October 16, 2006

More Team MVP Stuff

Yesterday in this space I reviewed the Twins' season-ending Win Probability Added (WPA) totals and used the numbers to come up with my team MVP rankings based on a few quick-and-dirty adjustments for playing time, defense, and position (because WPA doesn't properly account for those things). Today I'd like to continue the team MVP discussion by offering up a pair of alternatives to WPA that incorporate playing time, defense, and position into the equation without the need for tinkering.

In years past, before WPA became readily available, I've relied heavily upon Win Shares Above Bench (WSAB) and Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) in MVP discussions. The two metrics--one from Hardball Times and one from Baseball Prospectus--involve positional and playing-time adjustments while incorporating both offensive and defensive value. That gives WSAB and WARP a collective leg up on the relatively one-dimensional WPA.

However, WPA's primary advantage--and what makes it unique and worthwhile despite not being all-encompassing--is that it's able to place a player's contributions to his team in a much more detailed in-game context. In other words, metrics like WSAB and WARP look at production on a season-long level, whereas WPA examines what each individual plate appearance meant to a team's chances of winning or losing a specific game. Or, said another way, with WPA not all homers are created equal.

WPA, WSAB, and WARP each have their positives and negatives, which is why I think using all three together is perhaps the best option. So, along with my WPA-based team MVP ballot from yesterday, here are how WSAB and WARP rank the most-valuable Twins in 2006:

        WPA                      WSAB                     WARP
1. Johan Santana Joe Mauer Johan Santana
2. Joe Mauer Johan Santana Joe Mauer
3. Justin Morneau Justin Morneau Joe Nathan
4. Joe Nathan Joe Nathan Justin Morneau
5. Fran Liriano Fran Liriano Fran Liriano
6. Michael Cuddyer Michael Cuddyer Torii Hunter
7. Juan Rincon Torii Hunter Michael Cuddyer
8. Jason Bartlett Jason Bartlett Brad Radke
9. Dennys Reyes Luis Castillo Dennys Reyes
10. Mike Redmond Brad Radke Jesse Crain
11. Pat Neshek Juan Rincon Boof Bonser
12. Boof Bonser Pat Neshek Luis Castillo
13. Torii Hunter Boof Bonser Jason Bartlett
14. Brad Radke Mike Redmond Pat Neshek
15. Luis Castillo Jesse Crain Nick Punto

The top of all three rankings hammers home a point I made yesterday, which is that few teams were as top-heavy as the Twins. While there's some shuffling at the top between the three metrics, they all agree that the team's five best players were (in some order): Johan Santana, Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Joe Nathan, and Francisco Liriano. Several otherwise productive players (Michael Cuddyer, Torii Hunter, most of the bullpen) take a clear backseat because the team was so superstar-driven.

In terms of comparing the three metrics, the most noticeable thing is that Hunter ranks much higher in the two rankings that don't take into account his poor numbers in crucial situations. WSAB and WARP view each of Hunter's hits as being equal, whereas WPA sees his relative failure to deliver in key spots. Similarly, Juan Rincon ranks much lower in WSAB and WARP, because unlike WPA, they don't fully adjust for his pitching in high-leverage situations (the same is somewhat true for Dennys Reyes).

Here's what the team MVP ranking looks like when the three metrics are blended together to form one consensus ballot:

 1. Johan Santana
2. Joe Mauer
3. Justin Morneau
4. Joe Nathan
5. Fran Liriano
6. Michael Cuddyer
7. Torii Hunter
8. Jason Bartlett
9. Brad Radke
10. Juan Rincon
11. Dennys Reyes
12. Boof Bonser
13. Luis Castillo
14. Pat Neshek
15. Mike Redmond

When the metrics are combined, Santana and Mauer are basically a toss-up for top spot, with Morneau and Nathan one step behind them. The gap between Liriano in fifth and Cuddyer in sixth is much larger than any other one-spot drop, which goes back to how top-heavy the Twins were. I'd quibble some with the above ballot in a few places, but in general it looks pretty good. Santana gets my vote for team MVP, but I think there are reasonable arguments to be made for either Mauer or Morneau winning the award.

Since you're probably curious, here's what the same blending of metrics produces for a least-valuable player ranking:

 1. Rondell White
2. Kyle Lohse
3. Jason Kubel
4. Tony Batista
5. Lew Ford
6. Scott Baker
7. Juan Castro
8. Carlos Silva
9. Willie Eyre
10. Luis Rodriguez

It seems odd for Rondell White to be the least-valuable player given that he was one of the Twins' best hitters down the stretch while hitting .321/.354/.538 after the All-Star break. However, even a hot second half couldn't erase White's abysmal first half, which saw him bat .182/.209/.215 while arguably being baseball's worst player. White's bad start was almost surely due to shoulder problems and his second half was great, but the overall line of .246/.276/.365 from a player with little defensive value is still awful.

Beyond that, there aren't many surprises. Kyle Lohse had a team-worst 7.07 ERA in 64 innings before being shipped to Cincinnati, Jason Kubel surrounded a hot stretch with enough overall uselessness to produce a White-like .241/.279/.386 line, and Tony Batista was every bit as awful as I expected when the Twins made the misguided decision to hand him a job. Lew Ford, Luis Rodriguez, and Willie Eyre were on the roster all year, but had their damage kept to a relative minimum by limited usage.

Feel free to cast your own ballot in the comments section.

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