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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.


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.


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:


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.


Chris Sale Changes It Up


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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2014 Season Predictions

Bay Rays' Longoria hits three-run homer off Blue Jays Morrow during MLB game in St. Petersburg

AL East (*signifies wild card)

  1. Tampa Bay Rays
  2. New York Yankees*
  3. Baltimore Orioles*
  4. Boston Red Sox
  5. Toronto Blue Jays

AL Central

  1. Detroit Tigers
  2. Kansas City Royals
  3. Chicago White Sox
  4. Cleveland Indians
  5. Minnesota Twins

AL West

  1. Texas Rangers
  2. Oakland A’s
  3. Los Angeles Angels
  4. Seattle Mariners
  5. Houston Astros

ALCS: Tampa Bay over Texas

NL East

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. Atlanta Braves*
  3. Miami Marlins
  4. New York Mets
  5. Philadelphia Phillies

NL Central

  1. St. Louis Cardinals
  2. Cincinnati Reds
  3. Pittsburgh Pirates
  4. Milwaukee Brewers
  5. Chicago Cubs

NL West

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers
  2. Arizona Diamondbacks*
  3. Colorado Rockies
  4. San Francisco Giants
  5. San Diego Padres

NLCS: Los Angeles over Washington

World Series: Tampa Bay over Los Angeles

AL MVP: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays

NL MVP: Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks

AL Cy Young: Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

NL Cy Young: Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins

AL Rookie of the Year: Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox

NL Rookie of the Year: Archie Bradley, Arizona Diamondbacks

3 Bold Predictions

The Minnesota Twins will take the title of worst team in baseball away from the Astros.

The Twins struggled with just about everything a year ago. They couldn’t hit (13th in the AL in runs scored), they couldn’t keep runs off the board (14th in the AL in ERA) and they were historically inept in getting their opponents to swing and miss. The solution to these woes? Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. Let me repeat that. A professional baseball front office legitimately thinks they won’t lose 100 games with these two and Kevin Correia fronting their rotation. Hughes is guaranteed to be a disaster. He’s got a career 11-46 record when his offense scores fewer than 5 runs and that’s something Joe Mauer and the banjo pickers are going to be doing frequently.

The Miami Marlins will manage top the .500 mark

Thanks to a couple of superstar level talents in Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton and a couple of veteran additions, the Marlins will surprise a lot of people. Fernandez will get most of the buzz but the rest of the rotation has the chops to keep up. Jacob Turner has spent most of his minor league career populating the top 25 lists of most every major prospect rating company and he appears poised to break out. The offense will likely be Miami’s ultimate downfall, but don’t be surprised to see the Marlins hunting for the wild card come September.

 Jose Abreu will top the 30 homer mark

Abreu was an absolute revelation during the 2013 World Baseball Classic, which doubled as his introduction to most of the baseball viewing world. He hit a ballistic .383 with 3 homers and 9 RBI in 6 games, displaying the kind of prodigious power that made him a legend by 25 in Cuba. Abreu’s work regiment is already the stuff of legend in the Chicago clubhouse, and I expect that drive to push the White Sox back to respectability, while resulting in numbers that look something like a .275/30 homer/100 RBI year for the slugger.

When Chris Became Crush

130630213958-chris-davis-orioles-record-single-image-cutAfter popping his 49th homer of the season against the Yankees on Tuesday night, slugger Chris Davis now stands just 1 blast shy of the Baltimore Orioles single-season record, set by Brady Anderson back in 1997. Davis still has an outside shot at making a run at Roger Maris’ AL record of 61 homers as well, but that’s looking a little bit more like wishful thinking as we wind toward October.

But even without the AL home run record, what Chris Davis has done this season has been nothing short of phenomenal. He’s entirely remade his swing, showed remarkable plate discipline, and perhaps most importantly, Davis has finally figured out how to hit an off-speed pitch.

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Kansas City’s War on Walks

iAfter the first month of the 2013 season Royals’ GM Dayton Moore had to be feeling pretty darn good about himself. By the end of April an offseason full of risky moves in the pitching department and prospect department had begun to coalesce into one of the best rotations in baseball, leading Kansas City to a 14-10 record despite a struggling offense.

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Evaluating How Catchers Control the Opposition’s Running Game – 2013 Edition

hi-res-7424600_crop_650One of the toughest things to quantify in all of sports is a catcher’s value on defense. Their are so many responsibilities and subtle nuances that go into being a quality Major League backstop. The best of the best are able to deftly juggle the responsibilities of managing a pitching staff, framing borderline pitches, blocking pitches, holding base runners, throwing said runners out when they attempt to steal, and much, much more. Recently I’ve been doing some research into catching defense and I have been somewhat unsatisfied by both the traditional statistics (caught stealing %, passed balls, and so on) and by the advanced metrics (URZ and defensive runs saved). A few excellent studies in particular have been done to analyze a catcher’s ability to frame pitches, but otherwise most analysis is left to judgment. I’ve been compiling some of my own numbers relating to catchers controlling the base running game in order to gain a better understanding of who the best backstops in baseball really are, and I’d like to share some of my findings today.

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Fix ‘Em Up: Cincinnati’s Lead-Off Problem

Fact: In 2012, for the first time in a decade, the Cincinnati Reds failed to score at least 700 runs. These kinds of little issues fail to get noticed during a banner season in which a franchise racks up 97 wins while clinching a playoff berth before every other team in baseball, but it’s true. The Reds, an offensive juggernaut in 2010 and 2011, were outscored by 20 other teams this past season. It seems somewhat unfathomable that Cincinnati could score so few runs with All-Stars like Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips centered around a decent supporting case, but the numbers don’t lie. The Reds struggled to hit for average. They were abysmal at drawing walks, and they possessed very, very little team speed.

Some of these issues will need to be corrected this offseason, because it’s highly likely that Cincinnati’s pitching staff won’t be able to repeat the good health the had in 2012, which will likely lead to a decline in wins. The Reds also played a little bit over their heads a year ago, winning 6 more games than their run differential would suggest, although that is owed in large part to a stellar bullpen, which is also due for a bit of regression. So, if the Reds are going to repeat their NL Central title in 2013, what should they do to kick-start their offense?

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