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)!

Fangraphs WAR
  1. Jose Bautista – 7
  2. Dustin Pedroia – 6.7
  3. Jacoby Ellsbury – 5.8
  4. Ben Zobrist – 5.6
  5. Jose Reyes – 5.6
  6. Matt Kemp – 5.3
  7. Justin Upton – 5.3
  8. Adrian Gonzalez – 5.3
  9. Troy Tulowitzki – 5.3
  10. Shane Victorino – 5.2
Clutch WAR
  1. Jose Bautista – 7.5
  2. Joey Votto – 6.4
  3. Jacoby Ellsbury – 6.3
  4. Dustin Pedroia – 5.8
  5. Shane Victorino – 5.4
  6. Matt Kemp – 5.1
  7. Matt Hollliday – 4.9
  8. Yunel Escobar – 4.8
  9. Justin Upton – 4.7
  10. Ben Zobrist – 4.6

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.

Comments (15)

  1. I don’t understand how Pedroia has come out of absolutely nowhere to be so close to Jose in the WAR standings. I guess Bautista slumping a bit and Pedroia being on fire. Glad to see the HR swing back for Jose!

  2. First thing I thought when I looked at the chart was “Wow Joey Votto is clutch!”

    Nice analysis.

  3. There’s really no MVP debate – Jose Bautista is having the best season in baseball and has no chance at winning the MVP. We all know this.

  4. It’s Pedroia’s incredible UZR that got him close to Bautista in fWAR. The race isn’t so close in bWar.

    Despite Bautista’s timing slump for a few weeks there, he still has an enormous edge offensively on every other major league player. That difference is illustrated best in his OPS (1.121) compared to Holliday and Gonzalez (.984) who are both tied for 2nd in the majors. It also shows just how much offense is down in this current era.

  5. Wow nice analysis! Great spin on an old stats favourite…

  6. This is off topic, but I find it amazing how much the game has changed over the last years. Back in 2000, five guys had an OPS above 1.100 (including Delgado), 19 guys above 1.000, and 48 guys above .900 (compared to only 15 this season). Fullmer just missed the cutoff at .898. The average league OPS was also .782 compared to .714 now.

    I know the common explanation is that all the players were jacked up on steroids, but it’s hard to look at these numbers and not think the balls were juiced too.

  7. The Blue Jays have made franchise history by retiring Roberto Alomar’s number 12 – the first time the club has ever bestowed such an honor on a player. Now, watch Roberto Alomar’s “Road to Cooperstown” to see just why Robbie was worthy of such legendary status.

    http://alomarhalloffame.ca/5

    bit.ly/q9Vhy2

  8. There’s so much to the MVP debate that I am most glad I’m not a voter. There’s so many lines of thought on what “Most Valuable” even means. Is it simply the best player? Well, Jose should win easily. Is it the player that does the most to take his team to the next level? There are going to be major points against Jose from some people that he isn’t actually providing value, since the Blue Jays would have missed the playoffs with or without him.

    Do context stats like WPA or even RBI’s, BA in scoring positon, etc mean more? I don’t see why they should, but if one believes that these are a skill, then value is added by coming up with the bigger hits in bigger situations and should matter whenever . Should position be accounted for? Is Dustin Pedroia more valuable than Adrian Gonzalez because he plays a position where players are typically of lower quality?

    It’s all a bit like the Hall of Fame vote. Most people would say the best players should go into the hall of fame, but the biggest not unreasonable argument against Blyvelen and for Morris was that it should be players who achieved fame, transcended the sport and came up biggest in the biggest moments, as it is the Hall of “Fame” and not the Hall of “Greatness.”

    I guess that’s part of what makes these awards so great, and so fun to debate. If we just picked who had the highest WAR and gave that person the MVP every year, the award would probably be more correct, but loses the subjectivity, which is probably what makes it so much fun.

    • Good points Scott, it is a lot fun. Like debating who, among the three great Red Sox this year, is the most valuable? How does one pick from three great players on a great team?

  9. I disagree with this. I could be wrong in doing so, but wouldn’t a team that is vastly outscoring its opponents provide less WPA … like if Bautista was on Boston, his WPA would be much lower. Like, ummm, doesn’t run differential matter?

    • They have to get that lead somehow…

      I get where you’re coming from though. The Red Sox don’t play as many close games so they have less opportunity to hit in high leverage situations. Perhaps that helps frame their relative value. There are so many good players contributing to a juggernaut – how can one of them be judged as the clear cut best?

  10. The Jays are in fourth in the East…no way Bautista wins. It’s Adrian Gonzalez’s trophy to lose. Most Outstanding Player; Bautista. Most Valuable: someone on Boston or maybe CC

  11. Don’t see how it’s Gonzalez’s to lose; he’s not even the second best player on his own team at the moment. Surely if the voters can finally give the Cy Young to a pitcher with a mediocre win/loss record, they can come to the realization that RBIs (or BAvg) aren’t the best metrics by which to judge players.

    Not that I think Bautista will win. But at this point, he should.

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