Monday, November 16, 2015

Hypothetical Ballot: MVP

Some time in early September, the media decided that Josh Donaldson was the AL MVP. I don't purposefully seek out media on the awards, but I've not heard any mainstream support for a non-Donaldson (read: Mike Trout) candidate since that point. Obviously Donaldson has the playoffs and the RBI, but for my money this is not a particularly close race.

Even if you take away park adjustments, which favor Trout to the tune of 7%, I estimate Trout created 124 runs and Donaldson 123. But Trout did that whilst making 26 fewer outs. Third base and center field are essentially a wash when it comes to position adjustments, and the most favorable comparison in the big three fielding metrics for Donaldson is his 11 DRS to Trout's 0 UZR. Bringing park factors back in, I have Trout with 79 RAR and Donaldson 64, leaving Trout ahead even with the most lopsided fielding comparison feasible.

The rest of my AL ballot is pretty straightforward based on the RAR list, with the exceptions of Manny Machado and Lorenzo Cain, who jump up a few spots on the basis of strong showing in fielding (Machado averaged +14 runs in the big three metrics, Cain +17) and baserunning (+3 and +4 after removing steals respectively, per Baseball Prospectus). I regress fielding just enough to let Nelson Cruz hang on to what started as a 15 run RAR lead over Machado, sprinkle in the top four pitchers, and wind up with this ballot:

1. CF Mike Trout, LAA
2. 3B Josh Donaldson, TOR
3. SP Dallas Keuchel, HOU
4. SP David Price, DET/TOR
5. RF Nelson Cruz, SEA
6. 3B Manny Machado, BAL
7. SP Sonny Gray, OAK
8. CF Lorenzo Cain, KC
9. SP Corey Kluber, CLE
10. RF Jose Bautista, TOR

In the National League, there's absolutely no question for me: Bryce Harper had an epic season with 96 RAR, and that's before adding his positive baserunning and fielding contributions. For the first time in his full-time career, Mike Trout would not be my choice for overall MLB MVP.

Behind him, five candidates have seperation for the next five spots on the ballots--the top first basemen Joey Votto and Paul Goldschmidt, and the top three starting pitchers (Jake Arrieta, Zack Greinke, and Clayton Kershaw). Looking solely at offense, Votto and Goldschmidt are basically even; while Votto's fielding is seen as above average, Goldschmidt is strong across the board (+13 FRAA, +5 UZR, and +18 DRS) and BP's baserunning metric has him as a positive (+2) while Votto is a big negative (-6).

Without Goldschmidt's strong ancillary contributions, I would drop him behind two or maybe even three of the pitchers, but I think he's got just enough value to stay ahead of them as is (and yes, I did consider that both Greinke with 5 runs created and Arrieta with 2 added value that wasn't considered in the Cy Young post. Greinke's offensive edge made me tempted to flip him and Arrieta on the MVP ballot, but it would have been to generate a curiosity rather than borne of strong conviction).

Two things worth discussing on the rest of the ballot: AJ Pollock would be here with 57 RAR regardless, but his defense and baserunning graded out well (-3 FRAA, +7 UZR, +14 DRS, +5 BP baserunning) while Andrew McCutchen's did not (-16, -5, -8, -2), enough to jump Pollock ahead of McCutchen who led him with 65 RAR.

1. RF Bryce Harper, WAS
2. 1B Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
3. SP Jake Arrieta, CHN
4. SP Zack Greinke, LA
5. 1B Joey Votto, CIN
6. SP Clayton Kershaw, LA
7. C Buster Posey, SF
8. CF AJ Pollock, ARI
9. SP Max Scherzer, WAS
10. CF Andrew McCutchen, PIT

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