Should Doc Get MVP Consideration?

The National League Cy Young race has come down to two candidates: Roy Halladay and Adam Wainwright. Most people — in both the mainstream and Sabermetric parties — tend to side with Halladay, and for good reason. Heading into yesterday’s start against the Washington Nationals, he led the league in SIERA at 2.95, twelve points ahead of the closest competitor in Josh Johnson. Wainwright sat at 3.13. Including yesterday’s start, the right-hander has 21 wins, a 2.44 ERA, and leads the league in complete games (9), shut-outs (4), innings pitched (250.2), and walk rate (1.1 per nine innings). He trails Tim Lincecum for the league lead in strikeouts, 220 to 219.

More interesting, though, is the debate around Halladay’s MVP candidacy. Although rare, a pitcher winning the award is not unheard of: Dennis Eckersley was the last pitcher to receive the honor, in 1992 with the Oakland Athletics. As a closer, he finished with a 1.91 ERA and 51 saves in 60 innings of work. The last starting pitcher to win the award was Roger Clemens in 1986 with the Boston Red Sox. That year, Clemens went 24-4 with a 2.48 ERA in 254 innings with ten complete games and one shut-out.

Baseball Reference’s version of WAR (which is better than FanGraphs’ version as it pertains to pitchers) puts Halladay right next to Albert Pujols in a tie for the National League lead. He has put together the best season of his career in his first season with a new team, with high expectations in the thick of a heated pennant race.

Why shouldn’t Halladay win the award, or at least draw substantial consideration? It seems that, since pitchers have their own end-of-season award in the Cy Young, the MVP award has become a hitters-only award, although that is never explicitly said anywhere. Most likely, the NL MVP race will come down to five hitters: Joey Votto, Carlos Gonzalez, Albert Pujols, Troy Tulowitzki, and Adrian Gonzalez.

Others will argue that, since other pitchers failed to win the award with better performances (such as Pedro Martinez circa 1997-2003), Halladay should not be rewarded either. And you can certainly understand the sentiment: Halladay’s stats don’t begin to compare with Pedro Martinez in 1999 when he finished with a 2.07 ERA and 23-4 record in the steroid era. His ERA merited a 243 ERA+ whereas Halladay’s 2.44 yields a 167 ERA+. The past, however, should have no impact on the results of this year’s awards. In 2007, Chipper Jones finished sixth in MVP voting despite a league-leading 1.029 OPS. Jimmy Rollins won it that year despite not even being the most valuable player on his own team. If anything, that’s another reason to take the voting away from the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Based on the fact that the MVP award is still pitcher-eligible, Halladay deserves to be a top-tier candidate along with the likes of Votto and Car-Go. Based on past trends, though, don’t expect the BBWAA to consider Doc. The Cy Young will probably go to Halladay, but the MVP award will not.

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34 comments

  1. Noah

    September 28, 2010 08:52 AM

    When you mention how impressive Pedro’s numbers are for “the steroid era,” you seem to be elevating Pedro above suspicion of PED use.

    Is that an accurate understanding of your belief and, if so, why?

  2. Bill Baer

    September 28, 2010 08:53 AM

    My feelings on that issue can best be summed up as “apathetic agnostic”. I don’t know, and nor do I care to know.

  3. Santos

    September 28, 2010 09:37 AM

    Could you elaborate on why you think BR WAR is better than FG WAR for pitchers?

  4. Bill Baer

    September 28, 2010 09:38 AM

    FanGraphs WAR uses FIP, which incorrectly assumes that a pitcher controls his HR rate independent of his FB rate. xFIP adjusts for this, and SIERA adjusts even better, which is why SIERA is my DIPS metric of choice.

    *Reads above paragraph again*

    Holy acronyms, Batman!

  5. Jessamynn

    September 28, 2010 09:39 AM

    I consider myself “progressive” as far as stats and metrics go, but there are certain things of the “traditional” sort that I still put stock in.

    In my opinion, pitchers shouldn’t be seriously considered for the MVP unless it’s an extreme case, such as winning 30 games. My rationale for this is that pitchers just don’t have the same impact, day in and day out, as position players who play 6 days a week. I don’t mean to understate the importance of pitching — since obviously good pitching beats good hitting — but there’s a difference between dominating once every 5 days and dominating every game.

    Again, if the pitcher has a ridiculously absurd season then sure, he should be considered for it — but as good as Halladay has been this year, it’s not as if he has been head and shoulders better than all of the other pitchers in the league.

  6. JoeM

    September 28, 2010 09:42 AM

    I cannot really dispute any of your points in regards to his value but I think it is time to just disqualify pitchers from MVP voting. The pitchers already have a pitcher only MVP award, it just has a different name.

  7. Peter

    September 28, 2010 10:20 AM

    Jessamynn,

    In my opinion, pitchers shouldn’t be seriously considered for the MVP unless it’s an extreme case, such as winning 30 games. My rationale for this is that pitchers just don’t have the same impact, day in and day out, as position players who play 6 days a week. I don’t mean to understate the importance of pitching — since obviously good pitching beats good hitting — but there’s a difference between dominating once every 5 days and dominating every game.

    Roy Halladay has faced 993 batters this year. Rickie Weeks leads the league with 723 PA’s.

    The ‘pitchers don’t have the same impact as a position player’ argument is hocus pocus.

    I’d argue that Halladay has been the best player in all of baseball this year, and I certainly think he’s been both the best and the most valuable player in the NL.

  8. hk

    September 28, 2010 10:52 AM

    Peter,

    To be fair, you also have to give non-pitchers credit for all of the PA’s that lead to plays where they’re involved defensively. That being said, I agree that pitchers should be in the MVP discussion.

  9. Phylan

    September 28, 2010 11:46 AM

    Thank you for pointing that out Peter. The “every 5 days” argument is such a red herring.

  10. Mark

    September 28, 2010 12:38 PM

    You should be focused on how many starts he has made not how many batters he has faced, as it still only affects every fifth game no matter how many batters he throws to. I don’t think PA’s correlates well with batters faced. It’s a really tough call because a position player goes out there with 8 other guys, so a starting pitcher has much more impact in the games they pitch albeit only every fifth day.

  11. Phillies Red

    September 28, 2010 01:05 PM

    I’m sorry to beat this drum, but I’m asking out of real curiosity. Wouldn’t we consider SIERA and xFIP to be predictive stats? If so, should we really be using them in WAR, which, as you’ve said before, is best understood to be descriptive? And isn’t this why FIP is better in WAR, because it tends to be a shade more descriptive?

    I know that none of these stats fit in these buckets perfectly, and I don’t want this to get dismissed as a semantic argument, because I think there are real differences in these stats. I go back and forth on xFIP vs FIP in WAR, and ultimately, I suspect FIP is better if we really want to think of WAR as describing value delivered.

  12. bill

    September 28, 2010 02:04 PM

    Yeah, excellent point by the above poster. xFIP is a predictive stat. If you’re analyzing past data, do not adjust the home run rate, because luck or not, those home runs were runs allowed that hurt the pitcher’s team.

    xFIP is probably better for who *is* going to be better going forward, but FIP is needed to determinate who *was* better in the past.

    Oh yeah, and as far as the heart of the argument – that Eckersley MVP was really awful. Not really a big fan of pitchers winning MVP (though I think Pedro Martinez should have), but in this case Fangraphs WAR has Votto at 7.4 and Halladay at 6.8. Pretty close, but I tend to lean towards the hitter when they already have the edge.

  13. Drew

    September 28, 2010 02:57 PM

    I wish I understood half this stuff. I think I need two intro classes to do that: intro to acronyms and intro to stats.

  14. Scott G

    September 28, 2010 03:06 PM

    I think it’s a matter of PAs influenced. Just because a pitcher goes once every 5 days doesn’t really mean anything. I look at it like this:

    Assuming a quality pitcher averages 7 innings/G, and he will pitch 1.4 outings/week (7 games/week/5 games/outing). Assuming a WHIP of 1.000 (very good), the pitcher is guaranteed to influence 28 PAs/G, or 39.2 PA/week.

    A batter who plays 7 games in a week and averages 5 PA/G (very high)will influence 35 PA/weak.

    Even conservatively speaking, the pitcher influences more PA/week than a hitter.

  15. Undocorkscrew

    September 28, 2010 04:34 PM

    ‘I’d argue that Halladay has been the best player in all of baseball this year, and I certainly think he’s been both the best and the most valuable player in the NL.’

    I’m not even sure he’s been the best starting pitcher this year, not to mention overall ‘player.’

  16. Bill Baer

    September 28, 2010 04:37 PM

    Drew wrote:

    I wish I understood half this stuff. I think I need two intro classes to do that: intro to acronyms and intro to stats.

    Check out the “stats” link in the nav bar at the top. Most, if not all of the acronyms being tossed around here are linked to further reading on that page.

  17. Dan

    September 28, 2010 05:08 PM

    Undocorkscrew, I assume you’re referring to Felix Hernandez when you bring up Halladay not being the best pitcher? He has been better, I think, but no one else. Seattle has really hit the jackpot with him. Too bad they can’t surround him with better impact players.

    Anyways. Should Halladay win the MVP? Absolutely. I find it odd that no one has brought this up yet, but Halladay has meant more to this team than any player in baseball to their respective team, save for, maybe, Josh Hamilton.

    Halladay is our ace of aces. He got us off to a quick start way back in the beginning of the year. And when we went cold, he was our stopper. He would almost certainly end any losing streak we might have been on. He also saved our bullpen so much work. In a season full of so much injury, how many injuries did he prevent? His minuscule ERA is also indicative of another point; he kept us in just about every game he started. If you subtract the couple of games where he was less-than-acelike, his ERA is downright ridiculous. He pretty much handed us wins in those games.

    A hitter can get hot over a period of time to inflate his number, while only really helping his team win a few more games at best. Halladay, on the other hand, easily gave us at least 10 more wins on the season. Look at Hamels, he’s given us similar, but not as dominant, performances and he has almost 10 less wins than Halladay. Meanwhile, they have similar run-support. Why is there such a difference in wins? Because Halladay is straight up the most valuable player in the National League.

  18. CH Phan

    September 28, 2010 05:14 PM

    As always, well said and well written, Bill.

    I think it’s probably human nature to want to spread out things like awards. On some level that thinking is silly and likely leads to mediocrity especially when it’s used with children; such as, every child getting a trophy in schcol competitions so nobody will feel left out.

    In sports it’s generally numbers that lead to a clear “winner”. In the absence of numbers, we are left with popularity contests like the Oscars. We all know how stupifyingly obtuse those voters can be even when there’s one person who seemingly stands above others. But go figure Hollyweird.

    But my instant reaction to the information in the article was the same as JoeM. The pitchers have an award, the Cy Young. The MVP feels as though it’s meant for the other players, whether or not this is actually true. I probably made it up in my head, it happens sometimes.

    Pitchers are in part aided by fielding. They count on pop-flies being hit & caught, or grounders being hit & fielded, double plays, etc. The same way the big hitters at least in some small way rely on the emotion generated by a hit from the guy ahead of them. Generally that will set the tone for the rest of the line-up. A HR in an early inning is generally a good basic set-up. In the end, nothing happens in a vacuum. It is a team.

  19. Dan

    September 28, 2010 05:20 PM

    The argument that pitchers already have an award is void.

    Pitchers: Cy Young
    Hitters: Silver Slugger
    Fielders: Gold Glove
    All: All-Star nomination

    The MVP is for the most valuable PLAYER. If that player is a pitcher, in this case it is, then give it to the guy.

  20. hk

    September 28, 2010 05:49 PM

    Jessamyn, it’s hard to believe your claim that you’re progressive when it comes to stats and metrics when you give credence to pitcher wins in making a point. If a pitcher’s season is great enough that he deserves MVP credit, why would you even consider such a meaningless statistic as pitcher wins as a determining factor? Should we exclude Pujols’s and Votto’s production in games their teams lost when comparing their MVP worthiness?

  21. hk

    September 28, 2010 05:52 PM

    @ Dan,

    Hitters also have the Hank Aaron Award. MLB should do a better job of promoting the Hank Aaron Award and should change the name of the MVP Award to the MOP (Most Outstanding Player) Award.

  22. Dan

    September 28, 2010 05:57 PM

    That’s true, there are also a bunch of other rewards that I didn’t bother listing. I think I got the point across, though; You don’t need to baby hitters, they have their own exclusive awards already. No point in excluding a downright dominating player from MVP considerations because he’s a pitcher.

  23. Jessamynn

    September 28, 2010 07:07 PM

    @hk,

    Firstly, my “30 wins” example was just a hasty example aimed for effect — obviously. 30 wins certainly qualifies as an “extreme” outlier in regards to performance. It was just an example, geez.

    Secondly, I don’t care about “the value of wins”. I understand that wins are far less reflective of pitching than other metrics — but the criticism of wins is still just one that relates to the RELATIVE VALUE of the stat, not a complete lack of value.

    @peter,

    Your example of batters faced vesus plate appearances is misleading. I could easily reply with “Weeks has played 1,300 innings this season while Halladay has played 250″ or “Weeks has been in the field for over 5,000 plate appearances while Halladay has been for under 900″. It’s a bad argument.

  24. Peter

    September 28, 2010 09:15 PM

    Your example of batters faced vesus plate appearances is misleading. I could easily reply with “Weeks has played 1,300 innings this season while Halladay has played 250? or “Weeks has been in the field for over 5,000 plate appearances while Halladay has been for under 900?. It’s a bad argument.

    No, no, no, no, no, no, no. It doesn’t work that way. You can’t just say “it’s a bad argument”. You have to say it’s a bad argument for this reason or because of this.

    This is why we have statistics like wins above replacement. Halladay has been just as valuable as the best every day players in the league, despite the fact that he’s only on the field every five days. Why, if the net totals are the same, does it matter how much value is concentrated in each game?

  25. Hunter

    September 28, 2010 10:13 PM

    WAR is a flawed stat for position players due to its reliance on UZR, which is not reliable over sample sizes of 1 season.

    I’m sure as heck not looking at WARs to make my judgement on MVPs…especially not to compare pitchers to position players and then determine which one is best. WAR is just not that fine a tool.

  26. Bertram

    September 28, 2010 10:47 PM

    @Peter
    I think saying the argument is misleading as well as the way in which it’s misleading counts as saying why it’s a bad argument….

  27. Dino

    September 29, 2010 12:38 AM

    Funny, Oswalt has been the Phillies best pitcher since August.

  28. Dan

    September 29, 2010 02:26 AM

    Dino, since August, perhaps. But MVP is awarded for the YEARLY performance. Doc has definitely earned consideration at the very least.

  29. Jamie

    September 29, 2010 04:04 PM

    I, as well, prefer BBref as the prefered WAR stat. i prefer a non-100% dips stat for a single year. i DO believe that there isn’t some inherent ability to control for babip/sequencing/hr. fwar takes it all all and bbref does not.

  30. Tyler S

    September 30, 2010 01:11 AM

    The fact that a pitcher on pitches every 5 games and stay consistent is even more convincing that he should be up for the MVP Award. It’s a lot easier to stay hot if you’re playing everyday. Pitchers have one shot in 5 games to pitch well, where a positioned player’s bad games can be overshadowed by the good game before and after that one. If you pitch a bad game it stays with you until your next start. This is why on MLB.COM under stats they show who’s hot and who’s not…for Offensive players they show the past 7 days, for pitchers they show the past 30 days…to stay hot for a full month is extremely impressive. Halladay had to throw a perfect game to make sure they won that specific game 1-0. Not only that, he signed a new contact pretty much for the rest of his career with Philly, that’s pressure; if he doesn’t perform the media will jump all over him.

  31. Scott G

    September 30, 2010 07:46 AM

    Tyler,

    I’m pretty sure that Roy Halladay’s resume would probably get him some leeway. I also don’t think he’s be phased by MSM. Most of them are dense anyway. I’m sure he could have given up a hit and inning.

    Also, I’m not trying to downplay his perfect game, but he could have allowed base runners in every inning so long as they didn’t result in runs. On that day, a shutout was necessary to win. A perfect game was icing on the cake.

  32. bfo_33

    September 30, 2010 02:07 PM

    I’m not sure I understand what the MVP award is. For instance, Robbie Cano has had a great season for the Yanks, but would they really finish any different if Reegie Corona was the starting 2nd baseman? On the other hand, can a team out of it by Aug have an MVP. A-Rod had a fantastic year with the Rangers in 2003, but it only meant they were mathmatically eliminated in early Sept vs late Aug. Roy Halladay averaged 7-2/3 innings per outing – saved 2 bullpen guys over a starter like Joe Blanton, affecting more than just his game.

    Personally, think Halladay and Votto should be 1 and 2, can justify the order evenly either with stats or soft stuff.

  33. Kel

    October 04, 2010 04:39 PM

    Bill,
    Tangentially related, given your comment about fWAR using FIP — have you seen the two posts over at FG on this topic and will you be chiming in?

  34. Bill Baer

    October 04, 2010 07:29 PM

    Yeah, I saw Dave Cameron’s pieces. I’m just not a fan of using retrodiction for valuing results. It’s great for predicting the future, but even if Kyle Kendrick finished with a fluky-as-all-hell 1.25 ERA and a .150 BABIP, that still happened and it provided significant value, even if he truly performed like a 4.75 ERA pitcher.

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