17 September 2014

The Orioles Don't Have an MVP Candidate, So Who's the MVO?

Photo by Keith Allison

The Orioles have been on Fox two times this month. Each time, an Orioles player has been mentioned as a potential AL MVP candidate. One Saturday, it was Nelson Cruz’s numbers being compared to Mike Trout in the context of an MVP debate. The next week, Adam Jones was talked about as a possible MVP candidate.

Do either of these Orioles have a legitimate shot at winning the AL MVP award? There are often a few debates around the MVP award in terms of what qualifies a player for the award. Some feel pitchers shouldn’t be considered for the award. Others debate whether there is a difference between the “best” player and the “most valuable” player. To start, I’ll look at Cruz and Jones in the simplest terms, without considering pitchers and without differentiating between “best” and “most valuable.” This does not necessarily reflect my feelings on the award, but it makes sense to evaluate their candidacy in the broadest sense and only then try to refine our evaluation if they survive the broader evaluation first.  

In my evaluation, I’ve included stats that wouldn’t be part of my decision on who to vote for, but that voters consider.  The AL rank is in parenthesis.

39 (1st)
.857 (10th)
136 (10th)
3.5 (25th)
25 (13th)
.782 (24th)
117 (27th)
5.2 (8th)

Other than home runs, neither guy finds himself in the top 7 of any category among all qualified AL batters.

Sometimes an argument is made that a player has been particularly “clutch” in a season and that this isn’t necessarily reflected in his other offensive totals. To look at that, we have Win Probability Added (WPA), which evaluates how much a player does or doesn’t contribute to his team’s win expectancy. Neither player seems to have an argument that his numbers were especially “clutch”, as Cruz ranks 19th (2.01) and Jones is 42nd (0.23).

Cruz and Jones are both great players. They both deserved their All-Star selections this year. The Orioles would not be where they are without these two guys. However, neither of them are legitimate contenders for the AL MVP. Yes, the Orioles have lost significant pieces of their puzzle this year, mainly due to injury. But, as Matt pointed out, the Orioles have gotten contributions from many different places, enabling them to succeed without a monster season from any one player (but great seasons from a few).

So, without a serious MVP candidate, who is the Most Valuable Orioles player (MVO)? Cruz and Jones are obviously serious contenders. To revisit the pitcher discussion from above, I don’t think any Orioles pitcher has had a dominant enough season to be considered for MVO over an everyday player. Zach Britton has been great and Darren O’Day is having a stellar season. But I don’t think a reliever’s impact is enough to merit consideration over an everyday player.

Of Orioles players with over 350 PA’s, only 3 appear in the top 5 for both fWAR and wRC+. While neither of these stats are or should be the sole basis of an MVP vote, I wouldn’t vote for someone not in the top 5 in both when there are players who are. The 3 players are Cruz, Jones, and Steve Pearce. Here are their numbers and team rank:

39 (1st)
.857 (2nd)
136 (2nd)
3.5 (4th)
25 (3rd)
.782 (3rd)
117 (3rd)
5.2 (1st)
17 (4th)
(.897 1st)
151 (1st)
4.4 (2nd)

Pearce rates the highest in the two rate stats, but not in the two counting stats. Is playing time the only thing keeping Pearce from being first in all 4 categories? Maybe, but there’s also the argument that more playing time would expose Pearce for the 31-year-old journeyman he has been until this season. To me, there’s not a clear cut winner here, as Jones’ lead in fWAR answers his rank in wRC+. An argument could be made for any of these 3 players based off of this chart.

Defense would also have to play a factor in this discussion

Pearce's UZR is from his time at 1B and OF. For Cruz, I only included his time in LF. Jones has only played in CF this year. 

I'm not ready to assign a lot of meaning to Pearce's relatively sky high UZR. In fact, I thought about only including DEF because of how much the UZR piece could incorrectly tilt the scales here. I put more weight into Jones' much smaller lead in DEF than into Pearce's lead in UZR.

If the offensive numbers leave all 3 still looking like viable candidates for MVO, Cruz's defense puts a serious damper on his chances. Additionally,the fact that Cruz's 2nd half fWAR is only 0.5 puts Jones and Pearce are both ahead of him for MVO. 

Jones has a healthy lead in fWAR, partially because of his defense, but mainly because he has had a significant more amount of playing time than Pearce. Jones can't be faulted for being an everyday player. If anyone is to be penalized in terms of playing time, it's Pearce, because we can only speak hypothetically about what his output would be if he were to have played as regularly as Jones. Really, Jones should receive additional marks for his consistent playing time.

All 3 of these guys have had terrific years. While Jones' numbers are likely the least surprising, he's been the best all-around player and has done it over a larger sample size than his closest competition, Steve Pearce. Jones' play is enough to earn him the MVO award. This, coupled with his role as the face of the team and perceived clubhouse leader, make Adam Jones my choice for 2014 MVO. 

All stats (current before play began on 9/16/14) pulled from Fangraphs and ESPN


Anonymous said...

Good analysis and hard to disagree with your choice for MVO. But Pierce wins the MVOWCTE Award; that is, Most Valuable Oriole When Compared To Expectations, edging out Caleb Joseph.

Pat Holden said...

Agreed, those two have contributed far beyond my wildest dreams. Zach Britton would have to be up there in terms of that, too.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

You mean the MVO isn't Evan Meek?

Pat Holden said...

Don't even pretend Meek is your horse in this race. I had to get this post up before you covered the topic with a love letter to Pearce.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Hey, I wrote about Evan Meek (http://camdendepot.blogspot.com/2014/04/what-should-you-know-about-evan-meek.html) before it was cool. (It was never cool.)

And I think I've written enough about Pearce this year. What a strange season.

Pat Holden said...

Hipster Evan Meek fan!

Anonymous said...

"Most Valuable" is in most people's minds about stats and nothing but stats, and that's a huge mistake.

Sure what a player does that's quantifiable provide the primary markers for value, but there's more to it than that in my view or at least there should be.

Look at what makes the Orioles the successful team it's been this year, and beyond the obvious depth and resiliance it's shown by continuing to excel despite the key injuries and other setbacks, there are the traits so dear to Buck: play hard, play smart, respect the game and have fun.

No one better exemplies them than the Orioles' defacto captain and face of the team, Adam Jones. He's second in the league in infield hits as much because of his sheer hustle as his speed. And the Web Gem where he robbed Evan Longoria of a homer, then turned the double play with a throw to second showed a real presence of mind on a play that would have ended with the catch for many an outfielder. And his respect for the game includes an genuine interest in learning about its past not always seen in his generation of players

But then there's also his fun side, and no one on the team has kept his teammates any looser than has A.J. (he even took the fun to the fans, as shown by his pieing a few of them during his victory lap in Tuesday's celebration). That may not seem that big a deal, but when the pressures of a pennant race are added to the usual rigors--both mental and physical--of a 162-game season, the importance of beinging able to stay relaxed is better crucial.

When all is considered--his five-tool skills, his aggressive, grind it out, leave it all on the field approach, and his sheer love of and contagious enjoyment he has in playing the game, I think it's very tough to vote anyone else the MVO.

Bottom line: Jonesy is the player whose prolonged absence would change the team chemistry more than anyone else. Take him out of the O's clubhouse and the void would be hardest to fill. For me, that's the very definition of "Most Valuable", making his pick as MVO a relatively easy no-brainer to me.

Mike Melen said...

I know it is cheating a bit, but the MVO for me is Buck Showalter. He seems to consistently out-manage the guy in the other dugout, works the pitching staff well (the relief staff especially), and keeps the whole team engaged and ready. The fact that there is no clear-cut MVP on the team underscores the effectiveness of the job Showalter has done. Very impressive!