Wednesday, December 09, 2009

(Informally) Grading BBWAA Award Choices

Last time I tried to explain why I don't particularly care about whom the BBWAA annual awards are bestowed upon, and how my feelings on those awards differ from those I hold on some other awards.

Now I'm going to turn around and talk about the very results I claimed not to care about, which will understandably lead to charges of wanting to have it both ways. Perhaps, but I hope that my previous missive will allow you to see where I'm coming from.

First, a brief digression. While my opinion is of course the one I value most, I am nowhere near vain enough to assume that you care about my opinion (while also recognizing that I am not infallible). So I do take a look at the Internet Baseball Awards, now maintained by Baseball Prospectus, and add my two cents into that voting. I believe that we yahoos on the internet, as a group, do make better choices than the writers do as a group. Are there IBA results that I personally find dubious? Of course, but I think that overall they are more sensible than what the BBWAA proffers.

For fun, I am going to propose a series of letter grades by which to judge the BBWAA awards against your own judgment. I will illustrate this by looking at the MVP winners for the last ten seasons, and comparing my choices to those of the BBWAA and the IBA. I have also limited myself in making my selections only to what I felt at the time. I have not gone back and reviewed the statistics (or some of the new data that has become available, like better fielding metrics) to see if I would still view those awards the same way I do now. Remember, I'm not claiming that my opinion is infallible, and I certainly wouldn't make my claim about what my opinion was ten years ago. Also, the frequency of the grades doesn't make an abundance of sense--A+ is more common than A, for instance. The point here is just to offer a systematic way of categorizing your *own* opinion on the outcome of the vote, with mine just serving as a superfluous example.

The first letter grade is A+ (I've avoided pluses and minuses except in this case, as they are needlessly complex for a silly application, but you could figure out how to mix them in elsewhere if you wanted). An A+ selection is one that you agree with--the singular choice of the BBWAA is the singular choice that you would have made. The last BBWAA A+ selection (in MVP voting and in my opinion, of course, which will go unstated for the rest of the piece) were Albert Pujols and Joe Mauer in 2009.

An A selection is one in which you would have chosen a different player, but could have yourself made the case for the actual winner. Your candidate and the winner were very close and while you went one way, you wouldn't even waste your time trying to dissuade someone that endorsed the other player. The last A selection for me was Albert Pujols, 2005 NL. I felt that Derrek Lee was a sliver more valuable, but it was hard to argue that with any conviction.

A B selection is one win which you have a clear preference for a different candidate, but you can certainly see why others might support the winning player. This player will probably be in the top five on your ballot (or top three for the Cy Young), and his value estimate should be close enough to that of your player that it is within a reasonably restrictive confidence interval. The last B selection was Dustin Pedroia, 2008 AL. While I felt that one of the top two pitchers (Lee or Halladay) should have won the award, and that Mauer or Sizemore were more deserving position players, Pedroia was hardly an outlandish pick. I didn't endorse him, but it was a solid selection.

A C selection is one where you feel the player was clearly inferior to another, and while he would have been on the bottom of your ballot (or just off of it in the case of the Cy Young), you have a hard time accepting him as the best choice. The last C selection was Jimmy Rollins, 2007. I had Rollins eighth on my ballot, and felt that David Wright and Chipper Jones stood out as the top two. I also had Rollins behind two other players at his position and one other player on his team; he had a fine season, but the MVP was a bit much.

A D selection occurs when you don't feel the player should have even been in the top ten. This will likely only happen when the mainstream evaluation of the player's statistics differs widely from the sabermetric evaluation, or when the media has latched onto a storyline about a particular player and built an MVP case around it. In the last ten years, there has not been a D selection, only because of the (possibly too) large definition I have assigned to grade F.

A F selection is the same as a D selection, except the player is also judged to be inferior to one or ideally two or more comparable players. I used three criteria for comparable:

1) a teammate
2) a player at the same position and a somewhat similar profile as a hitter (Mark Grace would not be comparable to Frank Thomas, even though they were both first baseman; Jim Thome would be)
3) if the winner came from a contender, then a comparable player under condition #2 must have also come from a contender

The last F selection was Justin Morneau, 2006 AL. I believe that Morneau was not one of the ten most valuable players in the American League AND that his case was inferior to that of his teammate Joe Mauer.

I hope I've made it clear that I don't intend this exercise to be taken too seriously; it is just an organized way of assessing how the actual award choice compares to your own. It turns out that, even under the light of the grading system, the MVP choices have been decent for the last ten years. It's been even better in the NL, largely due to the presence of two superstars that are hard to ignore (although the AL does have an answer in Alex Rodriguez).

However, for my money the results of the IBA balloting have been nearly flawless. Only twice in twenty votes did I feel that there was a demonstrably more deserving recipient--and in both of those cases, I accept that it is possible that the IBA winner was truly the MVP under my personal standards (grade B choices). Sixteen times I have agreed with the IBA choice (A+), while three times it has been too close to call and I went with the other good option (A).

The uncharitable way of looking at this would be to say that I am a stathead ideologue, and that the other IBA voters (since they are self-selected among folks who at least have exposure to sabermetriclly-aware outlets) are ideologues as well, and so it is no surprise that there is a consensus. Perhaps. I tend to think that it illustrates that an informed, diverse group can make excellent decisions and arrive at consensus through the power of logic and analysis. But in the end it's all just for fun, so that would be a bit far to push it.


  1. Although you said Pedroia was a B, he's a C on your chart

  2. Thanks, Marc. I'll have to change that later.


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