What is the Difference between Valuable and Best?

There are two schools of thought on voting for baseball’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award. The first, and more traditional, is that it should go to the player perceived to provide the most value to their team. The second school believes that the award should go to the best player. I am firmly in the first school of thought.

Why? Simply because I believe that the name of the MVP award defines what it is.

Before going any further, let me say that the two schools of thought will never merge. My purpose here is to explain why Most Valuable isn’t always “Best”.

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Why Runs and RBIs Matter for the MVP

imageLet me just start by saying that neither Runs nor RBIs are an accurate measure of how good a player is. I don’t need to pull out any statistics to prove this. I can just share the following example:

Take two players. Both get on base 40% of the time. Player A has good players batting next in the lineup so he his knocked home 25% of the time. Player B has less capable batters hitting behind him and he only gets home 10% of the time. Player A will score more Runs but he isn’t any better than Player B.

Flip the example around by measuring the batters hitting first and you have the story of the RBI. Even position in the lineup can impact both a player’s Runs and RBIs.

So why do we still measure these values? Habit mostly. Baseball fans like to count everything. They also measure context.

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Putting WAR in Context for Trout versus Cabrera

One of the things that everyone points out in the discussion of Mike Trout over Miguel Cabrera is Trout’s higher WAR* value. The basic premise is that if Trout contributed more wins to the Angels than Cabrera did to the Tigers, then Trout is more valuable.

For those unfamiliar with the statistic, WAR stands for Wins Above Replacement. The theory that it acts as a “counting stat” that illustrates how many wins a player contributes over a theoretical “replacement” player. Replacement players are described as your typical AAA minor league baseball player.

WAR is calculated a few different ways but I’m going to leverage Baseball Reference’s value for this discussion, mostly because they have every statistic readily available for anyone to access.

Cutting to the chase, Cabrera had a WAR of 6.9 versus Trout’s WAR of 10.7, despite Cabrera playing the entire season. At face value, this seems like a pretty straightforward argument in favor of Trout.

Except this is a discussion of the Most Valuable Player, not the best player. WAR is excellent at showing production but the value of anything is dependent upon context. Let’s look at the standings for the 2012 American League West.

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Quick Look at the 2012 AL MVP Race

This is a good year for baseball. Infield flies aside, there was a lot of excitement down the stretch in the Pennant Race. To top it off we had the first Triple Crown Winner since 1967.

The strange thing is that people don’t think that Miguel Cabrera is the Most Valuable Player in the American League. They are saying that Mike Trout deserves that honor.

Well, let’s throw the MVPP statistic at this problem and see what happens.

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A Stat for Baseball’s MVP

Why create yet another stat? As discussed previously, the purpose of the MVPP (MVP Percentage) stat isn’t to measure the Best player. The purpose of this stat is to measure and find the most Valuable player. In any year, it is simple to point to the best players. Finding the most Valuable, that can be tricky.

This stat is designed to be calculated from values that most people can track down over the internet. That means I use very common stats in the baseline. I will publish all my adjustment numbers and how I got them if I create them.

Disclaimer time: This stat currently focuses on hitters. I have worked out way for pitchers, but it needs more data run through it to check its validity. So any critiques that complain about ignoring pitchers will be sacked.


The Initial Calculation

We need a rate stat as a starting point. Actually, we need to determine the percent of runs a player contributes to their team. They can do that by either scoring or driving in a run. Let’s start by adding Runs and RBIs (Runs Batted In) together. Yes, these numbers don’t tell the whole tale, but hang in there.

These numbers are partly based on opportunity and the people hitting around you. They are also based on playing time. A Valuable player needs to be someone the team can count on. A player that doesn’t play everyday is less Valuable to me than one who does.

MVPR = Runs + RBI

Ok, now what about that team context? This helps players on bad teams and those on teams that just score less runs. Teams that don’t score well provide less opportunity to accumulate Runs and RBIs. It also helps determine on each team which players are more Valuable. Let’s divide what we have by the Total Runs Scored (TRS) for each team.

       (Runs + RBI)
MVPP = ------------

Now we have our base stat.

The Adjustments

Ok, lets address the weaknesses a little. Let’s multiply the previous number by the OPS. For those that don’t know, OPS stands for “On-base-percentage Plus Slugging-percentage”. This is a quick little stat that measures offensive performance in a quick manner. Good ones start to approach 1, depending on the era. This makes it a nice little multiplier.

       (Runs + RBI)
MVPP = ------------ * OPS

Well, we have OPS in there, just one little problem. We still need to add the adjustment for the ballpark. Remember, half of the games are played on the road which have a neutral impact. When we calculate the adjustment, let’s add one to the baseline ballpark adjustment and divide by two. This will give us an average. We will call this the Ball Park Adjustment, BPA.

        (Runs + RBI)
MVPP = ------------ * OPS * BPA

Now let’s adjust for their position. It is hard to reach a universal agreement on how to adjust for a position. A quick and dirty approach is to compare the offensive numbers for a given year by position. We will call this the Field Position Adjustment, FPA.

       (Runs + RBI)
MVPP = ------------ * OPS * BPA * FPA

How about winning teams versus losing teams? The key here is not to put too much weight on this while keeping it simple. We should also reward teams that finish in first with a .600 winning percentage over those that finish second with a .600 winning percentage.

Take a team’s Win Percentage and add 0.50 to it. If the team is leading their division, add another 0.05 to it. This gives us a nice little multiplier hovering around 1. We’ll call this number the Adjusted Win Percentage, AWP.

       (Runs + RBI)
MVPP = ------------ * OPS * BPA * FPA *AWP

That’s it! It looks daunting, but that is why we have Excel and this site.

Next we’ll look at the 2012 MVP race in the AL.

[Brought to the future from 2002 with some updates, such as renaming the stat from MVP% to MVPP]

Determining Baseball’s MVP Award

Back in 2002, I stood-up a little website with a focus on baseball. I was particularly driven to try and come up with remedy’s to what I saw as some of the biggest controversies at the time.

Below is the lean-in post for Baseball’s Most Valuable Player Award. It is a slightly edited extract from the website. I’ll be adding more posts in quick order.

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