FanGraphs Official Position On: 2011 AL MVP

Finally, awards season proper, perhaps inaugurated by last night’s Emmy Awards (more credible than the Grammys, less credible than the Gold Gloves), has begun. Perhaps the annual baseball awards would be more exciting if it somehow incorporated hours of inane red carpet banter, but instead we have to settle for seemingly endless arguments.

If you are reading this, you probably are at least somewhat aware of an added element to the arguments about baseball awards voting the last couple of seasons: the increasing popularity of Wins Above Replacement as a measure of player value. Although I personally have not experienced single-season WAR being used as a “conversation stopper” in player comparison, it seems that some people feel that happens far too often. That is unfortunate, because while WAR is a very useful tool for a getting a picture of a player’s overall contribution relative to his peers, it isn’t something that should be used to end those debates, but to recast them in a different, and hopefully better, fashion. Rather than explain WAR from the ground up (the FanGraphs Library has a good primer), or even to say who should win, today my goal is simply to show how I would use WAR in relation to the 2011 American League MVP Award in a way that probably isn’t too different from most other FanGraphs authors.

The first thing I should say is that the “Official Position” in the title is a bit ironic. After all, one stereotype of saber-nerds is that we all think in the same (probably robotic, perhaps cybernetic) fashion. That isn’t the case, of course, but since the point of this post is to demonstrate general principles for using WAR rather than very specific distinctions, it’s probably okay.

Second, although I know that many people like to argue about the meaning the “V” in “MVP,” I won’t be engaging that issue at length here. For the sake of this post, “Most Valuable” means something like “if you could guarantee the performance the season ahead of time, which player’s 2011 would you pay the most for without knowing ahead of time what the rest of the team is like.” Perhaps that’s a bit Rawlsian, but I’m a few hundred words into this thing already…

Let’s (finally) get to it: who does WAR say is the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 2011? Easy, let’s just look at the value leaderboard for the American League. As of this writing, Jacoby Ellsbury is at 8.5 WAR, just edging out Jose Bautista who is at 8.2. Assuming the vote is today, Ellsbury should win, right?

Well, maybe Ellsbury should win, but it isn’t that simple. For some seasons, just looking at the WAR leaderboard and picking the overall leader would might work. For example, in 2005, Alex Rodriguez was more than two wins better than any other position player, and although I think pitchers should be able to win the MVP, not even 2005 Johan Santana came close enough for me to have seriously considered him over A-Rod.

However, a brief glance over the WAR leaderboards from the past shows that a situation like 2005′s is a rarity; most seasons are more like the current one. So how do we decide who should win?

The first thing I would do is decide who the contenders are. Although I could make the cutoff larger, for the sake of space I will make my initial and imprecise cutoff at about 1.5 wins from the current WAR (Ellsbury at 8.5). Although I think that players like Ian Kinsler, Alex Gordon, and a number of others should get at least some down-ballot support, for now we are left with leaves us with Ellsbury, Bautista, Dustin Pedroia, Curtis Granderson, and also two pitchers in CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander. Again, I think a pitcher should be able to win the MVP, but for this season, with Sabathia and Verlander just on the cusp, I don’t think they are quite in the same league as Ellsbury or Bautista, though the reality is that you can make a legitimate case for any of these guys and not be too far off the mark.

Pedroia and Granderson are a bit more difficult to knock off, as their listed values with respect to Ellsbury and Bautista are significantly weighted by their fielding values for the season: very positively in Pedroia’s case (plus 17 runs), somewhat negatively in Granderson’s (minus seven). If you think that one or both of those fielding ratings is too low, then conceivably one or both players might really be in the area of eight WAR, and thus close contenders. On the other hand, some might find Pedroia’s rating in particular too high, in which case he falls back to the pack. I’m not going to get into an extended discussion of fielding metrics here (there will be more later in the week). I am simply acknowledging that they are rightfully the most controversial component of FanGraphs and other total value metrics. Indeed, if you make enough “adjustments” to the defensive ratings of all the top players, you could get a very different ranking of players indeed! While my preference of UZR, which is what is used as the fielding component useful and is rightly used as the fielding component of WAR here at FanGraphs, the individual player pages also have Dewan’s Defensive Runs Saved, or you can check other fielding metrics out there. I would also recommend looking at the ongoing results of the 2011 Fans Scouting Report, which is very useful.

With those (qualified) “eliminations” aside, we are down to Ellsbury (8.5) and Bautista (8.2). Even if the fielding issue weren’t there, for practical purposes the 8.5 and 8.2 WAR are the same. WAR isn’t precise enough to make that distinction. Again, that doesn’t knock its overall usefulness (and it should be noted, the primary intended use of the WAR concept in general is not to decide annual awards), it is just the nature of the beast. With that in mind, how can we decide who has “really” been most valuable?

We know that the same offense from a center fielder like Ellsbury is more valuable that from a corner outfielder like Bautista, but a positional adjustment part of WAR (which also accounts for multi-position players like Ben Zobrist and, briefly this season, Bautista), accounts for those differences. The non-stolen base element of baserunning is accounted for by UBR, and the differences aren’t that great, either. Really, then, the decision between Ellsbury and Bautista comes down to fielding versus hitting.

As mentioned earlier, it isn’t just the fielding portion of WAR that is subject to uncertainty. However, it is true that the estimation of batting runs is on much firmer footing that fielding runs. Thus, it is tempting to say that given two players of roughly the same WAR, one should go with the player who has the better batting as the more “sure thing,” which would make Bautista the winner.

Before we let ourselves off of the hook that easily, let’s be a bit more careful. After all, the uncertainty around fielding statistics does not simply imply that Ellsbury’s rating should actually be lower than plus 14 runs and/or Bautista’s higher than minus 4.5 runs. The opposite might be the case: Ellsbury might have been better than fourteen runs and Bautista worse! Variance goes both ways, after all.

As I said at the beginning, I’m not posting this to use WAR and other metrics as a sledgehammer to make a case for one MVP candidate over another. I suppose if you asked me today, I would say Bautista, but I could easily be convinced that Ellsbury was the man, and certainly wouldn’t think any worse of someone for differing with me. The main thing I hope to have shown in my own long-winded way is that WAR itself can at be a useful (if imprecise) tool for assembling who should be on the ballot. Perhaps by looking at the components from different angles (different fielding metrics and scouting reports, WPA/LI), we can refine our thinking a bit. My way of looking at it might be summed up like this: WAR isn’t problematic because its imprecision prevents it from being a conversation-stopper. Rather, WAR succeeds because it gives us a framework to help get a better conversation started.

WAR gives us a pretty good idea of who the legitimate candidates for the award are this year. Splitting hairs among players who all had great seasons is not what it was designed to do, nor is it a wise use of the metric. In most years, WAR will not tell you who exactly should get the #1 spot on an MVP ballot, but it will probably give you a good idea of who should be in the top 5. From there, use your best judgment, and understand that there are usually multiple valid opinions, with none of them being obviously more correct than the others.

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

122 Responses to “FanGraphs Official Position On: 2011 AL MVP”

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  1. ToddM says:

    Bautista is clearly the best hitter. Ellsbury, using UZR anyway, has been the best overall player. Granderson (outside of batting average) has the best counting numbers — his runs scored total in this environment is obscene.

    I still think, combining modern and conventional thought, the MVP is Verlander. Until acquiring the surprisingly awesome Fister, he absolutely carried the Tigers’ starting staff into contention. Verlander is dominant, obviously, but it’s more than that. He was essential for most of the season.

    Granderson’s average and defense will keep him down; indeed, one might argue Sabathia as the Yankees’ top candidate. The Red Sox have too many viable candidates, and Ellsbury’s lack of exposure relative to Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia will probably hurt him. Texas doesn’t really have anyone worth considering, nor do most of the non-contenders or almost contenders.

    To me, it comes down to Verlander and Bautista. Pitchers-can’t-win vs. Non-contenders-can’t win. Verlander’s gaudy win total and the Tigers’ run vs. a very soft schedule in August and September will get him the hardware.

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    • ToddM says:

      (I do realize the article was about “should”, not about “will”, but I added my thoughts about “will”)

      (and yes, Pedro got screwed 1999)

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      • JimNYC says:

        The way I like to think about MVP awards: Take the player off their team, insert a replacement-level player, see what happens to the team’s position in the standings. You can’t win an MVP on a last place team — they could have just as easily finished in last without you — and you can’t win an MVP on a 110 win team, since they really didn’t need you that badly. Toronto would still be in fourth place without Bautista. Detroit would not be in the playoffs without Verlander.

        Verlander is the easiest MVP pick for me in years.

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      • TYML says:

        JimNYC, I disagree that team quality should impact MVP voting, but that is for another day. More relevant is that I disagree with your own application of those rules.

        How would the Tigers be out of the postseason without Verlander, but it’s not the same thing with the other contenders? The Tigers currently enjoy the largest divisional lead in all of baseball at 12.5 games. While the Yankees have the best record in the AL, the relative successes of the Red Sox and Rays only put them at 7.5 games away from being out of the playoffs. Furthermore, the Red Sox have only a 1.5 game lead in the WC race.

        So , by your rules, the Tigers without Verlander would be at least 13 games worse, but the Yankees without Granderson wouldn’t be 8 games worse, and the Sox without Ellsbury or Pedroia wouldn’t be 2 games worse.

        I don’t follow.

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      • BIP says:

        That’s a great argument for Verlander as team MVP, but unfortunately, AL MVP is a league award. I think it’s funny that people quibble about the “V” when the real problem is ignoring the “L”. To be fair, the voting instructions don’t do much to help, referring to “actual value of a player to his team,” but only in the context of “strength of offense and defense,” not position in the standings.

        Regardless, MVP is not just a league award, but an individual award as well. I see absolutely no reason to factor a player’s team, teammates, or team record into the voting.

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      • BIP says:

        My post is a response to JimNYC if that wasn’t clear.

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      • JimNYC says:

        TYML: Valid points. The Tigers’ recent ridiculous tear and their running away with the AL Central has kind of obscured how close a thing their making the playoffs was for much of the season. Without Verlander earlier in the season, they probably wouldn’t have been in a position to improve the team and work from ahead the way they’ve done, but you’re right that, at the end of the day, Verlander isn’t a 13 win swing.

        My gut instinct is that the Ellsbury and Pedroia campaigns will be nonstarters, since as of this moment I’m thinking that Tampa Bay overtakes them. If I was giving the award to anybody other than Verlander, it would be Granderson — my gut says that he hasn’t been as bad on defense as the metrics make him out to be, and that his statistics probably suffer from having the best defender in the league playing next to him and snagging balls that might otherwise come into his territory, but regardless, I just think he’s probably better than the defensive burden the numbers show him to be.

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      • Matt says:

        Part of the problem with these award debates is it becomes about narrative, and sometimes the reality changes but people still stick to the narrative. Verlander is a case in point. About 3 weeks ago, one could make the argument that Verlander was more “valuable to his team” than any other player because the Tigers were in a close race, and he’s been far and away the best pitcher on his team. Now, they have the biggest lead in baseball, and are the only team in the AL to have clinched. Say what you want about pitcher WAR, Verlander probably hasn’t been worth more the 13 game lead the Tigers have. So the argument that he’s had more of an impact than someone on Texas (4.5 game lead, Kinsler with 6.6 WAR), NYY (5.5/7 game lead, Granderson with 7 WAR), Boston (1.5 game lead, Elsbury/Pedroia/A-Gonzalez all above 6 WAR) or even Tampa (trailing by 1.5, Zobrist and Longoria in the 5-6 WAR range) simple makes no sense anymore.

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    • Bert says:

      Sorry but you are clearly out to lunch choosing a pitcher. Verlander should merit ZERO as in 0 consideration. He is a pitcher and I dont care of he wins 35 games he only plays in 20 to 25% of his teams games. How can a player who plays in less than a quarter of his teams games be considered for MVP?. The answer is easy – He can`t. There is a reason that pitchers never win MVP and this is it. He wins Cy Young hands down of course because he has had a terrific season but MVP NO WAY

      jose bautista is clearly the MVP and no one is even close but he probably wont get it becaus ehe plays in Canada and the Jays arent going to th e playoffs However no one has meant more to his team or won so many games on his own as Bautista. Over the last 2 seasons he has hit 18 more HRs than anyone else – unreaL

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      • ToddM says:

        Except pitchers HAVE won the MVP.

        Except players impact games to a different degree, and Verlander has a huge impact on the 35 games he appears in.

        Look, I’m not saying he is the only choice. I’m saying he’s a viable choice. Taken from another perspective: Verlander has faced 938 batters this season, a number that would be even higher if his WHIP wasn’t leading the majors, because he’s leading the majors with 244 innings pitched. The major league leader in plate appearances for a batter has 693 (Pedroia).

        Verlander has participated in 35% more plate appearances than any batter in baseball. Yes, position players are more important defensively than pitchers, and that makes up for a lot (and perhaps all) of that difference. Still, there’s no logical argument for a horse starting pitcher not having the same impact as a position player. Relievers? Sure. Giving Willie Hernandez the MVP in 1984 was retarded. Verlander, however, is a viable candidate.

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  2. Andrew says:

    Attention grabbing headline, but very little substance here other than “you can use WAR to get a general idea of who should be in the MVP discussion,” which has been rehashed to death elsewhere. The WAR cutoff was too high, leaving out the second best hitter in the AL in Miguel Cabrera as well as the very underrated Kinsler and Alex Gordon. 6 WAR would have been a better number to start with. I also thought that throwing out the pitchers without much of a discussion is a mistake, especially with Verlander looking more and more like an MVP every start.

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    • Craig says:

      I don’t think the cutoff was too high. There’s really no case for Cabrera, Kinsler or Gordon deserving any 1st place votes. Cabrera had less offensive value then Bautista while playing terrible D at the easiest position in baseball. Kinsler was both offensively and defensively less valuable than Pedroia. Gordon was both offensively and defensively less valuable then Ellsbury. I agree I would of liked a better explanation of why the pitchers were dismissed.

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  3. mcbrown says:

    I think I missed the part of this article where FanGraphs voiced its official position on the AL MVP – can someone point me to it?

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    • Telo says:

      Lot of words to say very little, but your point is sound. WAR is a framework – a great place to begin the discussion, not end it.

      Probably could change the title of these articles though.

      “How to use WAR when voting on and discussing end of season awards”

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    • jorgath says:

      Yes: It says that the AL MVP should either be Bautista or Ellsbury, not any of the other contenders. Then it says that its tools aren’t precise enough to decide between those two sabermetrically so voters should limit themselves to those two but go with their gut on which one.

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    • juan pierre's mustache says:

      FanGraphs Official Position on AL MVP: It’s Probably Bautista, But Really It’s Tough To Say For Sure

      (for the record, if more people thought about their picks this way, the amount of terrible sportswriting attempting to exalt verlander et al. far above the competition would drop precipitously. sometimes its OK to just be leaning one way and recognize the merits of the other, especially since the season is not over.)

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    • Everett says:

      The official position is that WAR is not the end-all/be-all of MVP debates, that the players listed should be the ones under consideration for the award, and that the two best candidates are Ellsbury or Batista as their seasons are similar enough.

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  4. tyke says:

    so the “official position” is…*shrug*?

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    • cthabeerman says:

      Inconclusive, which is perfectly fine.

      Not saying this applies in your particular case, but it seems like people are more and more demanding of black-and-white answers, for the sole reason of arguing them.

      Fangraphs official position is that WAR is useful in discussing which players are deserving of an award, but cannot be used to definitively say which player is most deserving. That’s a fine position, as far as I’m concerned.


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      • Daniel says:

        Considering how much gnashing of teeth there has been over how WAR is used, it’s no harm to have a simple declaration of how Fangraphs see its own baby.

        There is no right answer, is the point, is the point, is the point. Enjoy your debate, but don’t take it all that seriously.

        And I mean if you want to read nonsense articles that trumpet the cause of one player over all others, with large Official Position stamps assaulting your eyes, there’s plenty of them around.

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  5. Joeiq says:

    I’m still of the school of thought that you don’t have to make it to the post season, but it helps. So I go Ellsbury.

    If you don’t make it to the post season, it has to be obvious that you were the best. Like Pujols a couple years ago.

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    • Telo says:

      Do you take a short bus to this school in the morning?

      Just kidding (kind of).

      The definition of MVP is open to interpretation, it’s just that your interpretation is bad.

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      • Jeff says:

        So much nastiness….

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      • Sultan of Schwwingg says:

        Bad in your opinion, but many people, me included, think it’s fine.

        Whatever the case, it’s a requirement with most voters. Ignoring it is futile.

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      • BlackOps says:

        Ignore it in what way? When discussing who “will” win or who “should” win?

        Formulating your MVP based on the fairy rules of sportswriters just because that’s the way it is IS a bad interpretation of MVP.

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  6. Joeiq says:

    What about an article where 4 or 5 fangraphs writers cast a ballot? Go 1-5th place or something. Then you get a blurb justifying your selections.

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    • Andrew says:

      This is what I would like but with the entire fangraphs roster.

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    • Lukehart80 says:

      I thought this morning’s post said they’d be doing exactly that on Friday.

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    • Sultan of Schwwingg says:

      Because too many writers here are Yankee fans.

      Granderson lacks WAR to play with Bautista, and many Yank fans have been programmed to hate starters, so the results would be thus:


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      • cuck says:

        if theyre all yankees fans why would they pick crawford as the 5th place finisher?

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      • D says:

        Cuck. Cause Crawford has been way worse than expected, thus helping the Yankees.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        What? Two guys from RAB contribute here, and I think Axisa is just Rotographs. How does that make “too many writers here are Yankee fans?” And why would we automatically assume that makes them incapable of judging MVP candidacies fairly?

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  7. Nik says:

    Long article without much substance. At least make a stand and pick the guy you like.

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  8. Darren says:

    If the Rays take the wild card, is it crazy to think that Longoria is the MVP?

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  9. Nik says:

    The ‘official position’ is to sort the hitters by WAR, take the top 2 and not decide which one has been more ‘valuable’.

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  10. Matt says:

    One thing I consider when looking at WAR is luck. Yes, I realize that we are measuring what happened, not what should have happened, but we are also trying to measure the player’s true contributions, apart from luck. I generally try to regress BABIP to the player’s career norm, or at least closer to it, in order to account for luck. In this case neither player is getting too much help in that department, so it doesn’t make too much of a difference here, but it’s something to thing about.

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    • Nik says:

      If you’re going to penalize for high BABIP, you should at least break it up into its constituent parts. If the LD% is higher than career norms for instance, one would expect the BABIP to increase. Give the hitter credit if he’s putting on the ‘laser show’.

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      • Matt says:

        Agreed. I didn’t mean to say that I would just automatically regress a player’s BABIP. What I was trying to say is that I don’t just take a player’s batting statistics at face value because some of it is due to luck. Kemp, Braun, and Votto, for example, I would not regress much if at all because they both consistently put up ridiculous BABIPs and have very high LD rates this year. However, I might give a little more credit to Ian Kinsler, though not a ton because his career BABIP is below average and his LD rate isn’t great this year.

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  11. David says:

    “lthough I personally have not experienced single-season WAR being used as a “conversation stopper” in player comparison, it seems that some people feel that happens far too often.”
    You literally take the two highest in WAR and eliminate everyone else. C’mon you just used it as a conversation stopper.

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  12. James K. says:

    I’d include clutch performance for MVP voting, in the form of the Clutch metric. Little predictive value, yes, but it does tell you what happened.

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  13. Chris says:

    This is Fangraphs, so obviously an article titled “FANGRAPHS official position on: 2011 AL MVP” is going to use fWAR…but the Baseball Reference WAR makes the argument more compelling to me:

    Bautista – 8.5
    Verlander – 8.4
    Ellsbury – 7.2
    Weaver – 6.6
    Sabathia – 6.6

    It’s basically a three man race, with two pretty far in front.

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    • Colin says:

      Yup, I was thinking the same thing.

      Generally speaking I tend to favor bWAR for single season assessment of value.

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      • joe says:

        Especially single season for pitchers.

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      • joe says:

        A lot of the complaints about arbitrariness of cutoffs and discussion of defensive uncertainty could be addressed if Fangraphs could provide WAR with a range (or std error or std dev). This would especially be useful on the defensive side as not every positon has the same # of chances so the error bar at various positions I assume is different)

        While I have seen some arbitrary #’s thrown around are there any actual studies/links on what the std error is on some of these WAR components? (rather than just saying .3 WAR is in the noise and 1-1.5 WAR isn’t)

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  14. Eminor3rd says:

    I hate to agree with the above, but I do. This feels like you’re just trying to talk down on your numbers and weaken your position for the sake of the haters. Make an assertive claim.

    Why not say something like this:

    “We use WAR to identify the candidates because (1) it takes defensive performance into consideration, and (2) it takes positional scarcity into consideration, which are two elements we believe are very important and often get overlooked by the masses because they’re difficult to quantify using traditional numbers. Using this method identifies Ellsbury as a nearly equally worthy competitor as Bautista, and therefore we believe he should be in the conversation. It also causes us to pause thinking about Granderson’s season because of his below-average defensive performance. If we just look at standard offensive rate stats, it seems like Granderson should win in a landslide, but taking this deeper look gives us the ability to make a more informed decision.”

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    • Barkey Walker says:

      Please tell me where your blog is so I can subscribe.

      I hate to bag on the writer (you should really just vote with your feet) but this single paragraph is a much better read than the hang-wringing monster above that seems to say, “I might prefer Bautista even though he doesn’t have the highest WAR, because WAR isn’t perfect either and I never said I’d marry it anyways.” spread over several hundred words.

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  15. JDanger says:

    For the life of me I don’t understand why people get so worked up over this award. MVP, CY, GG, SS, they’re all ridiculous.

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  16. Ryan says:

    I saw Dave’s post announcing this series this morning…apparently, I had set the bar too high.

    This article plays right into saber-detractor’s hands – a 1500 word dissertation on the power of WAR. The very first decision you made was to all but dismiss JV and CC based on their WAR being some arbitrary value from the maximum. No other stats were mentioned except those that are direct inputs into WAR.

    Another disappointment was the lack of comparison to rWAR, especially the philosophical difference with regards to pitching WAR, and the differences regarding the defensive components. This race would look like Bautista vs. Verlander with Ellsbury on the cusp if you had used “that other” WAR. I realize Fangraphs rightly stands by their statistic, but I can see how it would be hard for an outsider to accept that.

    I hope the next five installments aren’t simply regurgitations of the WAR leaderboard.

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  17. RMR says:

    If the question were, who had the best season statistically, I bet most saber-haters would essentially concede the argument. By limiting the conversation to one based purely on measured run production of the player himself, you’ve already eliminated the biggest issue at hand.

    The MVP debates come down largely in the area you chose not to address. The discussion of confidence intervals and the relative certainty with given components of WAR is helpful, but only for the people who already agree with the stats based approach in principle.

    A secondary issue you didn’t touch on here is the issue of pitching WAR being based on FIP. Most non-saber types would look at your acceptance of CC and Verlander being near equals this and scoff, suggesting Verlander should be easily ahead of CC. Of course, Verlander has an unsustainably low BABIP, which shows up in his strand rate, which shows up in his ERA, which shows up in his win total — the stats the casual fans love.

    But ultimately, it comes back to the “V”. So long as many people include unsubstantiated intangibles, quality of teammates, etc., the nuances of the statistical side of things is sort of beside the point.

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    • ChrisDTX says:

      Consider: the rest of Verlander’s rotation mates (Penny, Porcello, Scherzer – we’ll exclude Fister due to his Seattle time) have all posted BABIP’s > .300. While Verlander is certainly due for some BABIP regression, I think that can get overstated. It’s not like the Tigers magically have the Rays defense every fifth day.

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  18. Steve says:

    Am I insane, or is Roy Halladay’s name somehow just not mentioned in this entire article (comments included)?

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  19. Erik says:

    I don’t understand how Granderson is eliminated from contention in your article. You mention that Pedroia and Granderson are heavily affected in their contention by their UZR scores, with Pedroia getting a significant boost and Granderson probably getting lowered.

    If you establish that Granderson is likely below 8 WAR because of a lower defensive weighting than he likely deserves, why is he not mentioned? You qualify the elimination of Pedroia and proceed to ignore Granderson.

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  20. joshcohen says:

    when you used “rawlsian”, i was excited to see how you’d weave john doman’s brilliant portrayal of bill rawls into a baseball discussion. to be fair, his season 3 work with comstat data manipulation, where he sought to make hard data (ie an increasing murder rate) fit a pre-determined conclusion (crime is actually down!), would seem to be relevant to how mvp voting can potentially go awry.

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    • jorgath says:

      I think it’s more a reference to John Rawls’ Law of Peoples, which is a political theory. It says the way to establish a society is to imagine what kind of society you’d want to be born into if, beforehand, you didn’t know what socio-economic class you’d be born into in that society.

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  21. Jason says:

    Matt Klaassen,

    Why do you say the difference between 8.5 and 8.2 WAR is not meaningful, but the difference between 8.5 and 6.5 WAR is? What justification do you have for that? What are the magnitude of the confidence intervals associated with WAR? WAR is a compound statistic with compounded error. Why do you believe the error is so small? Is it just because of where the decimal point is in the statistic (fractions feel small while integers feel large)? Do you have any justification for that at all, or are you just making assertions similar to a scout that says “player X is a plus defender”?

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  22. Steve says:

    I really want to say Bautista is the MVP since that would be counter to all of the old media sportswriters and justify my existence, but my calculator says Ellsbury.

    So, let’s say, either one is ok.

    Would this article have been written if Bautista had 10% more plate appearances?

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  23. Phils_Goodman says:

    MVP awards are supposed to be about describing what already happened, so I think a putting the offensive stats in context is a good step to take.

    According to fangraphs WAR, Bautista has put up 8.31 oWAR compared to Ellsbury’s 6.93, for a difference of 1.38 oWAR (after positional adjustment). Of course, real offense is not context-neutral. In context, what was the recorded difference between Bautista and Ellsbury’s offensive contributions?

    WPA: Buatista has the edge by 2.5 wins
    WPA/LI: Bautista has the edge by 2.93 wins
    REW: Bautista has the edge by 1.68 wins

    From here, I just took a lazy method and averaged them all together (2.37).

    Conclusion: the gap between Bautista and Ellsbury’s context-sensitive offensive contributions is about 1 win larger than expected by raw oWAR. To me, that is enough to obliterate Ellsbury’s 0.3 win advantage after factoring baserunning and defense into overall WAR.

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  24. jim says:

    fangraphs official position on 2011 AL MVP: “we have no opinion, figure it out for yourself”

    why even write this article?

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    • Kyle says:

      Cause Fangraphs system is looking horribly retarded lately. Their predictions for players’ output before the season were epic in how poorly they guessed. They rank Sabathia over Verlander with WAR? They still rank Brian Wilson as a Tier One closer(and a better WAR)compared to Jose Valvered who got ranked in the Tier Four. One guy has blown 5 saves, walked more guys with innings, pitches in the National League and has a WHIP of 1.49.

      How in the world can this be? Why does Halladay(Lee or Kershaw now prove they’re more deserving of the cy young)trump Verlander(who didn’t have Cliff Lee, Hamels, Worley, and the injured but still ace when healthy Oswalt.) Verlander looks like God compared to Sabathia when EVERY SINGLE stat is compared. WAR is becoming the new win, save or steal. Iverson and Gilbert Arenas both used to get tons of steals yet neither one ever got accused of playing solid defense and left his man often to gamble for steals.

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  25. CircleChange11 says:

    Phil brings up what I would consider a tie-breaker, WPA.

    I find it strange that at a sabermetric site discussing the MVP, with empasis on the V that WPA isn’t a stronger factor.

    It’s still Bautista, in a close race.

    Like many years, 1 of 4 guys could win the award without any of the others being “robbed”.

    Bautista, Verlander, Ellsbury, Granderson.

    I like to average fWAR and brWAR (rWAR). Bautista still ahead, with WPA being the metric that puts some distance between he and the 2nd place dude.

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    • gabriel says:

      Yeah, the article could have affirmed a few more worthwhile things to look at, WPA foremost among them.

      As a bit of a traditionalist, I like the round numbers as well; at least as a potential tie-breaking measure when the leading candidates are so close- .300 average, 100 runs, 100 rbis, 200 hits, and so forth are worth looking at as well. This is a bit of a wash between Ellsbury & Bautista, as they both look to have most of these big markers. Bautista is past 40 hrs and has over 100 walks, while Ellsbury probably won’t get to 30 hrs; but Ellsbury will get to 200 hits and quite possibly 40 steals.

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  26. gabriel says:

    “[the] positional adjustment part of WAR… accounts for multi-position players like Ben Zobrist and, briefly this season, Bautista”

    Does it fully reflect that value, though? Positional flexibility in a given player not only means that the player will play different positions, providing the value of a second baseman or a third baseman when they occupy those positions, but also that when the other regular needs rest or is injured, the club has more options in replacing the injured player. More options means that the replacement for the injured player is less likely to be truly replacement-level. This, of course, is exactly what happened with Bautista at 3rd base this year.

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  27. Adamland says:

    The case for Verlander. Pitchers numbers are not what they seem on paper. Read this article and pass along if you believe pitcher’s should be inlcuded in MVP talk.

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    • Notrotographs says:


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    • adohaj says:

      By that authors logic a single on the first pitch of an at bat is more valuable than a single off of a 3-2 pitch. Wait isn’t it the other way around? Verlander gets a boost from pitching more pitches? I thought pitchers were supposed to use the least amount of pitches possible to get outs.

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  28. Kyle says:

    Wow, so this article is saying Sabathia and then Verlander are just on the cusp? Dude, you been watching baseball this season? Verlander has become the best pitcher IN ALL OF BASEBALL.

    He’s at a pace to win the pitcher’s triple crown for not just the AL but both leagues. Wow… WAR must be very flawed, and I can’t believe I used to argue how important it was. Verlander also leads both leagues in WHIP, batting average against, innings pitched, quality starts(somewhat overrated but not a totally disposable stat.)

    And Halladay is amazing and a future hall of famer, but he just lost to the Cardinals with Berkman OWNING him. Kershaw and Lee should be ahead of him in Cy Young consideration. And Verlander should be the first pitcher to be MVP deserving it since Pedro did not in 99…. since Bob Gibson?

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    • Notrotographs says:

      Hurray for triple crown counting stats on a site for advanced statistical analysis?

      Wrong turn on your way to the ESPN boards?

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    • BlackOps says:

      You just realizing this about WAR and admitting you used to argue how important was shows how much of an idiot you are.

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  29. Mike says:

    I agree with your conclusion. If WAR had been a mainstream statistic in 1992, Dennis Eckersley never would’ve ransacked the award from Roger Clemens/Frank Thomas. But it’s hard to say that Clemens deserved it over Thomas just because his final number was a bit higher.

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    • Kyle says:

      This article should be called Fangraphs MASTURBATES to WAR in every facet of baeball. It’s taken of team’s rankings(Boston is ranked number 2 right now)… so… really? Do you guys even like baseball?

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  30. Anon21 says:

    “Before we let ourselves off of the hook that easily, let’s be a bit more careful. After all, the uncertainty around fielding statistics does not simply imply that Ellsbury’s rating should actually be lower than plus 14 runs and/or Bautista’s higher than minus 4.5 runs. The opposite might be the case: Ellsbury might have been better than fourteen runs and Bautista worse! Variance goes both ways, after all.”

    Don’t we generally regress towards league average, and regress “farther” for extreme observations, such as Ellsbury’s UZR?

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  31. gc says:

    As a Blue Jays fan I’m shocked that Bautista is still in the debate. I imagine everyone here plays fantasy baseball and the ones arguing for him to win the MVP are the ones who drafted him early and want to say I told you so.

    Looking at the box scores, I guess his second half hasn’t been so bad. Having watched it, well, it makes me realized how special his first half was.

    He definitely kept the Jays around .500 for half the season; without him I think they would have been about 9 under at half-time. He hasn’t done anything remarkable since then, though.

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  32. thurston says:

    Although this isn’t as nearly “objective” as I would like, I think one ought to take into consideration the “exceptional-ness” of a season. Obviously, WAR is measuring that to some degree, but it seems to me that Verlander has had a year that few pitchers (in the AL) at least have had in the past decade (probably vintage pedro is the last comparable)
    And I don’t think Ellsbury’s offensive #s are that extraordinary; every year as far as I can remember there have been players with comparable numbers.
    BTW, is there some measure of run-scored and rbi “efficiency”, that is weighted for opportunites, team, ballpark, etc? some equivalent of wOBA?
    WPA goes part ways there, but it’s not quite the same thing.
    I guess that it’s taken as gospel that there is no such thing as “clutch”, but I suspect that’s ascribing what is true of the population as a whole to all individuals (which is not necessarily a proper inference)

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  33. Sean says:

    Can I ask a silly question? If the difference between 8.2 and 8.5 WAR is “practically the same,” then why post specific numbers? Wouldn’t a range for each player make more sense if there isn’t a practical difference between two different numbers?

    I know this article and official positions is very tongue-in-cheek, but I think a lot of the confusion stems from a statistic that has a very precise and easily understood definition outside of FanGraphs (wins) and is measured to a tenth of a point, but it’s really not supposed to be used that specifically (even though it’s precisely calculated).

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    • jorgath says:

      Because while you can’t tell the difference between 8.5 and 8.2, you can with the following:

      8.5 vs. 7.8
      8.2 vs. 7.5

      And you can’t with 8.2 vs. 7.8

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  34. gc says:

    In case I wasn’t clear, I would trade him and his awesome contract away.

    I love Jose. He’s fun to watch, but I can think of three guys on the team I’d rather have up to win the game with a hit than him. I definitely would take Ellsbury over Joey, so that settles the debate in my own mind.

    I’d take Verlander over both, though.

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  35. Ben says:

    It’s sad how undervalued fielding was for so long. Mostly because now the pendulum has swung and people seem to think that it’s equal to hitting.

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  36. cs3 says:

    this site offers the best baseball related content on the web (free or otherwise), but is hurt by really lazy editing.
    please proof read.

    a few examples:

    “but since I the point of this post is general principles for using WAR rather than very specific distinctions,”

    “…picking the overall leader would might work.”

    “While my preference of UZR, which is what is used as the fielding component useful and is rightly used as the fielding component of WAR here at FanGraphs,”

    “offense from a center fielder like Ellsbury is more valuable that from a corner outfielder like Bautista”

    ” the estimation of batting runs is on much firmer footing that fielding runs.”

    as good as the content is, the frequent grammatical mistakes make the authors of these articles come across as incompetent far too often. for this reason some people may find the writing less credible than at competing sites, which is unfortunate, because just a few extra minutes could fix the problem

    why doesn’t fangraphs hire an editor to proofread every submission before publishing?

    you could even hire me. I’ll work cheaply!

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  37. sufimirza says:

    Thank you for posting the great content…I was looking for something like this…I found it quiet interesting, hopefully you will keep posting such blogs….Keep sharing…

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  38. Dan says:

    “Perhaps that’s a bit Rawlsian”

    I’ve been trying to point out for years that the BBWAA is under a veil of ignorance.

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  39. Bryan says:

    I think Verlander and Granderson were dismissed a little too easily, but I agree with the results. To wit:

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  40. Ian says:

    I’d like to see a bit of a weighting applied to when these statistics were compiled…don’t want to dismiss the 1st half, by any stretch (a win is a win, regardless, I get it), but Bautista hasn’t surged in the 2nd half to carry his team on a Rays-like run – he’s been worse. The Red Sox have collapsed down the stretch. I’d like to see this down to Verlander v. Granderson. There has to be an intangible aspect, and without arguing the meaning of valuable, I’d think it has something to do with carrying one’s team when most needed. This lazy analysis indicates that it only means “best”, as determined by the best model we currently have.

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    • Daniel says:

      If you want to bring that kind of thing into it, that’s your right. But not everyone has to.

      Choices, see?

      But that said I am confused about what it was you expected Bautista to do. A 184 wRC+ doesn’t do it for you?

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  41. Dave says:

    You say WAR shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all for deciding the MVP debate… then go on to only use WAR in your comparisons between players.

    I’m confused.

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  42. Mark Geoffriau says:

    So is it just me, or did they yank the UZR Official Position post?

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  43. Mark Geoffriau says:

    Weird, page was unavailable and now it’s back. Disregard.

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  44. Bill Andrews says:

    Whomever posited Evan Longoria as MVP is out of their mind. He is the most overated player in baseball, offensively AND defensively.
    I’d vote for either Ellsbury or Verlander, but I was surprised that Adrian gonzalez and Robinson Cano were not even mentioned as candidates.

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