Archive for the ‘silly broadcasters’ Category

MVPs and RsBI

July 21, 2009

Sorry for a third consecutive Twins-related post (this one doesn’t have much to do with the Twins at all, it just starts out that way), but DicknBert really ticked me off the other day.

This was Friday night, the same night that Alexi Casilla made me (and apparently Billy Smith) wish the second base position had never been invented. It was the second game back after the All-Star break, and the “ question of the day,” or some similarly silly promotion, was: who are Dick and Bert’s picks for MVP through the first half of the season?

Both picked Albert Pujols for the National League MVP, which is the only pick a thinking person can make. But Bert goes first, and his AL MVP pick (stats up to the last date he could’ve made the pick, through July 16) is:

Jason Bay. .260/.380/.527, 20 HR, 72 RBI, 56 R, 125 OPS+. He’s a left fielder, and probably the worst one in the league; UZR says he’s already cost the Red Sox 8.1 runs, or essentially 1 win, with his defense alone.

Then it’s Dick’s turn, and he starts out by indicating he agrees with Bert on his NL pick, but disagrees on the AL. Thank God, I think. Dick’s pick:

Torii Hunter: .305/.380/.558, 17 HR, 65 RBI, 56 R, 140 OPS+. He’s a center fielder, and has always had a sterling defensive reputation, but the stats have never agreed, and this year UZR has him at -2.1 runs.

So kudos to Dick Bremer, I guess, for picking a much, much more valuable player as his Most Valuable Player than Bert did; Torii is the better hitter, plays the more important position, and has been the much less damaging defender. But it should go without saying that neither of these guys is anywhere near the actual most valuable player in the American League.

And then I started thinking: what do these guys have in common? And then Blyleven listed off all the other guys he could have picked: Miguel Cabrera, Justin Morneau, Mark Teixeira, Evan Longoria…and that’s about when it dawned on me.

1. None of these guys is Joe Mauer.
2. On a related note, each of these guys is near the top of the league in runs batted in.

Now, let’s be clear about this. He had a huge slump over the weekend that has muddied the waters a bit, but as of July 16, there was only one remotely reasonable selection for AL MVP, and that was Joe Mauer. There’s just no debating that. You could’ve made an argument for somebody else, but you would’ve been indefensibly wrong. Check it:

.373/.477/.622, 15 HR, 49 RBI, 49 R, approx. 182 OPS+. He wasn’t just leading the league in batting average, or on-base percentage, or slugging percentage, or OPS, or OPS+; he was leading the league in all of those things. And he’s a catcher, and one of the best in the business; consider that while the average AL LFer (Jason Bay’s position) has a .771 OPS and the average AL CFer (Torii’s) has a .743, the average AL catcher has just a .712 OPS…and that number is significantly buoyed by Mauer himself. Aside from Pujols, there is nothing in all of baseball right now that even has a case for being anywhere near as valuable as a great defensive catcher with an 1.100 OPS. And, yeah, he missed a month, but he was still leading the league in almost every cumulative stat that attempts to measure player value, too; that’s just how much better he was than everybody else.

So there are DicknBert, Mauer’s own home team announcers, and not only do they not pick him, they don’t even mention him as being in the conversation. Morneau, sure, but not the runaway best player in the league hitting right in front of him (incidentally, the only other player even arguably in the conversation is Ben Zobrist, who also went unmentioned).

So it’s really clear to me that all they did was look at the RBI leaders and pick the one they think is having the best year (Bert didn’t even do that, he just picked the #1 RBI guy, despite the fact that he’s hitting roughly as well as you’d expect a LF to hit, and much worse than you’d expect a terrible defensive LF to hit). That would be fine and all, since it’s just two guys on a small-market local broadcast filling air space, except I’m pretty sure that that’s what the writers do, too. Here’s an ordered list of how the leader in RsBI has fared in the MVP voting the last five seasons (so 10 total contests, AL & NL):

1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 2, 3*, 5, 7*, 23

The average of these numbers is 4.8; the median is 2. In the two races with asterisks, there was a very close second-place finisher in the RBI race who finished first or second in MVP voting. The 23 throwing the whole thing off is Vinny Castilla, who had about an average offensive year in the middle of the lineup for the 2004 Rockies…if the Rox had won 94 rather than losing 94, Vinny might have wound up as the worst MVP pick in modern history.

Writers (and most everybody else) have seemingly always been in love with the RBI; I stopped with 2004 because before that, Barry Bonds stepped up, was intentionally walked approximately 800 times a year, and forced them to get away from RBI for a couple years. And of course every now and then they’ll pick a middle infielder–like Rollins in 2007 or Pedroia in 2008–but they almost never end up with the right middle infielder. The only way they end up on a non-RBI guy is: when the RBI champ is playing for a bad team (and where your team finishes in the standings should have nothing to do with how valuable you are, but that’s a discussion for another day); when other big RBI guys all have something go wrong; and when some little middle infielder is bestowed with the tag of “heart and soul” or “team leader” of some first-place team. In 2008, Morneau was the big RBI guy for the contending team, but he fell flat on his face in September, so he finished “only” second to sparky ‘n’ scrappy little Dustin Pedroia, whereas in 2006 Morneau did well down the stretch, so he won it. In both years, Joe Mauer was far and away the Twins’ MVP, and you could’ve made a case for him for league MVP too (though Derek Jeter was in the discussion in ’06 and Pedroia actually had a decent case in ’08).

The thing about it is–and I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but whatever–raw RBI total has almost nothing at all to do with a player’s value. It’s remarkably easy for a decent hitter with some power who spends 160 games hitting 4th or 5th in a high-scoring lineup to wind up in the top two or three of the league in RBI, and to be an average or worse overall player (see Ryan Howard ca. 2008 and 2009). The work Mauer did in getting on base in front of all those Morneau RBI, and in playing impeccable defense at catcher, was just much, much more valuable to the Twins, in ’06 and ’08 and again in ’09, than the RBI themselves are. And I think people are starting to recognize that, or at least the writers who refuse to recognize it are retiring or dying off and being replaced by the Rob Neyers, Keith Laws and Christina Kahrls of the world. But when the two guys whose entire livelihood is made by watching Mauer do his thing and relaying the wonder of it all to the masses can’t get this down, it really makes you realize how far we still have to go.

Getting in His Head, Tangibly

April 23, 2009

On Monday night, in what I’ve determined looking back must have been the Pirates-Marlins broadcast, the local (almost certainly Marlins’) broadcasters were chatting about the importance of the leadoff man getting on base, and the commentator said something very much like this: “Also, of course, you can never know how much impact that is going to have on the pitcher, because he’s going to be distracted by the fast runner on first base, um, so you don’t know what kind of effect that’s going to have on his pitching.” The play by play guy agreed, calling it “one of those intangibles that is just so important on the baseball diamond.” That’s totally paraphrased just to give you an idea, but I do know he used the word “intangibles.”

Of course, if someone is talking to you about baseball and uses a form of the word “intangible,” the odds are very, very good that you’re in the process of being told a lie. Baseball people have this way of equating things that they do not know with things that cannot be known. And that’s silly.

The impact that a good baserunner being on base might have on a pitcher’s effectiveness at pitching to the next batter may be difficult to measure (and it is — very, very difficult, or at least very, very time consuming), but it’s as “intangible” as the chair I’m sitting in. Do pitchers pitch worse with Jose Reyes on first base than they would with Jose Molina on first base? Better with Carlos Delgado taking his lead than with Carlos Gomez? It’s a pretty simple question. The fact that nobody has spent hundreds of hours digging through game logs to find the answer yet (as far as I know) doesn’t mean that answer is “intangible”; it means the answer isn’t important or interesting enough to spend all that time on.

So here’s a little exercise; it’s not at all meant to definitively answer the question, but just to show that the issue can in fact be, um, tanged (real word! …but not at all the root of “intangible”). There’s no way I’m going to go out and figure out how individual pitchers performed with various individual runners on base. But how about this: if speed on the bases makes pitchers less effective, shouldn’t we expect guys who hit behind speedsters to do better with runners on first than batters who hit behind slow or average runners do with those base-cloggers on first?

Chase Utley is a good example. The Phillies’ most common 2008 lineup had him batting in front of Rollins and Victorino, both top ten in stolen bases. When one of them wasn’t in front of Utley, they were replaced by Jayson Werth (who stole 20 out of 21) or fleet-footed backups Taguchi and Bruntlett. We can assume that very nearly every time Utley came up with men on base, those men were very good baserunners. If Utley did better with guys on base than without, and the difference is more than the typical difference between hitting with the bases empty and occupied (and there is usually some difference regardless; pitchers just do better throwing out of a windup), that might start to suggest that a “speed guy” getting on base really does impact the pitcher’s effectiveness.

Of course, a pitcher has enough to worry about with Utley at the plate, and that’s too small of a sample size anyway. So I’m going to take a bunch of guys in the National League who are likely to have hit with a lot of speed guys on first base in 2008 (a pitcher might be just as scared of a good runner on second base, but counting that performance would be more likely to catch other runners than the ones I have in mind), and see if any patterns emerge, though of course the sample size will still be way too small to tell. Batting orders change more than you might realize — Victorino, for instance, usually hit behind Rollins, but also spent time hitting behind anti-Rollinses Pat Burrell and Ryan Howard; Castillo hit mostly behind Reyes but also behind Brian Schneider. So this isn’t perfect, or even especially meaningful. But I’m confident that, when each of these players came up with a guy on first in 2008, there was a better than 50% chance that that runner was a threat to steal 20 or more bases.

Baseline: The 2008 National League put up a .731 OPS with the bases empty, and jumped up to .761 with a runner on first, so your average hitter will increase his OPS by about 30 points with a runner on first. If the fast-runner-distraction effect is real and significant, these guys should do considerably better than that as a group.

Utley: Batted second or third in every game he started, behind at least one stolen base threat approximately 100% of the time.
– Bases empty: .886
– Runner on first: 1.014
– Difference: +128 points

Victorino: Batted second behind Jimmy Rollins 81 times; led off (so rarely came up with a runner on) 14 times; batted 5th or 6th 37 times.
– Bases empty: .819
– Runner on first: .797
– Difference:
-22 points

Jeremy Hermida: Batted second in 87 games, almost all behind Hanley Ramirez. Also batted third, sixth, seventh and eighth a handful of times each.
– Bases empty: .718
– Runner on first: .773
– Difference: +65 points

Luis Castillo: batted second behind Reyes in 58 starts; batted seventh or eighth about 20 times.
– Bases empty: .629
– Runner on first: .643
– Difference:
+14 points

Andre Ethier: batted second 80 times and fifth a bunch of times; hit behind Furcal, Pierre, Kemp or Martin about 80% of the time, but also occasionally behind Kent or Manny.
– Bases empty: .935
– Runner on first: .623
– Difference: -312 points

Ryan Church: hit directly behind Beltran or Reyes about 80% of the time; Delgado occasionally came between him and Beltran.
– Bases empty: .703
– Runner on first: .971
– Difference:
+268 points

Ryan Theriot: hit second 104 times, usually behind Soriano.
– Bases empty: .752
– Runner on first: .786
– Difference:
+34 points

J.J. Hardy: seems to have batted behind either Weeks or Hart in about 3/4 of his starts.
– Bases empty: .832
– Runner on first: 1.052
– Difference:
+220 points

Average [fake, unweighted average, just a basic add-and-divide of the above]: +49 points

So these eight guys, overall, did get a bigger bump from having a guy on first than the 30 points the league as a whole got. What does that tell us? Well, absolutely nothing. Take away Ethier, and it’s a huge difference; take away Hardy or Church, and it’s a smaller-than-average bump. But these guys as a whole could be benefitting from pesky baserunners getting on base in front of them. To figure out whether or not they are would take a much, much longer and more sophisticated study, one which neither you nor I have the time or inclination (or, in my case at least, skill) to get into.

But here’s the point: it could be figured out. And someday it probably will be, if it hasn’t been already in some study I’m not aware of. The day when people who are paid to write or talk about baseball generally stop referring to certain very tangible things as though they’re mystical and unknowable just because those people can’t be bothered to take the time to know (or even honestly think about) them will be a very happy day.