A Deeper Look at Deciding the MVP

 

Every season there is much debate about who should win the MVP award in the American and National Leagues. There are many out there who think that the award should go to a player on a contending team, while others say that is not the case. We decided to look a little deeper and share our opinion on the subject.

The official rules for voting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America for the MVP award look like this: (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; and (5) members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team. As you can clearly read in no way does the strength of the player’s team come in to the rules of voting. There is no mention of games won, a team being in playoff contention or anything else regarding the team a player plays for. So, why is it that so many people in the media and around the water cooler feel that the MVP needs to be on a contending team?

Does a player on a contending team play harder than one who is not? Or do opposing teams not give their best against players on non-contending teams? Of course not, so why care what the team’s performance has been for an individual award.

With all that being said there really is no argument in my mind as to how the MVP should be chosen. It is simple, use Wins Above Replacement or WAR. By definition WAR is a measure of how many wins, or how much value, an individual player brings to a team over a replacement level player. Higher the WAR, the more valuable that player is to their team. It’s a measure that takes team record and performance out of the equation and is strictly based on the individual.

Now that we have established how he MVP awards should be decided it’s easy to see that the National League MVP is Kris Bryant with a WAR of 7.3 and the American League MVP is Mike Trout with an MLB leading WAR of 10.0. Neither of these players isn’t already in the discussion for MVP, which just adds more credibility to the argument that WAR is the measure of who should be MVP.

On a side note, if you don’t realize it Mike Trout’s WAR of 10.0 is somewhat historic.

If you need more proof, then just look at the runner-ups in the AL and NL; Mookie Betts and Corey Seager. Both of them are also in the MVP discussion. Or maybe we should look at last year’s MVPs and where they fell in WAR. Bryce Harper lead MLB in WAR and Josh Donaldson was 5th. Not convinced yet? Ok, 2014’s MVPs Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout were number one and two in MLB WAR.

Yes, there will be plenty who say I am oversimplifying the MVP award by using one stat as the deciding factor, but those people are just behind the times and don’t realize stats rule baseball.

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What’s Wrong with Jake Arrieta?

Last night in Chicago Jake Arrieta had one of his worst games of the season going 6.1 innings and giving up 6 earned runs on 5 hits and 3 walks. It was, to most, somewhat of a surprise as he was coming off one of his best starts on August 23rd where he pitched 8 scoreless innings of 2 hit ball at San Diego. If you look at his overall line for the year you probably would not be too concerned as he has a 2.84 ERA, 1.048 WHIP with 16 wins on the season. I would argue though that there should be some concern.

It would be unfair to just say Arrieta is struggling because his season hasn’t been what it was in 2015, since that was an amazing season for him and he was the Cy Young winner in the National League. My concerns are more rooted in numbers that not everyone likely pays attention to.

Over Arrieta’s best two seasons of his career, so far, 2014 and 2015 he had a 2.08 ERA and a 0.915 WHP. He obviously isn’t living up to that, but ok we can’t expect that necessarily. In that same span of time he had a 2.31 FIP, 0.4 HR/9, 2.1 BB/9 and 9.4 K/9, this is where my concern falls. In 2016 his FIP is 1.16 higher at 3.47, his HR/9 has nearly doubled to 0.7, BB/9 is up to 3.5 and he is not striking batter out at the same clip with an 8.6 K/9. His struggles are very prominent in his last 11 starts where he has a 4.20 ERA, 34 walks and only 60 strikeouts in 75 innings. To make matters worse he has a record of 6-6 in those games.

So what is wrong with Jake Arrieta? According to BrooksBaseball.net it wouldn’t appear that he is injured as his velocity is right in line with his 2015 numbers. His pitch mix does appear to have changed. As you can see from the chart below he has begun to rely more heavily on his hard stuff versus his breaking pitches, throwing his fastballs 14% more of the time then he did in 2014 and 2015. As the 2016 season has progressed that has become an even bigger trend as he has thrown hard pitches 73.21% of the time in the month of August.

Arrieta 2014 thru 2016 pitch selection

My theory, however, is more than that. Last season Arrieta threw a career high 229.0 innings, 55.7 more innings than his previous high of 173.3 set in 2010. Since 2010 he has thrown 119.3 in 2011, 170.7 in 2012, 154.7 in 2013 and 176 innings in 2014. It is not that a jump to 229 innings is a death sentence for a pitcher, but that is a fairly large workload and many of those innings were in higher pressure situations than ever before. It is very likely with Arrieta already at 168.0 innings in 2016 that he is just wearing down from last year’s innings and because of that his stuff just isn’t as crisp.

Though we don’t know for sure what is wrong with Arrieta, what we do know is the Cubs have to find a way to get him back to his high end form soon as they are likely in the playoffs for 2016 and have a good shot of making it to the World Series if they can get him right.

An Underdog Story Re-Visited

jose_altuve_spring_2015_swinging_bat
By EricEnfermero (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
If you haven’t been paying attention you may have missed out on the new Mighty Mouse in baseball. His name is Jose Altuve. Though he may not be tall enough to ride all the rides at your local amusement park he is tall enough to stand with the big boys in MLB. If you only pay attention to what he has done on the field you are missing out on much of the story.

Altuve was not suppose to make it to the big leagues. He showed up for an open tryout for the Astros and after the first day was told to go home. Luckily for us as fans, he didn’t listen. He came back for day two of that workout and ultimately impressed the scouts enough to be signed.

We have seen Altuve over the years be a good on-base and batting average guy, not to mention he can steal a base whenever he wants to. This season however he has taken it to another level. He leads all of MLB in batting average and hits. He is second in second in total bases, top ten in stolen bases and third in Wins Above Replacement (WAR). On top of all that he has 21 home runs as of August 29th and is one of only five players with a 20/20 season to date.

Even with all of these impressive stats if you ask people outside of the main baseball fan base, and likely residents of the Houston area, they would have no clue who Jose Altuve is. He isn’t even the most well known player on his team thanks to last year’s Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa. He is by far the most underrated player in baseball and is making a very strong case to be the American League MVP. If I had a vote he would be my hands down MVP.

Waiver Wire Add, Randal Grichuk

Randal Grichuk came in to the 2016 season with a lot of hype coming off of a break out season in 2015, but we soon found out that past performance doesn’t always lead to future success. Grichuk started the season with a .206 batting average and eight home runs in 62 games, with a horrible .276 OBP and .392 slugging percentage. This lead to him being demoted to Triple-A to try and find his swing. After being recalled on July 5th he lasted another 22 games before his second demotion of the season. This wasn’t the last we would see of him in St. Louis, but by this point many fantasy owners had already give up on a repeat of 2015 and some may have considered him a bust.

Randal Grichuk
By Minda Haas Kuhlmann on Flickr (Original version) UCinternational (Crop) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Nine games later Grichuk was recalled again on August 11th. Since then he has been a man on fire. His triple slash line since the promotion is .341/.356/.886. He has five home runs, seven doubles and a triple. To go along with those numbers, he has 11 RBI and 7 runs. He has been hitting the ball well and playing daily for the Cardinals and has begun to give fantasy owners new hope. Though he still doesn’t walk enough, one walk in 12 games, and strikes out way too much, 15 K’s in 12 games, he is putting the bat to the ball and raised his contact rate to 70%. Currently Mike Matheny has been batting him in the 7th or 8th spot in the Cardinals lineup, but other than Matt Carpenter there is no one in St. Louis’s batting order that would stop Matheny from moving Grichuk to the top third giving him even more fantasy value.

Grichuk is owned in less than 50% of all CBSSports.com leagues and should be owned moving forward in at least 70% of leagues. Don’t forget he came in to 2016 owned in 89% of leagues and has already moved up from his lowest ownership percentage of 30% quite a bit. If he is on your waiver wire, make sure you pounce while you still can.

(Players to drop for Randall Grichuk: Giancarlo Stanton, Max Kepler, Andrew Benintendi, Josh Reddick, Michael Saunders.)