Archive for the ‘Pujols’ Category

Hanley being Hanley

August 28, 2009

I know you’ve probably all seen this, but Rob Neyer thinks Albert Pujols might not be the MVP.

And I’m going to go one further: right now, right this very second, Pujols is not the MVP. Hanley Ramirez is.

It was barely two weeks ago when I said this: “it’s impossible to make an argument against Albert.” And it was. But since I wrote those words, late on the evening of August 11, here’s what’s happened:

Pujols: .261/.404/.522
Hanley: .481/.542/.731
and just for fun, Utley: .296/.500/.729

Well, that changes things, doesn’t it? I don’t think Albert’s getting that triple crown after all (sorry, lar).

As I write this, Fangraphs has the three top NL WARs as 6.9 for Ramirez, 6.8 for Utley, and 6.4 for Pujols. That half-win difference isn’t big, but it isn’t too close to call, either. Say you don’t think they’ve got defense right at all, and you want to go with plus-minus instead of UZR? That bumps them about four runs closer together. Narrows the gap a lot, but doesn’t close it. Hanley still wins.

Look, Pujols is going to win the MVP. No question about it. And that’s certainly not any kind of a tragedy; he’s still having an incredible season. But imagine you’re at the beginning of the 2009 season and building a brand-new team. You can get an average defensive shortstop (and Hanley is that, despite his bad reputation) who you know is going to hit .365/.428/.575, or you can get an average defensive first baseman (and Pujols has been that in ’09, despite his good reputation) who you know is going to hit .313/.441/.666. Knowing what you do about what most shortstops are like and what most first basemen are like, don’t you grab the SS and hope to pick up a 1B who can hit a little later on? I know I do. And that (well, the stats, but that in a nutshell), to me, is why Hanley Ramirez is the NL MVP right now.

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Mid-day Update: Ask and You Shall Receive

August 18, 2009

Often. If you ask the right guys, I guess.

I posed the question of this morning’s something to the esteemed David Pinto in a comment at his blog, and this afternoon he took the time to answer it. His approach to the question is more simple sabermetrically than my own attempt (he just took their career averages, no messing with BABIP and stuff) and infinitely more complicated mathematically (he actually understands math)…and is, I’m sure, much, much better overall. Here’s where he comes out:

Summing all the individual probabilities results in an overall probablility of .3259 for Albert finishing ahead of Ramirez in the batting race. That doesn’t mean he wins the batting title. Pablo Sandoval is still in the mix, and Bruan and Helton are more than capable of putting on a push of their own. One in three aren’t bad odds, however.

One in three! I mean, figure that if Pujols passes Hanley, there’s about a 50/50 chance that Pablo or Braun or Helton end up ahead of Pujols: .163. Then, more realistically than I was this morning, say there’s a 40% chance that he ends up ahead in both HR and RBI. .065. The number looks awfully tiny, but that would mean (if my guesses were at all accurate, which they’re not, but I figure they’re good enough to give us an idea) there’s about a 6-7% chance that Albert Pujols will be the first Triple Crown winner in 43 seasons (73 in the NL).

Pretty cool, huh? I mean, I’ll confess, I didn’t want to guess at the odds this morning because I didn’t want to embarrass myself (like I’m about to), but I was thinking something like 1 in 200, 1 in 500, etc. Eh. But 1 in 14 or so? That’s something I can get kind of pumped up about.

Prince Albert and the Crown

August 18, 2009

The other day, I opined in passing that, standing first in HR and RBI and (then) fourth in batting average, Albert Pujols had the best chance to win a Triple Crown that we’d seen in a good long while.

And, well, does he, really? I mean, it’s obviously still not likely (it never is), but what are the chances? You probably know by now that I’m not going to sit here and give you precise mathematical odds, but let’s look at the English major’s version of the question: can we envision it actually happening?

Albert went 1-for-4 on Monday, so this morning is batting .325. Leader Hanley Ramirez’s Fish didn’t play, and he’s been on fire lately and now stands at .356. Already not looking good. Pujols does have the HR lead by one over Mark Reynolds, though (39 to 38 after both hit one yesterday), and is just two behind Prince Fielder for the RBI lead, 105 to 107.

I’m going to commit a big no-no right off the bat and assume away HR and RBI. ZiPS calculated for the rest of the season thinks Albert ends up with 50 HR and 138 RBI, and that that will best Reynolds by two in the former and drop six behind Fielder in the latter. So even in the two categories he’s closest in, he’s only a favorite to hold one of them. But I’m going to assume he does get both; it just feels like the more likely result to me, and anyway, the bigger hurdle will obviously be the batting average. Also, if Pujols goes on the kind of hot streak he’ll need to in order to win the batting title, odds are he’ll be piling up the HR and RBI too. So in reality, I’m sure there’s not even a 50% chance that Pujols ends up leading in both HR and RBI, but let’s just say he does it.

Now. The Marlins have 44 games left, and Hanley has averaged 3.88 AB per game played. Say he starts every one of those 44 games; at that rate, he’s got 170 more AB. This season, he’s been BABIPing out of his head, with a .404 batting average on balls in play that’s unsustainable by anybody; his pre-’09 career BABIP was approximately .340. So say he reverts back to that, and maintains his current HR and strikeout rates. He strikes out in 18% of his ABs (31 times), homers in 4.2% (7), and gets a hit in 34% of the remaining 132 (45). That makes him 52 for 170, a .305 BA over the rest of the season (seems unrealistically low, doesn’t it? Wonder if I’m doing something wrong…oh well, pressing on). That still puts his overall 2009 batting average at a robust .340.

By the same AB/G * Games Remaining formula, Pujols ought to have 147 AB left in his season. He’ll need 57 hits in those 147 AB–a .388 batting average the rest of the way–to put him at 192/563 = .341 for the year.

Pujols has been a bit down on BABIP this year (.294), either because he’s been unlucky or because he’s hitting more flies and fewer liners. But let’s assume, again, that he gets back to his career BABIP (.321) and keeps the other rates the same. 11.4% Ks (16), 9.2% HRs (14), and 32.1% of the remaining 117 ABs are hits (38). That makes him 52 for 147 (.354), and puts him at just .332 for the year…but if just five more hits fall in (or leave the yard) somewhere in there, he’s right where he needs to be.

Doesn’t sound too bad, right? Not likely, sure, but with just five hits’ worth of better-than-average luck and with a slide back toward the mean by Hanley, it could happen! And just last year, from July 10 to August 31, Pujols played in 45 games and hit .392. So I’m not sure there’s anything Pujols can’t do, but if there is, hitting .388 in 43 games ain’t it.

So, sure, it can happen. If Hanley slips back to .340 or so (if he stays at .356, Albert has to put up a .450 average the rest of the way to catch him). And if the current #2 in average, Pablo Sandoval at .330, doesn’t finish just as strong as Pujols does. And if Pujols holds off Reynolds for the HR title and Prince for the RBI one.

So the odds of this actually happening are probably tiny. Not statistically insignificant, not one in a million, but small enough for most of us lay folk to write it off more or less completely. Still, though, it’s absolutely possible (certainly more likely than Mauer hitting .400, which we’re still hearing a lot about), and probably the “best” odds at this point in the season that anybody has had in many years. I think it’s something we should really keep an eye on for at least the next week or two (though if he goes 0-for-9 in the next two days or something, it’s basically all over).

In Defense of Compassionate Sabermetricism

May 23, 2009

If I’m going to have a horribly unhealthy, gut-busting, productivity-killing Friday lunch, I’m a big fan of Panda Express’ Orange Chicken. And there’s a decent copycat place a couple blocks from the office, but it was a nice day yesterday, and I was up for a walk, so I went for the real thing. To get that, you have to head to the James R. Thompson Center, a big gathering point for a lot of Chicago that, as I understand it, houses some government offices and whatnot. The Panda Express is really all I’m interested in.

So I get there, and there’s this big protest going on right outside the building. Up close, people are waving signs about the right to life and how gay marriage is destroying our families, milling about in the general neighborhood of someone who is speaking ineffectively into a megaphone, while across the street is another group of people doing their best to drown out this first group with shouts like “What do we want?” “Abortion rights.” “When do we want it?” “Now!” and “Fascists go home!” and I’m thinking to myself, what are these people (any of them) doing here, really? Do they expect to convince anyone by labeling the other side murderers or fascists, or by just being louder? Or do they just like to hear themselves talk? Is there just nothing better to do on a pleasant Friday leading into a holiday weekend?

That’s basically how tHeMARKsMiTh sees the world of baseball fans and writers: the internet-savvy sabermetric crowd against the talk-radio-and-newsprint traditional crowd, both sides trying to shout each other down, never getting anywhere. (Of course, that doesn’t even remotely do justice to his post. Read it yourself; I’ll still be here when you’re done. Ready now? Good.) A couple basic things to get out of the way:

  1. I agree with most of his main points. There’s a lot of shouting into the abyss that goes on on both sides, a lot of name-calling and making fun, and it’s hard to see how any of it does anything at all other than making people on the same side feel smug and superior at the other side’s expense. (Okay, I have to make an exception for these guys, who were just too funny. And JoePoz, who’s kind of a fence-straddler, anyway. But otherwise, I don’t see the point.)
  2. I don’t think traditional stats (or most of them, anyway; sorry, Holds and Fielding Percentage) are completely worthless. You’ve seen me use HR and RBI a bunch of times already. Stats like those give context; even if you believe that VORP or WAR or Win Shares are a perfect measure of player value, think of the traditional stats as the splash of color in the crystal-clear black-and-white picture. They tell the story: what kind of hitter he is, where he likely hit in the lineup, and so on. WAR will tell you that Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran were almost exactly as valuable as each other in 2008, but don’t you want to know a little more than that? That’s where I think runs, RBI, HR, SB, and so forth come in handy.
  3. Another main point of Mark’s is that neither side has it completely right. I agree with that, too: there’s not much “right” about picking an MVP based on who has the most HR or RBI or Saves, and sabermetric analysis is certainly far from perfect as well — all you need to do is look at how much the various metrics (WARP vs. WAR, plus/minus vs. UZR) disagree with each other.

But where I disagree with Mark is: I don’t see this as being like the abortion or gay marriage debate at all. In those debates, like in the “dialectic” Mark envisions, there are really only three plausible truths: (a) one side is correct; (b) the other side is correct; or (c) the answer is somewhere in the middle. If you have one side that believes that abortion should be legal in all circumstances and one side that believes it should be banned in all circumstances, that’s as far as it goes; it can’t be more legal than the first side wants it, and it can’t be more illegal than the second side wants it. So the one true “right answer” has to be either one of those extremes or something between them.

Not so here. Our advanced metrics are flawed, but the answer isn’t some compromise between them and the traditional stats; the answer is more research, and more metrics. The metrics we have have grown out of the more traditional statistics. Saying you prefer HR and RBI to VORP and WAR isn’t at all like saying you prefer “Choice” to “Life” or vice-versa; rather, it’s like saying you prefer Betamax to Blue-Ray.

Here’s how Mark defends the traditional crowd:

Those who follow counting numbers have a point (among many). Baseball revolves around the run. It determines who wins and who loses. Therefore, should you not pay attention more to runs, RBI’s, and home runs? Home runs automatically score a run (making them slightly important) and bring in whoever is on base (making them more important). If the point of the game is to score runs than the other team, home runs and RBI’s are awfully darn important, which gave Howard the edge [over Pujols for 2008 NL MVP].

But this ignores the critical weakness of run and RBI totals (and this isn’t a criticism of Mark, who I know understands this: it’s just that I don’t think there’s any way for anyone to successfully defend this position), which is that, in every instance in which you don’t hit a home run, your runs and RBI are totally dependent upon your teammates either getting on base for you or driving you in.

This doesn’t work well for the NL race, because Howard actually did do a phenomenal job of knocking runners in in 2008 (Pujols was still the clear MVP for other reasons), but take a look at this list (I hope). In 2008, Justin Morneau finished 2nd in the AL MVP voting, while his teammate Joe Mauer finished a distant 4th, based largely (or rather, entirely) on the fact that Morneau had 129 RBI and Mauer managed just 85. If that link went to the right place, though, you’ll see that when they batted with runners on base, Mauer and Morneau drove in those runners at almost exactly the same percentage: 19.0% to 18.6%. Morneau gets that huge edge in RBI because he batted with 151 more runners on base than did Mauer. Morneau actually batted with the most runners on base of anyone in the league. Part of that, of course, is because he’s not a catcher, and thus got to play every day. But a huge part of that is that he got to hit behind Joe Mauer, and his 2nd-in-the-AL OBP!

So the RBI stat tells you who was at the plate for the final event resulting in the creation of a run, but it can actually distort your sense of how that run was created. Mauer was, hands down, a better hitter than Morneau in ’08, and played a much bigger part in how the Twins’ runs were scored. When you add in defense and adjust for position scarcity, it’s not even close. They’re very nice complementary pieces, but Morneau is the Scottie Pippen to Mauer’s MJ.

So, yeah, runs are awfully important. On the team level, you could almost say they’re all-important (almost). But to look at the HR, runs or RBI a single player has as a way of judging that player’s value is never a good idea. Even with Howard: make him the MVP because he drove a bunch of guys in, and you’re ignoring Pujols’ 100+ points of OBP and 100+ points of SLG, amounting to 100+ fewer outs and many more runs for Pujols’ team, and Pujols’ vastly superior defense, all for the sake of (a) Howard’s good fortune of having 50 more runners on base during his PAs than Pujols had in his and (b) a 2% edge in his success at driving those runners in. It doesn’t add up, or even come close.

More to the point, every one of those traditional stats is totally encapsulated in some more advanced metric or other. Whatever skills you think RBI measures, that’s also measured, and better, in SLG; or, if you think hitting with runners on base or “in the clutch” is a skill that’s worth measuring, stats like WPA/LI do a better job with that. Batting average is a fun little stat for what it is, but OBP tells you the same thing and more. Fielding Percentage is totally encapsulated by all advanced fielding metrics, like UZR and Plus/Minus.

You might think that these things (well, save OBP) are less-than-perfectly accurate, but that’s not an argument in favor of going back to the old things; it’s an argument in favor of doing more research and finding better new things. UZR may not be perfectly accurate, but it’s always, in every possible instance, going to do a better job of telling you who is the better fielder than fielding percentage will. FIP may not be perfect, but it’s better than just comparing two players’ ERAs. There may be slightly different ways to measure OPS+, but it’s always going to be better than not adjusting for era or ballpark factors at all. And so on. We can argue about how good the new stuff really is, but it’s just plain better than the old stuff (the well-grounded stuff that gains some level of acceptance, that is, not just any old thing someone thinks up).

So that’s the point: I’m not going to use the term “flat-earthers” around here. I try to avoid mudslinging of all types. I have nothing against people who rely solely on traditional stats, and I think those stats have their place. But their place isn’t in player analysis, not anymore. If you’re going to argue something like that Howard was the 2008 NL MVP and base it on traditional stats, you’re going to be wrong — simply, objectively, obviously wrong. And I’m sincerely sorry to say that. But I’m not trading in my DVD player for a VCR, and I’m not giving up my numbers for a set that tells me the same stuff, but less of it, and with more static.