Who’s the Red Sox MVP?by Dave Studeman
May 30, 2004
As of this writing, the Red Sox are tied for the best record in the majors at 30-19. Unfortunately for them, the New York Yankees are one of the teams they've tied. But I'll leave that discussion to Ben and Larry.
What I find really intriguing about the Red Sox is that this year's team is very different from the team that almost made it to the World Series last year. Take a look at this runs scored and allowed graph from last year:
As you can see, the Red Sox were an offensive powerhouse last year, all the way on the right side of the graph. As you may know, they set a new record last year for total bases in a single season. But their pitching and fielding were about league average, as you can also see in the graph. Compare that to this year's team:
This year, they're at the top of the graph, which means that they lead the league in least runs allowed, but their offense is only slightly above average. And if you take a look at the American League team stats and graphs, you'll see that the difference is in the pitching; their team FIP of 3.62 is almost half a run better than the next best team's.
You can also spot the difference by scanning a list of their leading players, and not just because of the absence of Nomar Garciaparra. Last year, the team MVP was almost surely Manny Ramirez (although you could make a case for Pedro). This year, there are many candidates.
If you've been dropping by the site, you probably know about Win Shares. It's a complete value stat, in that it includes a player's batting, pitching and fielding contributions to his team. It allows you to directly compare the contribution of guys who do just one thing, like Frank Thomas, and guys who do it all, like Brooks Kieschnick. That's kind of a neat thing to do.
In fact, it's a great thing to do when deciding upon your Most Valuable Player candidates. Bill James studied the matter in his Win Shares book, and found that about half of all MVP winners were within two points of leading their leagues in Win Shares. And, regarding the other half, you could make the argument that Win Shares was right more often than the voters.
So here's a list of this year's Red Sox Win Share leaders, through Saturday's games:
PLAYER POS WS M Ramirez OF 10 C Schilling P 8 J Damon OF 8 M Bellhorn 2B 8 D Ortiz 1B 7 K Foulke P 6 P Martinez P 6 J Varitek C 6 T Wakefield P 5It looks as though Manny is again the team's MVP, based on total Win Shares. What's more interesting is that four of the top five players are everyday players, despite the team's league-leading pitching.
Win Shares, as presented by James, does have its flaws. Its biggest flaw, which James admitted, is that it doesn't use a replacement level baseline. In other words, a lot of AAA players could contribute 8-10 major league Win Shares if they played regularly in the majors. A lot of starting pitchers could contribute five or six Win Shares if given the opportunity to start regularly. It's the Win Shares after the replacement-level ones that are particularly valuable.
This is something we explored in the Win Shares and Salary article, where we found that you can't really get a handle on a player's value unless you consider his replacement level separately. And, because the replacement level is lower for pitchers than batters, Win Shares unfairly impacts pitchers.
So we added a couple of stats to our Win Shares reports called Expected Win Shares (ExpWS) and Win Shares Above Average (WSAA). WSAA is the contribution a player makes above (or below) what an average major league player would contribute in the same amount of playing time. It fixes the replacement-level issue by calculating only the incremental Win Shares contributed above average.
Here are the BoSox WSAA leaders:
PLAYER POS WS ExpWS WSAA M Ramirez OF 10 5 5 C Schilling P 8 4 4 K Foulke P 6 2 4 J Damon OF 8 5 3 D Ortiz 1B 7 5 3 M Bellhorn 2B 8 5 2 P Martinez P 6 4 2 J Varitek C 6 4 2 T Wakefield P 5 4 2Now, Manny still leads the team, but Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke are close behind. These two guys are also tied for the league lead in WSAA among all pitchers. In fact, you can make a pretty good argument that Schilling and Foulke are the best starter and reliever, respectively, in the AL.
Schilling has a 2.82 ERA and his FIP, at 2.67, is even lower. Fouke's ERA is 0.37, and he's pitched in a lot of important innings for Boston, which is a key consideration in Win Shares. By the way, the original Win Shares calculations almost certainly give too much credit to relievers in today's save-happy environment, so I use a version that waters down this impact. I believe that Foulke's Win Shares are a relatively accurate representation of his value to his team.
In fact, Foulke has been tremendously valuable to the Sox. He has three times as many Win Shares as Expected Win Shares (6 vs. 2), which is a higher ratio than any regular Sox player. The ratio of Win Shares to Expected Win Shares is a relatively easy way to gauge a player's impact on a "rate" basis, if you will.
In the end, however, WSAA is the right metric to use for your MVP candidates. Playing time does matter, and Manny Ramirez is contributing everyday on a high level. But keep your eyes on this "race" as the season progresses.
Dave was called a "national treasure" by Rob Neyer. Seriously. Comments about this article can be sent to him through the miracle of e-mail.