Year-end Awards: Cy Young

Year-end Awards: Cy Young

Before I begin, I recommend reading my fake MVP picks here, and my explanation for why I did such a thing here.

My picks for managers, relievers, and rookie can be found here.


Like before, I will be naming the winner followed by my full ballot. Win/Loss record was completely ignored in filling out my ballot. This is 2014. Also, all my WAR values will be from Fangraphs. I prefer the FIP-based WAR in Fangraphs because it better evaluates what a pitcher can directly control1. Clicking on the ballot will bring you to a Fangraphs page where you can compare all their stats yourself.

NL Cy Young Award: Clayton Kershaw

  1. Clayton Kershaw
  2. Jordan Zimmermann
  3. Adam Wainwright
  4. Johnny Cueto
  5. Stephen Strasburg

Yeah, big freakin’ surprise. Clayton Kershaw is still the best pitcher on the face of the planet.

When he went down for the first month of the season due to injury, I thought that it would open up the Cy Young race. José Fernández started the season on fire, but then tragically went down with Tommy John surgery, breaking the hearts of baseball fans everywhere. Adam Wainwright was then the new frontrunner. There’s was no way Kershaw could pitch so well as to make up for a month’s worth of missed innings, right?

Well, that’s what I get for underestimating the great Clayton Kershaw! Despite pitching 29 less innings than Wainwright and 35 less innings than Cueto, Kershaw’s dominance was too overpowering to keep him from winning the award. Even though he missed the first month of the season, he still led all NL pitchers with a 7.2 WAR! That’s 2 full wins above the runner-up Jordan Zimmermann! He also turned in a 31.9 K%, 1.77 ERA2, and 1.81 FIP, all of which were the best in the league, as well as a 4.1 BB%, which was fourth best. He didn’t just barely lead the league in those categories either. He had a 4% better strikeout rate than the runner-up, Strasburg. His ERA was half a run better than Wainwright’s! His FIP was almost a full run better than Zimmermann’s!

The highlight of the baseball season for me personally was being fortunate enough to have watched Kershaw’s 15 K, no-hitter. Add in the fact that it was called by the legendary Vin Scully resulted in me enjoying a baseball game that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Personally, it was the greatest pitching performance I have ever seen on live television. I didn’t get to bed until 1:30 AM that night, and I was pretty sleepy at work the following morning. Totally worth it.

I consider myself truly blessed to be able to watch what very well may be an all-time great in his prime.  Baseball fans everywhere, I implore you to not take this for granted!

I was expecting Wainwright to come in second, but was surprised when I convinced myself that Zimmermann had the better year. He was second in the NL with 5.2 WAR. His ERA was a little worse than Wainwright’s, but that was due to some bad BABIP luck. Zimmermann did have a slightly better FIP. He also had a better K% than Wainwright and the best walk rate in the NL at 3.6%, a full 2% lower than Wainwright’s, which is more significant than it sounds. All of that is why I put Zimmermann above Wainwright, despite the 27 IP deficiency.

On the surface, it might seem strange to put Johnny Cueto in fourth place when he had a 2.25 ERA. However, that was the result of some great BABIP luck of .238. His FIP was more than a full run higher at 3.30, which was “only” the tenth best in the league. That was just too far behind Zimmermann and Wainwright for me to put him the top 3.

You may be surprised to see that Strasburg made the ballot. If you look past his win/loss record to stats that actually matter, you’ll see that he quietly had an excellent year. He was actually second in the league in strikeout rate with 27.9 %, and this was while maintaining a great 5.0 BB%. He also had a 2.94 FIP. All of that is better than Cueto except for his 3.14 ERA. There was some bad luck in that with a .315 BABIP, but a 0.9 run difference is too much to overlook. He did have a high 13.1% HR/FB, so I was initially led to put him over Cueto by citing his xFIP, but it turns out he’s always had a high HR/FB. If a pitcher has a career HR/FB that is higher than the league average, then xFIP is overrating him. It was really close, but that’s why I had Cueto over Strasburg. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t argue against anybody who thought it should be the other way around.

So what about Madison Bumgarner? It pained me to leave him off the ballot. His 2.98 ERA, 3.05 FIP, and 3.6 WAR led me to believe that he fell just short of the top five. There are some people, including the great Jonah Keri, who chose to give Bumgarner credit it for his tremendous hitting performance this season (well, for a pitcher anyway). Bumgarner hit .258/.286/.470 with a 115 wRC+! He hit four home runs, and two of them were grand slams! His hitting alone was worth 1.2 WAR! Obviously, since that was accomplished in only 78 PA, it’s a small sample size fluke. He had a career 5 wRC+ coming into this season, so I’m going to go out on a limb and say that his offensive performance this season is unsustainable. It was a lot of fun, though! Anyway, with all due respect to Keri, I don’t believe hitting should be factored into a pitching award. For the MVP award, however, I have no problem with considering a pitcher’s offensive performance.

Jake Arrieta also had an excellent season that would’ve gotten him on the ballot had he had enough innings to qualify.

AL Cy Young Award: Corey Kluber

  1. Corey Kluber
  2. Félix Hernández
  3. Chris Sale
  4. David Price
  5. Jon Lester

I’m not going to lie, I really wanted this to be King Félix. As late as mid-August, I thought he was a shoe-in to win it. That’s what I get for trying to predict baseball.

This race went down to the wire. I was not comfortable making my pick until both Kluber and Hernández had made their last starts. Perhaps I could have drawn a conclusion sooner, but I really wanted all the information to come in first.

Kluber finished a full 1.1 WAR above Hernández. That didn’t make much sense to me at first, as I didn’t think Kluber was that much better, but when you look at all the facts it starts to make sense. Kluber had Hernández beat in FIP and K%, and was only 0.4 % worse in walk rate. The big difference maker, however, is their batted ball luck and home parks. Kluber was slightly unlucky with a .316 BABIP against batters faced, while Hernández had a very lucky .258 BABIP. If we look at the park factors from their respective parks 3, we can see that Hernández pitches in a much friendlier stadium for pitching than Kluber. Being in the AL West, he also gets to pitch in the friendly confines of Angel Stadium and The Al Davis Memorial Dump the Coliseum. Aside from Kluber’s own ballpark, all the other stadiums in the AL Central are hitter friendly or neutral.

I wouldn’t be surprised if King Félix ended up winning the award. Star power fuels narratives. I believe that the facts back Kluber as the clear objective choice. Unfortunately, objective analysis is not the voters’ strong suit.

Had Chris Sale not missed time this season with a DL stint, he might’ve been the deserving Cy Young winner. However, even a Kershaw level of dominance can’t make up for the ~60 IP deficit between him and Kluber and Hernández. As it stands, he still led the league with a 30.4 K%. His ERA and FIP were basically identical to that of Hernández, and in a hitter-park no less, though his walk rate was slightly higher. Quite frankly, the argument can be made that Sale was the best pitcher in baseball this season. Unfortunately for him, he just didn’t have enough innings pitched.

I have to say that it was really hard putting Sale over David Price given the huge 74 IP difference between the two. The advantage in strike out rate combined with Sale’s ERA being 1.1 runs better, in a more difficult ball park for most of the year, is what led me to my decision. That is a big IP difference though, and anybody who thought that Price deserved a higher spot based on that would not get an argument from me.

Price over Jon Lester was a close call. Lester had a 2.46 ERA that was 0.8 runs better than Price. However, they had an identical FIP, and Price had a better strike out rate and an excellent 3.8 BB%, which was third among AL starters. He also pitched about 30 IP more than Lester. All of that led me to put Price above Lester, even though a 0.8 run difference is significant hurdle to overcome.

Max Scherzer barely missed. He had a similar FIP to Price and Lester, with a better strikeout rate to boot, but had relatively high 7.0 BB% compared to the other pitchers on my ballot. To be clear, it’s better to not walk batters than it is to strike them out, which is why I give BB% a little more weight.

It’s also worth noting that Phil Hughes had an outstanding season and has completely turned his career around. His 6.1 WAR was actually equivalent to Price and Lester. His ERA was too high and his strikeout rate was too low to make my ballot, but he had a historically low 1.9 BB%4. Hughes actually broke the all-time record for K/BB with 11.63! To give you an idea of how good that is, the league average for K/BB is 2.67! So far it looks like I was extremely wrong about that Hughes contract.

Agree? Disagree? I more than welcome a friendly discussion on the choices I’ve made. The non-winners on my ballots I think are especially ripe for discussion.


  1. If you disagree and believe that runs allowed should be factored into a pitcher’s WAR, then I recommend staying on Fangraphs and clicking on the “Value” tab to get the RA9-WAR values. That’s pitcher WAR that uses RA9 instead of FIP, like Fangraphs, or ERA, like Baseball Reference. RA9 stands for Runs Allowed per 9 IP and is basically ERA with unearned runs factored in. I believe if you’re going to factor in the runs a pitcher allowed, then you’re best off removing all subjectivity from the equation. I also don’t have a problem with anybody who prefers bWAR or RA9-WAR to fWAR. There are good arguments to use either one. 
  2. I used ERA for all of my evaluations so I’m going to stick with it for this post. However, this may be the last post where I use it. RA9 is a better a stat and it’s about time I started using it. 
  3. Single season park factors do suffer a bit from small sample sizes. If you look at the park factors for Progressive Field and Safeco Field over the past five years or so, you’ll see that this year’s park factors are roughly representative of larger sample sizes with respect to those two fields. 
  4. Yeah yeah, I know I just said that I give extra weight to walk rate. As low as that walk rate was, I don’t believe that it was enough to overcome a 3.52 ERA and 21.8 K%. 

Commenter Reveals Startling, Revolutionary Truth About Baseball!

For some context, I encourage you to read the comment section of my post on everything wrong with the MVP award here.

Comments like the ones in that post are not ones I normally pay any attention to. If the commenter is emotional and confrontational, like the one in that post I linked to, then the person is too personally invested in his or her views to be open to changing them. They’re not interested in facts, or logic, or reason. It’s a waste of time talking to such people, especially on the internet.

I’m more than ok with being disagreed with. I’m wrong a lot and I actually enjoy reading a good counterargument. That’s how you learn. However, if you’re not respectful, or you don’t appear to be interested in objectivity, then please don’t waste my time or yours.

I’m kind of surprised that nobody accused me of faking the argument in that comment section by either pretending to be the other person or by asking somebody else to help fake the argument. I assure you that the discussion is 100% real. When I first received the comment, I thought it was too perfect. Somebody offered up a chance to reinforce everything I wrote about in that post! That’s the only reason why I permitted the comments to be posted.

Like I mentioned in my responses, the arguments made were better than 80% of those made in favor of Miguel Cabrera. Unfortunately, they were still terrible. They were chock full of logical fallacies, an over reliance on outdated baseball stats and principles, and challenges that could’ve been answered simply by using Google. Not only that, but the commenter either didn’t read, didn’t understand, or completely ignored all my counterarguments. The commenter would also reply by just rehashing an old argument, as if she just said the same thing enough times I would just give in, or be too stupid to see what she was doing.

At first, I felt bad about using the commenter. Then I got a golden response yesterday. I deleted it for reasons I’ll make clear shortly. The commenter started by rehashing an argument about errors in her first comment that I had already agreed with. Then came the gold…

Sabermetrics is invalid because it’s not perfect! Because science is invalid if it’s not perfect! I, and every other scientist on the face of the planet need to quit our jobs right now because we have all failed miserably at our life’s work!

Then the golden jewel of the comment came:

THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS SMALL SAMPLE SIZE!!!

With the power of her own opinions, she invalidated an entire branch of mathematics! In all seriousness, when I read that sentence I didn’t know whether to be horribly offended or to burst out laughing.

Let me be clear, there’s nothing more arrogant than to think your opinions can counter scientific facts and principles. Only science can counter science. Anybody who thinks their subjective, biased, pre-drawn conclusions are any match for objective, fact based driven, peer-reviewed methodologies needs to check their ego.

There’s no such thing as small sample size. Just wrap your head around that. I’ve read lots of terrible, terrible arguments on all kinds of baseball topics, but I’ve never heard or read anybody denigrate something as fundamental as small sample size. That’s one I’ll remember for a long time.

Or maybe the commenter is on to something!

Maybe we should tell this to the FDA so that pharmaceutical companies only have to test their drugs on 1 person instead of hundreds! Sure lot’s of people will die, but those people will be wrong to die because there’s no such thing as small sample size!

Maybe all struggling experimental physicists should just publish all their statistically insignificant results! Apparently it’s all true because there’s no such thing as statistical analysis!

What about all psychology and sociology experiments? They can just experiment on one person, or a few people at most, and draw major conclusions that will alter decades of good science because there’s no such thing as small sample size!

Do you need to conduct a survey or poll? Well guess what? You don’t need to ask a lot of people because there’s no such thing as small sample size! Just ask one person! In fact, just ask yourself! You don’t need to do any work at all!

I can do this all day! Let’s apply this new-found knowledge of no small sample size to baseball!

If a player goes 2-4 with a home run on opening day, then there’s every reason to believe that the player will hit .500 for the season with 324 hits and 162 home runs! Didn’t you hear? There’s no such thing as small sample size!

If a pitcher throws a complete game shut out with 10 strikeouts on opening day, then why not assume he won’t have an 0.00 ERA with ~300 IP and ~330 K for the season? THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS SMALL SAMPLE SIZE!!!

So to summarize, sample size, the crux of a major branch of mathematics which is vital to the work in many scientific disciplines, is invalidated simply by somebody’s desire to prove that Miguel Cabrera’s numbers in critical situations is due to some magical, mystical ability he has to perform in such instances! Amazing! So the 125 plate appearances that Cabrera excelled in during high leverage circumstances completely invalidates the 1,224 other plate appearances during that time span that he apparently took off! To put it another way, Cabrera chose to excel in 9.2% of his PAs because he tanked the other 90.8% of his PAs! Because outs don’t count if it isn’t a high leverage situation! There’s your 2012 and 2013 MVP everybody! How did the commenter’s revolutionary finding not turn into a featured article on ESPN, MLB.com, Sports Illustrated and every other major sports publication? Science isn’t true if you just say so!

But wait! Given this revolutionary new way to evaluate baseball players, is Miguel Cabrera truly still the deserving 2012 and 2013 MVP? Unfortunately, he isn’t! Let’s see what Fangraphs has to say about performing in high leverage situations in:

2012 Miguel Cabrera     .365/.443/.712, 199 wRC+
2012 Josh Willingham  .393/.507/.768, 242 wRC+

Ouch! Apparently the voters still screwed up! Even though Willingham’s line of  .260/.366/.524 for a 142 wRC+ in 2012 is clearly inferior to Cabrera’s line for the season, Willingham was far superior to Cabrera in those critical situations that we now know is more important than everything else! Clearly Willingham should’ve been the 2012 MVP.

Let’s check out high leverage situations 2013 now:

2013 Miguel Cabrera     .283/.469/.543, 164 wRC+
2013 Carlos Santana      .372/.516/.651, 209 wRC+

Oh no! Not again! Another player was far superior to Cabrera in high leverage situations in 2013, even though he was far inferior to Cabrera the rest of the time. Ladies and gentleman, I give you the rightful 2013 AL MVP, Carlos Santana!

Ok ok, enough snark.  I deleted the comment because it was incredibly ignorant, not to mention disrespectful to countless mathematicians and scientists around the world that rely on statistical analysis to do their work. I didn’t want my intelligent readers to have their brains melt. The commenter will no longer be allowed to pollute my site.

The commenter mentioned my passion for Mike Trout. My argument, as well as the inspiration for this column and the one it references, has nothing to do with how I feel about Mike Trout. My passion is for the process. A major motivator in starting this blog is to defend the process. I want to take the fabricated history and analyses back from all the anachronistic media types and writers who choose to put themselves before the integrity of the game. I’m almost positive I’ll fail, but that won’t stop me from trying. So if you’re an intelligent, logical, rational person who loves baseball and understands how science and arguments work, then this is the place for you! Please join me in Taking Back Baseball.

Year-end Awards: Managers, Rookies, and Relievers

Year-end Awards: Managers, Rookies, and Relievers

Ok, now for the real awards column! I’ll be covering all the major awards with one exception, including the new Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera awards. These picks will also count towards the voting for the Baseball Bloggers Alliance’s own awards.

Manager of the Year: Abstain

I’m going to get the one exception out of the way first. I do not believe that the game of baseball lends itself to a Coach of the Year type of award. The only thing we can objectively assess about a manager is his lineup construction and in-game tactics. The problem exasperates itself when you consider the fact that even the best managers in this regard are barely passable, and most of them are terrible. Too much small ball, too many bad lineups, too much bad bullpen management, and too much obstinacy to learn from mistakes.

We also have no idea how good a manager is at player development and personnel management, which are major parts of the job.  A beat writer may be able to give us some insight into these things, but it’s like what I mentioned in my last post, which is that they only get to intimately know one clubhouse, so they have no basis for comparison.

There’s also the problem of how team performance factors into the award. You never see a manager on a bad team get considered. Why? Like the MVP, it’s an individual award. Last year, Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona won the award, and I do believe he’s an excellent manager, but would he have gotten any consideration if he was managing the Astros last year? Would the Astros even have done any better than last place in the AL? While the manager probably has some input into who the organization signs, trades, and drafts, ultimately it’s the GM’s decision to make. It’s entirely possible that if we could objectively prove who the best manager of the year was, he could turn out to be on a terrible team.

What about a good manager on a good team that just suffered a bad season as a result of being bitten by the bad luck monster? You could say this fits Joe Maddon and John Farrell this year, and Bruce Bochy and Davey Johnson last year. This season, Ned Yost will likely finish in the top 3 for the award, and despite the points I’ve already made, I can confidently say he’s one of the worst managers in all of baseball. His in-game tactics are so bad that I sincerely believe that it cost they Royals the division, seeing as how they only missed it by one game. Furthermore, his decisions in the wild card game last week were so atrocious, it was like he was trying to throw the game. If I didn’t know better, I would’ve thought he was a mole for the A’s. Yet, he’s still going to get more votes than far superior managers such as Terry Francona and John Farrell, who were just unlucky enough to not have made the playoffs.

I am comfortable determining who the bad managers are. Ned Yost, Don Mattingly, Fredi González, and Ron Washington, to name some examples, are such abysmal tactical managers that I just cannot believe that their player development and personnel management skills outweigh their in-game sins, especially since they never learn from them. Once you get past those kinds of managers, which sadly narrows it down quite a bit, it has just becomes too nebulous to distinguish one manager from another.

Before I move on to the reliever awards, I want to make it clear that I did not consider the number of saves when making my choices. Like I said on my stats page, it’s the worst stat in baseball. Also, you can click on the ballot if you want to see all the stats on the players at Fangraphs.

Mariano Rivera Award: Dellin Betances

  1. Dellin Betances
  2. Wade Davis
  3. Andrew Miller
  4. Jake McGee
  5. Sean Doolittle

I surprised myself by choosing Betances. He had a strikeout rate, walk rate, and FIP, that was comparable to the other pitchers on my ballot. What I found to be the difference maker that separated him from the pack was his whopping 90 innings pitched. That’s the most on that list by 18 innings! That’s huge! They weren’t kidding when they said that Joe Girardi might be overusing him.

Davis comes in 2nd for posting the lowest ERA and FIP in the group. He also didn’t allow a home run at all this season. Not one. That’s crazy. Miller comes in second due to his 42.6 K% and 1.51 FIP. McGee pitched more innings, but I felt that Miller’s 10% advantage in K% gave him the better season. I then had to pick between Doolittle and Holland for the final slot. Royals fans may be screaming at me for choosing Doolittle over Holland, given that Holland’s ERA is 1.3 runs lower. However, Doolittle’s FIP is slightly better, indicating that the relatively high ERA is the result of factors beyond his control. Doolittle and Holland have a similar FIP, K%, and IP, but what I believe gives Doolittle the edge is his minuscule walk rate. In fact, he only had 7 unintentional walks all season.

Believe me, Royals fans, when I say it greatly pained me to leave Holland off my theoretical ballot. Holland has had an outstanding past two seasons.

Trevor Hoffman Award: Aroldis Chapman

  1. Aroldis Chapman
  2. Kenley Jansen
  3. Craig Kimbrel
  4. Mark Melancon
  5. Pat Neshek

Aroldis Chapman put up some obscene numbers this season. He put up an insanely high 52.5 K% and a microscopic 0.89 FIP. Chapman may have had one of the greatest seasons a reliever ever had, and nobody is talking about it. My only knock against him is that his walk rate was a little high at 11.9%. He also missed some time due to a horrific injury he suffered during spring training, but I believe his dominance makes up for his innings deficit over Jansen or Kimbrel.

I didn’t expect to find that Jansen had a slightly better season than Kimbrel. Jansen’s ERA was more than a full run higher than Kimbrel’s, but it turns out that was because of a huge difference in luck between the two. Kimbrel enjoyed a flukishly low .235 BABIP, while Jansen had to deal with a flukishly high .350 BABIP. Pitchers can’t control what happens when a ball gets put into play. What they can control are strikeouts, walks, and home runs, which help to determine their respective FIP. I believe that Jansen’s better walk rate gives him the edge over Kimbrel. It’s close, though.

Melancon and Neshek were very close as well. They also had very similar numbers, but Melancon’s slight edge in FIP was the tiebreaker for me. Steve Cishek also got serious consideration. I left him off the ballot because his walk rate was inferior to Melancon’s and Neshek’s. Again, it was all very close.

AL Rookie of the Year: José Abreu

  1. José Abreu
  2. Yordano Ventura
  3. Matt Shoemaker
  4. Marcus Stroman
  5. Kevin Gausman

Abreu should win this one unanimously. He’s above and beyond a talented AL rookie class. Abreu simply surpassed even the most optimistic expectations for him this season. He hit .317/.383/.581 with a 165 wRC+ and 5.5 WAR1. He hit 36 HR and fell just 4 shy of Nelson Cruz for the league lead. It’s possible that if it wasn’t for his DL stint, he would’ve surpassed Cruz.

I didn’t select any relievers because of how unreliable it is to predict their future performance. Part of selecting the rookie of the year is not only performance, but who is likely to have the best future in the majors. Believe it or not, that is an accepted criterion by the BBWAA for the award. I really like that it’s a factor too, because I believe the award works best as a way to highlight a rookie to keep an eye on.

As you can see, the rest of the players on the ballot are starting pitchers. Ventura was the easy second pick since he pitched almost 50% more innings than the other players on my ballot. Shoemaker is next for having the best K% and BB% of the group while having a similar FIP to Stroman. Stroman himself was just better all around than Gausman.

It’ll be interesting to see how these players perform next season. They all have the potential to be stars.

NL Rookie of the Year: Jacob DeGrom

  1. Jacob DeGrom
  2. Billy Hamilton
  3. Kolten Wong
  4. Ender Enciarte
  5. Travis d’Arnaud

No, I’m not being a homer by selecting DeGrom2. It was between him and Hamilton for most of the season, and though Hamilton played more of the season, I believe that quality of DeGrom’s performance makes up for the difference. He had a 2.69 ERA, 2.67 FIP, 25.5 K% and 3 WAR in just 140 IP. Billy Hamilton only hit .250/.292/.355, which is good for only a 79 wRC+. His 2.5 WAR has him at only a league average player thanks to all the range in center field that his speed provides him. Speaking of his speed, he did steal 56 bases, but was caught a whopping 23 times. That’s a 71% success rate, which just doesn’t cut it. If Hamilton can continue to improve his hitting and stealing, I think he can be a 3 or 4 WAR player. DeGrom on the other hand probably has a 5 or 6 WAR ceiling. That combined with his great performance this season, while Hamilton was just ok, makes him the Rookie of the Year for me.

Wong and Enciarte were almost even offensively, but Wong plays a more valuable position and I believe he has a brighter future than Enciarte.

Maybe subconsciously I selected d’Arnaud to round at the ballot out of bias, but I wouldn’t have made the selection if I couldn’t defend it. Since being called back up from Triple A, he has hit .272/.319/.486 with a 128 wRC+. That’s excellent coming from a catcher, especially with the power. His receiving skills need to improve, but he has always been a great pitch framer.

Click here for Cy Young picks! MVP picks coming soon!

 


  1. It broke down to 6.5 oWAR and -2.1 dWAR. He’s a big guy, so I don’t doubt that he isn’t rangy, but was he really this bad defensively? I’m seriously asking because I haven’t taken a good look at him. 
  2. However, I did select DeGrom as the featured image for this post because I’m a homer. 
My Picks for 2014 NL and AL MVP Awards and the Problems With the Award (Part 2): The Truth

My Picks for 2014 NL and AL MVP Awards and the Problems With the Award (Part 2): The Truth

Please do not read any further without first reading part 1 here.

 

If you know anything about me or have read absolutely anything I’ve ever written, you know that the content of part 1 was intended to be completely facetious1. The whole purpose behind writing that drivel was to illustrate the folly behind citing narratives and soft factors in determining MVP award winners. My real picks will be made later this week.

We’re all familiar with the AL MVP controversy of the past couple of seasons that never should’ve been a controversy at all. It appeared that part of the problem was modern baseball analysis vs. outdated baseball analysis, but I believe that was just a byproduct of the real problem. Narratives were the real problem. Not legit stories, but fabricated narratives. The advanced stats, primarily Wins Above Replacement, were only attacked because they didn’t support the narratives, and not for any intellectual reasons. I guarantee you that nobody would’ve cared about WAR had it supported what people wanted to hear. People were so excited about what Miguel Cabrera was doing that their emotional attachments resulted in a fabrication of narratives to make up for his severe defensive and baserunning deficiencies. Once the facts came in on Mike Trout, all the Cabrera supporters went in full on attack mode in order to suppress the facts and pump up the narratives. Sadly for the historical accuracy of baseball, they succeeded.

Make no mistake about it, Mike Trout was as far in front of the pack for the MVP award the last couple of seasons as Clayton Kershaw is this season for the Cy Young. However, since the award is decided by voters whose best interests are to push narratives, facts be damned, they’re prone to delude themselves into believing the most narrative friendly player is the best one. The 2012 and 2013 seasons were not isolated incidents. There are an abundance of times during the history of baseball when the voters purposely ignored facts in order to vote for the candidate they wanted to vote for instead of the most deserving. Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Dennis Eckersley, Iván Rodríguez, and Andre Dawson are just some examples off the top of my head. One of these days I’m going to go over the MVP awards over the last 2 or 3 decades to see how often I can objectively prove that the voters got it wrong.

Let’s go over some popular narratives that tend to win less deserving candidates the award.

He played on a winning team!

So what? It’s an individual award. Players don’t pick their teammates. It doesn’t make any sense to credit a player for the teammates that his GM puts on the team. It’s disturbing how many BBWAA members, many of whom are my age or older, don’t understand how little an elite player actually contributes to his team. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a big contribution relative to the average player, but it doesn’t accomplish much by itself. Put Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera on the Houston Astros the last two seasons and they’re still the worst team in baseball. Heck, you could’ve put 2001 Barry Bonds on those Astros teams and they still would’ve been terrible. In other sports, however, it makes a difference. Put Lebron James or Kevin Durant on the 76ers this upcoming season and it might actually make them a competitive team. The Colts became the worst team in football when Peyton Manning got hurt, but got competitive again once they signed a new franchise quarterback in Andrew Luck. Peyton Manning then turned the Denver Broncos into one of the best teams in football. Elite baseball players just don’t make this kind of an impact. It’s just not the way the game works.

It was a big argument against Mike Trout last season was that he wasn’t on a winning team, yet all those voters put him second on their ballots. If being on a winning team is so important, then why was Trout even second? Why was he on the ballot at all? The BBWAA can’t even get its own fallacious reasoning straight.

He led the team to the playoffs!

How exactly does a baseball player “lead” his team to the playoffs? How does that work? This argument is usually used on likeable, exciting players who people want to give more credit to when they run out of facts. It’s nebulous, unprovable crap. When asked to elaborate on that statement they usually say something like…

He makes his teammates better!

Baseball is a succession of individual events. How on earth does a player make his teammates better? He’s all by himself when he’s up at bat. When he’s on the field, he only interacts with players when he throws the ball to them or receives it from them. This is another argument that fares far better in other sports than in baseball. That argument fails spectacularly in baseball.

Now I do know that it’s common for players to give each other tips. I also know that it’s common for veteran players to work with rookies and less experienced players. I don’t doubt that this is helpful, but there’s no way to put a value on such a thing that isn’t completely arbitrary. Anybody who tells you they know how to objectively assess such a thing, which is done far too often, is kidding themselves and lying to you.

Last season, Yadier Molina got two first place votes for the NL MVP award. He wasn’t my first choice, Andrew McCutchen was, but it was a perfectly defensible choice that I didn’t have a problem with at all. One could make the argument on the strength of his defense at the most valuable position on the field, and that WAR was undervaluing him. That’s a perfectly reasonable argument, in my opinion. However, that wasn’t the argument that was made. Those two votes came from St. Louis beat writers who cited Molina’s expert handling of the pitching staff, or something like that. We’ll go more in-depth on those journalists shortly. For now, this is the point I want to make: Even if this observation wasn’t completely subjective, they have nothing to compare it to. How do they know that Molina was so much better in that respect than Russell Martin? Or Buster Posey? If those writers were as close to the other 14 NL teams as they were with the Cardinals, then perhaps their evaluation of Molina’s handling of the pitching staff would carry some weight. Unfortunately for them, that’s not the case.

The bottom line is that citing that an MVP candidate “made his teammates better” is not only completely arbitrary, there’s also no baseline to compare it to. I can gauge how good a players OBP is if I know that the league average OBP this past season was .314. What’s the league average for “made his teammates better”?

He’s a leader!

In light of recent comments, I’ve decided to expand on this topic. I don’t doubt that leadership is helpful. These are human beings that play baseball after all, and not robots. The problem is that there is no way to objectively and accurately evaluate the effects of leadership. No logical, rational, critical thinker can take such a nebulous factor into account without hard evidence as to how that leadership precisely affected the team’s record. Anything short of that is just crap. Anybody citing leadership in an argument of one player over another is putting a completely arbitrary value on it. Once you start putting arbitrary values on soft factors, you can make an argument for anybody over anybody. That was a major point in the garbage I wrote in Part 1 of this column where I was making MVP arguments for two of the worst players in baseball this past season. Such a thing might fly in your favorite sports movie, but this is the real world.

There are lots of sabermetricians out there that say, “If you can’t quantify it, it’s not real.” Personally, I think that’s going a bit far. I would say that if you can’t quantify it or empirically analyze it, then you can’t assess it. Until defensive metric improve, which they will when Statcast comes out, we still have to rely at least partially on empiricism to evaluate defense. Then, of course, there’s scouting, of which I’m a very big believer. In empirical analysis, you must eventually be able to scientifically test the observations that were made. In scouting, that’s accomplished by just seeing how the scouted players develop and succeed.

There’s no scientific way to test leadership. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it. That doesn’t mean we can’t admire it. I love that David Wright is a leader on my Mets. As much as I would love to say that his leadership adds a bunch of wins to the team’s record, I just have no evidence to support such a claim. Even if a sociologist or psychologist devised a methodology to answer this age old question, it would raise another: Should we be considering off field actions in evaluating players? Just something to think about.

He played injured and inspired his teammates!

This topic has been added in light of recent comments. In terms of of how it inspires the teammates, the argument above applies. It’s just narrative nonsense unless you can prove precisely how that magical inspiration added wins to the team’s record. Although it’s admirable to play through an injury, it’s not always the right thing to do. If you’re not helping your team, then you need to sit and get better.

Let’s go back to Miguel Cabrera in 2013. Through August, Cabrera was hitting a Ruthian .358/.449/.681 for a 205 wRC+. At that point, I was leaning towards him for MVP. At the time it was just too much offense for Trout to overcome with his defense and baserunning. However, as we all know, Cabrera suffered a number of injuries that turned the prince into a pauper. In September, he hit .278/.395/.333 for a 105 wRC+. He was basically a league average hitter. Worse still, it also affected his already terrible defense and baserunning. Depending on which scout you asked, Cabrera was a 30 or 35 defender at third base and a 30 runner. After his injury, he probably bottomed out the scouting scale at a 20 each. He was without question, an overall negative for the Tigers in September 2013. People were so blinded by the powerful narratives of Cabrera’s heroism that they didn’t notice that he sucked.

Just so it looks like I’m not picking on Cabrera, I’ll criticize my personal favorite player, David Wright, in order to further my point. Wright has a nasty habit of playing through injuries no matter how ineffective it makes him. He did this all season long in 2014 until he was just too hurt to take the field. As a result of playing through his injuries, he only put up a 100 wRC+. He still provided value by playing excellent defense at 3rd base. However, one has to wonder if he was really that much better than, say, Eric Campbell during his injury. Would the Mets have been better off forcing Wright to recover from his injuries, play Campbell in his stead, and then have a powerful, 100% David Wright for the rest of the season? Even if Wright missed 4 to 6 weeks, would this have resulted in an overall positive for the Mets? We’ll never know, of course, but my point still stands. If a player is too injured to help the team, he needs to sit and get better.

The team wouldn’t have made the playoffs without him!

This is kind of a subset of the first two statements. It was popular during the AL MVP debates of one and two seasons ago. The Tigers only won the division by one game each year. When that’s the case, you can make that statement about any player on the team that’s league average or better. For this argument to be even remotely true, the player in question would need to have a high WAR that’s also comparable to how many games his team won the division by. Even then, the team would have to be unable to replace him with a better than replacement level player. If anybody knows of a season when this happened, I would sincerely be very interested in knowing about it.

He had a great September!

That’s the most popular time point, but any arbitrary endpoints can and have been used. That, of course, is the logical fallacy of cherry picking. If you can pick the right endpoints, you can make any player look good or bad, especially with in a game as crazy random as baseball. Whether a player is consistent or streaky is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is what the facts say at the end of the season.

Of course, September gets so much credit because of all the narrative value it gets from the playoff races. Listen, September counts just as much as April. All games count the same. You could make the case that had the player with the hot September was just as effective in April, his team wouldn’t have needed his hot September. The players says September is different, and I’m sure they believe that, but it’s like what I’ve said before: It’s subjective, anecdotal evidence that anybody with so much as a semester of psychology can explain away. Player testimony doesn’t prove anything about anything.

In 2004, Vladimir Guerrero won the MVP on the heels of a hot September. He wasn’t even a top 5 player in the AL that year. It was also a popular narrative in 2012, though I’m sure Cabrera would’ve won anyway. As mentioned above, the funny thing is that Cabrera was almost completely ineffective in September last season due to injury. It was then that the narrative changed to what a hero Cabrera was for playing through an injury. The BBWAA is so good at moving the goalposts.

He wasn’t as good as that other guy, but he had more “value”.

The term “value” allows for so much subjectivity that it’s ridiculous. It’s frequently used as a cop-out by voters in order to choose the player they want to vote for instead of the player they should vote for.

I have mixed feelings about value. I believe that the proper definition of value is providing the most production for the least amount of money. Obviously, awarding a prize based on that criteria is unfair to the players who chose to make the big bucks, which they clearly should not be penalized for doing. To be fair, I have read other definitions of value that aren’t unreasonable, which makes sense when dealing with such a subjective term. This takes us too…

It’s not the player of the year award.

I know. It’s the narrative award. That’s what the BBWAA has reduced this award to, because if you don’t treat the MVP objectively like it’s the player of the year, then that’s all it is. Like I mentioned above, the subjectivity of the idea of “value” allows you to make an argument for anybody. What good is such an award? Just stick to the facts and you’ll never go wrong.

My fake picks in part 1 were made to illustrate how narratives and “value” can be thrown around to make ridiculous arguments for anyone to win the MVP. Perhaps you think I went over the top with my ridiculous MVP arguments. I would agree, but I would also add that any bad MVP argument is over the top.

But he hit a lot of RBIs!

Stop it. Just stop it. That outdated reasoning is what led Ryan Howard to win the MVP in 2006 even though he wasn’t even a top 10 player that year. It also led him to come in 2nd place in 2008 when he was barely a league average player. This season, Mike Trout is getting a lot of the MVP love that he should’ve gotten the last two seasons because he led the league in RBIs. And it’s from the 2-hole, too, they say!

Mike Trout got all those RBIs this season from being lucky enough to get hits with runners on base. It’s really nothing more than that. Even if the RBI had utility in evaluating players, which it doesn’t, it goes back to the argument of crediting or debiting a player’s performance based on what his teammates do. That doesn’t make any sense when evaluating the merits of an individual award.

Again, it’s not about old school vs. new school so much as it is about the BBWAA pushing its silly narratives. You know why people put so much stock in the triple crown stats? Because they have so much narrative value. What’s more exciting than seeing a player get a hit, or get a home run, or drive in a run? It’s really just one giant appeal to emotion. You know why some people don’t like sabermetrics? Because it does a good job at debunking false narratives.

Look, I love baseball. I probably get more riled up and emotionally invested watching a game than most people. Just ask my wife. However, those emotions can affect objective analysis. The most exciting stats aren’t necessarily the most useful in evaluating players. Unless a batting average is very high or very low, it’s not useful without being put in the context of on-base percentage or slugging percentage.  Home runs aren’t the only kind of extra base hit. The RBI is a context dependent stat that measures a fake skill, which is hitting with RISP.

Going back to the St. Louis beat writers who voted for Molina last season, it looks really bad when they’re the only ones to give first place votes to a player that they cover. It’s another problem with the voting. Too many voters only cover their local team, which leads to favoritism as a result of bias or playing nice with the players they need quotes from. Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic was excoriated over voting for Andrew McCutchen instead of the local Paul Goldschmidt. The New York Times does the right thing by forbidding their writers from voting on any awards, and they’re not the only ones. Only writers who don’t solely cover the local teams should be allowed to vote on awards.

History should be dictated by the facts, not by the BBWAA’s subjective, fallible perceptions. Unfortunately, too often in baseball, the MVP award has done the latter. Whenever somebody says that a player won the MVP in a certain year or won a certain number of MVPs, I never trust that the player truly deserved it. I always go back to double-check, and too often I find that I can objectively prove that the voters made a mistake.

It all comes down to this: If you’re not going to give the MVP to the best overall player, then what’s the point of the award? If you’re not going to award the MVP based on objective, consistent criteria that is completely within the player’s control, then it’s a worthless award. That’s the sad truth of it all. It’s gotten to the point where I get pleasantly surprised when the voters make the right choice when there’s a single, objective right choice to be made. As much as I hate to say it, the BBWAA has spent most of its existence invalidating the MVP award.

Update (10/18/2014)

I decided to update this post by expanding on the issues of leadership and commenting on the topic of playing through injuries. The terrible arguments raised by a commenter below persuaded me that it was necessary to do so.

 


  1. I would’ve loved to have seen how the boys at Céspedes Family BBQ would’ve tackled part 1. If I knew them I would’ve asked them to write it instead. I’m sure it would’ve been hilarious! 
My Picks for 2014 NL and AL MVP Awards and the Problems With the Award (Part 1): The Picks

My Picks for 2014 NL and AL MVP Awards and the Problems With the Award (Part 1): The Picks

It’s awards season! I tend to wait until the season ends to make my award picks, since anything can change during the season. I will be making and defending my picks in part 1 and then I’ll be discussing the problems with the MVP award in general in part 2.

AL MVP: Matt Dominguez

Ok, ok, so hear me out. I can make the case that Matt Dominguez provided more value to the Houston Astros than any other player in the American League. Yes, I know he only hit .215/.256/.330, which was good for only a 63 wRC+ and -1.6 WAR. In terms of his performance on the field, some might say that he was the worst player in the league. However, his value goes so far beyond what he did on the field.

Dominguez’s lousy play was key to the Astros getting two top 5 picks in the draft next year. Yes, both of them. Obviously, how terrible was a major factor in the Astros getting the 5th overall pick in next year’s draft. What everybody doesn’t know is that he was key in saving the Astros from signing Brady Aiken, thus securing them the second overall pick in next year’s draft. Dominguez was the one who advised the Astros on how to handle the situation. He told them that Aiken’s undersized UCL would lead to repeated major injuries during his career, so the team would be better off trying their luck with the second pick next year. Dominguez single-handedly saved the team from making a disastrous decision with their first overall pick this season.

Dominguez was also key to José Altuve’s breakout season. He worked with Altuve to be a more selective hitter. As a result, Altuve achieved the best strikeout and walk rates of his career. His continued work with Altuve led to him becoming one of the best players in the AL this season. Clearly he has set up the Astros to have one of the best 2nd basemen in baseball for years to come.

The Astros also have Dominguez to thank for their extremely team friendly extension of Jon Singleton. Singleton wanted to hold out for more money, but Dominguez advised him of his situation and convinced him that it was in his best interests to sign the deal. So when he’s delivering 4 WAR seasons in the years to come for only pennies, the Astros have Dominguez to thank for that.

What will really surprise everyone is that despite being a position player, Dominguez is an expert on developing pitchers. It’s his work with Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh that converted them from replacement level to 3-4 WAR pitchers.

Finally, Derek Jeter has got nothing on the leadership of Matt Dominguez. On top of what I already discussed, he was instrumental in counseling the players in the locker room with their personal problems, which led to them being able to perform at their best. Rumor has it that he would even sing a little song to players who were feeling especially down.

I know Mike Trout had 8 WAR, but really most of the Astros WAR is a result of Dominguez’s work. He deserves at least 20 of the team’s WAR, and I challenge anybody to prove otherwise. All that, plus his behind the scenes work, and all for the league minimum salary? How does Dominguez not win this award unanimously?

NL MVP: B.J. Upton

After the outstanding, ironclad case I made for Matt Dominguez, which any BBWAA member would be proud of, I’m sure you’re excited to hear my equally convincing case on the merits of Upton for the MVP.

Like with Dominguez, Upton was one of the worst players in his respective league. He hit .208/.287/.333 for a 74 wRC+ and -0.3 WAR. But also like Dominguez, his value came from what he achieved off the field

For starters, B.J.’s brother Justin will tell you that he would not be able to perform without his brother on the team. That’s what his problem was in Arizona. B.J.’s very presence gave Justin a calming influence that was 100% the reason for Justin’s 3.3 WAR this season. Quite frankly, that’s underselling it. There’s no doubt in my mind that without B.J., Justin would’ve been a complete disaster, maybe even a -3 WAR player. So let’s just round off the difference and give B.J. credit for 7 WAR. Now he’s just 1 WAR off of Clayton Kershaw! We can easily come up with enough narratives to make up that difference!

B.J. Upton was the one who convinced then GM Frank Wren to sign Ervin Santana. You see, Upton had a gut feeling that the Braves were going to lose Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen for the season, so he told Wren to sign Santana. He only ended up being one of the Braves best pitchers this season. While he was at it, he also convinced Wren to give extensions to Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, and Craig Kimbrel. Upton was responsible for extending one of the best 1st basemen in the league, the best defensive shortstop since Ozzie Smith, and the best relief pitcher in baseball. I mean, c’mon, how much value is that worth?

Let’s also throw in a bunch of leadership stuff in there too while we’re at it. Ask anybody on the team, he makes everyone better. In fact, the team holds his leadership in higher regard than Fredi González or any of the coaches. The room goes quite whenever Upton walks in, just out of respect. He worked with Evan Gattis so he could improve his receiving skills and stay behind the plate. Upton also let Jason Heyward make a lot of the plays in right center field that Upton could’ve made himself, just to boost Heyward’s confidence and improve his performance at the plate. Not only did it work, but it really elevated Heyward’s defensive WAR. I think that Upton’s grit and intangibles are so strong, that it’s more than fair to just attribute all of the Braves 30.8 WAR to him.

Sure, the Braves missed the playoffs, but if it wasn’t for all that B.J. Upton did behind the scenes, the Braves would’ve been worse than the Diamondbacks this season. I dare you to prove otherwise. Easy MVP choice.

Confused? You should be. Click here for Part 2!

Atlanta Braves Fire General Manager Frank Wren

Atlanta Braves Fire General Manager Frank Wren

Recently, the Atlanta Braves fired their GM, Frank Wren. The move came after being swept in New York by the Mets1. It was a particularly embarrassing sweep, too, because the Braves scored only 4 runs in 3 games2. This officially eliminated the Braves from playoff contention, which prompted the team to make the move.

The Braves are going to finish the season below .500 for the first time since 2008. Considering they were supposed to contend for the division, this obviously was a very disappointing result. The team did lose Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to Tommy John surgery before the season began, and Gavin Floyd after only 9 starts, but that only explains a small part of their underwhelming performance.

Under Wren’s tenure, the Braves have been a good, competitive team. They averaged 91 wins a season from 2009-2013, a run that also included three playoff appearances. Unfortunately, they also never won a playoff series and endured epic collapses in 2011 and this season. Wren was no Kevin Towers or Ruben Amaro Jr., but in a time when GMs are getting smarter and smarter, he failed to keep up.

Let’s start off with Wren’s successes. During his time as GM, he was responsible for drafting Andrelton Simmons, Evan Gattis, Craig Kimbrel, and Christian Bethancourt3. The trade for Justin Upton was lauded at the time, and rightfully so. He only gave up a declining Martín Prado in return for a solid offensive contributor. Upton was good for a 128 wRC+ last season and a 131 wRC+ this season. Wren also locked up Simmons to a team-friendly deal that I loved. I’m not as big a fan of the Freddie Freeman deal, but it’s not bad, and at least it’s backloaded.

Wren, unfortunately, failed more often than he succeeded. To be clear, I’m not talking about factors beyond his control such as injuries or anything involving bad luck. I’m talking about moves that he should’ve known better than to have made. The Braves GM made some terrible signings and extensions the past few years, which is only exasperated by the fact that the Braves don’t have much money to spend due to having a bad TV contract. Obviously, low-budget teams have to be especially careful with their big free agent signings, or risk spending years with an onerous contract clogging the payroll.

Let’s start with Dan Uggla. He was signed to a 5-year, $62 million deal going into the 2011 season. On one hand, he had just come off a great season for the Marlins, having hit .287/.369/.508 with 33 HR and 4.3 WAR. On the other hand, he was a 31-year old second baseman being given 5 years. Being a big guy, he was already a below average defender at the position. That, combined with how poorly second basemen age, made this contract a very risky proposition, regardless of how well he had performed the year before. For whatever reason, everybody seemed to understand this except Wren. Sure enough, it turned out to be just as bad, if not worse, than predicted. In his first 3 seasons in Atlanta, he was only league average offensively with a 102 wRC+, and a disaster defensively. During that time span he totaled -1.9 defensive WAR (dWAR). Then this season he just completely fell apart. Uggla hit an unspeakably bad .149/.229/.213 for a 28 wRC+. A 28 wRC+! He was only 28% of a league average hitter! That looks like a pitcher’s offensive numbers! The Braves decided to make the difficult but correct decision to cut him, even though he still has 1 more year on his contract. It’s like what I said about Ryan Howard: You can either pay him to hurt your team or you can pay him to not hurt your team.

Then there’s the now infamous B.J. Upton, recipient of the biggest contract the Braves ever gave to a free agent. Analysts seemed to be cautiously optimistic about the deal, at least in general. I, however, seriously disliked the deal, though I never expected Upton to be this bad. He had 2 very good seasons in 2007 and 2008, hitting .286/.384/.452 with a 125 wRC+ over that span. The following 4 seasons would find Upton having difficulty getting on base. During his last 4 seasons on the Rays, he hit .242/.316/.420, making him a slightly below average hitter at a 96 wRC+. Worse yet, Wren signed him to that big deal after a .298 OBP season.

Living in Boston, I got to watch Upton a lot facing the division rival Red Sox. He didn’t exactly give 100% all the time, which is probably what led to his inconsistency and struggles. You might remember the time that Upton dogged it on a ball hit to him, which led to him having to be held back while Evan Longoria gave him a piece of his mind. This leads to the fact that Upton clearly took plays off in the outfield. People were crediting him for being a good defender when he signed that big deal, but I never saw it. To me, he always appeared to be a lazy outfielder who didn’t know how to effectively use his speed. The defensive metrics bear this out, too. He never had a DRS above zero, and had a whopping -19 DRS in 2010! UZR was friendlier to him, but overall it did not paint him as a good defensive center fielder.

B.J. Upton had shown in his career what his upside could be, but in the years leading up to free agency, his performance was too erratic to believe we’d ever see a 4 WAR Upton again. I would love to know what Wren and his scouts were seeing that made them think that giving Upton a 5-year, $75 million deal was a good idea. It’s funny that Rays fans were happy to see him go, as they seemed to be in agreement with my evaluation of him.

I doubt that Upton’s biggest detractors predicted he’d be this bad. He has been one of the worst position players in baseball during his time in Atlanta, hitting .197/.278/.311 during that span for a -2.3 WAR. A low-budget team paying $15 million a year for a sub-replacement level player is a complete and utter disaster. No doubt that this was a significant factor in Wren’s dismissal.

Wren also handed out some questionable extensions. During the offseason, he gave Craig Kimbrel a 4-year, $42 million extension that will keep him on the team through 2017, with a team option for 2018. I’ve gone over time, and time again as to why giving a relief pitcher a long-term deal is a bad idea. With failures of the Uggla and Upton deals, it is absolutely critical that Kimbrel doesn’t fail, too. Well, so far, so good. Kimbrel has turned in a season that is roughly identical to last year’s. According to Brooks Baseball, his fastball hasn’t lost any velocity, nor has his curveball lost any movement. Given all this information, I’m optimistic that Kimbrel can turn in another dominant performance next season. But what about the two seasons after?

Even if the Kimbrel deal works out, I would call it a case of bad process, good results. Kimbrel could’ve helped the Braves so much more by getting traded. The assets he would’ve brought back combined with the money it would’ve freed up could’ve been so much more helpful to the Braves. As I’ve said in the past, there’s always some GM that is either foolish enough or desperate enough to overpay for a proven closer. Just look at how poorly the Braves hit this season. As a team, the Braves hit just .241/.305/.361. Their .297 wOBA was the fourth worst in all of baseball. The Braves didn’t need an elite closer, they needed an offense. The fact that Wren chose a closer over one or two position players, and gave that closer to one of the worst bullpen managers in baseball (more on him shortly), only makes matters worse.

Early this season, Wren also gave Chris Johnson a 3-year, $23.5 million extension. It’s not for much money, but I don’t see the point, and Wren can’t be signing players to high risk deals after the Uggla and Upton disasters. Johnson himself has always been an anomaly. Going into this season, Johnson had a career .361 BABIP, including a .394 BABIP last season. Those BABIP numbers are extremely high. They’re even higher than Miguel Cabrera’s. Johnson does hit a lot of line drives, but that doesn’t explain the crazy numbers we’re seeing here. To be fair, one could argue that Johnson could sustain that kind of batted ball luck given how long he had already done so. However, I don’t believe it was reasonable to believe that. That BABIP was just way, way too high, and furthermore, it didn’t pass the eye test. Johnson is also a terrible defensive 3rd baseman. He has a career -60 DRS and -45.9 UZR. Why Wren signed such a poor fielding 3rd baseman whose batted ball luck was the equivalent of winning the lottery multiple times, is perplexing.

Sure enough, the regression monster struck Johnson. He still had a high .345 BABIP, but he only hit .263/.293/.362 with a pitiful 82 wRC+. He was a below replacement level player at -1.3 WAR. That’s actually the lowest WAR on the Braves team this season, which is saying a lot considering they have B.J. Upton. Just 2 more years to go on a player that’ll be lucky to be replacement level.

According to Keith Law in a recent online chat, Wren was difficult to work with and did a poor job with the hires he made in key roles in the organization. I don’t know the specifics, but could that explain the team’s disappointing farm system? What about the lack of ability to develop good hitters? Sure, Freeman worked out, and so has Gattis to a certain degree, but other homegrown talents haven’t. Simmons should’ve taken a step forward this season given his age and contact rates, but he’s actually taken a step backwards. Jason Heyward has been especially disappointing. His monster defense is holding him up right now, but his power is far below expectations. A SLG of below .400 is unacceptable coming from him. The team’s offense as a whole declined precipitously since Wren removed Terry Pendleton from his role as the hitting coach in 2010, though they did bounce for one year in 2013.

Braves manager Fredi González was Wren’s worst hire of all. He was an atrocious manager. His lineups were awful, his in-game tactics were awful, and his bullpen management was awful. Batting players like B.J. Upton and Andrelton Simmons second in the lineup is indefensible. The excessive bunting alone is a fireable offense. When will managers learn that giving away outs doesn’t win you games? Any other profession would not tolerate such willful ignorance of the advancements in its field. No doubt that this is a factor in the Braves declining offense. You can’t score runs when you’re giving away outs, and you can’t develop hitters when you’re telling them not to hit. Finally, I’ll mention for the umpteenth time how Fredi doesn’t know how to use his elite closer. He continues to let Kimbrel rot in the bullpen during high leverage situations late in the game if it isn’t a save situation. Remember, he did this in the playoff game last season that resulted in the Braves getting eliminated. The team was in trouble in the 8th inning and Fredi never brought in Kimbrel, instead choosing to hold him for a save situation. Well, the save situation never came because that decision cost them the game. Kimbrel never ended up coming in, and boy was he ticked off about it.

To top everything off, Fredi never had a logical explanation for any of his asinine decisions. It was always some BS or defensive explanation, not unlike the kinds you hear from Ned Yost or Ron Washington. If you don’t have a logical explanation for doing what you’re doing, then don’t do it.

This is the man who Wren hired to manage his team. He never chose to fire him. He never even chose to hold him accountable for any of his decisions. When a manager keeps screwing up like Fredi has, eventually it falls on the GM for continually letting him hurt the team.

Frank Wren was able to field a competitive team for most of his tenure while making a few good moves here and there. That just wasn’t enough to overcome all the bad decisions that have put the Braves in a difficult position for the next few years at least.


  1. Yes!!! 
  2. Yes again!!! 
  3. I know he’s not hitting right now, but he has the potential to be an elite defensive catcher. He already has an 80 arm. 

Baseball Reactions (9-19-2014)

On Sunday, Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon was ejected for making an obscene gesture towards the hometown fans. The ejection was made by arguably the game’s most famous umpire (which is a terrible thing to be), Joe West, who for once made the correct decision because it was the right thing to do, and not to grab headlines.

Papelbon came up in the 9th inning for the 3-run save, which is a complete waste of his talents. To make it worse, it was against the bottom of the Marlins lineup. Any major league quality reliever is capable of holding on to a 3-run lead, especially against the bottom of the lineup. Pitchers have bad days, sure, but that’s a situation that any reliever should succeed at consistently. Putting in your $13 million closer in such a low leverage situation is poor bullpen management. I’m sure you can guess why manager Ryne Sandberg chose to put him in the game. He was managing to a stat. He felt that he had to give Papelbon a shiny new Save!

Before I get further into what happened, it should be noted that Papelbon is secretly having an excellent season. He has a 2.10 ERA and 2.57 FIP. Amazingly, that’s almost exactly what some of the projections systems predicted for him going into this season. His strikeout rate is a little below his career norm, but at least his walk rate has been consistent. He has had a fair amount of luck factor into that performance, however. His .244 BABIP against batters faced is unsustainable and won’t continue into next year. He’s also enjoying a flukishly low HR/FB rate of 2.8%. That’s 4.1% lower than his career rate. If we look at his xFIP, which normalizes FIP to a league average HR/FB rate, it comes out to 3.53. That’s one run higher than his FIP. To be clear, he has been good this season, just not nearly as good as his peripherals would suggest.

Unfortunately for Papelbon, Sunday was just not his day. He gave up 4 runs to give the Marlins the lead and who would go on to win the game. Phillies fans were understandably irate at their high-priced closer turning in such a poor performance, so they let him hear it. On his way back to the dugout, Papelbon responded by making an obscene gesture. As somebody who watched Papelbon for years here in Boston, I have a good understanding of his fiery personality, and what he did didn’t surprise me in the least. That fiery personality drove him to get right in West’s face over the ejection. West understandably got very agitated too, so he grabbed Papelbon’s jersey in attempt to push him away.

Joe West rightfully ejected Papelbon. People bring their kids to baseball games and it should be a family friendly environment. MLB was also right to suspend Papelbon for seven games because of the gesture and for accidentally bumping West. West himself was suspended one game for putting his hand on a player.

I strongly disagree with West’s punishment. It just isn’t consistent at all with what players get for making contact with an ump. Players get multi-game suspensions just for accidental contact with an umpire. West purposely made contact with Papelbon and got just one game. Now to be clear, I completely support the rule. Umpires and players should not be allowed to touch each other during an argument. It’s necessary in order to protect both sides. What I don’t support, is West getting lenient punishment when compared to the precedent MLB has set, and it has nothing to do with the fact that West is a terrible, showboating ump.

My objection comes from the belief that even the worst players in baseball are 1000 times more important than the best umps. The players are who the fans come to see. The only time we’re paying attention to an ump is when he sucks at his job. Giving preferential treatment to an ump is baffling.

Umpires seem to have a strong union, but no doubt that some of that is the result of the gutless Bud Selig. Hopefully things will change once Rob Manfred takes over, but I won’t hold my breath. If I were the commissioner, I would’ve told West, “You’re suspended 10 games for touching a player. Do it again and I’ll make it half a season. Don’t ever forget how replaceable you are. It’s a million times harder to find a guy good enough at baseball to play in a major league game than it is to find a guy who can officiate one.”


The crash and burn of the Oakland A’s has been well publicized. Going into August, the team was 66-41 with the best run differential in baseball by a wide margin. Having gotten sick and tired of early playoff exits, GM Billy Beane made the right decision to go all in by acquiring Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija. Things were looking good for the A’s to lock up home field advantage throughout the playoffs and maybe even finally win Beane that elusive World Series championship. Since the Lester trade, the A’s have gone a woeful 17-28. They’ve already lost the division to the Angels, and are right now fighting for their playoff lives. Fangraphs currently have the A’s projected at having an 89.5% chance at getting a Wild Card slot, but they’re only 1 game in front of the Mariners for the second slot.

Jonah Keri wrote a comprehensive break down of the A’s collapse here, so if you want all the details, and enjoy an excellent writer in the process, then I encourage you to read it. Basically what happened is the offense died. Leading up to the trade deadline, the A’s as a team had been hitting .253/.329/.405. Since then, the A’s have hit a paltry .223/.294/.336. Those big trades that Beane made which were supposed to assure a deep playoff run may end up being what gets the A’s into the playoffs at all.

The popular belief as to what happened to the A’s offense is that they made a mistake trading Yoenis Céspedes.  This season during his time in Oakland, Céspedes hit .256/.303/.464, good for a 115 wRC+. In his first month in Boston, Céspedes hit .276/.297/.457, which is remarkably similar to his career numbers. That’s only a 106 wRC+. (The reason why his wRC+ in Boston is a little worse than it was in Oakland, despite having similar numbers, is that wRC+ adjusts for ballpark effects. Fenway Park is a very hitter friendly ballpark while the Al Davis Memorial Dump Coliseum is the complete opposite.) So why did so many journalists and analysts draw this conclusion? Because of teh RBIz. He drove 22 runs in August, as if that means anything.

Blaming Oakland’s offensive woes on Céspedes is narrative crap. It’s lazy, ignorant analysis. Céspedes is a good player who has been worth 4.1 WAR this season. He hits for a ton of power but has one major weakness: Getting on base. He has an OBP of only .300 this season. Losing that kind of player just isn’t going to make that big of a difference, especially when he’s replaced by a platoon of Sam Fuld and Jonny Gomes. If the A’s had traded away Barry Bonds in his prime it still wouldn’t have this kind of impact. I know people don’t like to hear this, but even an elite baseball player doesn’t make that big of a difference. An elite basketball player or an elite skill position football player can transform a terrible team, but it just doesn’t work that way in baseball.


Speaking of narrative crap, a lot of being made of the A’s collapse, as well as that of the Brewers. You want to know a little secret? It’s all meaningless. The only thing that matters is the record after the season ends. You could say that a team’s record is like a state function. It doesn’t matter how you get there once you’re there. If a team finishes at .500, it doesn’t matter if they alternated wins and losses all season long. It doesn’t matter if they win every game in April, lose every game in May, win every game in June, and so on. It doesn’t matter if they went undefeated in the first half and winless in the second half, or vice versa. The only thing these kind of streaks and good or bad runs affect is the narrative.

A team has a weak first half and a strong second half and it’s said that they’re now rising to the occasion and playing their best baseball when it matters most. They’re said to have a lot of momentum, even though there’s no such thing1 . A good first half and a bad second half, like what’s happening with the A’s and Brewers, means they’re choking under the pressure which results in rushes to judgment on who or what to blame. It’s fallacious post-hoc analysis, which is where a lot of narrative nonsense comes from.

Part of the reason that the media pushes these second half narratives is so that they can push another narrative: Using second half performances to predict playoff success. They say a “hot” team is predicted to do well in the playoffs because they have all the momentum. Conversely, a struggling team, again like the A’s and Brewers, is predicted to do poorly in the playoffs since they’re tired and weak and drained and demotivated from scraping by. When you hear or read stuff like this, please know that people are just making stuff up. It has been proven time and time again that second half performance has zero predictive value in forecasting playoff performance. This has been most recently shown by David Cameron on a piece he wrote for Fox on Just a Bit Outside that is well worth your time if you don’t believe me.


José Abreu is having a special year for the Chicago White Sox. He’s hitting .319/.382/.594 with 35 HR, a 167 wRC+, and 6.3 Offensive WAR (oWAR)2.  The Chicago White Sox look like geniuses for having signed him.

The reason why I’m bring up Abreu is that his performance is a tale of two halves. In the first half of the season, he hit .292/.342/.630 for a .410 wOBA. In the second half, he hit a whopping .361/.442/.535 for a .424 wOBA. He demonstrated some monster power but it came at the expense of his OBP. A .342 OBP is fine, but nothing special. Going into the second half, it’s almost as if somebody explained to him why it’s more important to get on base than it is to hit for power. Considering how well that organization has been run in recent years, that wouldn’t surprise me one bit.

It would seem that Abreu has decided to become a more selective hitter, and boy has it paid off. His focus on getting on base has greatly affected his power, going from a Ruthian .339 ISO, to a more modest .173 ISO. However, that comes at the return of a monster 100 point gain in OBP, which makes it more than worthwhile. Hitting for power is important, but it’s much more valuable to get on base at a frequent clip. If this change is real, Abreu has basically turned himself into vintage Joey Votto.

I really wish someone would explain this all to Mike Trout. He’s clearly trying to do the opposite of Abreu. His attempt to become more of a slugger has increased his strikeouts, decreased his walks, and worst of all, lowered his OBP over 50 points from last year. That is absolutely not worth the ~40 points he gained in ISO.  He’s still the best player in baseball, but all those extra outs he’s making compared to last year is a step backwards. In fact, had Trout turned in this season’s performance last year, Miguel Cabrera might’ve actually deserved to have won the AL MVP. It would’ve been tough to make the case that Trout’s enormous advantage in defense and baserunning could’ve bridged what would’ve been a 70 point advantage in wOBA for Cabrera.

It’s too late for Trout this season, but I hope going into next year that somebody on the Angels staff convinces him of the error of his ways. If nothing changes, well, it’s like I said: He’s still the best player in baseball and is deserving to win what should’ve been his third straight MVP.

 


  1. Momentum in sports is nothing more than a narrative device. Bill Barnwell of Grantland wrote an excellent piece last year aimed at debunking the myth of momentum here. He writes it in the context of the NFL but his argument works in all sports.
  2. I’m focusing on his offense because his overall WAR is 5.3 due to having a -2.0 Defensive WAR (dWAR). That’s a really bad dWAR, and I don’t want to conclude that it’s accurate without having taken a good look at Abreu playing defense myself.