These Things Drive Me Crazy

My opinion on a pitcher’s place in the MVP debate is that they don’t belong. That’s not because of the foolish reasons provided by those claiming that “valuable” can’t be an adjective to describe a player who performs only once every five games. Typically, a starting pitcher has far more responsibility for the outcome of every fifth game than a single position player has for the outcome of five games in a row.

One need only look at the number of opportunities a starting pitcher gets to influence a game, and compare it to a typical position player. For instance, C.C. Sabathia has faced 925 batters this season. That’s more than any other pitcher in baseball. Dustin Pedrioa has had 664 plate appearances this year. That’s more than any other position player in baseball. A staggering difference lays between the two.

It can be argued that one would also have to include the 281 total defensive plays that Pedroia has had this season as the second baseman for the Boston Red Sox. While there’s some merit to this way of thinking, it’s difficult for me to put the same weight on a routine ground ball in Pedroia’s direction as any batter that Sabathia faced all season. I wouldn’t completely dismiss the number of defensive plays that a position player makes (and Pedroia is in the top twenty in plays), but there’s far less responsibility in fielding a position and a far greater chance of damage being inflicted in facing a batter from the pitcher’s mound.

Therefore, I don’t believe that a pitcher should be included in the MVP vote because, no matter what your personal definition of valuable is, a starting pitcher’s contribution is so great over the course of a season that if they were to be considered, they should be the only position ever considered.

The Toronto Star’s Richard Griffin disagrees with me on both counts stating in a recent column that:

I have never been a fan of a pitcher as MVP, but upon close examination of the field, I find myself in full support of Verlander.

That’s fine. Like I wrote, there is totally room for discussion on the value that a position player offers versus the value that a pitcher offers. I think a pitcher’s contribution far outweighs a position player, but not everyone sees it that way.

What irks me to no end is that Griffin, in a strategy not completely unfamiliar to the anti-stats crowd, knocks numbers analysis throughout his piece by suggesting tamely at the beginning that he’s more of a “baseball traditionalist” than “a VORP, WAR, WHIP, OPS guy,” before moving on to playfully mocking that “a computer can pick” the best player statistically, and finishing by completely ridiculing the culmination of advanced baseball metrics.

As for my view on the new generation of baseball statistics, I will just quote from the legendary R&B and soul icon Edwin Starr and his hit song for the Temptations: “War, huh, good God. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Listen to me.”

Okay, I’m listening. Please, Mr. Griffin, let me know why WAR is good for absolutely nothing. I’m incredibly curious to learn your explanation. That is what’s being suggested after all, but unfortunately there’s nothing more on the topic than that.

Instead, (and here it is, the thing that really drives me crazy) after openly mocking data driven analysis, Griffin goes on to give his reasons for Justin Verlander’s MVP candidacy by using statistics! Stats. Numbers. Figures. Data. Information. The very things that he spends the majority of the article mocking and laughing off, he uses for his reasoning.

It’s just that instead of using numbers for real analysis, he tries to pass off a different set of numbers for the purposes of mistaking correlation for causation:

1. Verlander started the year 2-3 in his first seven starts. The team was 2-5 in those starts. At that point, Detroit was three games under .500 and seven games out of first place. On May 7, Verlander no-hit the Jays. Since that win, Verlander has been 20-2, while the Tigers have been 68-44, taking a stranglehold on the AL Central. Verlander has provided the impetus.

You know what else happened on May 7th, 2011? A Bieber Parade took place in Copenhagen.

Who’s to say that this wasn’t the impetus for the Tigers’ run?

2. The Tigers, since his no-hitter, have been 21-3 in Verlander starts but only 47-41 when someone else toes the rubber. When the Tigers score three or more runs in a game, Verlander is 21-0. When they score two or fewer runs, he is 1-5.

Teammate and fellow candidate Cabrera had MVP numbers through May 6, the day before Verlander began his run: he was batting .330 with seven homers, 23 RBIs and a 1.043 OPS. But that was with his team mired in third place, three games under.

Wow. Comparing Cabrera’s numbers to the team’s record, it’s almost as though ONE SINGLE PLAYER’S PERFORMANCE DOESN’T OVERWHELMINGLY INFLUENCE A TEAM’S OVERALL WIN/LOSS RECORD. But instead of coming to that obvious, reasonable and logical conclusion, Griffin uses the numbers as a means of suggesting that Verlander is more valuable than Cabrera. While his conclusion is right, he comes to it through all the wrong reasons.

Of course he’s more valuable, but it has nothing to do with how the rest of the team performs when he starts, and it’s insulting to Verlander’s talent to suggest so. The Tigers win games that Verlander pitches in because he’s a really good pitcher that allows fewer runs than most opposing pitchers.

However, using pitching wins as a means of showing Verlander’s value is once again mistaking the contribution of others for Verlander’s. Justin Verlander is good enough without having to imagine some sort of causation that doesn’t truly exist.

Baseball is split up first between offense and defense. The offense is responsible for half an inning and then the defense is responsible for the other half. Already, there’s 50% of a game that Justin Verlander, even during a no-hitter, has nothing to do with.

We take defense, and under this category falls pitching and fielding. Fielders are obviously responsible for fielding, further lessening Verlander’s responsibility, leaving us with just pitching. And even within that one element we must also must account for the times that Verlander didn’t throw a complete game and had to depend on relievers to close out a game, minimizing the amount for which he’s responsible for even further. And even within that percentile, there’s an entire element of luck (pitchers can’t control where balls are hit and no hitter is good enough to put balls precisely into play) for which we’re not accounting.

While pitchers may be accountable for a whole lot more than any one position player, it’s still not enough to give them credit for entire wins from a team.

3. After Tuesday’s win over the White Sox, Verlander is 23-5 with a 2.36 ERA and 238 strikeouts in 236 innings. There have been only two starting pitchers to win the MVP since the mound was lowered following the ’68 season to add more offence and bring back fans. In ’68, both MVPs were pitchers: Denny McClain in the AL and Bob Gibson in the NL.

The last starting pitcher to win the MVP was Roger Clemens of the Red Sox in 1986. The Rocket was 24-4 with a 2.48 ERA and 238 strikeouts. The Sox went to the World Series. The only other starting pitcher MVP in the past 43 years was Vida Blue of the A’s in 1971, who went 24-8 with a 1.82 ERA.

I never thought I would say it, but Verlander should be the third.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll ignore the several problems with comparing a pitcher from 2011 with one from 1986, and seeing as though precedence has been brought up, ask, on Mr. Griffin’s own terms, who he voted or would have voted for the AL MVP award in 1999 and 2000, when Pedro Martinez had back to back seasons with W-L records of 23-4 and 18-6 with ERAs of 1.74 and 2.39, respectively.

While the MVP debate is certainly a matter of opinion, I don’t believe the numbers and statistics that you want to use to back that opinion can be as subjective. There are numbers available that best reflect an individual’s contribution to his team, and while there may be a difference of opinion over how the term “valuable” is defined, there’s no disputing that the MVP is given to an individual.

That’s why talking about wins, ERA or RBIs in terms of a most valuable player award isn’t just the difference between “baseball traditionalists” and “seamheads.” It’s the difference between false and true data, wrong and right evidence, the illogical and reasonable.

Comments (27)

  1. Sometimes Stats are like loose women once you have them you can do whatever you want to them

  2. Getting upset at what Richard Griffin writes is like getting upset with a 5 year old peeing himself. Yeah, they should both be old enough to know better, but you have to cut them some slack on account of their underdeveloped cognitive functions.

  3. “Therefore, I don’t believe that a pitcher should be included in the MVP vote because, no matter what your personal definition of valuable is, a starting pitcher’s contribution is so great over the course of a season that if they were to be considered, they should be the only position ever considered.”

    You actually made the argument, right there, that pitchers should be considered for the MVP by showing their importance over the season. How can you be mad at Griffin when you’re guilty of the same intellectual dishonesty by ignoring a set of statistics that disagrees with you? For the record, I’m no Griffin defender, especially when he makes stupid offhand remarks like the WAR quote above.

    However, using your own statistics, pitchers should be considered for the MVP and Griffin may be right that it should be Verlander (although, he uses the wrong method to reach the right conclusion). Until it is explicitly stated that the MVP should go to position players only, it’s fair to include pitchers.

    Finally, including pitchers will not mean that they’re the only ones considered even using your example above. Not many pitchers have the numbers every year to support an MVP vote, but there will usually be an elite few like Verlander, Halladay, etc. that should at least warrant consideration.

    • You say: “However, using your own statistics, pitchers should be considered for the MVP and Griffin may be right that it should be Verlander (although, he uses the wrong method to reach the right conclusion).”

      Parkes says: “While his conclusion is right, he comes to it through all the wrong reasons.”

      I believe that’s the whole point of this article, is it not? He never said Griffin’s CONCLUSIONS were wrong. Griffin is saying two-squared=four, unfortunately he thinks two-squared means two-plus-two. Just because the answer MAY be logical, doesn’t mean he knows how the hell he came to it.

    • Did we read the same article? I think you’d benefit from rereading the passage you quoted. I don’t see anywhere where Parkes is ignoring a set of statistics, unless you’re referring to pitching wins.

      • Parkes leads off the article by saying,

        “My opinion on a pitcher’s place in the MVP debate is that they don’t belong.”

        He then shows that starting pitchers by virtue of the numbers of batters faced have more influence over a season than any batter.

        My point was that is what Griffin does, ignores statistics that don’t agree with him.

        I actually like Parkes’ writing and have read his stuff for years over at DJF and then here. Usually, I like the takedowns of Griffin because Grifffin is proud of his ignorance of advanced stats and wallows in it. This time, Parkes let his own bias (not liking pitchers winning MVPs) cloud his writing.

        If he followed the logical conclusion of the stats he showed, it would allow for pitchers to be MVPs. Or maybe I’m just an asshole, whatever.

        • you’re not being an asshole…all I mean is that he says IF you were to consider pitching, they would win the award every year; which sort of shits on the point of the award. I’m not saying I agree, I’m just saying he’s logically making sense.

        • Normally, I’m pretty appreciative of someone misreading my intent. I’ll shoulder the blame for not spelling something out to a reader, but . . .

          I really think you should read it over again or something. It’s pretty clear that 1) I’m saying pitchers shouldn’t be considered for MVP because then only pitchers should be voted MVP; and 2) I’m not saying that Griffin is even wrong for liking Verlander, just that he gets to that point with the wrong methods.

          Again: Pitchers shouldn’t have MVP consideration because by valuable moniker, they should always win. Separately, Griffin is wrong to criticize statistical analysis and then use his own horrible statistical analysis to come to the point that Verlander is the MVP.

          • I understand your point on Griff’s reasoning and I agree with you there, he does get to his conclusion with the wrong methods.

            As for your assertion that pitchers should never be voted MVP because they would be the only ones considered because they have the most value, WAR would not always agree. The current leader in fWAR in the AL is Ellsbury at 8.5 (Bautista at 8.0), the highest pitcher is Sabathia at 6.8 (Verlander at 6.7) so your assertion doesn’t exactly hold up. Ellsbury, Bautista and Pedroia all have higher WAR than the highest pitcher. I also believe Hamilton was higher than Lee in fWAR last year as well.

            Of course, that would ask baseball writers, like Griffin, who vote on the MVP to use WAR and I don’t see the majority of them doing that anytime soon. In any event, this argument is probably moot as baseball writers don’t vote pitchers for MVP anyway.

            • WAR for position players is affected by positional scarcity. WAR for pitchers isn’t. I don’t think WAR is the best measurement for comparing pitchers to position players.

          • Exactly. Replacement players are different from replacement pitchers.

          • Hey Dustin.
            I don’t get this: “I’m saying pitchers shouldn’t be considered for MVP because then only pitchers should be voted MVP.”
            Why would pitchers automatically win MVP if pitchers could be voted?
            Its happened in the past where a pitcher has won it.
            And one more thing: Did you not like Griffin’s piece on Verlander? I’m saying did you agree with it because clearly you didn’t.
            But its pretty good still aint it?

  4. The thing about this whole “Verlander for MVP” talk is it seems that one writer lobbed this idea, and now everyone is latching onto it.

    I don’t think the MVP is sacred ground for position players only, but unless Verlander is performing head-and-shoulders above all other pitchers in the league (a la Pedro 1999), then I don’t think he should win it.

    Statistically speaking, Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia are neck and neck, and yet most are already crowning Verlander as the Cy Young winner. All I can say is I hope the MVP voters do the right thing and don’t waste first place votes on JV.

    • All due respect, sir, Sabathia and Verlander are not neck and neck. Verlander is in another galaxy. That is called the classic Yankee bias, you see them more. Verlander is destroying teams. Sabathia is just getting 319 foot homers to get him victories.

  5. I don’t understand why Verlander is getting all the MVP talk when Lee, Halladay and Kershaw have been just as good in the NL where the top hitters are a bit below Bautista and Ellsbury.

    Also Greinke in 2009 was ridiculous and finished 17th in voting.

  6. Not only does he say he’s not a stats guy and then uses stats as part of his argument, but he says he’s not “a[n]… OPS guy” and then uses OPS in his argument!

  7. Who has the most WPA for the season? Instead of WAR wouldn’t that give a pretty good idea of who contributed the most to his team’s chances of winning games?

  8. It definitely should have some sway with voters, although it doesn’t account for defensive plays.

  9. According to Fangraphs, Bautista has the highest WPA for the year, at 7.61, while Ian Kennedy has the most for a pitcher at 4.64, with Verlander second at 4.63

  10. While i don’t ever agree with Mcgriff, I will say in regards to WAR, it is extremely flawed in regards to determining a pitcher’s true worth…

    While it usually does a good job for elite pitchers, it does a terrible job in mid range pitchers…

    I mean Brandon Morrow worth more then Ricky Romero? It shouldn’t even be close, but it is, because WAR falls in love with strikeouts amongst other stats..

  11. Really? This is just silly now. I get it- you have a different opinion and you want to state it but come on: that’s just stupid. We’re not all Haravrd anayltics here.
    Clearly a pitcher is a player and should be considered for MVP, as they have won it in the past.
    Griffin’s article is A+. I, a Blue Jay fan, found myself agreeing with him because his points are valid. READ IT!
    The Score always like’s to be different. You are no TSN or Sportsnet nor ever will be.
    please don’t write controversial crap like this just to get views/ comments.
    And its not even well written…

  12. I like the breakdown of offense is responsible for half an inning and fielding is responsible for a portion of the pitching/defensive inning. I feel that the only way to completely assign a pitcher near-complete responsibility for a win is if he pitches a perfect game with 27 strikeouts (in which he calls of his own pitches). Even then, it’s not complete, because his team still needs to score a run. Why this type of logical approach doesn’t enter into the minds of writers like Griffin is incomprehensible, considering they’re paid to write about this stuff.

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