Piggybacking on Coley’s post yesterday regarding Albert Pujols as MVP, I want to draw attention to another article arguing against the pick – this one from the Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell (hat tip to some unknown blogger named Rob Neyer. Keep trying, Rob. You’ll make it someday).

Out of all the articles I’ve read regarding this topic, this one struck me for three reasons.

For one, I don’t like how a lot of writers refer to OPS as if it was this foreign object that shouldn’t be trusted. It’s just on base percentage plus slugging percentage. It’s not hard. Here’s what Boswell wrote:

This week, Albert Pujols won the NL MVP Award. Why? Mostly because he had a better OPS and VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) than Ryan Howard. Say what? Meanwhile, back in the real world, the Phils’ first baseman had 48 homers and 146 RBI to Pujols’ 37 homers and 116 RBI.

See what he did there? Had he said that Pujols had a better OBP and SLG, his argument is undercut due to the fact that people are more familiar with those two stats. But say OPS and it’s voodoo. Oh, and by the way, Pujols didn’t just have better OBP and SLG numbers. He CRUSHED Howard in both those categories (and many others, but let’s keep going).

Secondly, there’s this:

True, Howard can’t field (19 errors). And Pujols outhit him by .357 to .251. Howard strikes out a ton while Pujols walks constantly. But none of it outweighs Howard’s RBI total, built on his .320 average with runners in scoring position. For what it’s worth, Howard wasn’t even in the top half dozen in baseball in runners-on-base when he came to the plate. His 146 RBI wasn’t a fluke. He’s Mr. Multi-Run Homer.

I’m not going to point out how many things are wrong with this argument because really, it’s daunting. And if the first three sentences are an argument FOR Howard, you’re in trouble. But I do want to point out how often people bring up Howard’s average with runners on base, which is certainly very good, no doubt. But I don’t understand how you could ethically make the argument that this proves Howard’s superiority over Pujols when Prince Albert hit .339 in those same situations. To say that Howard’s AVG with RISP is an argument for him over Pujols means that you either didn’t do nearly enough research or you purposely hide the facts to boost your own argument. And yes, Pujols also beats Howard in OBP and SLG with RISP too.

“And for what it’s worth”, Howard was 8th in plate appearances with runners on base, so it’s true that “Howard wasn’t even in the top half dozen in baseball in runners-on-base when he came to the plate”. But you know who had less? Yup. Albert Pujols. Howard had 351plate appearances with runners on. Pujols had 322. So please stop hiding stats. It’s really not hard to find.

To his credit, there are damned good reasons as to why he’s writing for the Washington Post and I’m not. And perhaps none bigger is because he’s a far better writer than I am. I’ve been looking for years for a way to properly describe why my view of baseball is so different than what’s conventionally written in the papers. And then Boswell drops this line, which was the third thing that struck me about this article.

When stats WILDLY contradict common sense, always doubts the stats.

Wow. That’s it. That’s why I sometimes think that the SABR crowd and the traditionalist crowd see the world completely differently. We do. I’m the absolute inverse of this Boswell statement. For me, when stats WILDLY contradict common sense, I always doubt common sense. Because my common sense sucks. My common sense tells me that it’s OK to unironically listen to Michael McDonald. My common sense tells me that I should take all the money I have out of my bank account, turn them all into coins, melt them down, and create my own medieval armor out of the metals because it’s a better investment right now. I don’t trust my common sense. Whereas stats tell me that by the time I retire, the economy may have recovered. Stats tell me that I am about thirty years too young and too minority-ish to be listening to Michael McDonald. They help me make the right decisions. Do not be afraid of them.

By the way, I have no idea when Boswell’s worldview changed. He was one of the early trailblazers for the statistical movement we see today. But to me and to many others, data is a major reflection of reality. They’re inseparable.

3 Responses to “Pujols MVP Backlash Part II – Backlashing the Backlash”

  1. The only people who voted for Howard are people who don’t understand baseball, people who didn’t watch the Phillies play, and homer Phillies fans who just want to see one of their guys win an MVP. The stats, in this case, confirm common sense, as anyone who followed the Phillies (like me) knows that Howard wasn’t even close to the best player on the team (far behind Utley, Hamels, and Lidge and behind Rollins and maybe Burrell). If this guy had bothered to watch the Phillie play this year he would know that.

  2. It has to be cognitive dissonance, because there’s no way that he looked up Howard’s “clutch” statistics and decided that Pujols was inferior in that department. :o

    Pujols “Clutch” Statistics

    High Leverage-.392/.492/.725/1.218
    2 Outs & RISP-.326/.592/.791/1.382
    Late & Close-.314/.444/.600/1.044

    Howard “Clutch” Statistics

    High Leverage-.265/.342/.545/.888
    2 Outs & RISP-.322/.468/.552/1.020
    Late & Close-.158/.306/.337/.643

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