Where I Stand: Miggy v. Trout

First off, a link to Joe Posnanski making some strong points in favor of Mike Trout as AL MVP over Miguel Cabrera this year. My favorite is his suggestion that you vote for whoever Brandon McCarthy thinks should be MVP.

Since the season ended, I eventually came to the idea that Mike Trout was most deserving of the award. The preponderance of the evidence weighs in his favor, even if I don’t think it’s quite so clear a case as some. By that I mean that despite Trout trouncing Cabrera in WAR, the award isn’t solely given to the best hitter or the best player in the league. The MVP is supposed to go the player who was most valuable to his team.

This has led some people to suggest that Cabrera was most valuable to his team because he led it to the playoffs, while Trout was only able to lead his team to third place. These people should note that Trout’s team won more games than Cabrera’s and step away.

But I think a case can be made, sort of, that Cabrera was the more important player on his team. If you use as your measure WAR, and if we’re having this discussion why not, Cabrera contributed 6.9 WAR of Detroit’s hitters’ total of 13.7 WAR, or more than 50 percent. Trout, on the other hand, was worth 10.7 WAR, which was 28 percent of the Anaheim team’s 37.9 batting WAR.

But that’s the best case, and it isn’t that persuasive, since Detroit’s total WAR (they had great pitching, with Justin Verlander worth more WAR than Cabrera at 7.6) was 36.9, while the Angels’ total was 40.5. Trout’s contribution of 26 percent of his team’s total versus Cabrera’s 19 percent of his team’s total is a decisive edge.

Which leaves one final mode of attack: dWAR, defensive Wins Above Replacement, is far from established as a reliable measure of defensive value. Even those who champion it point out that it really takes two years of defensive play to start to establish a fielder’s performance baseline in fielding WAR. In 2012, Cabrera did a decent job playing third base, exceeding expectations but probably not adding to his own value with his defensive contributions (but not hurting it either–some argue that his agreement to play third also helped the Tigers because it meant they didn’t have to play Ryan Raburn), while Trout was simply amazing. Still, if you discount his defense because the measure isn’t reliable (and don’t believe your own eyes), Trout’s contribution in WAR drops to 8.6, or 21 percent of the Angels total, which at least makes it a horse race.

I’ve enjoyed the argument about this MVP race because in discussion new ideas come up. Nate Silver, championing Trout but expecting Cabrera to win, pointed out that Trout was superior to Cabrera while leading off an inning, a not inconsiderable skill that compares nicely with Cabrera’s better stats in the clutch this year.

The bottom line, however, is that the MVP awards are given by voters or judges, and they reflect the values of that constituency. If the BBWA says these 28 voters are the judges, we have to look at who they are to see what values are reflected. They’re the bosses. There was a time when the fans’ access to the records of the game was limited, and some favored Maris while others favored Mantle, for example. Some of that argument was based on numbers, of course, but it was also personality and some ineffable human streak that drew fans to one or the other. And the judges then were Olympian.

We’re now our own best judges, as the ballots of the BBWA so ably demonstrate every time they vote, and this discussion among fans with a much broader understanding of how the game works ideally serves the purpose of helping us better understand baseball, baseball players, baseball teams, winning baseball, and the stats and numbers and opinions that help us describe them. The awards themselves are wan, the judges are suspect, but the discussion is lively, which is just great.

The Forecasters Challenge 2011: We have a winner!

Yes, in this quirky little game that Tom Tango has put together over at the ever enjoyable and challenging insidethebook.com blog, Ask Rotoman won the official Best Projections of 2011 competition, edging out the Consensus picks of all 22 forecasters (as well as beating the 21 other forecasters, as well).

You can read Tom’s post about the competition, which is for the most part his way of trying to demonstrate that the value added of a “projection system” over the weighted averages he uses for his Marcel the Monkey projection are slight. There is another side to that story, but we’ll leave that quarrel for another time.

The bottom line is that projections take many forms, for a variety of distinct purposes, and no one has come close to cracking the rather substantial variance in player performance that can only be attributed to luck (or unluck). I make projections for my own use, because I need to know what’s going into them, and I offer them to customers because they ask for them. I hope that’s because they trust that what I’m putting into them is the best stuff we have to work with. This year it turned out that the Challenge agreed, which is nice.

Congratulations to Consensus, RotoWorld and KFFL, each of which won one of the unofficial contests, and to Consensus and RotoWorld, which finished high atop the z-score derived standing for the four combined contests.

Some Post-Oscar Thoughts on Forecasting

FiveThirtyEight.com: Politics Done Right

Nate Silver is taking some guff for his foray into Oscar predictions. What is revelatory in this 538 post is how his venture into understanding why he missed two of three contested Oscars tracks his approach to baseball projections.

The model may be wrong, but that’s fixable. Which is why PECOTA gets better every year. What isn’t, as Nate so politicly admits, are the vagaries of unprojectable circumstances. Nate found out that projecting six Oscars with a dubious data set focuses much of the attention on the vagaries and the unprojectable. Um, he got them wrong.

Which is why his protracted explanations in this post are both admirable, he’s trying to figure it out, and a little sad–didn’t we trust him because he knew that already?

Regular readers know that I admire Nate’s work, but that I also think his great insight into projections is one of marketing. Not statistics. Nate figured out how to get everyone to ascribe the failure of his subjects to follow his model to his subjects, rather than to him. That isn’t a bad thing, it is a perfectly fine (perhaps brilliant) way to convey the confidence interval, but it doesn’t do much to help us explain the large swath of the numbers (in my case Baseball, in Nate’s, all of them) that are unpredictable.

“Hand-made Trophies Worth Bragging About”

FantasyTrophies.com | “Hand-made Trophies Worth Bragging About”

Awesome Fantasy Football Trophy

The trophy we have in the American Dream League is your standard high school sports varsity participation trophy, except the golden posed player on top has been replaced by a 1940s era dial up phone. Similarly electroplated. It is an awesome thing, unique in every sense of the world, and fragile. One year the preceding year’s winner (winners keep the trophy until a new champion is crowned) delivered the trophy in a bag. Somehow the screws and bolts came undone and he just wasn’t handy enough to fix it. He hasn’t won since, though he’s in the lead this year (by a lot).

Trophies mean something, and these clever and handsome items are the work of a friend of a friend in my home town of Brooklyn, NY. The Throwback, picture above, made me laugh out loud when I saw it, which makes it a fit prize for the fantasy winner in your league this year. And it doesn’t look like it has any screws or bolts.

The Hall Feels The Need For Speed

Baseball Crank

A nice trend chart from the Baseball Crank shows that the longer you stay on the ballot the more writers support you for the Hall, though I can’t think of a good reason why that should be. I don’t take the Hall seriously enough to worry about the borderline cases. They make it or they don’t, and that’s fine.

I do find it hard to see why Tim Raines or Mark McGwire look like they should be in, if only there wasn’t the cocaine and the steroids. Based on the numbers both were very good ballplayers who were at best borderline when it comes to induction numbers. Given their questionable pasts the voters’ reluctance to enshrine them doesn’t seem that crazy.

Dawson’s Freak

Joe Posnanski

I’m always awed by Joe Posnanski’s enthusiasm, which drives his stories. Is Andre Dawson in 1987 the worst MVP pick of all time? Could be, but the Hawk was winning me Rotisserie League money back in those days, and he was a gas to watch play the game. That arm, those arms! Dawson was no fraud. Enjoy and discuss.