Who’s the MVP?

I was watching a game recently when the broadcasters began a discussion of possible American League MVP candidates and Dustin Pedroia‘s name was brought up in a serious manner. I was a little floored by the notion. Do not get me wrong, Pedroia is a fine player and a great asset to the Red Sox, but MVP? No. There are several factors as to why not.

First, and this is a giant one, park factors. Fenway Park is a playground for right-handed pull hitters ramping up the amount of singles and doubles hitters get because of the green monster. Guess what Pedroia is? In fact, it is such a huge influence that Pedroia’s park-adjusted wOBA is a whopping 11 points below his un-adjusted number.

Secondly, there is defensive position to consider. Yes, Pedroia plays second base, a tough position to play, but as Tango’s positional adjustments show, second base is behind catcher, shortstop, centerfield and is tied with (and this is important) third base.

Finally, we have the actual offensive production. Pedroia is good, yes I admit as much and his play at second base only helps, but there are just far better candidates for the MVP when you consider everything listed above. Joe Mauer has been better with the bat, plays a much tougher position and even works better under the whole “valuable, not best” argument because without Mauer there’s no way the Twins are in the playoff hunt while without Pedroia, the Red Sox are still very good. Not to mention that Joe Mauer is tops in the AL in WPA. Staying in the Central division, Grady Sizemore and Curtis Granderson are two excellent centerfielders who both have been more valuable with the bat and glove than Pedroia.

Pedroia ranks 18th in the AL in WPA/LI and it’s in that list that we find yet another worthy candidate who seems to be going overlooked, Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez plays a credible third base so he gets the same defensive credit as Pedroia, but his bat just dominates everyone in the AL. Again going by wOBA, Rodriguez has been worth over five more runs than any other player has and most of the ones near him are DHs or corner outfielders. For best hitter in the AL this season so far, it comes down to one choice, Alex Rodriguez.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

38 Responses to “Who’s the MVP?”

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  1. JLP says:

    I wonder how many MVP voters look at WPA when they make their decision?

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  2. Teej says:

    YES. Thank you, Matthew. I thought it was just a random reference here or there, but now that I’ve seen people on ESPN seriously pimping Pedroia for MVP, I’m starting to freak out.

    Great value, solid hitter with a good glove who I would LOVE to have on any team I created, but he’s just not the AL MVP. Not by a long shot.

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  3. k-lo says:

    i think pedoria has been the most valuable red sox with his offense and defense and i wouldn’t be surprised if he won

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  4. Red Sox Talk says:

    I can see your argument for Joe Mauer and Grady Sizemore over Pedroia, but I don’t think Curtis Granderson has played enough to deserve the award more at this point. I love the strides he’s made at the plate, with a better walk rate and fewer strikeouts; however, his 99 RS and 54 RBI just don’t stack up. Pedroia’s XBHs are somewhat inflated by Fenway, but he’s still got more punch than Grandy this year.

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  5. Eric M. Van says:

    That’s as bad an article as this site has ever published.

    To begin with, I don’t know where Tango got his positional adjustments, but they don’t bear any relationship at all to recent MLB play, where 2B offense has been the third weakest-hitting position (for ’03-’07, you have C, SS, 2B, CF, 3B, RF, LF, 1B with positional adjustments in Wins / 162 G of 1.46, 1.00, 0.70, 0.09, -0.06, -0.72, -0.97, -1.28).

    Secondly, why look at any offensive numbers besides WPA when attempting to assess offensive *value* (excluding baserunning)? A-Rod is having one of the emptiest statistical seasons in the history of man; despite his sky-high wOBA he’s 5th on his own team and 57th in the league in WPA. In his highest 39 leverage PA of the season he has 1 XBH (and that was a 2B a couple of weeks ago) and 3 GDP. The MVP is not an awatd for compiling the most impressive statistical line, it’s for doing the most to help your team win games and hence be competitive in the pennant race. Mentioning Alex Rodriguez within 500 words of MVP shows a catastrophic lack of understanding.

    In fact, right now, Pedroia is *second in the league* to Joe Mauer in positional and PT-adjusted WPA (my next update of this spreadsheet will add defensive runs from the Fielding Bible Plus / Minus, which will probably solidify his position even further). Mauer is very likely the MVP so far, but even after a ballpark adjustment Pedroia very likely deserves a #2 vote, as the other guys in his neighborhood are playing for non-contenders.

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  6. Sky says:

    Tango gets his positional adjustments quite intelligently: compare all players who play multiple positions in the same season (doing all the appropriate adjustments to prevent bias) and compare how they do at the different positions. Players who switch between second and third tend to play them equally. Here they are, overall, with room for adjusting the infield position up a run or two compared to the outfield positions:

    CA +10
    SS/CF +5
    2B/3B 0
    LF/RF -5
    1B -10
    DH -15

    Adjusting for position based on league-average production just isn’t the way to do it.

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  7. Vegas Watch says:

    I suppose if you’re going to ignore any kind of situational stats (which is fine), and use the baseline of average rather than replacement (which I really don’t get), then you could come up with A-Rod at this point. I don’t see how it’s a slam dunk though, and it seems that any kind of replacement analysis would show Sizemore to be deserving, as he’s had 115 additional PAs thus far.

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  8. dan says:

    I’m a Yankee fan and a supporter of A-Rod even when he’s struggling. But he doesn’t deserve the MVP, and it’s not really even close. He’s 34th in the league in WPA. I won’t read off the list, but look at guys who are ahead of him: Melvin Mora, Jason Kubel, David DeJesus, Garret Anderson? There are even three Yankees who are higher up on the WPA charts than him.

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  9. Chris says:

    Just when exactly is JUSTIN MORNEAU going to get the respect he deserves? Another MVP conversation without including him. INSANITY!!

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  10. Aaron says:

    Morneau isn’t even the most valuable player on his team. Just like 2006, he has no business being in the conversation for Most Valuable Player in the American League.

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  11. Isaac says:

    Chris, your right he topped Mauer in the past 2 days.

    Without those 2 men the Twins would be dead last.

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  12. Eric M. Van says:

    With all due respect to Tango — who often gets things right that everyone else misses — that’s a terrible and obviously wrong way to do positional adjustments. Guys who play both 2B and 3B in a season are reserve INF who are not good enough to start at either position. Typically, they’re not good enough overall to start at SS or 2B and hugely lack the bat to start at 3B, and end up being the backup 3B only because there’s not enough room on an MLB roster to have a dedicated backup 3B. MLB starting 3B who can handle 2B defensively are almost nonexistent. If Pedroia were hurt for a WS game in an NL park, would the Sox start Youkilis or Lowell at 2B and Ortiz at 1B, rather than Cora at 2B while either Ortiz or Youkilis sits? Of course they wouldn’t, despite the immense difference in offense. Therefore using 3B offense as a baseline for Pedroia makes no sense.

    Morneau should be in this conversation but there’s no question that Mauer has been more valuable.

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  13. Sky says:

    Eric, take it up with Tango. Personally (and my personal opinion shouldn’t matter much), I’m pretty sure Youk or Lowell would be fine at second base (with some time to learn it). Plus, I’m not sure how a backup fielder would be equally good at 2B and 3B, but guys who play full time would not be able to…? Is your point because those backups get chosen precisely because they CAN play both positions? That’s fair. Although I think the study does include some sort of innings minimum.

    However, calculating position adjustments based on defense IS a lot better than using offensive averages. Tango’s example is high school. All the best players play shortstop — why only compare the best players to other best players. Even the worst shortstop in the league is a better overall player than most players at most other positions. When comparing defensive value, you want to consider the trade-off of moving a player to a different position. His offense is set, you just want to see how much his fielding will take a hit when put at a tougher position. So position adjustments should be based on how easily you can find someone to competently field each position. Using offensive average comes close, but there’s no reason that every position should have the same total overall production (which is what using offensive averages requires).

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  14. Chris says:

    OK, fair enough, some Morneau isn’t a candidate, I happen to think he is. As much as statheads like to use numbers to justify EVERYTHING, it takes more than numbers. Take it from someone that watches every Twins game, Morneau is BY FAR more valuable to the Twins than Mauer. He’s the only power source in the lineup and is much more of a clutch hitter than Mauer. He never misses a game unless Gardy gives him a rest and is an excellent defensive first basemen. Without Mauer, the Twins probably still contend, without Morneau, they are easly fighting it out for 3rd at best.

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  15. Chris says:

    Oh yeah, by the way, for those that NEED numbers to justify everything, Morneau is now #1 in WPA. I know, I know, a major award that doesn’t go to either a Yankee or Sox player is a horrible in-justice to you East Coasters, but you’ll be OK!

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  16. Marcel says:

    Well, this east-coaster happens to think it would be a horrible injustice for Sizemore to not win. Sorry to break stereotype on you.

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  17. JLP says:

    How dare you…

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  18. Eric M. Van says:

    Sky, here’s why Tango’s logic breaks down: Guys who can’t quite play SS get moved to either 2B or 3B depending on what was lacking (arm and range, respectively). Guys who can’t play 3B or 2B anymore BOTH get moved to 1B. You rarely see guys moved from 2B to 3B as they age or move up the developmental ladder. That makes the 2B / 3B pair very unlike the other pairs looked at with this methodology. They require different skill sets, not different quantities of the same skill (like range in CF vs corner OF). MLB players who play them both are usually overqualified for 3B; they possess range which just isn’t needed at 3B, and so they don’t end up fielding 3B any better than 2B.

    I do think Tango has a point in that using the average offensive performance at each position does assume that the talent pool at every position is equal (I’d forgotten that that was the reason for his methodology). However, the entire system of MLB player development is geared to create that equality, so I don’t think the differences ever get very large. And when things do get out of whack, so that folks are saying, e.g., “where have all the good hitting catchers gone?”, I don’t think it makes sense, in an MVP discussion, to downgrade the value of a superior player at his position just because the talent pool there is weak. So an adjustment for the quality of talent at each position is very desirable if you are trying to answer the Q “who is the best player in MLB?” but not necessary or desirable when asking “who is the MVP?” If nobody can find a great-hitting C because the talent pool there is currently weak, having one represents very real value, and the weakness of the pool is part of that value. So average offensive performance is precisely what you do want to use in MVP determination.

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  19. Eric M. Van says:

    Chris, if Morneau is much more a clutch hitter than Mauer, how come Mauer is hitting .500 / .538 / .625 in 13 PA with LI of 3.00 or greater (excluding IBB), while Morneau has hit .368 / .435 / .474 in 23 such PA? Morneau has been great with the game on the line, Mauer has been tremendous (but has had a lot fewer opportunities).

    You can’t just watch the games and get an accurate sense of this. And in trying to guess where the Twins would be if they didn’t have each player, you’re completely neglecting to compare each player with his peers. Based on context-neutral performance, replacing Mauer with a replacement-level C would demonstrably be just as big a blow as replacing Morneau with a similar 1B. And Mauer, despite his relative dearth of high-leverage PA, has measurably been more clutch.

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  20. Sky says:

    Actually, Mauer’s been more clutch than Mauer this year. They have pretty much the same WPA, but Mauer’s WPA/LI is lower (because he’s been a bit worse offensively). How does Mauer catch Morneau in WPA? Because he’s performed better in clutch situations.

    Eric, I’m not sure why you’d want to use the defensive-based positional adjustments for figuring out who the better, more productive players are, but then switch to an offensive-average model for MVP.’

    Regarding the 2B/3B thing, you don’t see 3Bs moved to 2B, either. They tend not to have as good of range. In addition to you saying that players who play them both are overqualified in range at 3B, I would say those players are overqualified in arm and initial reaction at 2B.

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  21. Sky says:

    Chris, I’d like to hear your explanation for why you ignore the defensive value of Joe Mauer at catcher. Imagine moving Morneau to catcher. That would be really really ugly, right? Because it’s hard to be a catcher. But imagine if Morneau COULD play catcher. Wouldn’t that make him grossly more valuable? Heck yeah. That’s why Joe Mauer has so much value. He’s got a bat that’s a step below Morneau (no step if you include clutch) AND he’s at least two steps ahead of Morneau on defense.

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  22. Chris says:

    Well Sky, glad you asked. Morneau played catcher through HS and college and was drafted by the Twins as a catcher. So, I don’t think the idea of him playing catcher is that far-fetched. As far as me discounting Mauers defensive skills, I’m not, but realistically speaking, the MVP voters don’t take defense into account either. If they do it’s like “oh yeah, he’s good in the field too”. If defense played such a big role in the award, then Jeter shouldn’t even have been considered in 06 when Morneau won. Remember that? How dare Morneau win over a beloved Yankee!! Jeters defensive has always been average at best. BTW, Morneau is more like 3 or 4 steps ahead of Mauer offensively. He maintains a high SLG average while maintaining the high AVE. Mauer only has the Average.

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  23. Sky says:

    Chris, I agree with you that the members of the BBWAA will vote Morneau higher than Mauer for MVP. The game of reading BBWAA members’ minds isn’t the game we’re playing here, though — it’s who do YOU think deserves the award.

    Mauer doesn’t just have AVG in his favor. He also takes more walks, such than his OBP is currently .027 points higher than Morneau’s. And it’s not like Morneau destroys Mauer in the power department — his SLG is .519 compared to Mauer’s .443. Morneau has power, but he’s not a beast by any means. Going by fangraphs’ batting runs above average, Morneau leads by 9 (about one win). By WPA, they are even. By WPA/LI, they are even (which means I take back my comment about Mauer being more clutch — they’re even). By Baseball-Reference’s batting wins, Morneau is ahead by .8 wins. By statcorner’s BRAA, Morneau’s ahead by 6 runs. Whatever measure you pick, Morneau’s ahead by a maximum of 1 win — however many “steps” you call that, Mauer is ahead by twice as many steps on defense.

    One unmentioned argument for Morneau over Mauer is the difference in playing time, about 75 plate appearances. That’s worth about a quarter of a win.

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  24. John says:

    A-Rod may not be on the top of the charts in WPA, but he is in WPA/LI. And since the year-to-year correlation of Clutch (WPA-WPA/LI) is .01 for the players with 300+ PA in both 06 and 07.

    AND A-ROD IS … (as of Sept. 7)

    1st in AL in VORP
    1st in AL in MLV
    1st in AL in GPA
    2nd in AL in OPS (Milton Bradley)
    2nd in AL in RARP (Grady Sizemore)
    2nd in AL in RC/27 (Milton Bradley)
    3rd in AL in wOBA (Carlos Quentin and Milton Bradley)
    4th in AL in WPA/LI (Milton Bradley, Carlos Quentin, Aubrey Huff)

    That puts him roughly even with Bradley and ahead of all else

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  25. Chris M. says:

    That’s not how Clutch is calculated, firstly, and secondly, everything you said is completely irrelevant. Those numbers would only matter if baseball were played in a vacuum. You can’t just ignore that he’s nowhere to be found when he’s needed the most.

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  26. Eric M. Van says:

    Sky — you’re right, the average starting 3B would be overqualified in arm and reaction to play 2B, and underqualified in range; while the opposite would be true of 2B attempting to play 3B. However, the fact that MLB 3B have consistently outhit MLB 2B by a comfortable margin suggests that players with mediocre range (~ speed) and plus arm strength are better hitters than players with plus range and mediocre arm strength — which of course makes perfect biomechanical sense. If you really did have 2B and 3B playing each other’s positions, you would almost certainly find that they were both better at their native position than at the alternate, which is not something you would ever find comparing CF to corner OF, or 1B to 3B, and thus violates the essential premise of Tango’s methodology (which is based on the notion that, given any pair of positions, one is easier to play). That the guys who do play both positions are largely guys who are good enough to play SS complicates things further.

    Why bother making the distinction between an offense-based adjustment and a defense-based one? Let’s say the CF talent pool is demonstrably weak, so that a couple of CF rank as the two most valuable players in MLB during the season. That value is real and should not be discounted because of the talent pool weakness. But three years down the road the pool may be invigorated by a host of young players. The two CF, without any change in performance, now drop down in value. For this reason, you wouldn’t declare those two to be the *best* players in MLB during their MVP seasons.

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  27. Dave Cameron says:

    That’s an untenable position, Eric.

    If this winter, the Marlins moved Hanley Ramirez to second, while the Mets did the same to Jose Reyes and the Diamondbacks followed suit by shifting Stephen Drew over as well, your position would be that Chase Utley is now significantly less valuable.

    Nothing about the player population in MLB has changed. Nothing about Chase Utley has changed. However, because of how you define value, Jimmy Rollins just became a superstar and Utley just became a good player instead of a great one, because the respective baselines they’re being compared against changed dramatically.

    That’s fundamentally wrong.

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  28. Marcel says:

    Just one thing in this whole thirdbasemen don’t have the skillset to play second. Akinori Iwamura. He’s certainly not the best defensive 2B in the league, but he’s not really an embarassment either.

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  29. Eric M. Van says:

    Dave, three problems with you point.

    First of all, you’re failing to make or notice the distinction I’m making between quality and value. If your hypothetical did happen, yes, Jimmy Rollins would absolutely become more valuable and Chase Utley would become less valuable. But I am in complete agreement with you that there would not be any change in our evaluation of the quality of the players. That you use the words “superstar” and “good player” to describe the new statuses indicate that you’re failing to make the distinction. If by some bizarre genetic fluke there were 60 baseball players capable of playing GG defense in CF and putting up a 900 OPS (without any change in the talent pool at any other position), they would all be superstars (well, at least the 30 who were getting PT) and none would have any value whatsoever, because if any of them got hurt, there would be a replacement player available who was just as good. So it’s clear that value = quality +/- depth of the talent pool at a given position.

    (This is always true. If I am in a public debate with three other baseball experts, what’s going to be my most valuable attribute, my thorough understanding of the game or my articulate public speaking? There’s no knowing that until you know who the other three guys are. If they’re three brilliant statheads who are terrified of audiences, my understanding has no value to winning the debate and my speaking experience is immensely valuable. If they’re Buster Olney, Joe Morgan, and Tim McCarver, the opposite is true. Quality is absolute but value is very context-dependent.)

    Second, even if your hypothetical happened, I think you’re overstating the impact it would have on value assessment. Rollins and Utley would be nudged closer together, but they would hardly flip-flop. There are still 27 guys at each position who haven’t changed.

    Finally, your hypothetical just isn’t going to happen, because the vast majority of MLB players play the position they are best at. Differences in the talent pool across positions are relatively slight and aren’t warped by a bunch of guys playing at a position too easy or too tough for them.

    Which brings us to Iwamura, who has actually been a lot better at 2B than at 3B and whose move there is a significant part of the Rays’ dramatic turnaround in team defense. I don’t know what the Japanese were thinking when they had him at 3B; he seems to have better range than reflexes, and if he’d come up in America he would very likely have been a 2B all along.

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  30. John says:

    To Chris M. –

    That’s a “clutch” stat that I use, i dont know or care what formula FG uses, this is the structure from Baseball Between the Numbers

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  31. Chris M. says:

    That was actually meant as a footnote. The point remains that your entire research was a complete waste of everybody’s time.

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  32. John says:

    1) I make my studies for MY interests, not yours

    2) It shows good evidence that clutch hitting is not a retainable skill

    3) I can understand that you think that WPA should be used in MVP talks, but you must eliminate the clutch component to get to player SKILL, not player CIRCUMSTANCES

    4) WPA year-to-year correlation (in the same study) is .47, while WPA/LI is .58, indicating that WPA/LI should be used in discussion of “Who has the most skill?” ie “Who’s best?”

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  33. Chris M. says:

    1) Duly noted.

    2) That’s completely irrelevant to an MVP discussion.

    3) MVP stands for Most Valuable Player, not Most Skillful Player.

    4) See 2 and 3.

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  34. John says:

    This comment was about how my study was not “a complete waste of everyone’s time.” By the way, even if these stats aren’t ALL of the consideration, they should be part of it.

    If you read all of 3), i said that WPA has its place

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  35. joser says:

    Pedroia very likely deserves a #2 vote, as the other guys in his neighborhood are playing for non-contenders.

    I know a lot of people use this reasoning, but I still think it’s a crock. Would Pedroia or Mauer or any of the guys mentioned here be less valuable if they were suddenly traded to KC or the Mariners? I think you could argue they’d be more valuable, with fewer near-MVPs around them. Baseball is a team sport, but MVP is an individual award. Why is the team’s performance dictating who gets the award? No single player can carry an entire team, not Babe Ruth, not home-run-record season Barry Bonds. So why does the failure of the team affect the value of the player? Or, turn it around: suppose a couple of ace starters on the Red Sox or the Twins get injured, and the team falls out of contention. So suddenly Pedroia or Mauer is less valuable because other guys on his team got hurt? What the hell is that?

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  36. John says:

    Its total and utter bullsh*t, same with judging it on who gets LUCKY in “clutch” situations. been my point all the way

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  37. Chris M. says:

    John, you’re a complete idiot.

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  38. John says:

    i appreciate that

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