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September 30, 2008

Prospectus Today

AAR and IBA

by Joe Sheehan

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What was most interesting about yesterday's rain-delayed, rain-delayed game between the White Sox and Tigers was just how typical it ended up being. The White Sox got a quality start and scored half their runs on a homer. The Tigers got terrible relief pitching, played poor defense, and didn't hit enough to overcome that. Had the game been played in August as originally scheduled, it would have passed largely without notice.

The Tigers definitely showed up, overcoming a very generous strike zone to put together some excellent at-bats against Gavin Floyd in the middle innings. They made one significant base-running error-Brandon Inge's double in the fifth absolutely should have been a triple, which would have enabled him to score on Dusty Ryan's single-that cost them when they couldn't score despite having first and third with nobody out. Failing to score then was critical, because there was little chance this game would end with the Sox having scored just one run. When the Tigers' pen got involved in the sixth, turning a 2-1 lead into 2-6 deficit, the missed opportunity loomed large. The game ended, for all intents and purposes, when Alexei Ramirez hit his slam in the sixth, although the two tack-on runs the Tigers' defense allowed in the eighth enabled Ozzie Guillen to save Bobby Jenks, which could be significant tonight.

I won't even try to predict the outcome of tonight's game. The Twins have an edge in that they didn't have to play yesterday, and got light work from Joe Nathan and Jose Mijares Sunday, so they have a clean pen for this one. The Sox get to play at home-both teams were 53-28 at home, 35-46 on the road-which is fairly significant in this matchup. It's not just the results, but the approach; the Sox hit home runs, which are easier to come by at US Cellular. The Twins rely on getting results on balls in play, and do that better-a higher BABIP and more doubles and triples-at home. The Sox have their best starter this season on the mound, the Twins a mid-rotation guy who before last Wednesday had been struggling.

It's not quite a coin flip-the balance of edges favor the White Sox because of location and starting pitcher-but it's close enough to be an unpredictable game. Once again, watch it with us.

---

The following are my Internet Baseball Awards ballots. The IBAs have run on Baseball Prospectus for nearly a decade, and date back to the mid-1990s on Usenet, where Greg Spira conceived and ran them. We'll have this year's available within a few days on the site.

American League Player of the Year

  1. Cliff Lee
  2. Roy Halladay
  3. Grady Sizemore
  4. Joe Mauer
  5. Dustin Pedroia
  6. Alex Rodriguez
  7. Nick Markakis
  8. Kevin Youkilis
  9. Brian Roberts
  10. Josh Hamilton

Honorable Mention: Ian Kinsler, Milton Bradley, Carlos Quentin, Jon Lester, Aubrey Huff.

One note: I did not consider WARP in these rankings, using instead a mix of VORP, RARP, and Stats, Inc.'s plus-minus ratings for defense.

I'm amenable to the idea that, in a close race, the relevance of a player's performance to a team chasing a post-season berth is an acceptable tiebreaker. Unfortunately, there was no tie to break here. Cliff Lee was that much better than the field, and Roy Halladay also that much better than the other candidates, that no amount of bias towards up-the-middle position players or players on contenders could make it up. It was just that kind of year in the AL, where the top tier of position players weren't as impressive as the league's top pitchers. There's nothing wrong with that.

You could flip Sizemore and Mauer without getting much argument from me. Sizemore was second in both RARP and WARP, and a +6 defensively by John Dewan's defensive scoring. His plus-minus system doesn't evaluate catchers; Mauer's defense is down a bit from last year's insane season, but still very good. He's miles ahead of his more BBR(BI)AA-friendly teammate. Pedroia's defense moves him ahead of Rodriguez, and after that, you can throw the next guys in a group. Hamilton is something of a placeholder for the three Rangers, who were all pretty close in value, and who had no or negative defensive value among them. The Rangers have to improve their defense, and yes, I've been writing that since 2000 or so.

American League Pitcher of the Year

  1. Cliff Lee
  2. Roy Halladay
  3. Jon Lester
  4. Mariano Rivera
  5. Francisco Rodriguez

Yeah, I had no idea, either. Not about the top two spots, but about Lester, who was clearly the third-best pitcher in the league by VORP and Support-Neutral stats. The gap between him and Ervin Santana was wide enough to fit the league's top two relievers by WXRL. So yes, in that order. I could just as easily have slotted Joe Nathan or Joakim Soria in the fifth slot, because as everyone knows, I hate the Angels.

American League Rookie of the Year

  1. Evan Longoria
  2. Mike Aviles
  3. Joba Chamberlain

Longoria's VORP edge on Aviles is tiny, and what's surprising is that his defensive edge, at least in the plus-minus system, doesn't exist. Aviles was +15, Longoria +11. I had no idea Aviles had sustained his hot start, and there's a pretty strong case for him ahead of Longoria, based largely on him being a better defensive shortstop than was advertised. Chamberlain pitched very well in both his roles, and could have won had he stayed on the mound all year.

It was actually a fantastic year for AL rookies. Armando Galarraga, Brad Ziegler, Alexei Ramirez, Greg Smith, all of these guys might have garnered the top slot in a different year.

American League Manager of the Year

  1. Joe Maddon
  2. Mike Scioscia
  3. Terry Francona

No manager had a fantastic year, but it's worth giving Maddon some credit for his role in the development of the Rays, and specifically his management of a young pitching staff. He neither over- nor underworked his starters, and he managed a pretty effective bullpen that had been assembled from spare parts. Scioscia won 100 games, albeit in a soft division, with well shy of 100-win talent. I do wonder if he realizes playing Angel baseball without much team speed is a problem, but he continues to manage a pitching staff as well as anyone in the game. Francona's slot could also be Ozzie Guillen's; both, year-in and year-out, make many more right decisions than wrong ones. Francona does a better job of not creating chaos.

National League Player of the Year

  1. Albert Pujols
  2. Hanley Ramirez
  3. Johan Santana
  4. Tim Lincecum
  5. Chase Utley
  6. Chipper Jones
  7. Lance Berkman
  8. David Wright
  9. Carlos Beltran
  10. CC Sabathia

Honorable Mention: Jose Reyes, Brad Lidge, Brian McCann, Ryan Ludwick, Cole Hamels

As in the AL, the gap between the best player and the field dwarfs whatever soft arguments exist to close that gap. The best hitter in the league is also one of the most valuable defensive players. Pujols may win; if he doesn't, it will be a travesty. Ramirez dramatically improved his defense this year, and was clearly the second-best player in the metrics. The two pitchers slot in-yes, in that order, as they're nearly inseparable, and this is the place to give credit for the value of the performance to a contender's efforts-between those two and a host of viable options. Chase Utley rates consistently as a superior second baseman, and moves ahead of two plus defenders who outhit him. Sabathia in the last spot is a soft selection, admittedly. I'll acknowledge respecting the narrative, but note that he's not that far behind the position players he beats out in terms of VORP accumulated in the NL. It's a reasonable slot, and you could move him up to eight or nine.

National League Pitcher of the Year

  1. Johan Santana
  2. Tim Lincecum
  3. Cole Hamels
  4. Brad Lidge
  5. CC Sabathia

Santana and Lincecum had years that were nearly identical in statistical value. The difference between them in the metrics isn't statistically significant. With that the case, I'm open to the argument that Santana's innings were thrown for a team who needed every single win it could get in a race, while Lincecum's lacked that import. If you go strictly by the numbers, you could conclude either pitcher was better-Lincecum's strikeouts may carry the day here. I can't argue against any ordering of these two. What I can say is that any ballot that doesn't have those two names atop it is in error. Hamels is third, slightly at the lead of a large pack. The Lidge pick seems out of place, but I'm swayed by Rob Neyer's notion that Lidge's perfect season in save opportunities means he was some number of wins-five, six?-better than even a good closer. Sabathia is, again, a nod to the narrative putting him ahead of a group of pitchers that includes Ryan Dempster, Ben Sheets, Dan Haren, Brandon Webb, and Derek Lowe.

National League Rookie of the Year

  1. Geovany Soto
  2. Joey Votto
  3. Jair Jurrjens

One of the easier lists to create, although Hiroki Kuroda deserves to be mentioned as well.

National League Manager of the Year

  1. Fredi Gonzalez
  2. Lou Piniella
  3. Charlie Manuel

It was a very soft year for NL managers. For all the praise of Joe Torre, he led a team everyone had winning 87-90 games to 84 wins, and it's hard to identify what he did well other than finally let Andre Ethier play in August. Ned Colletti handed him a huge upgrade over his existing left fielders, and Torre nearly screwed it up by sticking with Juan Pierre initially. I'm not impressed. Fredi Gonzalez managed a young team reasonably well, got good work from a complete no-name bullpen for much of the year, and seemed to understand that he shouldn't be wasting outs given his low-OBP, high-power lineup. Piniella had the best team in the league and didn't screw it up. Manuel�well, he gave Jayson Werth and Greg Dobbs enough playing time that his team won the division.

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

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

BP Comment Quick Links

Dr. Dave

"The Lidge pick seems out of place, but I'm swayed by Rob Neyer's notion that Lidge's perfect season in save opportunities means he was some number of wins—five, six?—better than even a good closer."

Actually, BP has a stat designed to answer exactly that question -- WXRL. Lidge's WXRL of 7.6 (!) as a closer means that the Phils won 7.6 more games that he (mostly) closed than they should have expected to win with a replacement-level closer. That's an upper bound on how much better than an average or good closer he was. 5 or 6 vs average, 3 or 4 versus a good closer -- that sounds about right.

You can pretty much compare that directly against WARP1 or VORP/10 as a baseline, then let the narrative nudge things around from there. I'd throw in a little extra value for wear and tear saved on the rest of the bullpen, stability of roles, etc.

I hope you guys are going to post the final leaderboards for WARP1... That's still the biggest hole in the stats available at the site.

Sep 30, 2008 12:01 PM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

I use WXRL sparingly, largely because I'm not entirely comfortable with stats that consider context. Throw the WPA family in there as well. I just don't know how much you can consider things outside the player's control when assessing the value of performance. It's a philosophical point as much as anything else.

Sep 30, 2008 12:32 PM
 
Dr. Dave

I understand what you're saying, Joe, but Neyer's comment is explicitly a context argument -- closing out games in save situations. WXRL just refines that a little bit, by factoring in how difficult the save opportunity was.

I have more sympathy with context-dependent value-added metrics for MVP voting purposes than for just about any other purpose. You don't have to believe that they're predictive or have any moral value -- they just tally up how much a player was able to do in the situations he was fortunate enough to be in. That's a defensible approach -- as is going purely context-neutral and refusing to give players credit (or blame) for how well their teammates set them up.

Sep 30, 2008 12:45 PM
rating: 1
 
Jelly

For this exact reason ("I just don't know how much you can consider things outside the player's control when assessing the value of performance."), I like Lincecum over Santana. That Johan was doing all he could and losing a pennant race while Lincecum was winning for a terrible team should have no bearing on who was the better pitcher this season, in my opinion, unless it's a dead-tie, as you note.

If it's a pitching award, I would look at the fact that Johan was 94 PRAR while Lincecum was 102 PRAR. Or you could expand that to look at Lincecum's 9.7 WARP1 to Johan's 8.6 WARP1. (Heck, Seabiscuit even outhit Johan, with a .136 EQA to .047.) In my mind, that means that Lincecum was the best pitcher in the NL.

But in the interest of full disclosure, Johan did face a slightly tougher group of batters, although it's nowhere near the difference that you might expect with Lincecum being in the NL West. Johan's opponents had a collective .737 OPS on the season, while Lincecum had a .730.

And one last thing to note is that Johan's defense converted 72.2% of his batted balls into outs, while Lincecum's squad only managed 68.8% on his behalf.

Sep 30, 2008 12:54 PM
rating: 0
 
EnderCN

Just curious but how does Sabathia look if you rate him by total innings and not just AL or NL innings or did you already do that?

Just eyeballing his full season stats it seems to me he would be the best overall pitcher in baseball this year..

Sep 30, 2008 12:07 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

His total VORP of 76.2 would be the best by any pitcher in baseball, and I believe his ERA would have been fourth or fifth. I imagine you could construct arguments for Lee, Santana or Lincecum over him, but they would fall short.

Sep 30, 2008 12:35 PM
 
kcboomer

Nice to see Aviles get some love. I'll be shocked if the BBWAA even knows he is a live.

Sep 30, 2008 12:21 PM
rating: 0
 
vegasman

No mention of Ellsbury? Not that he should win it but even in the list of signifcant rookies? He only had 116 AB last year. Not sure though if he still is a rookie based on the service time requirement.

Sep 30, 2008 12:52 PM
rating: 0
 
Evan
(47)

thank you, Joe, for not being in the "Pitchers have their own award" camp. Lee and Halladay were clearly the two most valuable players in the AL this season, and one of them should get trophy.

Of course, the reporters won't see it that way. It will be interesting to see how the IBA voters see it.

Sep 30, 2008 13:01 PM
rating: 0
 
JayhawkBill

Regarding the AL MVP vote, the top three of your top ten by WARP1 are Cliff Lee (10.4), Roy Halladay (9.8), and Dustin Pedroia (9.8). As far as I know, WARP1 doesn't take into consideration the actual strength of opposing players, just the strength of the league, and Cliff Lee had an unusually lucky year in drawing easy starts: of 39 AL pitchers with 162 or more IP, Lee had the 38th-easiest set of opposing batters. Discounting Lee both for that and for his not being on a contender, as was done for Johan Santana in this article, brings Halladay and Pedroia back into consideration. Dustin Pedroia was the only one of those three who DID play for a contender, and he's the only position player of the three...I'd favor Pedroia for MVP, not Cliff Lee. Frankly, I'd put Halladay and Lee behind both Pedroia and Mauer (9.6 WARP1).

Sep 30, 2008 13:07 PM
rating: 0
 
Schlom

If you are going to give Johan points for pitching well down the stretch, shouldn't you do the same for Ryan Howard? The Phillies finished up the season 13-3, Howard hit 358/446/811 in those games with 6 HR, 20 RBI and only 10 K's. The entire month of September he hit 352/422/852 with 11 HR and 32 RBI. I'm not saying that he deserves to win the MVP but he has to be in the top 10, doesn't he?

Even with Manny's great September Howard had an OPS 56 points higher, a slugging percentage nearly 100 points, more HR and more RBI's.

Sep 30, 2008 13:12 PM
rating: 0
 
Matt L.

I suspect that Joe's votes will actually match up with the BBWAA's votes in 5 or so of the categories (AL Cy, AL ROY, AL MOY, NL ROY and (possibly) NL MVP). I just don't think the voters will go for a pitcher as the MVP (if Pedro could not win in 1999, I don't see Lee doing it this year -- but perhaps George King doesn't have an MVP vote this year, so who knows). I think Lincecum will win the NL Cy. I think Piniella will win the NL MOY. I hope (but am not overly optimistic) that Pujols will win the NL MVP, notwithstanding Howard's HR and RBI numbers. I hope that John Heyman does not have an AL or NL MVP vote.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2008/writers/jon_heyman/09/30/scoop.awards/?cnn=yes

Sep 30, 2008 13:30 PM
rating: 0
 
havybeaks

Isn't Nick Blackburn a rookie? If Ziegler and Smith are among the ROY "honorable mentions" then it would only be fair to include Blackburn.

Sep 30, 2008 13:41 PM
rating: 0
 
Matt L.

Not that VORP should be the end-all and be-all for assessing value, but Blackburn was 11th in AL rookie pitchers in VORP (behind the aforementioned Chamberlain, Galarraga, Ziegler, and Smith, and Justin Masterson, James Johnson, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Jose Arredondo, Jesse Carlson, and Joey Devine).

Sep 30, 2008 13:59 PM
rating: 0
 
morpheusq

Why the hate for the Angels?

Sep 30, 2008 13:54 PM
rating: 0
 
Dr. Dave

Yes, certainly, the fact that the top WARP1 on the Angels this year was Torii Hunter at 7.9 means Joe hates the Angels. Good catch.

Sep 30, 2008 14:18 PM
rating: 0
 
Jelly

I think he was referring to to:

"I could just as easily have slotted Joe Nathan or Joakim Soria in the fifth slot, because as everyone knows, I hate the Angels."

Sep 30, 2008 14:23 PM
rating: 0
 
Dr. Dave

Sorry; I figured that if he didn't recognize Joe's comment as sarcasm, he might pick up on my more blatant version. Of course, OTINOCHYI (On the Internet No One Can Hear Your Irony). My bad.

Sep 30, 2008 15:29 PM
rating: 1
 
Nick J

Uh...

"I did not consider WARP in these rankings, using instead a mix of VORP, RARP, and Stats, Inc.'s plus-minus ratings for defense."

"You could flip Sizemore and Mauer without getting much argument from me. Sizemore was second in both RARP and WARP, and a +6 defensively by John Dewan's defensive scoring."

So which metric are you shying away from here, WARP or VORP?

Sep 30, 2008 15:00 PM
rating: 0
 
Adam Madison

Pretty sure it's WARP. It looks like Sheehan is well aware of the problems of relying on FRAA, and honestly, it's too flawed a statistic to put much of any weight on.

Sep 30, 2008 15:36 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

The reference to "WARP" there should be "VORP." Mea culpa.

And the reference to my hating the Angels was meant in jest. I don't hate. Well, onions. And the BBRAA. And the evil people who kidnapped Cobie Smulders and didn't feed her all summer. But not the Angels.

Sep 30, 2008 15:54 PM
 
bldxyz123

Is that why the VORPs of Santana and Lincecum are so close (73.4 vs 72.5) but Lincecum's WARP is nearly a win higher (9.9 vs. 8.9)?

Oct 01, 2008 12:59 PM
rating: 0
 
jsheridan41
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Four players from the biggest chokers in baseball, three of whom are repeating last years choke job - nobody from the best team in the league - and no mention of that fat first baseman from Philly who literally did pick up his team in Sept and carry them home - I watched the Chi and Milw series and they were clearly scared to death to pitch to him - and Ludwick over Braun? I think you are very alone.

Your list lacks rational support.

Sep 30, 2008 15:58 PM
rating: -7
 
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