Thursday, November 15, 2012

2012 MVP

Today is MVP day.  Happy last day of the 2012 season!

Seriously, it's all hot stove from here on out, so let's take a moment to savor this moment.  Savor it.


But just because 2012 is ending doesn't mean we can't have more people discussing the MVP debate, right?  Here's a comment I posted over at Seamheads this morning.

In my opinion, there is a solid, non-sabermetric argument to be made for Trout over Cabrera. First, you just have to suggest that the currency of baseball is runs.
Then, you can look at a good, non-sabermetric stat like Runs Produced (RBI+R-HR). Trout had 182; Cabrera had 204. Or you can go more simply and say that you get half-credit for each run, and half-credit for each RBI. In other words, (R+RBI)/2. 106 for Trout; 118 for Cabrera. That’s either a difference of 12 runs, or 22. Let’s just hedge our bets and use the larger, 22 run-advantage for Cabrera. The question becomes, is it possible that Trout’s baserunning+fielding yielded 22 runs? Well, he pulled back 5 home runs this year. That’s five runs right there, easy as pie. We’re down to 17 runs. Let’s look at baserunning. Let’s say that every CS eliminates 2 SB. And let’s count each SB as 1/4 run. In math, that’s (SB-2CS)/4. That’s not very much. For Cabrera, that gives us (4-2*1)/4=.5. So the difference is back up to 17.5 runs. For Trout, we get (49-2*5)/4= 9.75. So the difference is now down to 7.75 runs. Are you really going to argue that non-stolen base baserunning and defense (which, keep in mind, we’ve only accounted for in terms of home runs stolen) is less than 8 runs? Didn’t think so.
This is the best non-saber case I can make for Trout. I think it holds, as much as any such argument could. It shows Cabrera to be “up” by 7.75 runs – but that doesn’t account for the slew of extra outs he made, or the fact that the Angels foolishly left Trout in the minors for a month, or the fact that the Angels won one more game than the Tigers, or account for differences in ballpark. Frankly, I don’t see how you can even make the case for Cabrera in light of this. But that’s my opinion.

 Now, perhaps it was unfair of me to "double-count" stolen bases; after all, shouldn't those have been counted in Runs Produced already?  Probably, so that was a boo-boo by me.  Anyway, we're left with a 17-run difference - or, disregarding the homer-robbing exploits of Trout, a 22-run difference.

Is it possible that Mike Trout saved 22 more defensive runs than Miguel Cabrera?  I would say that it's pretty darn possible.  22 is a lot of runs, but it's definitely not inconceivable.  And when you take into account that Trout is an electric defender, while Cabrera is adequate-at-best, I don't think it's unrealistic.  But let's say that he didn't.  What about some of the other points I made?

For example, who created more outs?  That's easy to figure - and this will help fix the issue with playing time.  You take batting outs (AB-H), and you add caught stealings and grounding into double plays.  The whole thing is :  AB-H+CS+GDP
Cabrera:  622-205+1+28=446 outs
Trout:  559-182+5+7=379 outs
So Cabrera created (as we said) 22 extra runs, in 67 extra outs.  Is that good or bad?

Well, the entire AL this year created 17217 runs, using up 59932 outs.  In other words, for every out, an average player created .287 runs.  Why is this important?  Well, what if we credit Trout for some of his missed playing time by giving him only AVERAGE performance for those additional 67 outs?  If we do that, we take 17217/59932*67=19 runs.  That means, if Trout had played as an average player, instead of as MIKE TROUT for the difference in playing time as Cabrera, we would have expected Trout to be only 3 runs behind Cabrera.  Three runs.  Remember those 5 homers we talked about earlier?  Yeah.  Add those in, and we get Trout above Cabrera.  And that's still not factoring in the majority of their difference on defense.

Now, again, I can see someone saying, Well, you can't just "make up" for lost time like that - Trout wasn't playing, and that's that.  To an extent, obviously, that's true.  So let's look at a ridiculously similar MVP race, involving a part-time outfielder who was a better defender and baserunner, and compare him with... MIGUEL CABRERA.

In 2010, Josh Hamilton of the Rangers and Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers were in a very similar boat.  Cabrera led the league in RBI (batting .328 and hitting 38 HR; this year, he batted .330 with 44 HR - so, basically, the exact same year) and played 150 games (161 this year).  Josh Hamilton, on the other hand, played in only 133 games (Trout played 139 this year).  In 2010, Miguel Cabrera produced 199 runs, topping the AL.  Hamilton produced 163 runs - a difference of 36.  Which, if you're scoring at home, gives Hamilton a BIGGER gap, and LESS playing time; and yet, people happily voted him the MVP.  And the outs gap was only 44.  So basically, Cabrera produced one run for every extra out he created.  Giving Hamilton the extra 44 outs at a league-average rate for 2010 gives him only 13 runs, which still leaves him 23 runs behind - bigger than Trout's gap was, even BEFORE we adjusted for playing time!  And since Josh Hamilton's 2010 defense is not 20 runs better than Mike Trout's 2012 defense, we have to conclude, I think, that voters in 2012 and voters in 2010 are not applying consistent reasoning.
So why did Hamilton win?  Because of the batting title?  Because his team made the playoffs?  Because of his defense?  Well, Trout's D is better, he practically won the batting title, and his team won more games than Cabrera's.  So why Hamilton in 2010 but not Trout in 2012?

All I know is, I can make the argument that the difference between Trout and Cabrera, even before adjusting for defense or ballpark, is closer to 3 runs than 22.  And I can also make the argument that we've had a Trout-Cabrera situation before, and resolved it in favor of our "surrogate" Trout.  Yet, it seems to be a problem this year.

By the way, I made this case for Trout without the use of WAR.  You don't need it, because it's obvious that Trout had the better year.  I used a vastly inferior offensive statistic, which actually makes the gap between Trout and Cabrera look bigger than it really is.  I hardly touched on defense.  The fact of the matter is, Miguel Cabrera had a wonderful year.  He was one of the 5 best players in the AL this year, probably one of the top 3, and maybe even one of the top 2.  But he wasn't as good as Mike Trout.  As I've said before, he'll win the MVP, and that's fine.  But there's no doubt in my mind that it's also incorrect.

 Addendum to original post:
Another way to think of this might be the following.  What percentage of Miguel Cabrera's value comes from defense?  0%?  A negative percentage?  Let's be absurdly generous and say that 10% of Miguel Cabrera's value is from defense.
And now, how about Mike Trout.  What percentage of Trout's value comes from defense?  30%?  Let's say 20, to be conservative.

Well, if we assume those figures to be true, and even if we stick with Runs Produced as the offensive model, we're left with this math:
Cabrera= (11/10) * 204 =  224.4
Trout = (5/4) * 182 = 227.5

First of all, I swear I picked those numbers out of thin air, and did not specifically engineer them for Trout to come out on top.  But really, they probably don't look that unreasonable.  So, again, I get Trout as the MVP.  In spite of less playing time, he still created, by this "measure" more total runs than Cabrera.  Again, I just can't avoid the conclusion that Cabrera did not have as good of a year as Trout did.

Friday, November 2, 2012

How to Make Football a Better Game

I can hear you thinking it.  "But David - football is already the most popular game in America.  How are you going to make it better?"

What if I said that I could eliminate the most boring play in the game, make football higher-scoring, and make virtually every possession have at least one edge-of-your-seat play?  Would you be interested?

Here's how it works: 

First, in my football dream world, kickoffs and punts would also be eliminated.  Every drive starts from the 20, and you get four downs - if you don’t convert, sucks to be you.  I think the 20 is a good spot to start because it's not SO far back, but it's not so far up that teams can just play conservatively back and forth, gaining one or two first downs and then turning the ball over on downs.  If you are facing fourth-and-four from the 26 yard line and you MISS it - you're screwed.  The other team starts in GREAT field position.  Thus, the game becomes higher scoring.  If you can't punt, even when you're in horrible field position, teams have to get more creative and riskier, and that results in more turnovers, more spectacular plays, and a better game overall.

Second, there's a change in OT.  Overtime will still be sudden-death.  Home team has a choice of ball or wind.  Why?  Because they're the home team.  Whoever starts on offense starts from their own 35.  Why the 35?  Because if they fail to convert, their opponents start with the ball less than half a field away.  This yardline could be changed if the 35 is too problematic.  Hopefully, though, the field position and wind disadvantages and the possession advantage even one another out.  If defense stops the offense, good for them.

Third, the extra point is eliminated.  Every TD is worth 7 points.  However, if you'd like to get an "extra" point, you can.  All you have to do is wager one of your 7 points.  In other words, you'd get one down from the three yard-line.  If you made it, you'd have 8 points.  If you missed it, you'd LOSE one of your 7, and you'd only have 6.  It makes a game-tying TD ACTUALLY tie the game, most of the time.  And, if you tie on the last play of the game, you can choose to win or lose, right there.  No time to think about overtime or not.  You either win, or go home.

Fourth, I wouldn't eliminate the kicking game entirely.  The only vestige of the kicking game I appreciate is the field goal.  The rest of it can just go.  But I also support progressive field goal scoring (2 points for a field goal of 20-29 yards, 3 points for a field goal of 30-39 yards, etc.).  It rewards strong-legged, accurate kickers.  And it creates some interesting scenarios, like this vignette:

You're the home team.  There's a decent-speed wind with you, for now.  It’s four and one from the 39, with your team down by 5 with two minutes to play, and you have Sebastian Janikowski (or a similarly strong-legged kicker).  Do you:

a.  Go for the conversion, and try to keep moving the ball, trying to score while running out the clock?
b.  Kick a field goal from the standard distance (~17 yards farther than your yardline), which would be a 5-pointer to tie the game, but leave time on the clock?
c.  Have your holder line up an extra four yards back and kick a 6-pointer to tie the game while leaving time on the clock?

To me, that would all make football a MORE exciting and interesting game, rather than what it is now.  Defense matters more, because there's no onside-kick to fall back on.  Another scenario, with the same team:  If you're down by two TDs with 3 minutes left, and you score, now you're down by one TD.  If your defense creates a four-and-out, they turn the ball over to you inside their own 30!  You're in great position to score again.  And, if you do, you can choose to go for the extra point, at which point you'll either win the game, or lose.  And if you choose to play for overtime, you now have to choose if you want the ball, at which point you'll have to fight the wind even if you're in "normal" range for your strong-legged kicker, or you can give the ball to the other team in the hope that your D can stop them again.  It's a boatload more strategy, more second-guessing of coaches, fewer gimmicks, fewer scary special teams plays that cause injuries, more scoring, defense is more important, there's more appreciation for strong-legged kickers, and there's a freed-up roster spot because no team carries a punter anymore.  It's pretty much the best of all possible worlds.

What do you think?  Do you have answers for the posited scenarios?  Do you think these would be good changes?