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September 17, 2013

BP Unfiltered

Valuing the "Contender" Component of MVP Voting

by Russell A. Carleton

The Angels will not be making the playoffs this season. The Tigers likely will. And according to Fox Sports national baseball writer Jon Morosi, that settles the AL MVP debate for him.

Quoth Morosi:

It's a commonly held belief, and one that's often parried with a simple reply of, "Why penalize a player for the quality of his teammates?" If there's a certain truism about baseball, it's that you get to bat only once every nine hitters. Blaming Mike Trout for the woes of his teammates makes about as much sense as blaming Miguel Cabrera for Detroit's recent bankruptcy filing. If you want to torture the limits of logic, you could make a case that had Cabrera been a better player, more people would have flocked to Detroit from out of town to see him play and that the tax revenue bump would have saved the city.

But the Vince Lombardi "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing" mentality thrives. History is written by the victors. Winning covers all sins. Might makes right.

Mr. Morosi will vote on the AL MVP award, presumably in early October (he wisely points out that we should wait for all 162 games to be played). There’s still time for him to change his mind. And yes, it is his right to define "value" as he sees fit. It's also mine to question whether, in the words of Vin Scully, "That's fertilizer!" His having a ballot does not privilege his opinion; it is his privilege that gives him a ballot.

So before the rest of the season unfolds, I would ask a question on the matter to Mr. Morosi or anyone else who would make the "playoffs only" argument. There are another two weeks to go, and let's assume that the playoff picture doesn't change by the end of the season. What would Mike Trout (or any player on a non-playoff team) need to do to receive a first-place vote over Miguel Cabrera? For example, suppose that Mike Trout somehow raised his batting average to .400? Suppose that Chris Davis hits 60 HR, despite the fact that the Orioles miss out on the postseason? Is there anything that would turn the dial?

If Mr. Morosi would like to say that inspiring one's team to the playoffs is worth something, that's fine. But how much is it worth?

If the answer is that there is nothing at all that a non-playoff participant could do, then you have to make silly statements like "Don Kelly has been more valuable than Mike Trout." After all, Don Kelly's team is going to the playoffs. Would anyone like to hazard that argument?

If not, we're left with naming a price. Now, Mr. Morosi could say that someone would have to hit .500 for a non-contender, but that would suggest that he values the mere fact of being on a playoff team as being worth a lot. Whatever price he named, we could do some quick-and-dirty algebra to figure out what he believes the playoff premium to be worth.

One thing that we do know is that, given the current spread between Cabrera and Trout, Mr. Morosi appears to value the playoff premium as worth at least 2.8 wins, which is what Kendrys Morales has been worth to the Mariners this year (although Morosi may disagree about the difference in performance between the two candidates). If Mr. Morosi believes that Mike Trout needs another half a win of distance to eclipse Cabrera's playoff advantage, then he believes that wearing the uniform of a playoff team is worth as much as Giancarlo Stanton's production in 2013.

Again, as Mr. Morosi points out, there is no singular definition for "valuable," and voters (and non-voters) are welcome to construct their own. But their definitions can still be questioned. In that spirit, the question I would pose is whether this is a sensible valuation of the playoff premium.

Russell A. Carleton is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Russell's other articles. You can contact Russell by clicking here

Related Content:  MVP,  Mike Trout,  Miguel Cabrera

15 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

RedsManRick

I agree that I'd like to see the advocates for the playoffs argument clarify their position.

If making the playoffs is the baseline for being valuable, then Mike Trout should not appear anywhere on their MVP ballot.

If making/not making the playoffs is merely a multiplier of value, then by what factor should we be adjusting.

It goes back to the message Tom Tango routinely advocates:

1. Be consistent
2. Show your work

Absent that, it's difficult to avoid the conclusion that the person has done anything more than post hoc justification for the player whom they deem more valuable regardless of playoff consideration.

Sep 17, 2013 09:42 AM
rating: 9
 
BP staff member Colin Wyers
BP staff

What if Trout won the Triple Crown?

Sep 17, 2013 09:49 AM
 
SeanDoyle

I'm not sure if its good manners to link another site here, but a funny article about Morosi's prior MVP votes. If he's completely changed his mind about what matters for an MVP it would be great if he explained why: http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/09/16/jon-morosi-finding-new-ways-to-support-miguel-cabrera-for-mvp-depending-on-the-circumstances/

Sep 17, 2013 10:02 AM
rating: 6
 
Shawn

Can I assume that your (hypothetical) MVP ballots are pretty much based upon WARP standings? Where do pitchers fit in (straight WARP or do you adjust slightly more or less)? Do you add the "player plays at a premium position" idea to adjust the list? Do you give any weight (positive or negative) to team standings?

Sep 17, 2013 11:07 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

I personally struggle with how to put pitchers into the MVP debate. In a perfect world, I would have the MVP be for position players while the Cy Young awarded the best pitching performance, but that's not reality (my own ballot had Justin Verlander in 2nd last year). In general, I don't explicitly adjust when comparing pitchers to hitters. I'm open to the thought that maybe I should.

In general, I stick with WARP standings. When I deviate (and I do sometimes), it's between players who are bunched fairly close together while mumbling the phrase "margin of error." Usually, it's a case where there's been a potential weakness identified in WARP that hasn't been fully examined (e.g., catcher framing) and where I believe that WARP is either over- or under-estimating a player's worth.

I will use "premium position" to break a tie. I don't much care about team standings.

Sep 17, 2013 11:57 AM
 
Michael
(736)

It seems to me that playing well in late season games that impact whether a team makes the playoffs (or wins a division title instead of a wild card slot in the current set-up) is a form of clutch performance and hence it would be rational to weight it. Don't have to include depending on how one perceives "value" but one could include it.

However, if one is going to include it then the final outcome (whether the team made the playoffs) is irrelevant but what matters is doing well in theose meaningful late season games. Furthermore, the magnitude of this late-season playoff-influencing clutch performanc has to be fairly modest (so 0.25 - 1 win above replacement, I'd guess) or else one's ballot ends up becoming rather bizarre, such as giving the 2008 AL MVP award to John Danks because of a huge Win Probability Added in game 163 that gave the White Sox a play-off slot.

I agree with the first poster: be consistent and show your work. Just using this as a pro-Miguel Cabrera, anti-Mike Trout argument isn't intellectually satisfying at all.

Sep 17, 2013 12:03 PM
rating: 0
 
juiced

This shouldn't even be a matter for debate. Morosi's position, widely held among the voters, is moronic. Sorry but there are a lot of morons out there. A player has zero control over his overall team's strength beyond his individual contribution. The rules call for the individual contribution to be measured regardless of team strength. Game over, end of story, period. Change the rules to require selection of the best player on a playoff team if you want, but until that point keep this nonsense out of it.

Sep 17, 2013 12:17 PM
rating: 1
 
BillJohnson
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

"Anyone who doesn't agree with me is a moron." Yes, I think I understand the reasoning here.

Fact is, many players do NOT have zero control over his overall team's strength beyond his individual contribution. One of the most interesting things to come out of Baseball Prospectus this season has been the series on catchers' skill at framing pitches, which I absolutely guarantee does affect the way the pitchers themselves perform. That is merely the tip of the non-linear-effects iceberg, and by this point it can be considered proven. That's reality. Deal with it.

Sep 17, 2013 16:57 PM
rating: -4
 
juiced

Framing pitches is part of the individual catcher's contribution to team success. How does this refute my point exactly?

Sep 19, 2013 10:17 AM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Dan Brooks
BP staff

OK, I'll bite. I think Trout should be a strong MVP contender this year, but I don't think it's ludicrous that Cabrera or a similarly valuable player on a playoff bound team would win.

I'm tired and I have no idea if this is a good idea, but imagine every play in baseball was given a WPA - but rather than a WPA for "winning the game", it was a WPA for winning the World Series. Trout's chances for making meaningful impact would have been sunk long ago. I realize it's none of his fault, but because of how terrible his team has been, he's been outside of the narrative for much of the season.

It would be like if there was an exceptionally dominant mop up reliever who refused to move to a more high leverage spot in the game because he felt comfortable in blowouts in the bottom of the 6th. Trout's been playing out the string for a long time. It's hard to fault voters for factoring that in.

3 wins is (probably? definitely?) way too much, but being on a contending team matters.

Sep 17, 2013 21:42 PM
 
Michael
(736)

A couple folks, including Hardball Times' annual books, used to calculate a Championship Probability Added figure.

Sep 18, 2013 05:55 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Sam Miller
BP staff

But the Tigers have had very little pennant race drama this year; few of the games Cabrera has played have shifted the World Series WPA as much as those that Josh Donaldson has played. That just means that the standards you describe, while not ludicrous, while not illogical at all, have nothing to do with making or not making the playoffs, and therefore don't bolster the Morosi-style argument.

Sep 21, 2013 14:11 PM
 
jnossal

I don't think being on a playoff team is an absolute requirement for an MVP vote, but discounting it completely is a mistake.

The Angels without Trout and his 10 WARP are a 4th place AL West team instead of an also-ran 3rd place club. OK, not his fault. But is Trout nearly as valuable to his club as Cabrera?

Not at all. The Tigers without Cabrera and his 8 WARP drop to 2nd place in the Central, one game up on KC, looking up at Tampa and Texas in the wildcard race. Knowing what we do about the value of making the playoffs vs. missing by 1 game (or 10), how valuable is this player to his team? And, no Don Kelly wouldn't have that effect, so he's a silly example to have brought up.

For anyone who would like to claim that can make a 1 WARP player an MVP candidate should his team scrape into a wildcard bid by a single win, I have to point out that an 8 WARP year is far more likely to spell the difference between a playoff berth (and advantageous scheduling should the team win the division) than some setup man. So, no hardware for you, Mr. Kelly.

Granted, not every MVP argument will works out as neatly as this one. But the "contender component" is not entirely invalid.

Sep 18, 2013 10:02 AM
rating: 0
 
Mark68

If this were the argument last year, then Cabrera's winning the MVP last year was because the Tigers were in a weak division made weaker by the White Sox collapsing down the stretch, allowing the Tigers to sneak into the postseason with a worse record than the Angels. Some MVP voters pointed to this as being the difference between voting for Cabrera (despite the Triple Crown) in 2012.

Never mind that one of the determining stats in the Triple Crown (the RBI) is very much dependent on one's teammates. If nobody is on base when you hit, you can only get one RBI when you hit one out.

This is a sign of the outmoded thinking of much of the baseball writing fraternity. RBIs do not exist in a vacuum, therefore, Triple Crowns do not exist in a vacuum. On the flip side, all that a player can do to influence his team's performance is by doing his job on the field, and maybe by being a glorified cheerleader for his teammates.

In other words, it's not Mike Trout's fault that Pujols (and Weaver and Vargas) was injured. It's not Trout that caused Hamilton to suck. It's not Trout that caused the numerous bullpen implosions that have doomed his team this year. I've always thought that the MVP should go to the player with an outstanding performance that is most valuable to his team. There are multiple factors beyond the individual player's control.

Trout should have won it last year, even though Cabrera had an incredible season. Trout should win it this year, because, unlike Cabrera, he's been able to stay on the field and has still performed at yet another high level.

The award is for the most valuable player, not the most valuable hitter. If it was based on hitting ability alone, then why have pitchers won it?

Sep 18, 2013 12:23 PM
rating: 2
 
eliyahu

Pitchers have won it because the baseball writing fraternity that you (appropriately) criticize have chosen to give it to them.

My lean is to the Dan Brooks/jnossal approach that playing in meaningful games should account for something. I recognize that the fact that the Angels haven't had any important games since June is not at all the fault of Trout's, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't count.

While I don't think there should be a binary made playoffs/did not make playoffs divide, I do think that a player for a team team that's had a playoff odds of <10% for most of the year has a justified, perhaps unfair, disadvantage.

Sep 18, 2013 14:35 PM
rating: 0
 
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