I must begin with the obvious: “Value” is a very subjective term. As a result, any discussion about who is more valuable than whom is going to be at the mercy of our individual subjectivities. Truth be told though, it’s fun to debate our subjectivities, prejudices and opinions when it comes to the matter of who are the league MVP’s, Cy Young’s, Rookies of the Year, etc. And despite the premise that objectivity may be impossible to inject into these discussions, along with the impossibilities of using perfect judging criteria, I’m going to try anyway.
Speaking of criteria, before we start comparing players, let’s chat about what evaluative criteria I’ll be using.
For position players I’m going with Wins Above Replacement (I’ll use both Baseball Reference’s and Fangraphs’), On Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage, and Weighted Runs Created Plus.
I like OBP because there is still only one statistic that directly correlates to runs scored, and that’s it. SLG is a great representation of power and the impact it has on the outcome of the game – simply, how good was the player at advancing runners on the bases. And I like WAR because it factors in defense, position played (a short stop is way more valuable than a first baseman), base running, and pretty much everything else that occurs on the field. wRC+ is similar to on base plus slugging, but weighs OBP more, and also includes base running, and run scoring environment among other factors.
In the event there are players who are extremely close with the above statistics, I’ll move on to secondary barometers.
And please don’t come at me with “what about batting average, home runs and runs batted in?”. Those stats tell me more about what the result was and less about what the player did, and are highly dependent on circumstances.
For pitchers (yes pitchers – put a pin in it, I’ll come back to this) I’ll use WAR, Expected Fielding Independent Pitching and Strikeout to Base on Balls percentage. In my mind, preventing runs from the pitcher’s mound is very simple: Miss bats, don’t walk batters and keep the ball in the park. Those stats cover those criteria. But again, if I come across pitchers with very comparable numbers among those criteria, I’ll include others.
Why do I think pitchers should be included in the MVP discussion? Because admittedly, there was a time I thought there was no way a pitcher could be as valuable as an everyday player over a 162 game season…
As I pointed out on the “My Baseball Page” Facebook Page during the week, when comparing the best pitchers in the league to the best hitters, the best pitchers affect more plate appearances for their team, and therefore can impact the outcome(s) more. For example, at season’s end, Chris Sale will have faced far more batters than Jose Altuve will have had plate appearances – so Chris Sale’s performance can hypothetically impact his team’s chances more than Altuve. Yes, there’s the caveat that position players contribute defense and base running to even that out somewhat, assuming they are plus defenders and plus base runners – if they aren’t, they aren’t providing any more value that they do with their plate appearances.
Yes I know: We’re comparing apples and oranges with position players and pitchers. If there’s a fail proof manner in which to determine exactly how many runs position player A provided his team vs. how many runs pitcher B prevented, I’m not aware of it. So what I’m going to do for the sake of this article, is compare the position players to the league average position players and the pitchers to the pitching league averages and make a determination from there.
Now let’s get to the fun stuff: As I’m writing this, there are 6 games left in the season. So although I have a pretty good idea who the MVPs and Cy Youngs are this season, I’ll hold off on carving it in stone and I’ll make an official announcement soon.
If you want to hit me with your favorite candidate in the meantime, go right ahead…