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happy holliday

quick programming note: i've asked azruavatar if he'd like to write a weekly front-page post at VEB, and he's agreed to give it a shot. you all know him from the comments and as erik's co-host over at Future Redbirds; he'll be writing on fridays, starting tomorrow.

here's the SB Nation voting for the national league MVP award:

National League 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th Points
Matt Holliday 12 4 1 2 1 - - 1 - - 235
Prince Fielder - 4 9 2 1 2 1 2 - - 148
Jimmy Rollins 4 2 3 2 2 1 - 1 2 1 137
David Wright 1 2 1 3 5 1 2 4 - 1 117
Chipper Jones - 2 2 2 2 2 4 2 1 1 95
Hanley Ramirez 2 - - 3 2 1 2 2 5 - 90
Chase Utley - 2 - 2 3 1 4 3 4 - 88
Albert Pujols - 1 1 3 2 4 - 2 1 2 80
Ryan Howard 1 2 1 1 - 1 3 - 2 2 70
Jake Peavy 1 2 2 - 1 2 - - 1 2 68
Miguel Cabrera - - - - - 3 2 2 1 4 35
Brandon Webb - - - 1 - - 2 - - 1 16
Aramis Ramirez - - - - 1 - 1 - 1 1 13
Eric Byrnes - - - - - 2 - 1 - - 13
Derrek Lee - - 1 - - - - - - - 8
Ryan Braun - - - - - 1 - - 1 1 8
Brad Penny - - - - 1 - - - - 1 6
Jose Reyes - - - - - - - 1 - - 3
John Smoltz - - - - - - - - 1 - 2
Troy Tulowitzki - - - - - - - - - 1 1
Adam Dunn - - - - - - - - - 1 1
Roy Oswalt - - - - - - - - - - 1
Carlos Lee - - - - - - - - - 1 1
Todd Helton - - - - - - - - - 1 1
Barry Bonds - - - - - - - - - 1 1

i voted for holliday, and i'll get to that in a second --- but first i want to talk about pujols, who was 4th on my ballot. you could make a very good case that he deserved the award this year. he not only was among the 3 or 4 most impactful hitters in the league, he also was one of the most impactful fielders --- despite playing first base. the two best fielding metrics (UZR had the dewan system) credited pujols' glove with preventing between 20 and 25 runs; as i mentioned the other day, he had the best score in baseball per dewan's plus/minus system. he was without question among the top 5 hitters in the league (5th in VORP, 2d in eqr, 3d in WPA, 4th in ops, 2d in ops+,), and nobody else in that elite offensive class was nearly as impactful w/ the glove as el alberto. like tulowitzki, he was dominant in both halves of the inning; one could vote for him unapologetically and back it up with a solid case. as i sit here typing this out, i kinda wish i had.

before i leave the subject: despite his fine year, albert slipped a bit on the all-time leaderboards for players of his age. compare his standing at the end of last year (ie, through age 26) to his standing this year:

age 26
age 27
SLG 3 5
OPS 4 6
2B 2 2
HR 4 5
RBI 8 9

i've been meaning to calculate albert's odds of breaking the all-time record for doubles (using bill james' favorite toy) and for breaking the 800-hr barrier; don't have time this a.m., but i'll try to get to it in a future post. or, if anybody is curious about this and has time to run the numbers today, post the tally in the comments.

so here's how i voted for the n.l. mvp:

  1. holliday
  2. wright
  3. utley
  4. pujols
  5. chipper
  6. cabrera
  7. ramirez
  8. fielder
  9. howard
  10. rollins
working up from the bottom: i wanted to recognize rollins' unusual and impressive 20/20/20 feat in some way; that's a remarkable season for a player at any position, much less a shortstop. he led the league in runs and ranked 2d in hits. but despite all that, he was no better than the 2d-best hitter at his position in the nl and the 3d-best hitter on his own team; despite the great counting stats, his rate states just weren't elite-caliber. i don't really think he was the 10th-best player in the league last year, but he still had a remarkable year and i wanted him on my ballot.

the four players directly above him --- howard fielder ramirez and cabrera --- all were among the best of the best with the stick but had a negative impact afield. indeed, ramirez led the league in one of the most important sabermetric categories (VORP) but was so terrible with the glove that i briefly considered leaving him off my ballot altogether. chipper jones was at least as good as pujols with the bat but not nearly as good w/ the glove. utley was a gold-glove caliber 2b with a 1st-baseman's stick; i probably should have had pujols ahead of him (especially because utley missed a month with an injury), but he belongs in the conversation.

that gets us to wright and holliday. on a purely sabermetric basis, wright should get the nod. he had the league's 2d-best VORP, comfortably ahead of his nearest trailers (holliday chipper and albert), and led the league in equivalent runs despite playing in a pitcher's park; he also was well above average with the glove at an important defensive position. holliday was very good with the glove as well but played a less impactful position, and he trailed wright in the key sabr categories. so why'd i vote for him? i'll admit to being swayed by proximity; i got to watch him play a lot. more than that, i was swayed by the rockies' incredible charge to the wild card, in which holliday played an indispensable role. during the rockies' season-ending 14-1 run, he batted .442 / .532 / .846, with 5 homers, 16 runs, and 17 rbi. in those 15 games, he only made 29 outs --- not quite 2 a game. every time you turned around, he was starting a rally or finishing one off. and it all built up to the perfect climax: holliday's clutch, game-tying triple in the 13th inning off a hall-of-fame closer, after which he (was ruled to have) scored the clinching run. colorado almost literally played two consecutive weeks' worth of elimination games, and holliday (todd helton, too) were too stubborn to let the team lose.

to the sabermetric purist, these considerations aren't worth squat; a run is a run, they say, and if holliday had been as good as wright throughout the course of 162 games then the rockies wouldn't have needed last-minute heroics (and, let's be honest, luck) to get into the postseason. it was also pointed out to me by another SB Nation blogger that wright had an incredible finishing run of his own: .439 / .484 / .561 over his last 13 games. it wasn't wright's fault that the mets' pitching collapsed, this guy argued (accurately); if they'd even gotten just one or two so-so pitching performances, maybe we'd be talking about how david wright's clutch late-september hitting helped the mets stave off an epic choke.

my response to this guy was: the award's not about what might have happened; it's about what did happen. the strength of sabermetrics is their predictive value --- they have vastly improved our understanding of how performance tends to change as players age, and they've equipped us to strip away ephemeral factors (luck, ballpark, etc.) that can distort a player's short-term stats and make him appear to have more (or less) ability than he really does. they help us look into the future; but the mvp award is about the past. it's about the games that have already been played. the sabermetric numbers convince me that david wright has more ability than matt holliday and will probably have a better career in the years to come; but they don't convince me that he was a more impactful player than holliday in 2007. it may be true that holliday just had luckier circumstances than wright, making his exploits stand out a little bit more; perhaps if holliday and wright had switched teams, wright would have powered the rockies into the playoffs just as holliday did. but it's not a "what-if" award.

interestingly enough, the one sabermetric stat where holliday trumps wright is a non-predictive stat, win probability added (WPA). matt was 2d in the national league, largely because of all his big hits in those last 15 games; wright wasn't in the top 10. a lot of sabr types don't like WPA because there's no year-to-year consistency in it. but it does tell you one thing: who got the hits that made the most difference between winning and losing. in 2007, that guy was matt holliday. on a day-to-day basis, he was good enough to merit consideration as a finalist for the MVP award; his heroics in the last 2 weeks put him over the top, imho.

one other noteworthy item: did you notice that barry bonds only got 1 point in this polling? all he did was lead the league in equivalent average, finish in the top 10 in VORP, and break the all-time HR record. yet i didn't want him on my ballot, and neither did almost anybody else; obviously non-sabermetric factors do count for something.