Statistical Analysis: The Most Underrated MVP Candidate

-The K Zone-

December 5th 2016

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Cincinnati Reds

Statistical Analysis: The Most Underrated MVP Candidate, By Ian Joffe

         When voting for awards like the MVP, the writers like stories of talented young players who break out in one year, like Corey Seager, or other new stars that propel their teams to the world championships, like Kris Bryant. However, sometimes the most valuable player in baseball comes from a less glamorous ballclub, one that has fallen from previous stardom. The Cincinnati Reds made the playoffs three out of four years, concluding in a painful one-game wildcard playoff against the Pirates in 2013, where then Reds’ ace Johnny Cueto dropped the ball in the big game. After that painful loss, the team lost multiple players to free agency, traded away some others, and the rest, for the most part, experienced sharp regression in the coming year. For the 2014 season, this included the man that signed a 10 year, $225MM extension in that off season. The 2014 season ruined Joey Votto’s great reputation, but Votto would come back in the next two season and produce at extraordinary levels, and while he got some attention in 2015, his 2016 was far underrated. Votto did not receive a single first, second, third, or even fourth place MVP vote. When compared to the MVP candidates that did far better than him, Votto deserved more than a few votes; he deserved strong consideration for the whole prize.

Joey’s greatness starts at a very basic level. He hit .326, but more impressively went for a .434 on base percentage, an astronomical clip. That OBP led the national league, and was only second in baseball to AL MVP Mike Trout. The next closest hitter was DJ LaMaheui, breakout second baseman of the Rockies, who was still nearly 20 points below Votto in the category The Canadian has always had a good sense of the strike zone, and it is clearly not fading, as demonstrated by the walk rate and 17.7% strikeout rate, which is actually below his career average. His low, 20.8% O-Swing means that he rarely swings at a pitch outside of the strike zone. Votto hit for respectable power, with 29 home runs, but more importantly a .550 slugging percentage, only .004 behind the man who actually won the NL MVP, Kris Bryant. Votto’s on base and power skills combine to form an excellent of OPS (on-base plus slugging) .985, tied for the best in the National League. His OPS+ was 160, meaning that according to the metric, he was 60% better than the average major leaguer.

Digging into the more raw statistics, the 33-year-old made soft contact only 11.7% of the time over the course of the entire season, white making hard contact a whopping 38.7% of the time. Joey also hit 27.3% line drives, a great number for any hitter. Votto’s 22% HR/FB ratio shows that he is still slamming the ball, and that he has not lost his touch with age. It would be more than fair to say that Votto struggled in the first half of the 2016 season, but he showed an incredible ability to bounce back post-all star game, hitting a Ted Williams-esque .408/.490/.668. wRC+, a measure of overall hitting ability, puts Votto at 158, meaning he is a whole 58% better than the average player. Votto lead the national league in wRC+, what sabermatricians today consider the best offenseive statistic. That puts him as a better offensive player than any of the three NL MVP finalists (Bryant, Murphy, and Seager). The on-base machine also put together an unheard-of 201 wRC+ after the all star break, when his true skills were just starting to kick in.

There is a legitimate and illegitimate case to not consider Votto for the award. The one major argument that should not ever be used against Votto is his team, the Reds. The Reds were a losing team last year, tying for the NL’s worst record (68-94). Many hold this against Votto, saying he should not be the most valuable player if his team did not get close to making the playoffs. I completely, wholeheartedly disagree. Baseball is a team sport. One player cannot make a team good or bad! If I were to put Kris Bryant, the MVP winner, on the Reds, instead of Votto, the team would still be terrible. If I put Votto on the Cubs, instead of Bryant, the team would still be excellent. The point is, it’s not Votto’s fault he got put on a terrible team, so why should he be blamed for it in awards voting? Some say that it would be impossible for Votto to be the most “valuable” player while on a losing team. I once again highly question this point of view. Votto has the same “value” no matter what team he is on. Say his value were 5 wins (which it is, according to WAR). That five wins would be the same if it turned the Reds from a 63 to a 68 win team or if it changed the Cubs from a 103 to 108 win team. The value is still the same, whether it makes a team less worse or more better. If one does want to make an argument against Votto, it better be related to his defense (or baserunning, which was also a slight negative this year). Whether it is an aging pattern, or just one off year, Votto suffered a major drop in defense this year, form a gold-glove caliber first baseman to one with negative value, as according his horrific -14 DRS (defensive runs saved) at first base. And, as modern statistics show, defense really matters. However, Votto managed to put together an amazing season even with the laughable glovework. His aforementioned 5.0 WAR is very good, and includes defense, possibly even overvaluing defense. Despite his terrible defense, Votto put together a great overall season.

So, did Votto deserve the MVP award? Well, looking at the hitting stats, he deserved strong consideration. He had an outstanding slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) and ranked #1 in his league for wRC+, the best overall measure of hitting. Sure, his defense was bad, but there are 30 votes for 1st place, 30 for 2nd, and 30 3rd. Votto deserved way more of these top three votes than the zero he was given. Defense or no defense, Votto’s contact, power, and eye should have propelled him towards a finalist spot. I know I am not the only one that feels Joey Votto is one of the greatest hitters of the generation. The other, day, I watched Brian Kenny of MLB Network find a strike-zone recognition category that Fowler beat Votto in, when he exclaimed Fowler had defeated “Joey Votto himself!!!” The BBWAA (Baseball Writers Association of America) was given the MVP vote in the 1930’s, when newspaper was by far the top form communication. I am not saying they should lose the vote, but maybe it is time to diversify the polls just a little bit, adding in parts of, say, the statistics community. After all, the whole point of stats is to make unbiased comparisons between players. To me, in our changing game of baseball, for awards like MVP that go down in history, sabermatricians should have somewhat of a say.

Briefly, one of my favorite stories (which I have admittedly not fact checked, but still really like) from last year is about another personality that agrees with me on Votto. Naturally, that would be “Joey Votto himself.” After struggling for half the 2016 season, Votto recalls checking the world-renowned similarity scores, to see if any other all-time greats went through similar struggles to himself. Votto knows his statistics stack up to other MVP candidates, and next year, his bat will come out with a vengeance.


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With 2 Months Left, Who Are the NL MVP Candidates?


Details on New MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement

-The K Zone-

November 30th 2016


Details on New MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement by Ian Joffe

In the first players’ strike of 1976, the owners of Major League agreed to give the players’ a union with the right to form collective bargaining agreements. The first CBA was created that very year, and today, a new CBA was agreed upon. For a while, there was a threat of a new strike, and a lockout (the equivalent of a strike but with the owners). In either, no players could be traded, signed, waived, or moved in any fashion. The threat, however, was averted, thanks to union head Tony Clark and commissioner Rob Manfred. It was both of their first negotiations, and appears to have gone rather successfully, having now avoided ending MLB’s 21-year streak of labor peace. Here are the details of the agreement, as it develops:

  • The new agreement will last five years, until the 2021 offseason.
  • Rosters will not expand to 26 players, as it had been previously rumored. This would have allowed teams to keep an extra player to be used each game. Teams could have kept a third catcher, defensive infielder, speester, classic long reliver/swing man, or perhaps a reliever to use in a similar way that Andrew Miller was used in the playoffs. The September 40-man roster expansions will also continue for the next five years, unchanged. There is, however,  a chance of an extra roster expansion occuring earlier in the season, which may be only one person, expanding to 26 total players on the roster.
  • It was long rumored that the international draft would be part of the new CBA. However, after much persistence from the players’ side, particularly those Latin born players, MLB gave up on the international draft. A draft would have likely severely decreased salary for foreign born players, although bonus slot money was yet to be decided.
  • Instead, MLB will institute a hard cap on foreign signings. Previously, spending too much on international free agents resulted in an additional tax to MLB. Now, teams will simply not be allowed to exceed a certain limit in international spending. This limit is said to be around $5MM, but change based on the team’s competative balance status. Furthermore, the slots to sign international players can be traded. Cubans over the age of 25 with six years of experience will be exempt from these limitations.
  • The leauge minimum salary will go up to $555K over the next few years. This is only a minor change, of about $40K. The minor league minimum wage will also increase.
  • The minimum DL length has changed from 15 days to 10 days. A player can be placed on the DL to be deactived for the alloted time, but must be activated or reinstated after that time. To current knowldge, there is still a 60-day DL to go along with the 10-day.
  • The luxury tax threshold will increase in the coming five years. In 2017, it will go up to $195MM, in 2018 $197MM, in 2019 $206MM, in 2020 $208MM, and in 2021 $221MM, the season before this CBA expired. Furthermore, penalties for exceeding the luxury tax will increase greatly, to 60%, 70%, and in extreme cases even 90%. For those unfamiliar with the luxury tax, also known as competitive balance tax system, this means that teams whose payrolls exceed the threshold must give additional money to MLB. Both the threshold and amount of tax have increased.
  • The qualifying offer system will undergo major changes. A player may only be given a qualifying offer once in their careers. If the reject, the team still receives no compensation if the player signed for under $50MM. If they do sign for $50MM, compensation will depend on a team’s revenue sharing status. No team will be required to forfeit a first found pick.  Teams that contribute to revenue sharing (those with the top fifteen incomes) will give up their second and fifth round picks, while other teams which receive money from revenue sharing will give up their fifth pick to the team that the free agent came from. If a team signs multiple free agents with qualifying offers in one year to greater than $50MM contracts, the team will give up more draft picks in order after the ones they have already forfeited (e.g. a bottom 15-income team will give up their 3rd, then 4th, then 5th, etc. round pick). This revenue-sharing based system differs from the one based on luxury tax, as previously reported.
  • Teams that exceed the luxury tax threshold by over $40MM will have their highest draft selection dropped by 10 picks.
  • The revenue sharing system will be changed slightly, eliminating its performance factor clause. As Jeff Passan puts it, the performance factor acts as a multiplier for teams to pay in revenue sharing. The elimination of this will likely result in lowered payments from large market teams, like the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, etc. Additionally, the Oakland Athletics will no longer recieve money from the revenue sharing system, due to disputes over market size and the stadium which they share with Oakland’s football team, the Raiders. Additionally, the union has had issues with Oakland ownership, saying that the team does not spend the money on players, like they are supposed to. It will take four years to phase them out.
  • New MLB players may be banned from using smokeless tobacco in the ballpark, for all teams. This will not apply to those who have already played in MLB.
  • The league will take additional off days in coming seasons. To accommodate for the expansion, the schedule will begin a few days earlier. So, the season will begin in the middle of the week, not the weekend as it is traditionally.
  • In the July Amateur Draft, there will be less of a drop off in guarenteed slot bonuses between picks. In other words, there will be less of a difference betweent he bonus of a first pick and, say, 15th pick.
  • There will be increased drug testing, especially for HGH, and players will not be given service time while they are serving suspensions.
  • The All-Star Game will no longer serve to determine home field advantage. Instead, home field will go to the team with the better record. In my opinion, this is a major improvement to a system that was previously unfair to the teams and fans of city, the players of the team having barely any control over their postseason homefield advantage.
  • Players must be given two seats each on busses during Spring Training.
  • Teams must hire a chef for their players.

More to come as this story develops


Paul Hagen and Richard Justice on

Jeff Todd on

Jason Stark on

Stephen Hawkings and Ronald Blum on

Jeff Passan on Twitter

Ken Rosenthal on Twitter

Joel Sherman on Twitter

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