My 2008 MVP ballot

Well, it’s time for another go-around of MVP voting.  Last year, the BBWAA picked Alex Rodriguez in the AL (he was a no-brainer pick) and Jimmy Rollins in the NL (he was a brain-scratcher of a pick).  Rollins didn’t even make my ballot last year.  Every year, it seems that there’s one of those guys who win the MVP, because no one can quite agree on what constitutes “value.”  For BBWAA members, it seems that value consists of having a lot of RBIs, playing on a playoff-bound team, having a good second half (good first halves are not important… that’s why we have the All-Star Game) and living somewhere on the East Coast.
Side note: I’ve also wondered why there separate AL and NL awards.  Sure, given the history of the two leagues and the fact that they existed for many many years as completely separate entities… I understand that the merger really only formally happened until a few years ago, but right now, the AL and NL are little more than conferences anymore in the over-arching MLB framework.  So, other than tradition, why two awards?  Oh right, in baseball “tradition” trumps everything.  Even things that don’t make sense.
But in any case, let’s pick a good AL and NL MVP.  As last year, the award that I’m about to hand out should really be called the “Most Valuable Offensive Player of the Year Based on Performance in Batting Categories.  Sorry, No Pitchers Allowed.”  I really should factor in things like defense and baserunning, but not right now.  I’m also looking at players based on performance rather than talent.  Some guys have clearly played above their heads this year, and they’ll get their moment in the sun, even though it won’t last.  I suppose I should also consider pitchers since they do add value to a team, but I’m of the belief to say that the Cy Young Award exists for a reason.
I took the top ten folks (as of the beginning of this weekend) in VORP, WPA, WPA/LI, and BRAA.  Any player who was mentioned on more than one of those lists was nominated.  And the nominees are:
National League: Pujols, Berkman, H. Ramirez, C. Jones, Holliday, Utley, Wright, Beltran, C. Lee, McLouth, Ludwick
In the NL, Pujols leads in 3 of the 4 measures, with Berkman in second.  On raw WPA, Berkman is 1st, Pujols is 2nd.  They don’t give second most valuable player, but they should.  Lance Berkman has had a pretty good year, or at least an amazing first half and a par-for-his-course second half.  Pujols, who has been injured all year and is thinking about Tommy John surgery(!) in the off-season had a better year.
The thing with Pujols makes me wonder two things… 1) How can this guy be that good? and 2) Why is it that people seem so reluctant to vote for him?  The man has an on base percentage of over .450!  Is it because his Cardinals team isn’t going to the playoffs?  I can see the emotional draw to voting for a guy whose team goes to the playoffs.  I’ve said before that a baseball season has a binary outcome.  You either win the World Series or you don’t.  So, the Cardinals would have been left out of the playoffs with or without Pujols.  Why not vote for the guy who was the difference-maker?  But then, why penalize Pujols for the guys around him?  Because the people who are doing the voting are trained to find the best story that they can, and a guy who’s not going to the playoffs isn’t that interesting a story.
So, Pujols first, Berkman second.  Running down the rest of the NL, Matt Holliday comes in third in three categories (all but VORP, where he’s fifth behind Hanley and Chipper), so he gets my third place vote.  Past that, it starts getting a little tricky.  Chipper Jones is the only guy who makes it onto all four top ten lists.  Hanley Ramirez and David Wright both make an appearance at #11 on one list, and then guys like Utley and Ludwick and Lee only make two lists.  Could I split hairs between Ramirez and Wright?  Yeah, probably.  Were either one of them better than Chipper?  I say we put them all on the same “tier.”  Then the same with Utley, Ludwick, Lee, and McLouth, a tier below the Chipper, Hanley, and David.
So, since the full BBWAA ballot has 10 spots, I say Pujols, Berkman, Holliday, Chipper, Ramirez, Wright, and arrange the rest of the guys in whatever order you like.  Just put Chase Utley up closer to the top, on general principles.  He got hosed last year from winning the Most Valuable Phillie award.
On to the Junior Circuit.
American League nominees: A-Rod, Huff, Pedroia, Bradley, Sizemore, Hamilton, Morneau, Quentin, Granderson, Mauer
A-Rod leads the league in VORP right now, but only makes one other appearance (5th on WPA/LI) on any of the other three lists.  The other lists are headed by Morneau (BRAA), Mauer (WPA), and Bradley (WPA/LI).  There’s no really dominant choice in the AL on these measures this year.  As an Indians fan, it’s tempting to take a look at these numbers from last week’s StatSpeak roundtable guest Justin Inaz, showing my grandmother’s favorite player, Grady Sizemore, as the most valuable player in the AL.  As my grandmother is fond of pointing out, he’s a sharp looking young man too.
Of the nominees, Bradley, Sizemore, Hamilton, Morneau, and Quentin made all four top 10 lists.  Aubrey Huff has two 2nd place finishes, a 5th, and an 11th.  I could see an honest vote going for any of those guys.  It’s hard because a guy like Quentin has 2 third places, a second place, and a ninth, but Hamilton has two fourth places, a second, but never drops below sixth.  Morneau actually leads a category, but has a sixth and eighth place to his record.  Poor A-Rod is first in VORP, but 14th in BRAA and 32nd in raw WPA. 
Of the two categories that I trust that most, VORP and WPA/LI, Bradley leads the latter, and A-Rod leads the former, although Huff comes in second in both of them.  (For the record: BRAA doesn’t adjust for position, and raw WPA can get very context dependent.)  Argh!  What to do!
Let’s go back to what a hitter’s basic job is.  Don’t make an out.  Milton Bradley is up near Albert Pujols levels of on-base percentage and well ahead of everyone else in the league this year.  On that tiebreaker (of sorts), I give Bradley the slight edge over his competition.  Yeah, Milton Bradley is my pick for MVP, primarily because I have to pick someone.  Of course, the problem is that in reality, he’s going to split votes with Josh Hamilton, because it’s apparently impossible to have two valuable players on one team.
In second place, I’m going with the very under-appreciated Aubrey Huff.  I don’t know what got into him this year or whether it will last, but the man has quiety put up some very good performances for some very bad teams over his career, and this year he’s had a very very good season.  What’s scary is that he might not get any votes in the actual voting.  He didn’t make the All-Star team either.
In third/fourth/fifth place, I’m going with Hamilton/Quentin/Morneau.  It’s irrelevant which order they go in.  I figured that, in the event of no dominant choice appearing among a set of characters, I would add together their place rankings in each of the four categories (so, Hamilton with a 6th, 2nd, 4th, and 4th would be 16) and take the lowest number.  Hamilton was  a 16, Quentin a 17, Morneau an 18. 
I’ll take A-Rod in sixth over Sizemore, because A-Rod is a better offensive player.  Just don’t tell my grandmother.  I don’t honestly know if she reads StatSpeak.  Maybe I shouldn’t tell her.  This is actually an interesting dynamic that plays out in real MVP voting.  Sizemore, all Indians fan-dom aside is probably, all things considered, should probably rake in a few more votes than he gets.  His offensive production numbers aren’t elite, but he does play a quantifiably good center field (at least he did in 2007, according to my OPA! numbers from last year), and runs the bases well (I remember him being ranked highly in one of THT’s investigations on the subject… can’t find it), so all told he may produce/prevent more runs in all aspects of his game than some of the other guys, including A-Rod, but this is an award which goes to the folks who pile up gaudy batting numbers.  Sizemore’s problem is being gifted in multiple areas of the game instead of concentrating all his skills on the ones that the writers look at.  Maybe when the 2008 Retrosheet file comes out, I’ll look at baserunning, defense, and offensive prowess and see who really was the MVP.
Granderson, Mauer, and Pedroia can battle for the last few spots, (in my book, the order is Mauer, Pedroia, Granderson).  The problem with the AL is that someone in the comments section could make a case for a first place vote going to any of the top six or seven guys, and to be honest, I could probably be swayed to their case.
So, the official Pizza Cutter endorsements in the AL and NL MVP races go to Albert Pujols and, one year removed from injuring himself while arguing with an umpire, Milton Bradley.  Send that NL trophy to the engravers.  Hold off on the AL one.


13 Responses to My 2008 MVP ballot

  1. Sky says:

    Pizza, maybe you should have looked at Justin’s stats a bit longer as you seem to really have underrated defense. (That’s sounded snarkier than it was supposed to be.) There’s no way Huff’s offensive advantage over guys like Sizemore, Pedroia, Mauer, and Granderson stands up to their defensive advantage. Heck, I’m not even sure Huff was better than Brian Roberts on his own team.
    Doesn’t VORP overrate DHs by comparing them to their own positional-average offensive line, which is much worse than it should be (DH appears to be an easier position to fill than 1B and corner outfielder spot, which it isn’t.)
    Even with Sizemore’s baserunning and high plate appearance count, you still think ARod has been more productive offensively this year? Or are you saying he’s still beter in true talent?

  2. Pizza Cutter says:

    Sky, I’m specifically ignoring defense (and baserunning) in these votes. So, yeah, I guess I am under-rating defense! The actual voters don’t vote based on defense or on baserunning, (although they do vote on “heart”, “clutch”, and “on a playoff team.”) so I’ve simply followed suit. Baby steps with BBWAA. Baby steps.
    Sizemore actually rates out as a fairly pedestrian CF in my OPA! system last year (good range + not-so-good arm), although Granderson clearly shines through in defensive abilities. So, that would push him up a bit. Dan Fox’s baserunning stats have Roberts, Granderson, and Sizemore as excellent baserunners from last year (figure anywhere in the neighborhood of 6-7 runs, roughly). Assuming that those numbers carry over, it would probably affect the standings, but I don’t have those numbers available in real-time for this year. In the off-season when the Retrosheet log for 2008 comes out, I’ll take a look at who the *real* MVP’s were, everything included.
    VORP probably does over-rate DHs. It should really use as the baseline the “10th man” (best non-starter), because in reality if your DH goes down, you either put that guy in the DH spot or you move someone to DH and put that guy in the field. Plus, most nights when the DH sits one out, he’s actually replaced at DH by a guy who’s normally a starting fielder, but is getting a half-break. The “replacement DHs” are generally guys who are late-season call ups, and who spend a couple of games DHing.
    That said, Huff is (or at least was last time I checked) second in WPA/LI. That’s gotta count for something.
    And trust me, nothing would make me happier than to scream from the rooftops that Grady Sizemore should be MVP. The problem is that in my day job, I usually have to hospitalize those folks.

  3. Sky says:

    So are you trying to predict who the voters pick as their MVP or are you picking who you think has actually been the MVP?
    If you’re trying to emulate the BBWAA, why not use WPA instead of WPA/LI. Or, better yet, just use Vegas Watch’s MVP predictor (which shows just how crazy the thought process of the BBWAA is.)
    I agree Sizemore’s defense has been merely a touch above average historically, but the zone ratings have him much better this year. And Granderson’s rated a bit worse than Sizemore, for what that’s worth.
    And it’s not just fielding, but position that matters in Sizemore vs. Huff. Going by Tango’s position adjustments, Huff loses two full wins before you even try to ask how good Sizemore has been in the field.

  4. Pizza Cutter says:

    My goal is something of a hybrid. The writers only look at offensive stats, so I figured that I would simply look at it through some better offensive stats (RBIs!)
    Sizemore’s problem isn’t his range. It’s his arm. OPA! has him ranked as one of the best CF in the game last year when you just look at his getting to the baseball. But when it comes to throwing, he pretty much gives it all back. So, his zone rating probably is high. Actually, in tomorrow’s roundtable, I take a bit of a closer look at this topic… (teaser!)

  5. Colin Wyers says:

    RARP, for what it’s worth, has both Chipper Jones and Hanley Ramirez as being more valuable than Lance Berkman this year in the NL.
    In the AL, RARP has A-Rod and Sizemore tied, and if you’re not going to split hairs over a .8th of a run, Joe Mauer is in a three-way tie atop the AL. (Huff tumbles way down in the RARP rankings.)

  6. dan says:

    Aren’t WPA/LI and BRAA kind of redundant? The difference between them is like the difference between…. I don’t even know. Just one’s based on wins and the other based on runs. Take Sky’s suggestion and include some fielding. Maybe ask Tango for some subjecting fielding info for a handful of guys you want to look at if you want to imitate public perception.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Roto Savants

    Statistically Speaking MVP Article…
    Over at Statistically Speaking they did an article deciding on the 2008 MVP in each league. While we agree on the NL MVP (Albert Pujols) we disagree on the AL MVP. You can read my MVP and Cy Young art……

  8. Gerry says:

    Here’s the argument you have been awaiting.
    IMO, you have perfectly described the inherent problem in using statistics to identify such categories as “most valuable”. Furthermore, you have substituted “best” or “most productive in certain statistical categories” for what the award was designed to be . . . “most valuable”.
    “Most valuable” necessarily implies a drive to the post-season, even if that drive falls short. It is not an emotional thing at all. Such a drive is essential to the award because it influences the behavior of the entire league; hence a league-wide award. Pujols, for example, made the Cardinals a threat, causing other teams to play them carefully to win. Manny’s performance in L.A. would surely qualify him if he hadn’t switched leagues. Pre-Manny, the Dodgers couldn’t win. With Manny, they capture the division. MVP candidate, amazing stats aside.
    Likewise, a player on a certified non-contender may be the best player in the league or MLB, and MVP for his team, but may not have the Greatest Value/ be the MVP for an entire league.
    Cases in point. These stats put Pedroia, for example, near the bottom, and don’t even consider Youkilis. In reality, with nearly half the starting Red Sox (Lowell, Drew, Manny, Lugo, plus Casey, plus Beckett, Wakefield, Colon, Buchholz, Aardsma, Hansack, Snyder, Kielty) injured or gone, the Red Sox should not have contended at all. But Pedroia and Youkilis carried the Red Sox on their backs for months during a tough battle for the division, may yet win the division, and at minimum helped guarantee a wild-card slot. The entire league had fits strategizing every game. THAT is value.
    In the process, Pedroia and Youk are league statistical leaders in many highly practical offensive categories, as in Pedroia leading the league in BA, hits, hitting 20/20, etc. Why “D” doesn’t count is a mystery to anyone who remembers sluggers like ‘Stonefingers Stuart’, but Youkilis and Pedroia have been incredible in the field, while keeping the team charged up during a slew of controversies and injuries.
    If these variables are not considered in choosing a MVP, then the award has lost its meaning.

  9. Colin Wyers says:

    You’re taking a very narrow definition of “valuable” and then declaring it the only reasonable one, Gerry. I really don’t see how you figure that it’s outrageous to think that the most valuable player is the one that’s the best at baseball. It certainly makes more sense to judge a player based upon whether or not his teammates suck – seriously? I checked the Oxford English Dictionary just to make sure, and nowhere in the definition of “valuable” did it say “doesn’t play on the same team as Adam Kennedy.”
    The problem is that these awards are given out by people who are paid to write interesting stories about baseball, and quite frankly articles about how Albert Pujols is still freaking amazing don’t sell newspapers, and that’s how we’ve ended up with increasingly tenuous deliniations of how a ballplayer is actually valuable.

  10. DanC says:

    Milton Bradley? You have a point, but man does that sound absolutely awful to anyone else? Then again, I’ll accept any player who doesn’t play in Boston or New York. Except for A-Rod, because I don’t understand why those idiots boo him all the time. Article idea??

  11. Pizza Cutter says:

    Gerry, I’m kinda taking a wild guess as to your fan loyalties on this one. I’m not a fan of the sine qua non (who not without) theory of the MVP. “If not for ___, we wouldn’t have made it this far.” There are eight teams who will make the playoffs and a few more who will just miss, and all of them have one or two of those guys (usually through injuries/tough times). If your only criteria is “carried a team” then that breaks down really quickly.
    I understand (although disagree) with the idea that the MVP should be going to the playoffs, as I mentioned in the article. Why penalize a player for the players with whom he plays? Why does the fact that while Pujols was putting up unreal numbers, the rest of the Cardinals faltered around him diminish what Pujols did?
    And you’re right. I should be counting defense. I’m just being lazy. I encourage you to look at Justin Inaz’s value charts which count defense. And for what it’s worth, still have Pujols as the NL MVP.

  12. Sky says:

    If you go with WPA-over-replacement and Justin’s defensive numbers, Berkman actually comes out on top of Pujols, interestingly enough.

  13. Pizza Cutter says:

    Sky, does he update those on an on-going basis. I’m using the table that he linked on September 5th. Certainly, things can change in two weeks.

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