Monday, November 5, 2012

MLB Award Predictions


During the past season I wrote a baseball simulator which goes through a game batter by batter, using real hitting and pitching statistics to determine the result of each at-bat. The sim still needs some work in properly using the bullpen (like many MLB managers) and still doesn't make use of pinch hitters or any sort of strategy, but it works well enough, as it predicted the Giants to defeat Detroit in the World Series (I ran 8 best-of-seven series and the Giants won 6, including a sweep).

The simulator uses data that is automatically downloaded from Baseball Reference. Having this data at hand makes it easy to analyze and provide some insights that might not otherwise be obvious. I am therefore going to tell you who should win the MVP, Cy Young, as well as who will win based on voter biases. I am primarily using one statistic to make this decision: Bases Per Out or BPO. Simply put, it is the total number of bases the batter is responsible for (TB + BB+ HBP + SB+SH+SF) divided by the outs made (AB-H+CS+GDP+SH+SF). (For pitchers, the reverse is the better metric, the number of outs per base.) I realize that defense is not included in this statistic, so I will use the BR WAR data (which includes all aspects of a player's performance but is not easily calculated) as a comparison.

With all that in mind let's look at the awards:

AL MVP

Who Should Win: Mike Trout. His BPO of 1.121 is 9% higher than the 2nd best qualifier, Edwin Encarnacion of the Blue Jays. Trout had 639 PA, more than enough to compensate for being called up just after the season started. His 49/54 record on stolen bases is a huge component of his BPO(without them, it becomes 1.01). No doubt the average single is more valuable than the average stolen base, but for this stat, they are equivalent, which is another weakness. Still, Trout's WAR of 10.7 was 2.5 wins better than Robinson Cano who finished second.

Who Will Win: Miguel Cabrera. BPO of 1.009 is great, but he was hurt by grounding into 28 double plays. Still, Triple Crown winner on a division champ will resonate with voters and he will defeat the rookie.

Who Won: Cabrera, with 22 of 28 first place votes.

NL MVP

Who Should Win: Ryan Braun. Although Joey Votto had a 1.218 BPO, he was hurt for a great part of the season, amassing only 475 PA. Braun’s BPO of 1.079 is 7% higher than Andrew McCutchen, second best among qualifiers.

Who Will Win: Buster Posey. Frankly, this is where BPO is weak, because it ignores defensive contributions. Posey has been great behind the plate for the NL West champ Giants and his 0.976 BPO is third in the NL. Coming back from that gruesome injury will give Posey even more respect among traditional writers, and Braun’s unproven PED scandal will haunt him for years. Posey's WAR was 7.2 compared to Braun's 6.8.

Who Won: Posey, no complaint here.

AL Cy Young

Who Should Win: David Price. His OPB (Outs per Base) is 1.941, meaning he gives up a base for nearly every 2 outs. This doesn’t sound so good, but remember that bases includes SB against, HBP and even sacrifice flies and bunts. His regular stats are pretty good too: 20-5, 2.56 ERA, 205 K, and a WAR of 6.4.

Who Will Win: Justin Verlander. Baseball writers have a reputation among stat heads of picking the wrong winner every year, so with that in mind, I need to pick somebody other than Price. Jered Weaver (1.912) and Justin Verlander (1.887) are the next two pitchers in OPB, but Verlander pitched nearly 50 more innings and had nearly 100 more strikeouts and led the league in WAR with 7.6. These are good numbers and the voters will remember him from last year. And, of course, Detroit won their division.

Who Won: Surprisingly Price, beating Verlander by just 4 points in the second closest AL vote ever. One voter believed that Price's teammate Fernando Rodney was more deserving

NL Cy Young

Who Should Win: Kris Medlen. He only faced 520 PA during the year, but this would qualify him as a batter and his 2.392 OPB is stunning and he was a key component for the Braves during the second half. If you believe that a pitcher needs to make at least 25 starts to be considered for this award, then Clayton Kershaw is your winner. He had a 1.919 OPB and led the league with 6.2 WAR but will be doomed by a 14-9 record, mostly due to some poor run support from the pre-trade Dodgers.

Who Will Win: R.A. Dickey, who pitches for the Mets and was hurt all year. His 20-6 record combined with the East Coast bias gives him the award even though Medlen, Kershaw, and Gio Gonzalez finished with a better OPB, although Dickey's WAR of 5.6 was 3rd best in the league.

Who Won: Dickey, followed by Kershaw and Gonzalez.

AL Rookie of the Year

Who Should Win: Mike Trout.

Who Will Win: Mike Trout. The voters will compensate for shafting him in the MVP voting by giving him the ROY instead. Even I can’t imagine another pick in this spot.

Who Won: Trout, unanimously.

NL Rookie of the Year

Who Should Win: Wade Miley. Miley was the top rookie pitcher, Bryce Harper the top rookie batter. To figure this one out, I compared their BPO against the league average. Miley's was 14.7% better than the average pitcher, while Harper's was only 11% above average. Thus Miley should get this award.

Who Will Win: Bryce Harper. Division winner, big name. Who the hell is Wade Miley anyways?

Who Won: Harper, just barely, taking 16 first place votes and 112 points to Miley's 12 and 105.

So there you have it. Some very simplistic analysis combined with my own biases on the writers’ biases that should help you enjoy the award season just that much more.

Update: Five of six predictions correct, with only Price over Verlander going against what I expected. Not a lot of controversy this year (except for seeing Adrian Beltre above Trout on one ballot) with each race clearly between two or three candidates, so no dark horse winners this time.

Best,

Sean

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