Monday, November 12, 2018

Hypothetical Ballot: MVP

I tend to think I’m pretty objective when it comes to baseball analysis. Someone reading my blog or Twitter feed (RIP, mostly) with a critical eye might beg to differ: I like the Indians, players accused of using steroids, hate the Royals, and oh yeah I really love Mike Trout. The latter is certainly not unique to me -- how could you not like Mike Trout? -- but it is pronounced enough that my objectivity could be called into question when (for once) Mike Trout is engaged in a close race for AL MVP.

I think Mike Trout was most likely the most valuable player in baseball in 2018, and I firmly believe I would say that even if I was not a huge fan. While Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs’ WAR would disagree, Baseball Prospectus’ WARP agrees, so I’m not completely on an island.

The key consideration for me is that Trout was markedly superior offensively to Mookie Betts once you properly weight offensive events (read: more credit to Trout for his walks than metrics of the OPS family would allow) and adjust for the big difference in park factors between Angels Stadium and Fenway Park (97 and 105 PF respectively). I estimate that, adjusting for park, Trout created six more runs than Betts while making twenty fewer outs. That’s about a nine run difference. Then there is the position adjustment, which is worth another four.

Betts does cut into this lead with his defensive value: going in the order FRAA/UZR/DRS, Betts (11/15/20) has an average twelve runs higher than Trout (-2/4/8). I don’t credit the full difference, but even if I did, Trout would still have a one run edge. Give Betts a couple extra runs for baserunning (a debatable point)? I’m still going with the player with a clear advantage in offensive value. Regress the defense 50%? It’s close but the choice is much clearer.

The rest of my ballot is pretty self-explanatory if you look at my RAR estimates. I could justify just about any order of 6-9; I’m not at all convinced that JD Martinez was more valuable than Jose Ramirez, but chalk that one up to avoiding the indication of bias. Francisco Lindor rises based on excellent fielding metrics (6/14/14):

1. CF Mike Trout, LAA
2. RF Mookie Betts, BOS
3. SP Justin Verlander, HOU
4. 3B Alex Bregman, HOU
5. SP Chris Sale, BOS
6. DH JD Martinez, BOS
7. SP Blake Snell, TB
8. SS Francisco Lindor, CLE
9. 3B Jose Ramirez, CLE
10. SP Corey Kluber, CLE

The NL MVP race is weird. Christian Yelich had an eighteen RAR lead over the next closest position player (Javier Baez), which is typically an indication of a historically great season. Triple crown bid aside, Yelich did not have a historically great season, “merely” a typical MVP-type season. In the AL, he would have been well behind Trout and Betts with Bregman and Martinez right on his heels.

Thus the only meaningful comparison for the top of the ballot is the top hitter (Yelich) against the top pitcher (Jacob deGrom). When it comes to an MVP race between a hitter and a pitcher, I usually try to give the former the benefit of the doubt. Specifically, while there is one primary way in which I evaluate the offensive contribution of a hitter (runs created based on their statistics, converted to RAR), there are three obvious ways using the traditional stat line to calculate RAR for a pitcher. The first is based on actual runs allowed; the second on peripheral statistics (this one is most similar to the comparable calculation for batters); the third based on DIPS principle. In order for me to support a pitcher for MVP, ideally he would be more valuable using each of these perspectives on evaluating performance. deGrom achieved this, with his lowest RAR total (72 based on DIPS principles) exceeding Yelich’s 69 RAR (and with Yelich’s -5/-2/4 fielding metrics, 69 is as good as it gets).

Given the huge gap between Yelich and Baez, starting pitchers dominate the top of my ballot. The movers upward when considering fielding are a pair of first basemen (Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt) and Nolan Arenado, while Bryce Harper’s fielding metrics were dreadful (-12/-14/-26) and drop him all the way off the ballot:

1. SP Jacob deGrom, NYN
2. LF Christian Yelich, MIL
3. SP Max Scherzer, WAS
4. SP Aaron Nola, PHI
5. SP Kyle Freeland, COL
6. SP Patrick Corbin, ARI
7. SS Javier Baez, CHN
8. 1B Freddie Freeman, ATL
9. 1B Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
10. 3B Nolan Arenado, COL

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