Tuesday, November 16, 2010

IBA Ballot: MVP

I don't see any slam dunk choice for the AL MVP. My initial RAR numbers have Miguel Cabrera at 74, Jose Bautista 71, Josh Hamilton 68, and Robinson Cano 64. Adding in a crude fielding estimate ((UZR + Dewan's RS)/4) puts Hamilton in the lead at 72, followed by Cabrera 70, Bautista 70, Cano 66, and Longoria 62. Hamilton is also hurt by the fact that the initial RAR considers him a left fielder, but he actually played 22% of his innings in center. Refiguring his position adjustment to take this into account, his offense-only RAR is bumped up by a run, leaving him at 73 total.

It also stands to reason that Hamilton contributed as much or more on the bases than his competitors--BP's EqBRR less stolen base runs (steals are already accounted for in my RC formula) has Hamilton +2, Cabrera 0, Cano +1, Bautista -1, and Longoria +3, and thus only increases Hamilton's insignificant edge. It's not a factor that I consider, but Hamilton will almost certainly win the BBWAA award as he played for a playoff team and Cabrera did not.

There's one player left to consider before handing the award to Hamilton--Felix Hernandez. Hernandez' 76 RAR is definitely comparable to Hamilton's grand total of 75 RAR. However, Hernandez' peripherals are not quite as brilliant as his actual runs allowed, and while I have no qualms about choosing a pitcher as MVP, I like it to be a somewhat clear choice. Since the one run difference in RAR is meaningless and the evidence suggests that Hernandez is getting credit for a fair/favorable runs allowed rate, I can't justify going with him.

The bottom of the ballot is just a matter of mixing in the top starting pitchers with the position players, for whom I see little reason to deviate from RAR ranking. The exception is Paul Konerko who is at 55 RAR but frowned upon by the fielding metrics (-8) and is in front of a bunch of guys for whom I think most people would agree bring a lot more to the table in every area except batting (Adrian Beltre, Joe Mauer, Shin-Soo Choo, Carl Crawford). I would love to be able to justify getting Choo onto my ballot, but Carl Crawford ranks as his equal at the plate and adds more on the field and the basepaths:

1) LF Josh Hamilton, TEX
2) 1B Miguel Cabrera, DET
3) SP Felix Hernandez, SEA
4) RF Jose Bautista, TOR
5) 2B Robinson Cano, NYA
6) 3B Evan Longoria, TB
7) 3B Adrian Beltre, BOS
8) SP CC Sabathia, NYA
9) SP Jered Weaver, LAA
10) LF Carl Crawford, TB

The battle for top position player in the National League can be fairly safely restricted to three first baseman: Albert Pujols (82 RAR), Joey Votto (71), and Adrian Gonzalez (69). Next on the RAR list is Matt Holliday (61). Pujols has a sizeable lead over Votto in my RAR figures, one that may surprise a lot of readers at first glance, and even I was surprised at the margin.

Looking at their unadjusted batting lines, Votto (.324/.420/.600, 8.8 RG) appears to have the slight offensive edge over Pujols (.312/.414/.596, 8.6 RG). However, Pujols still has a four-run cushion in RAR thanks to an extra nine games played and 52 PA. When park is taken into account, Votto (.319/.414/.591, 8.6) and Pujols (.317/.421/.605, 8.9) essentially exchange raw stat lines with one another.

Consider that over the last five seasons, St. Louis's average RPG is 8.8 at home and 9.4 on the road. Cincinnati's split is 9.6/9.1. The parks have played as close to mirror images of one another. Of course park factors can't capture all of the potential influences on those figures--team construction, year-to-year weather fluctuations, chance, etc.--but I don't think it's outlandish to suggest, as my park factors do, that the overall run environment in which Cincinnati plays its schedule is 6% higher than that of St. Louis.

Maybe you don't trust the park adjustment. Maybe you'd prefer to look at each player's performance in the actual run context of his team in 2010, rather than the idealized league average context offered by park adjustments. There are drawbacks to such an approach, most notably that it assumes that each team is equally strong offensively and defensively, but there's an argument to be made that it captures value more effectively than does the neutralization approach. (Bill James made this argument using a fictional Jim Rice as an example in the original Historical Baseball Abstract, and it's something that I intend to ruminate on at some point).

Cincinnati games saw an average of 9.1 runs in 2010 (or 4.55 per team); St. Louis 8.5 (4.25); and throwing in San Diego for good measure, 7.69 (3.85). Using those figures as the new league average, and refiguring HRAA, RAR, and ARG (RG relative to average), the three come out:

Pujols: 70 HRAA, 79 RAR, 203 ARG
Votto: 63, 72, 194
Gonzalez: 53, 61, 184

I have no choice but to conclude that Pujols was the superior offensive player--to the extent that the tools being used capture reality. You can knock a few runs off of Pujols' figure for excess intentional walks, if you'd like, but it's not enough to make the gap disappear. Factoring in other areas of the game don't figure to do much to boost Votto--Pujols has a good fielding reputation and a track record of good performance in metrics, although this year the two are both rated as just about average by both UZR and RS, with a one run edge for Votto. BP's figures have Pujols as a +5 baserunner, Votto average.

To swing the comparison in Votto's favor, you either need to put stock in a metric like WPA (Votto was +7, Pujols +5.4) or give Votto a bonus because his team bested Pujols' for the division crown. I do neither.

The other interesting comparison is Pujols v. Halladay. Both have 82 RAR initially, but Pujols would actually pick up a few runs for fielding and baserunning, while Halladay would have to lose a tick for his hitting (-1 RC). Factor in the peripheral issue discussed re: Hernandez, and I favor Pujols. This is the second time in three years that I have listed Halladay second on a MVP ballot (last time, in the 2008 AL, he was ahead of the position players but lost out to Cliff Lee).

Adam Wainwright and Ubaldo Jimenez are also deserving of prominent positions on the ballot. Among the down ballot position players, I allow fielding to have just enough influence to push Troy Tulowitzki ahead of Carlos Gonzalez for Most Valuable Rockie, and to put Ryan Zimmerman ahead of some others (Dan Uggla, Jayson Werth, Hanley Ramirez, David Wright, notRyan Howard):

1) 1B Albert Pujols, STL
2) SP Roy Halladay, PHI
3) 1B Joey Votto, CIN
4) SP Adam Wainwright, STL
5) SP Ubaldo Jimenez, COL
6) 1B Adrian Gonzalez, SD
7) LF Matt Holliday, STL
8) 3B Ryan Zimmerman, WAS
9) SS Troy Tulowitzki, COL
10) LF Carlos Gonzalez, COL

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