Saber Talk September 12, 2008
Putting the V in MVP

In the next month, there will undoubtedly be a ton of debate surrounding the MVP award, in both leagues. While people will have many angles for their choice, from a sabermetric perspective, we should all be on the same page, or at least understand where each other are coming from.

In this entry at The Book Blog, there is an in-depth discussion of last year's MVP award, and, more importantly, the process (or processes) one should use to pick the winner. What follows is my attempt to convert that lengthy thread into an article, and hopefully add my own twist. So, thanks in advance to Tango, MGL, and all the commenters over there for their help in shaping my opinion on this matter (of course, if I screw something up, which is almost inevitable, don't blame them!).

Anyway, let's get back to the discussion. There's one word here that really throws everyone off, and that is value. How do we define value? Well, there isn't a simple answer. If you read the above linked thread, there are three views that come up most often:

Context-Neutral Stats

Examples: Batting Runs, VORP, Runs Created, etc.

If you're in this group, you believe that clutch performance shouldn't be considered in the MVP voting process. A home run in a 10-0 blowout is worth just as much as a walk off homer in the 9th. An example of a context neutral batting stat is Pete Palmer's Batting Runs (which we've discussed here before). As you can see from the formula, each homer (or any event, for that matter) is worth the same (1.4), regardless of when it occurs.

Context Considered

Example: Win Probability Added

Now, we're looking at "clutch" performance or, more generally, context. WPA looks at how much each event changes a team's chance of winning. So, by WPA, a solo homer in a 10-0 blowout may be worth, oh, let's say .01 WPA points (or virtually nothing) and a walk off homer in the 9th might be worth around .5 WPA points. There's a huge difference there. So, if a player does well (or poorly) in clutch situations, it's going to impact his MVP candidacy, under this process. Note that the player's team doesn't necessarily have to win; the team can lose but a player can still gain WPA points, or contribute to a theoretical win.

Must Contribute to Real Wins

Example: This may be a good attempt

Unlike the above process, here you're only counting performance that directly affects the team's win total. If a player hits three home runs in an 8-6 loss, he doesn't get any credit. This is certainly going to favor players on winning teams and players that do good in wins.

It's important to note that these are just three general groups. There are surely others out there that can be considered, and of course there are sub-groups inside of these groups and so on. The point is, as Tango says, you've got to pick a position and stick with it. There's a good chance that there are three or four reasonable MVP candidates in each league, depending on your stance.

Fielding and Other Stuff

As you'll note, we've only talked about offense so far, really. We can't ignore fielding, and base running, and the other facets of the game. At this point with fielding, we're almost always going to have a "context-neutral" stat, whether we use UZR, PMR, THT's stats, or whatever. There's no clutchness factor in any of the fielding metrics (you wonder why Derek Jeter doesn't fare well ; ). Until someone makes a WPA-like fielding stat, we're going to have to use what's available. Also, there are a slew of other things to consider, like, as mentioned, base running, positional adjustments, park adjustments, and so on.

When a writer talks about a player's huge hits in big wins, you're probably going to be shaking your head, as his overall numbers may not be that great. But, remember, that writer may just be onto something. While that player may not have been the best player in the league, he just may have added the most value.

## Comments

Myron,

Great post.

I just don't understand why should we pick a position and stick with it (Point Blank). I believe the more information, the better. Maybe a combination is the way to go. Either way, we could be "wrong".

Let's try to enhance our probability of being right. Let's look at all the data, and make the best decision possible.

Cheers,

Guillermo

As you said, Myron, there is no simple answer.
Good article, Myron. Value is in the eye of the beholder, no matter if one is sabermetrically inclined or not. The options above don't even mention team success, for that matter. Some voters refuse to vote for a player on a non-playoff team.

I prefer a combination of options #1 and #2. If, for example, player A is worth 11 WARP but contributed -1 WPA point (assuming WARP and WPA are equivalent), he's less valuable than Player B worth 9 WARP but +3 WPA.

Your wink about Jeter reminds me about how the media treats players. Omar Vizquel grabbed a poor throw and made a terrific play to save a run in a playoff game. Everybody assumed he would because he is one of the best, if not the best defensive shortstops ever. It wasn't even noticed by the announcers in NY. A few days later Jeter made a very similar play and people are still talking about it as a wonder. Give me a break.

Your wink about Jeter reminds me about how the media treats players. Omar Vizquel grabbed a poor throw and made a terrific play to save a run in a playoff game. Everybody assumed he would because he is one of the best, if not the best defensive shortstops ever. It wasn't even noticed by the announcers in NY. A few days later Jeter made a very similar play and people are still talking about it as a wonder. Give me a break.

Sorry about the duplicate post.

Guillermo, I hear you there. The only thing is one player may be a clear winner under the context-neutral platform, while another guy may be the winner if you're looking at something like WPA. Which guy do you pick? ... I think it depends on your philosophy.

rangerforlife, I think the third category is pretty close to what you're talking about, regarding team success. i.e., the player must contribute to real wins, so he's likely going to be on a winning team. But, yeah, there are other things the voters certainly take into consideration, outside of the player's performance.

William, yeah, I also remember Pokey Reese running into the stands to make a great catch in Yankee Stadium, and you don't hear about that one much anymore. I still see the Jeter one (where he ran into the stands) all the time here in New York.