Debating K-Rod’s MVP Candidacy

Intelligent DogAuthor at I’m Writing Sports and friend of the blog Nick Underhill recently wrote a column supporting L.A. Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez for the AL MVP award. My dog (in the picture to your right) read it and also disagreed with it, and I’d like to explain why.

As usual, Nick makes a strong case, but there were some areas in which I felt he was incorrect.

Nick starts out by mentioning that K-Rod has 45 saves, which is 13 more saves than the Royals’ Joakim Soria in second place, but it’s out of 49 chances for a 92% success rate. Still good, but counting statistics are only meaningful if you know how large is the pie you’re drawing from. He does mention that Soria (94%), Joe Nathan (94%), and Mariano Rivera (100%) have better SV% than Rodriguez, and that’s just in the A.L. Brad Lidge (100%) and Brian Wilson (94%) are also better from the N.L.

His saves are legit, unlike many closers he actually pitches in close games, in large part because the Angels can’t score runs (they currently rank eighth in the AL). Fifteen of his saves have come in one-run games, and only 8 occurred in games the Angels have won by more than two runs. He’s also durable. 17 times he’s saved games on back-to-back days, which is the exact kind of thing that allows a team to go on a run and separate from the pack.

Closers, as a result of the criteria for a save, almost always pitch in close games (within three runs).

16 of Nathan’s 30 saves have come in one-run games, and only 5 of his saves have come in games the Twins have won by more than two runs.

Running those numbers for the other closers…

Soria: 15 of 32 saves in one-run games, 6 saves have come with the Royals winning by more than two runs.

Rivera: 13 of 26 saves in one-run games, 8 saves have come with the Yankees winning by more than two runs.

Lidge: 13 of 28 saves in one-run games, 4 saves have come with the Phillies winning by more than two runs.
Wilson: 16 of 31 saves in one-run games, 9 saves have come with the Giants winning by more than two runs.

A more accurate measure of this, though, is Win Probability Added which can be found at FanGraphs. A look at our group:

Name: Win Probability Added

Lidge: 4.07

Soria: 3.57

Nathan: 3.51

Rodriguez: 3.14

Rivera: 3.04

Wilson: 2.91

There isn’t any importance in pitching on back-to-back days. There are a lot of variables that come into play with that and none of them have to do with the closer. Furthermore, if you need to rely on your closer so often because your games are always close late in the game, then you’re not going to “go on a run and separate from the pack.” Your Expected W-L in those games will put you close to .500 (try it yourself).

Remember, it’s the most valuable player, not the most talented. If that were the case, Josh Hamilton, what with his stats and feel good story, would definitely be the front-runner, but as we all know, if you don’t get into the playoffs, then you don’t win the MVP. It’s that simple.

I’ve never understood this logic. If John Q. Awesomeplayer puts up a .375/.450/.650 slash line with 85 HR and 215 RBI, but his team goes 0-162, he wouldn’t win the MVP? You’d give it to Jason Z. Goodplayer who put up a slash line of .315/.385/.515 with 35 HR and 135 RBI because his team went 162-0? Egregious example, yes, but it shows the fallacy of the “an MVP has to come from a playoff team” claim.

According to VORP, K-Rod isn’t even the best pitcher on his team. Expectedly, he and his 14.8 VORP are behind three starters: Joe Saunders (34.2), Ervin Santana (33.6), and John Lackey (26.6). As the saying goes, “How can someone win the MVP if he’s not even the best player on his own team?”

There is also playing time to account for. K-Rod has pitched 48.7 innings this season and the Angels have had 1,008 total innings, which means K-Rod is only in 4.8% of the Angels’ innings. Meanwhile, you have offensive players who play nearly every inning of every game, like Torii Hunter, who has logged 854 innings (85%) in the field. Starters, too: Ervin Santana has pitched nearly 150 innings (15%). This is why many like to argue that closers shouldn’t win the MVP or Cy Young awards: they are on the field for an extremely small amount of innings compared to the other players.

Nick goes on to point out that K-Rod’s numbers aren’t all that great, and that’s true by his own standards. He has a 176 ERA+ which is great, but doesn’t come close to his 2004 and ’06 seasons where he put up a 247 and 264 ERA+ respectively. His rates are all down as we can see in this screenshot from FanGraphs (click to enlarge):

Table

His strikeout rate is significantly down and his walk rate is up. The two things you should notice are his BABIP, which is .252 (we should expect it to be around .325 with a 20.5% LD) and his FIP which is 3.76 in contrast to his 2.40 ERA. K-Rod has been really lucky on balls in play and his defense has shaved nearly a run and a half off of his ERA. After all, the Angels do have one of the best defenses in the American League (+13).

Look, the truth is, his resume is softer than Snuggles, but look around the American League, who else is there? What one player jumps out at you from Tampa Bay? Chicago? Boston? Minnesota?

Tampa Bay: Evan Longoria (31.5 VORP).

Chicago: Jermaine Dye (35.8), Carlos Quentin (36.8).

Boston: Kevin Youkilis (40.2).

Minnesota: Justin Morneau (41.1).

Also: Grady Sizemore (52.8), Alex Rodriguez (51.7), Ian Kinsler (47.4), Milton Bradley (46.6), Josh Hamilton (45.4), Aubrey Huff (40.6).

Remember: Francisco Rodriguez (14.8).

The only true headliner on a winning team, Manny Ramirez, has departed to the West Coast.

So, by default, it looks like Francisco Rodriguez is going to be your 2008 AL MVP. I don’t think that Rodriguez should win the MVP, but with the way voting is, along with a serious drought in star power among the contending teams, it looks like it’s going to happen.

There isn’t a “serious drought in star power among the contending teams.” We’re all familiar with Dye, Youkilis, Sizemore, A-Rod, Morneau, and Kinsler. The only surprises, really, are Longoria and Quentin. Bradley has always been a great hitter but has been sidelined by injuries and Hamilton showed us what he was capable of last season with the Reds.

Regardless, “star power” isn’t a criteria for the MVP award. If you’re Steve Nobody (where do I come up with these creative names?) and you put up the numbers that A-Rod put up last season, you deserve to win the award just as much.

I say all of this about K-Rod without even getting into the argument (which Nick correctly acknowledged) that the save rule is arbitrary and meaningless. That’s not K-Rod’s fault, of course, but it certainly would deduct even more points from his supposed MVP candidacy.

By the way, the last pitcher to win the NL MVP was Bob Gibson in 1968. The AL MVP award was won by closer Dennis Eckersley in 1992 and his numbers were vastly superior to K-Rod’s.

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14 comments

  1. Simon

    August 06, 2008 03:11 PM

    While I agree with most of your arguments and don’t think K-Rod should be the MVP, I don’t think BABIP should be mentioned at all in the discussion for MVP or for estimating a pitchers season. Perhaps its much harder to make solid contact against K-Rod than normal pitchers. Lucky or not he got those outs.

    You could say the same things about every other player being lucky. I bet Youkilis has several cupcake fly balls that he was ‘lucky’ to have the Green Monster turn into doubles. Or Josh Hamilton was lucky to swing in miss so many times rather than make weak contact.

    BABIP really should be utilized as a forecast to what a pitcher has done and what his potential is in the future, rather than a hard and fast he got lucky don’t give him the MVP cause his BABIP was extraordinary.

  2. Bill Baer

    August 06, 2008 03:47 PM

    I wasn’t saying that K-Rod’s season is un-MVP-worthy by BABIP alone, but it does show how he’s been extremely lucky. That’s what BABIP shows.

    There’s no true consistency year-to-year with BABIP so it’s not indicative of anything else, really, especially with projections.

    For argument’s sake, the MVP candidates I listed with their BABIP and expected BABIP ((LD%/100)+.120):

    Sizemore: .286 BABIP, .296 xBABIP
    A. Rodriguez: .348 BABIP, .313 xBABIP
    Kinsler: .339 BABIP, .359 xBABIP
    Bradley: .387 BABIP, .364 xBABIP
    Hamilton: .326 BABIP, .349 xBABIP
    Morneau: .335, .304 xBABIP
    Huff: .314 BABIP, .295 xBABIP
    Youkilis: .351 BABIP, .330 xBABIP
    Quentin: .278 BABIP, .275 xBABIP
    Dye: .323 BABIP, .331 xBABIP
    Mauer: .336 BABIP, .335 xBABIP

  3. GW South

    August 06, 2008 04:19 PM

    He also hasn’t come into a game with a runner on base, or thrown a pitch before the 9th inning. The closer is a mop-up role – he doesn’t win games for the Halos, he just manages to not lose them. I disagree entirely with putting closers even into the discussion of being MVPs.

  4. Nick

    August 06, 2008 04:57 PM

    Hey, at least together we got on Deadspin. You got the link, I got the quote… wait, how’s that work? Lol. Good stuff, though. Like I said, personally if I had a vote, I wouldn’t give it to him. MVP, is MVP. The whole playoff team thing is stupid, as you’ve pointed out, but that’s the way they vote. If a guy plays on a garbage team and helps them win 70 games, isn’t he more valuable than the guy that puts up the best numbers on a loaded team? I’ve never got that, but, like I said, using the voters standards, K-Rod will win it.

  5. Bill Baer

    August 06, 2008 05:10 PM

    Oh, from what I gleaned I thought those were your arguments. I didn’t realize you were pointing at the BBWAA.

  6. Nick

    August 06, 2008 05:20 PM

    It’s a little bit of both, you got it right. Using their standards of voting, it’s going to be K-Rod. USing my standards, I’d go with J-Hamilton. But yea, at the end I wrapped it up with this:

    So, by default, it looks like Francisco Rodriguez is going to be your 2008 AL MVP. I don’t think that Rodriguez should win the MVP, but with the way voting is, along with a serious drought in star power among the contending teams, it looks like it’s going to happen. You never know, though. Last year Jimmy Rollins stole it after taking the Phillies on a run in September, so it’s possible something like that could happen this year in the AL. Then again, the right man got snubbed in that voting process too. Rodriguez isn’t the worst candidate, if he breaks the saves record I could see where there would be some justification, but a closer? I hated it when Eric Gagne won the Cy Young.

  7. Nick

    August 06, 2008 05:23 PM

    I guess it’s not really clear, I do support K-Rod using the standards of “best player on a playoff team”, but my standards are like yours, it’s just best player. I was outraged when David Wright lost it last year. So, yea, you got it right. It was tasteful and everything, and I’m always up for a good debate. I like it that people disagree, that’s why I do this.

  8. I'm just sayin'

    August 06, 2008 07:04 PM

    If John Q. Awesomeplayer had an average of .375 and hit 85 HR, his slugging percentage would be well north of .650.

  9. Bill Baer

    August 06, 2008 07:50 PM

    True. I’m trying to think of some scenarios where .375/.450/.650 with 85 HR would work, but I’ve come up empty so far.

  10. ShooterB

    August 07, 2008 11:01 AM

    Good argument. None of it is valid though, because MVP is a political campaign that is in no way required to make sense.

    Why don’t we just give it to Gary Sheffield? His terrible year might be a big reason that the Tigers aren’t really in contention, so he could be the White Sox MVP. Like I said, it doesn’t have to make sense.

    Write something political, will ya?

  11. Bill Baer

    August 07, 2008 01:58 PM

    Shooter, all I have to say is that my dog (pictured above) is smarter than your dog. And my dog can probably beat up your dog, too. Michael Vick knows for sure.

  12. ShooterB

    August 07, 2008 08:47 PM

    My dog is a cat, and has absolutely no problem beating the crap out of a pencil-pushing pooch with glasses.

    Hilarious pic…

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