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Writers Dig The Long Ball


Writers Dig The Long Ball

Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine were right in their 1999 Nike commercial about chicks diggin’ the long ball—it’s true—but step aside ladies, because writers saw it first. There’s always been discussion on what motivates baseball writers to elect players into the Baseball Hall of Fame and to give awards, but it seems that their motives never stay consistent. Do stats that appear sexier than others weigh more on a writer’s ballot?

The Baseball Writers Association of America was founded in 1908, but didn’t receive its first voting duty until 1931 when the modern Most Valuable Player award was implicated into both the American League and the National League. Before the BBWAA selected the league’s MVP, there were two other systems. The Chalmers Award was given out from 1911-1914 to the player with the highest batting average, and the League Awards were handed out from 1922-1929.

Every year when the MVP is announced someone has a problem with the outcome, and that probably will never change. A problem I see reoccurring constantly is that voters favor home runs and runs batted in over other statistics. Baseball statistics have evolved past home runs and RBI’s into a modern age of new categories. Sabermetrics are on the rise, but not everyone has accepted them.

One situation where home runs and RBI’s were glorified was during the 2006 American League MVP voting. The two front-runners were Derek Jeter and Justin Morneau. The writers went on to elect Morneau the winner. Jeter received 12 first place votes and Morneau got 15.

Morneau finished the season with higher home run and RBI numbers as well as a higher slugging percentage. Jeter recorded more Hits, Runs Scored, a better On Base Percentage and stole 31 more bases. Those numbers just touch on the traditional statistics and not the modern age ones. When comparing the two sabermetrically, Jeter’s WAR (Wins above replacement) was higher. WAR, according to Fangraphs.com, is "an attempt by the sabermetric baseball community to summarize a player’s total contributions to their team in one statistic."

The days leading up to the announcement of the AL MVP, most people had Jeter locked in, but then the writers did their damage and shocked the baseball community.

HITS

AVG

OBP

SLUG

HR

RBI

SB

WAR

Justin Morneau

190

0.321

0.375

0.559

34

130

3

4.3

Derek Jeter

214

0.343

0.417

0.483

14

97

34

5.5

The 1996 AL MVP race was closer than 2006. Again, it appears that the winner was selected because of his power numbers and not his all-around capability. Juan Gonzalez and Alex Rodriguez were both in the process of incredible years, but Gonzalez went on to take the title over A-Rod. Gonzalez, led in home runs, slugging percentage and RBI’s. What’s interesting about this year was that Rodriguez put up great power numbers too, complementing his high batting average, on base percentage, and hit total.

HITS

AVG

OBP

SLUG

HR

RBI

SB

WAR

Juan Gonzalez

170

0.314

0.368

0.643

47

144

2

3.8

Alex Rodriguez

215

0.358

0.414

0.631

36

123

15

9.3

A-Rod’s WAR was 9.3 which is in the MVP range (6+) according to Fangraphs.com. Gonzalez’s WAR was 3.8, and this falls into the solid player range (2-3). Rodriguez also had a higher weighted on base average (wOBA) with .443, which was higher than Gonzalez’s .418. According to Fangraphs.com "wOBA is based on a simple concept: Not all hits are created equal. Batting average assumes that they are. On-base percentage does too, but does one better by including other ways of reaching base." This statistic breaks down the types of hits players are getting.

wOBA

Juan Gonzalez

0.418

Alex Rodriguez

0.443

It was evident that the BBWAA wanted a slugger to win the MVP award, but why did they choose Juan Gonzalez? Third place finisher Albert Belle, fourth place finisher Ken Griffey Jr, seventh place finisher Mark McGwire, and ninth place finisher Brandy Anderson all hit more home runs.

The BBWAA also determines the recipient of the Rookie of the Year award (ROY) and, once again we see how home runs and RBI’s take center stage.

In 1986, Jose Canseco won the American League ROY, and batted .240 and had an on base percentage of .318, which falls below the league average. Runner-up Wally Joyner batted .290 and recorded an on base percentage of .348. Canseco hit 11 more home runs and drove in 17 more runs.

Hits

HR

RBI

AVG

OBP

SLUG

WAR

wOBA

Jose Canseco

144

33

117

0.24

0.318

0.457

2.9

0.341

Wally Joyner

172

22

100

0.29

0.348

0.457

3.3

0.35

Canseco didn’t just bat .240 that season, he struck out 25.7% of the time compared to Joyner’s 8.6%.

K%

Jose Canseco

25.70%

Wally Joyner

8.60%

The twist on this situation is presented when examining the MVP voting that year. Joyner came in eighth place with 74.0 votes and Canseco finished 20th with only 3.0 votes. So, the writers considered Canseco a better rookie, but not a better candidate for MVP?

We recognize all of these situations where writer’s selections were based on home runs and RBI’s, but we also see inconsistent voting. Over the years, the home run has been looked at as a more prominent and "sexy" statistic than others. It could be because it’s exciting, and people like to see exciting moments in sports. Or maybe it’s because some writers fail to acknowledge the new era of baseball statistics is in full swing. Whatever it is, everyone needs to remember that awards are meant for players whose stats fulfill the entire requirement, not just the power aspect.

All statistics retrieved from Fangraphs.com and Baseball-reference.com

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