By In Baseball

Hot Button: Meaning of MVP

Question 4. Statement: In baseball, the MVP award unequivocally should go to the best player.

Strongly agree. Of course. What other option is there? 44.8%

Agree. In close races, I might consider team performance and big moments. 40.7%

Neutral. 2.7%

Disagree. “Most valuable” is different. Factors like clutchiness and team performance must be considered. 9.2%

Definitely disagree. Players on bad teams should not win the MVP except in extreme cases. 2.6%

Broken down:

Agree: 85.5%
Disagree: 11.8%
Neutral: 2.7%

* * *

There doesn’t seem very much to say here — this is an obvious case of selection bias. Brilliant Readers of this site are naturally going to lean toward the idea that the most valuable player and best player are, more or less, synonymous. If not, they would probably not be reading this site. If I gave this question to my fellow members of the BBWAA, I suspect the percentages would look a bit different.

So let me touch upon a different topic, one I was thinking about while watching Joe Buck and Tim McCarver call Game 5 of the World Series. It is fashionable this time of year to bash on Buck and McCarver — a rite of the season — and I plead guilty to doing it now and again (and now and again). The point here is not to cover that ground again.* I fully realize that it’s hard to broadcast baseball to a national audience in part because you are dealing with so many different kinds of baseball fans. You can’t please everyone.

*My friend Ken Rosenthal wrote a nice appreciation of McCarver and there is much in there I agree with. And some I don’t. I guess that was the point.

No the point here is to offer an opinion that might sound strange coming from me. But here is the opinion anyway: There are way, way, way too many baseball statistics during a television broadcast. It really does drive me crazy.

I know that opinion sounds utterly insane from a guy who writes way, way, way too much about baseball through statistics. Heck, there will be a bunch of baseball statistics IN THIS POST where I’m complaining that there being too many statistics on television. What can I say? Things don’t always wrap up in neat packages. I love baseball statistics. And I loathe baseball statistics.

It’s convenient for me to say that I love SMART baseball statistics and loathe STUPID baseball statistics, but I know that I’m giving myself way too much credit. Like Sollozzo says in The Godfather: “I’m not that clever.” Sometimes I loathe smart ones, and love stupid ones. The truth, I think, is that it’s much more basic than that. I love statistics that tell me a story. I love statistics that open up the game somehow — even if just opening up the game to arguments. I love statistics that take my mind to an interesting place, remind me of players I had not thought about, transport me to great moments in the game’s history.

And I loathe — utterly loathe — statistics that do none of those things. Al Michaels — who I think is the best to call football games on television — compares broadcasting sports to the connection between lyrics and music. Funny thing, Marv Albert — who I think is the best to call basketball games on television — says almost exactly the same thing. You don’t want a lyric that stops you, that pulls you from the moment, that breaks from the music. And that’s what almost every statistic on television does to me. It pulls me out of the game. I find myself thinking: “Who Cares?” Or: “What does that even mean?” Or: “That doesn’t sound right.”

Give you an example: During Monday’s game, St. Louis’ Matt Carpenter led off the game. They showed a graphic about Carpenter and talked about it for a few seconds. The graphic showed this:.

Matt Carpenter in first 8 postseason games: .100 average.
Matt Carpenter in last 7 postseason games: .300 average.

The idea was to point out — I guess — that Carpenter was hitting better in his last seven games than his first eight. Like a light turned on or something. But of course it actually meant almost nothing. What is eight games? What is seven? This is the ebb and flow of baseball. not any kind of trend, everybody knows that. And the numbers are so small, they bend to the slightest touch. Carpenter grounded out to first immediately after they showed that graphic, and so that .300 average over seven games instantly and suddenly dropped to .290. He struck out looking his next time up, and it was .281. Before the end of the game, its would reach .265. When the sample is so small the numbers blow in the wind.

It feels to me that the broadcasts are overloaded with such needless minutia. You know, Matt Carpenter is the son of a high school baseball coach. He was a high school teammate of James Loney. He had some pretty serious injuries in college. He was a 13th round pick and was signed for $1,000. He was widely viewed as a non-prospect because of his lack of speed and lack of power. He might have been the best player on the St. Louis Cardinals this year.

Seriously … talk about THAT rather than giving us these dreary, pointless, meaningless, dreadful statistics. Talk about how good Matt Carpenter was this year; I don’t think that casual baseball fans know that he should be a legitimate MVP candidate. Or talk about how the Cardinals, after losing the great Albert Pujols in 2011 (just after the Cardinals won the World Series) they went into their farm system and major league bench and pulled out an eighth-round pick (Allen Craig), a 13-round pick (Carpenter), a 23rd-round pick (Matt Adams) and this year scored 21 MORE runs than the did that year.

But no. Instead it’s breaking down Matt Carpenter’s postseason into meaningless bite-sized portions.

Understand the Carpenter stat thing is not just one thing. It’s typical. The stats keep coming in swarms — how this guy won three or his last five starts, how that guy is one for three against a certain pitcher, how this guy had five RBIs in six games, how someone hit .289 against righties after the All-Star break but only .278 against lefties — until my brain desperately wants to go to the Bahamas for a vacation.

And what bothers me most is that I think this is exactly why some people are anti-baseball stats. Heck, when you’re getting those distracting and often misleading stats jabbed in your face nonstop you should be anti-baseball stats. I think that’s why whenever you hear someone doing a satirical baseball statistic to prove what nerds we all are, they will say something like: “Oh, look, David Ortiz is hitting .293 on Tuesday day games against right-handed pitchers when the dew point is 60 degrees or lower and the defending American Idol winner has a T in his or her name.” That’s the cliche. But truth is that nobody who loves baseball stats cares about ANY of that stuff, even Ortiz’s batting average.That just matches the needless stuff they will say on television.

I love baseball numbers. Obviously. Pick a three digit number, any three digit number. Wait I can’t hear you — I’ll pick the first one that comes to mind. Three hundred fifty seven. Good number? You can do this with any three digit number, but let’s go with 357. Ready?

OK, 357. Joe DiMaggio hit .357 in 1941, the year he hit in 56 consecutive games. People still argue about that streak and what it means. It’s a quirky thing, you know? On the one hand, it’s an extraordinary achievement — no one in Major League history has ever come close to matching it. On the other hand, it’s kind of an odd thing to count, number of consecutive games when you get a hit. Whenever I think of that year, I think of a couple of other numbers: DiMaggio hit .408 during the streak. Ted Williams hit .406 for the entire season. I’ve always through that was cool. DiMaggio won the MVP. I think it should be been Williams.

By the way: How much of that 56-game hitting streak’s awesomeness is because DiMaggio did it? What if one of the other guys who .357 in a season had done it? What if it had been Albert Belle in 1994 or Ken Williams in 1923 or Dixie Walker in 1944? Would we view it the same way? I don’t think we would.

Back to the number: 357. Steve Yeager scored 357 runs in his career. Remember Yeager? If your think of him, you probably think of him throwing — what an arm that guy had. Lou Brock called it the best he had ever seen — better even than Johnny Bench’s. Thinking of Yeager makes me think of some of the great catchers arms I’ve ever seen. Ron Karkovice had a gun — remember him? Kirk Manwaring could really throw. Bob Boone. Jim Sundberg. Off the top of my head, here are the five greatest catcher arms I’ve ever seen:

1. Ivan Rodriguez
2. Johnny Bench
3. Yadi Molina
4. Steve Yeager
5. Benito Santiago when he would throw off his knees.

Yeager would catch fastballs from Don Sutton and Tommy John and Burt Hooton and throw the ball TWICE AS HARD to second base. If I remember right, he once had a throw to second clocked at almost 100 mph. He couldn’t hit, but man could Yeager catch. He never won a Gold Glove though. He was overshadowed by Bench and Bob Boone and Gary Carter.

The number 357. That’s how many games Ken Boyer managed in the big leagues. There were three Boyers who played in the big leagues — Cloyd, Ken and Clete — and Ken was the middle one. Well, there were actually 14 Boyer kids who grew up in Alba, Missouri, a tiny place of about 357 people. All seven of the Boyer boys played baseball — four went professional. Cloyd, the oldest, pitched in 111 Big League games, all of them for Missouri teams — the Cardinals and the Kansas City A’s. Len, the youngest, was a third baseman who made it as high as Class AA. The stars, Clete and Ken, were both Gold Glove winning third basemen. Clete couldn’t really hit much but he was a wonder with the glove, one of the best ever defensively. Ken was a fine hitter until he was about 33 — that was the year he hit .295, led the league in RBIs and won the MVP Award. It was probably his fourth- or fifth-best season.

Ken Boyer was so admired that the Cardinals made him their manager in 1978. He lasted those 357 games and was replaced by Whitey Herzog, who would go on to win a World Series two years later. About a month before the Cardinals won the 1982 World Series, Ken Boyer died of lung cancer.

One more 357: That’s how many innings George Uhle pitched in 1923. They called Uhle “The Bull” and there are those who say that Uhle invented the slider. Uhle was one of those people who said that: “It just came to me all of a sudden,” he is quoted saying in the indispensable “Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers.” “Letting the ball go along my index finger and using my ring finger and pinky to give is just a little bit of a twist. It was a sailing fastball, and that’s how come I named it the slider.”

OK, so what’s the point of all that? There is no point, obviously, but do you think I care about the number 357? Of course not. I care about the stories 357 can inspire if you do a little digging. I care about the players who happen to come up when you think about 357. Who are they? How good were they? What did they contribute to the game? At some point during Game 5, David Ortiz reached base for the ninth consecutive time, tying a World Series record. I will admit that I wasn’t listening too carefully, but I thought I heard Joe Buck twice refer to the record without actually saying who held the record. Maybe he did mention that it was Billy Hatcher’s record, but I didn’t hear him do so. I certainly did not hear him expound on it. Maybe I missed it.

And that gets to the heart of things. The fact that David Ortiz tied the World Series record for consecutive times reaching base means almost nothing to me. I already use up way too many gigabytes in my brain remembering goofy baseball records — there’s no room in there for the “most times reaching base consecutively in a World Series” record. BUT I care that he tied Billy Hatcher. Just seeing that name takes me back to 1990 and one of the most preposterous World Series ever. The 1990 Cincinnati Reds were dreadful the year before. They were dreadful the year after. They did not even seem that good in 1990. Back then we only cared about pitcher wins and nobody on the team won more than 15. Back then we only cared about home runs and nobody on the team hit more than 25.

They were supposed to get smoked by the Oakland A’s in the World Series. The Reds, we believed, were a fluke. The A’s, we believed, were a living dynasty. And it turned out the Reds absolutely destroyed the A’s — largely because Billy Hatcher, for two games, proved impossible to get out.

Game 1. Hatcher walked in the first and scored on Eric Davis’ homer. Hatched doubled in a run in the third and came around to score. Hatcher doubled again in the fifth and came around to score again. Hatcher singled again in the sixth — that was four straight. The Reds won 7-0.

Then, Game 2, Hatcher doubled in a run in the first and came around to score. He doubled again in the third with the Reds trailing by two runs but was stranded. He singled in the fifth and was picked off. He tripled in the eighth and scored the tying run. And in the ninth, of course, the Athletics waved the white flag and intentionally walked Hatcher. The Reds won Game 2. They swept the series. Hatcher hit .750 (and somehow was not named Series MVP — that went to Jose Rijo, who won Games 1 and 4).

See the record doesn’t matter to me. The statistic doesn’t matter to me. Stop giving me statistics. Stop weighing the game down with numbers. Show me something. Tell me something. Take me somewhere. Big Papi has been absurd this World Series. He reached base nine times in a row. Incredible. Has that ever happened before? Yes. Was it a superstar like Papi who did it? No. It was a little baseball journeyman named Billy Hatcher who played for seven teams in 12 years and, for two glorious games in October, was about as good as a player can be. That’s what October can be. That’s what baseball can be.

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58 Responses to Hot Button: Meaning of MVP

  1. Jim says:

    Agreed wholeheartedly. I wonder what the constituency is that would miss these stats if they were gone? Who are they trying to please with that stuff?

  2. Benjamin says:

    Thought MVP voters passed over Hatcher in 1990 because he had to leave game 4 with an injury. I agree that his case is better than Rijo’s.

  3. The Dangerous Mabry says:

    Great post, Joe. I imagine the announcers are worried about filling airtime and little stats give them something easy to discuss, and insert false gravity into situations: “If David Ortiz reaches base here, he’ll have the ALL-TIME RECORD! (for something nobody really cares about)” But especially if you’re trying to build a younger fan base, it seems like telling the stories and educating fans on the great history of the game is a much more effective tool than throwing meaningless numbers in their faces.

    On a similar note, why in the world do they reset everyone’s statistics when the playoffs start, and then again in the World Series? Isn’t it a better measure of a player if we can see how he performed all year, rather than in his last 8 plate appearances? Is there any reason to do this besides the fact that it lets you put gaudy numbers like a .700 batting average or embarrassing numbers like a .082 OBP on the screen?

    • Steve says:

      That’s my biggest annoyance. I’m a reasonably big baseball fan, but not so much that I know all the players on all the teams. So when the players I’m not fully familiar with come up to bat, I want to see how good they were this year. Not that they’re batting .181 in the postseason. That could be anyone.

  4. BeninDSM says:

    Does anyone know why the TV guys show playoff statistics on screen for each hitter and pitcher and NOT their regular season stats. I mean come on I’m a fairly big baseball fan but until the postseason I hadn’t seen the A’s play at all and really only bits and pieces of every team that’s not in my team’s division. TELL ME IF THIS GUY I”M WATCHING IS ANY GOOD I DON’T KNOW. DON’T TELL ME He’s hitting .187 over his last 10 at bats.

    • If he’s hitting .187 over his last 10 at-bats, he’s defying math. Over 10 at-bats, he’d have to hit a multiple of .100 (.100, .200, .300, etc.)

      • Ian R. says:

        Nah. It’s just a fluke of baseball. In one at-bat, he got a hit. In another, he hit a scorching line drive that should have been a hit, but the shortstop deflected to the second baseman, and he ended up being out on a bang-bang play at first.

        It was so close to being a hit that the official scorer awarded him partial credit. 87 percent of a hit. That’s totally a thing, right? Right?

  5. Wilbur says:

    I intended to hit on exactly the same point while reading the essay: Why do they not flash the regular season statistics for the players?

  6. Joe, this is a fantastic article, and I always enjoy reading your thoughts.

    However, one thing has been bothering me lately: I don’t think I’ve seen a single post in the past few weeks that was devoid of multiple copy editing errors. For example, this relatively short paragraph has three mistakes:

    “Game 1. Hatcher walked in the first and second on Eric Davis’ homer. Hatched doubled in a run in the third and came around to score. Hatcher Hatcher doubled again in the fifth and came around to score again. Hatcher singled again in the sixth — that was four straight. The Reds won 7-0.”

    I understand that this is a blog and not necessarily a place for formal publishing and editing processes, but when every post has these issues, it begins to detract from the message. At this point, I start wondering how many errors I’ll find whenever I start reading a new post.

    Like I said, I’m a fan, and a few typos won’t dissuade me from visiting the site. I just wanted to offer some constructive criticism.

    • Karyn Ellis says:

      Lots of folks have made similar comments over the years. For whatever reason, Joe doesn’t see a need to change his process with regard to such errors. The nitpickers among us (of which I am one!) just need to set that aside to enjoy these posts, which we get for free.

      If it seriously impinges on your ability to enjoy the posts–there’s a whole internet out there.

      • Grover Jones says:

        I’m fairly convinced that Joe dictates his posts. There are mistakes that could only be made orally–someone typing would not make them.

        Now, I don’t know if he dictates to software that then transcribes it, or if a human transcribes it. But you’re right, it could use another careful read-through.

        Joe, I too am a professional editor and offer my services, gratis.

  7. jim louis says:

    Andrew Stanton’s top storytelling commandment is “make me care”.

    Joe, your above post does just that. Well done. It’d be wonderful to hear interesting nuggets, like those you wrote about Matt Carpenter, #357 and Billy Hatcher sprinkled throughout these long playoff telecasts.

  8. “It is fashionable this time of year to bash on Buck and McCarver — a rite of the season”

    Just read McCarver’s book “Baseball for Brain Surgeons & other Fans”…. if you have insomnia. I am counting the days until we are merifully rid of his verbose carcass in Octobers.

    • NevadaMark says:

      Did you try “Oh Baby I Love It”? That might be the most boring autobiography ever written on ANY subject. It was such a great read I can’t remember a single thing McCarver said, other than bitching about current players not taking the time to check out the finest restaurants in the cities they visit. Seriously.

  9. John Leavy says:

    Even though I share the belief that the MVP award should go to the best overall player, I have to ask… if stats are what it’s all about, why bother voting for any awards at all?

    Seriously, Joe, why should YOUR opinion matter at all? Just because you’re a sportswriter? If stats tell the whole story, why not just abolish voting for all awards? Just give the MVP award each year to the player with the highest WAR, and give the Cy Young award to the player with the best WHIP.

    Then we can quit arguing. Of course, the die-hard stat-heads will still argue over whose formula for determining value over a hypothetical replacement player is more accurate…

    • invitro says:

      “if stats are what it’s all about, why bother voting for any awards at all?”

      You are assuming that stats tell us without a doubt who the best player is. Though I think this is largely correct, it is not a settled issue. For example, I think clutchiness counts when determining the best player, and WAR does not reflect clutch performance.

      Also, writers have been voting for their favorite formula most every year for almost a hundred years.

    • Karyn Ellis says:

      Your last paragraph is closest to accurate. Which statistic is the best? Heck, which WAR is best? Do we go with stats that are the best predictors of how good a player really is, or one that measures how well he did in this season? If you want to have some sort of combination, of what weight do you give to each?

      WHIP is a terrible stat for determining a pitcher’s value, for example.

    • Ross Holden says:

      I asked Joe the same question a few weeks ago and he responded here in the middle section:

      And his response was similar, that no, WAR shouldn’t be the sole determinate of MVP, but really only because WAR isn’t perfect. There are other stats to consider, and worth arguing over. But he doesn’t mention clutchness or intangibles or anything like that.

  10. nscadu9 says:

    As soon as Buck and McCarver (or Buck McCarver as they should be known as a single entity) started going on about Ortiz and not mentioning Hatcher, that 1990 world series immediately sprang to mind. As you mention, we only cared about things like pitcher wins and era and rbi and batting average. I remember Hatcher’s string of hits so vividly, but also Rijo’s lights out performances. I think Hatcher got overlooked because he had only 2 rbi and 0 Hrs and those were really important stats. He was deserving, but Rijo was no slouch and he had those sexy stats of 2 wins when we only cared about pitcher wins and 0.59 era when we cared about that too and in the WS against the bash brothers and the mighty A’s and he was undefeated on Tuesdays in October.

  11. David Eberly says:

    Well done, Joe. Completely agree. I live near Billy Hatcher now here in Cincy; very nice guy, btw.

    And these inane stats remind me of what the Reds have done for years at the stadium — they put up a meaningless positive stat for every Red. You can tell how good or bad a year a player is having by the meaningfulness of his stat. “Jay Bruce leads the NL in extra base hits.” “Tony Womack led the NL in sacrifice hits in the month of July,” Bad year for Tony, then.

  12. 18thstreet says:

    I could be wrong, but I believe they put up on screen that Xander, in post-season road games, has a .333 batting average. That was awesome.

    There’s so many interesting things about Xander. And they’re just captivated by the fact that he speaks four languages.

  13. JBounce says:

    As a dodgers fan, I am spoiled by vin scully. They should bring him back to call ws games while it’s still possible!

    • Tom Wright says:

      That was exactly what I thought about when Joe posted this:

      “You know, Matt Carpenter is the son of a high school baseball coach. He was a high school teammate of James Loney. He had some pretty serious injuries in college. He was a 13th round pick and was signed for $1,000. He was widely viewed as a non-prospect because of his lack of speed and lack of power. He might have been the best player on the St. Louis Cardinals this year.”

      That could have been transcribed verbatim from a Vin Scully broadcast.

  14. It doesn’t bother me if they put up graphics to show that someone, like Ortiz, is going absolutely bananas in the series (potential series MVP)… nor does it bother me when they put up the opposite… say ARod is 0-20 in the series…. or has struckout 12 of the 20 times he’s batted (potential series goat). Highlighting the hot players and the strugglers can be part of the narrative (Big Game Jack Morris, anyone?). But, someone hitting .300 for the series vs. .222 in the ALCS doesn’t interest me in the least. Those two numbers are 1-2 hits apart in a small sample size. So, to me, context is important. I think the issue was the overload of stats that scream “so what?” is the issue we’re talking about here. The Vin Scully’s of the world are able to fill their air time without quoting a bunch of stats (apparently unlike Buck & McCarver)… but that doesn’t mean that Vin won’t trot out some eye popping, or at least interesting stats now and again to help tell the story.

  15. That’s the “back of the baseball card” logic. Something good about everyone, even if they totally suck. Reminds me of quote from the book Semi Tough…. or was it North Dallas Forty? Faced with the tough task of saying complimentary (as he was instructed to do to everyone) to a fat girl who was hanging on to him at a dance, the guy (a lineman) says ” ya know, you sweat less than any fat girl I’ve ever met”.

  16. Can I just say that this new comment page kind of sucks?! When trying to reply to other comments, sometimes it just drops the comment to the botom of the pile, losing all context… and sometime it just decides not to post my comment. I know Joe said this was an “upgraded” comment section…. but to me, it’s way worse than the previous. Joe, did you get a free bowl of soup when you signed up for this dog?

  17. Bill White says:

    Tell me that a team that has won three of its last five games, and I’m thinking that team has also won three of its last six, and perhaps only three of its last seven.

  18. invitro says:

    “Question 4. Statement: In baseball, the MVP award unequivocally should go to the best player.
    Disagree. “Most valuable” is different. Factors like clutchiness and team performance must be considered.”

    This question has a serious logical error, which I suppose is obvious, but anyway: it assumes that everyone voting agrees that clutchiness is not part of being the best player.

    Well, I disagree quite strongly with that assumption, and I bet many others do too. Maybe even most others. The question probably should’ve just not mentioned clutchiness. (Actually, I wish there would be a simple poll asking just this: Should clutchiness be considered when voting for MVP? And I wish Joe would say what he thinks… I think he would say no.)

    On stats on TV, I agree almost completely. Almost. Major records should be mentioned. What if Beltran hit 6 (or whatever) homers to set a new WS record; wouldn’t you want that mentioned? Well, Ortiz’s consecutive on-base streak is at most a hair less important than the HR record. It should be mentioned.

    I’ll be watching to see if he can break the BA, H, or OBP records tonight.

    • Karyn Ellis says:

      I’m not sure I agree with you there. Let’s use the Alex Rodriguez example. Think back a few years, let’s say 2007–his MVP year. Rodriguez got 9.37 bWAR. I remember a lot of talk about how he never hit in the clutch, his homers only came when the game was out of reach, too many inning-ending DPs hit into, etc. People said ‘Maybe he’s the best overall, but he didn’t come up big for his team when it mattered–he wasn’t clutch’. And this was used as an argument against him being MVP. I don’t get it.

      • invitro says:

        (a) ARod has a -10.0 Clutch number for the regular season, which is very low.
        (b) But he had a 0.9 Clutch for 2007, and should’ve gotten a bonus for clutch hitting in MVP voting that year, rather than a demerit.

        • Karyn Ellis says:

          But he wasn’t perceived that way. He was considered the anti-Jeter, not a True Yankee, a bum who only cared for his own stat line.

          Before this year’s revelations about how frequently and how recently he used PEDs, I really did not understand the Alex Rodriguez hate.

          • invitro says:

            I’m not sure what you’re saying… are you saying clutch shouldn’t be considered because some people had ARod’s 2007 clutch performance bass-ackwards?

    • Tampa Mike says:

      It is fair to include clutchiness along with team performance. Some people want to look at offensive stats in a complete vacuum. Whoever has the best average, RBIs, HRs, Runs Scored, etc wins the award. Others says you have to be a leader on a winning team. They are completely different views, both with their own merit.

      Personally, I would consider clutchiness but not team performance. I don’t believe that statistics alone should determine the award, but a player can only do so much for a team to win. Leadership and clutchiness play a big part along with the statistics.

      • Karyn Ellis says:

        I can see using ‘clutchiness’ as a tie breaker. I don’t understand the ‘leadership’ aspect, though.

        How do we know who was really a leader? What if a guy is just really reserved, or speaks very little English, or even has an anxiety disorder? Does that make his accomplishments on the field somehow less worthy? How do you know if, say, in 2006 Justin Morneau was a better leader than Derek Jeter? He must be, because Morneau was the 3rd most productive player on his own team that year! But how can this be–everybody knows that Jeter is the best team leader in baseball, and has been for at least a decade.

        • invitro says:

          I believe positive leadership (there is negative leadership, too — see Dick Allen) should be considered… as long as a voter has a really good reason why they think a player really did exhibit it, and has a reason for how much they believe it should count.

          I’m prepared to be OK with a beat writer who argues that he knows Morneau was a good leader in 2006, as long as that writer can give me specific examples.

  19. Hans Nestingen says:

    The stat at the end of the game made me laugh the most: “Jon Lester is the Red Sox 1st left-handed starter to have 3 wins in a World Series since Babe Ruth.” Considering the Red Sox have hardly ever been to the WS since Ruth, there really wasn’t any competition for this distinction. They flashed it on the screen like 3 or 4 times and it just made me laugh

    • invitro says:

      “Considering the Red Sox have hardly ever been to the WS since Ruth,”

      You’re trying to make a joke, right?

      • Ian R. says:

        Let’s count:


        Seven World Series since the days of Ruth. Impressively, the Red Sox won at least three games in all of those series (the first four went the full 7 games, and of course they won the last three).

        Still, when the team only wins three games, total, in a series, it’s highly unlikely that the same pitcher (let alone a left-hand pitcher) will take home the W in all three of them. Moreover, ’04 and ’07 were sweeps, which means it’s highly, highly unlikely that one pitcher would have a chance to pick up three wins.

        So, yeah, I think Hans was right to point out that there were very few opportunities for a Red Sox left-hander to win that many games.

        • invitro says:

          To be clear, the Lester stat is silly, sure. The thing I don’t get is saying that seven World Series is “hardly ever been” :).

    • KHAZAD says:

      What made me laugh even more than the Lester stat was the way Fox kept hammering the point that the Red Sox had not won a World Series at home in 95 years (since 1918). They started talking about this in game 5, and I think it was mentioned or shown on the screen 100 times during game 6. I didn’t care about it the first time they mentioned it, and by the end of the game I was thinking I should have made it into a drinking game. (Though someone probably would’ve died of alcohol poisoning)

      Even their on field reporter opened the first post game interview with it. “How does it feel to be a part of the first Red Sox team to win the world series at home in 95 years?” It was ridiculous.

  20. Shagster says:

    Well, well. Look who’s here to stink up the joint. It’s our old friend, clutchiness. We didn’t see him coming; no mere statistical tools can spot clutchiness. But here he is.

    Hatcher had it. Ortiz does now. He’s better than his season, better than his career. He’s on an absurd tear. During the WS, no less. Small sample size? Sure. Small sample during the WS? Sorry, can’t read blogs while our heads are in the sand.

    Believing something is seeing something. Seeing something is doing something. Confidence rubs off, players elevate their play. How does one measure that?

    What’s an MVP? 406 or the guy whose play lifts his whole team? A star? or the rising fellow whose play convinces the team that they ARE special?

    Fortunately, beauty of Papi’s run is he already a good player so stat hacks and gut feelers can enjoy.

    Go Wacha.

  21. Rick R says:

    When Anibal Sanchez of the Tigers became the first pitcher to strike out 4 batters in one postseason inning since Orval Overall of the 1908 Chicago Cubs, I was really hoping that Buck and McCarver would run with it. Here’s a guy with one of the greatest names in the history of baseball. Here’s a feat that is so rare, it last happened when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series—the last time they would win the Series in 105 years. I wanted to know more about that inning—who did he strike out?—and about Orval Overall, and the Cubs dynasty. Every mention of Orval Overall would bring a smile to my face. Maybe someone could dig out a picture of him. But McCarver just said something like—“Orval Overall? You’ve gotta be kidding me.”

    So I looked him up. He was a great pitcher with a wicked curve who blew out his arm at the age of 29. He was nicknamed the Big Groundhog because he was a big guy born on February 2nd. The Cubs World Series opponent in 1908 (and 1907) was the Detroit Tigers, Anibal Sanchez’s team. He out-dueled Wild Bill Donovan of the Tigers in both the 1907 and 1908 World Series, and held Ty Cobb to a .125 batting average in the two Series combined. He was the winning pitcher when the Cubs clinched the World Series in 1908. Orval Overall was not only a goldmine of stories—he even owned a goldmine with his teammate Three Finger Brown.

    But Fox had nothing.

  22. Joe C says:

    357 is an excellent baseball number… who else has 796.357 burned into their brains? That’s the Dewey Decimal number for the heavenly part of the library where they keep the baseball books – if you were looking for me while I was between the ages of 8 and 14, that would have been a good place to start.

  23. DSeat says:

    1) Smart people are just another special interest group. We are no more attractive to sports advertisers than BYU fans are to the Sugar Bowl committee. We make up a tiny, non-spending fraction of the viewing audience and can/should be ignored.

    2) This is just another front in Fox’s War on Intelligence.

  24. wordyduke says:

    Joe, Your posts and (almost all of) the comments they attract are always a treat. And yes, trivial, even misleading stats present the game as something smaller than it really is.

  25. Judge says:

    Thank you for bringing this up. I could not agree with you more. When they slipped up last night and actually gave us some interesting information on Shane Victorino, I was shocked. Who knew he was offered a football scholarship to U of Hawaii that could’ve changed his life path? I didn’t, and that helped add to the mosaic of Victorino and give me a fuller appreciation of him as an athlete.

    While I’m at it, what is with the almost total avoidance of mentioning college baseball careers on these national games? We are bombarded with this info in NFL telecasts. More than half of both rosters featured college baseball players including some who were teammates (Stephen Drew and Shane Robinson at FSU) and others who competed against each other as rivals (Brandon Workman at Texas and Michael Wacha at Texas A&M). And how about David Freese’s story? Offered baseball scholarship to Missouri, feeling burned out, quits the sport but then has a change of heart and ends up at transferring to S. Alabama.

  26. Mark Daniel says:

    I don’t mind the small sample size stats that are meaningless (i.e., player A is batting .250 in games 1 and 2). What I don’t like is the extreme dramatization. With Ortiz, Fox would have you believe that it would be utterly insane to even throw one pitch to Ortiz that was anywhere close to a strike the entire game. Or with Wacha, who has ice in his blood, nerves of steel, and is a combination of Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax.
    You can probably name any player on either team and give an example of how the Fox announcers took their situation and elevated it, or lowered it, to absurd levels.

  27. McCarver is only interesting in things that are boring to everyone else. I’m sure he gets fed stats, because he doesn’t look them up himself. He believes he knows everything & everything else is just numbers and garbage to him.

  28. I agree with Hans… though I’m sure that Invitro is pointing out that the Red Sox have been in three World Series in the past 10 years. Also, they were in some other series, probably at least once per decade (on average). But, their success hasn’t always been stellar. Still, the first lefthander to have 3 wins in a series since Babe Ruth is funny on several levels. One, yes, the Red Sox didn’t win a series for almost 100 years, so for anyone to win 3 games in one series, you’d almost have to win the series. Second, in Fenway Park, for a long time the Sox didn’t look to feature lefthanders. Obviously the thinking was that Fenway would eat up lefthanders, so they tended not to go that direction. Not a lot of famous lefthanders for the Sox… maybe Bill Lee who wasn’t exactly awesome. Anyway, the Fox “dyanmic duo” gave us lots of those “lefthanders, at Fenway, with one hand tied behind their backs, compared to players from a century ago” stats. It was horrific. My wife was actually invested in the game (she likes final games) and was making astute observations “Pedroia tried to do to much with that groundball” and I was too irritated with the coverage to converse with her. Then, OMG, the on field questions at the end of the game!!!! Weren’t those the dumbest things you’ve ever heard??? It’s a good thing that all of the Red Sox were in a good mood, or someone would have punched that bow tie wearing poof. Man, I’m glad I don’t have to watch anymore of that crap Fox network trying to do baseball. Epic fail!

  29. BSG says:

    I see what you did there! In a blog entry about meaningless stats that often use small sample sizes, you took the small sample size of the Reds 89 (5th), 90 (1st), and 91 (5th) season and came to the conclusion that the 1990 season was PREPOSTEROUS! But if you give the standings a broader look you get a different picture. The Reds finished second in 85, 86, 87 and 88. Then they finished second again in 1992.

    Very clever

  30. Steve Adey says:

    “an obvious case of selection bias”
    People who only seek information from sources they completely agree with aren’t what I’d call “brilliant.”

  31. Ryan says:

    This post bothers me a little. For some those little bits of statistical information might be interesting and may even tell a little story. It’s also worth noting that in the next post you write “[Ortiz] did not hit .733. That’s suggesting he had enough at-bats to make a batting average credible. No. He went 11 for 15. I don’t know whose idea it was to start giving batting averages for numbers that small, but they should stop,” but in this post you conclude with “[The Reds] swept the series. Hatcher hit .750 [9 for 12].” Which is it?

  32. Frank Evans says:

    Great post, Joe… as usual. I will disagree mildly on one point: Anything that gets Buck and McCarver to say something remotely factual is a good point, even if the fact is not terribly relevant to the action.

  33. You basically said that Buck an Mccarver are terrible journalists. Which I don’t really disagree with. I’ve always wanted the teams hometown commentators to do the home playoff games because they know soooo much more about the players and the teams than the national commentators do. Every time I watch my team’s playoff game there seems to be a moment when a commentator will say something like, “Well Player x had a great season” and that will be the end of it, but I’m left there thinking “Oh what, you can’t take the time to talk about how last year he was terrible and went to the minors and worked on his swing with the coach and had an epiphany?”. I’m not saying that home town broadcasters are that great for most teams, but I guarantee they’d tell a better story than the national media can. I think baseball is made more interesting by those stories.

  34. […] invites thoughtful essays, and Posnanski delivers. This past baseball postseason, Posnanski had some insightful things to say about the over-use and mis-use of baseball statistics in television broadcasts. Stats are a part of […]

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