Okay, So Maybe Dave Cameron Does Care

November 24, 2009

In mid-August, FanGraphs‘ Dave Cameron posted something that bothered me quite a bit. In a column titled “Why Do We Care?”, Cameron wrote about the pointlessness of fans getting riled up when the right baseball player doesn’t win the award he deserves. The most important quotes:

I get why baseball players might care, since they have financial incentives tied to who actually gets the award and such. I get why their families might care, as shiny trophies are always fun to hand down through the family. I get why the writers care, as it gives them a chance to have their opinion heard. I just don’t know why we’re supposed to care.

. . .

If they want to think that Teixeira was the most important player to his team in the league this year, that’s fine. Most of us probably disagree, and we’re under no obligation to report that as any kind of factual statement. I’ll be telling people that Mauer was the most valuable player in the American League for 2009, and I’ve got a mountain of information to back it up. How other people view the definition of the word value has no real world impact on me.

Twitter isn’t dying because people over 50 aren’t using it, and Tapas bars are doing just fine without an early bird special. Mauer’s legacy, and the history of the game, will be just fine without Tyler Keper’s vote, too. We’ve got better ways of capturing what happened on the field than through an award based on an esoteric argument about the definition of a vague word.

Let them vote for whoever they want. I don’t care.

I disagreed rather strongly with Cameron, going so far as to post my reaction to his piece. Well, now it turns out that maybe Dave Cameron himself disagrees with Dave Cameron. Today, in a column titled “Seriously, Someone Voted For Miguel Cabrera?”, Cameron posted about the ridiculousness of one voter giving Miguel Cabrera his first-place vote for the AL MVP. Important quotes:

Seriously, there is no argument for a first place vote for Miguel Cabrera. Mauer’s team made the playoffs, beating out Cabrera’s team for the last spot. Mauer hit better. Mauer fielded better. Mauer played a more important position.

None of those facts are disputable. A vote for Cabrera being more valuable in 2009 is like a vote for the sum of two and two being five. It’s not an opinion – it’s a lack of understanding.

So, writers who criticized Law for his vote and pointed to it as evidence that he’s screwing up the process, you are hereby required to do the same thing to the Cabrera voter. At least Keith had a reasonable explanation for his vote. There is no reasonable explanation for a Miguel Cabrera first place MVP vote. It’s just stupidity on display.

I happen to totally agree with Cameron’s thoughts on the AL MVP result. But that whole “let them vote for whoever they want, I don’t care” thing didn’t quite make it until 2010, did it?

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Want To Be Recognized As An Elite Defender? Become An Exceptional Hitter

November 10, 2009

The 2009 AL Gold Glove winners have been announced. Do you notice a pattern? If you don’t, perhaps my inclusion of each player’s 2009 OPS+ will give it away:

  • C – Joe Mauer (170)
  • 1B – Mark Teixeira (149)
  • 2B – Placido Polanco (88)
  • 3B – Evan Longoria (130)
  • SS – Derek Jeter (132)
  • OF – Ichiro Suzuki (127)
  • OF – Torii Hunter (126)
  • OF – Adam Jones (106)

As you can see, six of the eight winners are exceptional hitters. One is above average, and another is mediocre. Nevertheless, the voters would have you believe that not only are these players incredible offensive forces, they are elite defenders as well. Is this possible? Sure. Some guys have all the luck. Is this probable? Not at all, especially because we can quantify defensive ability better than ever before.

If Gold Gloves were awarded based solely on defensive merit (as is the stated purpose of the award), the recipients should have been:

  • C – Gerald Laird (64)
  • 1B – Kendry Morales (137)
  • 2B – Dustin Pedroia (110)
  • 3B – Evan Longoria (130)
  • SS – Elvis Andrus (82)
  • OF – Ichiro Suzuki (127)
  • OF – Franklin Gutierrez (103)
  • OF – Carl Crawford (113)

The more I think about Gold Glove voting, the more irritated I get. I can’t profess genuine surprise that the recipients are superior hitters; this has almost always been the case. What really gets me is that the voters sometimes appear to ignore defensive measurements altogether when choosing the best defenders. For example, Gerald Laird had as many errors as Joe Mauer in 2009 and threw out base-stealers at a much higher rate. Ah, but look at Mauer’s offensive numbers! He gets the award. Cy Young and MVP voting may be flawed, but at least the voters look at pitching and hitting statistics when making their selections – however useless those statistics might be. If Cy Young voting worked the same way Gold Glove voting does, selections would be based on how well the pitcher hits.

Gold Glove awards should go to the best defenders, period. Until that happens, I think I might have just convinced myself that this award is the biggest sham in sports.

 


Fan Interference’s 2009 MLB Awards, Part I

October 5, 2009

Because of those no-good Tigers and Twins, Major League Baseball’s regular season is not yet over. That will not, however, stop me from divulging my choices for the recipients of baseball’s most prominent awards. The official announcements will be trickling out over the next couple weeks, but in the meantime, here’s who should win.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: AMERICAN LEAGUE

mauerJoe Mauer, C, Minnesota Twins

I spent much of this season unceremoniously slamming anyone that suggested an alternative to the Twins’ catcher. I believed my position to be fairly solid; catchers that hit .364/.442/.586 with exceptional defense simply do not exist. Because of this, it was especially hard to accept the RBI-centric arguments for players like Mark TeixeiraMiguel Cabrera, and Kendry Morales. In recent weeks, however, I wavered in my commitment to Mauer’s candidacy. Specifically, I took a long and hard look at pitcher Zack Greinke’s numbers and wondered why, exactly, I felt compelled to select a position player over a pitcher. You could easily argue that Greinke was worth just as many wins as Mauer this season, but ultimately, Mauer gets the edge because of the physically demanding nature of his position, and his ability to man it virtually every day. Mauer’s 2009 wasn’t quite Mike Piazza’s 1997, but boy was it close.

Runner-up: Zack Greinke, P, Kansas City Royals

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: NATIONAL LEAGUE

pujolsAlbert Pujols, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals

Joe Mauer’s emergence means that Pujols is no longer clearly the best player on the planet, but the Cardinals’ first baseman was fairly obviously the best player in the National League this year. His traditional statistics (.327 average, 47 homers, 135 RBI) will appeal to the old-school voters, while his objective dominance (.443 OBP, .658 SLG, 11.4 WARP) will win over the statistically-inclined. He was the heart of a lackluster Cardinals lineup all season long, even playing great defense and stealing 16 bases. He’s the clear choice for the award, and barring an unlikely-but-still-possible-because-it’s-the-BBWAA infatuation with Prince Fielder, he should win it handily.

Runner-up: Chase Utley, 2B, Philadelphia Phillies

CY YOUNG: AMERICAN LEAGUE

greinkeZack Greinke, SP, Kansas City Royals

This is the most obvious selection of the eight major awards, and also the biggest test for the infamously stubborn voters. The voters, who traditionally love meaningless statistics like wins and flawed ones like ERA, must resist temptation after temptation in order to settle on Greinke. The bait includes a 19-game winner on a 103-win team (C.C. Sabathia), a 19-game winner with a sub-3.00 ERA (Felix Hernandez), a 19-game winner that led the league in strikeouts (Justin Verlander), and the prospect of a lifetime achievement award being given to closer Mariano Rivera. But the evidence in support of Greinke is overwhelming: a league-leading 2.16 ERA in 229.1 innings, 242 strikeouts, 51 walks, six complete games, and an unbelievable 11 home runs allowed. If the voters don’t pick him, the process is even more broken than I ever imagined. But I think they’ll get it right.

Runner-up: Roy Halladay, SP, Toronto Blue Jays

CY YOUNG: NATIONAL LEAGUE

lincecumTim Lincecum, SP, San Francisco Giants

This race couldn’t be more different than its American League counterpart. While the road to truth is fraught with temptation in the junior circuit, the truth itself is pretty murky in the weaker league. There’s only one big winner here, and that’s the 19-game-winning Adam Wainwright, who is absolutely a viable candidate. Then there’s a drop-off to the 17-game-winning Chris Carpenter, who has certainly been spectacular but hasn’t thrown 200 innings. Then there’s 16-game winner Jorge De La Rosa, who clearly isn’t deserving. Finally, we get to the challenging cluster that includes Lincecum, Javier Vazquez, Jair Jurrjens, and Dan Haren. Quite honestly, you can make a strong argument for each of these pitchers. Lincecum gets the nod, however, because of his incredible 261 strikeouts in 225 innings, his 2.48 ERA, and his incredible ability to keep the ball in the park (10 HR allowed all season).

Runner-up: Javier Vazquez, SP, Atlanta Braves

Coming tomorrow: Rookies of the Year & Managers of the Year


Mariano Rivera’s Cy Young Candidacy Relies On The Overvaluing Of Closers

August 25, 2009

A little over a week ago, I offered my opinion about who should win the American League’s Most Valuable Player award. In a roundabout sort of way, and after wondering why Kevin Youkilis hasn’t garnered more support, I said it’s clear that Minnesota’s Joe Mauer is most deserving of the honor. In fact, this is the rare race in which there is an unquestionably right answer; Mauer is the league’s most valuable player, and if you think otherwise, you are wrong. Baseball Prospectus’ Joe Sheehan agrees with me, even if he is more optimistic than I am about the voters ultimately choosing Mauer. In any case, I no longer feel compelled to participate in this particular debate (unless he doesn’t win, in which case you will most certainly be hearing from me).

I hadn’t thought much about the American League Cy Young award race until last night. I was watching the MLB Network when former player-turned-analyst Dan Plesac said something very closely resembling the following:

“I’ll tell you what, Mariano Rivera should be in the thick of the Cy Young discussion. He’s simply the best ever at his position and he’s having another great season. To have a guy that can come in and get the twenty-sixth, twenty-sev… uh, the last few outs of the game every time, that’s a huge advantage for a team. I know there’s the Rolaids award for relief pitchers, but he should be in the Cy Young discussion.”

After chuckling at Plesac’s struggle to remember the number of outs typically required for a baseball game to end, I paused to consider his opinion. Then I rejected it.

As I’ve mentioned several times, 70 innings of brilliant pitching are not as valuable to a team as 200 innings of excellent pitching. One time, I was condescendingly instructed “not to think of it as innings pitched, but as appearances, as the number of games a player can affect” (had this person written his suggestion, I’m positive he would have written “effect”). This is also wrong. A team must throw a minimum of 1,458 innings to make it through a baseball season. You can divide the pitchers up into however many appearances you’d like, but the minimum number of innings is static. Wouldn’t you rather have 15% of those innings soaked up by an excellent pitcher, instead of 5% by a brilliant one? Especially when that 5% is often against the bad part of a lineup with a three-run lead? This is why I disregard relief pitchers as Cy Young candidates. Unless the reliever throws 100 brilliant, high-stakes innings (no, the 9th inning does not automatically qualify), he’s not qualified to win the award.

Mariano Rivera’s proposed candidacy gets even more dubious when you look at the numbers themselves. Look at Rivera’s key statistics compared to the two most qualified Cy Young award candidates, Zach Greinke and Felix Hernandez:

  • Rivera: 53 IP, 1.87 ERA, 1.0 HR/9, 1.5 BB/9, 10.0 K/9
  • Greinke: 173.1 IP, 2.44 ERA, 0.5 HR/9, 2.0 BB/9, 9.5 K/9
  • Hernandez: 178.1 IP, 2.73 ERA, 0.7 HR/9, 2.7 BB/9, 8.7 K/9

Greinke and Hernandez (the former in particular) have performed about as well as Rivera, but in three times as many innings pitched. That has much greater value to a team than Rivera’s small but brilliant contribution.

I think there’s no chance of Rivera actually winning the award, so I’m not as worked up about this as Mauer’s candidacy. But I think Plesac’s misguided opinion of closers’ contributions to a team is fairly common and needed rebutting. A good starter is more valuable than a great closer, period. Assuming Mauer wins the AL MVP award, I hope that this realization is the next frontier in Cy Young voting.


Kevin Youkilis’ Strange Absence From AL MVP Consideration

August 17, 2009
Although currently undeserving, Kevin Youkilis has been strangely absent from the AL MVP discussion.

Although currently undeserving, Kevin Youkilis has been strangely absent from the AL MVP discussion.

I had a wild Saturday night this past weekend. Around 10:30, I tuned the radio to the Yankees-Mariners game. Then, I got into bed and fell asleep. At some point between 11 o’clock and midnight, however, I woke up to the soothing sounds of a good, old-fashioned debate about who deserved the league’s Most Valuable Player award.

Broadcasters John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman invited the Daily News’ Mark Feinsand into the booth to discuss the candidates. Even in a sleepy daze, it was easy to tell that the three were collaborating in starting the “Mark Teixeira for MVP” meme. Sterling gushed about Teixeira’s unparalleled defense, Waldman about his knack for getting the big hit, and Feinsand about anything that his hosts missed. At the end of the inning, the three concluded that Teixeira is the frontrunner, with Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera (not enough RBIs) and Minnesota’s Joe Mauer (on a bad team) next in line.

Before making my surprising suggestion, I want to be clear about the fact that Joe Mauer has clearly been the American League’s MVP so far this season. Mauer – a catcher – has a .377/.444/.626 line this season, including 22 home runs and only 46 strikeouts. He’s an exceptional hitter at home (1.166 OPS), and merely excellent on the road (.983). In fact, Mauer is having the single best offensive season by a catcher in baseball history (186 OPS+), just ahead of Mike Piazza’s 1997 season. If the season ended today, Mauer should be the league’s MVP, and it’s not even close.

Given that Sterling, Waldman, and Feinsand were intent on ignoring Mauer’s historic greatness, I wondered to myself (and to you, now) why Kevin Youkilis was not mentioned. Certainly, I find the Red Sox first baseman whiny, hyperemotional, and generally unlikeable, but he’s having a superb season. His .311/.424/.564 line trumps Teixeira’s .285/.382/.557, and his home/away split isn’t nearly as comical as his counterpart on the Yankees’. Furthermore – and you will most likely get shot here in New York for saying this – Youkilis’ defense has been better than Teixeira’s. Finally, Youkilis is on a winning team and has that fiery, scrappy, team leader-y (read: he’s white and looks like he’s trying hard) thing down pat, which MVP voters absolutely love. As you can see, Youkilis has satisfied the historically important criteria for MVP consideration, and yet his name remains conspicuously absent from any preliminary lists.

Again, the AL MVP award should be Joe Mauer’s to lose. But for now, I just wanted to help beat back the idea that Mark Teixeira is clearly the frontrunner. After all, he isn’t even the most valuable Yankee.


Fan Interference’s 2009 MLB All-Stars: American League

July 8, 2009

American_League1

Ever since the end of my childhood (this occurred around 2000), I’ve watched Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game with less awe and more conviction. My interest in the game has become more self-righteous as I root for the game’s more overrated players to fail and the under-appreciated stars to succeed; or, in last year’s case, I root for the game to end. Not all inclinations are based on my ongoing quest for the accurate evaluation and perception of players. Yankees receive cheers no matter what, Red Sox remain vilified – that goes for any Met not named Carlos Beltran, too.

I find the All-Star selection process much more interesting than the game itself. Fans, players, and managers contribute to varying degrees in setting the 33-man roster. Each group – much like any group – has its idiots, its intelligent voters, and a group that falls somewhere between the two. Ultimately, the final rosters provide a useful glimpse into which players embody the intersection of popularity and skill. As you might expect, I prefer that the selectors look at the latter almost to the total exclusion of the former. More difficult is the question of which player is more deserving: the one-half wonder, or the (probably) more talented player with a consistent track record? I lean more towards the established player, although certain cases allow for the rewarding of an incredible first half, even if it is unlikely or unsustainable. There’s a fair argument on both sides.

Now that I’ve bored you with my philosophical musings, I’d like to share my picks for the American League’s 33-man roster. The actual roster can be found here, although they do not yet include the winner of the Final Vote. I’m loosely following the prescribed format: eight starting position players, 13 pitchers (distributed arbitrarily between starters and relievers), and 12 bench players (with a backup at each position). The National League will follow in the coming days. Here we go: Read the rest of this entry »