Wednesday, November 25, 2015

0 comments Murray Chass Thinks the Most Valuable Player Award Should Be a Team Award

Murray Chass and the writing he posts on his non-blog hasn't really been covered by me of late. He's usually at his best (worst) when it comes time for awards season, because that's when he takes his boring and repetitious stabs at criticizing Sabermetrics. He specifically doesn't like WAR, not because he understands WAR, but because it is the easiest metric to spell. Simplicity in all things. WAR is the most popular advanced statistic for the anti-stats crowd to criticize, just because it's easy to spell and sticks in one's mind. Murray writes on his non-blog about how Bryce Harper and Mike Trout are not MVP candidates as much anymore because their team may not make the playoffs. Murray wants to be clear that he understands a team's record and whether that team makes the playoffs isn't what determines which player(s) should win the MVP. That's not what Murray is saying. What he is saying is that he won't vote for a player as MVP if his team doesn't make the playoffs, because he can't be individually valuable if the players around him aren't good enough to make the playoffs. So the MVP can go to a player whose team doesn't make the playoffs, except not really. As always, Murray explains his idiotic point of view in the most aggravating way possible.

At some relatively early point in the season some people were already proclaiming Bryce Harper and Mike Trout this year’s most valuable players.

Yes, "people" were doing this. "People" always do this, especially when referenced in such a vague manner.

Send the plaques to the engraver, etch their names on them and just wait for an appropriate moment to put them in their hands.

That appropriate moment being when that appropriate moment always happens, which is after the season is over. 

One minor problem. Four weeks remain in the season, and no votes have been cast. The voters haven’t even received their ballots.

What? So "people" are going to have stop handing the MVP awards to Harper and Trout. Stop that, "people" who are doing this! Stop right now. Murray will further explain why you must immediately stop or face the wrath of bacne accusations from Murray on this here non-blog. 

Both Trout and Harper have encountered potholes en route to their anticipated awards.

Both have been only slightly worse at hitting the baseball in the second half of the season (or were when Murray wrote this), and therefore even though they are still hitting the hell out of the ball Murray is going to use this as an excuse to say neither player should be MVP? Is that the pothole?

Their teams, contenders earlier in the season, have fallen by the wayside.

Individual awards presented to a player based on his team's achievement. It's a shining day for those who seem to think individual athletes should be rewarded based on the team around him. I am not one of those people. 

The Angels were in first place in the A.L. West at the All-Star break, but they lost 27 of 41 games before Sunday and fell 5 ½ games from the division lead and 3 ½ games off the second wild-card spot.

The Nationals were also in first place at the All-Star break in the N.L. East, but a subsequent 20-26 stretch left them in second place fighting for their post-season lives as the Mets barreled past them with a rejuvenated offensive onslaught.

And obviously, because the Mets are a better overall team than the Nationals then this means Bryce Harper is less valuable. The Nationals team moves down in the standings, but this is really just a reflection on one person's ability to be valuable. Harper is the constant for the Nationals, but his value is determined by the variables around him. Makes sense in Murray's head.

What does their teams’ status have to do with their candidacy for the most valuable player award?

Not as much as Murray seems to think it should. I won't completely dismiss a team's record when evaluating a player's MVP candidacy, but it's pretty far down the list of things I believe should be considered when evaluating a specific player. 

Voters generally focus on the word “value,” which is what they should do no matter what the analytics-obsessed non-voters think and say.

I don't think analytics-obsessed non-voters fail to focus on the word "value" at all. Some people simply have a different method they use to evaluate a player's value. That's all. Murray wants to frame this as a "right or wrong" argument, but it's more of an argument over the best way to evaluate a player's value to his team. 

These relatively new-to-the-party noisemakers fail to understand the award’s meaning. They cite their WAR rankings – that would be wins above replacement for the ignorant and unwashed among you – and proclaim the player with the highest WAR ranking most valuable.

Murray is always using WAR. It's easy to write, that's why. I don't know if anyone just looks at WAR and then ends the discussion there. Murray wants to believe this is true so he can portray those who use WAR as a way to evaluate an MVP candidate as being narrow-minded and not thoughtful. In reality, Murray is the narrow-minded and not thoughtful person when tying a team's record to a member of that team's MVP candidacy. 

The player’s value to his team doesn’t seem to have a bearing on his selection. In other words, they are choosing the player they think is the best in the league, not the most valuable.

What is the difference in "best" and "most valuable" though? Isn't a player who contributes the most Wins Above Replacement the "most valuable" player because he contributes the most wins compared to a replacement player? I'm playing devil's advocate in part, but a player who brings the most wins compared to other players in the majors is certainly also most valuable. It's not that anyone who disagrees with Murray is wrong, as he insists they are, it's is simply that those who are new-to-the-party use a different method of determining the best in the league.

That’s what is good about the Baseball Writers Association award. They require the voters to think, perhaps to debate.

If thinking were really required then I would have to think many of these voters would understand it doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense to base a significant part of a player's MVP candidacy on where that player's team is in the playoff standings. The whole "If he was so good then why didn't his team make the playoffs?" line of reasoning is such a shockingly lazy way of voting for MVP. Yet, that's the reasoning given by Murray and other voters when explaining why they didn't vote for a certain player. It's so lazy.

WAR doesn’t require thinking, as far as I know.

It doesn't require thinking? Then calculate Bryce Harper's WAR right now. Go for it. 

WAR is a statistic, which after being calculated, speaks for itself. This is much like where a player's team is in the standings doesn't require thinking either. How WAR combines with other factors that determine a player's MVP worthiness is a matter of debate and thought.

If I’m wrong, I’m sure someone will tell me.

Murray says this as if it is ridiculous someone would correct him when he's wrong. Yes, God forbid someone should tell Murray when he's disseminating misleading or incorrect information. It just shows how these Stats Geeks love to be right that they won't allow Murray to unfairly criticize and mock advanced statistics without them pointing out the factual inaccuracies in his arguments. How silly of them to expect Murray to be honest and informed. 

I recall the BBWAA selection of Justin Morneau as A.L. MVP in 2006. The metrics monster attacked the choice as if it were a violation of one of the 10 Commandments. They brought out their rankings and proudly and boastfully showed why Morneau should not have received the award. Again, they failed to consider Morneau’s value to the Twins, counting only his value to their WAR rankings.

If I remember correctly, the argument was being made that Justin Morneau may not have been even the MVP of his own team. Joe Mauer hit .347/.429/.507 that season while playing the position of catcher, while Morneau hit more dingerz but hit .321/.375/.559 while playing first base. Yes, Mauer had a higher WAR then Morneau that season, but Morneau's selection as AL MVP was questioned in that he may not have even been the most valuable player on his own team, much less the most valuable American League player.

If their teams don’t make the playoffs, it could undermine their chances for MVP. I’m not saying a player’s team has to reach the post-season, but if, say, the Angels fall short, how valuable was Trout?

Murray isn't saying a player's team has to reach the postseason, but if a player's team doesn't reach the postseason then how could he be valuable? That's his point apparently. So it's not required for a player's team to make the playoffs, except it sort of is. And to expect a player to singlehandedly drag his team to the playoffs is unrealistic. Trout can still be the most valuable player in the American League if the team around him just isn't very good. 

That would especially be the case if a playoff team had a player who was valuable in helping his team get to the playoffs. I’ll get to those players after looking at another element of the award that outsiders don’t understand.

Yes, those things "outsiders" don't understand. Murray wrote about sports for a living a decade ago and those people who love baseball don't understand those things that Murray understands. It's fun how Murray brags about the BBWAA voters being open-minded and up for a debate, while using closed-minded and narrow reasoning for why he personally understands the debate better than those without a vote understand the debate.

Both Goldschmidt, Arizona’s first baseman, and Arenado, Colorado’s third baseman, are having terrific seasons, but MVP?

If they are the most valuable player in the National League, regardless of how good their teams are, then they should be considered for NL MVP. 

The Diamondbacks started Sunday tied for third in the N.L. West. The Rockies were in last place in the division, both with losing records. As good as Goldschmidt and Arenado have been, what have they done that is so valuable? Maybe the Rockies could have lost a few more games than the 79 they have already lost.

Probably the same thing Josh Donaldson has done to make himself so valuable. They are good players who put up great statistics, except Paul Goldschmidt doesn't have David Price, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista and and Russell Martin on his team. Here's a question for Murray. If Josh Donaldson put up the exact same numbers, but played for the Diamondbacks, does he believe the Diamondbacks would then make the playoffs while the Blue Jays with Goldschmidt would miss the playoffs? If he does, he is stupid because that's ridiculous, and if he doesn't, then how does it make sense for Donaldson to be suddenly less valuable because he plays for a Diamondbacks team that stinks? 

Once more these analysts, whether or not they realized it, were mistaking “best” for “most valuable.”

Once more Murray Chass, whether he realizes it or not, doesn't understand that the argument is over how to evaluate what makes a player so valuable. 

Despite the Nationals’ effort to undermine Harper’s chances, they have been in post-season contention and continue to be even if they have been shoved to the fringe, and Harper has been the primary reason.

He leads the league in batting average (.337), on-base (.469) and slugging (.647) percentages and runs scored (100), is second in walks (106) and total bases (280) and is third in home runs (33) and extra-base hits (67).

And so, if Harper puts up those numbers with the Blue Jays then he is an MVP candidate. Same numbers, different team. All of a sudden Harper is more valuable because his teammates are more talented. My point is this doesn't make sense to judge Harper on his team's ability to win games. Sure, factor it in a small amount, but don't dismiss his candidacy because the Nationals are better at talking about how good they are at winning games than they are at actually winning games. 

Some other names to consider for the N.L. award, though no likely winner in the bunch:

Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant of the Cubs, Matt Carpenter and Jason Heyward of the Cardinals, Curtis Granderson of the Mets, Adrian Gonzalez of the Dodgers and Buster Posey of the Giants.

Harper's numbers are below. Here are other candidates for MVP (and their stats around the time Murray wrote this post) who play for winning teams and therefore are more valuable than Harper:

Harper: .337/.469/.647, 100 runs, 106 walks, 280 total bases, 33 home runs, 67 extra base hits.

Rizzo: .276/.386/.516, 84 runs, 71 walks, 271 total bases, 29 home runs, 65 extra base hits.

Bryant: .270/.364/.486, 79 runs, 68 walks, 243 total bases, 24 home runs, 55 extra base hits.

Carpenter: .261/.360/.468, 85 runs, 77 walks, 242 total bases, 22 home runs, 61 extra base hits.

Heyward: .293/.355/.466, 72 runs, 47 walks, 222 total bases, 12 home runs, 48 extra base hits.

Granderson: .259/.366/.454, 88 runs, 85 walks, 240 total bases, 23 home runs, 55 extra base hits.

Gonzalez: .280/.356/.493, 73 runs, 58 walks, 259 total bases, 27 home runs, 58 extra base hits.

Posey: .328/.392/.487, 70 runs, 54 walks, 245 total bases, 18 home runs, 44 extra base hits.

Notice something? I do. Bryce Harper is better than every one of these other MVP candidates in every single category Murray listed. Not one of these other candidates beats Harper in any category, except one, and that category is "Will his team make the playoffs?" So obviously, (notice two teams have multiple players on this list as "most valuable") Bryce Harper isn't as valuable as these other players. After all, how could Anthony Rizzo benefit from having Kris Bryant in the lineup with him everyday? Inconceivable. So yeah, Harper should be the NL MVP.

And then there’s Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates, the 2013 MVP. He started the season at a standstill, batting .194 in April with .302 on-base and .333 slugging percentages. However, he proceeded to fuel the Pirates third consecutive wild-card bid, culminating in his N.L. player-of-the-month August in which he batted .348 with .470 on-base and .609 slugging percentages.

A similar September with the Pirates clinching a post-season spot could make McCutchen a formidable challenger to Harper if Harper is unable to spark the Nationals into the post-season.

McCutchen: .298/.397/.502, 86 runs, 80 walks, 258 total bases, 22 home runs, 58 extra base hits.

Murray can hide behind the fact these other players are just as qualified, but it simply isn't true. The only difference in the MVP candidacy of Harper and these other 8 players is Harper's team isn't going to make the playoffs, so that makes him "less valuable" despite his performance exceeding the performance of every other serious NL MVP candidate.

With Trout sinking slowly – or rapidly with the Angels in the West – the A.L. MVP award should go to Josh Donaldson, the Toronto third baseman, however the Blue Jays get to the playoffs.

Donaldson has had a lot of help from Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista – and I’ve always felt that the more good players a team has the less valuable each one is – but Donaldson has been too overwhelming to ignore. He plays a pretty good third base, too.

Murray has always felt the more good players a team has the less valuable each one is, but he's going to totally ignore his own beliefs in favor of the belief that no player whose team isn't going to make the playoffs should win the MVP. It seems Murray only has one belief, no matter how much he denies it, and that belief is a player can't win the MVP award if his team isn't going to make the playoffs. 

Acquired from Oakland last November for Brett Lawrie in what has to be one of Billy Beane’s worst trades, Donaldson leads the A.L. in runs batted in (112), runs scored (104), total bases (304) and extra-base hits (74), is second in slugging (.581) and third in home runs (36).

Trout, last season’s A.L. MVP, has not disappeared completely in this season’s MVP contest. He is second in on-base percentage (.396), fourth in slugging (.575), tied for fourth in runs (87), sixth in home runs (33) and third in total bases (277), extra-base hits (63) and walks (73).

I don't really care if Trout gets the MVP or not. Donaldson is pretty deserving, and believe it or not, I try not to get too worked up over stupid awards. I don't think Trout's candidacy for AL MVP should be downgraded because the team around him isn't as good as the team around Donaldson. I'm betting the Blue Jays would have as good of a record as they do now if they replaced Donaldson with Trout. It's just a guess, but just don't downgrade Trout's candidacy based on his team's performance. That's what aggravates me.

Joining teammate Alex Rodriguez in a twin comeback, Teixeira was a primary force in the Yankees’ surprising run for the post-season, if not the division title.

Injuries limited the first baseman to 123 games each last season and in 2012 and to 15 games in 2013. But he came back healthy this season, hitting 31 home runs and driving in 79 runs in 111 games. His production and contribution both offensively and defensively warranted MVP consideration.

Plus, the Yankees were going to make the playoffs, which automatically makes Teixeira more valuable than if he had put up similar numbers on a team that wasn't going to make the playoffs. Obviously, this makes sense. Murray is one of those BBWAA voters who is able to think, so if you think about it in non-Stat Geek terms then you see it makes sense to base an individual award on a team's performance around that individual. 

Missing much of the last six weeks of the season, if not all of the games that remained, doesn’t work well for an MVP candidate, especially when his team is in a division race and a playoff race.

Unless his team makes the playoffs and every other MVP candidate's team didn't make the playoffs. Then the player who was injured for six weeks all of a sudden becomes more valuable because the team around him was more valuable and he will be handed the MVP. Obviously.

Worse, Teixeira has lost a chance to win an unusual double – MVP and comeback player of the year.

Can the Comeback Player of the Year be awarded to a player who is on a team that doesn't make the playoffs? After all, how can the player comeback from anything if he doesn't make a difference for his team when he does comeback? 

Posey won both in 2012 after suffering a broken leg and torn ankle ligaments in a home plate collision the previous season.

The same Buster Posey who was kept in the minors long enough to avoid being a Super-2 and Murray went on and on about how this wasn't fair to the Giants fans to keep Posey in the minors. Then it turns out Giants fans weren't negatively impacted at all, because the Giants won the World Series, and Giants fans knew that after Posey broke his leg and tore ligaments that the team could keep him for an extra season because he was kept in the minors for a few extra weeks.