Monday, November 21, 2011

Every Five Days

Justin Verlander only contributed to his team every fifth day, when his turn in the rotation came. That's why it's so impressive that he won the AL MVP, over Jacoby Ellsbury, Jose "Signs" Bautista, Curtis Granderson, and Miguel Cabrera.

Aside from the merit of the individual players, the perennial complaint among an outspoken minority of MVP voters is that pitchers should not be eligible for the award. In this case, Verlander overcame the prejudice of two Cleveland-area reporters. (Incidentally, when the Red Sox's Pedro Martinez was the most electrifying honkballer in the world in 1999, he wuz robbed by two New York City reporters. Is this principal or bias? That's another question.) One of the justifications for prejudice against pitchers is that they are only involved "every five days". Even though he was masterful in his 34 starts, how could Verlander have the impact of a Jacoby Ellsbury, who played on offense and defense in 158 games?

Jim Ingraham of the Ohio Herald-News, enjoying his 15 minutes, explains his position:
I'd wrestled with this for a long time. If I was ever going to vote for pitcher for MVP, it would be him this year. He hasn’t appeared in 79 percent of their games, any starting pitcher really doesn’t appear in 79 percent of his team’s games in a year. Would you vote for an NFL quarterback for MVP if he only appeared in three of his team's 16 games?
The natural objection is that while Verlander only played 34 games, he was much more involved (and subjected to much more wear-and-tear) than anyone else in those 34. In fact, he pitched to an average of 28.5 batters in each game. By comparison, Ellsbury only faced pitchers 4.6 times per game and only touched the ball on defense 2.5 times per game. So how involved was each player? Ingraham's claim is that extensive involvement matters, but intensivity is no object. Why should that be the case? Would Ingraham vote for a player who pinch hit in all 162 games and batted .400? If not, then what's the logic?

In terms of sheer involvement, here's how the top 5 MVP candidates add up. I'm excluding errors from the defense metric, but they wouldn't make much difference.
PlayerBatter v. PitcherDefenseTOTAL
Looking at this table, we can see that (1) total number of defensive actions doesn't matter to the voters; otherwise they'd vote for an infielder(like Cabrera) every year. Most of baseball is determined by the duels of pitcher versus batter, and a durable starting pitcher like Verlander is directly involved in a good deal more of those duels than someone who is only involved in one out of every nine of his team's at-bats!


gary said...

Cabrera isn't a shortstop. He's a first baseman; you're thinking of the OC.

Chops said...

I'm thinking of Miguel Tejada, woops!

bpf said...

I'd like to see what Cabrera's number would be if you subtracted put-outs. I think it would take him down to normal levels. That said, yes, any other infielder would have much higher numbers.

bpf said...

Cabrera had 1263 putouts and only 103 assists. For comparison, a SS (Jeter) had 140 put outs and 280 assists (420 total), Cano (6th) had 323 and 444 (767), and Pedroia (9th) had 290 and 425 (715). So yes, infielder's get a lot more touches, but especially for first basemen, many of those touches are low-key.