Saber TalkSeptember 19, 2008
A Glance at the MVP Candidates
By Myron Logan

Last week we took a look at how we should go about picking the Most Valuable Player in each league. Now, let's take a look at some of the leaders in a few different stats. You may remember that we broke down the selection process into a few different categories; context-neutral stats, context-dependent stats, and contribution to real wins. The third category is largely unexplored, at least in terms of stats we could use, so we'll concentrate on the first two.

Context-Neutral Leaderboard

There are plenty of places you can go to find context-neutral stats. They are probably the most popular of the three categories mentioned above. To keep things simple, we'll go with Justin's Total Value Estimates. The great thing about this stat is that it includes virtually everything you'd want to include, like hitting (based on linear weights) and fielding (based on zone rating and revised zone rating). Also, there are adjustments for park, league, position, and players are measured against replacement level. Here are the top 10 players in the American and National League:

American League

Sizemore   Cle  76.6
Rodriguez  NY   63.0
Pedroia    Bos  53.5
Granderson Det  53.3
Roberts    Bal  50.2
Mauer      Min  49.9
Hamilton   Tex  49.2
Beltre     Sea  49.0
Youkilis   Bos  44.6
Markakis   Bal  44.0

National League

Pujols   Stl  87.3
Berkman  Hou  75.5
Jones    Atl  67.4
Utley    Phi  66.8
Ramirez  Fla  65.2
Beltran  NY   56.8
Holliday Col  56.6
Wright   NY   53.7
Giles    SD   52.4
Braun    Mil  48.4

(numbers through September 5th)

As you can see there, Sizemore and Pujols are the clear leaders. There's a similar drop to second place in both leagues and then some bunching up after that.

Context-Dependent Leaderboard

Conveniently, Sky Kalkman's taken Win Probability Added and incorporated fielding, position, and replacement level to create a stat similar to Justin's. Here's the NL leaderboard, this time in wins above replacement rather than runs:

National League

Berkman  Hou  8.6
Pujols   Stl  7.9
Beltran  NY   7.1
Ramirez  Fla  6.8
Holliday Col  6.7
Wright   NY   5.7
Burrell  Phi  5.2
Lee      Hou  5.0
Utley    Phi  4.8

So, what's happened in the NL as we've switched from straight linear weight to WPA? Well, Lance Berkman has jumped over Albert Pujols to take the top spot. He's been particularly clutch (1.78 clutchiness points), while Pujols has merely been average in the clutch. Chase Utley's dropped from third to tenth thanks to his struggles in clutch situations, as measured again by Fan Graphs' clutchiness (-2.13, last in the NL). Remember, this doesn't mean he isn't clutch; in fact, in his career, he's actually been above average in clutchiness. It just means that if you believe context (i.e., performance with men on base, in late game situations, etc) should be considered in the MVP voting, Chase Utley probably isn't your guy.

Sky hasn't run the calculations yet in the AL, so here's the poor-man's version (just plain old WPA, without the positional adjustments, fielding, and so on):

Mauer    Min  4.16
Morneau  Min  4.14
Quentin  Chi  3.89
Hamilton Tex  3.63
Pena     TB   3.55
Cabrera  Det  3.53
Sizemore Cle  3.38
Pedroia  Bos  3.23
Huff     Bal  2.64
Ibanez   Sea  2.55

Remember, the names aren't that important yet. Heck, we've still got a few crucial weeks left in the season. For now, what's more important is that we understand what everybody is talking about when all of the MVP articles role around. A columnist talking about clutchness in Minnesota ... he's in the context-considered camp. A blogger ridiculing the aforementioned columnist's clutch argument ... he's probably in the context-neutral camp.

Comments

I believe Chase Utley is playing with a major injury. I'll bet surgery will be necessary after his season is over. Either on his hip or for some kind of labrum problem.

I know Ryan Howard's batting avg has killed him here but I was thinking he might've cracked the top ten on power numbers alone. Is his defense so bad that combined with the avg & K's his rating stays low?

Mike, Howard's ISO is really nice, but his overall SLG isn't anything crazy special. Coupled with a league-average OBP, Phillie as a hitters' park, being unclutch (at least in terms of WPA, not REW), playing first base, and playing first base poorly, he's barely even a league-average player overall.

I dont agree with your Cy Young math... too much faults. Where are closers??

!! sorry !!

I reffered on this article
Total Value Estimates - Through 5 September, 2008
I've updated the total value estimates for 2008 players. You can read about all the methods in this series of posts.
etc...

Now about MVP's players:

AL
Dustin Pedroia Red Sox
Justin Morneau Twins
Kevin Youkilis Red Sox
Josh Hamilton Rangers
Carlos Pena Rays
Carlos Quentin White Sox
Alex Rodriguez Yankees
Grady Sizemore Indians
Aubrey Huff Orioles
Jermaine Dye White Sox

Pedroia is the front-runner,no doubt.

NL
Albert Pujols Cardinals
Ryan Howard Phillies
Lance Berkman Astros
Carlos Delgado Mets
David Wright Mets
Carlos Beltran Mets
Aramis Ramirez Cubs
Ryan Braun Brewers
Chase Utley Phillies
Hanley Ramirez Marlins