A brief defense of my stat-inclined nature

19 Aug

A couple weeks back, loyal reader Keith posed a question (pasted below) that I promised to address in a separate post. I just realized I forgot to publish said response. So, here it is.

The original comment:

I am curious your thoughts on this line of thinking. In this purely statistical (quantitative) era of production analysis should we look at MVP’s only under that lens? For example, a few years ago Shannon Stewart was being floated as a potential MVP candidate for the difference he made for the Twins. Was that purely statistical or was their a qualitative assessment being made based on the fact that the teams performance improved after he came aboard.

Another example, you mention Grady, Milton, AROD, Kinsler, and I think we could also throw in Hamilton to that mix. Aside from the Yanks these guys are playing for piss poor teams. Should the team they play for matter? Is MVP really a MSSP (Most Statistically Significant Player) or is more like MVS&TP (Most Valuable Statistic and Team Player). How valuable is a player if they don’t get their team over the edge…and how do we quantify the edge (is it the edge of mediocrity, the edge to a Wild Card Berth, Best record?)
Just some thoughts…I would love to hear your analysis.

And my response:

It’s no secret that I’m a full-fledged stat-head. Proud of it, in fact. I’m of the thinking that nearly everything you want to know about a player or team’s success (or lack thereof) can be obtained by studying statistics. Every meaningful action in baseball – every pitch, every at-bat, every batted ball, every defensive play – is tracked, measured, recorded and analyzed, and thankfully they’re pretty easy for the common fan to comprehend.

The MLB is different from the NFL or NBA, where quality stats are much harder to create and analyze. In those sports, players are wholly dependent on their teammates for help. For making the extra pass, for throwing them the ball, for calling running plays, for making tough catches, etc.

Baseball’s a different beast. Milton Bradley could be the most gritty, hustley, gamery, hard-working, friendly clubhouse savior dude in the world, but it won’t stop Kevin Millwood from hanging his breaking ball. His extra BP the day before won’t help David Murphy from falling into a slump. It was great that he ran out that can-of-corn to the left fielder, but CJ Wilson blew the game anyway. (You get my point.) It’s a team sport, sure, but the statistics are a completely valid, all-encompassing view of a player’s worth.

So, yes: I believe that the best statistical player in the league is also the most valuable. Best statistics=best player. Best player=most valuable.

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6 Responses to “A brief defense of my stat-inclined nature”

  1. Keith Miraldi August 19, 2008 at 8:03 pm #

    As an Institutional Researcher (at least for the moment) I can resonate with your response…to an extent. Stats are extraordinary in what they show (and don’t), but I don’t think that is everything in the MVP equation. For instance, what role does the fact that AROD pops up every time the game is close and runners are on doesn’t come through in stats, and it holds as much value as his grand slam in a game they are up or down by 10 runs (except against the Twins the other night…pure anomaly).

    OK, now a question about Brandon the baseball player- You have stats that say a guy can’t hit a curve, yet he hits the ball hard off of good curves his first two times up. Do you stick with the stats and keep feeding him what is statistically proven to be a weak spot or come at him with a fastball or slider?
    Also, just an FYI, everything you said about Milton Bradley was qualitative and cant be measure statistically…except through an MMPI maybe (just too pick a little)

  2. B. August 19, 2008 at 9:02 pm #

    I understand you can’t measure everything in baseball, but the operative word here is meaningful. Everything of consequence, that resulted in the win or the loss, will show up in a box score. That is what I believe, as both a fan, a make-believe analyst, and especially as a player. Because, look: it’s all a crapshoot. You never know what’s going to work and what isn’t. Carlos Gomez could get caught stealing in a high school game, I could pitch a shutout in the major leagues. It’s baseball, and crazy stuff happens, so the only smart way to make decisions is to play the odds. Guy can’t hit lefties? Bring in Reyes. Guy can’t lay off a slider? Throw him one low and away. If he hits it: good for him. If you throw something else: you’re an idiot. Play the odds. They’re all you have.

    As for the A-Rod thing: one resource I think you’ll enjoy is the Splits page from Baseball-Reference.com. That will tell you every “clutch” statistic you need to know. For instance, here’s A-Rod’s career OPS splits:

    2 outs, RISP — .890
    Late & Close — .905
    Tie Game — .975
    Within 1 R — .983
    Within 2 R — .956
    Within 3 R — .968
    Within 4 R — .971
    Margin > 4 R — .959

    So, that “choker” label is clearly just a product of a media that needs a scapegoat and has no interest in looking into the numbers.

    And as for Milton Bradley thing, I agree that those factors I listed are qualitative and immeasurable, and that’s my point. Those factors are useless. To me.

    I love this debate, by the way. Can you tell?

  3. RandBall's Stu August 20, 2008 at 7:10 am #

    Why don’t they just give the award to Jeter?

    /Anthony from Long Island

  4. B. August 20, 2008 at 7:49 am #

    @Stu – that’s a good point. Who will be this year’s token “gamer” MVP, the guy who in no way should be part of the MVP debate but seems to be the darling of the lazy sportswriter faction? My money’s on Pedroia.

    @Keith – I’d like to add two disclaimers to my response:

    1. I only believe in this “numbers explain all” theory in regards to baseball. Other sports, society, etc, the stats are just factors to the analysis.

    2. I realize you are about ten times smarter than I am.

  5. Scott C - Minnetonka August 22, 2008 at 5:24 pm #

    While I admit that the MVP is most easily tied to the player with the best stats, but in baseball, there are no stats to measure a player’s “value” based on his defense or other intangibles. We can’t measure how many runs Omar Vizquel saves over the course of a season by turning a hit into one, or even two outs. Nor can we measure how many would-be wild pitches Yadier Molina blocks thereby keeping a double play in order to help his pitcher get out of an inning. How about how many extra bases Vladimir Guerrero saves because baserunners dare not run on his arm. While I’m certainly not advocating any MVP votes for “good glove, no hit guys”; I’m stating my belief that not everything in baseball can be measured in numbers, and that is the beauty of the game. (Spoken like a true backup catcher, I realize, and at the risk of sounding like a crotchety old man)

    As for the A-Rod thing, I think the media gave him the reputation for being a “choker” in the clutch based on those same stats mentioned above in the postseason, not the regular season. I’d be interested to see those same stats for his playoff career. Striking out with two men in late in a tie game in June doesn’t have the same impact as the same thing in October. Doesn’t Scott Brosius have a World Series MVP? Would he trade that for the regular season MVP that A-Rod won while playing for a last place Rangers team? I know, A-Rod will be in the hall of fame and Brosius won’t. Their careers cannot be compared. But, unless Rodriguez is very, very selfish, I think he would trade an MVP season on a horrible team for 7 games of glory on baseball’s biggest stage. His legacy would be much different if he had that vs. if he didn’t.

  6. Cool Rut August 23, 2008 at 12:05 pm #

    I was reading this and I kept thinking that I have no clue what the heck OPS, splits,<4, RISP and back-up catcher all means. I know most readers of this site wait to see what I think about all topics but this one is lost on me. I was a career .900 hitter in little league – my coach used what I think could be called subjective stat-keeping. For example, he hit it hard and ended up on third-triple-forget the three errors on the play. When I saw my first curveball in tenth grade I fell over and decided to quit before I was cut. Luckily I had no other sports skills so I concentrated on my studies and got all the way up to a 2.95 GPA (I round up to 3.0).

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