Tagged: baseball

958 words on weirdness in the AL MVP ballot

Edit: Why not to base your title on word count: Found I missed 2007, so now we’re up to 958.

The annual Baseball Writers Association of America awards are bringers of great joy this time of year, not for celebrating the best the game had to offer in the past season but creating fantastic opportunities for snark and studies of human nature.

I’ve spent the past half an hour starring at the AL MVP Ballot, which gave Justin Verlander the MVP, the first time a pitcher has won the award since 1992.

While pitchers on the ballot is a whole other discussion, what fascinated me was the wide range of opinions demonstrated up and down the ballot, leading me to conclude that the 28 writers selecting the award have almost no cohesive idea how to value performance by baseball players.

Before I get into it, let me say that on its face, that’s not a bad thing. Having many different voices is a great thing and should be applauded most of the time. There was definitely no “right” choice this year in the AL, and it was expected to be a tight race with lots of candidates at the top.

Still, there seems to be almost no consensus of what any given player meant to his team, which you would expect to see (at least a few times) when 28 people who do nothing but watch baseball get together to decide which one of those players was the best.

I start with Michael Young of the Texas Rangers.

Yes, he had a good year, hitting .330/.380/.474 on the year, good for 3.8 fWAR. He spent the majority of the year as a DH.

While that was a good year, it wasn’t even the best on his own team. Ian Kinsler player good defense at second base and had a .370 wOBA, earning 7.7. fWAR.

Despite that, Young got nearly four times the number of MVP points as Kinsler. But that’s not what jumped out to me.

Young got a vote in all 10 positions, from first place to 10th. Someone thought he was the best player in baseball, someone else found nine other guys. Both writers cover American League baseball for a living.

Since Young was a DH you can take fielding out. That means someone thought Young was a better hitter this year than Jose Bautista, or more likely, that Bautista didn’t count becuase the Blue Jays didn’t make the playoffs (which still wouldn’t explain away Miguel Cabreara …)

There has been lots of discussion about whether or not this was “right,” as in correct, but I don’t mind that. Writers have made awful choices in these awards all the time, with mostly harmless results. You cover the Rangers and think Young is a gerat guy and that counts more than talent at hitting a baseball? Knock yourself out.

If Young got his one first place vote and the rest down ballot, whatever. It’s the range that seems odd. If you got all the writers in a room, there would be almost no agreement how much Young actually contributed this year.

Young wasn’t even the only player to get a first and 10th place vote, with Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox also pulling off the feat.

Of the top eight finishers (using Young as our floor), no player had a range of less than seven, with Yankee Curtis Granderson getting first though seventh place votes.

After looking through some past ballots, though, this isn’t so surprising.

Jose Bautista got first and 1oth place votes last season, though everyone agreed winner Josh Hamilton was at least one of the top four players in the league.

In 2009 Miguel Cabrera got first and tenth, with that one first place vote the only thing keeping Joe Maurer from an unanimous victory. Cabrera’s supporter put Maurer second.

In 2008 Francisco Rodriguez got a first and 10th for setting the single season saves record. While Dustin Pedroia only received votes in first through fourth, he was left off a ballot.

In 2007 ARod ran away with the vote, with no first-10th players.

In 2006 Johan Santana was first and 10th, while teammate Justin Morneau won with no voted lower than fourth.

In 2005 there were no first-10th players, with everyone agreeing winner Alex Rodriguez and second-place finisher David Ortiz were two of the top three players in the league.

In 2004 Vlad Guerrero ran away with the award, no votes below fourth, no first-10th.

Aw, but 2003, that was a vote.

It had the most recent total for a winner (242 for Alex Rodriguez) lower than Verlander’s 280, saw eight players get at least one first place vote and six first-10th players.

There were also two players, Manny Ramirez and Shannon Stewart, who pulled Michael-Young’s with votes in every position.

What’s really surprising is none of it had to do with pitchers, who seem to mess up the ballot. A’s reliever Keith Foulke was the top-finishing pitcher at 15th.

While this wasn’t a scientific study in any way, it appears the BBWAA freaks out every once in a while. There also seems to be deep divides in how to measure the value of a pitcher and someone who doesn’t play much in the field, with those two types more likely to get a wide range of votes.

What’s holding me back from digging into this more is that lack of ballots from pre-2003. BBWAA has those up on their website, but Baseball-Reference only has order of finish, not full ballots, before then.

As I was writing this up Joe Sheehan tweeted something I thought put this into a better light. We have to remember that award voting is a side-benefit to being a baseball reporter, not something integral to the job. Reporters are not hired based on their voting behavior.

The ability to report and the ability to evaluate are completely disparate skills. The voting pool pulls from reporters, not evaluators.


Joe Sheehan



Words about baseball

It’s taken me about 24 hours to process everything that happened last night.

I sat on my couch, three Major League Baseball games running on my TV at once through my Xbox, my wife patiently waiting on the other end for everything to stop so we could make dinner.

Then 10 minutes later I had watched live the most overwhelming sequence of sporting events I’ve ever seen. Hunter Pence, Robert Andino and Evan Longoria hit balls on the infield, outfield and over fences. Exponentially the night grew from exciting to unbelievable to legendary.

It’s hard for me to take seriously anyone who calls anything the “most” or “greatest” anything. I’m sure there has been a more exciting night of baseball somewhere, sometime, but I wasn’t there for it.

Throughout the night I watched games on a split screen. I had the Rays-Yankees on the left and Red Sox-Orioles on the right. I could still see the Orioles celebrating on one side while Longoria’s homer snuck over the tiny left field fence at Tropicana Field.

I had followed the game from my work, on the car ride home, our vets office and finally back in front of the TV. It all led up to those 10 minutes.

In those 10 minutes the Red Sox playoff odds went from 81 percent to zero.

I takes something remarkable to connect a large group of people and even more so for that event to be something good and not a tragedy (not taking into account the feelings in Boston and Atlanta).

Walking around the Oregon Capitol this afternoon I listened to Jim Bowden talk about Wednesday night and completely connected with his sentiment, his emotion and passion. It was the first time I had ever agreed with anything Jim Bowden had thought or expressed.

The past few weeks have filled the baseball with a renewal of the antagonism between those that analyze and those that feel, as the release of the Moneyball movie brought up all of the same arguments as the publication of the book.

But last night was a common ground. It is the foundation of all sports, not just baseball. The moments that cannot be predicted and unite people without a common background beyond a love of the game.

Every outlet and corner of the internet had the same message for one night and one morning.

Baseball is awesome.

A bit of baseball geekery

A few days ago my editor came over to relay some baseball trivia one of our copy editors had found: What players have had 200 or more home runs with multiple franchises?

The question became an issue because wherever it came from got it wrong. The full list is Mark McGwire, Ken Griffey Jr., Manny Ramirez, Rafael Palmeiro and Jimmie Foxx. The originating agency decided Foxx didn’t count for some reason.

This moved quickly from 200 with two teams to ‘Hey? who has 100 with three teams? 50 with four teams?’

I am a proud owner of the book “Baseball Hacks.” It’s a how-to guide to just about anything you can do with baseball stats, basically starting with teaching basic MySQL and becoming more complicated from there. It’s where I got my first taste of not only database work but R (which I’m still trying to wrap my head around) and basic probability.

The idea is simple enough. Count each players home runs per team and see who hits certain milestones. Simple to people isn’t always simple to machines.

I had an English class in high school where the teacher told us to find the simplest, most mundane thing we could and write out the instructions on how to do it so an alien could understand it. The idea was to get us to show more in our writing instead of just telling. He didn’t throw the ball, he gripped the seams, cocked his arm … etc.

She took the instructions and acted them out just to drive home how inexact we all are. Someone wrote instructions on how to make a peanut butter sandwich and she buttered everything but the bread when the instructions read “spread peanut butter.”

I’m reminded of this when I try to right code. It’s the same basic idea. You’re trying to explain to something that has no concept of what you want how to get it for you.

I started simple (that word again …). I totaled up all home runs for each player. I know what that list looks like. Barry Bonds is on top, followed by Hank Aaron and then Babe Ruth. Easy enough:

select playerid, sum(hr) as hr
from batting
group by playerid
order by hr desc;

OK. So now to split it by teams:

select playerid, teamid, sum(hr) as hr
from batting
group by playerid, teamid
order by hr desc;

But here is what that gets me:

ruthba01    NYA    659
bondsba01    SFN    586
schmimi01    PHI    548

Where’s Aaron? Well, he played for a bunch of different teams, as the Braves moved around during his time there. So I need to search by franchises, a field not included in the general batting table in the baseball databank. For that I need to bring in the teams and teamsFranchises tables:

select b.playerid, f.franchid, sum(b.hr) as hr
from batting b join teams t join teamsfranchises f
where b.teamid = t.teamid and t.franchid = f.franchid
group by b.playerid, f.franchid
order by hr desc;

This is where peanut butter goes everywhere. SQLYog freezes up, my computer shivers and dies, but not before spitting out a result that shows Sammy Sose with 75,346 home runs with the Cubs.

I forgot that there is a separate team record for every year in the team table, so the join with batting multiplied every season in baseball by itself. OK, try again:

select b.playerid, f.franchid, sum(b.hr) as hr
from batting b join teams t join teamsfranchises f
where b.teamid = t.teamid and b.yearid = t.yearid and t.franchid = f.franchid
group by b.playerid, f.franchid
order by hr desc;
aaronha01    ATL    733
ruthba01    NYY    659
mayswi01    SFG    646

So while I have a list of home runs hit by franchises (also great for looking up team records of any sort, so that goes into my list of saved queries …) I can’t count on it, s0 I need to make it a subquery and select off of that. While I’m at it I add in a join on the master table to get player names, as the playerid field is a little cumbersome:

select player, nameFirst, nameLast, count(player) as times from (
select b.playerid as player, m.nameFirst as nameFirst, m.nameLast as nameLast, f.franchid, sum(b.hr) as hr from
batting b join teams t join teamsfranchises f join master m
where b.teamid = t.teamid and b.yearid = t.yearid and t.franchid = f.franchid and b.playerid = m.playerid
group by b.playerid, f.franchid) a
where hr > 200
group by player
order by times desc;

So there we are. It works. It may not be the best way to get it done (if you have any improvements let me know. I’d love to add a way to which teams they played for) but I was able to put it together fairly quickly and it got the job done.

Speaking of which, here are some the results from playing with the query for a while:

200 home runs with four teams

foxxji01    Jimmie    Foxx    2
palmera01    Rafael    Palmeiro    2
ramirma02    Manny    Ramirez    2
mcgwima01    Mark    McGwire    2
griffke02    Ken    Griffey    2

150 home runs with 3 teams

rodrial01    Alex    Rodriguez    3

100 home runs with three teams

evansda01    Darrell    Evans    3
jacksre01    Reggie    Jackson    3
rodrial01    Alex    Rodriguez    3

75 home runs with four teams

kingmda01    Dave    Kingman    4
mcgrifr01    Fred    McGriff    4