Brains vs. Braun

Fellow MVNer Daniel Rathman, who writes the outstanding Baseballistic column, today asks the question of who will win the NL Rookie of the Year Award; Troy Tulowitzki of the Colorado Rockies or Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers.  Daniel picks Braun:

Who is more worthy of the award, a superior defensive shortstop with passable offensive numbers and plus power, or an absolute offensive juggernaut with a wooden glove?
Since defense tends to be overlooked in favor of offense, the choice will likely be Braun.
Though Tulowitzki’s season has been excellent in its own right, I think that Braun’s ridiculous offensive performance simply dwarfs it, in spite of his shoddy defense.

I beg to differ.  I agree that Braun will win, but I say that Tulowitzki should win. 
I can’t argue with two things.  Ryan Braun has looked like the second coming of Albert Pujols offensively and Troy Tulowitzki enjoys the cool mountain air of Coors Field 81 days per year.  The assumption is that Tulowitzki’s numbers (.292/.362/.475, 23 HR), which are nice for a shortstop, wouldn’t be so nice if it weren’t for that Colorado air.  Indeed, as Daniel points out, Tulowitzki’s home/road splits show him to be a mere mortal on the road.  Before blaming the Colorado air, let’s look at a couple things:
Baseball-Reference lists Coors Field’s park effect rating for 2007 as 107.  (Braun’s Miller Park rates at 100, which is perfectly neutral.)  That does mean that Coors tilts toward hitters, but this isn’t your father’s Coors Field.  Most folks still have dreams of the old (pre-humidifier) Coors Field, which had park effects from 1999-2002 of 129, 131, 122, and 121.  Tulowitzki got some bounce, but let’s not overstate it.  Still, Braun is still (clearly) the better hitter by a lot.  Baseball Prospectus‘s VORP for Rookies (which really only looks at hitting, if I’m not mistaken), rates Braun in 1st place among rookies and Tulowitzki in third (Hunter Pence… remember him?… is in second place).  Voters (and fans) are impressed by offense because there are really good statistics to measure offensive contributions (not that those are the ones that are used… but those stats do exist.)
But can the effect of fielding be measured in the same way as batting?  Can a team really be better off with an all-field, no-hit player rather than a monster hitting masher with a hole in his glove?  In a word: yes.  In two words: Adam Everett.  It’s hard to tell what Braun would have looked like playing short (OK, it’s obscenely easy to tell what would have happened in that case) or what Tulowitzki would have done playing third, but it’s pretty clear that Tulowitzki is the better fielder.  In fact, take a look at Tulowitzki’s Fielding Runs Above Replacement (FRAR) over at Baseball Prospectus.  The shortstop tends to be the best defender on a team and Tulowitzki is 44 runs(!) better than a scrapheap shortstop (and 22 more than an average one).  That’s amazing, outstanding, demanding, and commanding.  Tulowitzki is also adds 9 runs above replacement with his hitting.  Braun is a better hitter, 48 runs better than a scrapheap third baseman, but 8 runs worse than that scrapheap third baseman when it comes to matters of the glove.
Overall net effect of playing Tulowitzki rather than a AAA callup, marginal utility infielder type, or waiver wire pickup shortstop: 72 runs.  Net effect of playing Ryan Braun over a replacement third baseman: 40 runs. 
Another way to look at it is this: had Tulowitzki stayed the same on defense, but had the offensive output of Stephen Drew of the Diamondbacks (.233/.310/.361), he would have still been more valuable of a player than Braun.
Yeah, Ryan Braun will win the trophy and he really is an outstanding hitter.  But Tulowitzki will win you more ballgames and I nominate him as the thinking man’s pick for NL ROY.  Baseball is a game played in half-innings and a player can make a contribution in both halves.  It’s just that very few folks recognize one of those halves.

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7 Responses to Brains vs. Braun

  1. McCoy says:

    Another quibble.
    How do you get Troy is 72 runs better then a replacement SS? You say he is 44 runs better then a replcament SS on defense and 9 betters on offense. Doesn’t that comes out to 53 runs?
    One other thing and this has more to do with the future then past games, but how consistent is that high level of defense year in year out. How consistent is the offense likely to be year in year out? It seems to me that every year there is some (insert name here) SS putting up a huge defensive season, and then the next year it some other guy, so on and so on. In otherwords is Troy likely to put up another 40 to 50 runs above replacement defensive year next year? Is Braun likely to put up a 50 to 60 run year on offense next year?

  2. McCoy says:

    Alright third quibble and this one probably doesn’t really change the standings just the numbers. You can’t really compare or I should say combine replacement level fielding and replacement level hitting. I personally like to go for replacement level hitting and average level fielding but that is simply back of the envelope type calculating. As you probably already know a replacement level fielder and hitter isn’t really a replacment level player. He is in fact much worse then that. I like to use average fielder as a baseline because it seems to me that you can no hit good glove fielders growing on trees. So either the baseline for fielding needs to be moved up (to say .450 w%, I don’t recall the numbers exactly that would add up to replacement level, it might have been as high as .480) or one uses average as a quick shortcut.
    So for me Ryan is 30 runs above a replacement level third basemen and and Troy is 51 runs above a replacement level SS.
    Oh and I see now that I am looking at BP where you got 72 runs. 28 RAR and 48 FRAR.

  3. McCoy says:

    One quibble, while Coors field PE is lower now then it used to be that has more to do with Rockie pitchers then Rockie hitters. Rockie hitters OPS+ is 120 at home, 97 on the road. Now since road totals are not a true average since Coors isn’t factored in I would say that there road OPS+ is league average. Rockie pitchers have only a 106 OPS+ at home and a 92 on the road. So Rockie pitchers are giving up less runs at home while Rockie hitters are still scoring runs at home. In the days of old that wasn’t happening. In the days of old Rockie hitters who hit a ton and Rockie pitchers would give up a ton at home. Now it is only the Rockie hitters hitting a bunch. That will skew the PE to a lower number.
    Secondly PE is of course a team stat and Troy is not a team. His own home/away stats show pretty clearly that Coors Field is have a dramatic impact on his numbers. He has a 147 OPS+ at home and a 94 OPS+ on the road. Again once factoring in Coors field is eveyrbody elses away field Troy comes in at slightly below average on the road while way way way above average at home.
    So I don’t really believe that saying Coors field has inflated his numbers is overstating the case.

  4. Pizza Cutter says:

    So many questions to answer:
    On park effects, if I understand correctly, BRef breaks up offense park effects vs. pitching park effect. (Both are 107 as of right now, so it doesn’t much matter). I also worry about making conclusions like “Tulowitzki’s a better hitter at home than on the road.” That takes an already small sample size (162 games isn’t a really great sample size, as much faith as we put into it), and makes it worse by splitting it in two. I can agree that there’s some amount of inflation with Coors, but even if he were playing at sea level, I’m not convinced that he’d become another SS who was inflated by the good ole days of Coors and then sunk when he got to sea level, Neifi Perez.
    The question of consistency of defense is an interesting one from a Sabermetric POV. I’ve not seen any studies on it. However, the Rookie of the Year Award isn’t the “Who’s going to keep this up longer?” award. It’s the “Who had the best year among NL rookies?” award. Just ask Pat Listach and Bob Hamelin.
    I like your approach on combining replacement level hitting (which teams certainly consider when making roster decisions) with average level fielding. As you point out, the count still favors Tulo, but it probably better reflects the realities of MLB.

  5. McCoy says:

    Yes of course in terms of this year it doesn’t matter about how consistent the actual skill is. My view had more to do with your statement on how Troy “will” win you more games. Which got me to thinking about the future.
    As for PE the point I was raising is that quite simply Rockie hitters do better at home then opposing teams do at Coors field. This shows up by looking at Rockie hitters splits and Rockie pitchers splits. In the past difference between the pitchers numbers and home and away were much greater. Which of course means that opposing hitters were doing much better at Coors then in their own homes. This year yes the Rockie hitters are not reaching the same lofty heights at home as they used to but opposing hitters are doing much worse at Coors then Rockie hitters are and I don’t think it can be neatly explained through basic home field advantage. For whatever reason (ethical or unethical) Rockie players are not as adversely affected by the “new” Coors Field as opposing hitters are. Which to means that PE doesn’t adequately deal with park effects of Rockie players.
    Rockie hitters see there run scoring go up by at 23%. I say at least because I didn’t adjust for not having to play the 9th inning as much at home. While opposing hitters only see there hitting rise by 9%. If we were to simply base PE on one or ther other it would be PE 112 or PE 105. Combine the two and you get a PE of 108 or pretty darn close to the 107 PE you say Coors has. Now how much of that is simply home field advantage? Well, some of course but I don’t it accounts for all of the 14 point spread. Maybe two or three but I can’t see it meaning more then that.

  6. Sky says:

    Do B-Ref’s park factors include averaging in other season’s data? Any good PF definitely should. Coors has played at about a 120 runs park factor the past few seasons.
    It’s not a good idea to judge how much one player benefited from a ballpark by his home/road split. Those are WAY too flukey. The numbers for Tulo this year really just mean he hit better at home AND additionally benefitted by playing home games at Coors. Think about how many players from league-average parks have unequal home/road splits. Over multiple seasons you can start to judge. Or if you know a park’s piece-meal park effects (homers for righties or doubles for ground-ball hitters, for example), you can run those on individual players.
    Replacement level for hitting, with a positional adjustment, plus fielding compared to average is the way to go. With Hardball Times +/- runs, Tulo comes out 55 runs better just on fielding. Fans Scouting Report has Tulo 30 runs better. BPro is more like 45. Either way, Tulo comes out 1-4 wins better than Braun overall.

  7. Eric Haskell says:

    Hey, Pizza Cutter, I thought you might enjoy the conversation started here: http://mvn.com/milb-yankees/?comments_popup=414 , and continued here: http://mvn.com/milb-yankees/2007/09/28/the-moneyball-dilemma/

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