Strikeouts, Consistency, and the AL MVP

League Championship Series - Houston Astros v New York Yankees - Game Five

The AL MVP was handed out yesterday and Jose Altuve was rewarded for his strong season as the Astros 2nd baseman, taking home 27 of the 30 first place votes. In 2nd place, by a margin that was quite frankly surprising, was New York’s Aaron Judge, who took home just one more first place vote than Jose Ramirez of the Indians. Mike Trout, who was probably could have won this award yet again, finished in 4th thanks to a midsummer injury that cut his season 40 games shorter than it should have been.

Just to state it plainly, I don’t think the BBWAA voters got it right. I strongly believe that while both Altuve and Judge were excellent candidates, Judge was the better player in 2017. To oversimplify it, he was just better than Altuve in a number of categories that are more important to helping a team win than batting average and steals. Judge was better at getting on base, he hit for more power, drove more runners in, totaled more bases, scored more runs, walked a hell of a lot more, struck out more, and played a great right field. Many of the advanced numbers gave Judge the edge as well. He led Altuve in fWAR (Fangraphs), wRC (weighted runs created), OPS+ (league and park adjusted OPS) while only trailing in the Astros 2nd baseman in bWAR (Baseball Reference), batting average, and steals.

The problem with the big guy’s MVP candidacy was that several arguments began to pop up around him. Let’s run through two of the more common arguments now.

“Altuve was the most consistent hitter in baseball. Judge had a huge slump and shouldn’t be MVP.”

Let’s just get right to the main issue here. There’s no getting around it, Judge played abysmally for 6 weeks or so post All-Star break. He wasn’t making enough contact and his K rate hit an alarming level, resulting in a record 37 straight game strikeout streak. Altuve, meanwhile was catching fire, crushing everything throughout the month of July to the tune of an eyepopping .485 average with an OPS north of 1.200. He was cruising and at the same time Judge was crashing in spectacular fashion. It made for quite a contrast.

But I don’t really think that tells the whole story, just small part of a much longer one.

The chart below shows the OPS for each player by month. A negative number in the difference column is in favor of Judge and a positive favors Altuve.

OPS

Again, that ghastly .680 OPS stands out among the rest. That’s basically the crux of this entire argument and has been repeated ad nauseam to the point most people are just accepting that there are three constants in life: death, taxes, and Jose Altuve.

And while it’s true that the Astros’ 2nd baseman is basically the baseball equivalent of clockwork, even if you feel that way, it’s not the only definition of consistent. Because Judge was consistently better, especially in the first half of the season, which brings up a few questions.

Why are we ignoring the rest of the months on the calendar, when Judge was obviously better? Are the games in July and August worth more in the win column than the one’s in May and September?

If we’re going to be use a fairly productive July as an argument against Aaron Judge, why aren’t we doing the same with Altuve’s April, August, and September? After all those OPS totals for each month are basically the same.

Why does Altuve get extra credit for never slumping but never really approaching the same highs either? Judge has 4 of the 5 best months on the board and even half of his slump was right in line with what Altuve did for half the season.

It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around this. Judge was clearly better for four months and Altuve was clearly better two. Anyone can see that plain as day. If you want to hold one month against Judge, it’s your right to do so, but it’s just an inconsistent line of thinking.

Finally, nearly every prior MVP has had a slump! It’s really hard to play 150-160 games a year and not go through one. Just going back a couple of years you’ll see Josh Donaldson posting a .720 OPS during June 2015, Mike Trout hitting for a .680 OPS in August 2014, and Miguel Cabrera putting up a .729 OPS in September 2013.

If you want to award Altuve an extra point for being the metronome of the Houston lineup, go ahead and do so, but that’s not a reason to hand out MVP, especially when Judge has the better overall body of work.

“Judge strikes out too much. Altuve put the ball in play more which gave his team a greater chance to win.”

I absolutely can’t stand this argument so we’re going to keep it simple. Let’s take a look at a couple of charts, starting with run expectancy per play from Tom Tango, just so we know where we stand.

Tango

So it’s pretty clear that the historical difference between striking out and grounding out is .06 runs and the margin between that and a flyout is .02. The argument that “strikeouts are bad because nothing good can happen” while true, is misleading. Groudouts are also bad because nothing good almost ever happens and a there’s the possibility of a double play. Popping out is equally terrible. An out is an out is an out and is doesn’t really matter how you make it.

Now let’s look at another chart to see how Altuve and Judge did when they put the ball in play with runners on:

Judge

Altuve is better by a total of 9 runners advanced, despite a strikeout difference of 124. Nine more runners advanced. Over the whole course of the 162 game season. Nine.

One big area where players who strikeout a lot tend to do better than their free-swinging counterparts is taking pitches. Judge led baseball in the total number of pitches seen in 2017, and he held a 680 pitch advantage over his Astros counterpart.  So it makes sense that Judge was also the best in baseball at drawing walks, picking up 127 free passes, 79 more than Altuve. That is a massive, massive difference and it does more than negate Altuve’s advantage in total hits.

In fact, if you add up the number of total bases for each player and then add 1 base for each walk (because after all walks are worth 1 base), Judge comes out ahead by a massive margin of 467 bases to just 381 for Altuve. And if we want to get even simpler about it, Altuve actually made more outs than Judge, despite the Yankee’s right fielder having more plate appearances! Altuve made 416 outs in 662 plate appearances while Judge was just below at 411 outs in 678.

Strikeouts just aren’t that important and they aren’t any worse than making any other type of regular out.


I’ll leave you with this, there’s a case to be made for each player. Judge’s centers around his patience, great right field defense, and a prodigious ability to drive the ball unlike any player we’ve ever seen. Altuve’s case is more intangible. There’s just something about him that makes that Astros so dangerous and that includes his plus defense at a premium position, his great base running skills and ability to produce in the clutch. They both had special seasons. But when it comes down to it, I’ll take the player who does more damage even if he makes less contact. After all, an out is an out is an out.

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ALCS Preview: Royals vs. Orioles

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Raise your hand if you foresaw a Baltimore-Kansas City ALCS matchup back in April. Anyone? Anybody at all? No? That’s what I thought. It’s a matchup that’s 30 years in the making and it features ball clubs that find a way to win in vastly different ways. The Royals stole more bases than any other team in the league while the Orioles plodded along the base paths, finishing dead last in baseball, 12 behind the next slowest team. Instead the O’s mashed their way to victory, racking up a Major League best 211 homers in the process, more than double the number of dingers hit by Kansas City. Both teams feature solid starting staffs and deep bullpens that have been dynamite this year when protecting a lead. This series has all the makings of a barn burner. So who’s going to win? Let’s take a run-through at some of the more salient points:

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Better Luck Next Year: Los Angeles Angels

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The playoffs in Major League Baseball have a tendency to be a cruel and fickle beast. You can blast through the regular season, crushing all opponents in your path and come October, all it takes is facing one team at the wrong time and it’s all over in a mere handful of games. The 2014 postseason has been no exception, with many of the projected favorites and higher seeds headed home and back to the drawing board earlier than expected.

This year’s Angels team is the best representative of that cruelty. They not only won more games than any other team in baseball, but they did so with a run differential that surpassed every team in the league outside of Oakland. And after 3 games against a feisty Kansas City squad it was all over, sending the Angles and their management back to square one. So, what does Los Angeles need to do rebound in 2015 to make a deep playoff run? Continue reading

Baltimore Comes Out Swinging

Division Series - Detroit Tigers v Baltimore Orioles - Game One

After slugging their way to victory for the better part of the 2014 season, the Orioles continued that trend in their opening playoff game, piling up 12 runs and 3 homers. And while Baltimore piled on a bit once Scherzer left the game, the O’s still managed to tag the 2013 Cy Young Winner with 5 runs in 7.1 innings, which was more than enough for the victory. So how did the O’s do it?

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Scouting the ALDS: Can the Angels Slow Down the Runnin’ Royals?

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Kansas City RoyalsKansas City abused poor Derek Norris so badly in the AL Wild Card game that he may have been placed in the witness protection program for his own safety. They absolutely terrorized the Athletics on the base paths, racking up 7 steals total and they needed every single one in order to pull off the win. The bad news for Kansas City is that with that victory, they now have to face the 98-win Angels and their bevy of MVPs. The good news? Los Angeles might struggle with the running game worse than Oakland, which could provide the Royals a path to victory.

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Three Strikes: Oakland @ Kansas City

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Hello all! It’s been quite a while since I last posted but that’s only because life got in the way. Between vacationing up in Glacier National Park with Shannon this summer, working 50 hours a week every week, taking a full load of classes at Missouri State, and watching every Derek Jeter at-bat that I could, the ole’ blog has been on the backburner. But with the start of the 2014 playoffs finally upon us, that’s all about to change. Each week I’m planning 3-5 posts that cover a variety of postseason topics, starting with tonight’s long-awaited matchup in Kansas City.

Strike 1 – Oakland’s slumping lumber, meet Kauffman

The struggles of the Oakland A’s since the trade deadline have been well-documented. The team’s been playing .400 ball for the better part of the last two and a half months after posting the best record and run differential in baseball before the All-Star break. And while many have been quick to point the finger at Billy Beane for his myriad of offense-for-pitching moves, those aren’t exactly the culprit. The only player Oakland departed with that was of any significance to the 2014 lineup was Yoenis Cespedes, and while that’s a major blow, it’s really only a small part of the problem. Continue reading

Chris Sale Changes It Up

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Chris Sale made a victorious return from the disabled list on Thursday evening and in the process he tore thorough a decent Yankee lineup as though it was tissue paper. Sale retired 18 of the 19 hitters he faced, while striking out 10 in just 6 innings of work. The lanky lefty tore through the first 17 hitters he faced before allowing a hit, which actually came as a relief to skipper Robin Ventura, because the manager was prepared to make the unpopular, but intelligent, decision to remove his ace during a perfect game. In short, Sale looked like he hadn’t skipped a beat. This was the dominance White Sox fans have come to recognize in their ace over the past couple of seasons, but the reality is this isn’t the same Chris Sale. This 2014 version has turned into something more.

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