The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

 

Lost in Translation

I spent Thankgiving week halfway around the globe in Barcelona, my wife and I having cashed in a nest egg of Frequent Flyer miles for a pair of almost-free tickets. Had a great time over there except for the loss of a beloved, custom-made jacket and the trickle of surreal baseball news coming to me one paragraph per day in the International Herald Tribune. From the NL MVP vote, where Ryan Howard beat out Albert Pujols, to the AL vote, where Justin Morneau edged Derek Jeter to the free agent signings of Alfonso Soriano by the Cubs (eight years, $136 million) and Juan Pierre by the Dodgers (five yars, $44 mil), I felt like everything had been lost in translation. No comprendo.

First, the awards. A few weeks ago, in a conversation about the Gold Gloves, I started calling them the Fielding Grammies, a reference to The Simpsons' take on the Grammy Awards:
Homer: Oh, why won't anyone give me an award?

Lisa: You won a Grammy.

Homer: I mean an award that's worth winning. ["award show"-style music plays while a disclaimer scrolls by on the screen, reading, "LEGAL DISCLAIMER: Mr. Simpson's opinions does not reflect those of the producers, who don't consider the Grammy an award at all."]
Well, to the the Fielding Grammies, we can now add the MVP awards, a/k/a the the Hitting Grammies, or if you prefer, simply the Ribbies (because that criterion seems to be the only one that justifies the voting). I'd love it if Jeter had won, but my reaction to Morneau winning has more to do with the fact that he wasn't even the most valuable player on his team, that honor rightfully belonging to either Johan Santana or (if you feel pitchers have no part in the discussion) Joe Mauer. David Laurila of The Royal Rooters of Red Sox Nation solicited a response that put me in heady company with some heavy hitters including Bill James, Pete Palmer, Peter Golenbock, Jim Callis, Jayson Stark, and fellow BPers Joe Sheehan and Kevin Goldstein:
My thoughts can be summed up in a word: "Horseshit." Morneau isn't the most valuable player on his own team. Or even the second. And any BBWAA writer who can't figure that out for himself ought to root for the XFL to come back so he can find a sport to which his mental capacity is more suited.
Sheehan's take on the MVP votes is better digested at length at his usual haunt:
The writers got it wrong, plain and simple. They identified two guys who had lots of RBIs on good teams and voted for them, ignoring all of the other information available. They ignored defense, they ignored doubles, they ignored OBP, they ignored pitchers and the value they have… they collectively saw the shiny things, got distracted, and further diminished the value of the awards they give out each year. The Most Valuable Player award is redefined to fit the storyline every year, but when it’s defined as "having lots of RBIs and good teammates," we’re well past the point of a defensible argument.

The problem isn't the results of any specific vote. The problem is that we have no expectations of anything better. We've simply conceded that the people charged with delivering these honors will make it up as they go along, picking the story they liked the best and inventing a rationaliztion to fit. So in some years, being an up-the-middle guy matters. In some years, having lots of guys on base in front of you matters. In some years, you win the award on style points. In some years, you win it on numbers. "Value" doesn’t matter, except in sentences like, "statistics don’t really capture the value of" Player X. The ballots attached to those lines quite often then list guys in order of their RBI counts.

...But I'm getting caught up in the outcomes, which is a mistake. Don’t consider the outcome. Consider the process. The process for determining the nominally "official" MVP vote is that it's restricted to a subset of a subset of the people who cover the game for a living. There was a time when the BBRAA [sic] was representative of pretty much all of the people who covered baseball. That hasn't been true for a long time, and it gets less true each and every year. There's a strong argument that the BBRAA represents the dying wing of baseball coverage.

...The more likely path is that the BBRAA awards are replaced, in the minds of the people within the game and the fans that follow them, with something else. For my money, the IBAs [Internet Baseball Awards] would be a perfect replacement. If you compare the IBA results with BBRAA results for the history of the former, the IBAs hold up much better. The difference between the two is largely that the BBRAA awards have precedent on their side and the advantage of publicity. With each error-filled vote, though, the credibility of these awards erodes just a little, and eventually, it’ll be whittled down to nothing.
Sheehan's anti-BBWAA sentiment is so great he's taken a page from the Republican tack of slumming the opposition ("The Democrat Party"), presumably referring to them as Riters (or maybe it's just Retards, which is worthier of a giggle if hardly politically correct).

[Update: Sheehan clarified the acronymn, with the R meant to stand for Reporters: "The organization has made it clear that it exists as an advocacy group for the people who cover baseball games on a daily basis for print publications. My argument is simply that they don’t get to co-opt the term "writer," not in this era..."]

Oh, and if anybody wants my IBA ballot -- Jeter, Santana, Verlander, Leyland in the AL, Pujols, Arroyo (yes, Arroyo), Martin, and Randolph in the NL -- have at it.

Over at the Pinstriped Bible, Steven Goldman's pulled together charts showing just how often MVPs go to the RBI leaders. In the AL, it's happened 27 times in 65 years since 1932; in the NL it's 27 going back to 1929 (both had rules preventing players from winning awards multiple times up until those dates, if I'm not mistaken, hence the cutoffs). Taken together, that's 40 percent of the time the RBI leader has won. Meanwhile, guys finishing below fourth in ribbies won just 16 times in the AL in that span, 23 times in the NL. Jeter's 97 RBIs -- from the number two spot in the batting order, mind you -- ranked just 22nd, clearly proving his moral inferiority to Morneau, at least in the eyes of voters.

Guh.

Meanwhile, the guys on Baseball Prospectus were even awaiting my characteristically bombastic reaction to the Pierre signing, to which I responded, "What, you couldn't hear me screaming, 'Stupid Fucking Flanders!' all the way from Barcelona? I'd pay Kenny Lofton that money at his age before I'd let Pierre have a dime."

Let's get this straight. Pierre is a great bunter and a speedy guy, he doesn't microwave puppies and hasn't missed a game in four seasons. But he's NOT a very useful, $9 million a year ballplayer, not if he's hitting .292/.330/.388 as he did last year for Chicago, or .276/.326/.354 as he did the previous year in Florida; both of those years put him below a .260 Equivalent Average; in other words, he's doing more to hinder his teams' ability to score runs than to help. Gee, thanks!

The Dodgers have a fine outfield prospect named Matt Kemp who tore it up on initial arrival before encountering some confusion about the strike zone, but who's about a half-season of Triple-A away from becoming a fixture in the big leagues. He's raw but incredibly athletic, and PECOTA loves him almost as much as the scouts do. He's permanently shut out of centerfield now, and if he shifts to left, he bumps Andre Ethier, who spent much of his rookie season hitting an over-his-head .340; if he shifts to right he's stopping the potential move of James Loney, who hit .380 in Las Vegas (the top batting average in the minors, mind you, though we know that's not worth a hell of a lot in the PCL; just ask Mike Marshall) and acquitted himself well in Dodger blue filling in for Nomar Garciaparra at first base.

The Dodgers, of course, re-signed Nomar to a two-year deal, necessitating some kind of move for the kid, who's well-regarded as a prospect and at least athletic enough to play the outfield. If that deal doesn't have me nearly so worked up, it's only because the Pierre deal is throw-the-baby-out-the-window worse; one of my BP colleagues who understands player projections (cough) said it "might be the worst deal in baseball history."

I'd rail against this some more, but know that Stupid Flanders will get his wagon fixed when I write that Dodger essay for BP07. I'm not convinced the bleeding has stopped yet, not with the report that the Dodgers are in the mix to trade prospects or youngsters -- Andy LaRoche? Chad Billingsley? -- for Manny Ramirez. Ramirez may be one of the best hitters ever to grace God's green earth; I say so every chance I get because the man is 11th all-time in Equivalent Average (.331), behind only Babe Ruth (.367), Ted Williams (.365), Barry Bonds (.356), Lou Gehrig (.346), Mickey Mantle (.342), Albert Pujols (.342), Frank Thomas (.339), Rogers Hornsby (.337), Mark McGwire (.333), and Stan Musial (.332). As good as he is, he's entering his Age 35 season, and a severe defensive liability who doesn't have the luxury of hiding at DH. For the privilege of taking on the remaining $40 million or so of Manny's deal, the Dodgers shouldn't have to mortgage the farm.

Deep breaths, Jay, deep breaths into the brown paper bag...

• • •

I know a good chunk of my readership is considerably younger than my going-on-37 years. But if any of you are old enough to remember the text-based Adventure game that was in vogue back when the Apple II was king, you should check out this bit of genius from Derek Zumsteg of U.S.S. Mariner. Zumsteg puts himself into Bill Bavasi's shoes at the Winter GM meetings, Adventure style:
You are in a hotel lobby.
Jim Hendry is here.
"I just signed Alfonso Soriano!" Jim Hendry says.

> examine Soriano contract

Alfonso Soriano signed for $136,000,000 over 8 years.

> I hate you and wish you would die.

I don't understand that.

Jim Hendry performs his Dance of Joy.

> punch Hendry

You catch Hendry unaware!
Hendry is wounded!
The other GMs look at you with awe.
Hendry runs away!
Some GMs applaud you.
That ain't even the half of it...

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