Nationals Baseball: RSVPs : Roughly Same Valuable Players

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

RSVPs : Roughly Same Valuable Players

When Span went deep twice a refrain that has become familiar over the past couple months rang out again. Could Denard Span be a legitimate MVP candidate?  This often moves to can Anthony Rendon be a legitimate MVP candidate? before our attention is drawn elsewhere. The answer to the first is no, and to the second is probably, but really any Nats player has to fight the way the Nats are made up.

Let's look at the WAR totals for the Nationals, Dodgers, Cardinals, Brewers, Giants, and Pirates, because unless you are awesome it's playoff teams that get the MVP. Yes, I understand the flaws inherent in WAR*, but it'll give us a place to start. Given bWARs (Baseball Reference's WAR, which calculates defensive stats differently that fWAR Fangraph's WAR) numbers look a little funny in regards to Span, we'll use fWAR for this argument.

Best Player
LAD Kershaw 6.0
MIL Lucroy 5.6
SFG Pence 5.4
STL Peralta 5.2
PIT McCutchen 5.1
WSN Rendon 5.0

You may want to argue, say Peralta (.271 / .347 / .458) is not better than Rendon (.280 / .338 / .468), but as you can see the argument right off the bat doesn't have much merit. That's close to a wash offensively. Could Peralta be better than Rendon in the field?  Well, he plays a tougher position and the three-year cycles for defense suggest - yes, he's really that good - so yes, he could be. But really you are arguing a difference that is not meant to be definitive. They are pretty much the same. So Rendon has an argument.

But looking at the above Kershaw he should have a distinct edge. Even though the distance between Kershaw and Rendon isn't definitive, it does mean at some level it's more likely Kershaw has been more valuable. What does one think outside of WAR? That's difficult to say with stats, since you are comparing a pitcher and a batter. I can say Kershaw is historically good as a pitcher and Rendon... he's pretty good for an offensive player. And what does the gut say**? Kershaw (at least to me). To me it'd be cut and dried if the season ended today.

But there may be a contingent of "I won't vote for a pitcher for MVP" idiots out there. We all know that. So why do I keep Rendon at a "probably" when he seems to be definitely in the mix? A couple reasons. One reason, as I said earlier, is the make-up of the Nats. Let's continue looking at WAR.

3rd/5th/7th Best Player
LAD Ryu 3.2 / Gordon 2.9 / Uribe 2.5
MIL Ramirez 2.8 / Davis 2.1 / Lohse 1.7
SFG Bumgarner 3.8 / Pagan 2.1 / Blanco 1.6
STL Wainwright 3.5 / Molina 2.8 / Jay 2.3
PIT Harrison 4.3 / Walker 2.3 / Melancon 1.4
WSN Werth 3.7 / Strasburg 3.3 / Roark 2.6

No team is as balanced with very good players like the Nats are. The difference between their best player and 7th best player in this broad generalization, is easily the closest. The Pirates and Giants are top heavy, clearing out quickly to "just good" players. The Brewers aren't even top heavy. The Dodgers have balance but there is a bigger drop from Kershaw. The Cardinals are the closest to what the Nats have but are a half-step behind at every level.  More than any team in the NL the Nats aren't led by anyone. It's hard to get an MVP when your team is thought of in that way.

What else is hurting Rendon? Well, if we do focus on the more reliable offensive stats, which is something MVP voters tend to do anyway, Rendon is good but clearly behind players like McCuthen, Pence and say a Puig. In fact, he's most likely behind Werth in that respect. It's not helpful to your cause when you're not the best offensive player on your team.

Where's Span in all this? Around where Werth is, which makes sense to me. His defense may be getting undervalued but enough so that I think he's clearly more important than Rendon? I can't say that. Plus with Span you run into the McCutchen problem. McCutchen is clearly much much better offensively even with Span having arguably the best season of his career. To put Span ahead of McCutchen you have to first say Span's defense is being severely undervalued then you have to say McCutchen's defense is NOT being undervalued. That's a little too much picking and choosing for me.

So the Nats don't have an MVP. I wouldn't be surprised if they don't even get someone in the Top 5 in voting.  (Kershaw is a lock. McCutchen will be too unless the Pirates just die in September. Stanton won't win but he'll get enough votes to be top 5 because he's awesome). The Nats won't have a Cy Young (Kershaw). They'll just have to settle for having the best team.

And I mean that in the talent sense, not the nebulous "spirit" sense that some bad sportswriters boil it down to when you have a team without a great player. The Nats have a lot of very good and good players. Let's please not take the lack of an MVP and run it into some trite "good clubhouse" nonsense, ok? I'm talking to you Boz.

*WAR is a measure of offense and defense combined. While the stats community feels they have a pretty good grasp on offensive value, no one really trusts defensive statistics for a single year to be very accurate.

**Silly question? Not if you are asking for a vote. You are asking for people's opinions for God's sake. Why would they not use their gut?


Gr8day4Bsbll said...

Off-topic, I grant you, but... 18. And the Barves STILL can't hit... Carry on...

Harper said...

At this point the only thing that's going to worry the Nats would be a 4 game losing streak starting today, with the Braves winning today as well. Not likely

cass said...

The MVP is Kershaw, in my opinion. But pitchers only seem to get MVP's when they get a million "wins".

JWLumley said...

Harper, this brings up a really good point that I think I saw Dave Schoenfield mention the other day. Shouldn't we all start using offensive and defensive WAR instead of general WAR? The defensive stats are just too unreliable. Take Harper for example (BTW, I'll be taking orders for a big plate of Crow on Harper, that means you Boz and Jerry Crasnick) He's only posted an fWAR of 1.1, but he's posted an offensive fWAR of 3.4 and defensive fWAR of -2.7. Harper doesn't have enough time in the big leagues to really say whether that number's correct or not, that's before you get into how defensive metrics don't properly value arm strength, which is next to impossible to do because how do you quantify runners not taking the extra base?

To me, this is what makes the Kershaw question so difficult. Stanton has a wRC+ of 161, but according to fWAR he's terrible defensively. Considering that UZR doesn't account well for arm strength (which is a big part of outfield defense especially for RF'ers) how do you compare the two? This is what makes me fall into the nut job camp of pitchers shouldn't win the MVP. They have their award, the Cy Young, and the MVP outside of Bob Gibson is for positional players. It's not so much about value, as it is about the impossible task of comparing the two.

cass said...

I'm not sure defensive numbers are that unreliable. They don't always reflect true talent but neither do offensive number. There's a lot of noise in both. For some reason, people think it makes sense for a player to have wildly different batting averages two years in a row but can't fathom that defensive value varies so much.

Based on my own observations, I think that's wrong and that defense does vary a lot year-to-year. Defense does, indeed, slump. Just my two cents.

JWLumley said...

@Cass I agree there's some randomness in batting averages, but I believe there are stats that are capable of accounting for bad luck for predictive purposes, but I believe that offensive statistics are better at capturing what actually happened. Still, I agree that defense can slump [see: Desmond, Ian] even when tired excuses like standing in a different spot are run out there.

Harper said...

JW - Thing is the batters also have their own award, the Hank Aaron Award, we just don't care about it because it's only been around 15 years and because hitters usually win the MVP. If we adjust the latter we can pump up the former and get a "fairer" system. Best pitcher over here, Best hitter over here, Most Valuable PLAYER over here

cass - I'm sure fielding can slump but it's hard to distinguish how much is slumping and how much is noise. Your BA comparison is actually very apt, which is why most advanced stats don't use batting average. They use things like wRAA wOBA even just OPS which has better year to year correlations.

Jay said...

I have always thought pitchers could win the MVP as well. I was leaning away from this when I saw the Dodgers are 17-2 in Kershaw's last 19 starts since May 17. I thought to myself - the Dodgers have played 95 games since then. How valuable can Kershaw truly be if he only "played" in less than 20 of those. I went back and did the math. Dodgers have gone 55-40 since May 17. Dodgers have gone 17-2 in starts by Kershaw since then. Dodgers have gone 38-38 in games not started by Kershaw since May 17. No futher argument in my book. Kershaw deserves the MVP.

I went and did the math do prove to myself Kershaw wasn't the MVP since he only played in 19 games. Problem is he was lights out in the vast majority of those games. Wow.

Nattydread said...

@Jay. Great MVP case for Kershaw. Does this mean that the Dodgers are a mediocre team when Kershaw is not pitching?

Harper said...

Jay - yeah it's hard to think of a guy playing in only 1/5th a teams games can be that important but imagine if that guy went 4 for 5 with a homer and two double every time out? Kershaw is basically winning these games with his performances

Anonymous said...

@nattydread - compare last night to two nights ago

JWLumley said...

Harper, good point, but while the pitching award was named for what many thought was the best pitcher up until that point, I can't get behind an award named after someone who definitely isn't one of the top 5 hitters and probably isn't top 10. Call it the Willie Mays award or the Ted Williams award and I'll get on board. Call it the Barry Bonds Award and I'll get a tattoo. Call it the "Hank Aaron is a hypocrite who took greenies" award and I'll consider changing my mind.

Harper said...

JW - It's generally accepted that Mays (and pretty much everyone of that era) took greenies. So don't be changing the name for that. Now there are some questionable Hank Aaron related things... (coughsteroidsTomHouseDaveyJohnsonscrazyyearoddincreaseinHRpowerin2ndhalfof30scough)


Kenny B. said...

Why do the awards need to be named after people? Why not just "Pitcher of the Year" or "Batter of the Year?" Seems dumb and necessarily limiting to use players' names because that player will probably eventually no longer be the best, and some iconoclast will come up with some personal reason we should not be honoring that player. My proposed titles are future proof.

cass said...

I understand your point, Harper, but defensive stats do actually measure what happened too. And wOBA and wRC+ still don't factor out BABIP luck. So I donno.

As for the pitchers only playing every five days thing, well, my counter to that is that batters only come up once every nine plate appearances while pitchers are at the heart of every single plate appearance. How can a batter win the MVP when he only comes to the plate one out of every nine times?

Kershaw pitches, what, seven innings a game on average? That's 7/9 of defensive plate appearances x 1/5 of games = 7/45 of all PAs. Let's just assume Puig plays every day (he doesn't but close enough) and comes up in one out of every nine plate appearances. That's 1/9 * 5/5 games = 4/45 of all PA's. Turns out that Kershaw gets deeply involved in PA's more than Puig does!

Yes, Puig is more involved in tough defensive plays (the only ones that matter) than Kershaw is, so it's probably a wash in terms of influence on the game. Factor in Puig's off days as well.

Definitely agree with Harper about the Hank Aaron award. Also depends on if you want it to go to the best hitter or the best position player. Aaron is good for the former but Mays would be better for the latter due to his stellar defense. Or just name them the Mike Trout award. I kid. Mostly.

The Cy Young award should probably be called the Walter Johnson award, but ah well. Cy Young's a good choice.

Zimmerman11 said...

I'm in the .500/1.000 camp... when we're in a spot where the Nats go .500 and the Braves need to run the table, I'll call it :)

25 games left, so Nats would be at 90/91 wins if they went .500 rest of the way... Braves would have to win 18 or 19/25 which is like .750 the rest of the way.

But, my magic number is 6. Could be this week... by definitely next week barring catastrophe.

JWLumley said...

@Harper I know they all took greenies, but you don't hear Willie and certainly wouldn't have heard Mickey condemning steroid users as "cheats". The hypocrisy of which is laughable.

JWLumley said...

@Harper I know they all took greenies, but you don't hear Willie and certainly wouldn't have heard Mickey condemning steroid users as "cheats". The hypocrisy of which is laughable.

JWLumley said...

Desmond 4th? But Matt, he's not left handed how will this ever work? (He's also not really hitting, but that's a minor point).

Donald said...

I think the issue with the MVP award is that it's so vaguely defined. If it's for the best player period, then Stanton has a legitimate argument. But when you start talking about it being the most valuable, then folks try to link it to overall team success. And then you've got folks giving it to Cabrera as the best hitter, without dinging him for his defense. Should Buster Posey get extra credit for playing catcher which is a more valuable position? Since each voter tends to interpret the definition however they want, you end up with kind of odd results.

I like the awards since they lead to all of this speculation so I'm all for expanding them. Best Starting Pitcher (Cy Young award); Best relief pitcher (Mariano Rivera award); Best hitter (Hank Aaron award); Best defensive award (Ozzie Smith award?); Best all around player (Mike Trout award); Biggest contribution to a team's success.

JWLumley said...

@Donald Hank Aaron isn't in the conversation for best hitter. Ruth, Williams, Mays and Bonds, perhaps Pujols too, or Ty Cobb. Personally I'd call it the Barry Bonds award just see if Murray Chass and Bob Costas' heads explode.

JWLumley said...

@Harper Here's something I'd like to see an article about since we're kind of running out of stuff until playoff time: Why all of the off-days during the playoffs? I'm watching the Dodger series and thinking, how is anyone going to beat LA in the postseason with Kershaw? If he goes two or three times in a series, that means Greinke only has to win one maybe two. I'm sorry, but that's crap. Why doesn't the playoff format resemble the season? I'd like to see teams have to use their 4th and 5th starters and not just because it's to the Nats advantage, but because that's the way it's played for 162 games, but then we crown the "champion" with teams only using 1-3 in some cases or in Arizona's case 1-2. I understand this is largely driven by TV, but isn't there a way to schedule the games so that teams have to use their 4th and 5th starters or pitch their #1 on short rest?

cass said...


Also note the gap between #1 and #2.

JWLumley said...

@Cass being GOOD for a very long time, isn't the same as being GREAT. Still, you're cherry-picking a single stat. Considering Williams missed 4 whole years to the military and Mays missed two, counting stats are skewed. Still, Aaron ranks 24th all time in wRC+, 70th in wOBA, and 22nd in OPS+, but don't worry he's the all-time leader in total bases so he's the best.

cass said...

Why isn't being good for a very long time the same as being great? Maybe that's your opinion, but I don't see how it's conclusively proven and there can't be differing opinions.

Aaron did play all those years and Aaron did rack up a ton of offensive value.

You didn't say Aaron's not the best. You said he wasn't even in the conversation. I thought that sounded a bit off considering what he accomplished. Wouldn't necessarily be my choice, but I'd think he'd be in the conversation.

How about RE24? That's context dependent, but pretty legitimate. Numbers aren't perfect in his era, but still:

Hell, let's talk about OWAR. We're talking about hitting, right?

He's neck and neck with Mays and all three players higher than him can be excluded for various reasons. Cobb and Ruth both played against inferior competition due to segregation. And Bonds, well, some people might feel steroids improved his performance in illegitimate ways. Maybe I don't think steroids are any different from greenies, but lots of people do, and I can't say for certain they're wrong.

He's clearly in the conversation. I could also cite runs created and extra base hits - he's #1 all-time in extra base hits. But I'm not trying to prove some kinda point about him being best, just saying I don't think it's fair to say he isn't in the conversation.

Donald said...

@JWLumley-- for the record, I just listed Aaron since the award is already named for him. I wouldn't list him as the best all time hitter either. He was certainly a dangerous one though .

Anonymous said...

If tonight convinces Williams that Blevins is a LOOGY, the loss would be worth it.

JE34 said...

@JWLumley - interesting point on the playoff timing. They build in scheduling cushion b/c of weather and travel, but it can drag out way too long. Baseball wasn't meant for November! Going faster would suit deeper pitching staffs, but rating$ are better when the $tud$ are on the hill.

@anon - I see I wasn't alone when yelling "NOOOOO!" at my radio when Blevins was trotted out there for a whole inning.

John C. said...

Loss tonight? There was no loss tonight, Mr. Anonymous. Never Give Up! Never Surrender!

This Nats team is one mentally tough bunch of hombres.

BooyahSuckah! said...

Interesting take on LaRoche. Shouldn't be a surprise to anyone reading this site, but interesting that he's at least getting a little national media love.

Also, on another note, I hope we all enjoy being stuck with Blevins in high-leverage situations from now on. It was a terrible decision to leave him in, but wouldn't you know it, he managed to pitch his way out of it. Which means, as far as MW is concerned, he's the greatest lefty pitcher of all time and will be used in every conceivable situation while Thornton ends up on Det's milk carton, and Det ends up... what's lower than that? A shallow grave under the bullpen?

Jay said...

Be careful what you wish for with Soriano. Clippard has come in twice in classic save situatsions. Once a couple weeks ago in the 9th and yesterday in the 12th. He gave up game tieing homeruns in both. Clippard has 2 blown saves in 2 classic save situations. Storen almost blew the save - I think he gave up a run or two in the 9th if I'm remember correctly. Soriano has 4 blown saves all year. The guy drives me crazy, but he does get the final out.

Players say there is a difference between pitching the 9th versus other innings. I thought that was bunk but maybe not.

John C. said...

It's interesting that on every other site that I visit on the interNats, and on sports page sites generally, MW is being praised for his brilliant maneuvering of the team through a 14 inning emotional roller coaster. And justly so - Williams did a helluva job. Certainly he outmaneuvered Mattingly.

But here on Nationals Baseball? Nothing but "OMG Blevins for a whole inning? Even worse, it worked, therefore the simple minded fool who runs the team will immediately mess up! Oh NOES!"

This is a tough crowd.