Thursday, September 18, 2003


And I thought the Shannon Stewart for MVP campaign was stupid.

That's nothing.

It's the pinnacle of wisdom compared to this gem: Joe Morgan thinks Miguel Tejada should be MVP again. (Well, Tejada or Posoda.)

So much for Rob Neyer's seemingly reasonable claim that A-Rod's victory this year was "dummy proof".

Morgan should have just called his article, "Please, anybody but A-Rod!"

I know what Morgan is trying to say (the A’s got hot when Tejada got hot hence he’s the MVP), but Eric Chavez has been almost equally responsible (.315/.382/.553 since the break) as Tejada (.328/.392/.559). It’s pure lunacy to single out one over the other.

OK, now that I’ve calmed down, Tejada is clearly a better MVP candidate than Stewart. But I think Miguel’s no better than a lot good players in the middle of the pack who also play on playoff caliber teams (guys like Ramirez, Garciaparra, Ordonez, Soriano, Beltran).

I’m not saying A-Rod should be unanimous. Posada’s a nice pick. Boone will still finish with an amazing season. Delgado is still the best hitter in the league. Giambi’s still been amazing despite that low batting average and those prolonged slumps. But nobody does it all this year and every year like A-Rod. He's the MVP.

And it’s a shame that now that the Cards have (basically) fallen out of contention, Morgan has switched to the Bonds for MVP camp. It’s the wrong pick for the wrong reasons. As amazing as Barry’s been, Pujols has contributed more (40 WS to 38 WS; 153.7 RC to 141.7 RC; 144.4 EQR to 140.9 EQR). Barry's the better player (in fact, he's the best), but I still think Pujols has been more valuable.

As for down the stretch, Pujols has hit .365/.463/.685 in 55 games since the break (amazingly increasing his OPS); Bonds has played in 13 fewer games, albeit posting a mammoth .393/.605/.821. Maybe Barry can close the gap in the final days (he’d have to kick it up a notch and hit about .605/.821/1.426 over the last week and a half to do it—and clearly nothing’s impossible for Barry), but it shouldn't (and isn't) a priority for Barry or the Giants. Getting to the World Series is.


After being swamped by the Film Festival, I’m still catching up on my reading (and blogging).

Today I came across this from one of my favourite baseball blogs, Mike’s Baseball Rants:

Since 1990 leading in ERA is becoming more important to the voters, and being a league leader in one of the criteria has impressed the voters more of late. One could still say that they are not extremely sabermetrically minded however. Heck, they might even vote a guy who only tosses 80 innings the NL winner this year.
In case you didn’t get it, that’s a jab at those supporting the pride of Quebec’s bid to take home the Cy Young. (Curiously, the piece isn’t really about Gagne, but I guess Mike couldn’t resist taking the swipe.)

I usually really like what Mike has to say, but this pisses me off because Gagne LEADS ALL NL PITCHERS IN WIN SHARES and Mike knows it. I don’t know how much more sabermetrically minded you can get.

I’ve talked to Mike about this, who’s much brighter than I with a deeper understanding of Win Shares and how they work.

It all started with an earlier piece about Rob Neyer’s endorsement of Gagne for Cy Young.

Here’s our exchange:


Given your take on Neyer's mid-season Cy Young pick and larger betrayal of all things Bill James, I thought you'd be interested to see that the pride of Quebec lead all NL pitchers in Win Shares on August 10 (the day before Neyer posted his article).

Here were the top ten NL pitchers (in brackets are their overall league ranking):

1. (25) Gagne 16.60
2. (34) Brown 15.72
3. (35) Nomo 15.67
4. (36) Hernandez 15.46
5. (37) Schmidt 15.34
6. (41) Smoltz 14.89
7. (45) Wagner 13.79
8. (47) Webb 13.62
9. (49) Ortiz 13.49
10. (55) Prior 12.78

check out the latest here: http://www.baseballgraphs.com/winshares/nlwinshares.html

I know James claims mid-season Win Shares are useless, but honestly I have yet to read anything that convinces me they are any less useless than any other mid-season metric.

Three things jump out at me:

1) Gagne, Smoltz, and Wagner have all been unbelievable this year, and all clearly merit the Cy Young attention many of us felt they deserved. But Win Shares back up Neyer's assertion that Gagne's been more dominant than anyone.

2) Livan Hernandez is having a surprisingly good year, but his fourth place ranking (ahead of Schmidt, no less) does lead me to question the "value" of these WS (check out Soriano's defensive WS for an even more puzzling head-scratcher). While hindsight is 20-20 (who would have guessed Hernandez would be "better" than Schmidt?), it's clear the Giants would probably be unstoppable if they had kept Hernandez and Ortiz (Ortiz actually earns 1.00 WS from his performance at the plate, the only pitcher in the top ten to earn any points from his bat).

3) Webb continues to outperform the flashier Willis (#16 with 11.28), and keeps the streak of brilliant rookie starters (Oswalt in '01, Prior in '02) alive.

OK, I know, just because the Win Shares back up what Neyer writes doesn't mean he's not having a "crisis of faith". After all, it's Rob who should have cited these numbers to prove his point, not me. I do think it's possible Neyer glanced at the Win Shares to come to his conclusion, but didn't quote his source for fear of incurring his mentor's wrath for misusing it.

I don't know.

But thanks for starting another great debate.


To which Mike replied:
Hi Jurgen,


Yeah, I saw that (I have a link to the Baseball Graphs page on my blog).

I think Gagne's NL lead in pitching WS is more a function of the limitations of Win Shares than his performance, or at least as much. James designed the system based on assigning values for certain things. He helped out closers by adding 3 WS per save capped at .9 * IP. Gagne has pitched 62 innings and will end up around 80. Add in an historic K-per-9 IP ratio (over 15 now). Gagne looks great by the Win Shares perspective.

It's a problem with closers, i.e., that they are constantly changing. I think that James did not have a large enough sample of the "post-modern" closer in the Eck-mode to work all the kinks out. Frankly, I think he punted on closers.

I guess I just don't think a post-moden closer can possibly be the best pitcher in the league. This year is putting that belief to the test since there are no really dominant starters in the NL and Gagne and Smoltz have been just about perfect in their roles. Maybe I'm just prejudiced.

By the way, Webb has been brilliant (highest monthly ERA, 3.23). But he has only 22 starts and owns an 8-6 record. Willis is a media darling, is 11-3, and is on a hot team. I think Webb is the best pitcher in the NL, but would be surprised if he got any Cy Young votes.

Take care, Mike

Enlightened (but not dissuaded), I promptly wrote him back:

I think your criticism of Win Shares is an interesting follow-up to the Gagne question. (In an earlier response to one of my questions you called Win Shares an "the crowning achievement of James' illustrious career [so far], but it may be an intellectual dead end.") Might you turn it into a post, or is criticizing Win Shares publicly a no-no?

If Schmidt and/or Brown could stay healthy, or if Webb had started the year earlier, I'd happily give the award to any of them.

But I still think Gagne's been so much better than any of them in his limited innings that he deserves the award. Vive le Quebec!

At least so far.

Then again, we both know how quickly these things can change with over a month left to go in the season.

BTW, would Pujols’ win over Bonds be a bigger upset than Tejada over Rodriguez? Do you think the Giants poor performance while Bonds was on bereavement, plus his game winning homer on his return, might reawaken people to the cold hard fact that Barry is still the best and most valuable player in the league and all of baseball?


Yeeesh... cold hard fact? OK, ignore that stuff about Pujols and Bonds.

Mike never wrote back, and instead I find that despite privately offering an insightful critique of why WS might overvalue closers, he publicly continues to treat the Gagne faithful like dunderheads.

This is the kind of writing that scores cheap points at the expense of greater knowledge... exactly the sort of thing Mike routinely criticises Joe Morgan for. (No sense putting a hyperlink. Check in every week for Mike's Joe Morgan chats disseminations.) Mike is more intellectual about it, but it's no less close-minded and regressive.

It actually reminds me of an experience I had a couple of years ago in Paris. I was sitting around a kitchen table in a small Parisian apartment, listening a group of bright students discuss literature. At first, I felt very intimidated by their obvious knowledge, and secretly blamed my inability to keep up on the failure of the North American public education system. Eventually, the topic was steered to Tolstoy and Baudelaire, two writers I had at least heard off. (I’m being a little modest--Anna Karenina is actually one of my favourite books.)

By now, the conversation was dominated by two students, each of whom took up one of these two writers as their personal favourite. Unfortunately, the conversation soon degraded into a debate about which writer’s working method (Tolstoy writing his epics in the village square; Baudelaire toiling at his desk in solitude) was the best. Not, “Which method is best for a particularly person”, but which method is best. Period.

Of course, it’s a stupid question. Neither is better. Some writers work well surrounded by distractions to inspire them. Some writers need quiet and concentration. Neither is inherently better than the other.

But they debated into the night, bringing further literary, anecdotal, and personal evidence into the argument.

And it was with great relief that I realized that education is often no cure for idiocy.


In the spirit of Niles' "Greatest Gamble" (but without the punishing consequences), with about a week and a half left in the season, here's who I'd vote for:


AL Cy Young



NL Cy Young


What a difference a month makes.

And what idiot wrote this? Does Bonds' game winning homer last night in his first game back to end the Giants' skid convince skeptics that he, not Pujols, really is the MVP?

Anyways, hope I haven't jinxed anybody.

Let me say that the non-rookie categories are extremely close (the rookies, in my mind, are unanimous). But if Schmidt does win the Cy Young, it'll mean the Giants were very stupid in not keeping their ace very rested over his last two starts before the playoffs. (And Barry should probably just keep getting enough ABs to keep his timing.)

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