Hey, man (Get It?)

Seriously, how many times do you think Jon Heyman has heard that joke? About as many times as we’ve heard (err — read) him babble incessantly against VORP and its adherents (VORPies, a term coined by Heyman himself). Let’s go through his latest installment

Once again, VORP has nothing to do with MVP

Okay. This is saying “My subjective view has nothing to do with your opinion.” And we’re nowhere.

Zero. There’s a number the stat people will understand.

That’s the relationship between VORP, the stat that the stat people love, and MVP.

Actually, VORP isn’t a statistic that everyone loves. There are a lot of critics of VORP in the Sabermetric community, like TangoTiger. It’s an offense-only counting statistic and its specific methodology isn’t known because it’s proprietary.

Heyman’s argument is a strawman anyway. VORP isn’t the end-all and be-all of statistics pertaining to arguments on the MVP. Any knowledgeable adherent to Sabermetrics will tell you that there’s no one statistic that encapsulates everything a player does in the game of baseball. There is no perfect statistic that we’ve seen thus far. No one is making the argument that the AL and NL leaders in VORP should automatically get handed the MVP.

Baseball Prospectus, as of a few days ago, had Alex Rodriguez leading the AL in VORP (which stands for Value Over Replacement Player), the stat its enthusiasts think is the best stat in the world to determine player value, and also the best to help determine who’s the Most Valuable Player.

People wonder why bloggers don’t like journalists, and it’s because of this kind of attitude. It’s another strawman argument, though this one is just dripping with derision. As mentioned, VORP has its flaws and no one is making the argument Heyman is saying is being made.

[…]A-Rod shouldn’t sniff the MVP award this year.

He’s second in the American League in OPS+ behind only Milton Bradley, a designated hitter who has been hurt due to a lack of plate appearances (479 compared to A-Rod’s 574). And Rodriguez is 17-for-20 (85%) in stealing bases. A-Rod doesn’t play great defense at third base, so that’s a mark against him, but it’s pretty much the only legitimate argument that can be made against him.

By the way, I’m not saying A-Rod should win the MVP (I’ll reveal my picks soon); he should definitely be in consideration, though.

If devotees of VORP (I’m already on their bad side after calling them VORPies last year) think their stat is key to determining the MVP, they should think again. It’s worth a glance, at best.

I guess Heyman thinks that if he puts words in his opponents’ mouths and repeats it over and over again, it becomes a universal truth. To repeat: No knowledgeable user of Sabermetrics is making the argument that A) VORP is flawless and all-encompassing, and B) that VORP should be the only criteria in determining MVP’s.

But VORP is supposed to be an all-encompassing stat,

No, it’s not. It doesn’t factor in defense. It’s a counting statistic, so it favors players who get more plate appearances/at-bats.

and it led some numbers people to determine that Hanley Ramirez was a viable NL MVP candidate last year.

Because it doesn’t factor in defense. I was one of those who used VORP (among other statistics) to arrive at the “Hanley for MVP” conclusion (I later hopped on the David Wright bandwagon). It’s what happens when you use a statistic for purposes other than what it was intended for. Hanley Ramirez wasn’t a good defender last season, though he’s improved this season.

And led many to say that David Wright was the NL MVP in a year in which Wright’s Mets choked (Wright himself says no way was he MVP).

Was the Wright quote supposed to validate the ideology that an MVP can’t come from a non-contending team? I don’t even know if you can take that at face value, as I’m presuming Wright is too humble (or not cocky enough) to say that he deserved the MVP over Jimmy Rollins last season.

Either way, the mindset that a MVP has to come from a contending team is bogus. Every year, we have to endure this argument and every year, I die a little on the inside. According to this logic, a player with a 5-gajillion OPS can’t win the MVP if he plays on a team that goes 0-162. It’d go to a player who put up a pedestrian 1.200 OPS (relatively speaking) on a 162-0 team.

There is a statistic that kind of accounts for the mindset that these people are espousing. That mindset is that a player’s value is relative to his team, so we can use PMLVr (Player Marginal Lineup Value rate). The definition from Baseball Prospectus:

Runs/game contributed by a batter beyond what an average player at the same position would hit in a team of otherwise league-average hitters.

The top-five in PMLVr in the AL: Milton Bradley (.386), Alex Rodriguez (.332), Joe Mauer (.295), Aubrey Huff (.294), and Carlos Quentin (.252).

VORP, like other stats, doesn’t come close to telling you everything.

We’ve established this. Unfortunately, Heyman is hell-bent on painting VORP-users out to be fanatics, so he’s going to continue listing damning facts about VORP everybody knows already. They’re new to him, so they must be new to everybody!

It doesn’t take into account how a hitter hits in the clutch (oddly enough, some stat people think that’s just luck, anyway),

First of all, there’s been no proof that clutch exists, so any argument that involves clutch loses some merit right there. Secondly, it depends on how you define clutch and what metrics you’re using to prove how clutch a player is. And thirdly, there has been no metric that has been consistently correlated with a hitter’s clutchness.

Even the “clutch” statistics you find on Sabermetric-inclined websites like FanGraphs and The Hardball Times should be taken with a grain of salt.

or how many meaningful games he played in (at last count Grady Sizemore was high up on the VORP list, as well).

This, too, is a subjective argument. What is the definition of a “meaningful game” and why should a player be debited or credited Heyman Points (trademarked) for them? So, Sizemore loses points for happening to be on a disappointing Cleveland Indians team, a team that was realistically out of contention in July?

That doesn’t fly. The games in September count as much in the standings as games in April, regardless of who is playing them.

VORP has some value. But like all other stats, it doesn’t replace watching the games or following the season.

This is like the billionth time this argument has been made by crotchety anti-statistic baseball writers. Why can’t people use statistics and watch the games/follow the season? It’s not that hard. I do it. Lots of people do it. I’d imagine that Heyman does it, too.

It’s presumptuous to think that, because you watch the games, you have some kind of superior method of judgment over other people. I watch the games too, Jon — are our opinions on equal footing? Am I docked Heyman Points (trademarked) for using Sabermetrics to make sure my analysis is objective?

Users of Sabermetrics are accused of thinking they’re know-it-alls, but that’s such a mischaracterization. The cocky know-it-alls are the sports journalists who think that, because they have press passes and get to hold a microphone under an athlete’s chin 162 days out of the year, they are the kings of baseball analysis and judgment. There is nothing inherent to being a baseball beat writer that makes your judgment better than anyone else. Your job does not define your boundaries of knowledge.

A good analyst realizes his faults as a human being — his proneness to bias and his poor judgment with the naked eye.  He asks questions, does research, and reaches a conclusion. That’s how an intellectually-honest and prudent analyst (in any area) approaches a subject.

The intellectually lazy analyst asks no questions, but instead states things as golden facts, and does no research to back it up. He does not realize his faults as a human being and, as a result, often resorts to arguments of subjectivity.

Guess which camp Heyman falls under?

A-Rod may have the best VORP. But he shouldn’t be on anyone’s MVP ballot, much less at the top of the ballot.

Did you notice how Heyman gave no proof as to why A-Rod should not be on the MVP ballot? He did mention a player’s “clutchness” but did not specifically link it to A-Rod, though it’s very easy to presume that that’s who he had in mind.

I would like to read a well-written, well-organized, well-researched thesis by Mr. Heyman as to why A-Rod shouldn’t even be on the MVP ballot. And when I say that, I am referring to:

  • Refraining from using arguments of subjectivity, such as “an MVP should come from a contending team” or “I’ve seen him play, he’s no MVP.”
  • Refraining from using concepts that haven’t been proven, such as “He’s not clutch enough to be an MVP.”
  • Properly understanding and citing statistics, including VORP.

Not that it means much, but if this response of mine gets sent to Mr. Heyman and he matches my challenge and provides a well-reasoned argument against A-Rod, I’ll issue a heartfelt apology right here.

In the meantime, I’ll prepare my ammunition for Heyman’s upcoming book, titled How to Put Stupid Words in Other People’s Mouths and Then Attack Them For “Saying” It: The Official Guide to Making Strawman Arguments. Yeah, it’s too wordy but I heard that the publishers ate it up.