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Posted at 4:12 PM ET, 11/22/2010

Ryan Zimmerman deserved better in MVP voting

By Adam Kilgore

When Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young on Thursday, writers and pundits across the Internet, including me, hailed the award not only as a victory for Hernandez, but also the proliferation of advanced statistical measures in baseball's mainstream. Today's National League MVP vote, which Joey Votto deservedly won, served as an example that one 13-game winner's Cy Young trophy doesn't mean sabremetrics have been fully embraced.

We know this thanks to the case of Ryan Zimmerman, the Nationals' best player. Simply, he deserved better. If there had truly been a sea change, Zimmerman would have fared better and finished more closely to where he should have. Zimmerman finished 16th and appeared on eight of 32 ballots. The notion that playing on a winning team proves a player's value prevailed, a way of thinking that runs counter to the wisdom provided by advanced metrics.

Zimmerman's finish in the MVP voting upset the emerging narrative about new stats taking hold among the BBWAA's award voters. Zimmerman, according to FanGraphs.com, ranked third in the NL in WAR and fourth in UZR. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Zimmerman ranked seventh in OPS+, seventh in WAR and fifth in Win Probability Added.

Zimmerman was, at least, one of the 10 best players in the National League this year. There really isn't any way to argue otherwise. Use standard measures - Zimmerman finished eighth in batting average, seventh in on-base percentage and 10th in slugging.

While Zimmerman may have been damaged by his 25 home runs (20th) and his 85 RBIs (tied for 23rd), his finish probably didn't have much to do with voters choosing which numbers they preferred. It probably had more to do with voters operating on a flawed, out-dated way of considering value.

It seems Zimmerman was punished by several voters for playing for the Nationals, the sixth-worst team, by record, in the majors. If you follow baseball, you surely have heard an argument about a player that centers on the idea that if you take said player off a last-place team, then said team would still finish in last place.

This kind of rationalizing, and not just sheer numbers, is where sabremetrics have bumped into its largest hurdle. The narrative that a hard-working, sacrificing player like Martin Prado, hitting for a high average while playing all over the infield, lifted the Braves to the postseason is tough to resist. Ryan Zimmerman could not coax the Nationals into more than 69 wins, the thinking goes, so Prado must be more valuable - the ninth most-valuable player in the NL, in fact.

But the Braves made the playoffs because Prado played on a team with Jason Heyward, Brian McCann, an excellent starting rotation and a strong bullpen. The Nationals lost 93 games because Zimmerman played on an offense with Adam Dunn, 114 games worth of Josh Willingham and, on a lot of nights, five near-replacement-level position players.

The fact, illustrated so well by advanced metrics, is that the Nationals won more games with Ryan Zimmerman at third base than they would have with Martin Prado. Zimmerman's WAR was 7.2. Prado's was 3.9. Prado's wins may have seemed like they were more important, but his contribution to his team was less than Zimmerman's. Zimmerman was more valuable, period. A win is a win is a win.

This is not meant as a rant to chastise, and it's certainly not meant as a means to denigrate Prado. It's to show, first of all, that Zimmerman deserved better. Second, it's to show that the proclamations about advanced stats taking hold may have been a bit premature. Hernandez's victory showed how far the stats have come. Zimmerman's finish showed how far they have to go.

By Adam Kilgore  | November 22, 2010; 4:12 PM ET
Categories:  Ryan Zimmerman  
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Next: Adam Dunn and free agency: the Nationals' strategy and its risks

Comments

Well said. I think what we're seeing here is that Hernandez won because statistics clearly showed him to be the best pitcher in the AL, not just one of the best. So statistically-oriented people were preparing to rain down wrath on the voters who couldn't see that. But that effect doesn't carry over to the lower part of the writers' ballots. If only Zim could have played the last few weeks healthy and stayed at the top of the FanGraphs WAR calculation. Maybe then some national media would have taken up his case . . .

Posted by: jcj5y | November 22, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

When it comes to the MVP the sabermetrics are not as trustworthy as a writer's own two eyes. Even a casual fan, much less the smart guy baseball writers, can see that Zim's 2009 season, while very nice, is not MVP worthy (those big counting stats like RBI, HR and R make a big difference) -- it matters so very little whether he finished 16th, or 9th or 20th. The writers got it right.

Posted by: dfh21 | November 22, 2010 5:19 PM | Report abuse

I think you've beat that straw man into submission, dfh21. It's pretty clear to even a casual baseball fan that Kilgore's not arguing that Zimmerman should have won the MVP, just that he's unquestionably a more valuable player than some of those who finished ahead of him in the voting. Would you trade Zimmerman for Martin Prado?

Posted by: NTPNate | November 22, 2010 5:36 PM | Report abuse

Great, great article. The Fire Joe Morgan boys would be proud.

Posted by: rucks35 | November 22, 2010 5:38 PM | Report abuse

What did Zimm do get his team out of the cellar? I was not one of those in favor of Felix Hernandez and his Cy Young award yes he had nice stats and his era and k's were very noteworthy but at the end of the day where did Seattle finish? same thing with Zimm did you lift your team out of the cellar? i don't care if the Nats moved one rung up the ladder just get out of the cellar!!. Ryan Zimmerman is an excellent third baseman with the glove and the bat but imho he can be more of a leader on this team, at some point he has to take it upon himself to take the perverbial bull by the horns if this team is going to take the next step, then and only then will MVP talk become relevant.

Posted by: dargregmag | November 22, 2010 5:43 PM | Report abuse

Zim has always been disrespected by the national media. Once we start winning, everyone will jump on the bandwagon. It's only a matter of time before a few guys on Around The Horn or Baseball Tonight start calling him "The Most Underrated Player In Baseball" so many times that he almost becomes overrated.

Posted by: Imjustlikemusiq | November 22, 2010 5:53 PM | Report abuse

I'm still waiting for us to offer Desmond, Zimmermann, and Clippard for Greinke and a low-level prospect. That should be enough to get a deal done, or at least get a conversation started, assuming Greinke is open to playing in D.C.

Also, we better damn well be ready to offer Cliff Lee more money than the Yankees.

We need to score Greinke, Lee and re-sign Dunn this offseason to even be remotely close to considered a team-on-the-rise.

Time to start building this franchise into a title-contending dynasty rather than a weak doormat that shoots for .500 with hopes of a wildcard in contender in 3 years. Thats weak.

Posted by: Imjustlikemusiq | November 22, 2010 5:55 PM | Report abuse

One more thing -- about the Catcher situation.

If Flores truly is back to 100% he should be the everyday starter at catcher. Period. That dude can rake. In 09, he was finally coming to his own (130 OPS+), Pudge can spell him on days off. Ramos can get some work in the minors, but to be honest, I have a lot more faith in a healthy Flores than Ramos who seems to have reached a career plateau.

Posted by: Imjustlikemusiq | November 22, 2010 6:04 PM | Report abuse

NTPNate -- Not sure what straw man got a beat down, but what Adam was arguing was that Zim deserved to finish higher in the voting, and I am saying that is pretty pointless. Adam claims that Zim deserved better -- I am saying who cares? Should Zim have finished 15th instead? 11th? What number would make Adam happy? It just does not matter.

I have to also say that it worries me to read Adam saying "The fact, illustrated so well by advanced metrics, is that the Nationals won more games with Ryan Zimmerman at third base than they would have with Martin Prado." It is not fact. It is complete speculation.

Posted by: dfh21 | November 22, 2010 6:39 PM | Report abuse

Wilson Ramos has reached a career plateau? He is 23 years old and has a total of 82 at bats at the major league level, seems a little premature to suggest he has reached his top performance level.

I am a Jesus Flores fan, and yes, he was incredibly hot in 2009... but that was over 106 plate appearances. The full picture is, he is 3 years older then Ramos, has 574 at bats in the big leagues, and has posted a .719 OPS with an OPS+ of 89... oh, and he has essentially missed the last two full seasons to injury.

Meanwhile in his 82 at bats, Ramos has posted a .710 OPS with an OPS+ of 91... I would say to date they are pretty darn similar... with Ramos getting points for being 3 years young AND being 100% healthy...

I like 'em both... but, there is no doubt that Pudge is going to be on the 2011 roster at this point... really, though, I wouldn't mind the scenario where Pudge and Ramos split time behind the plate, and Flores is on the team, too, and plays some catcher and 1st base and comes off the bench as a power right handed pinch hitter... wouldn't it be nice to have a pinch hitter off the bench who can actually hit one out of the park, and can catch also... imagine all the double switch possibilities, Riggs would be salivating...

Posted by: Ghost7 | November 22, 2010 6:54 PM | Report abuse

When you get that low in the voting, its really not an indictment of straight up stats or anything, its who people think of more as the afterthought good season guys. Do voters really put tons of thought in the guys they list fourth, eighth, etc. and below? Nah.

Zimmerman maybe should have gotten a little more consideration, but its not really worth getting upset about or even noting.

Go .500 and he does.

Don't care if Zimmy was third in WAR or whatever, he didn't deserve to finish near Votto, Pujols, or Gonzalez...

Posted by: CJArlington | November 22, 2010 7:35 PM | Report abuse

I'm on the Flores bandwagon bigtime, i also concour that hopefully he's all the way back and he'll be the starter come the season opener, i thought the Ramos deal was good but i'm still of the mindset that Flores is this team's everyday catcher.

Posted by: dargregmag | November 22, 2010 7:40 PM | Report abuse

Yep, Zim did deserve better.

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | November 22, 2010 8:07 PM | Report abuse

mvp is all about the record the most valuable player's team wins...y, for example, in football though phillip rivers' stats are far better than any other qbs with a much depleted reciever group his team's record prevents him from receiving MVP though he definetly deserves it and likely will receive it if his team makes another crazy comeback...the same applies to baseball and zimmermann, until the nationals r good he wont be getting mvp...

Posted by: m.r.welch | November 22, 2010 9:34 PM | Report abuse

When we get a team worthy of Ryan Zimmerman that will be some baseball team.

Posted by: markfromark | November 22, 2010 10:12 PM | Report abuse

85 RBI with Dunn offering "protection" in the clean-up role all season. Either RZ can't drive in runs consistently or Dunn, the King of K's, offered little protection. It's one of the other...take your pick.

Posted by: howjensen | November 22, 2010 10:49 PM | Report abuse

And right in this thread we have proof that people understand neither sabermetrics (WAR in particular) nor the writer's greater point.

Thereby proving the writer's point, paradoxically.

(dfh is, as usual, the poster-child for this incomprehension. Geez, man, when you are wrong . . .)

Posted by: stevie_in_gp | November 22, 2010 10:52 PM | Report abuse

Even though I understand the metrics, it was hard for me to accept that a 13-12 pitcher deserved the Cy Young. Now I need to look back and see if Claude Osteen's '64 season with those bad Nats, perhaps was Cy Young worthy, or maybe Dick Donovan's '61 season.

Thinking of how good Zim is, I went back and was surprised to see that Ken McMullen had the 6th best WAR for a position player for the '69 Nats. Retrospectively respect, I guess.

Posted by: nats24 | November 23, 2010 1:32 AM | Report abuse

dfh21,I'm with you.People get so caught up in sabermetrics now that they forget to watch the games.I watched the Nationals a lot last year,and I felt that Zimmerman was better overall in 2009 than last season.His numbers looked more impressive than what you actually saw.He was less of a take charge guy last year,so I hope we'll see more of the 2009 version next year,with all those great fielding plays and the hitting streak,than the misleading 2010 one.

Posted by: seanmg | November 23, 2010 1:48 AM | Report abuse

So why bother to have anyone vote on these things? Just rack up all the stats and anoint the winners based on some brand-new statistical permutations. For that matter, why not use stats to determine who wins the divisions, LCS and championship? No need for all those messy games, you know.

Posted by: capsfan77 | November 23, 2010 8:28 AM | Report abuse

Zimmerman for MVP? HAHAHAHAHA!!!! This is what DC Sports has come to - arguing for a player on a last place team to finish above 10th in MVP voting. Does it really matter if he finished 5th or 10th? He certainly isn't in the argument for who actually WINS, so who cares??? What a pathetic sports town we've become.

Posted by: drobins7 | November 23, 2010 8:54 AM | Report abuse

Nice post, but can someone please tell me what the heck the MVP is?

Most discussions of the award amount to debates over what we should or should not consider the MVP to be. Until the MVP concept is more clearly defined and agreed upon, we can't critique how well stats measure "it," and I can't get excited, or even much interested in "it."

Sorry for the rant (I do this every year), but nats24, thanks for the reminder of Osteen '64 and Donovan '61 -- unrewarded, but well worth remembering.

Posted by: KenNat | November 23, 2010 9:03 AM | Report abuse

stevie_in-gp Geez man, when you're judgmental . . .

All I said was who cares whether Zim finishes 9th or 11th in the MVP voting? Zim was barely in the discussion among the voters because he deserved to be barely in the discussion. No one needed to go to Bill James to check to see whether they should have voted Ryan 8th or 11th or whatever.

The writer's point was to whine that Ryan got jobbed by the voters -- and it just does not matter as he was not within a Five Iron of being the MVP by any calculus anyone wants to employ.

And Adam IS simply wrong to say that it is "fact" that this or that would happen if this or that guy played instead of another one becasue of WAR. Stats judge players based on performance variabes and fixed constants and attempt to place a value on them based upon the data and numerology -- they do not accurately forecast outcomes of games already played if this or that factor had changed.

And his protestation that "a win is a win is a win" bothers you not at all, I presume, but it would have given you a big nasty rash in a prior thread when you were very personally offended by discussion to the contrary (wins in September when your club is chasing a playoff spot being more important than wins in May or June, well so long as it is Adam Dunn involved in that scenario and not Zim in this one that is). Ahh, but why let consistency in argument get in your way. Poke your fingers in my eye for no reason all day long if it makes you smile. I am here for YOU.

Posted by: dfh21 | November 23, 2010 9:04 AM | Report abuse

I don't accept Felix Hernandez's Cy Young as any indication of acceptance of advanced metrics.
He won based on traditional metrics.
ERA Leader in the AL at 2.27.
David Price, probably his biggest competitor and placed 2nd for the Cy Young gave up the same number of earned runs, while pitching 41 fewer innings.

It wasn't advanced stats that helped King Felix, it was eyeballs. Watch baseball, and it was kinda easy to select him as the best pitcher in the AL.

And I agree with the general sentiment of Who cares where Zimmerman finished. Voting that deep in the ballot is goofy and done without much thought.

Posted by: Sunderland | November 23, 2010 9:09 AM | Report abuse

I really don't think that you will see very often any player, regardless of "Sabremetrics," named MVP of anything when his team finishes last. It wouldn't make much sense now, would it?

Perhaps there should be some prize for finishing with the best Sabremetrics.

Posted by: FergusonFoont | November 23, 2010 9:18 AM | Report abuse

Zimm doesn't play for winning team and is not a flashly guy. So no way he can win a popularity contest.

Posted by: fearturtle44 | November 23, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse

nats24, when you see a pitcher that has 10 games that his offense scores one run or is shut out - as happened to King Felix - then W-L is the least accurate figure of how someone pitched. In this case, it isn't most valuable pitcher, its best pitcher... on the NYY he wins 20 easily, on the Nats he wins about 10.

Posted by: SCNatsFan | November 23, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse

The Cy Young is awarded to the best pitcher, not the most valuable. It's a stat award.
Voters for the MVP need to factor in a lot more than stats, like what impact did the player have on the team's success and how his absence from the lineup would be felt. As good as Zimmerman was last season, he had absolutely no impact at all. The Nats were bad with him, and would be just as bad without him. Stats don't tell the whole story.

Posted by: toddm991 | November 23, 2010 10:14 AM | Report abuse

@howjensen: Actually Zimmerman's RBI total is not an indictment of Zimmerman or Dunn. The problem with Zimmerman's RBI total was the hitters in front of him that consistently failed to get on base. It's hard to drive in runners that aren't there, and the OBP of Nats' #1 and #2 slots were remarkably lousy. With solid #1 and #2 hitters, a healthy season and a hitter even close to the caliber of Dunn hitting behind him, Zimmerman would easily surpass 100 RBI.

Posted by: JCCfromDC | November 23, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

dfh,

Would love to continue this, and since it's a dead thread . . . I don't know if you'll see it, however.

For now I'll just say, in this:
"but it would have given you a big nasty rash in a prior thread when you were very personally offended by discussion to the contrary"

you're confusing the people who poke you in the eye. Unsurprisingly.

Apparently there is more than one (six? twelve?) of us.

(Oh, and I have no problem with your SECOND point, that it really doesn't matter where Zim finished. It was your initial comment that it "worries me to read.")

Posted by: stevie_in_gp | November 23, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse

the way I look at the "playing for a winning team" rationale is Reds without JVo or Cards without APu are probably not playoff teams. The Nationals without Zim are just worse. The 5 WAR of Votto or Pujols that are a difference between 91-71 and 86-76 are so much more Valuable than the 15 WAR of Zimmerman between 69-93 and 54-108. Oh what's that, his WAR wasn't 15? Then even Less relevant.

And I second the "Cy Young is Best Pitcher, not Most Valuable"

(no this is not a re-post from toddm991)

Posted by: bearclaw | November 23, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

"Most valuable" is not necessarily the same as "best," so there is plenty of room for MVP voting to rely rely less on advanced stats than Cy Young or Gold Glove or Silver Slugger.
Also, the advanced stats treat all games equally. But it's only common sense that a HR in late September against the team with which your club is tied for first is more valuable than one in a game between two cellar-dwellers playing out the string, or a HR in April.
Simply put, some hits/HRs/RBIs/whatever are more "valuable" than others, depending on the importance of the game in which they occur, and MVP votes should reflect that.

Posted by: ScotStone | November 23, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

I need to apologize for not reading fully. Allow me to restate.

Yes Zimm deserved better than 16th and probably better than Prado. But what's the difference between 16th and 9th? Jack. The difference between 1st and 2nd, that means something. Which is to say all wins are Not equal. Who cares if the Nats are 62-100 or 72-90?

Also, it's the MVP award not the WAR award, so if you want to toot Zimm's horn using sabremetrics, great, keep doing it, you can use statistics to prove anything, 10% of all people know that.

Finally, speaking of stats, I think the gap between 16th and 9th really isn't much; basically 6 more people think Martin is 7 to 9th most valuable than think Ryan is 7 to 9th most valuable - i think 6 idiots is within the margin of error

Posted by: bearclaw | November 23, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

This whole discussion revisits an old bugaboo of mine, so I pray to the baseball gods to adopt this proposal:

Replace the "Most Valuable Player" award. Just, kill it. The word "valuable" is pointlessly ambiguous and is a crutch for weaker candidates ("Sure X is a better player, but Y's on a worse team so he's more 'valuable'!)

Instead, award a "Doubleday Cup", or a "Ruth Trophy", in each league, to reward the best everyday player. None of this "most valuable" nonsense; simply the best. And no pitchers! It is rumored they already have an award, and it rhymes with "High Flung".

Posted by: howlless | November 23, 2010 2:01 PM | Report abuse

Very much against this. You will notice that the writer did not define any of the Sabermatic terms. Obviously he feels if you don't know what it is, you shouldn't be discussing it.

No. MVP should be based on what we see. Not on computer analyses.

Posted by: Nemo24601 | November 23, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

MVP should be based on what we see. Not on computer analyses.
-------------------------
The question is not eyeballs vs. computers -- it's what the heck are we trying to measure?

This thread is evidence that the MVP is a high honor for something, but we don't know what.

Posted by: KenNat | November 23, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

That's exactly right, KenN.

I happen to think WAR is a fine measurement of value IF and only if you believe the most important thing is to win games (when you win them is obviously also a point of contention) AND if you believe statistically quantifiable characteristics outweigh all others.

I'm not sure I buy the qualifiers in the above.

Nonetheless, it seems the writer largely does. And given that assumption AND the assumption that it's worth discussing the difference between 16th and 12th and 9th, his point stands: Zimm deserved better.

(Not sure where Nemo got the whole "if you don't know what it is, you shouldn't be discussing it" from the post, but whatever.)

Posted by: stevie_in_gp | November 23, 2010 3:45 PM | Report abuse

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