When the Baseball Writers Association of America gets around to awarding the American League’s Most Valuable Player this fall, a bunch of people are going home unhappy. With a bevy of worthy candidates as well as Adrian Gonzalez in the mix, the nebulous nature of “valuable” will once again decide the vote.
Dave Cameron wrote as much on Fangraphs today, suggesting premium defensive position players like Jacoby Ellsbury and Curtis Granderson might gain an edge over corner infield/outfielder sluggers like Jose Bautista and the aforementioned Gonzalez. The debates often start fun but quickly turn pedantic and tired for some people.
MVP debates in the modern baseball world begin (and, too often, end) with Wins Above Replacement. While not the be all and end all, the composite stat does a great job of quantifying all aspects of a player’s contributions. Fielding, base running, health are all accounted with WAR, as well as putting a premium on playing an important position.
One thing WAR doesn’t do is factor in the significance or timing of a player’s contributions to his team’s performance. A three-run home run in the 8th inning of a tight game counts just the same as a solo shot late in blowout.
What if we changed that? What if, for today, we used Win Probablity Added stats in place of Batting Runs in our WAR calculations? Would certain players receive big boosts for delivering when their team needs them most?
Below are the top 10 position players listen by Fangraphs WAR and then the top 10 by our modified “Clutch WAR”. Behold (then click here for the full list)!
Jose Bautista, our once and future king.
Interesting to see Joey Votto rocket up the charts like this. Reds fans rave about Votto’s clutchitude and he’s showing it this year, boosting his fWAR by 1.6 to put him in the National League lead.
Dustin Pedroia takes a big hit to his WAR total while his teammate Jacoby Ellsbury gets a half-win boost. RBI machine Adrian Gonzalez is nowhere to be found, it seems. Jose Reyes, Ben Zobrist and Troy Tulowitzki are other players who take full Win hits.
Outside of the top 10, the players who gain the most from this WAR calculation are Bobby Abreu, Votto, Johnny Damon and Ryan Howard. Derided as his contract might be, Howard’s clutch performance is nearly 1.5 wins greater than his standard batting line.
The players punished the most by the inclusion of WPA? Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar slides all the way down to -2.4 WAR while Very Famous Clutch Hitter David Ortriz falls from a 2.4 WAR as a DH to 0.1, basically replacement level when his high leverage failings are accounted for. Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez also lose 2 Wins due to poor play in high leverage situations.
While this might just muddy the MVP waters for some people, I certainly think considering WPA is a fair way to weigh a player’s ability to come up when it matters most. In a lot of ways, WPA is the perfect stat for people who hate stats and value the narrative of the game.
Either way, Jose Bautista (and his .607 wOBA in high leverage situations) should win the MVP in the American League. No matter how you slice it, he’s baseball’s best player.