Nationals Baseball: LaRoche for MVP?

Monday, September 24, 2012

LaRoche for MVP?

Until recently voting for the MVP was a pretty easy affair.  You looked at the division winners and maybe a team or two that was in it until the end, and picked out anyone who was leading his team in RBIs and preferably homers. You then compared him to other such candidates and found yourself a winner. Occasionally things would get confusing and maybe a dominant HR/RBI player from a bad team could win, or something more crazy, but in general this strategy worked. The Nats are one of the best teams in the majors and a near lock for a division title.  It makes sense that they should have an MVP candidate. Under this voting style the candidate is obvious : Adam LaRoche.  Thirty-two homers, 98 RBI, both team leading.

In the past few years though, a consequence of the statistical revolution has been re-evaluating the concept of value. Runs batted in have been a particular victim. Since a batter can only drive in runs if someone gets on base before they hit, RBI are very dependent on something outside of a batters control. Therefore, RBI tend to fall behind several other offensive categories when determining how to best evaluate a player. Few young sabermetrically inclined voters would give RBI more than passing consideration in determining their vote. Also there is increased interest in including fielding in the consideration, since some of the new fangled stats do a better job of determining how much worth a player's fielding is to a team. At the same time we are still running against an old argument of what is meant by "value". Can a team that loses 100 games have an MVP player since in the end they would still miss the playoffs with or without him?* How does all this effect the Adam LaRoche lobby?

*I honestly don't care which side you're own.  It's just a silly award. So pick your method and run with it.  Just maintain your internal logic please.

First we have to see if Adam LaRoche is even the best representative from the Nats. We have to admit there isn't a better "at the plate" offensive candidate than LaRoche on the Nats. Sure he's had ~30 more PAs with RISP than anyone on the team. So? Given a full season Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, or Jayson Werth might have ended up with better numbers than LaRoche, but they didn't play a full season. LaRoche did. We're not evaluating these players going forward we are looking at the season passed. LaRoche wins. 

Now what if we consider baserunning? LaRoche loses big time there. For stolen bases LaRoche is basically a non-factor, while Werth (7SB, 2CS) and Desmond (19,6) matter. For everything else, there isn't an exact measure but fangraphs "Spd" stat tries to put it into context. Desmond is up near the top of the team with a 5.2, Werth has a 5.0, Zimm an ok 3.7 and LaRoche a terrible 1.9. Even if you can't wrap your head around these numbers and what exactly they mean, you can understand the concept behind them. Desmond goes from first to third on a single. He scores from second on a single, from first on a double. He might break up a double play or beat out a slow FC. LaRoche can do none of those things. He is catcher/pitcher slow.  His running hurts the team because he can't do what even an average runner can.

Now what about defense? LaRoche is having a fine season that's true, but first base is where the bad fielders hang out for a reason. Great defense at first does not matter as much as other positions. You can argue it's worth more than RF or 3B if you like, I wouldn't but you can, but there is no way it's more important than SS, and Ian Desmond is having an equally nice year there. As good a year at a tougher position, then nod has to go with Ian.

So while Adam maintains a slight lead in the pure at bat stats by vitrtue of playing 25 more games, Ian tops Adam in everything else. It's not much of a tough call for me. Ian is the more worthy candidate. There are more you could argue are more worthy than Adam. Zimm's has had great fielding and is closer than you'd think in RBI (89 for Zimm, 98 for Adam) and is better across the board in all stats but HRs. Bryce's has had great (though personally I think a bit overrated by fans AND stats) fielding in a tougher position, and has had amazing baserunning.  He's the guys scoring all those runs for LaRoche. Gio Gonzalez's excellent season can't be denied.  He's going to finish with 200IP and an ERA under 3.00. Strasburg, Espinosa, and ZNN also have cases that are nearly as strong as LaRoche's.

So right there it should end, LaRoche is not an MVP of the league if he's not the clear MVP for his team, But let's say you dismiss pitchers, and you just like those RBI and HR numbers sooo much that you can't get past it. How does Adam stack up to other NL candidates? Let's just pick two.

LaRoche : 32 homers, 98 RBI
McCutchen : 30 homers, 93 RBI
Braun : 40 homers, 100 RBI

pretty good... oh wait I forgot somethings.

LaRoche : .271 average, .342 OBP, 70 RS, 1 SB
McCutchen :  .336 average, .406 OBP, 103 RS, 19 SB
Braun :  .317 average, .405 OBP, 100 RS, 29 SB

Ummm... neither of those two are on playoff teams! McCutchen faded when his team did, so I choose to ignore the fact that we wouldn't even have been talking about them fading if it wasn't for the awesome display he put up until September. And Braun, he did roids! No way I'm voting for him. Who else you got?

Posey : 23 homers, 98 RBI
Holliday :  27, 98 RBI 

ok Adam is better than th...

Posey : .332 average, .405 OBP, 94 RS, 1SB
Holliday :  .298 average, . 379 OBP, 93  RS, 4 SB

dammit. Well he ties Posey in SBs!

I'm even purposely ignoring guys like Heyward and Molina whose value is tied up in baserunning and/or fielding tougher positions. The point is if you just expand your look beyond HR to RBI to even other simple stats that have been around for years LaRoche falls short, arguably well short, of potential candidates on division winners and teams that are/were in the playoff hunt.

Clearly not the most valuable in the league, clearly not the most valuable on his own team when everything is considered, the Adam LaRoche for MVP discussion is one that isn't worth having. (I just wasted a column!) 


Anonymous said...

"Great defense at first does not matter as much as other positions"

Gotta disagree with ya there Harp. I say it's the most important defensive position.

Zimmerman11 said...

I think Adam will garner a few MVP votes, but I think he is an extreme long-shot to win without another SERIOUS hot streak the next ten days.

BUT, defensively...How many more errors would Zimm have been charged with if Morse were playing first rather than LaRoche? Adam is an EXCELLENT first baseman... he makes Ian and Ryan better.

Donald said...

I agree, though I put more stock in RBIs for MVP than sabermatricians might. They don't show that he's a better hitter, but they do show that he bats in a lot of runs, which is by definition valuable to the team.

My guess is that Posey wins, partially because he's a feel-good story given his comeback. Braun doesn't win for the obvious. McCutchon would have won if the Pirates made the playoffs, and he still might, but I'm sticking with Posey.

Cy Young will be interesting. I think if they are tied for wins, Dickey will edge out Gio, but if Gio is ahead, he might just win it. Where it gets fun is that Gio *could* make 2 more starts, but if he does, then he might not be able to start the first playoff game (unless they push EJax's start on Thursday and the Nats win the #1 seed). I'm assuming the Nats would hold him back to start the playoffs even if it meant missing a final start and a chance to pass Dickey in wins. But who knows...

Josh said...

From a purely anecdotal point of view this season, and as a fan who's followed them all season, it has seemed to me that Adam has been either red hot or ice cold, almost like a Homer or Strike out kinda guy, which simply isn't what an MVP kinda guy does. Adam doesn't seem to work counts on tough AB's the way that Desi does. Most importantly, like Harper said, if we can't say he's clearly the best on the team, how can he be best in the league?

Kenny B. said...

@Donald: I would be absolutely shocked if they managed their rotation to maximize possibility for an award instead of maximizing possibility for playoff wins.

On another note, I feel like the Nats race with the Reds is being largely ignored by the baseball press. They're mostly jazzed about the AL East, which is legitimately interesting. But still, there's a pretty serious race for best team in baseball happening, and it has legitimate playoff implications. Yet I haven't heard anything about it.

Harper said...

Anon - you're welcome to disagree. I hope you understand that "range" wise it's no contest. 1B not only has the foul line cutting him off, he's forced to play closer to his bag than 3rd base because of all the action. Given that and the fact there are more righty bats than lefty, he's going to see less GB chances than other positions.

So it comes down to catching throws and that's one of those things though that we only see in one direction. "He scooped that ball and saved Desmond or Zimm. LaRoche is awesome!" is fine but you never hear "Espinosa threw his 25th consecutive throw to first right on the money. We could put a Kooky Katcher out there!" which is closer to the truth.

z11 - he is but it's not that big a difference, not like being an excellent SS or CF. Another thing, that I saw tweeted, is Nats fans may be particularly inclined to think too highly of Adam's D because we've had nothing but BAD firstbasemen recently.

Donald - I thihnk Dickey might win even with 1 less win than Gio. 2 less is probably too much. I'm not sure how they are going to work playoffs rotation, but I'd expect them to futz it somehow.

Josh - he certainly never singlehandedly carried the team. That's the flip-side of "the teams too bad to have an MVP" you can get a team too GOOD to have one as well, if you think value is in making playoffs or not.

Kenny B - Best record no one really cares about. HFA between these two is only a NLCS thing so it may not even matter. That just isn't as exciting as races for playoff spots. If things start clearing up though, I'm sure the media will say something about it to fill time.

Froggy said...

Gonna have to disagree as to how important Adam's fielding has been. He's kept at least 10 throws from Zimmy going into the seats with runners on this year. If Zimmerman gets a GG the difference will be b/c of those catches.

As to the numbers, yeah, Desi would probably have had an MVP year from the sportswriter stance if he had been healthy all year. Take away 6 or so homers from LaRoache and it is hands down Desmond in my book.

However, if an MVP comes from the Nats it will be Gio.

Dr. J said...

They will definitely not give it to Ryan Braun out of spite.

Froggy said...

...on the other hand, maybe it should be Ryan Zimmerman after that homer to center...Boom!

Zimmerman11 said...

I'm drinking the Kool-Aid. Harper for ROY, MVP, Silver Slugger and Cy Young :)

He's been throwing strikes from the outfield all year, throwing them from 60 feet 6 inches can't be too hard!

Zimmerman11 said...

I'm drinking the Kool-Aid. Harper for ROY, MVP, Silver Slugger and Cy Young :)

He's been throwing strikes from the outfield all year, throwing them from 60 feet 6 inches can't be too hard!

Nattydread said...

Although I agree with the vocal minority that believe LaRoche's fielding makes a major difference, I will let this slide. Let Desmond have the MVP. I wanted Adam Dunn back, didn't really agree with Rizzo's decision to pick up LaRoche. The choice has proven to be a far better than any other 1B option, and a big part of the teams improvement.

So, when giving out awards, can we agree that LaRoche is a legit candidate for comeback player of the year?

Section 222 said...

Harper, I asked Mark Zuckerman why you aren't on his blogroll. He said you just have to ask. Email him at zuckerman12 at Gmail if you're interested in that.

Harper said...

Froggy - Do you think that LaRoche saves those 10 and other 1B save none? What's the difference between him and what the average 1B can do, that's the question (I think the average 1b gets 6 of those).

Gio would get my vote.

Z11 - He's got a good case because Frazier and Miley have struggled. Then again Bryce's last week+ hasn't been all that great either. It's a stumble to the finish which favors the most popular.

ND - don't know too much about other CBOY candidates, but it's hard to think of anyone else.

Zimmerman11 said...

Isn't Buster Posey in the lead for CBPOY? Small shoutout to Adam Dunn I suppose as well. Although .208 would be tough to argue :)

Froggy said...

Harper - good point, but those are just the ones I've seen. But then there's that whole leadership and experience thing he brings to the mix.

LaRoche gets my vote for Nats CBPOY, and Gio is MVP especially if he wins in Philly.

Donald said...

Today could be a tough day for the Nats -- playing against Cole Hamels in Philly while the Braves send Medlin to the mound against the Marlins and the Reds start Cueto. It'll take a bit of luck to get the magic number down.

Harper said...

Z11 - NL and AL get awards (so Dunn not an issue). If Posey gets MVP he won't get CBPOY

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