Jon Heyman Needs Attention

It’s the end of February and exhibition games are hours away. A new baseball season is on the horizon, full of new wonders for our great sportswriters to opine about. Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman instead wants to focus on last year’s NL MVP award and attack people who use Sabermetrics.

Things must be lonely around the office because Heyman is clearly angling to get linked to and talked about on the Internets. Being the generous person I am, I’m going to give him just that. Fire Joe Morgan already dissected it with humor, but I’m going to dissect it with a fine-tooth comb and really give him the type of editing he deserves, and clearly lacks at Sports Illustrated.

As always, his words are in bold, my comments will follow in regular typeface.

Let’s start off with the header.

Sorry VORPies, Rollins was the right choice

Seriously. This is a grown man working for a worldwide-renowned sports publication… insulting proponents of an ideology that differs from his. Further, he chooses to do this in February, more than four months removed from the end of the World Series, and right on the cusp of a brand new baseball season.

Rollins acknowledged that his brash “team to beat” prediction probably helped him win the MVP. Of course, it didn’t hurt that he hit 30 home runs, scored 139 runs and slugged .534 while batting leadoff and playing a superb shortstop for a division champion.

No, it didn’t hurt that his counting statistics were inflated by a record number of plate appearances (and, subsequently, at-bats).

Jon, did you notice where Rollins was in the Phillies’ batting order? He was a lead-off hitter. What is the job of a lead-off hitter? You are correct: to get on base.

Isn’t a shame that Rollins not only had a below-average on-base percentage (.344 to the league average .349), but he etched his name in pseudo-history when he tied for 18th place in total outs made in a single season (527)?

That’s the problem with counting statistics: you’ve got to keep plate appearances and at-bats in mind, otherwise, you don’t have a scale off of which to base your perception. Rollins’ 30 HR are impressive, but his rate is about one HR every 24 AB, which is mediocre.

The Rockies’ great slugger, Matt Holliday, finished second, but even a Rockies person told me in the playoffs last October that Rollins deserved the MVP [...]

“A Rockies person”? Who could this be? The clubhouse janitor? Clint Hurdle? The guy selling hot dogs at the concession stand behind home plate at Coors Field? Garrett Atkins?

Even if “a Rockies person” is someone whose opinion we should value, it doesn’t somehow add credence to the claim that Rollins deserved the MVP. For every “Rockies person” backing Rollins, there is a “Phillies person” backing David Wright and a “Mets person” backing Matt Holliday.

That person believed that great offense combined with stellar shortstop play should have been enough to take the awards, not a bad thought at all.

What about great offense combined with stellar third base play?

Rollins isn’t “stellar” at shortstop defensively anyway. He ranked 9th out of 14 qualified NL SS in RZR. David Wright ranked 5th out of 12 qualified NL 3B in RZR.

Add to that Wright’s offensive prowess over Rollins, and it’s not even close between the two.

Seriously, Wright has better power, gets on base at a much, much better clip, has comparable speed (34-of-39 stolen bases), knows how to draw a walk, and fields his position at an above-average level.

The only reason it’s a debate between Rollins and Wright is because so many people don’t understand the concept of rates. Heyman is one of them.

Even so, I wasn’t shocked that stats people have taken issue with Rollins winning the MVP award.

This tells me that he knows something has been statistically proven to be true, yet he will still believe something else because he wants to regardless of what the facts say.

There are numbers crunchers out there — including a firejoemorgan.com author who wrote a guest piece in Sports Illustrated last week — who believe baseball writers rank somewhere between morons and idiots for voting Rollins as MVP over David Wright, who had a higher VORP.

Not just VORP. There are a plethora of statistics out there that show Wright as a better candidate than Rollins. Almost all defensive metrics will put Wright over Rollins. Offensively, the meat-and-potatoes of baseball — OBP and SLG — easily make the case with Wright.

Really the only thing Rollins has over Wright is the ability to hit triples.

The stat people seem to believe VORP — a Baseball Prospectus statistic that stands for Value Over Replacement Player — defines a player, but why haven’t many of them championed last year’s VORP leader (Hanley Ramirez) as MVP instead?

Before I took a look at defensive metrics, I thought Hanley Ramirez was the NL MVP as well. He is horrendous defensively, however: -8 fielding runs above average.

Secondly, Heyman makes a strawman argument by saying that those who use Sabermetrics think that VORP “defines a player.” One statistic does not and can not define a player and you will not find any educated user of Sabermetrics advocating this.

And thirdly, VORP isn’t just a Baseball Prospectus statistic. Certainly it’s the most widely regarded because of BP’s popularity, but others have it as well. To quote a commenter on Baseball Think Factory, “that’s like saying that batting average is a TSN statistic.”

I assume the stats guys favor Wright because he played for a contending team. I guess the rule is this: Highest VORP wins unless the VORP champion is playing for a loser.

Uh… no. “The stats guys” favor Wright because he was the best when you factor in both offense and defense. Rollins, really, doesn’t come close.

There is no universal agreement among those who use Sabermetrics that a candidate’s team’s contention should have any factor. Personally, I don’t think it should. You shouldn’t punish a player for having a bad supporting cast.

If Wright’s offensive stats were slightly better than Rollins’, and I will accept that they were, especially considering the respective ballparks they play in (VORP accounts for ballparks), shouldn’t Rollins get points for playing a superb shortstop compared to Wright’s slightly-above average third base?

1. Wright’s statistics weren’t “slightly better” than Rollins’. It’s a landslide in Wright’s favor.

2. Rollins doesn’t play a superb shortstop, as proven above.

And shouldn’t Rollins get credit for showing extraordinary initiative and leadership?

If you have the privilege of voting for the MVP award, you can use whatever criteria you wish. If you want to account for intangibles, go right ahead.

Personally, I don’t think any MVP candidate should have intangibles taken into account. They’re highly subjective and thus highly prone to human biases and flawed perceptions. The analysis, I believe, is more accurate when you don’t account for intangibles.

For helping his team barrel into the playoffs from seven games back with 17 to go, as opposed to Wright’s team, which perpetrated a historic choke?

It’s not Wright’s fault his team couldn’t win a game at the end of September.

And if we’re going to take September performance into account…

Wright: 38-125 (.304), 6 HR, 20 RBI, 4 SB, .432 OBP, .602 SLG (1.034 OPS)

Rollins: 39-138 (.282), 6 HR, 18 RBI, 14 SB, .333 OBP, .542 SLG (.875 OPS)

Though the Mets’ collapse was no fault of Wright’s, for the MVP to come off the all-time choke team, he’d better have a greater advantage in stats [...]

To the stat guys, walking is more thrilling and much more valuable than actually winning the pennant.

Heyman really has an obsession with the success or failure of the candidates’ teams. For what it’s worth, the Phillies did nothing in the post-season — they were promptly swept in three games by the Colorado Rockies. It’s as if they never even made the post-season.

There you go Jon: Not only did I read and respond to your article, I even linked to it as well. You got the attention that you wanted.