Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Awards (Dammit)

Yesterday, Alex Rodriguez was awarded the American League MVP. While I was neither shocked nor stunned by the announcement, the debate over who "should" win the award is always annoying.

Much of the debate focused on whether a designated hitter like David Ortiz should win the award, given that he does not play the field. I'm somewhat sympathetic to that argument because a good player in the field can add value to a team. The problem is that Alex Rodriguez is not someone who adds much value at the third base position. According to Baseball Prospectus, A-Rod is seven runs below average at the hot corner (and only 9 runs above a replacement player). So, all things being equal, A-Rod is actually a defensive liability. Should that be taken away from him? At least David Ortiz does not have the chance to hurt his team in the field. Luckily, A-Rod makes up for his lack of fielding with clear advantage in VORP over Ortiz (which is partially explained by A-Rod playing third base).

But what bothers me more in this debate is that pitchers are, for the most part, excluded from the MVP debate. Sure, there was Hal Newhouser and Guillermo Hernandez and Dennis Eckersely winning MVP awards in the past. However, for the most part, starting pitchers are excluded from the MVP debate because "they only pitch every five days."

What an unbelievable load of excrement. By the same logic, why shouldn't position players be excluded because "they only bat once every nine times"? While batters have an everyday impact on games, starting pitchers have a more intense impact on the games they pitch - they face every batter for seven or more innings. This is demonstrated by a two data points - batters faced and plate appearances. Chris Carpenter faced a total of 953 batters for the Cardinals this year. At the same time, Albert Pujols had 700 plate appearances. Thus, Carpenter had 36% more chances to impact his team's performance than Pujols did. If you compared two position players and one played in 162 games versus one playing in 118 games, all other things equal, you would say that the 162 game player was more valuable to the team. And that's exactly what happened in St. Louis.

You can also compare performances a little more directly. Imagine scaling back Chris Carpenter's statistics to 700 PA.

Here's Albert Pujols:

.330 AVG / .430 OBP / .609 SLG - 41 HR, 117 RBI, 97 BB, 65 K

Now, here's what Chris Carpenter held the opposition to, adjusted to 700 PA:

.231 AVG / .271 OBP / .351 SLG - 13 HR, 56 RBI, 37 BB, 156 K

If a manager ever put out a guy like that for 700 plate appearances like that, he'd be fired. Yet, Chris Carpenter did that to the National League as a whole last year - turned them all into squirming Corey Pattersons. And Chris Carpenter wasn't nearly as good in the rate-stat department as Roger Clemens, for example, who would have done this in 700 PA:

.198 AVG / .261 OBP /.284 SLG - 9 HR, 37 RBI, 52 BB, 154 K

Those are sub-Guzman statistics! Roger Clemens turned the National League into hitters worse than Cristian Guzman. And you (the pejorative "you") are trying to tell me that Roger Clemens (who face 838 batters this season) does not have the impact on his team that a position player does?

I'm not advocating that starting pitchers should always or frequently win the MVP award. In fact, I think everyone would be better off if the MVP was always for hitters and the Cy Young stayed as a pitching award. But do not tell me that a starting pitcher is not as valuable to his team as a position player "because he only pitches every five days."


At 11:52 AM, Blogger Brian said...

Great post. Unfortunately, there are too many tarditional sportswiters and ex-jocks who view pitchers in a different light than so-called everyday players

It's the argument that always took center stage in the off-season (that is until Joe Morgan decided to declare a fatwa on Billy Beane and Moneyball)

At 12:15 PM, Blogger DM said...

Yep, this is a good post. As you know, part of things like Win Shares, Win Probability and ERV Scoring is to create a common currency for all players to compare value, just as your analysis does here. In ERV Scoring, we can compare directly how many runs a pitcher generates or squanders with that of a batter or fielder.

Ideally we would move away from a separate Cy Young and MVP and towards a single award. Either that, or let's have one award for C, 1B, 2B, SS, etc.

At 1:49 PM, Blogger Yuda said...

I think, to really get to the heart of an analysis like this, you'd have to add a couple of additional factors in: the defense, if it can be reasonably quantified (and I say if because I'm not convinced it can), the pitcher's hitting -- which usually hurts the team -- and probably baserunning.

At 1:53 PM, Blogger Yuda said...

A really rough, back-of-envelope calculation:

Carpenter was good for 89 PRAR (pitching runs above replacement), 1 FRAR (fielding) and -12 BRAR (batting).

Pujols was worth 0, 13 and 87.

That leaves Pujols with the advantage, 100 to 78.

At 11:24 AM, Blogger Mean Dean said...

Win Shares doesn't like A-Rod's defense much either (10th in the AL in fielding WS)... still, just from the gut, it doesn't make much sense to me that a Gold Glove SS becomes a terrible 3B. I do think we've made huge advances in evaluating defense, but we're not at the point IMO where if someone tells me a guy saved or cost X number of runs, I can take that as gospel. Anyway, the larger factor, as you allude to, is that A-Rod can play 3B at all, since that's a tougher position to fill with an adequate fielder than 1B/DH is.

I agree with you that those who refuse to consider pitchers for MVP are being silly (not to mention violating the explicitly stated rules of the award!) I do think, though, that it's gonna be rare for a pitcher to actually be the most valuable player. A pitcher may face more batters than a batter faces pitchers, but this is made up for by the fact that the batter influences each at-bat more than the pitcher does. Team defense is not only pitching, but also has the very significant aspect of fielding. Team offense does have other factors at work besides hitting (most notably baserunning), but they're not as large a part of the offensive equation as fielding is of the defensive equation. So whatever percentage of importance you want to assign to things, the hitter is going to be more than the pitcher.

Did you notice that Mariano Rivera did much better in the MVP voting than Bartolo Colon? I suppose that must mean many writers are at least being consistent with the "everyday player" criteria. But ultimately, I don't think that makes any damn sense either.


Post a Comment

<< Home