The Dord of Darien

Musings from the Mayor of the Internet

Ken Rosenthal is an angry, bitter old man

How else to explain why he wrote a Murray Chass column?

"Joe Mauer is the American League Most Valuable Player."

Good start. This is correct.

"How do I know?

The sabermetric community, through web sites, message boards and blogs, tells me so."

Fuck those guys. Bunch of nerds, with their VORP and their DORP and their beardy, glasses-wearing, Mountain Dew-swilling nerdy nerd asses. Nerds.

"I’m inclined to agree with the choice of Mauer, but that’s not why I’m writing. No, I’m writing because of the cyber-shoutdowns of anyone who offers dissent, anyone who dares suggest Derek Jeter, Kevin Youkilis or whoever is a legitimate alternative to Mauer."

Shouting? I’m not shouting! Swearing, yes. But this is the internet, man. You might want to look around a bit once in a while.

"There is more than one way to look at this. I can argue for Mauer. I can argue for others. Taking a contrary position does not make me just another unenlightened member of the MSM (translation: mainstream media). But it will subject me to a certain level of scorn for rejecting SGT (translation: sabermetric groupthink)."

I would suggest that taking a contrary position just because you want to stick it to those nerdy nerds (think they’re so smart… back in my day… thing called respect… by gum…), well, that might in fact be a pretty unenlightened thing to do. If you want to present like some sort of reasoned, logical argument that’s one thing. But just complaining about the consensus because you think there should be less of it? That increases your LS(rSGT) by 6.02 on the season. Watch out!

By the way, sweet stat-geek rip, man. Highly original. Doesn’t make you sound unenlightened at all. Or old.

"Don’t get me wrong. Sabermetricians have significantly broadened our understanding of baseball — and by “our,” I mean fans, media and club personnel, virtually everyone in the game. Advanced statistics reveal not only tendencies, but also greater truths. Smart teams effectively combine sabermetric principles with scouting orthodoxy. Very few, if any, disregard the numbers entirely."

This man does. Also this crazy person. And you may recall this gentleman having such an issue with numbers that some poor souls started a blog devoted to getting him fired that I would be fairly accused of ripping off on a regular basis if anybody ever read these posts. But other than your last sentence, that is completely correct and I agree.

"Here’s the problem: Sabermetricians were ignored for so long, they had to shout to be heard. Now they are getting heard — properly heard in the highest levels of baseball media and front offices. But some continue to shout, dismissing those who disagree as ignorant dolts."

I’m a little confused here. Do sabermetricians actually come up to you like on the street and seriously, literally just start screaming at you about VORP? Because that’s nuts and I don’t think it reflects any greater tendency among the majority. Or are you just talking about internet shitheads like me? Because, hey Ken, seriously: the internet is kind of that way. Not just about baseball, but about everything. For fuck’s sake, man, I posted a lame joke on a video game message forum a few months back and it spawned dozens of responses nitpicking at details in the setup and whatever.

"Last I checked, it’s a free country. Last I checked, the MVP is a subjective choice."

Ken. Relax. You fucking drama queen. The very "freeness" that allows you to be a dipshit and intentionally pick an MVP candidate you know isn’t as good a choice as Joe Mauer also allows people to call you a dipshit for doing it. You dipshit.

"Yes, voters from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America occasionally screw up. But the beauty of the award, as outlined by the instructions given to voters, is "there is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means." Which, of course, drives sabermetricians nuts."

Unlike Ken, I won’t profess to speak on behalf of "sabermetricians." I’ll just speak for me. Vague MVP voting criteria is very low on the list of things that drive me nuts. Here is that list:

1) This steering wheel on my crotch
2) Those damn kids and their damn football on my damn lawn
3) Those tiny airplane peanut bags. I mean, what’s the deal with those?
4) Damn Mexicans stealing my job
5) Dammit
6) When I spill my Mountain Dew all over my Gundam Wing t-shirt
7) Wins and Saves
8) Vague MVP criteria
9) Ozzie Guillen’s mouth
10) That damn hip-hop that those people listen to

See? All the way down there at number eight.

"The award is not for highest VORP. It is not for most win shares, most runs created, most wins above replacement player. It is for something that no one can quite define, and — goodness gracious! — voters sometimes apply different interpretations from year to year."

Hey, while Ken’s ranting about VORP or whatever nerdy shit, I thought I’d entertain you with another quotation straight from the MVP voting criteria.

"The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931:

1. Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.
2. Number of games played.
3. General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.
4. Former winners are eligible.
5. Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team."

Numbers 1 and 2 are those nerdy stat things that Ken is so cheesed about. Numbers 4 and 5 aren’t actually criteria, and so their inclusion on this list should tell you something about the thinkosity of the people who wrote it. So, actually, the only part that "no one can quite define" is number three. Unlike Ken, I don’t speak on behalf of all sabermetricians everywhere, but I personally would weight the undefinable stuff a bit less heavily than the definables. Maybe like if Mauer and Jeter were a dead heat on the actual value and games played and stuff and Jeter’s hair was better and god damn is he a sterling example of a man, well, then that would count. But hands up everybody who voted against Barry Bonds in 2002 just because he was a shithose. Oh, he got all 32 first-place votes? Well fuck you all and your definable stats.

"Some sabermetricians contend Mauer should have been voted MVP last season, when he finished fourth, or in 2006, when he finished sixth. Mauer won the AL batting title in both of those seasons but did not hit for great power. Now he is headed for another batting title — his third in four seasons — and his candidacy looks almost pristine."

I would like to meet these sabermetricians who think that the MVP should be whoever won the batting title. I would also like to meet a unicorn, Bigfoot, and Mhungazonga Mubuntu, none of which exist either.

And which sabermetricians thought Mauer should have been MVP in 2006 again? in 2006, Jeter was the clear choice of SABRheads. Mauer was a decent choice last year, when Dusty McHustle of the Red Sox won it even though he wasn’t even the best choice on his own team, but, hell, that’s the way the ball bounces.

"Mauer has hit 27 home runs, more than doubling his career-high, and leads the AL in on-base/slugging percentage. He is primarily a catcher, further increasing his value, and the Twins stayed in contention long enough to diminish any argument he did not play in enough meaningful games."

What, then, is the problem?

"What, then, is the problem?"

Are you making fun of me, Rosenthal? If you don’t knock that shit off, I’ll shout at you on the internet.

"The first criterion for the award is “actual value of a player to his team, that is strength of offense and defense.” Twenty-four of Mauer’s 114 starts this season — more than one-fifth — have been at designated hitter, a position that requires no defense. Mauer also trails other candidates in the second criterion, number of games played."

This is a legitimate argument at long last. This is almost exactly halfway through the article, and Kenny has finally stopped ranting about those damn kids and started actually making words that mean things. Unfortunately, they’re not the greatest; Joe Mauer, you see, is a catcher. Catchers do not play quite every day as a rule, because their position is physically demanding. They squat for four fucking hours. So teams periodically rest them. In Mauer’s case, on his rest days, they play him at DH because he is an incredibly good hitter. You remember when the Red Sox started putting Babe Ruth in the outfield on his off-days? Kind of the same idea. And just like with the Babe, Mauer’s starts at DH kind of increase his value rather than diminish it, since he’d be on the bench otherwise. Do you see?

"When Mauer first stepped onto the field on May 1, the Twins already were 22 games into their season. Mauer obviously cannot be faulted for needing to recover from offseason kidney surgery, but two other MVP contenders — Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera and Jeter — have appeared in 141 and 139 games, respectively. Mauer has appeared in 120."

That is a meangingful argument. Mauer has played fewer games than some people due to being a catcher and injured at the very beginning of the season. If only those damn sabermetricians had invented some nerd stat that could provide us with some idea of his value to the Twins this year, taking into account that he’s played fewer games.

Most of the sabermetric "value" stats do account for that, of course. Mauer’s WARP3, which is a stat designed to reflect his overall contribution to the team, including offense, defense, number of games played, and everything, is 11. 11 is very, very, veryvery high. Barry Bonds peaked at 14.6. Babe Ruth hit 16 once. 11 is really good. Jeter and Cabrera, who have played more games than Mauer this season, clock in at 8 and 7.5, respectively. Those numbers are quite good, but they are not close to Mauer’s. For reference, 11 is where Albert Pujols tends to hang out. Joe Mauer. Is putting up Albert Pujols numbers. At catcher.

(Pujols is at 13.7 this year because he is very good at baseball.)

"Am I nitpicking? Perhaps. But Mauer’s absence in April, combined with his time at DH, raises the possibility another candidate may — repeat, may — be worthier. It certainly creates the opportunity for debate, which is my entire point."

You point is that there’s an opportunity for debate about the MVP? No shit, Ken. The internet fucking knows that. The internet is covered with debate about the AL MVP this year. This is like the fourth time I’ve posted about it on this blog which isn’t even ostensibly entirely about baseball. The reason you’re hearing so much Mauer and so little everybody else is because this year there’s a very clear leader. Which would be Mauer.

Try this little test. Are you offended that the whole world has already given Albert Pujols the NL MVP? I mean, nobody’s fucking debating that. It’s Pujols. Seriously, Ken. There’s no sabermetric mafia suppressing any other opinion.

"Baseball sparks the liveliest discussions of any sport, invites a myriad of perspectives. Slavishly adhering to sabermetric dogma reduces the level of discourse. We’re talking about an MVP race, not geopolitics. We’re supposed to debate. Good, old- fashioned quarrels are part of what makes the game fun."

Does anybody disagree with this? I’m completely serious. Is there even one person out there who doesn’t think people should be debating the MVP? Sabermetrics isn’t "dogma," you crazy, angry old kook. Sabermetrics is just data. It’s just information about what happened in baseball. There are 2430 regular-season baseball games played every single year. There is no possible way for anybody to watch all of those games, be aware of everything that happens, and understand the value of every event just spontaneously, and then to recall all of that information at the end of the season. So we write shit down, and we think about it, and we try to work from all this raw data about walks and singles and sacrifice flies and figure out how that all fits in to the puzzle that is the standings. If my team goes 94-68 on the season, and I hit .330 / .400 / .550 / .950 with 24 home runs, 31 stolen bases, and got caught stealing 5 times, plus I sacrificed eleven runners home and bunted three guys to second base, how much did I contribute do that 94-68 record? If you said anything more precise than "I dunno," you’re full of shit, because you don’t know. That’s why we look at numbers. It’s not a religion, stupid; it’s honest people trying to figure out what happened in the crazy complex string of events that makes up 2430 baseball games.

So when you write that "slavishly adhering to sabermetric dogma reduces the level of discourse," in truth what you are saying is that the level of discourse comes down when the parties have more information. That it’s better to be uninformed and just go with your feelings than to think rationally. Fuck you and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Oh, and, one other thing: geopolitics is something we’re not supposed to debate? That’s either a really uniquely unsuitable example for this argument or else fuck you. Or maybe both.

"So, the question becomes: Does anyone but Mauer deserve the award?"

And the answer becomes: No.

"My top alternative is Youkilis. But I also can make cases for Jeter and Cabrera and, to a lesser extent, Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira and Angels first baseman Kendry Morales. Heck, Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez — who missed even more time than Mauer while recovering from hip surgery — might be the most valuable of all. The Yankees, 13-15 without him, are 79-38 since his return."

Jeter, Cabrera, Youkilis, and Teixeira are all good choices. None of them are anywhere near as good a choice as Mauer (they all have WARP3s of or just below 8; their standard offensive numbers are sub-Mauerian on account of Mauer leads the league in all of them, and they’re not catchers, which Mauer is). Morales is not a good choice unless, like my good friend Gordon Edes, you’re making up some new second-half MVP. A-rod is also not a good choice; he’s having a serious down year. And, like you say, he’s missed a lot of time this season.

Now let’s look real quick at your last sentence. You see how you used a statistic to support your argument? Is that statistic somehow exempt from your discourse-level-lowering-dogma fixation? If it is, that would be ironic, since that’s one greasy motherfucker of a bad stat, and could even lower the level of discourse on slashdot.

"Youkilis has only one more plate appearance than Mauer — he missed time with a left oblique strain in May, then was suspended five games in August for starting a fight with Tigers right-hander Rick Porcello.

Still, he is second in the league in OPS to Mauer and possesses the unique ability to shift almost seamlessly between first base and third. Youkilis even made two starts in left when the Red Sox were depleted by injuries. While the experiment did not work, it demonstrated anew Youkilis’ team-first approach."

So Youkilis has been almost as productive offensively as Mauer in almost exactly as many games, plays either an easier position in the field at about average performance or a much easier position in the field pretty well, demonstrated his character by getting into a fight with an opposing player and missing five games, and stank it up in left field. He’s a great player and he’s having a fine season, but Mauer is kind of… better in every single area.

"Jeter, like Mauer and Youkilis, possesses many of the same selfless qualities."

That’s true. Or, well, it’s true as long as the "seamlessly shifting positions" thing and the "playing left field if that’s what he has to do" thing don’t matter; lest we forget, Jeter displayed his selflessness in shining fashion by selflessly not changing positions when his team acquired a much, much better shortstop.

"Yet, he remains the most controversial non-controversial figure in sports. Sabermetricians were the first to expose his defensive shortcomings — shortcomings that Jeter worked hard to overcome, making significant improvement this season."

The fact that it took sabermetricians to point out that Jeter doesn’t get a damn thing to his left was kind of absurd. However — and this is absolutely, unquestionably true — Jeter’s defense has improved tremendously over the last five seasons. He’s now pretty much performing at league average defensively, and producing monster offensive seasons, which is exactly the reason why you see his name popping up in MVP voting every single year now. I mean, look at this shit. You see how Jeter’s FRAA was an absolute black hole for a very long time, and suddenly jumps the fuck up for the 2004 season? That is an awesome improvement. So… we agree, except for the "this year" thing. Whatever he was getting wrong he fixed five years ago.

" While Jeter is almost universally admired, some also view him as the beneficiary of New York hype."

What is this madness? Ambassador Derek Sanderson God Jesus Jeter, pope of baseball and saviour of the free world has been the beneficiary of hype? I dunno. I call bullshit.

Let’s try this fun test and see. The following six lines all describe career totals for six middle infielders. Can you pick Derek Jeter out of the crowd?

.319 / .389 / .535 / .924
.298 / .382 / .528 / .909
.271 / .392 / .427 / .819
.317 / .387 / .459 / .846
.327 / .391 / .466 / .857
.287 / .358 / .446 / .804

The correct answers are, in order: Hanley Ramirez, Chase Utley, Joe Morgan, Derek Jeter, Honus Wagner, and Carlos Guillen.

What was the point of this experiment? Mainly to point out that if Derek Jeter put up those numbers in Florida or Philadelphia or Seattle, he’d be remarkable but probably not thought of as THE BEST EVERS. And that he’s very very good and will definitely get in the Hall where Joe and Honus are.

"Not to worry: Two writers from each of the 14 AL cities vote, eliminating the possibility of bias."

My ass.

"Jeter is enjoying a stellar offensive season. He is the unquestioned leader of the Yankees. His passing of Lou Gehrig as the team’s all-time hit leader is irrelevant; the Hall of Fame will be Jeter’s lifetime achievement award. But could anyone seriously be offended if Jeter won MVP?"

Joe Mauer would probably be offended. Does he count?

"Others, too, at least deserve mention. Cabrera, third in the AL in OPS, might be more important to his team than any other player in the league."

Except Joe Mauer, who is pretty much all the Twins have going for them. The Tigers have their excellent pitchers to fall back on. And it’s not my fault their crazy manager continues to write Gerald Laird into the lineup even though Alex Avila is much, much better.

"OK, that’s it, end of analysis. I don’t pretend it’s complete. I don’t pretend to know all the answers. I just want to have a nice, civil discussion about a fascinating MVP race, a discussion that includes number geeks sitting in their basements"

Their mothers’ basements, thank you very much. It’s like you don’t even pay attention to these horrible hack-y insults before you rip them off.

"We can still talk, can’t we?"

Only if you promise to stop being such a penis.

September 18th, 2009 Posted by | Baseball | no comments