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October 13, 2010
Checking the Numbers
The Meaningless Awards
While the postseason is in full bloom, the winners of the regular season awards will be revealed next month. At that juncture some fans will cheer, some will cry, and others will inevitably write articles about how the BBWAA messed up by not voting Justin Morneau as sixth in the AL MVP race, or why James Shields deserves Cy Young consideration because his predictive numbers were much better than his ERA would indicate; as the co-creator of SIERA, I think I can joke about its usage in award voting. I know from experience what it’s like to write such articles, as I once nastily opined that it was a sham how Roy Halladay finished out of the top three on the AL Cy Young Award ballots of some writers in 2008. Then again, even if Cliff Lee deserved the award, how in the world did Halladay fall out of the… never mind, this is no time to dwell.
The awards everyone look forward to are the MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, and Manager of the Year. Honestly, the latter two mean very little to me, which is why I generally tend to dodge questions asking for my opinion on either, but I certainly look forward to learning who gets to take home the other two pieces of hardware in each league. However, there are other awards that don’t seem to get any publicity at the end of the season, mainly because I made them up strictly for this article. My awards are designed to honor the lesser-heralded players or roles that achieved greatness in one way or another throughout the season. Without further adieu, I present ‘The Meaningless Awards.’
The term LOOGY refers to left-handed, one-out guys and is therefore used to categorize the southpaw specialists of the world. This particular breed of pitcher does not really bring home much bacon but serves a valuable role: he is relied upon in the later stages of a game to retire the more threatening lefty hitters. Just ask Jesse Orosco, who pitched until the age of 74 based on a perceived ability to get Barry Bonds out. Evaluating LOOGYs is very tricky because their appearances are often restricted to a batter or two, where one mistake can cause an ERA to balloon even if most of the other appearances were spotless.
With that in mind, I wrote about a method for determining the year’s best specialists in March 2009. The method first involves determining which pitchers are actually LOOGYs. To fulfill that task, I pooled together all left-handed pitchers and calculated the percentage of appearances that lasted three or fewer batters. Anyone whose rate matched or exceeded 66.7 percent—two-thirds— qualified as a lefty specialist. Here is the list for 2010:
After finding out which pitchers should be studied, the next step involved aggregating their statistics against every lefty hitter they faced. With that data in tow, the most important step compared the statistics for the batters a certain LOOGY faced to how those same batters performed against all other southpaw pitchers. For example, if Arthur Rhodes faced 10 lefty hitters and produced a .650 Raw TAv against them, of interest is how those same batters performed against all other lefties. The reasoning can be related back to the aforementioned Bonds; someone who faces the best lefty hitters an inordinate amount of time will show, without context, poorer numbers. But their numbers might be much lower against those hitters than the entire pool of southpaws that faced them.
As you can see, Boone Logan was by far the best LOOGY of the year, and he will take home Top LOOGY honors for the 2010 season. His success might also help explain how he finished last in LOOGY Rate, as his performance was so stellar that Joe Girardi wanted to use him more often and for longer amounts of time. My mantra is that context is key and evaluating LOOGYs requires the use of context in order to accurately gauge how this type of pitcher performed. Lefty hitters produced a fairly low Raw TAv off Arthur Rhodes this season, but most lefty pitchers held those same batters in check, so he doesn’t rank as high when compared to his peers. This year, nobody was better than Logan, who also takes home the award for the name that most sounds like an action movie star.
Utility Providing the Most Utility
The term utilityman is tossed around rather often in the game of baseball, and it is intended to identify the players who are nomadic in their primary position. These players might not start for a team, but they provide ample depth at several positions while only taking up one roster spot. For the purposes of this award, utilitymen must have played 15 games at three or more positions. Special consideration is given to those with 15 games at four positions. This season, a few players met the original criteria, but only Omar Infante played four positions for at least 15 games: second base, third base, shortstop and left field.
The fact that he also produced 4.3 WARP is icing on the cake. Without question, the controversial All-Star selection is this year’s Utility Providing the Most Utility.
Can I Get Some Help Here?
Arguably the most important thing a hitter can do is get on base, but not everyone who reaches base will be lucky enough to cross home plate. Either through being erased on fielder’s choices or double plays or simply being stranded at their eventual destination, certain runners will inevitably see a good amount of their baserunning opportunities squandered through no real fault of their own. Sure, if they were a tad faster they could beat a throw to a force base, but all too often being stranded is the primary reason for their lower runs total. To that end, this particular award will go to the player who reached base but did not get to score the most often.
Ichiro’s season also ranks as the 30th-highest total since 1954. If we restrict the sample to the wild card era, his season ranked as the fifth-highest. He also has the highest total in the wild card era when he didn't get any help in this department 206 different occasions during the 2004 season. Not shockingly, Bonds has the second- and third- highest total in this span, as the batters slotted in the lineup to protect him during his torrid 2001-04 stretch often didn’t get the job done. Then again, his slower speed in the later years likely contributed just as much to the wasted opportunities.
Two Places At Once Award
At the start of the season, one of each team’s hopes is that their players will remain healthy and each position on the field will boast a unique leader in games played. Best-laid plans don’t always come to fruition, however, and players occasionally must pull double-duty, splitting their time between multiple positions. What gets really interesting is when a player leads his team in games played at multiple positions. Such a feat doesn’t actually tell us anything that matters, but it feels strange. How is it even possible? It must mean that the team either stunk and was forced to use a variety of players before one stuck at two different spots on the field. Players accomplishing this odd feat don’t surface every single year, but the 2010 season was lucky enough to have two such examples.
The Two Places At Once Award for the 2010 season goes to Rajai Davis, who led the Athletics in games played in both center and right field, and Garrett Jones, with the more unique games played lead at first base and right field. Past winners include Conor Jackson and Ichiro (2008), B.J. Upton and Jacque Jones (2007), Nick Swisher (2006), and Craig Monroe (2005).
A hearty congratulations goes out to all of the winning players and those who finished near the top. Are there any other awards that you think should be given out?