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.

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24 comments

  1. Nick

    February 26, 2008 01:27 AM

    Your so right about this. Even on my site during September I got caught up in the hype and wrote a pro-Rollins article, but then after the awards were announced, I had the sense, and time, to cool off from the hype of the Mets Collapse, and realized I was wrong and wrote a piece stating this and that Wright should have won. Why wait until now to throw fuel on the fire?

  2. kdon

    February 26, 2008 04:09 AM

    Your analysis sort of falls apart when you write this:

    “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.”

    If you truly believe this, then Rollins is a perfectly defensible choice for MVP. I use advanced metrics all the time in projecting players, but for MVP, they really do miss the point.

    To claim that a player on a team that one of the biggest chokes in sports history should win MVP is just baffling. I know Wright played well, but in MVP voting, the performance of your teamates obviously plays a role.

    My thought is that you don’t actually want voters to factor in intangibles, and that you are just being disengenuous by writing that you don’t care.

    The reason is that if you say they “shouldn’t” factor in intangibles, then you are basically going against the entire tradition of MVP voting.

    The criterion for the MVP award as it stands now is a fun, fluid, and organic concept, pieced together ad hoc over time. I know this infuriates people with a certain frame of mind who would rather have one metric, but that just strikes me as incredibly boring.

  3. Bill B.

    February 26, 2008 04:29 AM

    Your analysis sort of falls apart when you write this

    How? I have never advocated that everyone follow lock-step to any one ideology.

    Heyman is insulting the Sabermetric approach, and I’m defending it. If he wants to vote Rollins for MVP because he wears a red hat, that’s his prerogative.

    then Rollins is a perfectly defensible choice for MVP

    I have never said that there’s no justification for Rollins’ MVP selection. I have said, however, that the statistics don’t back that up.

    To claim that a player on a team that one of the biggest chokes in sports history should win MVP is just baffling. I know Wright played well, but in MVP voting, the performance of your teamates obviously plays a role.

    It is the Most Valuable Player award, not the Most Valuable Player on a Non-Choking Team award.

    My thought is that you don’t actually want voters to factor in intangibles, and that you are just being disengenuous by writing that you don’t care.

    It’s not disingenuous. We all want everyone else to believe in what we believe in. I don’t care if other people have a different approach to this; I do care when they start insulting other ideologies simply because they disagree with them.

    The reason is that if you say they “shouldn’t” factor in intangibles, then you are basically going against the entire tradition of MVP voting.

    Read this.

  4. kdon

    February 26, 2008 07:16 AM

    Your recent comments aside, I just don’t believe that you think it is an open question of what an MVP is.

    Take this:

    “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.”

    Am I wrong, or are you saying here that “statistics prove to be TRUE that claim that Rollins should not be MVP.”

    If that is the case, then you can’t then argue that you are fine with other methodologies to approach the question. If another methodology leads to a FALSE conclusion (Rollins as MVP), and ignores FACTS, then that methodology is therefore wrong.

    You obviously want to appear open-minded to contrast yourself with this rather dimwitted sports writer, but the tone of your argument belies a similar dogmatism.

    The fact that you also direct me towards a logical fallacy from Phil 101, also make me think that you believe as strongly that your methodology is the true way, just as strongly as Heyman.

    I give you points for having a superior style (the guy was very annoying), but substantively, I see little difference between you and Heyman on how you view the arguments of the other side.

  5. Bill B.

    February 26, 2008 07:51 AM

    Am I wrong, or are you saying here that “statistics prove to be TRUE that claim that Rollins should not be MVP.”

    Heyman is trying to use statistics to back up Rollins as the MVP. The statistics favor David Wright, or Albert Pujols, or Chipper Jones over Rollins.

    If Heyman wrote, “Rollins wears a red hat, so he should be MVP,” I’d have no problem with that. I wouldn’t relish the unscientific way he goes about arriving at his conclusion, but that’s his prerogative.

    If another methodology leads to a FALSE conclusion (Rollins as MVP), and ignores FACTS, then that methodology is therefore wrong.

    As you said, people use different criteria to arrive at their conclusions. If one is using statistics as their guide to arrive at a conclusion, then yes, they are wrong in saying that Rollins is the MVP statistically.

    you believe as strongly that your methodology is the true way, just as strongly as Heyman.

    I do think the use of statistics is “the true way.” We all think the methods we use to arrive at our ideologies are “true.”

    I see little difference between you and Heyman on how you view the arguments of the other side.

    It’s going to appear that way when you’re going to put words in my mouth and assume things.

  6. Bo

    February 26, 2008 08:55 AM

    Nothing worse than a stat geek who doesnt watch the games.

  7. Jeff

    February 26, 2008 09:46 AM

    He clearly wrote this after reading Junior’s column in SI and taking it as an insult.

  8. Simon

    February 26, 2008 10:17 AM

    Really if you care to bring up September you should bring up the final week. The week when the Mets actually collapsed losing 7 of their final 8.

    In those games Wright went had actual respectable stats. 12-30 with 6 runs scored and 2 rbi. However if you take out Wrights statistics in the one game they won (13-0 not exactly a thriller) and only look at their 6 losses it is significantly downgraded. 9-26 with 3 runs scored and 1 rbi.

    He can’t be blamed for the Mets collapse but he certainly didn’t do his job as a run producer during those games and perhaps given the historic disappointment of the Mets neither he nor anyone on their roster should have been rewarded in the end.

    Plus it’s just a god damn award voted on months ago who cares that much about it.

    PS. Dontrelle should have won the Cy Young of Chris Carpenter.

  9. Nick

    February 26, 2008 10:32 AM

    How come no one is discussing the bigger travesty, when Ryan Howard won the MVP over Pujols? What’s up and Phillies players winning arwards that aren’t their’s?

  10. Bill Baer

    February 26, 2008 10:33 AM

    Good points Simon. Just one minor correction: the Mets lost 6 of their final 7.

    Wright, Sept. 24-28 (all Mets losses): 8-22 (.364), 2 2B, 1 RBI, .417 OBP, .455 SLG (.872 OPS)

    He went 1-for-4 on the last day of the season, obviously a Mets loss.

    Plus it’s just a god damn award voted on months ago who cares that much about it.

    Yeah, that was my initial point about Heyman.

    Re: 2005 NL Cy Young, you really can’t go wrong with either. They are so close statistically. I’d give the edge to Carpenter since he pitched more innings, had a lower WHIP, and better K and BB rates.

  11. kdon

    February 26, 2008 10:33 AM

    Bill,

    It appears that the things I assumed and put in your mouth were accurate, such as the fact that you do think there is a “true way” to determine the MVP.

    You think it should have nothing to do with intagibles, while (it appears) that Heyman favors a combination of statistics and intangables.

    I’m not sure I get this “hey they can do what they want” approach. He is doing what he wants (ignoring defensive statistics, using intangibles and team performance) and you rip the guy for it.

    And I can’t believe you wouldn’t criticize a voter who actually declared that they voted for someone because of their hat color!

  12. Bill Baer

    February 26, 2008 10:41 AM

    you do think there is a “true way” to determine the MVP.

    Something is getting lost in translation here.

    I am not miffed because Heyman is using intangibles, or is taking a different route to determining the NL MVP. I am miffed because Heyman is trying to defend, statistically, that Rollins > Other candiates, namely Wright.

    If Heyman had said, “The hell with statistics, I’m basing this only off of intangibles,” then there’d be nothing to criticize but his unscientific method.

    It’s even more funny because in the article, he even said, “If Wright’s offensive stats were slightly better than Rollins’, and I will accept that they were,” basically undermining everything he was saying in Rollins’ favor.

    He is doing what he wants (ignoring defensive statistics, using intangibles and team performance) and you rip the guy for it.

    He is not ignoring statistics. He is trying to statistically defend Rollins as NL MVP.

    I can’t believe you wouldn’t criticize a voter who actually declared that they voted for someone because of their hat color!

    I would criticize them. But since there’s no universal standard for determining an MVP, I couldn’t say that my method is absolute. It’s exponentially more scientific, which gives it lots of credibility, but it’s not absolute.

  13. kdon

    February 26, 2008 11:13 AM

    Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems Heyman was using a mixture, that’s why he states “And shouldn’t Rollins get credit for showing extraordinary initiative and leadership?”

    It seems he thinks Wright may have better offensive credentials but that intangibles make up for it.

    And read this line again:

    He is doing what he wants (ignoring defensive statistics, using intangibles and team performance) and you rip the guy for it.”

    and look for the word defensive!

  14. Bill Baer

    February 26, 2008 11:23 AM

    It doesn’t matter, he’s still trying to make a statistical case for Rollins > Wright. It’s just hilarious that after trying to make a statistical case… he concedes that Wright > Rollins. That’s when he resorts to the intangibles.

    It’s like he was just jotting down thoughts as they came, and he realized the statistics favored Wright, so instead of just deleting what he had written, he kept it and then went down a different path. Maybe he had a deadline to meet.

    His whole point of writing this article was to bash Sabermetrics and the people who use them. It was a statistics-oriented article, and he tried to make a statistical case for Rollins. Obviously, he failed. =/

  15. Jeff

    February 26, 2008 11:41 AM

    Simon – I bet you could disqualify 90% of past MVP winners by cherry picking a stretch of games deemed “more” important and seeing how the MVP winner performed in those games. The award is for a 162 game season. I get that you were responding to the specific claims of the last month/week, and that’s fair. But I don’t think there’s any real conclusion to be drawn from that analysis.

    I never found Junior’s SI column on-line. It’s early in the magazine.

  16. kdon

    February 26, 2008 03:23 PM

    I guess we just read the article differently. It seemed he conceded Wright offensive superiority early on, but made the case that three things gave Rollins the edge:

    1) SS is more important defensively than 3B

    2) J-Roll is a better defensive player than Wright.

    3) Intangibles

    On the first two, it’s pretty clear he is ignorant of WARP, or any defensive metric, because they all favor Wright. I agree that this is the flaw in his argument (and the lazy part), but it never seemed he was trying to make an all-stats centered argument.

    I agree that this sort of half-assed approach to advanced metrics is annoying, but the overall point seems to be that Rollins’s leadership and the Phillies winning the East were the overiding factors, which I think is completely legitimate.

  17. Bill B.

    February 26, 2008 03:33 PM

    It’d be fine if he had said that at the beginning of his article and didn’t bother A) making a statistical case; and B) insulting Sabermetrics and the people who use them.

  18. Rob

    February 27, 2008 09:58 AM

    I’ve enjoyed reading the back and forth discussion between you, because you both subscribe to the use of advanced metrics when evaluating a ballplayer. Occasionally disagreeing with someone is a lot more fun when you actually respect their opinion.

    That said, I read a lot of blogs written by people with like-minded views, and I can’t believe how rigid I find my thinking in comparison to other “Vorpies” (Thanks Jon).

    I believe that if David Wright finished with the same numbers he did in 2007, the Mets still “choked away” the division, and he went 1 for 31 down the stretch, he should receive the same amount of weighted MVP consideration due to the 155 games he happend to play previous to that.

    Major League Baseball results are created when immense talent collides with considerable luck, creating results that may not be random in the literal sense, but are as close to random as you can get in regard to any given at bat, or cluster of at bats.

    Having a successful at-bat is a ridiculously tough thing to accomplish – quite possibly the toughest thing in sports – and I just can’t judge a player by his inability to get the job done in a small sample size…even if it is the last week of September, or any week in October.

    I’m surprised to see you both referencing a week’s worth of play, when discussing his candidacy.

  19. Bill Baer

    February 27, 2008 10:50 AM

    Rob, thanks for the comment. I’m with you — I think one week is way too small a sample size to begin with.

    That’s without mentioning that an at-bat in April is just as valuable as an at-bat on September 31, regardless of how much human emotional stock we put in the September games.

    Having a successful at-bat is a ridiculously tough thing to accomplish – quite possibly the toughest thing in sports

    If possible, it’d be interesting to have some kind of a study done to see what is the hardest job for an athlete. My hunch tells me that an at-bat is among the toughest.

  20. Rob

    February 27, 2008 04:52 PM

    Agreed Bill. I wish there was some way to quantify it.

    I have actually played this game in my head before, and discussed it with others for suggestions. If I had to start somewhere, I would say an NFL quarterback would give a Major League hitter a strong run for his money, if not exceed him, in regard to the toughest job in sports. I suspect it is the toughest.

    Yet, it doesn’t seem like there is any real way to make that argument based on tangible information.

    One of the gigs that also always seems to come up, is hockey goalie.

    I love the NHL, have been following it for almost 30 years, and respect and acknowledge how difficult it is to stop a puck. That said, even the most terrible goalies succeed approximately 88% of the time (save %), and that is a markedly different succeed/fail ratio than a major league hitter faces.

    Who knows? Maybe we need to get Jon Heyman up to speed on VORP first, and then we’ll tackle the larger matters. ;-)

  21. kuff6

    February 28, 2008 10:49 AM

    re: Nick’s statement: “How come no one is discussing the bigger travesty, when Ryan Howard won the MVP over Pujols? What’s up and Phillies players winning arwards that aren’t their’s?”

    Are you seriously contending that it was a “travesty” for a guy to win the MVP with 58 HR and a .313/.425/.659 line? It’s not like Pujols hit 70 HR – his line was .330/.431/.671, which is nearly identical to Howard’s, and he played in 16 fewer games than Howard, and they even played the same position, so there’s not the SS vs. LF argument. So the argument for Pujols over Howard basically comes down to glove work. How does that render Howard’s award a “travesty”? Perhaps (as with Rollins), certain advanced metrics give a slight edge to another candidate, but calling it a “travesty” way over-states the case. The 1947 AL award, now that was a travesty, with Joe DiMaggio winning the MVP at .315/.391/.522 with 20 hr, 97 runs and 97 rbi (and only playing 141 games) over Ted Williams, who won the freaking Triple Crown while going .343/.499/.634

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