Larry Mahnken and SG's

Replacement Level Yankees Weblog

"Hey, it's free!"

The Replacement Level Yankees Weblog has moved!  Our new home is:

Larry Mahnken
Sean McNally
Fabian McNally
John Brattain

This is an awesome FREE site, where you can win money and gift certificates with no skill involved! If you're bored, I HIGHLY recommend checking it out!


Disclaimer: If you think this is the official website of the New York Yankees, you're an idiot. Go away.

September 11, 2006

Is Derek Jeter the AL MVP?
by SG

As the Yankees seemingly coast into the postseason, there have been many players who've played big roles. When you have a $200 million payroll and All Star players at almost every position, that's to be expected. One player has been more important for the Yankees this season than any other, though, and it's Derek Jeter. Jeter went 2 for 4 in yesterday's 9-4 victory over Baltimore, and added four RBI.

The question that many are starting to ask is if Jeter has been the most valuable player in the American League this season. He's certainly got a case for it, but how strong is it? Let's see if we can figure it out.

Here are the American League offensive leaders in batting runs by linear weights. If you are not familiar with this, it's a linear regression model to figure out the value of a player's offensive contributions based on the statistics he accumulates. This link has some good background information on it. I like linear weights because it is quite comprehensive. It includes stolen bases and caught stealings, and double plays, and I've even tweaked the formula I'm using to include reaching on errors, since that is also valuable.

Once I get a batting runs value for a player, I then make two adjustments. The first adjustment is a park adjustment. If a player plays in a park that boosts scoring, his performance gets deducted accordingly. If he plays in a park that stifles scoring, he gets the appropriate credit. This adjustment is pretty simple, you just multiply their raw BR total by one plus their home park run factor, divided by two. The position adjustment is a little more involved. I just calculate the BR for every player listed at the same position, average them, and then give the appropriate credit or debit to each individual.

So now that I've explained it, here's what it says.

Since most players also play defense, I then do my defensive calculations using Zone Rating, and add them to each of the contenders. Based on some discussions I've read and had with others, I'm not sure that purely adding/subtracting a player's defensive value from their offensive value is the best way to do this. In other words, a bad defensive shortstop might be more valuable defensively than an average defensive first baseman or a DH, but they end up getting penalized. However, I'm still working out how to sort through this in my head, so for now it's just a straight addition or deduction.

I also don't think pitchers should be excluded in this, so I add them in here. I calculate pitcher's RSAA (runs saved above average) using the same linear weights based formula but for what opposing hitters do against them. Starters are only compared to other starters, and relievers are compared to other relievers.

So including defense and pitchers to the table above, here are the new rankings. DR are defensive runs saved above/below average at their position.

Grady Sizemore, eh? He's having a tremendous season on both sides of the ball. Unfortunately for him, his team has disappointed which means he's probably not on most voters' radar. His teammate, Travis Hafner is going to miss the rest of the season, so he's done accruing value and is also likely not going to get as many votes as he may have had he finished out the season. By the way, a 1 or 2 run difference here is within the margin of error we're dealing with, to claim precision to one run (particularly on defense) is not accurate. Jeter's been about as valuable as both Sizemore and Hafner, which is how you should interpret the results above. Joe Mauer and Johan Santana are right up there with them, too.

Jeter's been playing very good defense (according to zone rating) since the week after the All Star Break. Since July 24, ZR has him having made 113 plays out of 130 ZR opportunities in 371 innings, equivalent to an .869 ZR. He's made 7 plays above average over that time, which is equivalent to saving 5 runs above average. This has helped bring him back from being as bad as a -9 to a pretty close to average -3.

One thing that I've noticed with further research into zone rating and in some correspondence I've had with Sean Smith and Chris Dial is that Fenway really kills Boston's LF, and has for as long as ZR has been around(1987). Based on some number crunching we've done, it looks like there are about 18 uncatchable balls a year in Fenway that the LF gets penalized for. Therefore, Ramirez's defensive numbers above have been park-adjusted to not penalize him as much. He was a -32 in raw ZR runs before the adjustment, if you're curious.

Lastly, if you are wondering how the Yankees survived the losses of Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield, having five of the twenty most valuable position players in the league surely helped.

This is my system for figuring out a player's value to his team, but it's far from the only one. Baseball Prospectus's VORP pegs Jeter as the second-most valuable offensive player in the AL, behind Hafner. Win Shares, which was developed by Bill James as a means of valuing offense and defense, and is tracked at the Hardball Times has Jeter tied with Ramirez for the most in the AL, at 27.

I'm not much into the Win Probability Added stuff. While context does matter, WPA doesn't do a good job of capturing it in my mind, so I pretty much ignore it. It's way too team-dependent and timing-dependent for me. I just can't get behind a statistic that would consider an 8th inning sacrifice fly more valuable than a first inning HR in two games that both end up 1-0. I'm also not a big fan of bringing intangibles into the argument, or of only allowing players from playoff contenders to contend for the MVP. If you're valuable to your team, you're valuable to your team. It's not your fault if the front office didn't do their job, is it?

So, is Jeter the AL MVP? He certainly has a case for it, although so do others. I think it would fairly be a four man race between Sizemore, Jeter, Mauer, and Santana, but if voters want to consider the team as well, that basically leaves it to Jeter, Mauer, or Santana, any of whom deserve it. There's still 20 games to go, and plenty of time for someone to separate themselves from the pack. Jeter's current hitting streak will help get his name more press, and Minnesota's players may be splitting votes among each other, which helps Jeter as well. I think if Jeter can get to 100 RBI and win the batting title, that may end up putting him over the top. I'll be pulling for him to do it, even though some of you people out there think I hate him for some reason.

For those wondering about Robinson Cano's chances at the batting title, you can keep tabs with our new feature on the left under the magic number counter, The Robinson Cano Batting Title Watch. Nothing fancy, just his current average, current plate appearances, and how many plate appearances he'd need to qualify as of the last game played (that increases by 3.1 each game).

Yanks go for the series victory against Baltimore later today, with Randy Johnson(16-10, 4.76) taking on Kris Benson (10-10, 4.66). The magic numbers are shrinking, and the Yanks now have the best winning percentage in the majors. They may back into home field advantage with Detroit's offense going missing. No, the National League is not the majors, so I don't want to hear from any Mets fans.