Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Hypothetical Ballot: MVP

My heart’s just not in writing this, since it’s the first time in the brilliant career of Mike Trout that he will not top my AL MVP ballot. This is made a little better by noting that, prorated to 150 games, he contributed 90 RAR to my choice’s 76, but you add no value to your team when you’re sitting at home. I should note that there have been many less deserving MVP winners than Mike Trout would be in 2017.

Jose Altuve leads Aaron Judge by four RAR, not considering baserunning or fielding. Judge’s fielding metrics are better than one might expect from a man of his size--5 FRAA, 6 UZR, 9 DRS--but Altuve ranks as average, and per Fangraphs was worth another run on the basepaths, so I don’t think it’s enough to bump him. It’s well within any margin of error and Judge would certainly be a fine choice as MVP.

The other candidate for the top spot is Corey Kluber--with 81 RAR, he’d would my choice by default. But while Kluber’s RAR using his peripherals (78) and DIPS (71) are good, they are basically a match for Altuve’s 77 (after baserunning). Our analytical approach for evaluating hitters is much more like using pitcher’s peripherals than their actual runs allowed, and there should be some consideration that some of the value attributed to a pitcher is actually due to his fielders (if you’re not making an explicit adjustment for that). For me, if a pitcher doesn’t clearly rank ahead of a hitter, he doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt on a MVP ballot.

The rest of the ballot is pretty straightforward by RAR, mixing the top pitchers in, as the top-performing hitters were all solid in the field and didn’t change places:

1. 2B Jose Altuve, HOU
2. RF Aaron Judge, NYA
3. SP Corey Kluber, CLE
4. SP Chris Sale, BOS
5. CF Mike Trout, LAA
6. SP Carlos Carrasco, CLE
7. 3B Jose Ramirez, CLE
8. SP Luis Severino, NYA
9. SP Justin Verlander, DET/HOU
10. SS Carlos Correa, HOU

In the NL, Joey Votto has a two-run RAR lead over Giancarlo Stanton, but Fangraphs has him at a whopping -10 baserunning runs to Stanton’s -2. BP has the same margin, but -8 to 0. Their fielding numbers (FRAA, UZR, DRS) are almost identical--(10, 11, 7) for Votto and (9, 10, 7) for Stanton. I’m not sure I’ve ever determined the top spot on my ballot on the basis of baserunning value before, but even if you were to be extremely conservative and regress it by 50%, it makes the difference. Paul Goldschmidt will get a lot of consideration, but even as a good baserunner and fielder I don’t think his 52 RAR offensively gets him in the picture for the top of the ballot.

Max Scherzer’s case is similar to Kluber’s, except with an even more pronounced gap between his actual runs allowed-based RAR (77), his peripherals (71), and DIPS (61).

The rest of my ballot follows RAR, as there were no players who made a huge difference in the field. I might be more inclined to accept an argument that Buster Posey was more valuable than the statistics suggest in a season in which San Francisco didn’t have the second-worst record in the league. But one player is missing from my ballot who will be high on many (although not in the top three of the BBWAA vote) is Nolan Arenado, and I feel that deserves a little explanation.

Rather than comparing Arenado to every player on my ballot, let’s look at my last choice, Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna starts with a ten run lead in RAR (56 to 46). Arenado is widely regarded as an excellent fielder, but the metrics aren’t in agreement--1 FRAA, 7 UZR, 20 DRS. Ozuna’s figures are (5, 11, 3). If you believe that Arenado is +20 fielder, than he would rank about dead even with Kris Bryant at 66 RAR (bumping Bryant from 61 on the strength of his own (especially) baserunning and fielding). It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility. But if you only give Arenado credit for 10 fielding runs, that only pulls him even with Ozuna, before giving Ozuna any credit for his fielding.

I was going to write a bit more about how it might be easy for writers to consider Coors Field but understate how good of a hitter’s park it is (116 PF). If you used 110 instead, then Arenado starts at 51. But given that he didn’t finish in the top three, I don’t think there’s any evidence of not taking park into account. As discussed, there are perfectly reasonable views on Arenado’s fielding value that justify fourth-place. I’m not sure Arenado would be 11th or 12th or 13th if I went further, as Tommy Pham, Corey Seager, Clayton Kershaw, Gio Gonzalez, and Zack Greinke are all worthy of consideration for the bottom of the ballot themselves:

1. RF Giancarlo Stanton, MIA
2. 1B Joey Votto, CIN
3. SP Max Scherzer, WAS
4. 3B Kris Bryant, CHN
5. CF Charlie Blackmon, COL
6. 3B Anthony Rendon, WAS
7. 1B Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
8. 3B Justin Turner, LA
9. SP Stephen Strasburg, WAS
10. LF Marcell Ozuna, MIA


  1. I would be interested in your thoughts on the Bill James dustup regarding Judge and Altuve:

  2. That's a good idea, and I intend to write something, but it will be a little while.


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