15 September 2005

The Great AL MVP Debate: Ortiz or A-Rod?

Is it just my imagination, or does it seem also to you that every year there is some ridiculous argument about the MVP or Cy Young Award going to someone who clearly does not deserve it, at least by any objective measure?

In 2001, Ichiro won the AL MVP even though he wasn't even the best player on his own team (that was the now-unemployed Bret Boone), much less the best player in the American League (which was Seattle's Alex Rodriguez).

And lest you think I'm Yankees-biased, also in 2001, Roger Clemens won a Cy Young Award that probably should have gone to Freddy Garcia, who had an ERA nearly half a run lower and 19 more innings pitched than the Rocket, but went only 18-6 instead of 20-3, as Clemens did, due largely to the run-support he garnered from being a Yankee. Clemens became the first starting pitcher in the history of major league baseball to win the Cy Young Award without a complete game to his credit.

In 2002, A-Rod (now a Texas Ranger) was refused, nay, cheated out of another MVP Award when Miguel Tejada got some clutch hits in September and the Athletics won the AL West. Miggy got all the good press, while A-Rod, stuck on a last-place team, hit 23 more homers thasn Tejada, leading the AL in numerous offensive categories and winning a gold glove for his work at shortstop.

In 2003, some writers tried to convince you that Albert Pujols was the NL MVP, and not Barry Bonds. "Bonds only played 130 games", they said, "...Bonds didn't even drive in 100 runs," they said, while ignoring the fact that when Bonds did play, the rest of the league was so scared of him that he got walked 148 times in those 130 games. Mercifully, the press didn't buy their own argument, and Bonds won his 6th MVP in a landslide.

Last year, despite leading the NL in WHIP, opponent batting average, starts and strikeouts, being second in innings pitched, shutouts and ERA (to Jake Peavy, who pitched only 166 innings) and "winning" 16 games, including a perfect game against the Braves in May, for a team that lost 111 of them, Randy Johnson did not get the NL Cy Young. Instead, Roger Clemens became the first starting pitcher in the history of major league baseball to win two Cy Young Awards without a complete game to his credit. (In case you're wondering, this year Clemens has one complete game, or one less than Zach Greinke.)

And this year? Well, it seems that there are MVP and Cy Young debates in both leagues, but I'll just take the issues one at a time, and handle only the AL MVP for now. More on the rest later.

The two main contenders for this crown are:

"...in the white trunks with blue pinstripes, standing 6'3" and weighing in at 225 lbs, playing Gold-Glove defense at third base for the New York Yankees...Aleeexxx Rrrrrrodriguez!!!"

"...and in this corner, wearing the white trunks with red trim and (appropriately enough) red socks, standing 6'4" and weighing in at 230 lbs (on the Moon, maybe...), leading the American league in homers, RBIs and successful efforts to make sure his team's bench doesn't float away while his teammates are playing the field, Daviiiidd 'Big Papi' Oooorrrtiizzz!!!"

Let's look at some of their basic stats, where the numbers in parentheses is the player's current rank in the American Leage for the given stat:

        R      HR     RBI       BA       OBP      SLG       OPS
Papi 108(1) 42(1) 130(1) .297(16) .396(4) .603(1) .999(2)
A-Rod 108(1) 41(2) 112(4) .319 (3) .419(2) .596(2) 1.014(1)

Neck-and-neck, as they say. Or at least they would, if Ortiz had a neck.

These are the (mostly) traditional statistics, which is all that most of the BBWAA members look at, if they look at anything at all. Ortiz holds a very slight lead in homers and slugging percentage, while A-Rod has a slight lead in on-base percentage and OPS. Rodriguez has 18 fewer RBIs, good enough for only 4th in the AL, but Ortiz has a sub-.300 batting average that is good enough for only 16th in the AL. What I have not shown you here is that A-Rod has 13 steals in 19 attempts, and is generally considered a good baserunner in general, able to advance two bases on a hit when necessary. Big Papi was successful in his only stolen base attempt, probably because the opposing catcher was so dumbfounded at the sight of 250 lbs of Dominican Thunder rumbling along the basepaths that he forgot to throw the ball. For an hour.

In any case, there is no clear-cut winner emerging from this type of analysis, so let's dig a little deeper, shall we?

       RCAA  WARP  VORP    EqA     EqR     RAP    RARP
Papi 50(2) 7.1 73(2) .334(4) 121(2) 41(5) 62(2)
A-Rod 69(1) 9.2 86(1) .345(2) 129(1) 61(1) 81(1)

Now for the explanations:

RCAA is a stat created by Lee Sinins, and it stands for Runs Created Above Average. It's a measure of how many runs a player created for his team above an average player playing the same number of games at that position. A-Rod has a considerable edge here, which was as of Sunday, 9/11/2005. Remaining stats are all as-of Thursday 9/15.

WARP is a Baseball Prospectus stat, and stands for Wins Above Replacement Position. It takes offense and defense into account, even pitching, if that were applicable, and combines it to see how many more wins a player is worth than a replacement-level (not an average) player at that position. BP does not have this stat available on a page where I could check ranks, but the only player I could find with a number higher than Rodriguez's 9.2 Wins was Baltimore's Brian Roberts, at 9.6. For reference, Mark Teixeira, Miguel Tejada, Vladimir Guerrero and Derek Jeter all had WARP numbers equal to or higher than Big Papi's 7.1 Wins.

VORP, another BP stat, stands for "The number of runs contributed beyond what a replacement-level player at the same position would contribute if given the same percentage of team plate appearances. VORP scores do not consider the quality of a player's defense." Again, Rodriguez has a notable edge here (13 runs) because Ortiz is essentially a DH, and while he's a great one, there are lots of good and really good designated hitters, but only a handful of good thirdbasemen.

EqA is Equivalent Average, Baseball Prospectus' all-encompassing rate stat, where EqR (Equivalent Runs) is the counting stat that goes with it. These numbers adjust for a player's home ballpark, the quality of the pitching he faced, and other factors that make people think Jim Rice belongs in the Hall of Fame. A-Rod holds a slight edge in both categories.

RAP is Runs Above Position, and is defined by BP as "The number of Equivalent Runs this player produced, above what an average player at the same postion would have produced in the same number of outs." This is where the case for Ortiz gets a little thin. Because he's expected to be a great hitter, Ortiz ranks "only" 5th in the AL in this category, behind Brian Roberts, Mike Young, Miguel Tejada, and of course A-Rod.

And finally...

RARP is Runs above Replacement Position, which Baseball Prospectus says "...compares a hitter's Equivalent Run total to that of a replacement-level player who makes the same number of outs and plays the same position." Again, A-Rod and Ortiz are ranked #1 and #2, but 19 runs is a big gap, even bigger than the one between David's front teeth!

None of this is to say that A-Rod will win the MVP, just that he should, if the season ended today. But since there are two and a half weeks to play, anything can happen. Ortiz might hit ten more homers while A-Rod goes 3-for-37 and makes nine errors, in which case Ortiz probably should win the MVP, especially if such events result in the Yankees missing the playoffs for the first time in a decade. But that's all speculation.

Given the facts, as you can see, despite what certain on-air radio personalities will tell you, Rodriguez has been the better player this year. Sure, Ortiz has some impressive numbers with runners in scoring position and such, and that gives him a few more RBIs, but in just about every other regard, A-Rod has been the best player in the AL, has led a contending team all year, and is therefore the Most Valuable Player, any way you slice it.

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09 September 2005

Washed up? Not So Fast...

Ken Rosenthal of The Sporting News wrote a piece this week about players who apparently are "washed up". I'm not as ready to throw some of these players to the curb as Rosenthal is, but I won't likely be drafting any of them onto my Fantasy Team next season either.

Sammy Sosa, Orioles
Age: 36
Salary: $17.875 million
Telling fact: Sosa's .376 slugging percentage is the eighth-lowest among AL qualifiers for the batting title.

Rosenthal mentions that Sosa's problems this year have largely been due to injuries, namely a staph infection and a lesion on his big toe. Of course last year it was The Sneeze, and before that it was...well, who can remember? Sosa hasn't played more than 137 games in a season since 2002, and this year's .671 OPS marks the fourth straight season in which he's declined in that stat (and most others, I might add). With that said, neither of these injuries is normally considered career-threatening, and I don't think there's anywhere to go but up from a .671 OPS. Well, I guess there's Christian Guzman, but I think Sosa will retire before allowing himself to sink to that level. Sammy needs 12 homers to get to 600 for his career, and I wouldn't be too surprised if he's got that many by June. Look for Sosa to make some lucky GM look like a genious for signing him to some incentive-laden deal this off season, as he'll cash in on most of them. I just hope it's not Brian Cashman.

Mike Piazza, Mets
Age: 36
Salary: $16.071 million
Telling fact: Piazza's career-low .770 on-base/slugging percentage represents a fifth straight season of decline.

Rosenthal suggests that Piazza's career as a catcher is over, that he should go to some AL team and DH. But I say buyer beware. Here are Piazza's key stats as a catcher and otherwise since the start of 2002:

Non-C 334 .231 .327 .404 .731
As c 1184 .284 .366 .503 .869

For his career, Piazza has hit .313/.374/.556 for a .931 OPS as a DH, but that's in only 160 at-bats, more than half of which came before 2002, when Piazza was perennially hitting .300 or better with 30 homers and piles of RBIs. Recent history suggests that Piazza's best position is still catcher, if only because his offense does not justify being a DH anymore. Besides, Piazza's .771 OPS may be the lowest it's ever been, but he still ranks in the top third in that category among major league catchers with at least 350 at-bats. Rosenthal suggests a change of scenery, and I agree. Colorado, with a young catcher in J.D. Closser but no real backup plan, could use a guy like Piazza next year, if he'll take a salary more in the Jason LaRue/Rod Barajas range ($2-3 million) instead of what he's been making.

Bernie Williams, Yankees
Age: 37 on Sept. 13
Salary: $12.357 million
Telling fact: At the start of the week, Williams had started 76 games in center field, a position he no longer can play effectively.

Well, actually, the statistics don't seem to bear that out. Bernie's about three runs below average for the season, according to Baseball Prospectus. This is just slightly less than Corey Patterson's zero runs, the same as Johnny Damon and Juan Pierre, both at -3, and better than Mike Cameron (-6), all of whom were mentioned by Rosenthal as supposed 'upgrades' on Bernie for next year. Williams' Range Factor is 2.39, better than Cameron, Pierre and Patterson, though notably worse than Damon's 2.98. That 2.39 is almost exactly the same as Andruw Jones' 2.41, and both players have made only 2 errors this season, albeit in about 500 fewer innings for Bernie. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Bernie deserves a Gold Glove, but he may not be as completely washed up as people think. The real problem is his bat, as his .721 OPS is currently good enough for 124th out of 149 players who qualified for the batting title.

It's hard to know with a guy like Bernie Williams whether he needs more or less playing time to get better. Tony Clark and David Delucci, after flopping as part-time players last year, have both flourished this season getting the majority of their team's at-bats at their respective positions. With other players, especially aging ones like Williams, sometimes they need to be platooned to make sure they feel spry when they do play. In either case, it's a sad decline to a great Yankee career.

Tim Salmon, Angels
Age: 37
Salary: $10.15 million
Telling fact: Salmon is likely to miss the entire season after undergoing surgeries on his left shoulder and left knee.

Tim Salmon is still alive??!!? Get outta here!!

Seriously, Salmon hasn't played since the middle of last August, and in limited playing time in 2004, he hit only .256 with two homers. The Angels are a pretty loyal organization, to their players at least, if not their franchise location, so Salmon will probably get a minor league deal next year and a chance to make the major league roster. With talent like Vlad Guerrero and Garrett Anderson in the outfield, not to mention Steve Finley's multi-million dollar salary taking up outfield at-bats, plus young studs like Casey Kotchmann and Dallas McPherson coming up, a move like that can only hurt the team, unless Salmon can return to form, an extraordinarily unlikely possibility. At least he hasn't had to tell people he plays for "the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim", which is still a stupid name.

Bret Boone, unemployed
Age: 36
Salary: $9 million
Telling fact: Boone batted .170 during his three-week stint with the Twins while trying to salvage his career.

Boone's not that old, so his potential to become a reasonably productive player once again will have almost entirely to do with whether or not Jose Canseco's allegations of Boone's steroid use are true. If they are, then Boone's rapid decline might be due to sudden changes in body chemistry, and he may be able to retrain himself to perform with out the drugs, much as Jason Giambi seems to have done. If not, however, then Boone's just getting old a little sooner than we expected. Boone may be the best bet on this list to return to respectability next year, though it should be noted that 'respectability' will probably look something like .260 with 18 homers.

Bobby Higginson, Tigers
Age: 35
Salary: $8.85 million
Telling fact: Higginson was 2-for-26 before undergoing right-elbow surgery in May.

Bobby Higginson is still alive??!? Just kidding. Bobby hit .077 in ten games this season before going back on the DL. Hit hit approximately .240 with no power in 2003-04, and hit .282 with no power the year before that. He hasn't had anything you could objectively call a "good" season for a starting right fielder in this millenium, not since his 2000 campaign in which he hit .300 with 44 doubles and 30 homers. I'll be very surprised if he's ever able to produce numbers half that good in any season in the future. Maybe any two seasons.

Nomar Garciaparra, Cubs
Age: 32
Salary: $8.25 million
Telling fact: At most, Garciaparra will appear in only 63 games.

OK, so Bret Boone isn't the most likely player on this list to rebound next year. Nomar is four years younger than most of these other players, and his inneffectiveness clearly has everything to do with his injuries the last two seasons. He played only about half a season's worth of games in 2004, but he still hit over .300 withh a slugging percentage near .500, and is hitting .327 with a .946 OPS in the 28 games since he returned from the DL this season. Rosenthal quotes a GM who suggested that Nomar will make "between $2 million and $8 million" next year, which is a lot like saying that the Cubs will win somewhere between "50 and 100 games" in 2006. Look for some team to get a bargain at the low end of that range, as few GMs will want to venture more than $4 million on a guy who hasn't been healthy for a full season since 2003.

Frank Thomas, White Sox
Age: 37
Salary: $8 million
Telling fact: Thomas appeared in only 34 games.

Thomas is probably the saddest case on this list. A two-time MVP who once looked like a lock for the Hall of Fame, his injuries seem to have undermined his candidacy. I don't happen to agree with that school of thought, but many people, people who have a lot more influence on that decision than me, do. The Big Hurt played like a man on a mission during the two months he was off the DL, "swinging hard in case he hit it" as they say, and smacking a dozen bombs in 105 at-bats while hitting only .219. That approach will not do as much damage to his career batting average as it will on his quest for 500 homers and a sure place in Cooperstown.

Richard Hidalgo, Rangers
Age: 30
Salary: $5 million
Telling fact: Hidalgo has batted .221 while playing his home games at Ameriquest Field, one of the best hitter's parks in baseball.

Frankly, any idiot who signed Richard Hidalgo to any kind of deal over the major league minimum deserves whatever he gets. Hidalgo had hit .256 with only 4 homers in almost 200 at-bats with Houston last year before he was traded to the Mets, where he hit .228, albeit with more power. Since he started playing regularly in 1999, Hidalgo had hit below .240 more often than he's hit over .275, and he doesn't walk enough or steal bases to compensate for hitting so erratically. He is only 30, but it seems he's a better bet for another .220ish average than he his for another productive year. At least he'[s not in the midst of a multi-year deal that's keeping some team from signing a player they need.

Rafael Palmeiro, Orioles
Age: 40
Salary: $3 million
Telling fact: Palmeiro is 2-for-26 since his suspension for testing positive for steroids.

Calling Palmeiro 'washed up' might be a little premature with only 26 at-bats as evidence. He was hitting .280 with 18 homers through the end of July, when he was suspended. He's not young, but will likely come back and help some team in a limited DH/1B role next year. Teams will take a chance on him if only for the opportunity to be the beneficiary of one of the few 600th Career Homers in history.

Juan Gonzalez, Indians
Age: 35
Salary: $600,000
Telling fact: Gonzalez had only one at-bat this season due to a right hamstring injury.

Well, I got to see Juan-Gone play...in Rochester, just before he got called up to the majors and promptly got himself placed on the DL again. Another former two-time MVP, Gonzalez has a hard road back to any kind of major league career. He hasn't had a remotely healthy season since 2001, but still has enough upside if he can stay healthy that he's probably worth another minor league deal plus incentives like he got from the Indians this year. While he may be 'washed up' at least the Indians were smart enough not to break the bank finding out whether he was or not.

Though Rosenthal didn't mention them, I would add a few more names to the potentially wased up list, including...

...Vinny Casilla, who's hitting only .250 with 11 homers, had to go on a "tear" to et to that, with four homers in August, after zero in July. Unfortunately for him, Colorado can't use him, because that seems to be the only place where Vinny even looks like a major league hitter.

...Tino Martinez, who somehow managed to hit 10 home runs in May, bu hasn't his more than 3 in any other month this year. That's not going to get it done for a major league firstbaseman. Well, maybe for the Devil Rays.

...Steve Finley, hitting only .215 with nine home runs this year. He's making eight million bucks for each of the next two years, Angels fans.

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03 September 2005

Book Review: Bat Boy, by Matthew McGough

Bat Boy: My True Life Adventures Coming of Age With the New York Yankees
by Matt McGough
c. 2005, Doubleday, $22.95

The world of baseball has always been rich enough to accomodate both young boys' dreams and grown mens' nostalgia.
- Matt McGough, from Bat Boy

I have only two criticisms of Matt McGough's new book, "Bat Boy": It's too short, and it didn't happen to me.

Most young boys who grow up watching, playing and following baseball dream of someday occupying the position of their favorite ballplayer, nay, perhaps even to become that player, if such a thing were possible. For Matt McGough, a teenage Yankee fan in the 1980's (like me) that player was Don Mattingly. As it turns out for most of us, McGough did not have the magic to turn himself into Donnie Baseball, nor did he have the talent to become a professional ballplayer, but he had the determination to attempt what is likely the next best thing: being the Yankees' Bat Boy.

In 1992 McGough became the first Yankees Bat Boy, at least as far as anyone could remember, to attain the position as a result of something other than blatant nepotism. His two-year stint in that role provided him an ample supply of memories from which to draw material for his book, which he wisely chose not to write until ten years (and some writing classes at Williams College) had passed. McGough's tome recounts his many experiencess, from that of an innocent child, an awe-struck observer at the infamous "Pine-Tar Game", to that of a law-school student with the good fortune to be recalled for service during the Yankees' historic 1998 playoff run, but sadly recognizing that this phase of his life was clearly over.

Along the way, McGough relates his inauspicious start as an unsure-of-himself 17-year old trying to find his way in the Yankees' clubhouse, to an all-too-sure-of-himself 18-year old, shirking his stated duties as Bat Boy to do favors for the players and make shady memorabilia deals. The pages between are filled with practical jokes and blind dates, late night card games, batting practice and fist fights, paltry paychecks and generous tips, road trips (both with and without the team), fatherly advice, friendships gained and lost, and financial decisions he'd later regret. These are just a few of the authors many experiences, and with almost every one, there is some lesson that the author, now ten years wiser, imparts to his audience.

McGough is refreshingly honest about his feelings, as he rcalls them, from this time of his life. He does not mind sharing his vices along with his more noble motives and prouder exploits. His persistence and tenacity served him well in getting the job, as well as keeping it, once his love of the game and of his boyhood idols gave way to typical teenage apathy and overconfidence, taking his enthusiasm for shining cleats and folding jockstraps with them.

At first glance it might seem like Matt McGough was, for a time, the luckiest kid in the world. But let us not forget the words of that great old sage, Branch Rickey, "Luck is the residue of design." One of the quotes on the back of the book compares the author to Holden Caulfield, but I see this comparison doing a disservice to McGough. The problem with Caulfield, the "hero" of the Catcher in the Rye, was that he never really chose into anything, preferring instead to allow his environment to act on him, and never really experiencing life. McGough's "luck" stemmed not from confluences of circumstances beyond his control, but from his persistence at pursuing his dreams and from his willingness to do things, to try things, to make choices, even if they may turn out badly, if only so he could say that he had the experience.

Bat Boy is a wonderful, witty, well-written book. McGough's accounts are funny at times, as he relates stories that show both himself and others in a humorous light. Other stories are melancholy or even suspenseful, but in the end, almost all are touching and meaningful. McGough's ability to maintain the tension of a story in his prose serves him well, as you'll feel compelled to keep reading long after you should have gone to bed, or to work, or to get up from your comfortable chair, put down this remarkably engrossing book, and go do something productive for a while. For the record, I'm betting that you won't be able to put it down either. Maybe it's a good thing the book's not any longer than it is after all.

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01 September 2005

Silva, the Twins, I-Rod, and Other Useless Info.

The following was sent to ESPN's Jayson Stark, for his Useless Information Department column. Unlike those fancy-schmancy ESPN writers though, I do not have the Elias Sports Bureau to do all my dirty work/research for me, hence the disclaimer below about my sources. Whether he finds this useless enough to include in a column, who can tell, but I figured someone might find it interesting (besides me) so here it is:


Here's some Useless info on walks for you. I hadn't planned on it being this long, but you know how these things go. Most of the stats came from either ESPN's website or some combination of www.godofthemachine.com and baseballreference.com, except for the team walks info, which came from MLB.com.

The Twins' Carlos Silva has only 8 walks in 180.1 innings, for a walks/9IP rate of 0.399. By contrast, in the 22.5 innings or so it takes Carlos Silva to give up a walk, Al Leiter walks about 16 batters.

Nobody in baseball right now is closer to Silva's rate than David Wells, who has almost twice as many walks, 14, in fewer innings, 145. Nobody in this century has come closer to Silva's current rate than Babe Adams, with a .616 w/9IP rate for the Pirates in 1920, when he walked 18 batters in 263 innings.

To find someone who walked fewer than 0.4 batters per nine innings, you have to go back to the immortal George Zettlein, who walked only 6 batters in 234 innings in 1876. Of course, it took 9 balls to walk a guy at the time, so that's hardly a fair comparison. Silva, if he can keep this rate up, would be the stingiest pitcher at giving up walks since the implementation of, not only the "4-ball walk", but the "eight-balls-or-fewer-walk". And that's saying something. What, I don't exactly know, but something.

The record for fewest walks by a pitcher who qualified for the ERA title is 13, by Bret Saberhagen, with 177 innings in 1994, and he had to miss a month and a half due to the Strike to do that.

Furthermore, led by Silva, Brad Radke (21 Walks in 179.2 innings), Johan Santana (36 walks in 188.2 IP), Kyle Lohse (36 in 152.2) and Joe Mays (36 in 141.1), the Twins have far and away the fewest walks allowed of any team in baseball, with 282 in 133 games. The next closest team, Cleveland, has walked 57 more batters in the same number of games. The Twins' team walk rate, 2.12/game, would be the lowest in a season since 1968, the so-called "Year of the Pitcher", when the Giants just barely edged them out, at 2.11 free passes per game. But since offense was down all over that season (and indeed, in that era), this seems a little unfair as well. To find the next team that edges out the 2005 Twins you have to go way back to 1935, when the Pirates allowed only 2.04 walks per game.

On the flip side, Detroit Tigers' catcher Ivan Rodriguez has walked only 6 times all season (twice intentionally), and is on a pace for only 7 walks in 530 at bats. The next-most impatient player is Robinson Cano, with 14 walks in 410 at-bats, and Cano regularly swings at pitches that go over the umpire's head to the netting behind home plate, while he's still in the taxi on the way to the Stadium! The Royals' Angel Berroa also has only 14 walks, in 500 at-bats, but at least Berroa has been plunked 14 times as well.

To find someone who qualified for the batting title and walked less frequently that Ivan the Terrible Plate Discipline, you have to go back to 1909, when the Cleveland Naps' George Stovall walked only 6 times in 565 at-bats. Nobody since the end of the Dead-Ball Era has come closer to I-Rod's current pace than Virgil Stallcup, who had 9 walks in 575 at-bats for Cincinnati in 1949, or once every 64 at-bats. I-Rod walks once every 71 at-bats, or roughly the number of at-bats it takes Brian Giles to accumulate 15 free passes.

The difference between I-Rod's batting average and on-base percentage is 0.008, which I think would be the smallest in history for anyone who played enough to qualify, though I have no good way of checking this.

Anywho, if you kept reading this long, I appreciate your patience. And if you can find a use for some of this otherwise Useless Information, I'll be even more appreciative.

Keep up the good work,


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