Not all stats are equal

Buster Olney in his blog today lobbies the case for Jim Rice as a Hall of Famer. He uses the “best of his era” claim, which is inherently flawed: just because someone’s peers were worse does not mean that they themselves are better. However, I can somewhat buy the whole “walks weren’t as highly rated back then” argument. Baseball players want to make money. And if GMs don’t care who draws walks, then why wouldn’t hitters simply swing more to try and pad the stats GMs do evaluate, like BA, HRs, etc. That said, there are many great players from before the “moneyball” era who drew lots of walks and had an outstanding OBP. It was still the greatest measure of a player’s offensive ability, even if people didn’t credit it directly.

So I guess, you can say I have mixed feelings on that argument.

The following however is just not accurate:

Look, if you stick his statistics into offensive formulas tailored for the way the game was played in the ’90s, he’s not going to look as good. Giving him demerits because he failed to draw walks is like diminishing what Pedro Martinez has accomplished because he has only two 20-win seasons.

Actually, it’s nothing like that at all. Wins are a completely meaningless stat. They have to do with the performance of the other 24 players on the team. A pitcher can give up 1 run in 12 innings and lose and give up 14 runs in 5 innings and win. Not making an out, something Jim Rice wasn’t great at (not bad, but not great) is the most important statistic for generating runs. Which ultimately truly win the games that get put on the pitcher’s record.

And tailored towards the 90’s?  Statistics are statistics.  The game has always been the same.  Even if a stat wasn’t commonly referenced in the 70s and 80s that doesn’t make it less useful or less capable of determining a player from that era’s worth.

Buster also is a fan of MVP voting:

If you add up the total points accumulated in MVP voting from 1937, add up the annual points each player earned (and convert each year’s points total to its equivalent under the current voting format to account for differences in the number of teams and voters over the years), Rice fares well.

What is the point of such an exercise? MVP voting is completely meaningless. Did Boston win a lot of games because Rice finished in the top 5 in MVP voting? This is a classic example of confusing cause and effect. Rice may have been an MVP because some people decided after the Red Sox played that he deserved it. Winning games can help someone be an MVP but being an MVP doesn’t mean anything really, especially when compared to OPS, OPS+, OBP, VORP, etc, which are stats that actually show how much a player truly meant to a team in terms of scoring runs and winning games.

Justin Morneau was voted MVP over Derek Jeter. Bartolo Colon won the Cy Young over Mariano Rivera. And yeah I’m particularly upset over those because I’m a Yankee fan but they’re not isolated incidents. Ichiro over Giambi in 2001. Tejada in 2002. Voters don’t pick the best player always. However using real concrete stats we can see which player truly has the most value.


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