Philly Media Overreaction to MVP Results…

…and my overreaction to their overreaction.

Overall, the BBWAA got things right with the awards, though after first place, it gets messy. For instance, Edinson Volquez, who had pitched 80 innings between 2005-07 and is clearly not a rookie, received three second-place votes for NL Rookie of the Year. Brandon Webb undeservedly received 73 total points in the NL Cy Young voting, behind winner Tim Lincecum’s 137. The most offensive result, though, was the 308 total points — including 37.5% of the first-place votes — given to Ryan Howard. Albert Pujols won, of course, but it should have been unanimous.

If you haven’t read Eric Seidman’s rant against the BBWAA, hop on over to FanGraphs.

I’m not going to spend too much time complaining about the BBWAA since it’s been done already. Instead, I’m going to complain about the Philly media’s overreaction to Howard’s “loss” to Pujols in the MVP voting. At the end of September, I concluded that Howard “ain’t even close” to being the NL MVP:

  • His overall .875 OPS (prior to tonight’s game) ranks 21st in the National League and tied for 5th among NL first basemen.
  • [...] he ranks 11th among all MLB first basemen in VORP and 13th among all MLB first basemen in PMLVr.
  • [...] you have Albert Pujols and his ridiculous 1.099 OPS and amazing defense as well as Lance Berkman’s 1.044 OPS and nearly as amazing defense. Howard isn’t exactly a Hoover with the glove[...]

Before I go on whining about the Philly media, I want to point out that there’s probably a reason why they write these columns. My “ain’t even close” article about Howard’s MVP candidacy would be about as popular in the Philly papers as a bad case of herpes. Regardless of how well I support my argument, or how well-written it is (neither of which actually are “well”), the simple fact that I’m arguing against a Philly player will make my popularity sink like the Dow Jones. So, it may be that Phil Sheridan and Sam Donnellon don’t actually believe what they’ve written since their job is to write for a Philly audience, and I can’t imagine that either of them wants to intentionally sag his coolness. Regardless, it’s in print, so it’s worthy of being criticized.

We’ll start with Phil Sheridan’s article, MVP voting is out of whack.

Pujols was not an embarrassing selection, not with his excellent numbers, but was still the wrong selection. And that should embarrass the association enough to do what it should have done long ago: get out of the business of voting on baseball’s postseason awards – as well as the Hall of Fame.

It’s odd that I agree with his conclusion — the BBWAA has no business voting on these awards — yet completely disagree with his reasoning.

If the MVP is the player with the best all-round statistical season, a computer could figure that out. And a computer might well have spit out Pujols’ name this season. He was terrific.

But Howard got hot in September, hitting 11 home runs and driving in 32 runs to carry the Phillies into the playoffs. That’s the very definition of valuable.

Oh.

Pujols, September: .321 AVG/.427 OBP/.702 SLG

Howard, September: .352 AVG/.422 OBP/.852 SLG

That’s really splitting hairs, and there’s such a big difference in SLG because we’re only talking about around 100 plate appearances. What about the rest of the year?

Pujols, April-August: .364 AVG/.468 OBP/.643 SLG

Howard, April-August: .324 AVG/.324 OBP/.490 SLG

Games in April count the same as games in September. If you play .500 baseball from May-August, and win 0 of 28 games in April and 28 of 28 in September, you’re still a .500 team.

The group-think association argument for Pujols, if I’m smart enough to get it right

You’re not.

is that he single-handedly kept the Cardinals in the wild-card race.

No, the argument for Pujols is that he was far and away the most valuable player in the Majors. He put up a legendary 190 OPS+ but also played well above-average defense at first base.

That is brilliant, except it ignores the presence of Ryan Ludwick, Rick Ankiel and Troy Glaus (so much for “single-handedly”)

Ryan Howard had Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, and Chase Utley hitting in front of him, and Pat Burrell (and Werth/Victorino at times) hitting behind him.

The Cards finished fourth in their division, 151/2 games behind the Cubs. Replace Pujols with an average NL first baseman and what happens? Do they drop all the way to fifth?

The Cardinals won 86 games. It’s very rare for a team to win 86 games and finish fourth. And the argument is a bit misleading — they were only a half-game behind Houston because they played 162 games and the Astros played 161.

Further, why should Pujols be punished because the Cubs were good?

Pujols had a 190 OPS+. The average NL 1B had a 105 OPS+. That’s, like, huge.

The association seamheads love to throw around stats – OPS, VORP, ASPCA – to make a case for Pujols.

Writers poking fun at acronyms is about as played out as the airline peanuts joke that stand-up comedians use. It’s not original and it’s never funny. ASPCA? If you’re going to clutch on to lame jokes, at least pick a funny acronym like NAMBLA.

Yes, he struck out less and hit for a higher average.

And a higher OBP and a higher SLG and wasn’t a liability for half the season and played Gold Glove-caliber defense.

But Howard won actual baseball games in an honest-Abe pennant race.

Howard won them? You mean the Phillies won them?

The Wild Card race not an “honest-Abe” race? The Cardinals won their last six games and only finished four games behind the Wild Card-winning Milwaukee Brewers.

He had 11 more home runs than Pujols, scored five more runs than Pujols, and drove in 30 more runs than Pujols.

Ostensibly, it seems Sheridan is citing Howard’s home runs to claim that he’s a better power hitter. But slugging percentage will tell us that. Pujols: .653; Howard: .543. Oh.

A difference of five runs scored is meaningless, and the runs scored metric is not dependent on the player himself but on the teammates who bat behind him. Ditto RBI, but it’s dependent on the players who bat in front of the player in question.

Notice there are no decimal points involved there, only whole numbers that made a difference in real baseball games.

Since when does a decimal point denote that a statistic doesn’t “make a difference”? And what does that say about batting average? ERA? WHIP?

And since when do whole numbers “make a difference”? I feel like I’m back in my fifth grade math class.

Also, these rhetorical questions I’m asking will have to end soon.

That takes care of the logic.

Yes, in the sense that hanging up the “Mission Accomplished” banner ended the War in Iraq.

But the point is that the association’s voting is rife with personal agendas, flawed logic, favor trading, and plain old sloppiness.

Pot, meet kettle. You might notice that he’s black. Feel free to make him aware of this fact.

Now on to Donnellon’s article, Pujols is MVP but don’t discount Howard’s value.

To preface this, Donnellon does admit very early on that Pujols is the MVP — in fact, it’s in the title. So, he’ll get some points back at the end.

So how did Howard, with all those punchouts, with that below-average batting average and those late-inning struggles, knock in 30 more runs than Pujols this season?

RBI is an “incomplete” metric, as David Grabiner explains here.
How did he manage 48 home runs in a season that so often looked as if it would be his worst?

This is a bad question; it should be, “How many home runs would Howard have hit if he wasn’t terrible for half the season?”

Presence, that’s how. He looks massive up there, looks different than Pujols, more malicious. He swings different than Pujols, too. Whether he struck out, drilled a groundout to the leftside, or hit one of those towering home runs, Howard was, to opposing pitchers, a panic attack, each and every game.

Which is why Howard drew less than half the intentional walks that he drew last year.

Which is why in 2008, Pujols got intentionally walked 34 times to Howard’s 17.

Statistically all home runs count the same. Psychologically they do not. Whether you are in the stands, at a bar, sitting on your sofa, you felt that. And you felt the anxiety on the other side.

It’s one thing if you say, “I like Howard because his home runs make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.” It’s another thing to say matter-of-factly that Howard is a legitimate MVP candidate because of those feelings.

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If you want to say that Howard had a good season, overcame a lot of adversity, and helped the Phillies win the World Series, go right ahead. There is nothing factually incorrect with those statements. But to say he was as or more valuable than Pujols is to ignore that he was not even the most valuable player on the left side of the Phillies’ infield. And he can come up anywhere from fourth to sixth on the Phillies’ “most valuable” list depending on what metrics you use to make your judgment. When you expand the pool to the entire National League, Howard isn’t even top-ten material.

The real MVP of the Phillies is Chase Utley. Dave Cameron explains exactly why at FanGraphs.

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5 comments

  1. ShooterB

    November 19, 2008 04:48 PM

    Philly media overreact? Noooooooo! It’s not like they would call for the firing of a coach and starting QB simply because of a tie game and irrelevant remark about overtime rules. Not the Philadelphia media I know…

    I like some of the arguments for Ryan Howard as MVP. Presence? Causing panic attacks? If that’s the criteria, then just hand over the trophy to Chuck Norris right this minute.

  2. Bill B.

    November 19, 2008 06:38 PM

    Shooter, I think I’m going to have to pay you to leave hilarious comments on all of my blog entries.

    just hand over the trophy to Chuck Norris right this minute.

    Or Steven Seagal… or Vin Diesel…

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