By In Stuff

What is wOBA missing?

Michael Schur and I did another PosCast, have a listen if you like, but the point here is that we began by discussing whether Twitter is, in total, a net positive or a net negative. There are many wonderful things about Twitter and the immediacy of it. And there’s a lot of lousy stuff too. I suppose that says more about us as human beings than it does about the Twitter format itself.

In any case, there was a wonderful exchange on Twitter between two good friends — teammate and StatCast guru Mike Petriello and the one and only Bill James.

Ah, there is so much there to unpack — Mike bringing up the fascinating point that even though nobody is talking about Kris Bryant this year (he didn’t even make the All-Star Team), he is by wOBA — weighted on-base average — having more or less the same season that he did last year when he was the MVP and the talk of baseball and all the rest of it.

And then Bill, always the challenger, asked the incisive question: So what does this say about wOBA? What is it missing that it cannot get to the heart of WHY Kris Bryant’s season is being yawned over this year when the stats insists he is having as good a season as last year?

Let’s first take a look at the numbers for both seasons.

Batting Average/On Base Percentage/Slugging Percentage:

2016: .292/.385/.554

2017: .293/.405/..535

OK, so when looking at the core numbers, absolutely, Bryant is having an almost identical year to 2016. His power numbers are down slightly but his on-base percentage is up by just as much. Using Bill’s simple runs created formula, Bryant is creating just slightly MORE runs per game this year. So this looks the same.

Home Runs/RBIs/Runs Scored

2016: 39 HRs/102 RBIs/121 runs(runs led league)

2017 (projected for 155 games): 31 HRS/75 RBIs/108 runs

OK, now we are getting somewhere. His home runs are down, his RBIs are WAY down, and even his runs are down (mostly because his home runs are down). Now, we know that runs and RBIs are context-driven numbers; they rely on the success of teammates. The Cubs have not been nearly as good in 2017, so this explains the decline somewhat.

But does it explain everything? wOBA has Bryant being as good as last year, but we know he’s not hitting as many home runs (which have a huge impact on runs and RBIs). So what is Bryant doing BETTER than he did in 2017?

Answer: He’s walking a lot more.

Bryant is hitting doubles at about the same pace as last year. He should have two or three more triples than he had last year. He’s got a few more singles. But, mostly, he’s walking like crazy. He walked 75 times last year. He’s on pace to walk 100 times this year.

Now, we all know walks are valuable. By walking so much more this year, Bryant is making fewer outs … this adds value. As wOBA suggests, it adds as much value as he is losing for his decline in home runs.

But now we are getting to the heart of what wOBA does and what it does not do. It shows — in superb ways, I think — a player’s offensive value. But it does not measure (and does not want to measure) what you might call: Buzz. A year ago, Kris Bryant had numerous memorable hits in what was a dazzling season for his team. This year, Kris Bryant is hitting .223 with runners in scoring position in a Cubs’ season that has felt shockingly lethargic.

Last year, Bryant had an 11-homer June as the Cubs ran away from the world.

This year, Bryant had a 9-RBI June as the Cubs kept teasing and then falling back.

Last year, Bryant was in the highlights night after night, making dazzling defensive plays, crushing monster home runs, lighting up the baseball season. This year, let’s be honest: It just hasn’t felt that way.

Bryant has been fantastic since the beginning of July, but it’s a different kind of fantastic. The home runs are not coming. He’s hitting a lot of singles and continuing to draw walks and it’s great stuff … but it isn’t buzz-creating like it was last year.

Also this year there are OTHER players having insane seasons. Last year, Bryant’s .396 wOBA was good enough for fourth in the league, and it really wasn’t too far behind Joey Votto’s .league-leading 413.

This year, his .397 wOBA is good for NINTH in the league and it’s nowhere near Votto’s .433 or Paul Goldschmidt’s .426 or Bryce Harper’s .425. Giancarlo Stanton is hitting a home run every night. Justin Turner is having a crazy season. Anthony Rendon is insanely great night after night. Bryant might be as good as he was last year (in a different way) but you can think about the line about how a shark has to keep moving to live. And if it doesn’t, as Woody Allen said, you have is a dead shark.

And then, sure, there’s the whole story: The Cubs aren’t the story of baseball like they were a year ago, not even close. In my mind, this shouldn’t affect MVP talk but of course it does, and I suspect it always will.

Look, Kris Bryant is still fantastic, and that’s what wOBA tells us, and that’s super valuable information. But for many reasons that go beyond wOBA, he’s not an MVP candidate — not even a particularly interesting story — at the moment for very viable reasons. He still has six weeks or so to blow the minds of MVP voters, and he’s very capable of doing it. But, wOBA or not, he just hasn’t done it yet.

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34 Responses to What is wOBA missing?

  1. Frog says:

    wOBA is also missing a cool name. The advanced stats would get more traction if they had better wrapping paper.

  2. Rob Smith says:

    Think about Joey Votto who’s probably about to lead the league in wOBA two years in a row. Maybe a little buzz this year because of Brian Kenny’s regular Votto tweets. But he wasn’t in the MVP discussion last year and probably won’t be in serious MVP contention this year either.

    • SDG says:

      Yes. But that’s in large part because he’s on a team that’s eleven billion games out of first, in a weak division, that hasn’t been a winner in general in a long time. That matters too. Maybe it shouldn’t, but it does.

  3. Bryan says:

    2016 (MVP rank) wOBA Name, first 10 are in order by wOBA among qualified for batting title:
    (7) .413 Joey Votto – 158 games, Team 68-94, 26 of 30 voters pick him 6th-9th
    (2) .408 Daniel Murphy – 142 games, Team 95-67, 27 of 30 voters pick him 2nd-4th
    (6) .402 Freddie Freeman 158 games, Team 68-93, 24 of 30 voters pick him 6th-9th
    (1) .396 Kris Bryant – 155 games, Team 103-58, 29 of 30 voters pick him 1st
    (T25) .394 Charlie Blackmon – 143 games, Team 75-87, one 10th place vote
    *
    (14) .391 DJ LeMahieu – 146 games, Team 75-87, 5 of 30 voters pick him 9th-10th
    (4) .391 Anthony Rizzo – 155 games, Team 103-58, 24 of 30 voters pick him 3rd-5th
    (5) .386 Nolan Arenado – 160 games, Team 75-87, 23 of 30 voters pick him 3rd-5th
    (11) .382 Paul Goldschmidt – 158 games, Team 69-93, 11 of 30 voters pick him 8th-10th
    (T22) .378 Ryan Braun – 135 games, Team 73-89, two 10th place votes

    (3) .372 13th Corey Seager – 157 games, Team 91-71, 28 of 30 voters pick him 2nd-4th
    (8) .369 15th Yoenis Cespedes – 132 games, Team 87-75, 13 of 30 voters pick him 6th-9th
    (9) .353 22nd Justin Turner – 151 games, Team 91-71, 11 of 30 voters pick him 6th-9th
    (14) .341 T32nd Buster Posey – 146 games, Team 87-75, one each 6th, 7th and 9th place vote
    (10) .183 nth Max Scherzer – 34 games, Team 95-67, 11 of 30 voters pick him 6th-9th
    *
    Setting aside the “complete mystery” of Scherzer receiving MVP votes:
    Kris Bryant’s team makes the playoffs vaulting him ahead of Votto and Freeman. Murphy misses 13 more games but I think the bigger drawback was that Washington played to expectations and someone from the Cubs was going to win MVP. Arenado wins the Gold Glove and has a large voting edge over his teammates who don’t. Rizzo wins the Gold Glove but being the “best defensive 1B” apparently doesn’t count for much.
    *
    Seager vaulting ahead of players who missed the playoffs isn’t surprising. wOBA does seem to play a huge factor in Seager blowing away Gold Glove winner Buster Posey who does make the playoffs. Setting aside all “fancy” numbers except wOBA the Gold Glove winning catcher on a playoff team who is a former MVP and plays about as many games as a catcher will play in a season gets left off 27 of 30 ballots even while being a very good hitter.
    *
    The Top 7 is pretty much the “meaningful” results they get 207 of a possible 210 positions on the ballots, every 1st-4th vote, 27 5th, 20 6th and 21 7th. Penalize players for missing the playoffs, penalize players for playing in Colorado, penalize for prior PED suspension, maybe even throw a pitcher or two onto your ballot and the wild card of Gold Gloves that Arenado’s seems to help, while Posey’s and Rizzo’s do not.
    *
    Currently in 2017, Kris Bryant is 9th in wOBA and his team is performing below expectations. Last year Bryant was picked ahead of Murphy by 29 of 30 voters most likely because of expectations, this year those expectations work against him. He also goes from trailing another player making the playoffs by .012 to currently trailing players likely to make the playoffs Justin Turner by .025 and Bryce Harper .028 and possible playoff participant Paul Goldschmidt by .029 and if the voters are willing to overlook playoffs like they did last year for Mike Trout, Joey Votto leads by .036 as opposed to .017 last year.
    *
    If you want to convert wOBA from a stat meant to reflect batting performance to one meant to predict MVP voting results among 2016 position players:
    (1) .416 Kris Bryant – * 1.05 team exceeding expectations
    (2) .408 Daniel Murphy – no adjustments
    (4) .401 Anthony Rizzo – * 1.025 team exceeding expectations but not best player on team
    (3) .391 Corey Seager – * 1.05 being youngest viable MVP candidate
    *
    (5) .383 Nolan Arenado – * 0.95 missing playoffs, * 0.95 Colorado, * 1.1 Gold Glove
    (7) .383 Joey Votto – * 0.95 missing playoffs, * 0.975 previous MVP win
    (6) .382 Freddie Freeman – * 0.95 missing playoffs
    (8) .369 Yoenis Cespedes – no adjustments
    (14) .366 Buster Posey – * 1.1 Gold Glove, * 0.975 previous MVP win
    *
    (11) .363 Paul Goldschmidt – * 0.95 missing playoffs
    (T25) .356 Charlie Blackmon – * 0.95 missing playoffs, * 0.95 Colorado
    (9) .353 Justin Turner – no adjustments
    (14) .353 DJ LeMahieu – * 0.95 missing playoffs, * 0.95 Colorado
    (T22) .341 Ryan Braun – * 0.95 missing playoffs, * 0.95 PED issues
    *
    Even with reverse engineering, Seager over Rizzo is very difficult to explain even ignoring a Gold Glove at 1B. A larger penalty for not being the best player on team makes Justin Turner even harder to explain, who maybe gets a boost for the Rollie Fingers facial hair adjustment. But playoffs are definitely a major factor in MVP voting, most likely play a larger role in voting than silly things like defense and base running. wOBA is not meant to predict MVP results and I have no idea why you would expect it to and even if it did it’s important to consider Kris Bryant’s relative decline to league leaders, not just maintaining 2016 performance.

  4. […] was reminded of the value of this excitement element in looking at this Joe Posnanski column about Kris Bryant. Mike Petriello, the superb analyst at MLB.com, experienced tweeted out a line […]

    • Matt says:

      I don’t know what’s up with all of these links to different copies of the same Aaron Judge article, but this one is AMAZING. It’s like it was run through some sort of synonym replacement algorithm designed to defeat plagiarism detection. “Aaron Decide hit his 37th residence operate on Wednesday, a shot that landed on one particular of all those motor vehicle-repair service outlets that line the streets outdoors Citi Discipline. The official measurement was 457 toes…” It goes on and on. From now on I will start using “residence operate” instead of “home run” in conversations

  5. […] was reminded of the importance of this buzz factor in reading this Joe Posnanski column about Kris Bryant. Mike Petriello, the excellent analyst at MLB.com, had tweeted out a line […]

  6. […] was reminded of the importance of this buzz factor in reading this Joe Posnanski column about Kris Bryant. Mike Petriello, the excellent analyst at MLB.com, had tweeted out a line […]

  7. […] was reminded of the importance of this buzz factor in reading this Joe Posnanski column about Kris Bryant. Mike Petriello, the excellent analyst at MLB.com, had tweeted out a line […]

  8. […] was reminded of the importance of this buzz factor in reading this Joe Posnanski column about Kris Bryant. Mike Petriello, the excellent analyst at MLB.com, had tweeted out a line […]

  9. […] was reminded of the importance of this buzz factor in reading this Joe Posnanski column about Kris Bryant. Mike Petriello, the excellent analyst at MLB.com, had tweeted out a line […]

  10. […] was reminded of the importance of this buzz factor in reading this Joe Posnanski column about Kris Bryant. Mike Petriello, the excellent analyst at MLB.com, had tweeted out a line […]

  11. […] was reminded of the importance of this buzz factor in reading this Joe Posnanski column about Kris Bryant. Mike Petriello, the excellent analyst at MLB.com, had tweeted out a line […]

  12. […] was reminded of the importance of this buzz factor in reading this Joe Posnanski column about Kris Bryant. Mike Petriello, the excellent analyst at MLB.com, had tweeted out a line […]

  13. […] was reminded of the importance of this buzz factor in reading this Joe Posnanski column about Kris Bryant. Mike Petriello, the excellent analyst at MLB.com, had tweeted out a line […]

  14. […] was reminded of the importance of this buzz factor in reading this Joe Posnanski column about Kris Bryant. Mike Petriello, the excellent analyst at MLB.com, had tweeted out a line […]

  15. […] was reminded of the importance of this buzz factor in reading this Joe Posnanski column about Kris Bryant. Mike Petriello, the excellent analyst at MLB.com, had tweeted out a line […]

  16. […] was reminded of the importance of this buzz factor in reading this Joe Posnanski column about Kris Bryant. Mike Petriello, the excellent analyst at MLB.com, had tweeted out a line […]

  17. […] was reminded of the importance of this buzz factor in reading this Joe Posnanski column about Kris Bryant. Mike Petriello, the excellent analyst at MLB.com, had tweeted out a line […]

  18. […] was reminded of the importance of this buzz factor in reading this Joe Posnanski column about Kris Bryant. Mike Petriello, the excellent analyst at MLB.com, had tweeted out a line […]

  19. Bryan says:

    The wOBA ranking of the last 20 position player MVPs (2014 NL Stanton and 2011 AL Ellsbury who finished 2nd to pitchers) among players qualified for the batting title in their league:
    *
    (7) 1st in league and makes playoffs: 2013 AL Cabrera, 2012 AL Cabrera, 2011 NL Braun, 2010 NL Votto, 2010 AL Hamilton, 2009 NL Pujols, 2009 AL Mauer, 2008 NL Pujols
    (2) 1st in league and misses playoffs:
    2015 NL Harper .461/153 games, first making playoffs Rizzo .384/160 games, not within 5%
    2008 NL Pujols .459/148 games, first making playoffs Utley .389/159 games, not within 5%
    *
    (2) 1st among who made playoffs: 2015 AL Donaldson, 2012 NL Posey
    2015 AL: Trout .415/159 games, Miggy .413/119 games, Donaldson .398/158 games, Miggy’s lack of games quite possibly an issue if Tigers make playoffs, within 5% and Donaldson wins
    2012 NL: Braun .413/154 games, Posey .406/148 games, within 5% and Posey wins
    *
    (4) 2nd in league: 2016 AL Trout, 2014 NL Stanton, 2007 A-Rod, 2006 NL Howard
    2016 AL: Ortiz .419/151 games, Trout .418/159 games, Donaldson .403/155 games, within 5% but Donaldson can’t leap past by making the playoffs, Ortiz most likely loses the MVP because his 2nd half (.381 wOBA) is a “disappointment” after 1st half (.451 wOBA)
    2014 NL: McCutchen .412/146 games, Stanton .403/145 games, McCutchen makes the playoffs but finishes just behind Stanton who doesn’t in MVP 271-298.
    2007 AL: Ortiz .449/149 games, A-Rod .445/158 games, both make the playoffs, DH may be a simple enough concept for BBWAA voters to understand if it’s really close
    2006 NL: Pujols .447/143 games, Howard .436/159 games, Pujols in the playoffs and Howard is not, maybe it’s those 16 games but it’s probably 58 HR and 149 RBI even though Pujols not far behind at 49 HR and 137 RBI
    *
    (3) 2nd among who made playoffs: 2016 NL Bryant, 2014 AL Trout, 2013 NL McCutchen
    2016 NL: detailed breakdown above
    2014 AL: V-Mart .411/151 games, Abreu .411/145 games, Trout .402/157 games, Trout within 5% to leap Abreu who doesn’t make playoffs, once again a DH “should” win based only on wOBA and a 5% playoff adjustment so DH is something the BBWAA might consider
    2013 NL: Votto .400/162 games, McCutchen .393/157 games, 4 players ahead of McCutchen who fall to the 5% playoff adjustment, McCutchen 28 of 30 first place votes, Votto might lose out because he’s not worthy of multiple MVPs according to the BBWAA
    *
    3rd among who made playoffs: 2008 AL Pedroia
    2008 AL: This one is a big mess but you can piece together a narrative. Pedroia is actually 12th and the only non-playoffs who beat him by more than 5% play 126 and 138 games leaving:
    Quentin .415/130 games, Youkilis .406/145 games, Pedroia .377/157 games, Quentin not only short games but it’s a season ending injury on Sep 1 and finishes 5th in MVP voting which leaves Pedroia with a Gold Glove and Age advantage over Youkilis, the narrative of Pedroia is the young future superstar playing his 2nd full season and Youkilis has a “known ceiling” and “stepped into a few extra HR” this year (29, previous career high 16).
    *
    Other: 2011 AL Ellsbury (5th overall, 3rd on own team, did not make playoffs), 2007 NL Rollins (11th among playoffs, 5th on own team), 2006 AL Morneau (6th among playoffs, 2nd on own team)
    2011 AL: Bautista .443/149 games, Miggy .437/161 games, AGonzalez .407/159 games, Ortiz .407/146 games, Ellsbury .400/158 games, only Miggy makes the playoffs. Ortiz gets 0 votes, even accepting a DH penalty that’s clearly one non-pitcher in one year that wOBA doesn’t get much consideration. Adrian picks up a Gold Glove at 1B but those don’t count for much it seems. Ellsbury gets one in the Outfield which apparently counts. Ellsbury might also get “Comeback Player of the Year” votes for MVP after playing 18 games in 2011. As Mike Trout well knows this is a situation where Miggy could easily win MVP but then again in this case neither does Ellsbury.
    *
    2007 NL: Rollins bribed some people. Rowand on the same team with 3 MVP points .384 wOBA/161 games and an OF Gold Glove, Rollins with 353 MVP points including 16 first place votes .371 wOBA/162 games and a SS Gold Glove. Hanley Ramirez 29 HR, 51 SB, .332 BA, .405 wOBA, 154 games, 49 MVP points and David Wright 30 HR, 34 SB, .325 BA, .413 wOBA, 160 games, 182 MVP points miss the playoffs but playoff adjustment is not normally that large if you want to go with Rollins 30 HR, 41 SB, .296 BA. Utley only plays 4 games in August and has no Gold Gloves in his entire career but has 4 Silver Sluggers including 2007. Gold Glove SS who is a very good hitter should be a strong basis for MVP but as Derek Jeter well knows it’s not a combination that often wins.
    *
    2006 AL: Jeter wins the Gold Glove at SS, .392 wOBA/154 games and the Yankees make the playoffs. Morneau wins the Silver Slugger at 1B, .390 wOBA/157 games and the Twins make the playoffs. Mauer is younger and a catcher .396 wOBA/140 games. Let alone needing to overlook DH and DH types Hafner, Manny, Ortiz and Thome at the top of the wOBA leaderboard. It’s pretty much the same jumble of ingredients as the following year in the NL, simply with a different result. Jeter obviously should have asked Rollins for advice.
    *
    Starting from 2008 you can actually guess a winner pretty accurately just by adding a 5% adjustment for the playoffs to wOBA. DH and MVP having a less clear impact because of small sample size but those things probably also impact voting, non-1B Gold Gloves sometimes fit the narrative when it’s not the expected winner. Always underestimate the quality of BBWAA voting and you won’t be disappointed.

    • Scott says:

      I still think Johan Santana should have won the MVP in 2006 when he won the major league triple crown (no small feet when in the AL), led the league in almost every pitching stat. His WAR was almost a run better than any position player and three wins better than Morneau (who was barely better than Nick Punto that year).

  20. Bryan says:

    Tommy Pham All-Stars 300/400/500 qualified for batting title.
    1961-1993: 77 times or 2.3 times per season
    1994-2008: 183 times or 12.2 times per season
    2009-2016: 31 times or 3.9 times per season
    *
    138 different players did it at least once 1961-2016 including:
    1970 Dick Dietz 300/426/515
    1977 Mitchell Page 307/405/521
    1993 Chris Hoiles 310/416/585
    1994 John Valentin 316/400/505
    1994 Shane Mack 333/402/564
    1996 Dave Nilsson 331/407/525
    2000 Darin Erstad 355/409/541
    2000 Edgardo Alfonzo 324/425/542
    2004 Melvin Mora 340/419/562
    2006 Garrett Atkins 329/409/556
    *
    Some of the players who didn’t: Harmon Killebrew, Reggie Jackson, Billy Williams, Dave Winfield, Jim Rice, Johnny Bench, Kirby Puckett, Andre Dawson, Barry Larkin and Ernie Banks.

  21. […] was reminded of the importance of this buzz factor in reading this Joe Posnanski column about Kris Bryant. Mike Petriello, the excellent analyst at MLB.com, had tweeted out a line […]

  22. Carl says:

    The challenge with wOBA is that the formula changes year to year. The 2017 formula being used on sites this year still uses last year’s formula. Only after the season is complete will the final 2017 wOBA be able to be calculated.

    Given the explosion in home runs this season, the formula will likely emphasize home runs more than last year, and Bryant’s wOBA will be adjusted downward.

  23. […] was reminded of the importance of this buzz factor in reading this Joe Posnanski column about Kris Bryant. Mike Petriello, the excellent analyst at MLB.com, had tweeted out a line […]

  24. Bryan says:

    Visitors Hitting a HR in Yankee Stadium before their 21st birthday since 1913:
    Playoffs:
    Andruw Jones 19y 180d – 2 HR in G1 of 1996 World Series
    Manny Machado 20y 96d – 1 HR in G3 of 2012 ALDS
    *
    Regular Season, ^pitcher: Ken Griffey Jr, Brian McCall and Buddy Lewis have a 2 HR game. Buddy Lewis also has a 1 HR game. Babe Ruth^ and Ed Kirkpatrick have two 1 HR games. Al Kaline, Billy Sullivan, Butch Wynegar, Cameron Maybin, Cass Michaels, Clint Hurdle, Elmer Valo, Gene Stephens, Harmon Killebrew, Jim Shaw^, Juan Gonzalez, Jurickson Profar, Ken Brett^, Melvin Upton, Rafael Devers, Rene Lachemann, Robin Yount, Rube Bressler^, Tony Conigliaro and Xander Bogaerts have one 1 HR game.
    *
    Ed Kirkpatrick’s first is the only one hit before the player’s 19th birthday. George Brett is 23y 152d when he gets his first HR at Yankee Stadium in G5 of the 1976 ALCS while his brother Ken does it at 20y 359d.
    *
    Information provided by baseball-reference.com Play Index.

  25. invitro says:

    “Anthony Rendon is insanely great” — Joe is running for King of Baseball Hyperbole.

  26. Brent says:

    Team Context is not why Bryant isn’t driving in as many runs, he isn’t driving in as many runs because his “clutch” stats stink this year. His RISP numbers: .227/.349/.443 are pedestrian and well behind his numbers without runners on. And his High Leverage stats are, well, Awful: .129/.292/.200.

    I am sure that he hasn’t suddenly become unclutch and this is just random, but that is WHY he isn’t driving in as many runs.

  27. Richard says:

    I think Joe understands the problem here:

    “But it does not measure (and does not want to measure) what you might call: Buzz.”

    No single number – however derived – can really capture the the greatness of a player. Doing the math helps us understand a player’s greatness, but we need more.

    Take a look at the career home run leaders, for example. Does Jim Thome (612) really deserve the same level of fame as Frank Robinson (586), Harmon Killebrew (573), or Reggie Jackson (563)? WAR is pretty good – over the course of a long career. But in a single season, what does a difference of 0.1 or even 0.5 really mean?

  28. […] was reminded of the importance of this buzz factor in reading this Joe Posnanski column about Kris Bryant. Mike Petriello, the excellent analyst at MLB.com, had tweeted out a line […]

  29. […] was reminded of the importance of this buzz factor in reading this Joe Posnanski column about Kris Bryant. Mike Petriello, the excellent analyst at MLB.com, had tweeted out a line […]

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