The baseball writers cabal yesterday announced their choice for National League Most Valuable Player, Andrew McCutchen. But while many Cardinal fans are wondering whether Yadier Molina was more deserving than the Pirates’ centerfielder, we think they’re asking the wrong question. Based on the results of our Sabermetric MVP rankings, which combine Wins Above Replacement and Win-Probability Added, the question rather should be: Why didn’t Paul Goldschmidt win?
With all due respect to the BBWAA, who despite recently admitting some less hidebound writers to their ranks has undermined the award’s meaning, and to Molina and McCutchen, who did indeed perform amazingly this year, Goldschmidt produced not only quantity but quality — not to mention one of the highest overall scores since we started tracking in 2006. To be sure, McCutchen outperformed him in WAR, an uncontextualized measurement of offense, base running, and defensive value. But the Diamondbacks’ first baseman was much better in performing when it mattered to his team winning, measured by WPA. No doubt this goes to the definitional understanding of Most Valuable, as Dave Cameron notes in his Fangraphs article. But even a modest consideration of value to one’s team should call some type of contextualizing stat into the argument.
And that affects Molina’s case, as well. Molina may deserve some additional credit for intangibles or at least effects on his team that aren’t yet measurable. But he wasn’t even his own team’s top win-contributor, outproduced as he was in WAR by teammate Matt Carpenter. But Carpenter outshone Molina when it mattered, too, leading the club with a 4.33 WPA. (Note that the largely criticized Matt Holliday also had a higher WPA than Molina.) The Cardinals represented themselves well, with four players in the top 20.
To be fair to the BBWAA, the correlation between their list and ours was relatively high at .67. They questionably included Yasiel Puig (surprise), who was 33rd in our list, Allen Craig (18th), Michael Cuddyer (40th), Russell Martin (46th), Craig Kimbrel (47th) and Andrelton Simmons (49th). They overlooked Matt Harvey (10th in our list), probably due to recently bias (he last pitched Aug. 24), Cliff Lee (14th), Brandon Belt (16th), Jose Fernandez (18th) and Starling Marte (22nd), the Pirates’ other stellar outfielder.