Friday, November 20, 2009

Keith Law Is Smarter Than You...Get Over It

The Common Man is very amused by the controversy generated by Keith Law’s 2nd-place vote for Javier Vazquez on his Cy Young Award ballot. Law, as most of the Interwebz has learned since yesterday, crunched some numbers and came up with a very convincing argument that Vazquez provided the second most value in the National League, and that the innings Chris Carpenter did not throw while on the disabled list dropped him below Adam Wainwright in terms of overall value. Law has been accused of bias and incompetence (which, really, is a normal day for him, given how pig-headed and traditional analysis-minded many readers and baseball fans in general are) because of his vote. It’s a shame, because unlike some other voters, the diminutive and cherubic KLaw lays out a thoughtful and transparent reasoning for his vote on his ESPN blog, and has clearly done his due diligence in preparing his ballot.

For the better part of two days, on Shyster’s Hardball Times site, there has been a proxy battle raging between Law’s champions and detractors (okay, mostly one or two detractors) that seem to be raising the same concerns that writers and pundits are raising nationally. When he was on the mound, these detractors argue (often without this amount of coherency), he was at least one of the three best pitchers in the league, if not the best (AND LOOK AT HIS W-L RECORD AND ERA !!!!11!!!!11), and that the award is meant to honor the best pitcher in each league, which is not necessarily always the most valuable. Quantity, they seem to argue, is trumped by quality.

While the argument is relatively (ahem) by numbers, some interesting points were brought up over the course of the discussion. One commenter in the Shyster thread, a “civilwarmike,” wonders, “To dock Carpenter because of innings pitched? Does that mean Joe Mauer will should not[sic] be the MVP because he missed the first month of the season? Just wondering. “ It’s an interesting idea, Carpenter and Mauer both missed roughly a month of the season, and were huge question marks as they came back from their shoulder and kidney problems, respectively. Both ended up being big time performers for their clubs, who both (largely on the strength of their stars’ performances) won their respective divisions. And if we are going to count the time and innings Carpenter missed against him, don’t we also have to do the same to Mauer.

The answer, obviously, is that of course we have to count Mauer’s time and plate appearances missed against him. In 226 plate appearances, Minnesota’s non-Mauer catchers hit .277/.335/.335 with no homers. In April, Jose Morales and Mike Redmond combined to hit .297/.358/.351. It’s almost assured that Mauer would have outperformed that duo. So his absence not only hurt Mauer’s individual stats, but it undoubtedly hurt his club. In April, the Twins scuffled out of the gate to an 11-11 mark, and finished the month in fourth place, a game back of (chortle) the Kansas City Royals.

But Mauer’s absence does not tell the whole story. On the first pitch of the season, Mauer lined a bullet into the leftfield bleachers in the Metrodome and didn’t stop hitting from then on. Mauer finished with an ungodly .365/.444/.587 line, with 191 hits, 28 HR, 96 RBI, and 94 runs scored. It was one of the two or three best seasons ever by a catcher. His OPS+ was 170 (Mark Teixeira was second at 149). Despite missing a full month, Mauer led the American League in Runs Created, and contributed more than a win more to his team than any other American League hitter according to Adjusted Batting Wins. According to Baseball Prospectus, Mauer contributed almost 18 more runs versus replacement level to his team’s offense than Derek Jeter (89 to 71) and 1.4 wins more than Ben Zobrist in WARP, the second leading hitter (9.0 to 7.6, though Zack Greinke actually led the American League with 9.5). Fangraphs lists Zobrist as the Major League leader in WAR, with 8.6 wins, but a) Mauer finished just behind with 8.2 wins and b) as Jeremy Greenhouse pointed out for Baseball Prospectus last Tuesday, catcher defense and catcher replacement levels are not properly valued yet by WAR. No matter what stat you use, it’s pretty clear that Joe Mauer has lifted and separated himself from the rest of the field of AL MVP candidates simply because the value he added during the time he was on the field was so far, even quantitatively, beyond what other hitters contributed over the full season.

Carpenter, on the other hand, suffers in this analysis because of the quality of his competition. While Carpenter was terrific while he was on the field, the other competitors for the NL Cy Young were almost as good if not a little better. Carpenter finished sixth in the National League in WAR behind Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, Vazquez, Dan Haren, Wainwright, and Ubaldo Jimenez. He finishes 6th in WARP behind those same five minus Wainwright, but plus Jair Juerrens. He finishes second to Lincicum in VORP for pitchers, and third behind Lincecum and Vazquez in FIP. With fewer K/9 and K/BB and fewer IP, it is impossible to construct an argument for Carpenter beyond looking at his W-L record and ERA. And in a packed bunch of starters, it is entirely reasonable that the value lost by the month he missed knocks Carpenter out of the race.

It’s really that simple. On the one hand, the players’ individual seasons are very similar in terms of the paths they took. However, the contexts in which they are competing for their respective post-season awards are completely different. There is far more evidence than Joe Mauer belongs in the top spot of every single AL MVP ballot than evidence that Carpenter even belongs in the top three of the NL. Sorry Cardinals fans.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

In which The Common Man drinks beer and rededicates himself to blogging...

Being a good dad and a productive employee and a blogger has proven difficult in recent months, but The Common Man is compelled to write tonight, not because of baseball (though he'll get around to that, he promises), but because he can't get three murderers out of his head.

The first is Nidal Malik Husan, the alleged shooter at Fort Hood, who murdered thirteen people on Thursday of last week for reasons that are as yet not understood. Hasan has been described by classmates and colleagues as being opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afganistan, and has been alleged to have had contact with extremist Imams who advocate the killing of American troops and civilians. Hasan's attack was probably religiously motivated (though this is not an indictment of Islam in particular or of religion in general. But what resonated with The Common Man today is the Eugolgy given today by President Obama. Obama discussed each victim and his or her accomplishments and got to a specific nurse from Milwaukee, Captain Russell Seager, who was a beloved husband and father. It was the "father" part that got to The Common Man, who has cherished being a dad for just under three years now. And as The Boy grows and changes, The Common Man could not help but picture, as he listened to that story, what life could be like for The Boy without a dad. Indeed, as he seethed, The Common Man could think of little else other than Hasan knew how wonderful it was to have a father, and chose to deny another son or daughter that opportunity. It is this impersonal cruelty that The Common Man just doesn't understand and makes him wish Hasan and all others who cold-bloodedly murder fathers and mothers and sons and daughters around the world dead.

But, of course, that's part of the problem. The second murder on The Common Man's mind, John Muhammad, is (as of the moment The Common Man is writing) scheduled to be executed tonight in Virginia. After killing mothers and fathers and sons and daughters, Muhammad is going to be taken fromt he world. And as much as The Common Man knows that Muhammad (and Hasan) deserve it, The Common man realizes that his emotional reaction to these crimes is exactly why justice is not served through exectution. Justice is a bitch godess who constantly disappoints us; yet, to be effective, she must remain blind to the emotional undercurrents tha make me want to slam Hasan and Muhammad into walls again and again while showing them pictures of adorable babies who will grow up without fathers and mothers, and ask them what those babies ever did to Hasan and Muhammad. And, as several studies have demonstrated that execution does not substantially deter crime, there does not seem to be a rational reason for capitol punishment. The world may be a better place without Muhammad in it tonight, but justice (whose guarantee is the basis of civilization and of our society) is not served by it.

But there must be a happy medium somewhere. As much as capitol punishment is too much, given the emotions and uncertainty that play into its application, some applications of justice are startling in just how inadequate they are (particularly for the wealthy and powerful). In particular, the case of Angel Villalona, a prospect in the Giants organization, who is accused of shooting a man in a nightclub in his native Dominican Republic. According to prosecutors, Villalona has agreed to pay roughly $140,000 to the family of the deceased, who are now claiming that Villalona was not the man killed in the incident. Obviously, there is a lot we don't know about this case. We don't know whether Villalona was acting in self-defense. We don't know whether the charges will stick without the cooperation of the victim's family. However, the appearance in this case is definitely that Villalona, as Matthew Poirot points out for Circling the Bases, is buying his way out of trouble with his $2.1 million signing bonus. This gives the appearance that, at least in the Dominican Republic, that Justice is for sale, even with her blindfold on.

Fortunately, in this case, baseball is the lone major American sport where character seems to be taken into account (at least where prospects are concerned). Guys like Ugueth Urbina and Ambiorix Burgos typically become persona non grata when their behavior veers from unpleasant to unacceptable. Jose Offerman was forced out of baseball early; and minor league players (such as the Twins Delmon Young and Anthony Swarzak) have had their careers delayed because of their naughtiness. While baseball has a long way to go, as they still welcome wife-beaters and drunks back with open arms after they've proven their talents indespensible, at least they are not the NFL, where Leonard Little continues to suit up every week for the St. Louis Rams despite a second drunk driving conviction, even after being convicted of vehicular manslaughter in 1998. And at least the MLB is not the NBA, where crazy, destructive behavior often seems to be the rule, rather than the exception, with players going into the stands, choking coaches, demanding trades, and sulking their way out of contracts.

Villalona's case is an interesting one, particularly if he is acquitted in the D.R. If there is justice in baseball, and Villalona truly is guilty of murder, hopefully we'll never have to hear from him again. Hopefully it will leave such a bad taste in the mouths of the Giants (and Villalona's potential teammates) that they will ask him not to return in the Spring. Baseball will probably be better for it.