Wednesday, November 14, 2007

This and that…

While surfing through the blogosphere I came across a blog called The Toronto Star's Richard Griffin is Retarded. Many Blue Jays bloggers regularly ridicule Mr. Griffin (his weekly mailbag being a favourite target) and it looks like one person took the initiative to devote an entire site to it.

Not surprisingly, the author is a major devotee of sabermetrics. As we have (We? I think I am the only one here …oh well) discussed in the recent past, sabermetrics like any philosophy is helpful as a guideline and not a hard and fast approach to everything. At any rate, he goes on to slag Mr. Griffin over his views of the MVP award. To wit:

And this is why you are a useless hack. WARP1 is a statistical method that calculates a player performance over the course of the year in terms of wins above replacement level, adjusted for that season. Performance = value in terms of wins. The player whose performance netted the greatest number of wins for his team should earn the award.

While I do agree it’s an effective method for establishing a good chunk of player value, it should be kept in mind that the criteria for the award isn’t based on that particular stat. In its early years, the MVP (nee The Chalmers Award) was given to the winner of the league’s batting title and could not be won more than once. Further, not all value is derived in the stats; exhibit A being the case of Dick Allen.

Allen possessed Hall of Fame skills and if you check Baseball Reference, it will tell you that he had the Black and Gray ink totals typical of a Hall of Famer. Allen won a RoTY, and MVP, was many times an All Star and left the game with an OPS+ of 156--the same total as Willie Mays and a point higher than Hank Aaron. While it should be noted that Mays and Aaron did it for much longer, it tells us just how top-shelf Allen mashed. The only players not in Cooperstown with a 6000+ AB career and a higher OPS+ than Allen (among eligibles) are Mark McGwire and Shoeless Joe Jackson.

Why is Allen not enshrined?

Bill James wrote that Allen did more to keep his team from winning than almost any other player did. He famously added that if such a player belongs in the Hall of Fame then he’s “a lug nut.” We see from James' example that value isn’t always reflected in the numbers. Our aforementioned blogger went on to criticize the 1979 MVP vote won by Willie Stargell by comparing his totals to Dave Parker and Keith Hernandez.

I’m going to go out on a limb that he wasn’t around in 1979 and due to this, he only has the numbers to go by. A few posts ago I wrote:

Let’s take two players on a division champion—one was an average fielding first baseman who posted an OPS+ of 139, the other, a Gold Glove cannon armed corner outfielder that posted an OPS+ of 141 who, by the way, won the MVP the previous season. Of note, the right fielder was an All Star in this particular season while the first baseman was not.

Who is the better MVP candidate?

Well, in 1979 Willie “Pops” Stargell was named co-MVP (Keith Hernandez) while Dave Parker finished 10th. Why the discrepancy? What happened that made the voters feel that despite being an inferior on-field performer he received 150 more MVP points than the superior player?

If you were around in 1979 you remember the “We are family” Pirates and Stargell was the unquestioned team leader (hence the nickname “Pops”). If you look at game photos from that season, you’ll notice differing numbers of stars sown on various players’ caps. Stargell bestowed them on players who made an outstanding contribution in a given game. Each and every player considered getting a star from Stargell an honour—that’s how well regarded Stargell was. That respect, coupled with a .281/.352/.552 batting line, 32 home run, 82 RBI was enough in the voters’ minds to give the award to he, rather than the All Star who hit .310/.380/.526 with 25 HR and 94 RBI backed with Gold Glove defense.

Again, not everything that happens in a ballgame or over a season shows up in the box scores or stat lines.

There are other things that contribute to a player’s value that won’t show up in the numbers (depending on position): good base running (above and beyond stolen base proficiency), throwing to the correct base, hitting the cut off man, being aware when the other team has a play on, disrupting the opposing team’s defense/pitcher (not a reference to A-Rod’s MINE! stunt) a la Rickey Henderson, staying out/breaking up double plays, converting double play opportunities when they arise, preventing passed balls/wild pitches etc.

One of my favourite memories of Paul Molitor is when he'd bunt for a hit. He'd quickly scan the infield, note that they were playing back and less than alert then suddenly he'd be on first base. It is just an infield hit in the box score but it was a savvy move by a smart player. A lot of talented players don't always have their heads in the game (Manny being Manny) while others contribute by not missing anything and capitalizing when the opposition is napping. The plays made (or not made) because of this eventually show up in a team's won-loss record.

Dick Allen was a major disruptive influence in the clubhouse and Willie Stargell was the anti-Allen. This illustrates why it’s important to look at baseball history beyond what we find at Baseball Reference. If we look at the numbers, we get just a one or two-dimensional look at a season or a career. We should try to study the history through the eyes of those who were there as well. Back in 1979 Stargell was an easy choice for (co-) MVP because of what he gave the Pirates above and beyond the raw totals.

The BBWAA, who it should be noted do some truly bewildering things, receive ballots for MVP and the criterion isn’t ‘selecting the top-10 finishers in WARP1.’ A lot of things make up a game or a season and these things count. We remember when Pee Wee Reese put his arm around Jackie Robinson on the field showing solidarity amidst a racist crowd. What about a player who hung tough and played while hurt, a player who kept the team focused when everybody was writing them off for dead? These things will never show up in a box score and there isn’t a player alive or dead that will say these things don’t matter.

The MVP will always be an award based on both objective and subjective criteria; it will never lose the human element. WARP1 will tell you who had the best season statistically, however the award has never been based on that. For every Dick Allen there will be a Willie Stargell and for every Albert Belle there will be a Kirby Puckett. All will have nice numbers but not all of them were conducive to winning titles.

Anyway, my old MLBtalk and Bootleg Sports cohort and now Fox Sports baseball commentator Dayn Perry (I guess we’re still both under the same umbrella: MSN, he down south and I in Canada) wrote 10 big moves that need to happen:

Last season, Toronto shortstops combined to hit .237 AVG/.276 OBP/.322 SLG, while the average major league shortstop hit .275 AVG/.330 OBP/.407 SLG. Suffice to say, that's unacceptable production. Enter Tejada, who is not an ideal defender at this stage of his career, though his bat more than makes up for his shortcomings with the glove. The Jays don't have a particularly strong crop of young talent for a deal, but the O's are more concerned about off-loading the $26 million that Tejada is owed over the next two seasons. Baltimore might hate trading him within the division, but at least it's not to Boston or the Yankees. A package of young arms centered around Ricky Romero (plus the salary relief) should be enough for the O's.

I like this idea in that it does a few things for the Jays; it upgrades the offense at short (duh) and gives us an option at third base when Glaus needs time off. In both cases, our Prime Minister of Defense John McDonald can play when Tejada’s playing third or as a late inning defensive replacement. The thing is, while Mac’s hitting is poor the man is magic with the leather and I think the pitching staff would prefer having J-Mac behind them. Of course, we can go flip-mode and say that maybe the pitchers would prefer more run support. Regardless, the Orioles want to be rid of his contract so the Jays likely wouldn’t have to pay more for Tejada than the Tigers did for Edgar Renteria.

Finally …

My weekly MSN column is live: A-Rod: Baseball's Evel Knievel. Thank God, for Scott Boras and Rodriguez, they provide a lot of fodder for hacks like me. Right now, there’s a rumour in New York that A-Rod is trying to build a bridge back to the Yankees. The Bronx Bombers are willing to explore this provided Boras isn’t part of the negotiations. Is A-Rod having a change of heart or is this a gimmick by Boras to get the Yanks back into the bidding process?

Time will tell, but I’m guessing it’s the latter.

Best Regards


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