By In Baseball

Four Points of Award Voting

When I was a kid, I loved the annual awards column that would run in the local newspaper. It does not really matter WHICH local paper I’m talking about now because some version of that column ran in every newspaper in the United States. The columns always picked the writers’ baseball award winners and, along the way, made more or less same four basic points:

1.  “Most valuable “means something other than “best.”
2. The best pitchers win the most games.
3. The best managers had lousy teams last year.
4. Always remember this about good players on bad teams: “We could have finishes last without ya.”

Let me say up front: I firmly and vehemently disagree with all four points. But, I will admit, over the years hundreds of columns with those points had a sort of numbing effect on the senses. And they are still kicking around in the brain, begging to be heard. Hey, what about Max Scherzer’s won-loss record? Hey, you know Andrew McCutchen’s Pirates made the playoffs while Carlos Gomez’s Brewers did not, right? Um, don’t forget that Clayton Kershaw only won 16 games. And so on.

This year, I have an actual American League MVP vote and the Baseball Writers Association of America asks us not to reveal our vote before the announcement in November. So, I’ll skip over that one while going through those four points of award voting.

Point 1 I disagree with: “Most valuable” means something other than “best.”
No, actually, I think “most valuable” and “best” are just about perfect baseball synonyms. The most valuable player is the best player. The best player is the most valuable one. Sure, I have read countless times about “valuable” being a magical word imbued with intangibles and leadership qualities and heart and grit and all sorts of other things that “best” simply does not cover. I believed them too. Heck, in my early days as a columnist, I probably even wrote some of those columns. I don’t buy it now.

Funny thing, even four or five years ago, I got into a mild argument with Bill James about what “valuable” really means. Bill had used a poker analogy — his point was that in basic Texas hold ‘em poker the ace of spades is ALWAYS more valuable than the seven of diamonds. Always. The seven never wins when matched up with the ace. Two sevens loses to two aces. An ace-high straight or flush always beats a seven-high straight or flush. If you and someone else have the same two pair, a fifth card ace beats a fifth-card seven every single time.

Bill was making the point that we know — absolutely know — that an ace is more valuable than a seven. And yet sometimes, because of the arrangement of the cards, a seven of diamonds may SEEM more valuable than an ace of spades. Let’s say the seven of diamonds comes in as the last card and it completes a winning straight or finishes a victorious flush. That’s a huge moment. The winner celebrates. The loser complains to bored spectators for the rest of his or her life. And you would think the seven was the most valuable card in the deck.

But Bill’s point was that the ace of spades is still more valuable than the seven. It just happened to be in a losing hand.
Well, back then I mostly agreed with Bill, but a small part of me could not escape the hypnotic powers of ALL THOSE COLUMNS telling me that valuable was something other than best. I said, OK, the overall point is true, but could you not argue that for THAT ONE HAND the seven of diamonds is more valuable than the ace? After all, the ace would not have finished the straight or the flush. So the seven, in that one hand, is more valuable.

And he responded with something that still makes sense to me: If the seven completes a straight or a flush then it is no more valuable than any other card in that hand. It’s only an illusion of timing — the seven of diamonds coming as the last card — that makes it seem more valuable. And no matter how you dress it up or how many good cards you put around it, the seven of diamonds still ain’t an ace of spades.

Point 2 I disagree with: The best pitchers win the most games.

With pal Brian Kenny walking the country like Johnny Killdawin, I don’t really need to get into this one much. But I’ve been looking for a good analogy to describe how silly it is to judge pitchers by their win-loss record. James had a pretty good one — he said it was like watching the first 30 minutes of a movie and then writing your review about it. I heard an even better one the other day — I”m not even sure where I heard it.

Judging a pitcher by his win-loss record is like appraising a person’s net worth by counting how much money they happen to have on them at the time.

I like that. How much money a person happens to be carrying at any time is not exactly meaningless when trying to determine their value. But it always tells an incomplete story, sometimes tells a false story, and it really doesn’t make a lot of sense.

In my mind, Clayton Kershaw, pretty clearly, was the best pitcher in the National League again this year. He once again led the league in strikeouts and ERA. He led the league in WHIP for the third straight season. The league hit .195 against him. He pitches half his games in a pitcher’s paradise, and sure, he had a 1.54 ERA at Dodger Stadium along with a 128-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio. But his 2.14 road ERA was plenty good too. He was the best pitcher in the NL.

It’s also true that Matt Harvey got hurt — if Harvey had stayed healthy and pitched the same way for the rest of the season, the Cy Young would have been a very hard call.

I can’t help but feel a bit of disappointment for St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright. Again, this comes back to my inability to let go of what people said again and again in my childhood. Adam Wainwright led the league in wins again this year, second time. He’s won 20 another time. But he can’t get a Cy Young award, and I’m pretty sure he won’t get it over Kershaw this year. That’s kind of a bummer for him. Wrong time. If he had pitched like this in the 1970s, he’d have two or three Cy Young Awards by now. And he’s a great guy, he has a terrific comeback story — I wouldn’t vote him Cy Young, but I do feel he’s worth a paragraph here.*

*For those looking for a sabermetric reason to vote for Wainwright, xFIP could be your friend. xFIP can be a little bit tough to explain. FIP, you might know, stands for Fielding Independent Ptiching, and it measures a pitcher based on the three things we KNOW a pitcher can control: Strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed.

But xFIP goes one step further. Some believe that even home runs are at least somewhat out of a pitcher’s control — that there’s luck involved and so on. So, xFIP estimates, based on a pitcher’s quality, how many home runs he SHOULD have allowed. Like I say, it’s controversial … I’ve heard some people complete dismiss it and others embrace it. Anyway, Wainwright did have a better xFIP than Kershaw.

In the American League, I expect Max Scherzer will win because of his 21-3 record. I would vote for Scherzer too, though not because of the record. I think, in a very close race, he was the best pitcher. He led the league in WHIP, was third in FIP, second in HIP (hits per inning pitched), second in SIP (strikeouts per inning pitched), he took no lip, he left a good tip, all those good ip things. He also was fifth in the league in ERA, and a strong case could be made for those ahead of him, particularly Seattle’s Hisashi Iwakuma.

But when you throw everything in there — Scherzer struck out more batters and gave up fewer home runs than Iwakuma — I’d give Max the nod. He would make the third straight Tigers’ pitcher I would have voted for — I actually did vote for Justin Verlander in 2011 and 2012.

* * *

Point 3 I disagree with: The best managers had lousy teams last year.

Look, I get it: if you’re going to have a Manager of the Year award, you need SOME criteria. And picking the manager whose team most clearly over-performs our expectations is as good as any, I suppose. Still, the BBWAA has been giving out manager of the year awards since 1983 and any look at that list makes you shake your head. Here are two charts that demonstrate it pretty well.

Here are your American League managers of the year from 1999-2007:
1999: Jimy Williams, Boston
2000: Jerry Manuel, White Sox
2001: Lou Piniella, Mariners
2002: Mike Scioscia, Angels
2003: Tony Pena, Royals
2004: Buck Showalter, Rangers
2005: Ozzie Guillen, White Sox
2006: Jim Leyland, Tigers
2007: Eric Wedge, Indians

OK, here’s an abridged list of American League managers who DID NOT win the award from 1999-2007:
— Joe Torre, Yankees
— Terry Francona, Red Sox

So … there it is. It’s funny that Terry Francona will probably win the Manager of the Year Award for the first time, and it will be for the Cleveland Indians. I’m guessing Clint Hurdle will win it for Pittsburgh in the National League. I’m sure Boston’s John Farrell and Los Angeles’ Don Mattingly will get some support too. Even Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who guided the Yankees to their worst record in 21 years despite having a $236 million payroll, will get some votes. It’s a weird award.

Who would I vote for? Like I say, I don’t know that I have a better idea. I tend to think Joe Maddon is the best manager in baseball. People don’t go to their games, there isn’t much money to go around, they play in a dismal park, their talent shifts quite a bit … and they’ve won 90 games five of the last six years and 86 games the other season. I think he knows how to manage talent, how to run a bullpen, how to keep players focused and interested throughout a season, how to come out of bad spells, how to stay grounded through good ones. I’d like to play for that guy.

* * *

Point 4 I disagree with: “We could have finished last without ya.”

That is one of the most famous baseball quotes — it is supposedly what Branch Rickey told Ralph Kiner after the 1950 season, when Kiner went in for his contract discussion. Kiner had led the National League in homers for the fifth straight season with 47. He had scored 112 runs, driven in 118, posted a .408 on-base percentage and slugged .590. He even finished fifth in the MVP balloting.

The quote is both colorful and, in its own limited way, true. The Pirates did finish last. And you can’t finish lower than last. Trouble is, when you dig just a little bit deeper into the quote, you realize just how absurd and infuriating it is. At that negotiating table, which of the two men was MORE responsible for the Pirates finishing last, Ralph Kiner who led the league in homers, or Branch Rickey who put together that obscenely bad team? I think Kiner’s response should have been: “We could have finished FIRST without YOU!”

When looking at the National League MVP race, I think the best two everyday players were Andrew McCutchen and Carlos Gomez. There are others — Paul Goldschmidt, Matt Carpenter, Joey Votto, Yadi Molina — who had terrific, MVP type seasons. But let’s focus on the two: McCutchen and Gomez. The first played for a winning Pirates team. The second played for the 88-loss Brewers’ team. That might prove decisive in the voting.

But, I think that’s ridiculous. Andrew McCutchen played on a Pirates team that was third in the NL in ERA. Carlos Gomez played on a Brewers team that was ninth in the NL in ERA. That’s beyond the scope of either player — heck, if anything, Gomez played better defense. Gomez is a defensive genius. Using their team performances isn’t just unfair, it’s unreasonable.

In the end, my MVP is McCutchen, but it has nothing to do with the team’s records. The comparison with Gomez is surprisingly close. Gomez has more triples, homers, stolen bases, almost exactly the same slugging percentage and is a phenomenal center fielder. McCutchen has more singles, doubles, walks and is a very good center fielder. The key for me is on-base percentage. McCutchen has a fantastic .404 OBP; Gomes’s OBP of .338 is only 20 or so points above league average. The combination of McCutchen’s plate discipline and higher batting average, for me, puts him just over the top for me.

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97 Responses to Four Points of Award Voting

  1. Tom says:

    I don’t quite understand the fixation on strikeouts in evaluating pitchers. The entire purpose of a pitcher is to get outs. Why does it matter how he gets them? Why devalue a pitcher who excels at getting hitters to hit ground balls to the infield? Of course that opens up room for errors but it also opens up room for double plays. The Cardinals the other night brought in Maness precisely because he is good at getting infield ground balls. He got one, double play, inning and scoring threat over. Wasn’t that more valuable than getting a strikeout which would still leave one out to get? If strikeouts were that important wouldn’t Nolan Ryan be the greatest pitcher ever, which he clearly is not?

    • Unknown says:

      Nolan Ryan also walked a _ton_ of batters, which is one of the only outcomes the pitcher can actually control, in addition to (maybe) home runs, as Joe points out.

      The theory (with which I’m not sure I completely agree) is that a pitcher can’t _really_ control what happens when a ball is put in play–whether it will find a hole or a gap, or a defender’s glove. We talk about certain pitchers being good at getting ground balls or fly balls, and there may be something to _that_, but whether the pitcher can actually control whether those ground balls or fly balls become outs is supposedly an illusion.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Yeah, if FIP is accurate, Tom Glavine’s career was an illusion. He didn’t strike out a lot, walked more than his share, gave up plenty of hits, but not so many runs. So, that was lucky? He did have pretty good defense, but not great defense. Andruw Jones was awesome before he got fat. Furcal covered a lot of ground, but made errors. Chipper was never a great defender. The firstbase position was a revolving door. So, I get the premise, and like a lot of stats, it tells you something…. just not everything.

    • Jovins says:

      FIP is widely acknowledged to have some weak points. There are certain pitchers who are able to induce weak contact consistently. The problem is that it takes so many innings to separate those guys from the guys who are just getting lucky that it’s more reliable to just say that everyone is probably just getting lucky, especially in the short term. Over a career, it’s probably more reliable to look at the total runs allowed.

    • If we’re evaluating a pitcher’s performance, strikeouts are exclusively a product of what that pitcher himself did in that at-bat, plus they leave nothing up to chance. Without having actual numbers in front of me, I’d estimate that ground balls find holes and get past fielders ~30% of the time. Add in errors and the possibility of baserunners advancing, a ground ball has maybe a 60-65% chance of being converted into a harmless out. If you want to say that the potential for a double play mitigates that slightly, I wouldn’t disagree, but a strikeout does its job every time. You’d prefer a grounder to any other type of batted ball, certainly, which is why ground ball-inducing pitchers will always have value, but both for evaluating past performance and projecting for the future, a higher strikeout rate is going to be a better indicator of success at generating outs and preventing runs.

    • JRoth says:

      AVG on GB is more like .180; if you have a good defense, it’s below .150 (doing this from memory, so those are approximate). The main reason the Pirates had some of the best run prevention in all of baseball is getting all of their pitchers to up their GB% (team GB% is 52.5; next highest is 48.5%), and shifting their IF extremely effectively (defensive runs saved of 69, 3rd best in MLB and, if anything, DRS underappreciates shifts).

      So Tom isn’t wrong, but the key is that, unless your pitcher is the rare Glavine, he needs a good/well-positioned defense behind him to turn enough of those GBs into outs. Jeanmar Gomez was a scrub as an Indian last year, but he was playing in front of a terrible defense. This year, he significantly UPPED his GB%, but thanks to good D, he had a career year in a swingman role. But if he goes elsewhere, he may turn into a pumpkin, because his stuff will never play with a poor D.

    • schuyler101 says:

      Ben and JRoth said it better than I could…well done…

    • Mark Daniel says:

      JRoth, in the AL this year, here are the averages on balls in play (from B-R):
      Ground ball – .240
      Fly ball – .182
      Line drive – .674
      Bunts – .391
      babip overall – .297

      I think there’s a stat that takes GB%, FB% and LD% into account. Maybe. SIERA on Fangraphs?

    • Which Hunt says:

      Is there a slugging or slg+ba version of babip? Flyballs would be more likely to be homeruns than groundballs would, obviously. I’d be interested in the comparative advantage of being a groundball vs flyball pitcher. Even with that .240 BA vs the .182 if 10% (or whatever) of flyballs are HRs, then that would probably close the gap or better value-wise between the groundball guy and the flyball guy.

    • Which Hunt says:

      I know there is nobody on this thread anymore, but slabip sounds amazing!

    • There’s no slg+ba version of babip because the run value of a ground ball is virtually equal to the run value of a fly ball. In the grand scheme, a ground ball and a fly ball in play is equal. (If you include home runs, of course, then fly balls win.) But this is why FIP doesn’t account for grounders or flies in play – it’s a wash.

      That’s not to say it’s useless, though. You want a ground ball pitcher on a team with good infield defense and a fly ball pitcher in a big park. But it doesn’t make a difference across the whole league, over the whole season.

  2. MVP and best simply do not mean the same thing. The Cy Young is for the best pitcher. The MVP is for the most valuable player. While a player on a losing team certainly can be MVP, that is a black mark on that player’s record. The point is to win games. While the Angels certainly won more games this year because they had Mike Trout, that value is diminished because the Angels were so bad. A lot of that is beyond Trout’s control, and certainly the play of the rest of the team does not diminish his contribution, it does diminish that contribution’s value.

    If Trout plays for the Astros is he MVP? If Miguel Cabrera’s performance is slightly below Trout’s, but he helps push the Tigers into the playoffs, isn’t that more valuable? What Joe wants is a Cy Young for position players. He doesn’t have that. He has the MVP award.

    • Brian says:

      But how do you determine that Cabrera is the most deserving? The Tigers only finished a game ahead of Cleveland and were three games away from going home entirely. According to your logic, that MVP could go to any player on that team who was worth that three game difference. That list includes Cabrera, Fielder, Jackson, Peralta, Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez, Fister. How can you pick Cabrera over any of them when they were all the difference maker?

      On the other end, what about a team that so thoroughly dominates its division that it wins by 25 games? According to your logic, that team could never have an MVP because no one player is the difference maker, their contribution is diminished by the team’s domination.

      Your argument ends up putting you in a position of saying the MVP is the best player among teams that just barely made the playoffs. Your arguing for best player, just in an oddly limited fashion.

    • Ben says:

      Except the award isn’t called “The Most Valuable To His Team Award” it’s just “Most Valuable Player”.

      Person A desperately needs a car to get into town for a potential job. He manages to borrow a beat up old run-around with 100,000 miles on the clock and covered in rust. There is cardboard in the windows. BUT it will allow him to get to that job interview.

      Person B is a billionaire. He has 18 cars. One of them is the Batmobile. It can fly, it can shoot rockets, has an invisibility button, has an original Van Gogh in the trunk and always smells of freshly cut grass and baking cookies. He is currently in his swimming pool, has never driven the car, has a driver anyway and, though his servants keep it in perfect shape, he has largely forgotten about it.

      Person A’s car is CLEARLY more valuable TO HIM.

      But are you seriously suggesting that his car is objectively more valuable?

    • Wilbur says:

      Mr. Injuries, respectfully, do you really believe that when the MVP award was instituted, it was NOT intended to identify and honor the best player in the league that year? Had they chosen to label the award “Player of the Year”, would you then vote differently?

      Like Joe, I’ve read columnists and heard talk show hosts engage in the semantical gymnastics necessary to justify an MVP vote for less than the best player. Phil Rogers of the Tribune Syndicate just did this over the weekend, in explaining his vote for Cabrera over the admittedly-better Trout. If you’ve read Rogers over the years, it would not surprise you.

    • AndyC_daddy says:


      I completely get your point but, it occurs to me that, using the same analogy, an even better point can be made on the other side of the argument, if the analogy is turned on its head and the driver is the player and the car is the team (doesn’t that make more sense anyway?).

      Meaning, what if there is a car race and one wants to vote for the “Most Valuable Driver”? The car which is a bucket of bolts represents the last place ballclub that happens to have the best driver in the world, hands down. However, since he is driving a junker (or on a last place team), he comes in dead last in the race while the expensive Batmobile (the Dodgers or Red Sox this year as the Yankees didn’t have much of its payroll on the field in 2013) comes in first with a very, very good, but not world beating driver. Is the driver of the horrible car not the most valuable driver (independent of results)? Is the driver of the Batmobile the most valuable because he is lucky enough to have the best car, by far? Or, to fold in Brian’s on the money, insightful point, if there is a driver who is just a shade worse than, but very nearly as good as, the driver of the junker, but whose very, very good car places in the top three, just ahead of the pack, is he really more valuable than the car he drives and the brilliant driver of the worst car?

      Come to think of it, this analogy also works to clarify the Manager of the Year debate as “a rising tide lifts all boats (read: Yankees and Red Sox and their uplifted managers, Torre and Francona)” while the truly great manager’s performance is much more clearly due to his own contribution than that of the team he is fortunate enough to be managing (read: amongst others, Tony Pena and the hapless Royals, and Joe Girardi and the lowly Marlins the year he should have won and maybe even Girardi this year given the 56 players he had to field this season).

    • Mike says:

      I have $4. You have $10. Someone comes along and gives me a $10 bill. He gives you a $5 dollar bill.

      After this exchange, you have $15, I have $14. You, of course, have more. You “finish richer” than I do.

      Does that mean the $5 bill — the “winning bill” — is more valuable than the $10?

    • invitro says:

      Mike: I like that one better than the poker one.

    • John Gale says:

      @Brian, See, here’s the thing. For the moment, let’s put all skepticism about WAR aside (which I’m loath to do, but I will for this exercise) and take it at face value. So Trout was worth nine wins and Cabrera was worth seven. Ok, fine. Well, as you said yourself, the Tigers only finished three games ahead of not making the playoffs at all…and Cabrera was worth seven wins. So there you go (your claim that any three-win player could be the MVP under this line of thinking is a straw man that is not worth taking seriously–obviously, if the voters want to pick a player on a team that actually played for something, they should try to pick the best player in that particular pool). The Angels would have missed the playoffs whether Trout was on the team or not. They would have been bad instead of just mediocre. So while he may be more valuable in a vacuum (again, assuming that WAR is totally accurate), whatever value he’s providing is largely wasted. I’m not saying that’s his fault. Life isn’t fair. Take it up with Angels management. And I think Joe is being a bit disingenuous with his Ralph Kiner story, since a contract negotiation is a lot different than an MVP vote. Look, if the MVP is supposed to go to the best player on paper (the actual instructions say that it’s the “most valuable player to his team”), then the instructions should be amended to reflect that or the award should be changed to Most Outstanding Player. Until then, it’s perfect acceptable to consider other factors, including team success, when voting. You or Joe or anyone else don’t have to like it. But it is what it is, and I don’t think it’s changing any time soon.

    • Lewan says:


      Yeah, but if you switched Trout for Cabrera, then, using your 9 wins and 7 wins analogy, The Tigers would have finished with two more wins, and the Angels with two fewer. So Detroit would have had a 5 game cushion instead of 3, and the Angels still would have been out of the playoffs.

      Why are you giving Cabrera credit for what Verlander and Scherzer and Fielder and Austin Jackson did?

    • @John Gale. Thank you for making my point more clearly than I did. In a vacuum, Trout might be the best player, and might have had the best season, but his impact on the Angels was meaningless. Cabrera (or Josh Donaldson of the A’s, for that matter), had much larger impacts on their teams’ success this season. The award is “most valuable,” not “most outstanding.” Hence, other factors come into play when deciding who to vote for. For the record, I would have picked Trout last season as MVP, but not this year.

    • Evan says:

      @Sports injuries

      Except there is no “in a vacuum”. Trout’s numbers were produced in real ballparks under real weather conditions, with real health, real rest, real practice and against real opponents throwing real baseballs at him. At the end of a real season, he was better than Cabrera. This is the result of an experiment that was run in the real world. To say that Cabrera is somehow more valuable once you throw in context is meaningless.

    • Brian says:

      The Trout/Cabrera and really all MVP debates seem to boil down to narrative and the exact nature of the award (best vs value), so I’d just like to make one last point.

      The Cy Young is not called The Best Pitcher Award, but we all agree it goes to the best pitcher.
      The Manager of the Year Award is not The Best Manager Award.
      The Rookie of the Year is not The Best Rookie Award.
      The Gold Gloves are not called the Best Defensive Player at Each Position Award.
      The Silver Sluggers are not called the Best Offensive Player at Each Position Award.

      Every postseason award is specifically designed to go to the best in some category and it’s understood, despite the name. Why should MVP be any different? Sure it’s not called The Best Player Award, but nothing else is either.

    • Injuries wrote: “A lot of that is beyond Trout’s control, and certainly the play of the rest of the team does not diminish his contribution, it does diminish that contribution’s value.”

      I’m interested, then – where would Trout go on your MVP ballot? Second? Tenth? Nowhere? Because it sounds to me like you think that only players who “help push the [team] into the playoffs” are worthy.

      So… my guess is that your AL MVP ballot looks something like this: Cabrera, Donaldson, Scherzer, Sanchez, Longoria, Ellsbury, Victorino, Zobrist, Beltre, Verlander. Right? Because, using WAR but deviating where it looked too close, that’s the list of the most valuable players whose team would be in danger of losing the division/wild card if that player were absent.

      That means that Pedroia is excluded NOT because he’s not one of the ten best, but because the Sox probably make the playoffs without him. So, not an MVP. Trout, Cano, Davis, and Felix are all disqualified because their teams miss the playoffs with or without him.

      But here’s the thing. Trout is your second or third choice, isn’t he? Davis is somewhere in your top five, right? And Cano isn’t far behind? I’m right, aren’t I? I don’t even have to ask – I know I am.

      Here’s my point: I don’t think it matters much whether someone sets the definition of ‘valuable’ to mean ‘put their team into the playoffs’. There’s a logic to it, even if I disagree. And if you follow that logic, you’re demonstrating integrity. That’s really the most that anyone can ask – that you do what you say you’re doing.

      But my problem with this definition of valuable=playoffs is that no one ACTUALLY adheres to it. They use it justify Cabrera as number one… and then they immediately ignore it and put Trout second. It’s totally contradictory, and their results put the lie to their claim.

      And that’s why I roll my eyes every time someone says valuable=playoffs and their number two comes from a non-playoff team.

  3. Matt says:

    I think the poker analogy is a dangerous one, for the reasons you describe in your last paragraph Joe. It’s a retrospective question vs. a prospective debate. If you’re choosing which player you want on your team next year, you’d be foolish to take the ace of spades over the seven of diamonds. But if you go back and look through a night of poker, you might find that the seven of diamonds won a few big pots–more than the ace of spades, in fact. So, on that poker night, the seven of diamonds really was more valuable than the ace of spades.

    The MVP award is a retrospective award: who was more valuable THIS PAST year? So even though I’d personally prefer to choose the player with a higher WAR over one with more RBI, I don’t see how the poker analogy makes that case.

    • AndyC_daddy says:


      While I am sure that you inverted the ace and the seven in your second sentence (look again and it will jump out at you), let me humbly restate Bill James’ poker argument as paraphrased by Joe.

      To wit, the poker argument is that the ace is always fundamentally more valuable than the seven regardless of the way in which they are played and/or the order in which they are played as the appearance of the key card (what my grandmother used to call “the elbow card” in gin rummy) is key only because its importance is inflated by the happenstance of its appearance, an illusion over objective reality as the first four cards are just as valuable as the last one.

    • Matt says:

      Whoops, thanks for pointing out my inversion Andy. I wish I could edit…

      Regardless, it’s got nothing to do with which card came first. If you happened to have a seven in your hand when there was 3-4-5-6 on the table, and then you were holding the seven again when there were a pair of sevens showing, it doesn’t matter whether they came on the flop or the river. There’s no illusion: *on that night*, the sevens were more valuable than the aces were. It’s an objective fact.

      By analogy, in any particular season, Player A with 5 WAR could be more valuable than Player B with 6 WAR. Maybe they got a few more hits with RISP; maybe they stole a few key bases and scored when they might not have otherwise. I’d take Player B in 2014, but in 2013 it’s possible that Player A was more valuable.

      So many of these advanced statistics go to great pains to neutralize context. For some retrospective studies that’s fine. Park factor, for instance: a run in Dodger Stadium is much more valuable than a run in GABP. But I happen to think that, when looking back on a season, it’s quite appropriate to introduce SOME context when asking who was the most valuable player.

    • Matt, let’s play poker, then. Texas Hold Em. But every time you have an ace dealt to you, you have to trade it for a 7. Sound good to you?

    • Ian R. says:

      The problem with the poker analogy is that individual cards have little if any independent value in poker. The ace of spades is a great card, sure, but it has to be combined with certain other cards to make a winning hand. Mike Trout is a 10-win player no matter where he plays.

    • Matt says:


      I’m not making the argument that a 7 is always more valuable. But every time there’s a 7 on the table, or a 7 completes a hand, I’ll make that trade. You wouldn’t, because the ace is always more valuable, right?

    • Matt, you have hit it on the head. Context is very important. WAR can tell you who is a better overall player, but it does not put that player in context. In context this season, Cabrera was huge, Trout had a great season, but it really didn’t matter for the Angels. Last season, Trout’s performance helped keep the Angels in contention and I would have voted him MVP in 2012.

    • me says:

      What Bill James is saying is in this scenario, the 7 is no more valuable than the 3.

      7 doesn’t complete the hand. All 5 cards together do. 3,4,5,6 are just as valuable as 7. Take away any of those other numbers, and the 7 is worthless. One could make the case that 3, 4, 5, and 6 should also get the MVP.

    • Matt says:

      But an ace doesn’t complete a hand either. Without context, no card completes a hand. That’s my point: context matters. Results matter.

      True, there are many more contexts where an ace is better than a seven. But in that hand, those four other numbers *did* come out. They came out when you were holding the seven. You can’t just take them away, they *existed*. If you had been holding a 3, 4, 5, 6 or ace in your hand, all you’re left with is an empty pocket. Within that context, a 7 was literally the most valuable card at the table.

      I understand what Bill is trying to say, my point is that it’s a bad analogy for making his point. It’s not the “Likely to be the Most Valuable Player Next Season” award–that’s probably the ace. It’s the “2013 Most Valuable Player”, and any measure that ignores *actual* runs created in 2013 falls short of a full measure.

    • me says:

      No, you win with ace high, because without other cards helping it, the ace is more valuable than any other card. That’s the whole point. Assessing value on its own, without taking factors you can’t control into account. In this analogy, the other cards are your teammates.

      When you start taking context into account, suddenly the 7 is no more valuable than the 3,4,5,6. It doesn’t matter which one came out first, second, or last. No single card in a five card hand is more important than the other. Just because you saw the 7 come out last, you think it’s more valuable than 3,4,5,6. But those cards were pre-ordained the moment the deck was cut. Without those other cards, all you have is a 7. If you have a pair of 7’s, the second 7 isn’t more important than the first one. They’re both equally vital to making the hand.

      The analogy works even better with RBIs. 7 is like an RBI single with the bases loaded. 2 RBIs. The Ace is like a home run with nobody on. Is a single objectively better than a home run?

      What you’re saying when you say “7 is more valuable than an Ace” is, “I’d rather have a single with the bases loaded than a home run with nobody on.”

      What Bill James is saying is, of course you would, but the guy who hit the home run is a better baseball player.

    • Matt says:

      All these things you say, seem to mean the opposite of what you’re saying.

      In a hand with (unsuited) X3456 on the table, you win with a 7. A straight beats ace high. You do not win with ace high, you lose to the guy with the 7. In the context of that hand, 7 was the most valuable card. That is an objective fact.

      In poker, you can objectively measure the value of any player’s hand retrospectively, and sometimes a 7 will have been the most valuable card at the table. Not on average, but on some nights. That is an objective fact.

      “The analogy works even better with RBIs. 7 is like an RBI single with the bases loaded. 2 RBIs. The Ace is like a home run with nobody on. Is a single objectively better than a home run?”

      You seem to be asking me if a 2-RBI single is more valuable than a 1-RBI home run. Yes, it absolutely is. That is another objective fact. Thank you for continuing to demonstrate my point.

      Look: take a pair of hitters, Alex and Zack are the 4-5 hitters. Bases loaded, fifth inning, one out. Alex strikes out. Zack singles, 2 runs score.

      Eighth inning, no one on. Alex hits a home run. Zack then strikes out.

      In this game, in this context, who was more valuable, Alex or Zack? It is an objective fact: Zack.

      “What Bill James is saying is, of course you would, but the guy who hit the home run is a better baseball player.”

      Then that player should win the award for Best Baseball Player. I am talking about the Most Valuable Player Award.

    • Chris says:

      Matt, the 7 is no more valuable than the 3,4,5,6 in the analogy. Just because you hold it in your hand or it comes on the river doesn’t make it any more valuable. Much like the homerun hitter vs the 2 run single, the hitters and the 7 don’t control what comes before them. Start with two hold em hands, say A-8 unsuited and K-7 unsuited. Play 1000 hands. Which one comes out on top more often? Both have the same chances for hitting a flush or straight and and any pairs or trips, but all those hands when no hands are made, the A-8 will take the pot. The context of this discussion is to small. Sure in the context of one game a 2 run single contributes more to the team win, but when evaluating entire seasons that one game doesn’t mean as much. Plus in the case of the 2 run single you ignore how those runners reached base and assign all value of those 2 runs to just the hitter with no credit to the base runners.

    • Matt says:

      Chris, if you hold a card in your hand, the other players don’t have access to it. So a 7 in the hand in that case is more valuable than an ace in someone else’s hand, because the ace doesn’t complete the straight. The ace is only valuable if no one else hits the straight or hits a pair.

      You say to “Play 1000 hands. Which one comes out on top more often?” But 2013 is done! We don’t have to ask questions about probability. We have a season’s worth of data to look at.

      Instead, do this: take a night of holdem poker, say 50 hands. For every hand, tally the hole card(s) that made the hand, along with the value of the hand. These are the cards that, *on that night*, were empirically the most valuable cards. Do you see how, on some nights, the most valuable card will not always be the ace?

      If you ask me which card in the deck is the best card, no doubt it’s the ace. If you ask which card is likely to be the most valuable, it’s also the ace. If after a night of poker you ask me which card *was* the most valuable, it wasn’t always the ace. If you ask me which player was the most valuable last season, it wasn’t always the best player.

      “Sure in the context of one game a 2 run single contributes more to the team win, but when evaluating entire seasons that one game doesn’t mean as much.”

      How many games does it take? If Alex hit 25 1-run homers, and Zack hit 25 2-run singles, all for the same team, do you still believe that Alex was more valuable that season? What if the numbers were 50 and 50? I’m just curious where your cutoff is.

      If you’re using WAR alone, it will always proclaim Alex more valuable, all else equal. I say the fact that Zack’s at-bats led to 25-50 more runs for his team meant he was more valuable that season.

      “Plus in the case of the 2 run single you ignore how those runners reached base and assign all value of those 2 runs to just the hitter with no credit to the base runners.”

      It doesn’t matter in this example. I gave Alex and Zack the same context on purpose. Both are on the same team, playing in the same game, with the exact same opportunities to drive in other runners or not. Zack’s actions led to two runs, Alex’s actions led to one run.

    • bluwood says:

      @Matt, yes results matter, in baseball and poker. If someone is playing trip aces and lose on the river to a seven-high straight, they call that a bad beat. They also call the player holding the straight a donkey. You know why? Because it was “wrong” and a stupid play. It was wrong for the winner to keep playing those cards when the probability of winning was so low – the hand as it was just wasn’t that good. It’s particularly wrong if the player holding trip aces was betting up the pot as he/she should but the donkey kept calling.

      Voting for a seven for MVP is also wrong. The seven was “luckier” to be on the right team.

      Huge components of baseball, as I’m sure we can all agree, are odds and luck. The same goes for poker. That’s why this analogy fits so well.

  4. Plate discipline? Goldschmidt and McCutcheon have nearly identical OBP (.401 to .404), though McCutcheon has 15 more points of BA. Why? Because Goldschmidt has about 20% more walks on all of 5% more PA.

    So let’s get down to the nails: Goldy’s OPS is .952, while McCutcheon’s is “only” .911.

    And did McCutcheon’s not-quite-as-good performance make a bigger effect on his team’s chances? Not if runs and RBI count, because Goldschmidt’s were 103 and 125, while McCutcheon’s were 97 and 84.

    I’m having a hard time comporting this to their vastly different WAR numbers. Something is seriously out of whack if one guy is contributing significantly more offense and scoring per game and coming in 20% low on the current ne plus ultra of value stats. And I usually like WAR. But this is head-scratching time. Seems to me we’re crediting McCutcheon for his pitching staff (only ATL’s gave up fewer points) while his fellow batsmen should be ashamed of themselves.

    So is it Goldy’s fault the Diamondbacks aren’t in the postseason? And is it McCutcheon who launched the Pirates into October? Not by these numbers.

    Which would you pick to anchor your team given only their performance this year? Seriously. Ask yourself that completely honestly. Because if you are looking past Goldy at McCutcheon for anything other than “story” value and the fact that his team is still using their lockers, then you’re not living the objectivity you tried to promote with those 4 solid debunkings you just presented. Gomez is a spit-take consideration.

    Paul Goldschmidt is the most valuable player in the National League for 2013. He won’t win it, but he deserves it.

    • springer says:

      For one thing, you’re not taking into account park effects. It’s easier to put up a .952 OPS when playing half your games in certain parks.

      More important, you’re ignoring that one of these players contributes vastly more on defense than the other. I’ll let you figure out which one.

    • mckingford says:

      To piggyback on springer’s point, once you take park effects into account, Goldy’s OPS+ is 160 (which is still outstanding), and McCutchen’s OPS+ is 158, so the difference is exceedingly marginal. This shouldn’t be a surprise, really, since Arizona is one of the best hitter’s parks in baseball whereas Pittsburgh has one of the most extreme pitcher’s parks. RBI and Runs are team and lineup dependent, so aren’t really helpful for assisting in an MVP determination. And although Goldy is probably one of the best baserunning 1b in baseball, Cutch is one of the best baserunners, period, so again, advantage Cutch. Add to that the fact that Cutch is an excellent defender at one of the 2 most important defensive positions in baseball, while Goldy plays the least important defensive position, and suddenly the reason for the WAR advantage to Cutch becomes obvious.

    • invitro says:

      The WAR difference can be attributed to their very different positions (but not to their defensive ability at those positions, if you agree with b-r, anyway).

      My NL MVP is Goldschmidt, for his large clutch hitting advantage over McCutchen. Hey, that made me wonder: is there a measure of clutch defense? Do you folks really believe that clutch hitting should count zero in MVP voting?

    • JRoth says:

      Except that if you neutralize for opportunities (using WPA/LI), Cutch has actually added more win expectancy than Goldie (5.23 to 4.60). The obvious analogy is to RBI: RBI count doesn’t tell you much if one guy bats behind Ruth, Williams, and Bonds, while the other guy leads off for the ’13 Astros. Given his leverage opportunities, McCutchen converted at a *higher* rate than Goldschmidt, with his “large clutch hitting advantage.” It’s not the only stat to use, but it’s not one to ignore if you’re putting everything on “clutch.” Which you have to be doing, since their respective contributions in the field can scarcely be talked about in the same breath.

    • schuyler101 says:

      I’ll take McCutchen in a heartbeat over Goldschmidt. It’s harder to find that kind of production in CF than it is at 1B.

    • invitro says:

      I am using WAR + Clutch (the column on the Win Probability page on B-R). I believe that WAR accurately measures how well a player played, with the exception that it ignores clutch hitting. If two players have the same opportunities (the same number of PAs with bases loaded, et al.), and hit the same number of HRs, but one player hits his with bases loaded while the other hits his with bases empty, I want the first player to be valued higher. I think WAR does not do this, and treats all HRs equally, as it should for what it is measuring.

      My current understanding is that the Clutch column accurately measured this clutch performance. But I may be misunderstanding! I suppose I need to read some detailed explanations of it and WPA and WPA/LI and “WPA (overall)/aLI” and other related columns. It seems easier to use WAR + Clutch than to use WPA + (measures of defense, positions played, and replacement value for positions played).

      I hope that WPA would value a hit for a guy batting behind Ruth, Williams, and Bonds much, much lower than a leadoff hit for the 2013 Astros.

      I think that neutralizing for opportunities is the opposite of what I want. It seems that WPA/LI is just another way of measuring context-neutral batting. I say this because the WPA/LI leaders (Trout, Cabrera, Davis, McCutchen, Goldschmidt) are almost identical to the Rbat leaders (Trout, Cabrera, Davis, Goldschmidt, McCutchen). Well, partially because of that, but mostly because of stuff on WPA and LI that I am digging out of my memory of stuff I read some years ago but don’t clearly remember.

      As for contributions in the field, Goldschmidt has a higher Rfield number (13) than McCutchen does (8).

    • invitro says:

      schuyler101: I would certainly take McCutchen over Goldschmidt for 2014 (based solely on 2013 stats) because his WAR is higher (and WAR of course includes the large relative scarcity of high offense at CF over it at 1B).

      I am choosing Goldschmidt for MVP because the numbers tell me that his clutch hitting was enough above McCutchen’s to outweigh McCutchen’s defensive position advantage. I could be wrong! I am trying to learn how to use these advanced stats correctly.

    • KHAZAD says:

      I would vote for Goldschmidt, but Mccutchen will win easily. I guess the thing I hate about WAR the most is the arbitrary positional adjustment, which is done on the defensive side. I don’t think a Center fielder who costs his team 12.5 runs compared to the average centerfielder should get the same defensive rating as 1st baseman who save his team 2.5 runs. (On fangraphs-BR is a little different but still the same principle.)

      Mccutchen is overrated as a fielder because he is seen as athletic. Goldschmidt was a better fielder in relation to the average 1st baseman than Mccutchen is to the average center fielder. They have almost the same run production per 27 outs (base running included) and Goldie had more PA’s so was worth more runs to his team. (The people assuming that the park effects in Arizona are appreciably better than Pittsburgh should really check before they say that- they are very similar)

      Joe mentioned Gomez, who is really not comparable to the other two in offensive production or playing time, but is a fielder who is on another plane. He is fun to watch,an a gold glove talent, but really doesn’t deserve serious consideration with the other two in my opinion.

      Mccutchen will win handily anyway because he has been a media darling for three years now, and because he plays for the Pirates. Not only are the Pirates a playoff team – and enough writers DO pay attention to that for it to make a difference, but the Pirates are the feel good story of the NL.

      Like I said, I would vote for Goldie in a close one, but Mccutchen will have a landslide victory.

    • BobDD says:

      An average CF will always have more defensive value than a 1B in the 90th percentile of 1B. I did not know that there was anyone left who denied the defensive spectrum.

      RBIs are clutch? I can see no need to still be holding on to that old canard, or that MVP means something other than best, except to be able to bend the results the way you want.

    • KHAZAD says:

      In regards to the first part of your comment, (I agree with the second part) It is poppycock. An average center fielder is certainly more of an athlete than a great first baseman, and you certainly wouldn’t want to see a first baseman trying to play center field, but he saves you zero runs in comparison to the league, because the other teams have CF’s as well. A first baseman who saves you 10 runs defensively at his position is more valuable than an average player at another defensive position, because defensive value is relative to the players playing that position in the rest of the league.

      In relation to wins and losses, saving 10 runs is saving 10 runs, which means winning more games. If the offense and pitching were the same, the team which saves the most runs in comparison to the league is going to be better, and it doesn’t matter even a little bit whether those runs are saved at traditionally defensive positions or at positions that are not generally considered to be as important. If you have +3 guys at centerfield, shortstop, and third base, and are average everywhere else, and I have +12 guys in left, right, and at first, and am average everywhere else, my team will be better than yours.

  5. Josh says:

    In every sport, the manager or coach of the year award is given to the leader of the team about whom conventional wisdom, going into the season, was wrong. And, unable to explain why the Indians or Red Sox are better than we thought they were going to be, we assume it must be the manager.

    • JRoth says:

      Pretty much. Since it’s pretty much impossible to have any real sense of what managers are doing from the outside (especially all the managers – a beat writer has a pretty good feel for his manager’s contributions, but some guy in another division? no clue), a more rational way would probably be to look at the delta between Pythagorean record and actual record as a first cut, and then to look at unexpected contributions as a second: has Elijah Dukes turned into a model citizen with a .350 wOBA? Maybe the manager deserves some credit. And so forth.

      But it’s mostly guesswork, since nobody has any idea how much difference these guys make, either with in-game decisions or managing players as people/employees. Maybe the best manager is worth 2 wins (above average, not above boneheads like Yost), maybe it’s 10; we’ll never know.

  6. mckingford says:

    My experience in playing Roto baseball for the first time this year was helpful in terms of winning a longstanding argument I’ve been having with a friend about pitcher Wins. I play in an (admittedly unconventional) 10×10 10 team league. Among the pitching stats relevant to this point that we count are W, L, ERA, WHIP, Strikeouts, BB issued, TB issued, Saves, and Holds. If you were to evaluate a pitching staff to see who had the best pitchers, you would probably first look to ERA, WHIP, Strikeouts, BB issued, and TB issued. I finished tops in ERA, WHIP, Strikeouts, Holds, (2nd in Saves), and 3rd in BB and TB issued, although that is partly a product of guys who didn’t come close to their innings cap finishing ahead of me – on a strict BB/9 or TB/9 rate, I was far ahead of everyone. Yet I finished 6th in pitcher Wins. So did I assemble the 6th best collection of pitchers or the best?

    When you start to follow Roto, where Wins are so important, you begin to understand how stupid and arbitrary they are. How many times does a pitcher get robbed of a win because of lousy run support? Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg play for the same team, for crying out loud, yet Zim was 18-9 and Stras 8-9, although there is precisely nobody who would say Zim was the better pitcher this year. Then add to that the number of times a bullpen blows the save – an issue made even more infuriating by the fact that the very pitcher who blew the hold/save often gets credited with the win when his team comes back to take the lead.

  7. Peter Bass says:

    While we’re talking about “most valuable” intangibles and the value of managers in the same conversation…

    If a good manager can “keep players focused and interested” etc, wouldn’t a good teammate play a role in doing the same? If one team’s best player is a jerk and another team’s best player is a real leader, doesn’t that affect the team’s motivation?

    The broader question is: does clubhouse chemistry really matter at all? If not, then do managers matter at all? If it does matter, then can it be measured? And if it does matter, then do “leadership intangibles” in great players matter affect it?

    • invitro says:

      I believe managers matter, and potentially matter a lot. The clearest example I know of that can be at least roughly measured is Billy Martin’s effect in his various short-term stints, which was very highly positive for the seasons when he was in charge, and probably negative for later seasons, as his pitchers suffered early burnout.

      Game decisions like bunting for sacrifices, stolen base attempts, and intentional walks can certainly be measured, although I’m sure it is difficult. I remember reading some study (in a Baseball Prospectus book?) that attempted to put a number on such things, and I think every manager came out negative except for Earl Weaver. I can certainly believe that is true.

      I believe platoon-related decisions can be measured, but are also difficult. I know Weaver improved his teams’ batting a lot by effective platooning, while other managers ignore platoon advantages. Effective starting rotation choices and bullpen usage should be measurable. Choosing a good lineup order is definitely measurable. Breaking rookies and other “unproven” players into the lineup should be measurable somehow. Defensive shifts, certainly measurable. And on and on. It seems like there is a huge pile of decisions a manager makes that should be measurable and assessed against “replacement manager” decisions. I think this will happen… we should not let the fact that Manager WAR is not on B-R lead us to believe that such a thing is not possible.

      Now, inspiring players to play to the best of their ability… that seems to be at the heart of a manager’s “intangible” effect. But even that should be measurable, if the player has significantly enough PAs under different managers.

      It doesn’t seem to me like “leadership intangibles” in great -players- can be measured apart from the manager’s leadership, but maybe this too will be figured out in about 200 years.

    • Rob Smith says:

      In the Weaver example…. Pitching, Defense and 3 Run HR philosophy…. it works great when you have Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Mark Belanger, Paul Blair, Boog Powell, Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally, et al. So…. assuming you assemble the team well and have pitching, power and defense, yes, the smart thing is to sit back and let it happen. Stealing is stupid. Let you pitchers dominate and let your power guys hit 3-run HRs…. then collect your trophies.
      But what about bad teams that are not well constructed? Can a manager afford to take a hands off approach?

      With Weaver, with the DH, using 1979 (finished 1st) his teams had 42 sacrifices. Martin on the 76 Yankees he only sacrificed 50 times….. but with the A’s in his Billy Ball era, they sacrificed 99 times. Interestingly, in a transition year (without Frank Robinson & Boog Powell declining) for the Orioles in 1974, Weaver’s team had 72 sacrifices. So, it does seem like Billy & Earl changed according to whether they did or didn’t have the big boppers. So, is it really bad strategy to do some bunting when you don’t have the guys who are going to hit it over the fence a bunch? Wouldn’t it be crazy to sit back and wait for the three run HR when you don’t have the guys to do that for you? It seems like Billy and Earl both adapted to their teams despite them appearing to be polar opposites according to the popular narratives.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Invitro: in evaluating managers, there are a lot of intangibles. The Braves believe that a cohesive clubhouse is very important. If people enjoy the team & enjoy coming to the park every day, they’ll play better. The manager, nor anyone on the team, should be calling out players in public, except on rare occasions (honestly when they are about ready to kick someone to the curb). However, this stuff is dealt with expeditiously in the Managers office as it comes up. Never ignore stuff that happens, and plenty happens when you have 25 competitive guys sharing a locker room for six months. There is also clubhouse leadership that has to be encouraged and the GM has to be careful not to bring in cancerous individuals that might upset harmony. One or two guys can ruin a clubhouse. You take a Bobby Valentine, who did the polar opposite creating a good clubhouse situation, and he ran the team into ground last year….. after it was alledged that Terry Francona was enabling bad behavior by ignoring it instead of dealing with it (which may well be true as well when you hear about guys drinking beer & eating chicken in the clubhouse during games). With the Braves, it’s very rare that any locker room issues hit the media. Recently coach Terry Pendleton and Chris Johnson got into it in the dugout after Johnson slammed his helmet & it ended up hitting Pendleton. When Gonzalez addressed it, he was less concerned that it happened than the fact that it got on TV. He basically said he addressed it with both players in his office and it’s over….. stuff happens and we deal with it privately and move on. Period. How would Valentine have handled that? It would have become a circus with a news cycle of at least a week.

  8. JRoth says:

    Joe has a bunch of baseballs, including ones signed by HoFers. But the most valuable one, by far, is the Rawlings he picked up last week that’s still in its box. Because it’s the best baseball: regulation weight, pure white, not lopsided or stained or, God forbid, scribbled on.

    Yep. “Most valuable” is an exact synonym for “best”. Nailed it.

    • Ian R. says:

      If Joe wants to play an actual baseball game with his baseballs, yes, the brand-new one is far and away the most valuable ball.

    • BobDD says:

      lol, yeah the 40 yr old Pete Rose had a better career than the 25 yr old Ty Cobb, but you’d still take the 26 yr old Cobb over the 41 yr old Rose. Next Hangnail?

  9. Adam says:

    I hope you indeed voted for the best player for AL MVP.

    I think we’re getting away from pitcher wins in Cy Young voting, though at 19-0 (or whatever) no way Scherzer wasn’t going to win the Cy Young.

    • invitro says:

      “I hope you indeed voted for the best player for AL MVP.”

      And who is that? 🙂

    • invitro says:

      “I think we’re getting away from pitcher wins in Cy Young voting”

      In Bill James’ 1982 or 1983 Abstract, he gives his formula for predicting Cy Young voting: 4 * Wins + 3 * Shutouts – 2 * Losses (IIRC). I would like to see if that formula has become less accurate, and WAR more accurate, in the years since then.

    • Mark Daniel says:

      He voted for Mike Trout.

    • invitro says:

      Yes… I guess I’m curious if anyone here is still willing to take a stand for Cabrera. About a month ago it seemed like there were as many people here for Cabrera as for Trout. I feel like September might have shifted a few people to Trout, but I as I don’t read any other blogs I don’t know what’s really going on.

      Will Trout get more or less than the 6 first-place votes he got last year?

  10. Ross Holden says:

    I like WAR a lot to determine “best” player. But the position adjustment some are talking about raises a problem for me when talking best. McCutchen isn’t necessarily a better player because he plays a position where it’s less common to have good offensive production. It’s just less common.

    • Rob Smith says:

      I also am a little skeptical of the advantage WAR gives to baserunning vs. power. It seems like a player can make up a lot of ground to an elite power hitter if they can go from first to third consistently & steal bases. I’m still thinking about it. IDK, maybe extra bases are that valuable.

    • Mark Daniel says:

      I think the idea is that little things add up. If you go from 1st to 3rd on a single, that’s considered an extra base taken. In the case of Cabrera this year, he was on 1st base 50 times when a single was hit, and made it to third 6 times. Trout, on the other hand, was on 1st base 44 times when a single was hit, and made it to third 27 times. That’s a pretty large gap, and since each extra base taken adds a small amount of value, it adds up over time. Couple that with scoring from 2nd on a single, scoring from 1st on a double, and so on, and you can see how a speedy player like Trout can gain on a slow slugger like Miggy.

    • Mark Daniel says:

      That said, being speedy isn’t something that’s particularly amazing. Not many people in the world can hit and hit for power like Miggy. But there are probably millions of people who can go from 1st to 3rd on a single. That doesn’t take away from the value of the extra base taken, it just alters the impression people might have of such a skill.

    • clashfan says:

      Sure, lots of players could take the extra base. Take a few thousand high school track guys and teach them how to make the turn, and you’d have a bunch. But what we really want is a player who can hit and field like Trout, *and* can take the extra base. Those are very rare–probably about as rare as players with Cabrera’s hitting and power skills.

    • Rob Smith says:

      I was thinking about this as the Braves showed a montage of walk off wins. 2-3 of them were hits that might not score the runner, but Jordan Schafer (who is the fastest player & best baserunner on the team) happened to be the runner on second. Each time, he scored on a close play with a headfirst slide to the outside to avoid the tag. So, in those situations, baserunning was the difference between winning & moving on to extra innings and a potential loss. So, I’m getting there as I think about it more.

    • Mark Daniel says:

      clashfan, I agree with you. In fact, Trout’s combo of skills is probably more rare than Cabrera’s hitting skills since there are several players in baseball history who could hit like Trout, but very, very few of them could also run like him.

  11. Mark Daniel says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. Right…Valentine ran the team into the ground by personally injuring Crawford, Ellsbury, Middlebrooks, Ortiz, Lackey, Pedroia, Sweeny and Bailey, making Youk get old, and personally forcing Beckett, Gonzalez, Lester, Buchholtz, Melancon, and Aceves to have the worst seasons of their lives. And, of course, he waved the white flag in August and gutted the roster to dump salary.

  13. BobDD says:

    I don’t know how we are ever going to be able to rate Managers properly, but I am hopeful we eventually will. Meanwhile, there is much low-hanging fruit such as if a manager orders a bunt with a runner on first or second at the top of the game. Or a manager who puts a speedy middle infielder with an OB% below .300 at the number two spot in the batting order. Or one of the biggest errors of all, letting the save rule dictate how a “closer” is used.

    I think good managing decisions will probably be the last Sabermetric frontier until announcers/color commentators educate properly. I come from the era when they were worried that Dizzy Dean might teach youngsters bad grammar from his announcing, but as nice a man and as good a player as he used to be, Joe Morgan as a Neanderthal commentator has had a much more negative impact on baseball logic than ol’ Diz ever coulda on talkin’.

  14. Richard S. says:

    Three points, if I may…

    First, the above discussion is a good illustration of why no single person or small group of persons decides who wins the awards. It’s a polling of a large number of people, with different attitudes and views. The end result is a general consensus of who should be the winner. If the consensus is that a pitcher deserves the MVP award instead of someone who “plays every day”, then that pitcher gets the award. You may disagree with the result, but only rarely does the consensus of the voters make an egregious error.

    Second, coming from a scientific background, I think it needs to be understood that with any statistic, there’s a bit of “fuzziness” built in. “Observational error”, if you will. Allow me to illustrate by example. Let’s say a player collects 164 hits over the course of 550 at bats. That’s a nice .298 batting average. Let’s say he also reached base eight times due to an error. How many of those errors could have legitimately been called hits? How many “bang bang” plays were there at first base where the umpire incorrectly called him out, but the play was so close that no one even noticed? How many walks did he get where the umpires miscalled a checked swing? It only takes one more base hit or four fewer “at bats” to bring his batting average to the magical .300 level. In the same way, someone hitting .302 could easily fall below the magic number. That’s just one, common, easily calculated stat. What about the more complex ones, like ERA+ or WAR? Frankly, I don’t think you can trust the last digit in _any_ computed stat.

    Finally, it’s great to have these discussions. But please keep in mind that it’s only baseball. Whoever wins these awards; it’s not going to have any significant effect on the price of heating oil this winter.

    • BobDD says:

      Richard, you articulate your points so well that I can tell you are quite a thinking man, however (I know, a transitional word that means ‘look out below’) an especial peeve of mine is the argument that it doesn’t matter much, so chill. Basically that is just an argument that the “none of the above” vote is the only civilized view and shame on those who have strong opinions. I find opinions more interesting than non-opinions. Not to even mention how often I successfully tempt myself into thinking that I am the one who is right . . . so I won’t mention that cause you might use that against me, like I’ve used your . . . uh, tepid . . . uh – well I do not want to pre-burn any winter oil just yet, and you are certainly entitled to you non-opinion as much as I am to my superior . . . uh . . . my Mom’s calling me upstairs to dinner. I gotta go.

    • Richard S. says:

      No offense is taken, BobDD. And none was intended. My intention with that comment was to remind people not to let these arguments get out of hand and degenerate into name calling, or worse. And to be content if the “wrong person” wins an award. It was not to imply that we should not have these arguments, far from it. This is how we change the consensus, after all.

  15. Evan says:

    I think the poker analogy is a good one. The seven may well be part of a more valuable *hand* than the ace, but it would be wrong to impute the value of the hand to the seven. The seven is still a seven regardless of context. The ace is more valuable because it can do everything a seven can do (complete a straight, flush, four of a kind, etc.) and in every analogous situation, the hand with the ace would be more valuable.

    • Matt says:

      Every analogous situation?


      Which is more valuable, the hand with the seven or the hand with the ace?

    • Evan says:

      Perhaps you misunderstood my post. Since the analogy you gave is two pairs and a two, AAKK2 is more valuable than 77KK2. 77KK2 is more valuable than KKA72 because two pairs is a more valuable hand than one pair, but these hands are not analogous. As I said before, it is wrong to impute the value of the hand to the seven.

    • Matt says:

      Maybe you misunderstood my post: the 77KK2 are the cards on the table. Player A’s hole card is an ace, Player B’s hole card is a seven. Measured directly against the other, Player B’s seven is more valuable than the ace.

      Before the flop, Player A had the card with more potential. But after the cards are played, we see that Player B actually had the more valuable card.

      By analogy: in baseball, it’s understandable to say that next season you want the player likely to produce more runs, the higher-WAR player. But when we look on last season, sometimes the lower-WAR player actually produced more runs, therefore one can make the argument that they were more valuable.

      I’m not suggesting that context is everything, but I am saying that it matters. And in measuring “value” retrospectively it’s OK to take context into account.

    • Evan says:

      Player B still doesn’t have the more valuable card — he has the more valuable hand. I understand what you’re saying, but I think we’re coming at this from different angles. What you call “potential” is the card’s actual value, plain and simple. True, the seven may complete a two pair hand, but that value is in the luck of the draw, not the seven. The truth is, context only matters only you are talking about hands, or in the case of baseball, the teams. Saying a player filled a gaping hole (shored up a relief staff, provided run support etc.) doesn’t actually tell you anything about the player, but it does tell you about a teams needs. Maybe it says a few things about luck, the quality of the manager or of the owners, but not the player. Does context tell you something? Sure, but it doesn’t tell you anything relevant about the player. This probably sounds very semantic, but it gets to a basic point: if you want to be a good poker player, it is essential to understand card value as opposed to hand value, and to be a good baseball analyst, you have to understand player value apart from team value.

    • Matt says:

      I guess we measure value differently. In the poker analogy, you’re measuring value as the potential return a card can generate over many nights of play (in baseball, many games over many seasons). I’m measuring value as the return a card actually generated in a night of play (in baseball: how did that player perform in the context of last season). I’m arguing that for determining retrospective value–who was the most valuable in 2013–the latter is more appropriate.

    • bluwood says:

      Can anyone (if there is anyone still reading this far down in the comments) help with this:

      34567 beats AAAKQ.

      I was thinking that could be the 1988 Dodgers beating the A’s, but Hershiser was an A on that Dodger team… .so… is there a real life analogy that anyone can come up with?

      Maybe any one of the Astros 51 wins this year?

  16. Looking at some of the Cy Young snubs over the last 15 years really drives home the overestimation of the win’s value. I’d never done so and there are some REALLY questionable calls there.

  17. Well, I’m here at the end, so maybe nobody will read this.
    Imagine this: God comes to the GM of my favorite team and makes this offer. “For one year I will provide you with your choice of either (A) the unanimous 100% consensus choice for Best Player of the Year, or (B) a very good player. With the very good player I will guarantee your team goes to the World Series. With the Best Player, eh, whatever happens happens.” Who is the most valuable player?

  18. Well, I’m here at the end, so maybe nobody will read this.
    Imagine this: God comes to the GM of my favorite team and makes this offer. “For one year I will provide you with your choice of either (A) the unanimous 100% consensus choice for Best Player of the Year, or (B) a very good player. With the very good player I will guarantee your team goes to the World Series. With the Best Player, eh, whatever happens happens.” Who is the most valuable player?

    • Brett Alan says:

      Um, A is the most valuable player. Of course, you take B, because B comes with the promise, but that doesn’t make B’s play responsible for the promise.

      I mean, if you offered me the choice of reading JoePo’s articles, or getting paid $40 an hour to read some idiot’s articles, I’d choose the latter. Doesn’t make the latter a better–or more valuable–writer.

  19. Brett Alan says:

    “With pal Brian Kenny walking the country like Johnny Killdawin,”–boy, there wasn’t one part of that I didn’t need explained to me! So I Googled, and Brian Kenny is an ESPN guy whom I kinda recognize. But Google has absolutely NOTHING on “Johnny Killdawin” except for links to this article. So, um, what am I missing? (It didn’t help that for a moment I thought that “walking the country” was like “walking the ballpark” but in multiple games…B^)

  20. Driver says:

    My big problem with the definition of “value” is the rather arbitrary determination that value is only provided vis-a-vis making or not making the playoffs. If you play on a team so bad that without you they would have gone 40-122, but thanks to your contributions they go 52-110, you have provided a lot of value, in the form of more wins (not to mention in the form of avoiding the ignominy of historical badness). Sure, the media, in search of playoff ratings, feeds us this endless narrative about how only the playoffs matter, but every game matters. The most valuable player delivers the most regular season wins to their team.

  21. Driver says:

    My big problem with the definition of “value” is the rather arbitrary determination that value is only provided vis-a-vis making or not making the playoffs. If you play on a team so bad that without you they would have gone 40-122, but thanks to your contributions they go 52-110, you have provided a lot of value, in the form of more wins (not to mention in the form of avoiding the ignominy of historical badness). Sure, the media, in search of playoff ratings, feeds us this endless narrative about how only the playoffs matter, but every game matters. The most valuable player delivers the most regular season wins to their team.

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  24. Rhonda Shell says:

    @ Evan:

    Using the “real” world experiment of the season, Cabrera lead the majors in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and RBIs. Trout scored the most runs. Cabrera and Chris Davis tied for 2nd. In fewer at bats, Cabrera had more hits. I could go on but which “real” world events caused Trout to be better? His average defense in the outfield?

    I’ve had this discussion with others before but here is one of the problems I have with WAR. Supposed that a player gets on base with a single, heck you can even say that he is walked. Say that player is a real speed demon and is able to steal 2nd and later steal 3rd where he is stranded. Say your comparison player can barely move and gets on base the same way. The slow player at the end of the inning is stranded on first base. How many “points” did the speed demon get for getting on base and then stealing 2nd and 3rd to affect his WAR? How many did the slow guy get who was stranded at first? No matter how you factor WAR neither of these players did anything more to generate an actual “real” world win in the standings. Neither of them scored a run for their team and they were both dependent upon other players on their team to score a run. [I know that it is technically possible that a player can get on base and then steal home on their own but that is statistically so small that it is irrelevant.]

    Now let’s look at the real world numbers.

    Trout scored 109 runs while Cabrera scored 103 runs this past season To score those 109 runs, Trout had 190 hits, walked 110 times and was hit 9 times. So he was on base 309 times. Cabrera had 193 hits, walked 90 times and was hit 5 times, so he made it on base 288 times. Trout had 75 extra base hits while Cabrera had 71 extra base hits. You can also toss in there that Trout was up to bat 34 more times than Cabrera. So for all of that speed and advantage on the base path in real world numbers the results were 6 more runs scored with 34 more chances. Or you can think of it as every 2.769 times that Cabrera gets on base he scores a run while every 2.834 times that Trout gets on base he scores a run. That means that Cabrera is statistically scoring runs at a better pace all the while being an inferior base runner. So why is that?

    Well the obvious answer is that Cabrera’s team mates are helping him more than Trout’s teammates are helping him? That is probably true but that is the problem in attempting to quantify a single players value to a team game. No matter how good or bad the player is, he is going to be dependent upon his team mates.

    This doesn’t mean that SABR stats do not have a place, I think they do but you also have to remember that those stats are flawed in that they are attempting to individualize something that isn’t an individual but rather a team. Suppose I broke down the importance of a race car. Can I say that the engine was more valuable to the driver winning than the tires?

    We can look at individual stats for when a player hits and compile those numbers. We can also somewhat compile stats for what a player does on the field defensively. Cabrera wasn’t anyone’s Gold Glove at 3B but Trout doesn’t appear to be anything more than an average center fielder. I don’t think an MVP necessarily has to be on a playoff team but I believe it should factor for context. Was a player simply dominate at the plate at his position? In this case, Trout had an amazing year at the plate but no matter how good it was, Cabrera topped him. Trout was really good on the base path stealing 33 bases but there were 7 players in the AL who did it better. As I said, Trout was simply an above average center fielder. He had no assists and no double plays. Finally, his team finished below .500. When I look at all of those things, I don’t see how you can’t vote Cabrera the MVP. That doesn’t mean that Trout didn’t have a good season, he did. It only means that Cabrera’s was better.

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