Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Myth Making

The MVP debate is starting to heat up again. At this point the national press is all over David Ortiz. They seem to think that because he is having a better year than Arod that he was somehow robbed of the award last year. They love to point to his 20 home runs that tied or put the Sox in the lead last year. The fact is that Arod had the exact same number of home runs that tied or put the Yankees in the lead last year. This year Ortiz is all about the walk off. He has produced wins for his team in the last at bat so often that the "New England" guy, Bill Simmons, had the audacity to compare him to Boston's ultimate clutch performer, Larry Bird.

Walk off home runs are very sexy. They make Sportscenter, there's a big celebration and the crowd goes home believing that one hit won the game for the team. The thing is that an RBI in the first inning that gives your team a lead they never relinquish is just as valuable as a home run in the bottom in the ninth. Is David Ortiz even the most valuable player on his team? Not according to Bill James' Win Shares system. The win shares system uses a somewhat complicated formula to quantify performance. Win Shares have become a common tool used by baseball writers and fans to discuss the relative merits of various players. According to Win Shares, Manny Ramirez is the most valuable player on the team. The Win Shares system takes into account fielding as well and since Ortiz is the DH he gets penalized under that system. However,If we discount fielding and just look at hitting, Ortiz is third in the league behind Manny and Jim Thome. So we have a player who is not the most valuable player on his team and not the best hitter in the league.

Ortiz leads the league in home runs and rbi's and that is usually a ticket to the MVP award. There have been very few years in which a player led the league in both of those categories and didn't win the award. Of course, most times those players were on a team that got into the playoffs. If, for some reason the Red Sox don't make the playoffs, will it still be in fashion to vote for Ortiz? Why do I have to read articles on about Ortiz getting robbed last year and so this year the award should be given to him as some sort of consolation prize. First of all according to Win Shares Arod was a better hitter than Ortiz last year and he played defense. There is no reason to feel sorry for Ortiz about losing last year. He lost to a more deserving player.

Ortiz' reputation is built on clutch hitting. Statisticians will tell you that clutch hitting doesn't exist. That it's a random occurrence. Ortiz has been on quite a run during the past three years. He was sixth in all of baseball in BA/RISP in 2004. He was eighth in 2005. This year he ranks 34th in the American League. That would translate into something like 70th in all of baseball. He is actually must worse this year in situations with runners in scoring postion. He is hitting .304 with runners in scoring position. .304 is good, but it's not otherworldly. If you only got your information from ESPN you would think that he is batting .900 with runners in scoring position. It's simply not true. Derek Jeter, by comparison, is hitting .380 with runners in scoring position. Ortiz does lead the majors in rbi's, but that is more a function of opportunity as opposed to great production. Announcers always talk about his numbers in the late innings of close games and they are fantastic. The truth is that in order to get to a close and late situation, you have to fail in the close and early situation. Success early in games is just as important as success late in games, however that kind of hit seldom leads off Sportscenter.

I'm going to blame primarily ESPN for creating and proliferating the Big Papi myth. They have even convinced the sports writers around the country that Ortiz is doing something special. If a one dimensional player is going to be named MVP of the league, then he needs to do that one thing better than anyone else. Ortiz is not the best hitter in the league (or on his team for that matter) and when he's not at bat or on the bases, he spends the rest of the time with his ass firmly on the bench. Ortiz is a big part of the Red Sox team, but Manny is more important. What do you think his numbers would look if they switched the batting order and had Manny batting ahead of Ortiz? By the way, Manny, Jeter and Joe Mauer are tied for the league lead in win shares. Ortiz is tied for fifth.



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