true that relievers pitch   everyday and many pitch in key situations, but they   only contribute on defense and they usually only pitch   three innings at the most. Everyday position players   come to bat in key situations, make defensive plays in   key situations and can make it where there really are   no “key” situations in a game because they could drive   in or score six runs so the game isn’t close. Giving   the MVP to a reliever is like giving it to a really   good pinch hitter. They both only contribute on one   side (either offense for pinch-hitters and defense for   relievers) and they both are only in a game for a   short time, although it may be in a “key situation.”

Alex Rodriguez is an MVP candidate. His offensive   numbers are as good as anyone’s, his defense is as   good as anyone’s (at the toughest position in the   game), and, as far as we know, he doesn’t cause   turmoil in the clubhouse. Rodriguez does more to help   his team win more than any player in the American   League, but he probably won’t win the award because   his teammates aren’t as good as Miguel Tejada’s.

Curt Schilling is not an MVP candidate. Neither is   John Smoltz or Eric Gagne. Because Barry Bonds is   again having one of the greatest seasons in baseball   history as an everyday position player. He’s done   more to help his team win than any player in the   National League.

Tejada, Schilling, Smoltz and Gagne are great players   having great seasons. They’ve all helped their teams   win. But Tejada hasn’t helped his team more than Arod   has helped his; and Schilling, Smoltz and Gagne   definitely haven’t helped their teams more than Bonds   has helped his.


Shaun Payne Posted: September 16, 2002 at 06:00 AM | 18 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Rob Wood Posted: September 16, 2002 at 12:46 AM (#606179)
From an analysis perspective, the issue of a starting pitcher winning (i.e. deserving) an MVP is intriguing. There are basically three elements to the issue. First, starting pitchers only appear in 35 games, let's say. That leaves 127 games they do not appear in. So there is a game-unit issue. There is no way that a starting pitcher can help the team win in games which they are sunning themselves down in the bullpen. (Some small benefit probably accrues to the team when a starting pitcher pitches well, say a complete game, since the bullpen is then well-rested for subsequent games.)

Second, you can look at the number of plate appearances a starting pitcher is involved in versus a position player. Of course, each plate appearance involves a pitcher and a position player, but the position players rotate throughout a batting order. Over the course of a season, I believe that the best starting pitchers are involved in more plate appearances than any position player. And most people believe that the pitcher plays a significant role in the outcome of a plate appearance (probably more than half). So, according to this line of thinking, a starting pitcher can have more influence than any position player.

Third, position players play defense as well as hit. When their defensive values are considered, typically the best position players have more "value" than the best starting pitchers.

By the way, there is a hot topic in the air these days that relates to this last issue. Namely, the proper allocation of credit between pitchers and fielders for run prevention (i.e., turning balls in play into outs). I believe Mike Emeigh has written an article on this important topic.
   2. tangotiger Posted: September 16, 2002 at 12:46 AM (#606182)
There is no way???

If Randy Johnson faces 1000 batters, while Sammy Sosa comes to bat 700 times, and fields 300 times, aren't they all involved in 1000 plays?

Contrary to Rob Wood's assertion, the "pither's impact" on a pa basis has more to do with the batter than the pitcher, ON AVERAGE. That is, if you only knew the pitcher or you only knew the batter, on average, it's better to only know the batter.

In any case, if Randy Johnson is +8 wins over average, or +10 wins over replacement (or whatever he actually is), then he is more valuable than a hitter that is +7 wins over average, or +9 wins over replacement.

Barry Bonds and A-Rod are having 2 of the best seasons possible, hitting-wise. From that standpoint, it's hard for a pitcher to do better.
   3. Charles Saeger Posted: September 16, 2002 at 12:46 AM (#606185)
Tom, you're missing something. If Sammy Sosa is responsible for 300 balls on defense, then the Cubs pitchers are not responsible for those, unless you want to double-count them (and thus make fielding 70% more valuable than hitting).

Thus, those 1000 batters Randy Johnson faces are shared with his fielders, and he does not receive all the credit for facing them.
   4. Rob Wood Posted: September 16, 2002 at 12:46 AM (#606193)
My original post was an attempt to lay out the analytical issues that need to be addressed. I was not arguing one way or the other. I don't know what "assertion" of mine so upset Tango. Whatever it was, consider it retracted. :)

Anyway, I too have done a great deal of research into the issue of whether the identity of the pitcher or the hitter plays a greater role in the outcome of plate appearances. This is not quite as simple as first appears since it is really the conflation of two different issues. First, fixing the pitcher and hitter, who has more influence on the outcome? Second, over all plate appearances in a league-season, say, is there more variability in the abilities among hitters or pitchers (more variability implies greater information in knowing the specific identity)?

I have come to the conclusion that there is more variability in the abilities (performances) among hitters than among pitchers. The simplest explanation is that hitters also field; thus, some hitters are in the lineup due to their gloves. Thus, it appears that the identity of the batter is more important than the identity of the pitcher.

However, I have also concluded that the pitcher has more influence on the outcome of any specific plate appearance than does the batter. I have not yet written up my research, but my preliminary conclusion is that the split is roughly 60% pitcher and 40% hitter.
   5. tangotiger Posted: September 16, 2002 at 12:46 AM (#606203)
Nate: yes, I meant pitcher specifically. Pitching+fielding and hitting are split 50/50.

Rob: you had said "And most people believe that the pitcher plays a significant role in the outcome of a plate appearance (probably more than half). ". It is this statement that I was speaking against.

Charles: yes, I agreee. What I meant was that Randy was involved in 1000 plays. Assuming that 350 of those are K,BB,HR, that leaves 650 plays of which he is partly involved in. So, in effect, he is involved in 700 plays. Sammy would be involved in 850 plays. So, would you rather have a .750 player for 700 plays or a .650 player for 850 plays? It was the "There is no way" statement that I was going against. Probably of the top 30 players, only 6 or 7 would be pitchers, but that would be because of this "pa limitation". It is still very possible that a great pitcher could be better than a great hitter, alot more often than "in no way". But, hitters do have the advantage.

Rob: 60/40? I'd like to see it, because the very little that I did on the subect does not show this at all (in fact, the reverse).

   6. bob mong Posted: September 16, 2002 at 12:46 AM (#606206)
Doesn't some consideration, however small, have to be given to the fact that pitchers also play defense when they are on the field?
   7. Rob Wood Posted: September 16, 2002 at 12:46 AM (#606208)
Argh. I should have said that my preliminary conclusion is that the split between pitching+fielding vs hitting in determining the outcome of a plate appearance is about 60/40. ("+fielding" was omitted)

I have NOT looked at a lot of data, just a sprinkling. If anyone else has systematically looked at this issue, I'd be happy to defer to them.
   8. Mike Emeigh Posted: September 16, 2002 at 12:46 AM (#606210)
However, I have also concluded that the pitcher has more influence on the outcome of any specific plate appearance than does the batter. I have not yet written up my research, but my preliminary conclusion is that the split is roughly 60% pitcher and 40% hitter.

If this is true, it is in large part because the pitcher has a great deal of control over whether or not the hitter strikes out, and quite a bit of control over whether or not he walks or hits a home run, and those three events make up about 1/4 to 1/3 of all plate appearances (in today's game, at any rate).

A SABR friend of mine - not Tom Tippett or Tom Ruane - helps design baseball simulations. He once made a comment that you can construct a good baseball simulation without considering the identity of the pitchers at all, but you can't do it without the hitters.

-- MWE
   9. Rob Wood Posted: September 16, 2002 at 12:47 AM (#606228)
Please see my post above that describes the two factors that too often get conflated into one. I think it is worthwhile to keep these two factors (issues) separate.

I have posted my research findings on the second issue at the Hall of Merit weblog, Distribution List Test thread, posted 8:33 pm August 1, 2002. The upshot is that the importance split between the identity of the batter vs the identity of the pitcher in influencing the outcome of the plate appearance has been remarkably steady at around 70/30 throughout baseball history.

Just to repeat though. This is not necessarily saying that the outcome of *each plate appearance* is influenced 70% by the batter and 30% by the pitcher (+fielders).
   10. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: September 17, 2002 at 12:48 AM (#606285)
First, if you don't think pitchers deserve the MVP under any circumstances, then just re-write the rules so that they are ineligible. The way it is now, there's a clear bias against them, but no formal disqualification. It's a little analogous to all those "most valuable" vs "best player" arguments: Lots of writers / MVP voters clearly disqualify any player from a non-contending team, which distorts the vote significantly. They should just write it into the guidelines that an ARod can't be considered unless he plays for a contender, OR they should just can that crap and vote for the best player.

But I do think pitchers can on occasion be true MVPs. Take the NL in 1972, my all-time favorite example. Steve Carlton went 27-10 (with the 2nd lowest ERA in the league) for a Phillies team that went 30-87 without him. Do the math and check the record books: Without him, the Phillies were the equivalent of the 1962 Mets. With him, they played better than the 1927 Yankees (and remember, he didn't get to pitch against his own team---the 1927 Yankees went 21-1 against the last place Browns).

I think Carlton finished something like sixth that year in the MVP voting. To me, that was the most ridiculous result I've ever seen, with the possible exception of Hank Sauer over Robin Roberts in 1952. Those Phillies pitchers just don't get no respect.
   11. Marc Posted: September 18, 2002 at 12:48 AM (#606331)
My initial bias was, why shouldn't pitchers be considered as MVP candidates? Having now read through the initial post and discussion, I would say, why shouldn't pitchers be considered as MVP candidates.

If Randy Johnson faces 1000 batters and Sammy Sosa goes to the plate 700 times, (and both play the field) that says it all. You can split up the relative importance of hitting, pitching and fielding any way you want, but that is hair splitting.

Clearly the starting pitcher has a much greater impact on the games that he starts--let's just say 4-5X, just for the sake of argument--then that's another way of saying they each have the opportunity for approximately the same impact, at least they're in the same "ballpark."

So then it comes down to who was more effective? The past few years there is usually a batter who was more effective than the best pitchers. But certainly Steve Carlton, Denny McLain and Bob Gibson come to mind as pitchers who were deserving, and a pitcher having that kind of season in the absence of a really killer season by a position player could and should win it all.

Baseball Weekly has an MVP poll of its own staff writers ongoing. In the most recent, if I recall correctly, Curt Schilling was in the second ten and Randy Johnson had NO VOTES. Not one. This is nuts.
   12. Marc Posted: September 18, 2002 at 12:48 AM (#606333)
PS. Dat, is it not fair to point out that if the A's had ARod at SS they'd be better yet? The problem many of us have with the logic of MVP voting in recent years is that it relies so heavily on what is accidental.
   13. Marc Posted: September 20, 2002 at 12:49 AM (#606367)
Bravo, Brad. Indeed, if Tejada and Soriano are not being pitched to, they might each have a few BB. I don't see them. In Soriano's defense I will at least say that when he swings the bat something happens. Yes, I know all about Tejada's two big hits. But for the season, (I haven't checked in the last few days but I am guessing that) Soriano has about 25 more XBH than Tejada and ARod about 17-18 more. You've got to make a truly massive "clutch" argument to make up for 25 XBH.
   14. Marc Posted: September 23, 2002 at 12:49 AM (#606393)
Interesting observation.

>But you know what? It is ARod's fault that he isnt on a good team. He decided to go to a bad team, and take up a 1/4 of their payroll. It was the choice and chance he made and took. Whether it is fair or not, he could have stayed with the Mariners for less money and he would have 2 MVP's award by the end of this season!

True, but how relevant to MVP discussion? I would say not, but the voters will say yes.

We recently had a controversy here in Minnesota because Kevin Garnett, he of the $23 mil/year salary, said he was NOT overpaid, he was underpaid because "I have to do everything for this team." A fan wrote a great letter into the local paper and said, basically, earth to Kevin: "You have to do everything for this team BECAUSE you ARE overpaid."
   15. Marc Posted: September 23, 2002 at 12:50 AM (#606395)
At a minimum, Ed, the debate ought to be between ARod and Soriano, not between ARod and Tejada. You're certainly right in that respect, but despite the spectacular season Soriano is having, it's not obvious that he's better than ARod, whose offensive numbers are also off the charts. And add to that his defense is clearly better than Alfonso's. But while there really shouldn't be any debate between ARod and Tejada, there certainly can be a good debate between ARod and Soriano.

And if Soriano splits votes with Giambi, the writers who prefer Giambi ought to be held over for a urine test. Giambi is not having the year (and neither is G. Anderson) among the more traditional "sluggers" (ie. guys who play the corner positions) that Magglio Ordonez is having. Ordonez for most underrated.
   16. Marc Posted: September 24, 2002 at 12:50 AM (#606402)
I didn't say Garret Anderson wasn't having a good year (or Giambi or Ordonez) but that given the run environment, etc. etc., none of the "sluggers"--well, everybody's a slugger, I mean guys at the corner positions--is having a "great" year (in the AL).

It's a pretty sad situation when the first thing you do on with your MVP ballot is decide which teams are allowed to have guys in the running. Like I said, in the AL, the only teams eligible to have an MVP appear to be Oak-Ana-Min. Everybody else is either too bad or too good. What a stupid argument.

Thank god the Gints are in the race. After the knots the writers tied themselves into to deny Mac in '98 (Cards not good enough to have an MVP) or Belle in '94 (Indians too good, would have won it without him), would they deny Barry if the Gints were below .500? I guess they would.
   17. Marc Posted: September 26, 2002 at 12:50 AM (#606433)
Thanks, M_Dude, for your support of my Twin(kie)s. Your Tribe sure kicked the s**t out of us the past 6-8 years. I, too, have high hopes for the Twins in the play-offs, though frankly the thought of facing the A's lefties Mulder and Zito scares the h**l out of me. The Twins have not done well vs. lefties. Mulder and Zito threw back-to-back shutouts of the Twins the last time the A's were at the MetroDome. Yes, back-to-back shutouts of the Twins at the Dome. Ouch.

As to Torii (two eyes) Hunter, I have to tell you his offense has fallen off dramatically the past month. He has dropped from about .310 to about .285 in about a month. 'Course the whole team has dropped off, offense, starting pitching, bullpen, the whole deal, and if Torii is the Twins' MVP (and he is that) then he's the guy who shoulda picked 'em up the last month. I'm afraid he has fallen on my MVP ballot, all the way to 7-8 in fact, and remember, I'm a Twins fan.

Here's an MVP idea nobody has thought of. Billy Koch. He has caught up to Steady Eddie Guardado in saves, he also has 10 wins (how did that happen), but a low ERA and also leads the league in appearances. I can't imagine he won 10 games by blowing 10 leads, with that ERA. Howe is throwing him into a lot of tie games, I would guess. He is having more impact than Guardado, to be sure, but also Smoltz or Gagne, though he doesn't get the ink. He seems to have Joe Rudi's disease. Overshadowed by Tejada I guess.

And I would go with Billy the Beane for exec of the year. Maybe Gardy for manager, 'cuz he hasn't had the starting pitching Howe has had.
   18. Marc Posted: September 30, 2002 at 12:51 AM (#606497)
Now that the season is over, let the record show that the MVPs are (should be) ARod and BB. The C's will have to wait til next year.

Is somebody going to conduct an MVP ballot here at

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