Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Problem With Lazy Analysis

Over at the Bleacher Report there is a debate regarding the merits of the MVP award and who it rightfully deserves to be awarded to. One author believes it must go to a player on a winning team, as a player on a losing team could be replaced with any player and that team would still lose. The author asserts that a loss is a loss; although he claims 'confidence' and intangibles are important factors.

Admittedly the author believes that the BBWAA got the 2008 American League Most Valuable Player wrong, but isn't too alarmed at the selection feeling it was an unqualified group to begin with. Thus, he continues discussing meaningless merits such as defensive value-although incorrectly tabbing second base as the 'easiest infield position to field'. His source, Little League Baseball. The logic is utterly horrifying, but is a great place to start at pointing out the lazy analytical skills of this writer.

With the internet such an easy tool to make quick searches, would it have been so difficult for the author to discover that second base is rated as the third most difficult position to play? Behind short but ahead of center field? Possibly the author was stuck in a 1920's, when the double play wasn't as prominent.

Whatever the reason, we can see the beginning of a rather lazy analysis. This only furthers the misinformation provided earlier where the author asserts that only those on playoff caliber teams are worthy of the Most Valuable Player Award. This is noted due to the fact that the author lists players only on playoff caliber teams.

The statistical analysis is equally as weak as the author ignores park factors. This is a fairly simple task nowadays, Baseball Prospectus offers a straight forward and easily accessed stat called Equivalent Average. Dustin Pedroia had a fine season, but offensively he wasn't even on the map of Milton Bradley, Alex Rodriguez, among others.

What is worse about this authors analysis is the next step he takes towards justifying his justification regarding Pedroia. The author states that the award must go to a player on a winning team, simply because that is how the voters have done things historically.

Before diving too deep into this, has the author already forgotten the Edinson Volquez debacle of two weeks ago? Remember, when three voters were so confused with the rules of rookie eligibility that they named Volquez on their ballots. Worse yet, these voters are so ignorant that they managed to convince themselves that Geovanny Soto's impressive rookie campaign was somehow superior to Volquez's excellent non-rookie season.

The next obvious error the author makes is in assuming that the voting criteria has not changed. That is, we now know that batting average is only an important fact in context. On base percentage, has taken over as a significantly more vital statistic. Thus, where players would previously win award based on high batting averages, those figures have now become secondary to on base and slugging averages.

As the voters understanding of value evolves, the winners will become more accurately understood.

According to our author, playing on a winning team is much more valuable, according tot he voters, then playing on a losing team. The argument, not as bad as his Little League justification, but a joke nonetheless, "History and Major League Baseball are screaming it right in your face."

Before I go too far into this, can anyone remember when history and Major League Baseball made errors? Hmm, how about when there was racial segregation in the sport? Prior to Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby, was it accurate to suggest that black players were inferior? Or is it more accurate to figure out why those players were left from the ranks of Major League Baseball?

Similarly, the author's this is the way it's done philosophy is in shambles. First, simply because that is the way it has been done, does not legitimize the process.

Second, claiming that a direct correlation exists between MVP's and being on a winning team is a lazy conclusion to draw. Especially when the author admits that the two players that won MVP awards from non-winning teams were obvious choices. The obvious question then, were the players selected because they were on winning teams, or because they were obvious choices?

I decided to properly analyze this trend to find out if it was a coincidence that the last fourteen respective MVP's came from winning teams. The following chart represents my findings:

I will begin by stating that this analysis is far from iron-clad. One thing I would alter about this analysis would be to utilize more value based statistics. Since not every one of these stats agree with one another on the basis of what is valuable and what characteristics make a player valuable, it would be superior to use a couple more. However, utilizing Baseball Prospectus' VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) is a nice place to start, and one that statistically ranks players.

I then researched the recent MVP winners. A more in depth study would look at the second and third place finishers, but for now, this will suffice.

My next step was to find the top three finishes according to VORP as well as the position the eventual MVP finished in. As you can see, Baseball Prospectus picked the accurate MVP winning (within 2 places) in 16 of 28 years. In other words, the best or close to the best player (according to Baseball Prospectus) was the eventual best player as per the BBWAA. This has nothing to do with winning. I repeat, NOTHING!

However, I wanted to find out what winning had to do with eventual winners. I wanted to find out if there was in fact a correlation between being in the top three in VORP and being on a winning team.

The conclusion, of the top three players in terms of VORP over the last 14 seasons (84 in total), 64 came from teams with a recordof .500 or better. In other words, the best players play for the best teams-logical, right?

What does this brief study show? That the BBWAA are not picking the players based on whether or not they play for a winning clubs, rather, the BBWAA are picking the best players-albeit in a relatively flawed system.

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