An Update on Major League Baseball’s MVP Races

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NOTE: I started college last week and have not gotten the chance to post anything since then. I will try to post when possible in the future, and this post was made possible by a day off from school and work.


There is one month left to play in the Major League Baseball season and both the American League and National League Most Valuable Player races are heating up.

I had a post dedicated to the MLB award winners back in July, and needless to say, a lot has changed since then. I’ll have another such post after the regular season concludes. I’ll be using several advanced metrics (which I’ll explain shortly), and the player’s rank in each individual category will determine my hypothetical vote for each league’s MVP. I’ll be using these eight stats as my barometer for hitters and I’ll throw in another one (Win Probability Added) to gauge pitchers in the MVP race. These are the statistics I’ll be using, with some links that further expound on their meaning:

  • Batting Average
  • On-Base Percentage
  • Slugging Percentage
  • OPS (on-base plus slugging)
  • RE24 (Run Expectancy for the 24 base-out states)
  • wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus)
  • Defensive Runs Saved (DRS)
  • Win Probability Added (WPA)
  • Wins Above Replacement (WAR)

For pitchers, I’ll only consider WPA and WAR for their MVP chances. For hitters, I’ll consider every category but WPA; I’m using eight statistical categories for hitters and I wanted to fit WPA in but I decided against it because it has its flaws. For example, it fluctuates wildly for even the most consistent players from year-to-year and it penalizes players who don’t get the opportunity to come to the plate in big moments. It is useful for pitchers, though, because the pitching leaders in WPA are often aligned with the best pitchers in the league for that particular season.

I will also use a point system for this award based on each player’s average rank in his league in each statistical category. The player with the lowest figure is my current MVP winner. I’ll have more on this in the post I’ll publish after the season. Does all of that make sense? Okay. Let’s dive right in.

National League

  1. Joey Votto, 1B/Cincinnati Reds: 3.0 (WINNER)
  2. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B/Arizona Diamondbacks: 3.1
  3. Bryce Harper, RF/Washington Nationals: 4.4
  4. Charlie Blackmon, CF/Colorado Rockies: 4.8
  5. Giancarlo Stanton, RF/Miami Marlins: 6.0
  6. Anthony Rendon, 3B/Washington Nationals: 7.0
  7. Justin Turner, 3B/Los Angeles Dodgers: 8.0
  8. Max Scherzer, P/Washington Nationals: 9.0
  9. Corey Seager, SS/Los Angeles Dodgers: 12.4

Votto comes in first or second in the National League in five of the eight categories used for this award. His earth-shattering brilliance, even while playing for one of the worst teams in baseball, is something to behold. If the season ended today, I would be perfectly fine with either Votto or Goldschmidt winning the award, as both would be ultimately deserving of the hardware. Harper will be dropped from consideration for this award if he does not return from a knee injury in the very near future, an outcome that currently looks like a strong possibility.

Of course, the leader in the clubhouse here is likely Stanton, with his league-leading 52 home runs and 111 RBI, which tie him with the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado for tops in baseball. If you look more closely, though, you can pretty clearly see that Votto and Goldschmidt are the National League’s two best hitters.

Whether or not they are appreciated as such, though, is a very different story.

American League

  1. Chris Sale, P/Boston Red Sox: 1.5
  2. Jose Altuve, 2B/Houston Astros: 1.8
  3. Aaron Judge, RF/New York Yankees: 6.0
  4. Corey Kluber, P/Cleveland Indians: 7.0
  5. George Springer, OF/Houston Astros: 8.0
  6. Justin Upton, LF/Detroit Tigers/Los Angeles Angels: 9.1
  7. Nelson Cruz, DH/Seattle Mariners: 12.6
  8. Jose Ramirez, 3B/Cleveland Indians: 13.4

Just like the National League, this is a two-player race. Unlike the National League, however, there is a starting pitcher involved at the top.

Chris Sale is, according to WAR, baseball’s Most Valuable Player. He is second overall in Win Probability Added, trailing only Cruz. And I don’t even need to mention to you that he is currently on pace for well over 300 strikeouts, which would make him just the 35th player to reach that milestone since 1900. If you think that’s a routine Cy Young Award-caliber season, it’s not. And if you think pitchers shouldn’t win this award because they have their own award and only see the field every fifth day, then good for you. But in more ways than one, Sale has been the most valuable player in baseball this season, and he deserves the award of the same name to show for it.

As I said earlier, I will come back to this discussion, as well as give out the game’s other awards, after the season concludes.

Let me know what I got wrong and right in the comments section.

Paul Goldschmidt Is Having the Best Season You’ve Never Heard Of

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We are at about the halfway point of the Major League Baseball season and it’s been a year of fascinating storylines. Some of those include the dominance of rookies Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger, the emergence of the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers as the two best teams in baseball, and the underwhelming performance of the defending champion Chicago Cubs. It has been, to this point, an exciting exhibition of both team and individual performances, one that is sure to pave the way for a fascinating second half of the season.

One of the best performaces of this young season, though, has gone completely under the radar.

It’s not exactly a secret that I really like Paul Goldschmidt; in fact, I’ve actually commissioned myself as the president of the Society of Paul Goldschmidt Admirers. He is easily the most underrated superstar in today’s game and the consistency of his performance on a daily basis almost always goes unnoticed. Part of the problem is that he plays on the Arizona Diamondbacks in one of baseball’s more anonymous markets; most of Arizona’s home games don’t begin until 9:30 on the east coast, meaning that many baseball fans aren’t able to stay up late to see just how good Goldschmidt really is. The other issue is that because Goldschmidt is such a well-rounded player there isn’t really one thing to zero in on in terms of his abilities on an everyday basis. It’s hard to think of him as just a power hitter, speedster, or elite defender.

If you want a measure of just how talented Goldschmidt really is, consider this: he ranks first among major league first basemen in both runs scored and stolen bases while also coming in third in home runs. At a position where most players simply don’t run well, Goldschmidt is on pace for around 25 steals this year. For a more all-encompassing look at Goldschmidt’s base running abilities, we turn to BsR, the base running component of wins above replacement. In that category, he is also tops among all first basemen, but that’s not all: among all position players, Goldschmidt is tied for third in all of baseball. The two players he’s tied with, the Royals’ Jarrod Dyson and the Marlins’ Dee Gordon, are two of the fastest players in the game today. However, both players only get on base roughly 33% of the time. Goldschmidt, on the other hand, reaches base in nearly 44% of his plate appearances. So not only is he reaching base at an extremely high rate (second among all position players) but he is also a true asset to his team when he gets there.

Next, we move to the all-important power category. While most players who run well are not able to hit for power, Goldschmidt is the rare exception. He ranks seventh in the league in slugging percentage, a measure of a player’s total bases divided by the number of at-bats he has. A deeper dive into this, though, shows that his performance in this category is even more impressive than advertised. Out of the top 35 players in the league in slugging, Goldschmidt is the only player with double-digit stolen bases. Eight of those 35 players have zero steals on the season, and 22 of the 35 have negative BsR ratings. Goldschmidt really is the exception instead of the rule, and his all-around prowess of the offensive game is truly something to behold.

If his performance this season were a surprise, chances are it would be covered more vigorously on a national level. This year’s showing, however, is a continuation of a trend that started back in 2012. With the exception of his 2014 season, one that ended when he broke his hand on August 1 of that year, Goldschmidt has had at least 20 home runs and 15 stolen bases every single year. Barring unforeseen circumstances, he’s going to do that again this year. His exploits have guided the Diamondbacks and their horrendous uniforms to a 52-31 start; Arizona has the third-best record in baseball and is just 2.5 games behind the Dodgers for first place in the NL West.

Even with all that, Goldschmidt still isn’t earning the recognition he deserves. His jersey is not in the top 20 of all jerseys sold on MLBShop.com since last year’s World Series. He has ceded much of the attention at his own position to players such as Anthony Rizzo and Ryan Zimmerman. Even with the success of the Diamondbacks, Goldschmidt still hasn’t earned the respect or praise he has truly earned. Many around the team and the league speak of Goldschmidt as a quiet individual who doesn’t necessarily seek out the media spotlight. However, he deserves to be shouted out here, even if he isn’t going to be the one doing the talking.

There is also this last note to consider: among all players in Major League Baseball, Goldschmidt ranks fourth in wins above replacement. Only Aaron Judge, Chris Sale, and Max Scherzer are ahead of him in that category. While I don’t consider myself a blind slave to WAR, the figure provides a starting point for evaluating players based on their production to this particular point in the season. And through three months of baseball, WAR says that Goldschmidt is the fourth-best player in the league. It also says that he’s the second-best position player in baseball, and the guy he’s behind in that category has his own cheering section in Yankee Stadium. Paul Goldschmidt, for nearly as productive a season, has some hardcore fans and, well, this blog post. The difference between the two may not be that disparate, but it’s pretty close.

It’s very unlikely that many people will come to appreciate the greatness of Paul Goldschmidt anytime soon. The fact of the matter is, though, that he has been one of baseball’s brightest stars over the past couple of seasons. This year, the Diamondbacks find themselves in contention for a playoff spot and (potentially) a run into October. if Arizona can maintain its first-half success, much of America may finally realize just how good the Diamondbacks’ first baseman really is when the playoffs roll around.

But until then, he’ll continue to put together an MVP-caliber season, regardless of whether or not anyone outside Arizona notices or cares.

The National League MVP Debate is Not a Clown Question, Bro

With baseball entering the second half of the season this week, I’m going to take a look at the debate over who should be the MVP in the senior circuit.  The debate has mainly become about two players: Nationals OF Bryce Harper and Diamondbacks 1B Paul Goldschmidt. Harper is a slightly better power hitter than Goldschmidt, but Goldschmidt is a better base-stealer and hitter for average. The debate over this topic has been a very interesting one, but everyone, and I mean everyone has Harper winning the award by a wide margin.  Among them is Grantland baseball writer Jonah Keri:

When we checked in on Harper at the season’s quarter-way mark, he was both the runaway winner for NL MVP and in the midst of a historic season unmatched by any 22-year-old not named Ted Williams.

His second quarter has been punctuated by a couple of health scares. The first was downright terrifying, as Harper’s knee buckled when he tried to make a throw during a June 18 game against the Rays. That injury proved to be nothing more than a left hamstring strain, and Harper returned to the lineup two days later. Then, a week after that, Harper sat out three straight games — this time with a right hamstring strain — and returned on June 28.

Despite the two hamstring-induced starts and stops, the prognosis on Harper’s health remains positive, and he’s been an absolute monster when he’s been in the lineup. In the 56 plate appearances since that initial strain, he’s hit three homers and six doubles and posted a .340/.446/.660 line. With apologies to Paul Goldschmidt, Todd Frazier, and everyone else, this one isn’t particularly close: Harper has been the clear first-half NL MVP, and it’s his award to lose as we move forward.

I’ll tell you how I got to thinking about this debate.  I was talking to a friend of mine about it, and he said that Harper was the unquestioned MVP.  (His name is Danny Blomster, he’s a sabermetric genius, and you can check out his blog here.)  Anyhow, I championed the argument for Goldschmidt, beings that he is on a worse team and, while he hits in a better lineup than Harper, hits for a starting rotation whose best pitcher this season has been Robbie Ray.  My friend pulled out some sabermetric stats that supported the case for Harper, like his slugging percentage, OPS, and others.  So I looked at Goldschmidt and Harper, side-by-side, sabermetrically.  Here’s what I found.

Harper has a slightly higher on-base percentage (.471) than Goldschmidt (.466). If you take into account a stat called wOBA (weighted on-base average), Harper really begins to separate himself, as his wOBA is .490 to Goldy’s .452.  However, wOBA does not take into account intentional walks and stolen bases, and this is important. Goldschmidt has nineteen intentional walks to The Chosen One’s eight; the former’s total is tops in baseball.  Pitchers do not want to pitch to him, and that is why he has been intentionally walked so much.  Goldschmidt also has sixteen stolen bases to The Phenom’s four; he is trying to create runs for his team.

Many are voting for Harper based on his all around game.  That and the fact that he, you know, murders baseballs:

For most baseball fans, watching Bryce Harper play baseball is more aesthetically pleasing than watching Paul Goldschmidt play.  Fair enough; you get more home runs, and therefore more entertainment, out of watching Harper play.

However, another crucial advantage Goldschmidt has over Harper is in BABIP (Batting average on Balls in Play).  Goldschmidt’s .402 easily eclipses Harper’s .377.  For context, the average BABIP in the majors is .297, which means that the MVP candidates are really, really good. What does this mean?  It means Goldschmidt is a better pure hitter than Harper.  Luck does not play a role here, as Goldschmidt’s BABIP has been higher than Harper’s every year since 2012, Harper’s first in the league.  The sample size is plenty large enough.

Another interesting area of the debate is the K% (strikeout rate) and BB% (walk rate) of each player.  Goldschimdt wins here, but only slightly.  His K% is 19%, which is fractionally better than Harper’s 19.9 K%.  Both of those are actually around the league average of 20.1%, so both players are middle-of-the-road is this statistic.  Harper wins in BB% (19% to Goldschmidt’s 18.2%), but neither stat distinguishes one player as being better than the other.

Then there is the area of the game that can’t (or can) be quantified: coming up clutch.  As former Miami and NFL wide receiver Santana Moss once eloquently stated, “Big time players make big time plays in big time games.”

It’s no different in baseball.  With the presence of advanced stats in all sports, many have begun debunking the notion of “clutch”. However, whether you like it or not, it exists, as Russell Carleton of Fox’s “Just a Bit Outside” wrote last August:

Let’€™s clear a few things up. Clutch is not a result of having superior moral character, notwithstanding the plot of every sports movie. It is also not a guarantee that a hitter will always come through. My contention is a much more reserved one. Clutch is likely some combination of ability to deal with pressure combined with some particular change in approach, whether conscious or unconscious, that results in slight variations from what we might otherwise expect. For some, that change makes a hitter better and in some it makes him worse.

These analyses may not completely prove that clutch ability exists, but they do lay what I hope is a foundation for how we might continue the search. “€œClutch”€ is a way of saying that the situation matters because players are human. What we have here is an indicator that has reasonable (if not great) consistency across years, and it explains differences between players in how leverage affects them. More searching might find something with more consistency. Even then, year-to-year consistency is not the only way to establish that a measure is reflective of a player’€™s true talent level. Using a more tracking-based approach might help. Players can and do change, even within a season. There’€™s no reason clutch needs to be an enduring trait, rather than a state we can detect with some reliability. The rest is simply showing that the factor, whatever it is, can explain some of the differences between players’€™ performances in different leverage situations.

Clutch is actually a stat.  It is not one that can be sutained over time or predicted in the future, but it does well to describe a player’s past performance.  According to the Fangraphs.com version of the stat, Goldschmidt’s clutch rating in 2015 is 0.7, which, according to the site, is “above average”.  Meanwhile, Harper’s clutch rating is -1.41, and that is considered “poor”.  These numbers are not presented in the spirit that they will not change, but they have been telling through the first half of the season.  For context, the top two clutch hitters of all time, according to Fangraphs, are Tony Gwynn and Pete Rose; one of these players is in the Hall of Fame, and the other should be.  The third most statistically clutch hitter ever?  Scott Fletcher, a .262 career hitting middle infielder who played for six different teams over a 16-year career.  Clutch is not perfect, but it could be that stat that thinks that Jhonny Peralta is a better defensive shortstop than Andrelton Simmons.

Goldschmidt can also be considered a clutch player without statistical assistance, as SBNation Diamondbacks blog AZ Snake Pit writes:

It seems like every time the Diamondbacks need a little something extra, or a clutch hit, he’s there to deliver. The list of pitchers he’s traumatized is too long for this article, but even Tim Lincecum in his prime was no match.

And that ultimately is why Paul Goldschmidt is so weird: most of the time he’s not doing anything, maybe just hitting into a routine out or just hanging out at first base, but then he turns it on when it matters and BAM. Diamondbacks win. There is literally not comp for this type of player, because there is literally no other player that has ever done this, especially in baseball.

Isn’t it weird that a player would have a lot of mundane moments punctuated by moments of pure exhilaration? I’ve literally never seen that, have you???

Goldschmidt wins this category.  By a lot.  While clutch can be a volatile statistic, it does well to describe his performance this season, especially in comparison to Harper.  While clutch has its ups and downs, it does well here: it describes Goldschmidt as more of a clutch hitter than Harper.

Okay, so we’re now finished with the sabermatics sabermetrics of this debate.

Anyway, this discussion, as you can already tell, is extremely complicated.  Harper’s team has done better this season, record-wise (three games up on the Mets in the woeful NL East) , but it’s hard to argue that the Diamondbacks would be where they are right now (42-42) without Goldschmidt.  While Harper’s slugging percentage, OPS, and on-base percentage are better than Goldschmidt’s, I’m giving Goldschmidt the advantage.  The advantage for all of the above listed reasons, as well as a very simple one: the acronym MVP stands for “Most Valuable Player”.  If the award was for “Most Outstanding Player”, Harper would be the clear-cut winner.  But Goldschmidt has been more valuable for his team this season, and the stats demonstrate that.

Goldschmidt has the edge here.

All stats courtesy of fangraphs.com

MLB All-Star Game Ballot, Part 2

About a month ago, I published what my MLB All-Star Game ballot would look like; you can read about it here.  Well, here is part 2:

AL

1B: Prince Fielder, Rangers

2B: Jose Altuve, Astros

SS: Jose Iglesias, Tigers

3B: Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays

C: Stephen Vogt, A’s

DH: Nelson Cruz, Mariners

Outfielders: Mike Trout, Angels; Adam Jones, Orioles; Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox

NL

1B: Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks

2B: Dee Gordon, Marlins

SS: Jhonny Peralta, Cardinals

3B: Matt Carpenter, Cardinals

C: Buster Posey, Giants

Outfielders: Bryce Harper, Nationals; Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins; Justin Upton, Padres

As you can see, not a whole lot has changed here.  I still have not voted for any Royals in either ballot, even though it looks like they will be sending quite a few players to the game:

Let me know what you think!