Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Acronym Battle: What WAR says about the MVP

Now that the 2012 baseball season is in its final stages and only pockets of drama remain in the wild-card races, there's really only one debate that's taking over the national stage. The debate is controversial, as it fuels the fire of a decade long rift between stats and, well, stats. One side has put their eggs in the classical basket consisting of batting average, home runs and runs batted in. The other in a pail of VORP, WARP and DRS. It's a battle of faith versus science, subjectivity versus objectivity, Scooby-Doo versus... nevermind.

Anyway, everyone has an opinion on the matter. From my point of view, the subject nearly reflects political party affiliations in its stubbornness and entrenchment. I talked to my roommate the other day who is a Tigers fan, and he was kind of offended by my assertion that Mike Trout has been more valuable than Miguel Cabrera. How could I say that when Cabrera is a mere home run away from the hallowed Triple Crown! In response, I could ask how he could say that when Trout was blowing everyone away in WAR, for God's sake he's 3.9 WAR above Cabrera! I didn't say that. It would have been counterproductive, instead I tried to appeal to the basic arguments of how he was blatantly ignoring defense and base-running, in addition to pointing out that Trout wasn't that far off with the bat either.

That argument brought me to the conclusion that it's counterproductive to argue either side. I appreciate the zealots of sabermetrics, but my interest in defending advanced stats to an average Joe is about two steps below complete apathy.

All that to say this: I'm not writing this to say anyone is 100% wrong and this is why. No, I'm writing this mostly because I'm intrigued by the topic. "What topic?" you might ask? Well, I wanted to know how many times a player had been this far behind in WAR (Cabrera is currently 3.9 WAR behind Trout) and still won the MVP vote. In history, which players have been the biggest snubs, using WAR as the arbiter?

To answer these questions I broke out an excel spreadsheet and fired up baseball-reference (truly the greatest thing ever) and got to work. I found the WAR leader in each league dating back to 1950 and subtracted the WAR of that league's MVP, to find the difference. (At this point, you're probably tuned out unless you know what WAR actually is. If not, check out this link!)

After some of the most monotonous data entry of my life, I finished the spreadsheet and got some answers. It was too much work not to share, so here I am presenting the data and some observations. In beautiful bullet point fashion! Because I am a lazy and incompetent writer!

  • To answer the big question: 19 out of the 125 MVPs since 1950 (one co-MVP) have been at least 3.9 or more WAR behind the league leader. 
  • Only one case of snubbery worse than the potential Trout-snub this season have taken place in the past 15 seasons. Speaking of that case...
  • The most recent case was in 2000, when Jason Giambi (7.4 WAR) beat out Pedro Martinez (11.4 WAR).
  • Interestingly, 10 of the 19 cases of snubbery have victimized pitchers. This reflects the hesitance of the voters for handing MVP awards to non-hitters.
  • However, this hesitance somehow didn't stop the voters from giving reliever Dennis Eckersley the MVP when he accrued just 2.8 wins.
  • Even still, the worst example is Willie Stargell's co-MVP when he contributed just 2.3 wins. One assumes the award was as much a career achievement as anything. He had a stellar career (see what I did there!)
  • The AL MVP is, on average, 2.108 wins below the WAR league leader.
  • The NL MVP is, on average, 1.905 wins below the WAR league leader.
  • This discrepancy is ok with me, as the error bars on WAR are considerable. To be sure, most estimates would say these numbers are outside the error bars. I just don't personally hold voters of the 50's, 60's and 70's to the same standards.
  • I'd like to point out the voters got the MVP "right" 31 out of 125 chances. Including 11 times in this, the 21st century.
  • Given that last point contrasted against the very first, the smart money has to be on Mike Trout, as it appears the voters are boarding the saber-train.
I still have this sweet spreadsheet, so I'll probably try to stretch another post or two out of it. But in the meantime, I think we found some pretty interesting factoids, eh?

No comments:

Post a Comment