FIRE JOE MORGAN: More Morneau-nos


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Saturday, November 25, 2006


More Morneau-nos

Sportswriters: when you make an argument, it's cool to back it up with evidence. It just is. It gives you more credibility. It makes people think you're a conscientious writer who's paying attention. And sometimes, it validates the headline of your article (which I'm aware is often written by an editor. But still.)

For example, Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune just wrote a column called Why Morneau, Not Jeter, Deserved the MVP. I will now document for you how many sentences in this column explain why Morneau, not Jeter, deserved the MVP.

I am brainless. I have no clue. I attend about 150 major league games per year but never watch a pitch. I have clubhouse access four hours per day, but I'm too busy twiddling my thumbs to glean any insight from the players and coaches.

Not a good start. Joe starts off on the defensive, complaining about people who complained about his MVP choice. That's four sentences of sarcastic crying, zero sentences of evidence (unless you count the oblique appeal to authority that he's talked to players and coaches and therefore he knows better than you).

In other words, I was one of 28 members of the Baseball Writers Association of America entrusted with an American League MVP ballot. If you spent time in the blogosphere this week, perhaps you read about morons like me.

More crying, this time specifically about the blogosphere. Hi Joe! Six sentences, no Morneau explanation. called Justin Morneau a "laughable" choice for MVP. called his selection "downright criminal."

I mean, those aren't really even blogs. Those are big mainstream sites. Maybe they're onto something, Joe. Eight sentences.

My ballot went like this: 1) Morneau, 2) Derek Jeter, 3) Frank Thomas, 4) David Ortiz, 5) Joe Mauer, 6) Jermaine Dye, 7) Travis Hafner, 8) Carlos Guillen, 9) Jason Giambi, 10) Johan Santana.

We're getting warmer. That's some information, at least. Frank Thomas, by the way, finished 22nd in the AL in VORP, a purely offensive stat. You may be aware of the fact that Mr. Thomas also does not happpen to play a defensive position. I'll count this list as one sentence, so that's nine so far.

Look, I welcome any and all criticism. Just don't assume I didn't give this a shred of thought beyond home runs and RBI.

More defense. I particularly enjoy the "Look, I like it when you criticize me" defense in the first sentence. (These are the tenth and eleventh without Morneau info.)

I looked at OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). I looked at month-by-month statistics, averages with runners in scoring position and two-out RBI.

Here we go! The meat of the argument! Here's where Mr. "I have four hours of insight-gleaning clubhouse access every day" convinces us all! Oh. Uh oh. These statistics aren't great. They aren't great at all. OPS vastly overrates SLG over OBP. Averages with runners in scoring position? Two-out RBI? Yeesh. I don't think those stats should even crack the top ten of numbers you look at when determining which player is the most valuable. Two-out RBI?

Also, by the way, Mr. Christensen, what were the results of your looking at OPS and looking at two-out RBI? Not gonna tell us? Cool. I don't read newspapers for information.

I'm pretty sure saying "I looked at OPS" doesn't count as evidence, so we're on a sweet 13-sentence data-less streak here.

I had conversations with coaches and players from around the league, many off the record. Let there be no doubt: The Twins themselves felt Morneau was their MVP.

I've been thinking about it, and I don't think this is a very good way to pick your MVP. Let's perform what our good friend Hans Christian Orsted would call a gedankenexperiment. Say there's a fictional professional baseball team with two really good players on it. One of the players -- we'll call him Player Shithead -- is a real shithead. The other one is a seriously awesome, totally sweet dude -- we'll call him Player Dickface. Now say one year Player Shithead totally outplays Player Dickface. I mean, on the field, he's clearly more valuable -- 13 more points of EqA, 2 more wins by WARP3, plus he plays a more difficult defensive position considerably better than Player Dickface. But that same year, Player Dickface keeps being the same seriously awesome, totally sweet dude and he buys all his teammates Bentleys for their birthdays. Meanwhile, Player Shithead lamely sends his bros birthday E-cards -- that is, if he even remembers, that shithead.

The point is, everyone on that team picks Player Dickface as their MVP. Because of the Bentleys and stuff. But I think Player Shithead should be the MVP because he's a better, more valuable baseball player.

These two sentences are the first Christensen's written that even approach something resembling evidence for Justin Morneau. Since they're so crappy, I will count each as half a sentence, making him one for fifteen.

He gave them the run-producing presence they had sought for years, and his transformation changed the team's entire season.

Ugh. Doesn't matter what the Twins did last year, or in 2001. Doesn't matter. Half credit. 1.5 out of 16.

Eventually, my top choice came down to Morneau and Jeter. Morneau had the statistics, especially over the final four months.

Wow. There you go. Morneau had the statistics. Morneau had the statistics. It's as simple as that, you bloggy eggheads! Blogheads. Eggblogs. No elaboration necessary. No explanation of how, why, or in what way Morneau had the statistics. Can't fit that in this column, what with the thirteen-sentence whiny prologue.

We've been over this before, but I'll type out here what I think some of the relevant statistics are.

Jeter WARP3: 12.1
Morneau WARP3: 8.6

Jeter Win Shares: 33
Morneau Win Shares: 27

Jeter VORP: 80.5
Morneau VORP: 52.0

Jeter EqA: .324
Morneau EqA: .315

Jeter RC: 138
Morneau RC: 121

Jeter FRAR: 39
Moreau FRAR: 16

Jeter WPA: 5.98
Morneau WPA: 4.46

Jeter OBP: .417
Morneau OBP: .375

(By the way, I'm counting "Morneau had the statistics" as part of Christensen's argument. See how generous I am? 2.5 out of 18.)

I also believed if you took Jeter away from the talent-rich Yankees, they still win the AL East. Take away Morneau, and the Twins don't make the playoffs.

Right -- because the Blue Jays and the Red Sox were terrible, Justin Morneau deserves the MVP. You know what, Christensen? I'll give 'em to you. 4.5 out of 20.

Finally, I wrestled with the "homer" factor. Was I picking Morneau simply because I cover the Twins? Quite frankly, I might have listed Santana in the top seven, if I hadn't listed two other Twins so high.

These sentences have nothing to do with the discussion of whether Morneau was better than Jeter. Your objectivity should be a goddamn given. 4.5 out of 23.

Let's just say I felt better when the 27 other ballots drew similar conclusions. I know most of these writers very well, and I can assure you they agonized over their choices just like me. Criticize us all you want, but I believe these awards are in very good hands with the BBWAA.

Thanks, I did criticize you. It felt great. Of course you believe the awards are in "very good hands" -- they're your hands. Anyway, that's the end of the article. That's it. Ends in more defensive bullshit. Twenty-six sentences. Four and a half of them (maybe six if you're feeling really charitable) deal with the substance of the argument: was Morneau in fact more valuable than Jeter? None of them do so in a serious, thoughtful way. Don't we deserve better than that?

Here, it's not my job, but I'll make a quick attempt at an argument for Jeter over Morneau. Jeter led Morneau in many (most/all?) of the semi-robust offensive metrics: EqA, VORP, RC, WPA. Moreover, Jeter had a forty-point advantage in OBP, and the single most important aspect of a hitter's job is to get on base. Forty points isn't a trivial lead -- some players who trailed Morneau by forty points, for example, include Willy Taveras, Jose Bautista and Alfredo Amezaga. Morneau did have a staggering advantage over Jeter in power, but it's my contention that Jeter's on-base lead overwhelms that advantage, and the metrics bear that out. On top of all this, Jeter plays a premium defensive position, one that is difficult to fill, with adequate skill. Baseball Prospectus has him at 39 fielding runs above replacement, which is actually better than adequate. Morneau, meanwhile, plays the defensive position at the very top of the defensive spectrum, and he doesn't do it particularly well by most accounts. BP has him at 16 FRAR. In other words, most baseball players could step in and do what Morneau does defensively, but the same is not true for Jeter.

Hey, see that? It's nine sentences and sixteen lines of data (earlier in the post) about Derek Jeter and Justin Morneau and the results of their play on baseball fields. All that stuff plus the rest of the nonsense making fun of Joe Christensen took about twenty minutes to write while I also watch the USC-Notre Dame game. Couldn't Joe Christensen have done at least that much?


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posted by Junior  # 8:09 PM
By the way, the stats for Dickface and Shithead are correct for Morneau and Joe Mauer. But I'm pretty sure that Mauer didn't send anyone an E-card for their birthday this year. I think he gave Nick Punto one of those customizable teddy bears that comes inside a balloon.
Does anyone have the 2006 BaseRuns for these guys? Or for everyone, for that matter?

I realize that you're talking about a hypothetical "Team MVP" vote, but I feel it's once again necessary to point out that the BBWAA clearly state that character evaluation is not only allowed as part of MVP voting, but indeed listed one of the very criteria.

3. General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.

Now. I have no idea if Mourneau is a better dude than Jeter. But, I still believe that a case could easily be made that Jeter's actions/words re: A-Rod's alleged "slumping" were demonstrative of questionable character and loyalty (in an otherwise unblemished character-career).

More importantly, we may not like it for many reasons, but certainly these writers are in a much better position to judge players' characters, dispositions and loyalties than we are. Now, that doesn't mean that they'll necessarily make the right judgment. But we simply have to concede that the MVP race -- as it is now -- is not simply meant to be a measure of which player was "the best" or, in a broader sense, which player had the "Most Valuable" on-field performance.

In a way, talking to teammates and managers could be considered doing the same kind of homework that we're doing by looking at (more relevant) numbers. (Again: like it or not.)

And I know, Junior, that your point is larger than MVP voting -- that, say, if building a team from scratch, you'd rather have the really good dickhead on your team than the mediocre saint. So would I. Yet I think any stat-based criticism of MVP voting warrants the long-winded caveat our readers are currently not enjoying in any way.
Yeah, I remember that third criterion. But I choose to weigh it significantly less than the baseball-related qualifications. Plus, if you read what Christensen wrote:

Let there be no doubt: The Twins themselves thought Morneau was their MVP.

I think it sounds like he's defending himself from the numerous people who were saying Mauer or Santana were more important to the Twins. I agree with those critics because in my opinion, their baseball contributions overwhelm what their teammates think of them.

There's a good continuation of this Morneau vs. the field debate over at Lone Star Ball. The guy compares second-half OPSes and two-out RBI, which Christensen seemed to weigh super heavily. (Hint: some guys who did really well in two-out RBI included great MVP candidates Hank Blalock, Richie Sexson and Torii Hunter. Also: A-Rod!)
Again, I am very very cautiously on Team dak here. I would add, in JR.'s defense, that this dummy didn't get anywhere near quoting the official BBWAA criteria for MVP, nor did he suggets in any way that Jeter's behavior in any way affected his vote.

I think what dak and a very cautious KT are saying, really, is:

the MVP has weird and vague criteria, and it's essentially a popularity contest, and people like Terry Pendleton win it for like "veteran leadership" and shit, and there's not really a whole lot of value in sportswriters even trying to justfy their vote, because the criteria are in fact so vague that they can kind of do whatever they want and justify it "officially."

What still burns me, ironically, is Jeter winning the Aaron Award for Best Offensive Player. Because when you take away the position he plays (not that you should, at all, for things like MVP, I think, but in the case of the Aaron Award you must,) and simply assert that he is the best offensive player, then, my friend, you are an idiot.

I'm not sure who I am talking to.

I am back from Argentina.
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