“Exotic math” is going to cost Justin Verlander the MVP award


A friend asked me if there was a point to the “Moneyball” movie coming out now, several years after the book.  All of the lessons its insights have long since been coopted and mainstreamed, my friend said. It’s kind of old news.

I considered the argument for a minute and, as I often do, I randomly surged the web as I thought. I somehow landed on Jerry Green’s column in the Detroit News, lamenting the fact that “narrow-minded” baseball writers will “gyp” Justin Verlander of the MVP award because they’re under the spell of voodoo baseball metrics:

The problem is with the voters, the select journalists in the Baseball Writers Association assigned to the voting. Two from each franchise city. And the problem is that this exotic math known as Sabermetrics has contaminated baseball’s once-neat statistical system. We have cryptic designations such as WHIP and WAR and OPS thrown about by stats geeks who believe themselves to be geniuses with ciphers.

And you know exactly what’s next. No, not some call for a more subjective criteria for MVP. A desire to insert drama and good stories into the mix.  I could at least understand that kind of argument as an appeal for something different.  No, what comes next is Green saying “all of these stats are awful” and proving the point by citing … other stats:

I prefer the ancient meat-and-potatoes stats — a better mixture. Batting average, home runs, runs batted in, runs scored for the position players. Victories, earned run average and strikeouts for pitchers.

And what I do know is that Justin Verlander has won 22 games this season against five losses. His total projects to 24 or 25 victories. No other pitcher in the major leagues is anywhere near him. And I know that his strikeout total, 232, is the highest in baseball and that his ERA, 2.24, is tied with Jered Weaver’s for the lowest in the American League.

All that is in the baseball’s ancient stats info. You could look it up — as this ancient did.

As always, these arguments are not about statistics. Or even about baseball.  They’re about politics. Tradition vs. modernity. Fear of change in a changing world.  Baseball statistics are simply the McGuffin in this grand debate. It could just as easily be music, hairstyles or the height of one’s pants.

Henderson Alvarez signs with Tigres de Quintana Roo

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Free agent right-hander Henderson Alvarez signed a deal with the Tigres de Quintana Roo of the Mexican Baseball League earlier this week, FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Friday. The righty wasn’t necessarily too fringey a player to hack it in the big leagues, but there were no MLB takers in attendance during his showcase in Venezuela last month and he clearly felt it best to try his luck elsewhere.

The 27-year-old’s last major league gig came with the Phillies, for whom he delivered a 4.30 ERA, 6.8 BB/9 and 3.7 SO/9 over 14 2/3 innings in 2017. While he’s not too far removed from his first and only All-Star bid in 2014, he was besieged by shoulder issues in 2015 and 2016 and underwent season-ending surgeries as a result.

That added injury risk, coupled with the fact that he hasn’t pitched more than 22 innings in a single season since 2014, may have been too much for major league teams to take on this spring. Assuming he steers clear of further injuries, however, a return to the majors may not be entirely out of the question in years to come.