More stats

Apparently I wasn’t the only one to critique Buster Olney for his blog post about Jim Rice, as he followed the next day with a rebuttal, essentially bashing the merits of OPS+. He calls OPS+ “imperfect” and defends his use of MVP voting:

While I’d generally agree that to focus on building a Hall of Famer’s credentials around a single year of MVP voting might be dubious, the numbers cited in Friday’s column accounts for hundreds of votes from every AL city over more than a decade. A lot of writers who watched Rice play daily, at the time he was on the field — rather than through the time-machine prism of Adjusted OPS+ — thought he was pretty damn good. (Keep in mind, most writers will talk to players, managers and coaches throughout the season as they formulate their ballots.)

This still comes back to the central issue though: MVP voting is not a statistic that evaluates players. It shows how people felt subjectively about a player’s worth. It is true that generally people will vote better players as MVP. But it is still subjective. Remember, there are a lot of people, particularly in baseball and the media, that have crazy and unfounded opinions. Like, “A player who is fast should bat leadoff despite his OBP,” “David Eckstein may have lousy numbers but he’ll help his team win,” or “A-Rod’s never been able to hit in the playoffs.” All of those things have been proven to be false, empirically. But that doesn’t mean people don’t still believe them.

The line that really gets me though is “time-machine prism of Adjusted OPS+.” Look, OPS+ isn’t a perfect stat, it’s true. It really is only a solid measure of offensive performance over a period of time. It doesn’t take into account defense, career length, etc. But Jim Rice’s only real skill was producing offense. And he didn’t play for a very long time. And OPS+ figures out how well a player produced runs relative to his peers. It works the same in 1920, 1970, 1990, and 2008. So it seems to me, when it comes to Rice, it would be one of the most relevant stats.


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