Pitchers and the MVP Award

This year, the National League has two solid contenders for their Most Valuable Player award: Right fielder Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins and pitcher Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Just as three years ago when Justin Verlander won the AL MVP, there’s a lot of the same old debate as to whether or not pitchers should even be allowed to be eligible for the Most Valuable Player award.

The first argument, that pitchers already have the Cy Young award and thus they should not be eligible, is bullcrap. Compared to the MVP award (which goes back to 1911), the Cy Young is quite new. It was first awarded in 1956, and separate awards for each league didn’t begin until 1967. In the years when there was only the MVP award, 14 out of the 41 MVPs awarded went to pitchers. One-third…. So you really cannot use that argument. If you believe in that logic, then rookies cannot be eligible for either because they have the Rookie of the Year award… Bogus, right?

The other argument, the one that never seems to go away, is that “pitchers aren’t everyday players”, so they don’t contribute as much as someone in the lineup every day, instead of every fifth game.

The fundamental conflict in baseball is that between a pitcher and a batter. For every “plate appearance” (PA) by a batter, the double entry bookkeeping of baseball means that there is one “PA” on the pitcher’s ledger. Every chance for a batter to do something is also a chance for a pitcher to do something. Every pitch seen by a batter is thrown by a pitcher. Every single “outcome” on a baseball field involves the pitcher as well as the batter.

While “regular players” will be in more games than pitchers, a pitcher will have more “plate appearances” in each game than an individual “regular player”. They have to face nine “regular players” each game.

Let’s do some math.

A “regular player”, like Stanton, will have four or five Plate Appearances every game. So every five games, that’s about 20 to 25 times where he comes up to the plate. While a pitcher like Kershaw will only play in one out of every five (or so) games, he faces around six or seven innings of batters. With three outs per inning, and allowing for a few hits, walks, hit batsmen, and double plays, that comes out to 20 to 30 batters faced over the course of a “once in five days” appearance. Better pitchers will face fewer batters per inning, but will be out there for more innings each game.

So when you look at Total Plate Appearances, there’s no difference at all between a pitcher and a “regular player”.

How about some actual stats?

Here’s the breakdown for the past few MVPs:


Year

Player

Plate Appearances

Games

PA per 5 Games
2013 Andrew McCutchen 674 157 21.5
2013 Miguel Cabrera 652 148 22.0
2012 Buster Posey 610 148 20.6
2012 Miguel Cabrera 697 161 21.6
2011 Ryan Braun 629 150 21.0
2010 Joey Votto 648 150 21.6
2010 Josh Hamilton 571 133 21.5

You’ll note there’s one player missing from that list. In 2011, pitcher Justin Verlander won both the AL Cy Young Award and the AL MVP Award. Needless to say, they were having these same arguments then. So, what were Verlander’s numbers that year?


Year

Player

Batters Faced

Games

Batters per Game
2011 Justin Verlander 969 34 28.5

In one game, a starting pitcher faces on average more batters than a position player comes up to the plate in five games.

Now, what about Stanton and Kershaw? Here’s the breakdown as of 9/16/14:

Giancarlo Stanton: 638 plate appearances in 145 games = 22.0 PA’s every 5 games.

Clayton Kershaw: 693 batters faced in 25 games = 27.7 PA’s per game

On average, a top starter faces as many batters in one start as an “everyday player” has plate appearances in SIX games. And have you ever heard anyone complain that rookie pitchers shouldn’t be eligible for the Rookie of the Year award because they “don’t play every day”? Forget about the fielding argument, too. Once the ball leaves their hand, pitchers have to field their position just like any other player. Pitchers aren’t “everyday players”…. my ass……

Derek Jeter

Some years ago, American Heritage Monthly had an annual “Overrated – Underrated” where they asked writers and historians to write brief essays on things that were Overrated and Underrated in categories within their areas of expertise. From “Fictional Detective” to “Philanthropist” to “Ad Campaign”, they were all fun and informative. I’ll probably write my own essays in that format soon.

But with Derek Jeter retiring at the end of this season, online comment boards are filled with arguments insisting that he is overrated – and underrated. Is this possible? Can the same thing be both at the same time?

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How We Count

A while ago, I came across a neat little video by Dutch filmmaker Jeroen Wolf. For fun, apparently, he filmed people from 1 to 100 saying their age.

http://www.imaginevideo.nl/docu/100-5050-years-in-150-seconds/

It’s a pretty cool look at the human lifetime, but as I was watching it, I noticed something interesting. Numbers in Dutch are different from those in English. Not the numbers themselves, of course, but the names we give those numbers.

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Book Review: “World War I: The African Front” by Edward Paice

Wars, for much of history, have been filled with drama. The epic clash of huge armies, with the fates of nations at stake. At the personal level, there are tales of heroism and endurance. Most often, our attention is focused on a main front – that’s where all the big battles are. Yes, battles between many thousands of men can be interesting, but so can the battles on the fringes and flanks where the numbers are only in the hundreds.

Subtitled “An Imperial War on the African Continent”, Paice’s book looks at World War I in East Africa. The fighting there was basically the last mad grab for colonies, as Britain went after German East Africa (modern Tanzania). Belgium (Belgian Congo, now DR Congo) and Portugal (Portuguese East Africa, now Mozambique) were also dragged into the fighting.

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A Visit to Nationals Park

On Thursday the 31st, I drove down to D.C. to see the Nationals host the Phillies. Not giveaway day, but another first-place team (the Nats). A fairly straight drive down Route 295. ON the way down, you pass a lot of exits for government and military facilities. Including – maybe (grin) – the “Employees Only” exit for the NSA.

Unlike Camden Yards, Nationals Park is off in the fringes of D.C., on the Anacostia River waterfront. Despite the stadium’s presence there for six years, there hasn’t yet been any significant development in the area. Still a lot of vacant lots and miscellaneous industry. One hopes that will change in the future.

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A Visit to Camden Yards

Baltimore loves its Orioles (And presumably ravens too, when they are in season). This year marks the 60th anniversary of the team’s move (and name change) from St. Louis to the city, and signs are everywhere. Especially on the main streets downtown, where Southwest Airlines is paying for some street light banners…

There are also plenty of orange shirts to be seen, especially around the stadium near game time. In cities like New York or even Philadelphia, the number of pro sports teams creates divided loyalties and a diluted fan base. So there, you don’t see a city truly rallying around a team like Baltimore does with the Orioles.

I was able to attend two games during my visit

July 30, 2014: Orioles 4, Angels 3:

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/BAL/BAL201407300.shtml

August 1, 2014: Orioles 2, Mariners 1:

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/BAL/BAL201408010.shtml

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A Trip to Baltimore

I recently spent a few days on vacation in Baltimore. When you’re an older, single guy like me, it’s not easy coming up with vacation ideas when all the big resorts, destinations, et al. are geared towards either families or couples.

As it happens, I am a baseball fan, and I am not averse to driving for several hours. Here in the northeast, that combination means there are six Major League teams within my driving range. I’ve been to Citi Field in New York City to watch the Mets, and I have no desire to pay far more than necessary to see the Yankees.

So I checked maps and team schedules to see just how many different teams I could see in one week. It turned out that if I went to Baltimore, and took a day trip to DC, I could see five teams in three days.

But before I get into my experiences at the ballparks, I thought I’d talk about “Charm City” from a first-time visitor’s perspective.

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