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Hot Button: Meaning of MVP

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Question 4. Statement: In baseball, the MVP award unequivocally should go to the best player.

Strongly agree. Of course. What other option is there? 44.8%

Agree. In close races, I might consider team performance and big moments. 40.7%

Neutral. 2.7%

Disagree. “Most valuable” is different. Factors like clutchiness and team performance must be considered. 9.2%

Definitely disagree. Players on bad teams should not win the MVP except in extreme cases. 2.6%

Broken down:

Agree: 85.5%
Disagree: 11.8%
Neutral: 2.7%

* * *

There doesn’t seem very much to say here — this is an obvious case of selection bias. Brilliant Readers of this site are naturally going to lean toward the idea that the most valuable player and best player are, more or less, synonymous. If not, they would probably not be reading this site. If I gave this question to my fellow members of the BBWAA, I suspect the percentages would look a bit different.

So let me touch upon a different topic, one I was thinking about while watching Joe Buck and Tim McCarver call Game 5 of the World Series. It is fashionable this time of year to bash on Buck and McCarver — a rite of the season — and I plead guilty to doing it now and again (and now and again). The point here is not to cover that ground again.* I fully realize that it’s hard to broadcast baseball to a national audience in part because you are dealing with so many different kinds of baseball fans. You can’t please everyone.

*My friend Ken Rosenthal wrote a nice appreciation of McCarver and there is much in there I agree with. And some I don’t. I guess that was the point.

No the point here is to offer an opinion that might sound strange coming from me. But here is the opinion anyway: There are way, way, way too many baseball statistics during a television broadcast. It really does drive me crazy.

I know that opinion sounds utterly insane from a guy who writes way, way, way too much about baseball through statistics. Heck, there will be a bunch of baseball statistics IN THIS POST where I’m complaining that there being too many statistics on television. What can I say? Things don’t always wrap up in neat packages. I love baseball statistics. And I loathe baseball statistics.

It’s convenient for me to say that I love SMART baseball statistics and loathe STUPID baseball statistics, but I know that I’m giving myself way too much credit. Like Sollozzo says in The Godfather: “I’m not that clever.” Sometimes I loathe smart ones, and love stupid ones. The truth, I think, is that it’s much more basic than that. I love statistics that tell me a story. I love statistics that open up the game somehow — even if just opening up the game to arguments. I love statistics that take my mind to an interesting place, remind me of players I had not thought about, transport me to great moments in the game’s history.

And I loathe — utterly loathe — statistics that do none of those things. Al Michaels — who I think is the best to call football games on television — compares broadcasting sports to the connection between lyrics and music. Funny thing, Marv Albert — who I think is the best to call basketball games on television — says almost exactly the same thing. You don’t want a lyric that stops you, that pulls you from the moment, that breaks from the music. And that’s what almost every statistic on television does to me. It pulls me out of the game. I find myself thinking: “Who Cares?” Or: “What does that even mean?” Or: “That doesn’t sound right.”

Give you an example: During Monday’s game, St. Louis’ Matt Carpenter led off the game. They showed a graphic about Carpenter and talked about it for a few seconds. The graphic showed this:.

Matt Carpenter in first 8 postseason games: .100 average.
Matt Carpenter in last 7 postseason games: .300 average.

The idea was to point out — I guess — that Carpenter was hitting better in his last seven games than his first eight. Like a light turned on or something. But of course it actually meant almost nothing. What is eight games? What is seven? This is the ebb and flow of baseball. not any kind of trend, everybody knows that. And the numbers are so small, they bend to the slightest touch. Carpenter grounded out to first immediately after they showed that graphic, and so that .300 average over seven games instantly and suddenly dropped to .290. He struck out looking his next time up, and it was .281. Before the end of the game, its would reach .265. When the sample is so small the numbers blow in the wind.

It feels to me that the broadcasts are overloaded with such needless minutia. You know, Matt Carpenter is the son of a high school baseball coach. He was a high school teammate of James Loney. He had some pretty serious injuries in college. He was a 13th round pick and was signed for $1,000. He was widely viewed as a non-prospect because of his lack of speed and lack of power. He might have been the best player on the St. Louis Cardinals this year.

Seriously … talk about THAT rather than giving us these dreary, pointless, meaningless, dreadful statistics. Talk about how good Matt Carpenter was this year; I don’t think that casual baseball fans know that he should be a legitimate MVP candidate. Or talk about how the Cardinals, after losing the great Albert Pujols in 2011 (just after the Cardinals won the World Series) they went into their farm system and major league bench and pulled out an eighth-round pick (Allen Craig), a 13-round pick (Carpenter), a 23rd-round pick (Matt Adams) and this year scored 21 MORE runs than the did that year.

But no. Instead it’s breaking down Matt Carpenter’s postseason into meaningless bite-sized portions.

Understand the Carpenter stat thing is not just one thing. It’s typical. The stats keep coming in swarms — how this guy won three or his last five starts, how that guy is one for three against a certain pitcher, how this guy had five RBIs in six games, how someone hit .289 against righties after the All-Star break but only .278 against lefties — until my brain desperately wants to go to the Bahamas for a vacation.

And what bothers me most is that I think this is exactly why some people are anti-baseball stats. Heck, when you’re getting those distracting and often misleading stats jabbed in your face nonstop you should be anti-baseball stats. I think that’s why whenever you hear someone doing a satirical baseball statistic to prove what nerds we all are, they will say something like: “Oh, look, David Ortiz is hitting .293 on Tuesday day games against right-handed pitchers and the dew point is 60 degrees or lower and the defending American Idol winner has a T in his or her name.” That’s the cliche. But truth is that nobody who loves baseball stats cares about ANY of that stuff. That just matches the needless stuff they will say on television.

I love baseball numbers. Obviously. Pick a three digit number, any three digit number. Wait I can’t hear you — I’ll pick the first one that comes to mind. Three hundred fifty seven. Good number? You can do this with any three digit number, but let’s go with 357. Ready?

OK, 357. Joe DiMaggio hit .357 in 1941, the year he hit in 56 consecutive games. People still argue about that streak and what it means. It’s a quirky thing, you know? On the one hand, it’s an extraordinary achievement — no one in Major League history has ever come close to matching it. On the other hand, it’s kind of an odd thing to count, number of consecutive games when you get a hit. Whenever I think of that year, I think of a couple of other numbers: DiMaggio hit .408 during the streak. Ted Williams hit .406 for the entire season. I’ve always through that was cool. DiMaggio won the MVP. I think it should be been Williams.

By the way: How much of that 56-game hitting streak’s awesomeness is because DiMaggio did it? What if one of the other guys who .357 in a season had done it? What if it had been Albert Belle in 1994 or Ken Williams in 1923 or Dixie Walker in 1944? Would we view it the same way? I don’t think we would.

Back to the number: 357. Steve Yeager scored 357 runs in his career. Remember Yeager? If your think of him, you probably think of him throwing — what an arm that guy had. Lou Brock called it the best he had ever seen — better even than Johnny Bench’s. Thinking of Yeager makes me think of some of the great catchers arms I’ve ever seen. Ron Karkovice had a gun — remember him? Kirk Manwaring could really throw. Bob Boone. Jim Sundberg. Off the top of my head, here are the five greatest catcher arms I’ve ever seen:

1. Ivan Rodriguez
2. Johnny Bench
3. Yadi Molina
4. Steve Yeager
5. Benito Santiago when he would throw off his knees.

Yeager would catch fastballs from Don Sutton and Tommy John and Burt Hooton and throw the ball TWICE AS HARD to second base. If I remember right, he once had a throw to second clocked at almost 100 mph. He couldn’t hit, but man could Yeager catch. He never won a Gold Glove though. He was overshadowed by Bench and Bob Boone and Gary Carter.

The number 357. That’s how many games Ken Boyer managed in the big leagues. There were three Boyers who played in the big leagues — Cloyd, Ken and Clete — and Ken was the middle one. Well, there were actually 14 Boyer kids who grew up in Alba, Missouri, a tiny place of about 357 people. All seven of the Boyer boys played baseball — four went professional. Cloyd, the oldest, pitched in 111 Big League games, all of them for Missouri teams — the Cardinals and the Kansas City A’s. Len, the youngest, was a third baseman who made it as high as Class AA. The stars, Clete and Ken, were both Gold Glove winning third basemen. Clete couldn’t really hit much but he was a wonder with the glove, one of the best ever defensively. Ken was a fine hitter until he was about 33 — that was the year he hit .295, led the league in RBIs and won the MVP Award. It was probably his fourth- or fifth-best season.

Ken Boyer was so admired that the Cardinals made him their manager in 1978. He lasted those 357 games and was replaced by Whitey Herzog, who would go on to win a World Series two years later. About a month before the Cardinals won the 1982 World Series, Ken Boyer died of lung cancer.

One more 357: That’s how many innings George Uhle pitched in 1923. They called Uhle “The Bull” and there are those who say that Uhle invented the slider. Uhle was one of those people who said that: “It just came to me all of a sudden,” he is quoted saying in the indispensable “Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers.” “Letting the ball go along my index finger and using my ring finger and pinky to give is just a little bit of a twist. It was a sailing fastball, and that’s how come I named it the slider.”

OK, so what’s the point of all that? There is no point, obviously, but do you think I care about the number 357? Of course not. I care about the stories 357 can inspire if you do a little digging. I care about the players who happen to come up when you think about 357. Who are they? How good were they? What did they contribute to the game? At some point during Game 5, David Ortiz reached base for the ninth consecutive time, tying a World Series record. I will admit that I wasn’t listening too carefully, but I thought I heard Joe Buck twice refer to the record without actually saying who held the record. Maybe he did mention that it was Billy Hatcher’s record, but I didn’t hear him do so. I certainly did not hear him expound on it. Maybe I missed it.

And that gets to the heart of things. The fact that David Ortiz tied the World Series record for consecutive times reaching base means almost nothing to me. I already use up way too many gigabytes in my brain remembering goofy baseball records — there’s no room in there for the “most times reaching base consecutively in a World Series” record. BUT I care that he tied Billy Hatcher. Just seeing that name takes me back to 1990 and one of the most preposterous World Series ever. The 1990 Cincinnati Reds were dreadful the year before. They were dreadful the year after. They did not even seem that good in 1990. Back then we only cared about pitcher wins and nobody on the team won more than 15. Back then we only cared about home runs and nobody on the team hit more than 25.

They were supposed to get smoked by the Oakland A’s in the World Series. The Reds, we believed, were a fluke. The A’s, we believed, were a living dynasty. And it turned out the Reds absolutely destroyed the A’s — largely because Billy Hatcher, for two games, proved impossible to get out.

Game 1. Hatcher walked in the first and second on Eric Davis’ homer. Hatched doubled in a run in the third and came around to score. Hatcher Hatcher doubled again in the fifth and came around to score again. Hatcher singled again in the sixth — that was four straight. The Reds won 7-0.

Then, Game 2, Hatcher doubled in a run in the first and came around to score. He doubled again in the third with the Reds trailing by two runs but was stranded. He singled in the fifth and was picked off. He tripled in the eighth and scored the tying run. And in the ninth, of course, the Athletics waved the white flag and intentionally walked Hatcher. The Reds won Game 2. They swept the series. Hatcher hit .750 (and somehow was not named Series MVP — that went to Jose Rijo, who won Games 1 and 4).

See the record doesn’t matter to me. The statistic doesn’t matter to me. Stop giving me statistics. Stop weighing the game down with numbers. Show me something. Tell me something. Take me somewhere. Big Papi has been absurd this World Series. He reached base nine times in a row. Incredible. Has that ever happened before? Yes. Was it a superstar like Papi who did it? No. It was a little baseball journeyman named Billy Hatcher who played for seven teams in 12 years and, for two glorious games in October, was about as good as a player can be. That’s what October can be. That’s what baseball can be.

Wanna work as a baseball broadcaster for free?

Two drake Mallard ducks fly over Lake Erie near the Cleveland shoreline, Tuesday, April 1, 2014, in Cleveland. Warming temperatures have brought a variety of waterfowl to the area as they stage for the northern migration. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)
AP Photo/Mark Duncan
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(Hat tip to @ItsTonyNow on Twitter for pointing this story out.)

The Madison Mallards are a collegiate summer baseball team in Wisconsin. College players join the league to have an opportunity to showcase their talents for scouts. Though they’re not exactly the New York Yankees, the Mallards do relatively well for themselves. In 2013, they had the highest average attendance among amateur teams, per The Capital Times.

That makes one of their latest job postings seem rather curious. The Mallards are looking for someone to handle both play-by-play broadcasting duties as well as media relations, as seen in this post. Only one problem: the position is unpaid. Here’s the full description (emphasis mine):

The Madison Mallards are looking for an enthusiastic and ambitious individual to join the front office as the Radio Broadcaster.

This position will manage all day-to-day media relations duties and act as the traveling secretary on all road trips. This is a seasonal position, beginning in May 2016 and ending in mid-August. This position is unpaid. The candidate will serve as the full-time radio broadcaster, traveling with the team during the season.

Duties and responsibilities include but are not limited to:
* Write press releases promoting team initiatives including post-game recaps for the team website.
* Coordinate all aspects of team travel including notifying restaurants, hotels, and other teams, getting team orders, room assignments, etc.
* Broadcast all 72 Northwoods League games on 1670 The Zone including pre- and post-game shows, during the regular season (and playoffs if necessary).
* Ability to work long hours, including weekends, as business indicates.
* Strong written and verbal communication skills
* Produce radio commercials for the Mallards and business partners
* Work closely with GM and Corporate Service team to include all sponsor and promotional live reads each gameUpdate the Mallards website daily
* Other duties as assigned by GM

The habit of baseball teams looking for free labor isn’t exactly new. The U.S. Department of Labor investigated the Giants and Marlins in 2013 for possible wage law violations. That included the Giants being investigated for “possible improper use of unpaid interns.” The Giants ended up paying $544,715 in back wages. In a memo that year issued by Rob Manfred, he cited the Department of Labor believing that MLB’s habit of taking advantage of unpaid interns was “endemic to our industry.”

According to U.S. law, a for-profit company can hire an unpaid intern by meeting each of six criteria, according to FindLaw:

  • The internship is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment
  • The experience is for the benefit of the intern
  • The intern does not displace regular employees but works under close supervision of existing staff
  • The employer providing the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded
  • There is no guarantee of a job at the conclusion of the internship
  • Both parties understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the internship

It would seem that the third and fourth criteria wouldn’t be met.

The Mallards are almost certainly looking for a college student — not a well-credentialed media veteran — looking to add to his or her resume. They are also very clearly looking to take advantage of that student given the plethora of job responsibilities with no pay. Current college students are part of the millennial generation which has increasingly been taken advantage of through unpaid internships. Steven Greenhouse wrote for the New York Times in 2012:

No one keeps statistics on the number of college graduates taking unpaid internships, but there is widespread agreement that the number has significantly increased, not least because the jobless rate for college graduates age 24 and under has risen to 9.4 percent, the highest level since the government began keeping records in 1985. (Employment experts estimate that undergraduates work in more than one million internships a year, with Intern Bridge, a research firm, finding almost half unpaid.)

In a capitalist society, businesses are always going to search for the cheapest source of labor. Considering how bad the economy is and has been for millennials, they’ve had a pretty good time finding it. It’s hard to fault college students jumping at the opportunity to work in an industry they like in the hopes of one day landing a dream job. But as much as those businesses might loathe admitting it, that labor is worth something whether it’s for an amateur baseball team or a major league team.

Joey Votto: “I’d rather quit and leave all the money on the table than play at a poor level.”

Cincinnati Reds' Joey Votto reacts after a swinging strike against Chicago Cubs starting pitcher John Lackey in the fourth inning of a baseball game, Saturday, April 23, 2016, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
AP Photo/John Minchillo
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Reds first baseman Joey Votto went 1-for-4 with a walk and an RBI single in Sunday’s 11-inning victory over the Pirates, but his overall stats remain dour. The 2010 NL MVP is batting a meager .230/.330/.310 with a pair of home runs and 12 RBI.

Votto spoke about his struggles in the first month of the 2016 season and he was quite honest. Via C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer:

“It’s not something I’m OK with. I’d rather quit and leave all the money on the table than play at a poor level,” Votto said before Sunday’s game against the Pirates. “I’m here to play and be part of setting a standard. It’s something I’ve always taken pride in. I love to play at a really high level. So far this year, it’s not been that. I will not be a very satisfied, happy person if I don’t perform at the level that I expect.”

Votto added, “I refuse to accept my peak has [passed], I refuse to accept that my best days are in the past. I’m not there yet. I just don’t see that, I don’t feel that.”

Votto, 32, has eight years and $199 million remaining on the 10-year, $225 million contract extension he signed with the Reds in April 2012.

Bryce Harper struck out four times in a game for the first time in nearly four years

Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper reacts after he struck out during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Thursday, April 28, 2016, in Washington. The Phillies won 3-0.(AP Photo/Nick Wass)
AP Photo/Nick Wass
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Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper has not exactly been strikeout-averse over his five-year career, but he has been pretty good about not bunching them up. Entering Sunday’s game against the Cardinals, Harper had struck out three or more times in a game only 21 times in 533 games. He had registered two four-strikeout games, the last of which occurred on August 21, 2012 — his rookie season.

On Sunday, Harper struck out three times against Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez and once against reliever Seung Hwan Oh for the dreaded golden sombrero. The reigning NL MVP has now equaled his walk and strikeout totals at 17 apiece.

Despite the rough afternoon, Harper still owns a lusty .272/.390/.679 triple-slash line with nine home runs and 24 RBI.

Chase Headley doesn’t think Yankee Stadium is as hitter-friendly as advertised

New York Yankees Chase Headley (12) breaks his bat on a ground out to third during the third inning of a baseball game against the Texas Rangers on Monday, April 25, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
AP Photo/Brandon Wade
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Yankees third baseman Chase Headley finished April without registering an extra-base hit. Across 71 plate appearances, he registered only nine hits for an uninspiring .150/.268/.150 triple-slash line. Speaking to David Laurilia of FanGraphs, Headley said that Yankee Stadium isn’t as hitter-friendly as many people think it is, and added that the shift has helped to limit his offensive success.

“Everybody talks about how good of a ballpark Yankee Stadium is to hit in, but it’s pretty big with the exception of right field,” said Headley. “The rest of it plays as big, or bigger, than most yards. It’s maybe a better fit for guys who hit the ball high down the line than it for guys who hit the ball like I have for a lot of my career.”

[…]

“Because of the shifting that’s going on now, if you hit the ball on the ground, for the most part you’re out,” Headley told me. “I’m trying to get the ball elevated — I want to hit it hard in the air — and if I never hit another ball on the ground, I’ll be happy.”

According to StatCorner.com, Yankee Stadium is indeed better for left-handed hitters, and particularly so when it comes to extra-base hits. It lists park factors for handedness, setting 100 as average. A higher number means it’s more hitter-friendly. Here are the left-right numbers as of today’s writing:

  • Singles: 101 for left-handed hitters, 102 for right-handed hitters
  • Doubles and triples: 101 LH, 82 RH
  • Home runs: 137 LH, 127 RH

Headley’s hypothesis seems to have some merit. But his claim that shifts have been hurting him doesn’t seem to hold up to the numbers.

babip

Headley’s ground ball BABIP (batting average on balls in play) this season is only .022 behind his career average of .239. As he’s only hit 23 ground balls total this season, the difference between .239 and .217 is less than one hit.

Where Headley’s BABIP is notably lower is line drives. His career average line drive BABIP is .698, but it’s only .333 on nine line drives in 2016. This could be simple bad luck or it could mean Headley is making worse contact. FanGraphs’ batted ball data suggests Headley has been pulling significantly fewer balls (36 percent to his 45 percent career average), and he’s making “hard” contact less often (21 percent versus his 31 percent career average). Overall, there’s been very little change in his ground ball rate versus his fly ball rate.

Headley mentioned to Laurila that if he could, he would try to hit fly balls to the pull side more often. “I’m working on that,” he said.