Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Hypothetical Ballot: MVP

You could basically copy and paste the same thing for AL MVP every year, so I’ll try to keep it brief. My position is that wins are value, and 8 wins don’t count for more because the rest of your teammates were worth 50 than if the rest of your teammates were only worth 30.

But the debate over the definition of value is not what I find most obnoxious about the Mike Trout-era MVP discussions. It’s easy enough to disagree on that point and move one. What is most bothersome is the way that people attempt to co-opt the sabermetric terms that sound sabermetric like “error bars” to push their own narratives.

Let’s suppose that Player A is estimated to have contributed 87 RAR and player B is estimated to have contributed 80 RAR, and that the standard error is something like 10 runs. In this case, it certainly is inconclusive that player A was truly more valuable than player B. I would grant that player B would be a reasonable choice as MVP.

But if you’re filing out your MVP ballot, *should* you put Player B ahead of Player A? It’s still quite likely that Player A was more valuable than Player B. To me, you need to have a good reason to put Player B ahead, particularly when the margin is “significant” but not beyond the “error bar”.

Worse yet, though, is the attempt to twist oneself into a pretzel to make up those good reasons. The real gem going around, which you will see in comment sections and message boards, is that the error bars must be larger for Player A. Because you see, Player A’s park became a strong pitcher’s park right around when he arrived, and parks don’t change character like that (says someone who has never examined historical park factors). Because you see, Player A always leads the league in RAR, and by a wide margin--that just can’t be right. Player A is so consistently great in the metrics that the metrics must be wrong.

The world is not worthy of Player A. Every week of Player A’s career is scrutinized by pseudo-sabermetricians who have deadlines to fill with their micro-analytical pablum, and who when they aren’t vulturing over Player A are busy writing extrapolating trends from blips in thirty-team samples to blame metrics for their own arrogance. Player A can’t win with the people who should be appreciating him--not in the sense that a fan might but exactly in the sense that a detached analyst would.

I’m sure you’ve deduced by now that Player A is Mike Trout, and you may have guessed that Player B is Mookie Betts. Except those aren’t even my true estimates of their RAR, they’re what I would come up with their RAR if I took my hitting/position RAR + BP’s baserunning runs (for non-steals, since steals are incorporated in the first piece) + the average of each player’s BP FRAA, BIS DRS, and MGL UZR. In other words, if I didn’t regress fielding at all, which I don’t think is the correct position. When adding components together, if one (hitting) is more reliable than another (fielding), it doesn’t make sense to ignore that. In actually estimating RAR for the purpose of filling out a fake MVP ballot, I used 50% FRAA, 25% DRS, 25% UZR, and halved it. Then Trout is at 86 RAR, Betts 68, and Jose Alutve slides in between them at 71, which explains the top of my ballot.

If anything, I think I may be generous to Betts, who needs all of his 8 baserunning runs and 11 “regressed” fielding runs to overcome 49 hitting RAR, which ranked just ninth in the league. Kyle Seager also made it onto my ballot on the strength of 8 fielding runs, and Francisco Lindor came close with 5 from baserunning and 10 from fielding. David Ortiz and Miguel Cabrera gave up 5 runs from non-hitting activities (or in Ortiz’s case, non-acitivty), which pushed them just off the ballot. Last year’s Player B, Josh Donaldson, was only a hair behind Betts, having another excellent season with 65 RAR and good-average fielding except in FRAA, which didn’t like his performance at all (-12).

The AL starting pitchers lacked any standout Cy Young candidates, but made up for it by being tightly bunched, so four of the final six spots go to them:

1. CF Mike Trout, LAA
2. 2B Jose Altuve, HOU
3. RF Mookie Betts, BOS
4. 3B Josh Donaldson, TOR
5. SP Justin Verlander, DET
6. 2B Robinson Cano, NYA
7. SP Rick Porcello, BOS
8. SP Chris Sale, CHA
9. SP Corey Kluber, CLE
10. 3B Kyle Seager, SEA

In the NL, I think Kris Bryant is a pretty clear pick for the top spot. He was second in the league in RAR by just one run to Joey Votto, which he makes up with baserunning alone and pads with strong fielding runs (2, 10, 12). Anthony Rizzo seems to be the other top candidate in mainstream opinion, but he only ranks third among first baseman on my ballot. Rizzo, Freddie Freeman, and Joey Votto all had similar playing time, but both significantly outhit him (Rizzo 6.9 RG, Votto 8.2, Freeman 7.6). Rizzo makes up much of the ground on Votto with his glove, but Freeman is no slouch himself.

Corey Seager got mixed reviews as a fielder (-8, 0, 11) so he falls just behind Freeman on my ballot. I’m quite certain I’ve never had brothers on both of my MVP top 10s in the same year, or any year. Daniel Murphy was third to Votto and Bryant in RAR, but his fielding reviews aren’t so mixed (-5, -11, -6), and even before considering that was actually just behind Max Scherzer in RAR. From there, it’s just a matter of mixing in the pitchers and noting that four Cubs are on the ballot:

1. 3B Kris Bryant, CHN
2. 1B Freddie Freeman, ATL
3. SS Corey Seager, LA
4. SP Max Scherzer, WAS
5. 2B Daniel Murphy, WAS
6. SP Jon Lester, CHN
7. 1B Joey Votto, CIN
8. 1B Anthony Rizzo, CHN
9. SP Kyle Hendicks, CHN
10. SP Clayton Kershaw, LA

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