Think Blue

Obsessing over the Dodgers' minor league system so you don't have to.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

VORPies, A Rod vs Miguel Tejada and the 2005 CY Awards

Now, I know my last post discussing sabermetrics earned rave reviews and all (both) of my regular readers have long awaited its sequel. Unfortunately, I'm not Stephen Colbert and will have to resort to the boring, straight-forward commentary that best suits my thought process.


As I have previously covered, many Baseball writers have vigorously defended Jimmy Rollins' win of the National League MVP award and insulted sabermetrics while doing so. Enter Jon Heyman. Apparently, someone over at sent a letter to Sports Illustrated, questioning the selection of Rollins as NL MVP. Well Heyman shot back by coining a new derogatory term for the stathead community: VORPies!

Rollins acknowledged that his brash "team to beat'' prediction probably helped him win the MVP. Of course, it didn't hurt that he hit 30 home runs, scored 139 runs and slugged .534 while batting leadoff and playing a superb shortstop for a division champion.

First, I'm not sure why saying "we're the team to beat" would help someone win the MVP. Anyone can say it. Maybe Rollins REALLY meant it?

Second, Rollins did have a very good season: 38 Doubles, 20 Triples, 30 HR and 41 SB is impressive. However, his home park and low OBP prevent him from being in the highest echelon of hitters.

And third, the real reason I'm writing this, is the last statement made above. Rollins was playing for a division champion. Does that make him a better player? Does that make Abraham Nunez a good third baseman? Or Adam Eaton a good pitcher? Why should a player (singular) be credited with his team's (plural) performance?

The Rockies' great slugger, Matt Holliday, finished second, but even a Rockies person told me in the playoffs last October that Rollins deserved the MVP, just as that Rockies person believed their shortstop Troy Tulowitzki deserved the Rookie of the Year (the Brewers' Ryan Braun wound up winning a close vote for that award). That person believed that great offense combined with stellar shortstop play should have been enough to take the awards, not a bad thought at all.

Sorry, but one "Rockies person" does not a valid argument make. Matt Holliday was definitely a contender for the award, posting an impressive 150 OPS+ (park-adjusted OPS). However, his playing left field in Coors takes away some of the prestige.

I, like the fellas at, believed David Wright should have won the award. However, Mr Heyman believes differently. After assuming that Hanley Ramirez was written off for playing for a bad team, instead of the real reason (playing terrible defense), he says:

I assume the stats guys favor Wright because he played for a contending team. I guess the rule is this: Highest VORP wins unless the VORP champion is playing for a loser.

Funny, coming from a guy who worked the fact that Rollins played for a "division winner" into his intro. But it gets weirder, as Heyman continues to sneak team records into the conversation.

If Wright's offensive stats were slightly better than Rollins', and I will accept that they were, especially considering the respective ballparks they play in (VORP accounts for ballparks), shouldn't Rollins get points for playing a superb shortstop compared to Wright's slightly-above average third base?

Not sure what Heyman's basing their defense on. It's not Dewan's plus/minus, which has become a staple of the sabermetric community. John Dewan, working with Bill James, has developed a system where every player gets a point for a play that another player at the same position cannot make. If said player doesn't make the play and another does, the first player loses a point. Hence, plus/minus.

In 2007, David Wright scored a +13, whereas Jimmy Rollins scored a +7. So Wright made almost twice as many extra plays as Rollins. I'd say, including the difference between shortstop and third base, that makes them nearly even.

And shouldn't Rollins get credit for showing extraordinary initiative and leadership? For helping his team barrel into the playoffs from seven games back with 17 to go, as opposed to Wright's team, which perpetrated a historic choke?

And here it is. Rollins should get credit for showing extraordinary initiative and leadership for muttering three words that any player on any team can say. Not only that, but Rollins helped his team barrel into the playoffs, when Wright's team suffered a catastrophic meltdown.

But who helped their team more when it came down to the wire? Rollins did play well down the stretch, OPSing .908 in the second half and .875 in September/October. But Wright was even more impressive, OPSing 1.061 in the second half and 1.034 in September/October.

And look at the wording. " opposed to Wright's team." Why should Wright receive blame for his team's disappointment? He was clearly a dominant hitter down the stretch, better than Rollins.

Though the Mets' collapse was no fault of Wright's, for the MVP to come off the all-time choke team, he'd better have a greater advantage in stats than this

Now Heyman simultaneously exonerates and condemns Wright for his team's performance.

Wright outhit Rollins .325 to .296, but both hit 30 home runs and Rollins beat Wright in Runs Created by 13.

Batting average, home runs and runs created? The first two are correct, but the third is off. The boys over at figured out that Heyman was using Runs + RBI - HR. That is not the actual formula for Runs Created. Runs Created uses linear weights for singles, doubles, triples, etc. In reality, Wright created 11 more runs in 67 less PA's than Rollins.

Wright's big advantage apparently comes down to the fact he got on base more often (his on-base percentage was significantly higher, .416 to .344), usually via a walk (he had 94 walks to Rollins' 49). To the stat guys, walking is more thrilling and much more valuable than actually winning the pennant.

Now here's an argument I recognize! "Sabergeeks like walks more than wins!" Of course that's not true. And of course no one in the history of mankind has ever suggested that walking is more thrilling and much more valuable than actually winning the pennant. Stat guys prefer guys who walk more because, on average, they create less outs. Less outs = more opportunities to score runs, more runs = more wins. It's pretty simple, really.

But Heyman ends with a snide remark that once again refers to the outcome of the team, not the player. And it got me thinking: what other controversies have occurred in MVP/CY voting?

2002 AL MVP - Alex Rodriguez vs Miguel Tejada

A season after Barroids broke Big Mac's short-lived homerun record, Alex Rodriguez was playing out the second year of his 10 (7) year contract. And he was looking like a $25 million player. In his first season with the Rangers he batted .318/.399/.622 with 52 HR and 135 RBI. In '02, he was nearly as good, hitting .300/.392/.623 with 57 HR and 142 RBI. But there was a problem: the Rangers weren't winning. In 2001, the Rangers finished 16 games below .500. In 2002, they were 2 games worse.

Meanwhile, in Oakland, Billy Beane's moneyball experiment was working to a T. The budget was low, the win percentage was high and the team had a three-headed monster in their rotation. The A's were coming off a 102 win season in '01, their second straight reaching the playoffs, and despite losing Jason Giambi to the Yankees in the offseason, the team was even better in 2002. However, their 103 win season was wasted as the Athletics lost in 5 games in the divisional series to the Twins.

After the postseason concluded, it seemed like a sure thing that A Rod would win the MVP. 57 HR by a shortstop? 142 RBI? How can you not like that? Well, as it turns out, the writers found something to pick on: the standings. Where Oakland tied the Yankees for the most wins in the league, the Rangers won just 72 games and finished well short of playoff contention. But surely you can't hold A Rod responsible for that...can you? I mean, the guy led the majors in HR, RBI, Total Bases. His VORP was second only to Bonds.

But as it turns out, that wasn't enough. Rodriguez was punished for being on a bad team and lost the MVP race, garnering only 5 of the 28 first place votes. Even though he out-OPS'd Tejada by .150 points, saved 9 more runs on defense and contributed 3.5 more wins to his team. Was it Tejada's ability in the clutch? On the surface, it looks like Tejada edged A Rod with RISP (.375 BA to .364 BA). But delving a little deeper, it was actually A Rod who did more with runners in scoring position (1.224 OPS to .997 OPS). Tejada did lead A Rod with RISP and 2 outs (.969 to .885), but A Rod's Close and Late OPS (.921) was higher than Tejada's (.859).

So the only real reason Tejada won was because his team made the playoffs and A Rod's didn't. Luckily for A Rod (and the integrity of the system), he won the award the following season. My hope had been temporarily restored...temporarily...

To be continued...


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