2016 MVPs: Daniel Murphy and David Ortiz

“First she said we were to keep clear of the Sirens, who sit and sing most beautifully in a field of flowers; but she said I might hear them myself so long as no one else did. Therefore, take me and bind me to the crosspiece half way up the mast; bind me as I stand upright, with a bond so fast that I cannot possibly break away, and lash the rope’s ends to the mast itself. If I beg and pray you to set me free, then bind me more tightly still.”
Homer, The Odyssey

After last week’s post, when I prematurely selected the Cy Young Award winners for this year, it’s now time to do the same for the MVP award. My goal is to find an objective measure to determine who is most deserving, but I will start here: the MVP should be an everyday player.

Like the siren’s song, certain stats can lure you to voting for the wrong guy. High win totals often do just that in the Cy Young voting, consider Bob Welch in 1990, Bartolo Colon in 2005 and others. MVP voting is often no different.

1989 Topps
1989 Topps

Kirk Gibson won the MVP as part of the magical ’88 Dodger team. His numbers were nice and he was definitely a firecracker for them as he always took the extra base and delivered in the clutch. He truly set the tone with his undying competitiveness. But, his numbers were not on par with other players, such as Darryl Strawberry and Will Clark. The voters have even gone as far as selecting a closer as the MVP, as was the case in 1992 when Dennis Eckersley won.

Many people want to get into a debate on semantics and say, “what does ‘valuable’ mean?” If we really want to get into that debate, then value should include all kinds of things, such as contract affordability, merchandise sales, and and how much of a draw that player is at home and on the road. In that case, Corey Seager is clearly the winner over someone like Joey Votto. Perhaps David Ortiz is the most valuable player, even though he costs a lot of money, since a lot of people want to come see him in his final season. Put the debate aside:

MVP = best player.

© Keeton10 | Dreamstime.com - Jose Ramirez
© Keeton10 | Dreamstime.com – Jose Ramirez

How much does the player help his team win? How well does he create the opportunity to score runs and avoid outs? OPS provides the clearest path to identifying the best player. Mark Trumbo leads the league in HRs and has a robust slugging percentage, but an anemic on-base percentage puts his OPS just behind Jose Ramirez and Dustin Pedroia. Getting on base, avoiding outs, and accumulating bases are the most objective factors to observe as they don’t rely on other players like runs and RBIs do. However, OPS isn’t perfect. Adjusted OPS+ measures a player against league average and includes an adjustment for park factors.

To make things simple, I prefer my own calculation, which is similar to Thomas Boswell’s Total Average, which includes all bases, including steals and HBP and subtracts caught stealing and GIDP. A key criticism to this calculation is the “bases fallacy”, which asserts that not all bases are equal. A double is worth more than a walk and a stolen base. I actually disagree. If I am seeking to value a player’s contribution, I don’t want to be influenced by what other players do. A double is worth more only if someone was on base and scored. A walk and SB could be more valuable if it elevates a pitcher’s pitch count and distracts him from the next hitter.

My preferred calculation would be: Total bases + walks + SBs – CS divided by PA. I want to know how much each plate appearance is worth. OPS is solid, but does not consider SB and CS. Also, A lead-off hitter has an advantage with many more plate appearances, as does a player on a good team, so we divide the total by PA to get a per PA value. Runs and RBIs are not observed since those stats depend on other players. Once “PA value” is determined, defense, runs, RBIs, HRs, etc. can be introduced to determine MVP if desired.

Starting with the top ten in OPS, I have calculated the PA value for each player as shown here:

AL Players in order of OPS PA Total Bases BB SB CS New Total Bases PA Value
David Ortiz 584 316 75 2 0 393 0.673
Mike Trout 638 290 105 26 6 415 0.650
Josh Donaldson 655 299 101 6 1 405 0.618
Miguel Cabrera 630 304 69 0 0 373 0.592
Jose Altuve 674 325 56 27 9 399 0.592
J.D. Martinez 469 233 44 1 2 276 0.588
Brian Dozier 651 330 59 16 2 403 0.619
Mookie Betts 691 346 44 25 4 411 0.595
Edwin Encarnacion 658 310 77 2 0 389 0.591
Manny Machado 653 328 46 0 3 371 0.568
NL Players in order of OPS PA Total Bases BB SB CS New Total Bases PA Value
Daniel Murphy 581 316 35 5 3 353 0.608
Freddie Freeman 656 317 82 6 0 405 0.617
Joey Votto 632 273 103 8 1 383 0.606
Kris Bryant 667 325 70 8 5 398 0.597
Charlie Blackmon 597 299 41 16 7 349 0.585
Anthony Rizzo 643 302 73 3 5 373 0.580
Nolan Arenado 655 333 64 2 3 396 0.605
Ryan Braun 531 263 46 15 3 321 0.605
DJ LeMahieu 616 265 66 11 7 335 0.544
Paul Goldschmidt 664 269 106 27 5 397 0.598
Corey Seager 648 310 52 3 3 362 0.559
© Keeton10 | Dreamstime.com - Freddie Freeman
© Keeton10 | Dreamstime.com – Freddie Freeman

The top “PA values” as of 9/21/16 are David Ortiz and Freddie Freeman. The knock on Freeman is that his team hasn’t been in contention all season long, so he is less worthy of the MVP. However, as stated previously, Freeman doesn’t benefit from a strong supporting cast (as does Ortiz). He also doesn’t have the luxury of facing his own pitchers; he actually has to face the Cubs’ rotation, while Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo do not. However, before you expect me to anoint Freeman the winner, I have to discuss how close Daniel Murphy is to leading in PA value. The only thing keeping Murphy from leading: walks. Freeman is walked more than twice as much as Murphy. Does Freeman deserve the award based on walks? No. Murphy is the NL MVP in my opinion as he leads in multiple key categories.

David Ortiz is clearly a great offensive player but he does not play defense, which is probably a good thing. Ortiz playing 1B is worth less than Ortiz playing DH. He also leads in Slugging %, OPS, second in OB%, and fourth in AVG, despite his lack of speed. Mike Trout is Ortiz’ closest competitor and can be viewed similarly to Freeman, but wouldn’t Ortiz winning his first MVP be a storybook end to his hall of fame career?