Monday, November 21, 2011

Unsurprisingly, Voters Screw Up AL MVP

Earlier today it was announced that Justin Verlander, the American League Cy Young Award winner, also was voted the American League MVP. There's no arguing Verlander had a fantastic season, and he was a major reason the Detroit Tigers were able to make the playoffs this past season.

Unfortunately, Verlander winning the MVP award is a mistake. He went 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA, posted a 0.92 WHIP, and struck out one batter per inning. He was fantastic, and certainly deserving of winning the American League Cy Young award unanimously, which he did.

I have a real issue with people saying that the MVP award needs to go to someone who was at least in the playoff hunt down the stretch. It absolutely makes for a great story when the star player on a contending team carries his team in September and helps take them into the playoffs. And because the people who vote on the MVP award write about these kinds of things for the entire month leading up to when they vote, they are undoubtedly and likely unknowingly oftentimes voting for that player.

Baseball is a team sport. One player can help a team, but he can't turn a team around on his own like they can in basketball. Putting a great player on a good team will definitely take that team to the next level, but if you put Albert Pujols on the Houston Astros last year, they still would have finished under .500. Had you switched Justin Verlander with J.A. Happ in the Astros rotation, the Astros would have won about 7 more games. Happ was the Astros worst starter last season, so that's the best improvement the team could've made with Verlander. Verlander posted a WAR of 7.0, while Happ's was 0.3. Verlander was clearly leaps and bounds better, but it's incredibly difficult for someone who only plays about 1/5 of the team's games to be more valuable than an offensive player who plays basically every day.

Giving Verlander the award because "Detroit wouldn't have made the playoffs without him" is also flawed logic. It's ridiculous to judge a player based on his teammates when those players have virtually no say in who they get to play with. Sure, free agency allows players to technically choose their team, but it's a business first and these players need to take the contract that makes the most sense for them and their families, not what team will give them the best chance to win. As a fan you may not agree with that line of thinking, but when it comes to their livelihood it's unfair to criticize a player for playing with a bad team. Even if you don't agree with me that players should take the best offer in free agency, the Tigers ABSOLUTELY would have made the playoffs without Verlander.

Detroit finished 95-67, 15 games ahead of second place Cleveland. Justin Verlander's WAR was 7.0. Unless the Tigers replaced Verlander with someone who's WAR was -8.0 (impossible) they would have made the playoffs. If you don't like WAR or other advanced statistics, here's an even simpler, albeit not entirely correct, explanation:

If the Tigers had switched Justin Verlander's 24 wins with ANY pitcher who won 10 games in 34 starts, they still would have won the division. Verlander was fantastic, but he was not the most valuable player in the American League. Getting the MVP vote wrong has become kind of a tradition among the baseball writers, so it's not surprising they did it again.

Personally, I think Jose Bautista deserved the award. Yes, I understand he played for an 81-81 Blue Jays team. But he hit a ridiculous .302/.447/.608 with 43 home runs in 149 games. The average American League player hit .258/.323/.408 in 2011. Bautista's on base percentage was higher than the average American League player's slugging percentage. He was leaps and bounds better than pretty much every American League hitter other than Miguel Cabrera. His WAR of 8.3 is very good, but it's worth noting that Jacoby Ellsbury's WAR was 9.4. Ellsbury's offensive numbers weren't nearly as impressive, but he played great defensively in center field and still had a great offensive year, so his value is perceived to be higher than Bautista's according to FanGraphs.

Baseball Reference, which also has their own WAR statistic, rated Bautista as 8.5 wins above replacement, while Ellsbury's WAR was 7.2. Baseball Reference did have Verlander's value as 8.6 wins above replacement, which is slightly better than Bautista. However, because both WAR stats are important and slightly different, it makes more sense to average the two out and see who has the highest. Bautista would be 8.4 wins above replacement, Ellsbury would be 8.3 and Verlander would be 7.8. So yes, according to WAR, it was close enough that voting for Verlander isn't a huge mistake or even a big deal.

However, it's frustrating because when you compare Verlander's season to Clayton Kershaw's, Verlander wasn't so much better that he deserves to win the AL MVP while Kershaw likely won't even get a vote. Verlander had a better season, both with advanced statistics and more conventional, old-school statistics. However, Kershaw's 21-5 record with a 2.28 ERA is impressive. I've seen it mentioned a few places that Kershaw would have won 25 games had he played for Verlander's Tigers, but that's just not true. Verlander got an average of 5.56 runs from his offense when he started, and Kershaw was basically exactly the same, posting a run support average of 5.52. Verlander was better, and had they been in the same league Verlander would have been more deserving of the Cy Young than Kershaw.

But Kershaw was still great, and had the Dodgers been in contention down the stretch there's a chance the writers would have felt Kershaw was a legitimate MVP candidate. It's ridiculous that the voters have no problem giving Verlander the MVP award when the Tigers STILL WOULD HAVE made the playoffs if they replaced him with a replacement level player, yet they likely won't even consider Kershaw* because his team finished 81-81 instead of winning their division.

*The NL MVP award will come out tomorrow (Tuesday), so I guess there's a chance the voters will prove me wrong, but I'd be shocked if Kershaw finishes higher than 10th, if he gets on the ballot at all. Also, the writers who vote for the AL MVP aren't the same writers who will vote for the NL MVP, so it's unfair to categorize them altogether, but I'm doing it anyways.

Since 2006, the AL MVP award has been wrongly chosen three out of six years. Justin Morneau won the award in 2006 despite both Derek Jeter and Joe Mauer being more valuable. A-Rod deservingly won it in 2007. In 2008, Dustin Pedroia won it despite his teammate Kevin Youkilis being more valuable. In 2009, Joe Mauer rightfully won the MVP award, when he had arguably the greatest all-around season by a catcher in baseball history. Last season, in 2010, Josh Hamilton was deserving of the award, and he won it. With Verlander's selection this season I would say they've now been wrong over 50% of the time over the last seven years, which is frustrating. Not to mention that when Pedro Martinez didn't win the MVP award in 1999, it should have become an unwritten rule that no pitcher would win it unless he was equally as dominant. Pedro got screwed by writers refusing to put a pitcher on the ballot, despite the rules clearly stating that pitchers NEED to be considered by the voters. It was a shame at the time, and it's a shame today because as good as Verlander's 2011 season was, it still wasn't all that close to the dominant 1999 Pedro season (which was in the middle of the greatest offensive boom in baseball history) yet Verlander will take home the AL MVP award that Pedro deserved over a decade ago.

Wait a minute, though, you might say. Just because the writers screwed up Pedro's MVP voting in 1999 doesn't mean every pitcher should get screwed because of it. I agree. Had Verlander been leaps and bounds more valuable than any offensive player, like Pedro was in 1999, I would have had no problem with him winning the award. Unfortunately, Verlander's 2011 season is more comparable statistically to Johan Santana's 2006 season than Pedro's 1999 season, and Santana finished 7th in the AL MVP voting. In case you were wondering, the AL MVP that year, Justin Morneau, hit .321/.375/.559 as a first baseman. The average offensive AL player in 2006 hit .275/.339/.447. That means Morneau had a worse season in 2006 than Jose Bautista did this year, and the average offensive AL player hit better in 2006 than in 2011. Bautista was leaps and bounds better than Morneau, while Santana and Verlander's seasons were comparable. Morneau won the award because the Twins made the playoffs; Bautista wasn't even considered because he didn't have the benefit of playing with Johan Santana and Joe Mauer.

Maybe one day I'll get a vote, and then someone can criticize who I voted for. But until then, I'll gladly be the guy that complains about an MVP award voting process a lot of people just don't care about.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

NFL Picks: Week 10

Last week was busier than expected and I never got around to even making my NFL Picks, which is a good thing based on my record against the spread this year. (Thankfully it's all been hypothetical...) We'll just say week 9 was my bye week. Also, I would've taken San Diego over Oakland, so I'm already 0-1.

Overall: 47-59-9
Last Week: Bye Week

As always, home team in Bold.

Pittsburgh (-4) over Cincinnati
Kansas City (-3) over Denver
Jacksonville (-3) over Indianapolis
Buffalo (+5.5) over Dallas
Tampa Bay (+3.5) over Houston
Tennessee (+3.5) over Carolina
Washington (+4) over Miami
Atlanta (Even) over New Orleans
Cleveland (-2.5) over St. Louis
Arizona (+14) over Philadelphia
Baltimore (-7) over Seattle
Detroit (+3) over Chicago
New York Giants (+3.5) over San Francisco
New England (+1.5) over New York Jets
Minnesota (+13) over Green Bay

Friday, November 11, 2011

Twins Sign Jamey Carroll

The Twins have reportedly signed former Dodgers infielder Jamey Carroll to a 2-year, $7MM deal to be their everyday shortstop presumably for the next two seasons.

Terry Ryan took over the GM reigns from Bill Smith last week... so it's only fitting that his first move back in the GM chair is to sign an aging veteran infielder. While Ryan excelled in his first stint making major moves (trading AJ Pierzysnki, for example) he consistently struggled to bring in average to above average players to put around the Twins stars. Tony Batista and Livan Hernandez were two signings that looked awful at the time and even worse in hindsight; so the fact that the Twins targeted a 37-year-old infielder isn't that surprising.

Carroll isn't in the same class as Batista and Hernandez, mainly because he can still contribute. He hit .290/.357/.349 last season while playing 3B, SS, 2B and some outfield. The Twins reportedly will use Carroll as their everyday shortstop, though, and last season American League shortstops hit .266/.321/.386, which is basically the exact same offensive production Carroll gave the Dodgers.

Over his last four seasons, Carroll has hit .284/.362/.343, so at least offensively his production has been incredibly consistent. Now, he's 37-years-old and will be 38 before the season begins, so it's not out of the question his production falls off a cliff and he's a liability for the Twins over the length of the contract.

Defensively, Carroll has a reputation as a very good defender. Carroll has spent the majority of his time playing shortstop for the Dodgers, although the sample sizes are still not quite where you'd like them to be to get a good understanding of his defense from UZR/150. In 2010, Carroll's defense ranked as 4 runs above average over 150 games, but in 2011 it declined considerably to 6.2 runs BELOW average over 150 games. He played about the same innings each season, and the first assumption is that Carroll as a 37-year-old simply couldn't get to the same kinds of balls that 36-year-old Carroll could get to. That seems the most likely, in my opinion, but it's worth noting that UZR isn't a perfect defensive metric and players can fluctuate from year to year, so there's a chance Carroll could return to being an above average defender. If Carroll was 28 instead of 38, I would bet that he'd bounce back defensively, but his age is a serious concern.

Ultimately, the Carroll signing is an upgrade over what the team currently had, but I don't think it was the best choice. Signing anyone for two seasons when he will be 38 and 39 is almost never a good idea, unless it's Mariano Rivera, and even if Carroll's offensive numbers remain consistent, he's really only a net positive for the team if his defense returns to be at least average.

I still would have preferred Ramon Santiago, the utility man from Detroit, because his defense at shortstop is considerably better. His offense has actually been slightly better than Carrol's over the last four years (.266/.335/.374) although it's so close that offensively it really doesn't matter. As I've mentioned before, Santiago's defense at shortstop consistently rates as fantastic; in 2010, he played more innings at shortstop than Carroll and produced a UZR/150 of 16.4. That is ridiculously high. Brendan Ryan, widely considered the league's best defensive shortstop, played twice as many innings as Santiago did at shortstop in 2010, and posted a UZR/150 of 12.1. That led the league. Santiago only played about 125 innings at shortstop in 2011, so the sample size is definitely small, but he again posted a very good 10.4 UZR/150. He's also only 32-years-old, so a sharp decline in production is less likely than it is for Carroll.

Carroll has a shot to be a solid every day player, and his consistently good on base percentage will be an asset hitting second, but with almost no power and at least a chance of poor defense, I'm not a fan of the signing. Santiago will ultimately sign for less money and possibly less years, and he should outproduce Carroll, so it's frustrating to see the team consistently target the wrong players. Carroll isn't nearly the kind of mistake Batista or Hernandez were, but I think in two years we'll look at the signing and consider it a mistake. I hope I'm wrong.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Chasing Our Dreams

From the time we are little, most of us are told by our parents or someone close to us that we "can be anything we want to be." Of course, as we grow up, we realize that isn't true. I certainly never dreamed of becoming a singer, but even if I had wanted to, the truth is Helen Keller probably held a tune better than I can. There are definitely limitations to our childhood dreams; and that's to be expected, because if we all got to live our childhood dreams I have a feeling there'd be a lot of game-winning home runs in game 7 of the World Series. As we grow up, we may realize some of our dreams are unattainable because of factors beyond our control. However, the beauty in growing up is that we learn who we are on a daily basis. Sure, as a 17-year-old or 20-year-old or 25-year-old you may realize you aren't going to be the World Series hero, but you may also realize what it is that you really love to do. Most of us get over our childhood dreams because the fact is we are never going to achieve them; we replace them with slightly more realistic dreams. I say "most of us" because for David Freese, he came as close as possible I would think to living out his childhood dream.

By now, I have little doubt that you know David Freese, down to his final strike, hit the game-tying double in game 6 of the World Series, with his team down two runs in the 9th inning. Then he came up again in the 11th inning and hit a walk-off home run to center field, ending arguably the most dramatic World Series game in baseball history. Freese added a big game-tying double again in the 1st inning of game 7, the Cardinals won game 7 by the score of 6-2, and David Freese won the World Series MVP.

You probably also know that Freese grew up a Cardinals fan, because it was mentioned over and over during the World Series and even more after his MVP performance. He hit .533 with 23 home runs as a senior in high school, was considered the best shortstop in the state, and had an offer to play baseball at Missouri. But he felt burned out, and he surprisingly decided to quit. He walked away from baseball at 18 years old because he was sick of it. He still attended the University of Missouri for his freshman year, but when he returned home for the summer he realized just how much he missed baseball.

Freese enrolled at St. Louis Community College-Meramec for his sophomore year so he could play baseball again. That year he was a second-team All-American among JUCO schools, hitting .396. He then went on to play two years at South Alabama, where he hit .373/.443/.525 as a junior and then an even better .414/.503/.661 as a senior. He was a 9th round pick by the San Diego Padres in 2006, and was traded to his hometown Cardinals in 2008 in the deal that sent Jim Edmonds to San Diego.

Since the trade, Freese has spent parts of three seasons with the Cardinals. He's basically had a season's worth of at-bats over those three years, and he's hit a solid .298/.350/.441 in just over 600 at-bats. Freese's game 6 heroics will be shown every time there's a World Series game 6, just like Joe Carter and Kirby Puckett. However, what makes the situation so remarkable is that Freese almost gave it all away because he was sick of it. He almost gave up on his dream, for no real reason. And if he had, none of us would have been able to enjoy game 6 nearly as much as we did. Because for one night, we were all living our childhood dreams vicariously through David Freese. It wasn't game 7, but it was damn close.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What To Do With Michael Cuddyer

After a 99-loss season despite a $115MM payroll, it's clear this is a huge off-season for our Minnesota Twins. Injuries played a big part in the awfulness, and a healthy Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau in 2012 would help the team improve a great deal. However, there are still a lot of issues that need to be filled. In case you missed it, I posted a two-part off-season outlook that offers a blueprint for the off-season. In the event that you don't want to read that entire piece, I suggested that the team let Michael Cuddyer leave as a free agent after offering him arbitration, therefore getting two high draft picks for him.

Now, let's see if the Twins would indeed be wise to let Cuddyer leave, per my suggestion. Last season, Cuddyer hit .284/.346/.459, which was good for an OPS of .805. He also added 20 home runs. He also made the all-star team, but that was more because the Twins had nobody else to send than anything. Certainly not on the level of a Ron Coomer type selection, though, because Cuddyer was playing at a fairly high level.

Anyways, while Cuddyer split time between RF and 1B in 2011, his value to the Twins and other teams in 2012 projects as a RF, so I will compare his 2011 numbers only to right fielders. That's important, because Cuddyer's value will come from being able to outplay the average right fielder, since he will be making far more money than an average player.

Cuddyer's .284/.346/.459 line was better than the league average of .267/.337/.431 among right fielders. His OPS of .805 was about 5% higher than the league average of .768. Meanwhile, Cuddyer's defense, which has ranked among the league's worst in recent years, rated exactly average. His UZR/150 rating was 0.1, which means his defense in RF saved one tenth of a run over 150 games. He was nearly 21 runs below that in 2010, so a regression seems likely, but if he continues to hit and defend like he did in 2011, there's no arguing Cuddyer is clearly above average.

However, the question again becomes if the team can find similar production (.284/.346/.459) from the RF position without spending $10MM per season over the next few seasons. Not to beat a dead horse, but in my off-season outlook I suggested that the Twins use a platoon of Chris Parmelee and Juan Rivera, because Rivera has always mashed left-handed pitching and not only did Parmelee earn a roster spot by hitting .355/.443/.592 in 21 games in September, but he's posted solid on-base percentages in the high minors and he should also benefit from avoiding left-handed pitching by being used in a platoon.

Now, would Rivera and Parmelee really have a chance to outperform Michael Cuddyer? Rivera, for his career, has hit .289/.335/.495 against left-handed pitching, and he basically matched those numbers in 2011 by hitting .289/.349/.456 again against lefties. If we just assume Cuddyer matches his 2011 season (and as a soon to be 33-year-old that seems generous) than Rivera's .289/.349/.456 line against lefties is exactly on par with Cuddyer's .286/.346/.459 overall line. Cuddyer should get $10MM/year. Rivera likely will sign for less than $1.5MM. Now, of course, Rivera is only half of the platoon, so to at least match Cuddyer's offensive production they'd need Parmelee to post similar numbers against right-handed pitching.

It's beyond unlikely that Parmelee will hit .355/.443/.592 for an entire season, even against mostly right-handed pitching, but a .280/.360/.430 line isn't out of the question. That's not quite as productive as Cuddyer (it's about 2% worse, OPS wise) and Parmelee's defense is likely going to be about as suspect as Cuddyer's was for years, but without the cannon arm. Now, it is worth mentioning that Rivera's defense rates as well above-average, and he would have value as a late-inning replacement defensively in games he didn't start against right handed pitching. Rivera's defensive value against left-handed pitching (when he starts) likely is worth more than the offense will lose from Cuddyer to Parmelee against right-handed pitching.

Parmelee and Rivera would cost the Twins about $2MM for the 2012 season, and Cuddyer signing elsewhere would also give the Twins two more draft picks. The production is likely going to be very similar between a platoon and Cuddyer, so for 1/5 of the cost it should be a no-brainer. Add in that the team could potentially add two very good prospects to a sneaky-good farm system and it really shouldn't even be a decision anymore. Cuddyer has been a model citizen, an entertaining and oftentimes very good player, and he seems to genuinely appreciate being a Twin. But it's important to remember that it is indeed a business first, and the fact is other teams will be able and more willing to offer Michael Cuddyer more money than the Twins should pay. If he signs with the Nationals, the Twins would get the highest possible compensation pick (#16 overall) available. Seems unlikely, but if he's going to leave, that's the number one choice for us Twins fans.


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