Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Albert Pujols: "not an embarrassing selection"

Look, I want Ken Tremendous to be back just as much as the rest of you, but we have to face facts: Ken Tremendous is not walking through that door. Junior is not walking through that door. Dak is not walking through that door. In light of this, it falls to me to point out that that there is more fail in this Phil Sheridan column than you can shake a stick at:
Ryan Howard was the most valuable player in the National League in 2008. That he was not voted MVP by the Baseball Writers' Association of America says more about the association than about Howard, Albert Pujols or America. Pujols was not an embarrassing selection, not with his excellent numbers, but was still the wrong selection. And that should embarrass the association enough to do what it should have done long ago: get out of the business of voting on baseball's postseason awards - as well as the Hall of Fame.
He may be right about the writers getting out of the voting business, but if he is, it's for the wrong reasons. I mean really, after all of the bad choices over the years, voting Albert Pujols the MVP in 2008 is the last straw? Was Sheridan cool with Mo Vaughn in 1995, or is this just a rehashed column?
The arguments against the writers' participation in the voting are well-established and have been covered here before. It is ethically indefensible for the journalists who cover baseball to vote for official awards that have an impact on players' financial rewards. Imagine Howard's 2009 arbitration hearing. It will be different because he finished second in this voting as opposed to first. That alone is reason enough for the association to recuse itself from this annual charade.
I've heard this argument before -- Posnanski made a huge fuss about this in connection with the proposed Curt Schilling contract clause last year -- but I've never been that impressed with it. Yes, voting on awards can directly enrich ballplayers, but so can a lot of other things writers do. Like giving guys years of good press, which may cause a team to retain players who are perceived as good citizens and stand-up guys. Indeed, such reputations often turn on the very words written by BBWAA members alone. As a lawyer I appreciate integrity and appearance-of-impropriety arguments as much as the next guy, but I don't think a writer's single vote has done as much to enrich, say, Derek Jeter as much as the columns lauding his greatness have. Hey writers: don't want to influence people and events? Don't write about them.

It is similarly impossible to justify the association's giving thumbs up or down to players from the steroid era who become eligible for Hall of Fame voting . . . It should be much more of a concern that the same group that rewarded Barry Bonds with four consecutive MVP Awards in this decade will sit in judgment of whether his alleged cheating should keep him from the Hall.
I agree with Sheridan that we're going to run into some serious double standards and outright incoherence when more steroid-era ballplayers start coming eligible for the Hall of Fame, but I don't know that MVP votes which occurred at a time when most people weren't aware of the scope of the problem are an appropriate measure of hypocrisy.

If the MVP is the player with the best all-round statistical season, a computer could figure that out. And a computer might well have spit out Pujols' name this season. He was terrific. But Howard got hot in September, hitting 11 home runs and driving in 32 runs to carry the Phillies into the playoffs. That's the very definition of valuable.
Albert Pujols in September: .321/.427/.702 8 HR, 27 RBI
Ryan Howard in September: .352/.422/.852 11 HR, 32 RBI

Yes, Howard had a better September. But he had a worse March, April, May, June, and August, all by much greater margins than his slightly better September. They had equal OPSs in July, though Pujols' was far more OBP heavy, which is preferable.

The group-think association argument for Pujols, if I'm smart enough to get it right, is that he single-handedly kept the Cardinals in the wild-card race. That is brilliant, except it ignores the presence of Ryan Ludwick, Rick Ankiel and Troy Glaus (so much for "single-handedly"), and the fact that the National League wild-card race was a watered-down farce.
I wonder if Sheridan -- a Philly journalist, mind you -- is willing to go tell Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Cole Hamels, and Brad Lidge that they had nothing to do with the NL East crown. A crown, by the way, that was won with only two more victories than the winner of the "watered-down farce" that was the wild card race.

The association seamheads love to throw around stats - OPS, VORP, ASPCA - to make a case for Pujols. That's all great. Yes, he struck out less and hit for a higher average. But Howard won actual baseball games in an honest-Abe pennant race. He had 11 more home runs than Pujols, scored five more runs than Pujols, and drove in 30 more runs than Pujols.
"Stats suck and are for losers, and to show you just how deluded you nerds are, here's some stats that make my case . . ."

Notice there are no decimal points involved there, only whole numbers that made
a difference in real baseball games.
So I take it that Sheridan believes that Cole Hamels (3.09 ERA) was no more effective than Ubaldo Jimenez (3.99) was this year? In other news, if the coffee shop near Sheridan's office is looking for a cashier, I highly recommend that you Philadelphians rush to apply.

That takes care of the logic.

Wait, that was the logical part? Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night!

Of the 32 MVP voters (two from each chapter, which means two from each NL market), only one failed to put Howard on his ballot at all. Rich Campbell of the Fredericksburg (Va.) Free Lance-Star was contacted by my astute colleague Todd Zolecki. He had no comment.
I'll grant him that leaving Howard off the ballot is ridiculous. He wouldn't be my number one pick, obviously, but if you leave Howard off entirely, you have pretty much disqualified yourself as a serious voter.

Howard's next-lowest spot - 10th out of 10 - was on the ballot of Mark Zuckerman of the Washington Times. Zuckerman and Campbell both cover the Nationals. They both cast ballots utterly out of step with the norm, at least regarding Howard. If that's a coincidence, I'm Red Smith. It's easy to pick on the Nats' beat writers. They were no doubt numb after watching that team for a full season. But the point is that the association's voting is rife with personal agendas, flawed logic, favor trading, and plain old sloppiness.
Again, I agree that Howard as tenth makes no sense. But really, Mr. Sheridan, is your boosterism of Howard purely a function of that logic you claimed to be dropping, or is the fact that you cover the guy entering into this at all?

Three members of the association cast rookie of the year votes for Reds pitcher Edinson Volquez, who was not a rookie this year. If the howling ethical malfeasance weren't enough to shut this farce down, that should do the trick. Ryan Howard - who has added a World Series ring to his 2005 rookie of the year and 2006 MVP trophies - will survive this voting nicely. The process that produced it should not.
And we're back to where we started: Sheridan being right on the macro level -- that there are some serious flaws in BBWAA voting -- but deluded on the micro level -- that Ryan Howard not winning the MVP is evidence of the problem.

OK, that was both frustrating and exhausting. No wonder the FJM guys quit.

(thanks to reader Scott M for the heads up)


Ironic Goat said...

If I wanted to see a ballot, where would I go? Specifically Mark Zuckermans, but what just in general, I had trouble finding them.

Also, you were missing a few dozen obscenities in your commentary.

Craig Calcaterra said...

Not sure where the ballots are. I'll try to dig around and check. I don't know that the writers are actually required to make their ballots public -- many do, but I think some don't.

Re: obscenities: I found long ago that no matter how good an artist you are, you should probably stick to a medium with which you feel comfortable. I have no out-of-hand objection to obscenity in blog posts, but it has to be done well, and I simply can't swear as good as the FJM guys or Big Daddy Drew. It's a talent you either have or you don't.

Jason @ IIATMS said...

I needed a break just getting thru that.

More coffee needed!

Alex said...

Does anybody want to tell Phil that Utley, Rollins, and anyone else who hit in front of Howard had A LOT to do with those 30 extra RBI? And that the people who hit behind him had a lot to do with the extra runs he scored? Phil does realize that Pujols got a hit (.357 avg) more than Howard got on base (.339 obp) right? It blows my mind that anyone could argue against Pujols this year.

Ironic Goat said...

I wonder what Sheridan said in 06.

Ken Dynamo said...

if your criteria for MVP are just whoever hit the most HRs and RBIs in the last two months of a season for a team that made the playoffs, well, i'm pretty sure a computer could figure that out too.

nice takedown, this sheridan guys sounds like a real piece of crap.

mooseinohio said...

Why do we wonder about what columnist write anyways? If I want logical arguments I'll turn to my stack of academic journals but not most columnist, especially sports columnists. Opinions is what you get, good ones and bad ones. Ones you agree with and those you don't.

Trust me I don't turn to FOX News to get factual news or unbiased opinion the same way I don't expect Keith Oberman to not lean left. If I am feeling feisty I watch Bill O'Reilly and throw things at the tv and if I need to feel self-righteous then MSNBC it is.

As a Red Sox fan I read Amalie Benjamin or Nick Carfado for news, Bob Ryan or Peter Gammons for opinions I may agree with and Dan Shaughnessy to annoy me. That's my choice depending on my mood and how I want to view the world at the moment.

BTW Jason - I needed a cinnamon roll in addition to a full French Press of coffee to get through that post.

Erik said...

Excellent retort, but I have to take issue with this: "I'll grant him that leaving Howard off the ballot is ridiculous. He wouldn't be my number one pick, obviously, but if you leave Howard off entirely, you have pretty much disqualified yourself as a serious voter."

Now, I'm no voter, but it's entirely defensible. Howard would be at best 15th on my ballot. I never filled it out past 10th, but there's 3 Phillies, at least, that I'd place ahead of him (Utley, Hamels, Lidge). Here's my 10 votes:


Like I said, I haven't gone further than that but I can still think of a handful of players I'd place over Howard (Lidge, Hamels, Holliday, Sabathia, Braun, Webb, Ludwick, McCann, Soto, Reyes). The more I think about it, I don't even think Howard would be in my top 20 or 25.

bigcatasroma said...

I can't believe I actually read that column. It's nice for you to have picked up the FJM slack and fisk the crap out of that garbage.

Sheridan is a hack. I'm really really really really really really really really really tired of the "those morons use stats to make their point, to show you here are some stats" routine. Like really tied of it.

Please stop doing that.

Mets Tailgate said...


Do you foresee a future where the majority of sportswriters are statistically-bent guys? Like maybe 15 years or so down the line, the people writing columns and voting on the awards will be more in tune/accepting of sabermetrics? I foresee it, and it's beautiful...

Craig Calcaterra said...

It may head in that direction, but I don't even need that. I'd just like to see the adoption of reason and the rejection of kneejerk anti-statistics thinking. On some level I want some writers to make non-stats-based cases for their selections because they can be interesting if not relied on too heavily. Maybe it's important that a guy is a real clubhouse leader. Maybe it's important that someone was playing hurt all year without us knowing it. I think there's a place for guts and moxy and all of that.

But why must reason be cast aside too?

Eric said...

so if the wild card race was a farce isn't the division race, almost by default, a farce as as well?

it seems to me that if nothing interesting was going on with the wild card then the division couldnt have been that exciting either.

also, i'm sure he was on board with jimmy rollins winning with a .348 obp.

Mets Tailgate said...

Agreed Craig. A ballot cast solely based on stats is not what I want either.

Many of the voters start their consideration with intangibles and go to the stats secondarily, and I think it should be the other way around.

Take a look at the stats, then give bonus points for playing on a contender, playing a premium position, being a leader, etc.

I'd also like to see the voters follow the 5 stated criteria a little more closely, but you can't have it all.

Daniel said...

Craig, just to debate something in your post (and I'm borrowing this from Neyer), but I think you could make a much more reasoned, logical argument why Howard was NOT one of the top 10 players in the NL than you could that Pujols deserved to be anything but number one.

Howard was not top 10 in OPS or OPS+. He was 29th in the NL in VORP. He struck out 199 times. His glove is made out of brick. His baserunning is subpar. He was the third most valuable player in his own infield.

The "bonus" points you can give him are for:
1. Being on a team that made the playoffs (although other players had more to do with that - Utley, Lidge, Hamels, Rollins) than he did.
2. Having a hot month in September "when in it mattered."
3. Having the most HR's and RBI's.
4. Playing all 162 games.

Personally, I think those bonus points (especially 3 and 4) are enough to get him some 6th - 10th place votes, but the argument is definitely stronger for leaving him off than for voting him first.

Craig Calcaterra said...

Daniel -- point taken (and I saw Rob's argument about it on his chat too). I guess it comes down to who the other nine guys are. When you approach it that way, there are a bunch of dudes who push Howard south. It's close whether or not it pushes him out of the top 10, but it's certainly more debatable than I thought when I wrote the post this morning.

Daniel said...

Just to add, good work on the post Craig. I didn't mean to nitpick - just something Neyer said that I wanted to expand on.

Ken Tremendous is raising a fist in the air in tribute.

PB said...

Here's the way I look at it - do you honestly believe that if Pujols and Howard had switched teams for the entire season, the Phillies would have lost more games? If you don't believe that (or at least that the final record would be the same), I don't see how you can logically cast a vote for Howard ahead of Pujols.

Keith Law said...

I left Howard off of my ballot.

Which, of course, doesn't count because I don't go to baseball games. Or something.

markdash said...


You do a very good impersonation of the FJM boys. Thanks for picking up the slack.

Sportswriters do seem to have short memories, don't they? The same group that was raking Howard over the coals (rightly so) for having an abysmal April are now giving him bonus points because he excelled in September? That's funny, I thought all games counted the same.

Sara K said...

Bless you, Craig. That helped abate my FJM withdrawl like a long drag on a snarkotine inhaler.


Anonymous said...

Rich Campbell is now my favorite sports writer. Ryan Howard hit, what, .212 before the break? So did a lot of NL pitchers. W&L Represent!

Mr. Thursday said...

I'm as big a Philly guy as anyone, but I wouldn't have put Howard in my top 10, I don't think. Maybe 10th. For the record, also, this season has pretty much hit on my longstanding fear regarding Howard. Namely, that he lucked into a good OBP in 2006, and is, in fact, a more powerful Rob Deer. Of course, everyone knew who Rob Deer was: namely, a guy with power and nothing else. People cannot accept the fact that Howard doesn't NOTHING well except hit right handed pitching. He should always be benched against lefties, and he should be subbed for and run for in late innings of close games, and he should not be offered a long term contract for a jillion dollars. Of course, my beloved Phillies, still hazy from the World Series (WHOO!) are going to do just that, sometime soon. And I'm going to have suffer through 600-700 Howard PAs in 2012, and I'm already dreading it.

With all that off my chest: it's a fucking farce that Utley was 15th in the MVP voting.

Diesel said...

@ Keith

And you wonder why they don't give you a vote, ace. Silly boy.

Anonymous said...

Regardless of who I/you/Phil Sheridan thinks deserves the MVP, his column is a weak example of writing because he offers no alternative. The title is "MVP voting is out of whack". Well how about a fix, Phil? If the BWAA shouldn't vote, then who should? Any suggestion would've been welcomed. Do you think he just wants to do away with the awards entirely? Or is he suggesting that he should be the lone voter? I don't get it.

Craig Calcaterra said...

Good point, Anon. I probably would have ignored this whole flyspecking exercise if he had proposed something else. OK, then I would have flyspecked that instead, but at least it would be a fresh topic.

I put up a post a couple of weeks ago proposing that MLB start to really play up its own awards in the hopes of supplanting the BBWAA awards. My vague idea for that would be a panel of experts kind of deal, which draws from writers (smart ones who have shown some mental rigor in the past) and other experts. In reality, the composition doesn't matter as long as there is some sense of oversight over the process. If someone does stupid stuff, drum them out. If someone becomes apathetic and obviously mails it in, drum them out.