Friday, September 29, 2006

VORP: Embrace it bitches

The impetus for this site actually came in the comments section of Justin's blog, in the form of an argument about Ryan Howard's MVP candidacy. Inasmuch as the Phillies have probably pissed away their wild card chances with last night's dispiriting loss to the Senators, the agrument itself is actually moot: Albert Pujols is the NL MVP this season, because voters tend to use a playoff berth as the swing in a close race. I happen to think Pujols is the more deserving of the two players when it's all said and done, with Howard coming in a close second. But I also think the "value" part of the MVP equation is a pain in the ass; there should be an award for the best player in each league, every year. Pujols was the best player in the NL this year. Travis Hafner was the best player in the AL this year (with a nod to Santana, who was nearly as valuable to his team pitching 34 games than Hafner was in 129 games). And, I say this with a fair amount of moral resolution.

Pujols and Hafner make for an interesting contrast, because one of them is an obvious candidate, what with his soul-crushing home run against the Padres two nights ago that almost sent me into epileptic shock and his other routine feats of awesomeness that are showered upon us anytime we open a sports webpage. Albert Pujols is one of the three best hitters I've ever seen.

But Hafner is better than Pujols. And I have proof.

It's a little thing called VORP, which stands for "Value Over Replacement Player." For those of you who have only a passing familiarity with sabermetric measures, VORP is one of the most important stats because it does two things very well: First, it places the player in a vacuum, so it doesn't really matter what kind of team the person plays on. In some sort of tangentental way, one's teammates can never be completely removed from the equation — David Ortiz might hit more home runs because he sees more fastballs because Manny Ramirez hits behind him, or something — but anything that requires, for the purposes of an explanation, a run-on sentence is probably not that fundamentally important to anything. Getting back to VORP, the second thing is does well is add the context of the position the player plays into the equation. 30 HR, for instance, is more valuable if it's coming from a shortstop than if it's coming from a 1B, because the average first baseman will be a better offensive player than the average shortstop.

Still with me? Good.

The number attached to VORP is the number of runs this player has been responsible for this season. This has nothing to do with RBI or R, two stats that involve a high correlation with the performance of one's teammates, and thus do not serve to accurately tell us how much one player had to do with any of those runs. However, it should be noted that players with high VORPS tend to also be the league leaders in runs and RBI. Not always — think Barry Bonds when he wouldn't see a ball within five feet of the strikezone if there was a runner in scoring position — but generally. I emphasize the word because I happen to believe that R and RBI don't tell us much in terms of quality. If two players have 100 RBI, it would be incorrect to believe automatically they've had equally valuable. One of those players could have been a No. 2 hitter who managed to get an RBI 40 percent of the time there was a runner in scoring position, which would be awesome and perhaps a qualification for knighthood. His name would be Tony Gwynn. The other player could have been the No. 4 hitter for a team with twice the number of opportunities with runners in scorings position, and only half the ability of the aforementioned No. 2 hitter to get them in. His name would be Greg Vaughn.

(I just threw those names in there to break up the monotony — I don't think either player every did as well or as poorly as I've accused them of doing so here)

So, anyway, VORP tells us that Hafner and Pujols are the two best players in the major leagues when it comes to creating runs for their respective teams, compared with what the alternative could be. Nos. 3 and 4 are Mssrs. Ryan Howard and Miguel Cabrera, which should be as surprising as a hangover the morning after you've hooked up with your best friend's sister.
Revelations such as these can tend to make idio ... er, skeptics, say things like, "Well, then whut the good-god-damn do I need this VERPS for when old fashion' Ar-bee-eyes and rhuuuns will tell me these here fellas is already the best four players in baseball?!? Except for that [blank] Howard [blank], who looks to be the lazy type?" And what I tell someone who says something like that is that we have two choices in life: We can either address causes or ramifications. As a point of clarification, George W. Bush is someone who clearly preferes ignoring causality. I whole-heartedly believe our President is a R and RBI man. I think he might even include VORP in the Axis of Evil soon. Do not side with the president.

There are other great stats that tells us great stuff. RC/27 is a fun one, because I just like thinking about the fact that a lineup of 2004-edition Barry Bonds would have scored more than 20 runs a game. EqA is cool, but a little obtuse. WARP3 is a heady stat that tries to approximate the number of wins an individual player was worth to his team, compared both to the average player at his position and adjusted to make it uniform across the history of baseball. And then there's OPS+, which is great because it is the best tool to compare players across generations, but a little flawed because on-base is demphasized a little bit in the equation. But it's still cool, and the easiest way to compare Lou Gerhig to Albert Pujols without getting all personal like, "Who got a fucking disease named after him, huh?"

In closing, anyone who thinks that RBI and R are important is being stubbornly obtuse about baseball. These other stats are better at their jobs.

Next week: Why any sports announcer who talks about a pitcher's wins and losses should be tazered in the nuts. Unless that announcer is Joe Buck, who should already have been repeatedly tazered in the nuts for being the most sanctimonious prick on the face of the Earth.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Le Batard? More like Le ... Idiot!

One of the best things about living in a foreign country is that you gain the ability to filter the news that becomes a part of your life. I didn't hear about the foiled London plane hijacking until a day or two after the fact, and that was when my parents told me. If I had been in the States, I probably would have known about it instantly, and then I would have spent a lot of time watching cable news so I could be on top of every development. I used to be a breaking-news freak. I don't miss being that dude.

The Terrell Owens situation has brought into even clearer relief just how stupid it is to watch ongoing coverage of a story. Not only is the story totally irrelevant — do we really care all that much if we're adding another pyschosis to the list for this guy? — but it was fun to look back after the press conference and see all the the things that were written about him and the situation before the public denial. High comedy, that stuff.

What isn't funny is that Dan LeBatard, a man who will cover his nose with the shit of any athlete who has made more than $2 million/year, is back at it again. Since he isn't an actual journalist capable of telling us something about the situation we didn't already know, he's instead offering us his completely compromised opinion that Owens is telling the truth. I knew, the second I saw the link, that I had to read it, and then make it my first real post on this site.

* * *

I believe Terrell Owens.

Believe me, Dan, that's the only reason I'm reading this right now. So get on with it.

No matter how noisy this all gets. No matter how loud the voices of publicists and agents and friends and coaches and psychiatric experts and police officers rise in unison into a tower of babble. No matter how many people come to this conversation with their own baggage and their own version of the truth, which isn't the truth at all. And no matter how contradictory and complicated even the voice of T.O. can be much of the time. I believe Terrell Owens.

First of all, there are some stunningly bad setences and metaphors in the above paragraph. Like, I'm talking about stuff that probably wouldn't have made it into the Arizona Daily Wildcat. But we'll leave that alone. I love the people coming to "this conversation with their own baggage and their own version of the truth, which isn't the truth at all." It's telling that LeBatard is so dense that he doesn't count himself as being a part of that group. Dan knows the truth, folks. T.O. did not try to commit suicide. And here's 1,000 or more words proving his point.

I've seen too many things a lot less complicated than this get confused and clouded and misdiagnosed when it comes to the very famous Terrell Owens and the spinning swirl that perpetually surrounds him. So on the subject of whether he really tried to kill himself -- Owens adamantly denies it -- I'm siding with the only guy who was inside his head at the time, and I'm doing so even if that head was clouded at the time by too much pain medication.

Oops, I guess we're not getting to the proof. Just more stuff about how he believes Owens. Is LeBatard jewish? If so, I think he might be violating the false idols thing right now.

Maybe that makes me very naive. Or maybe it makes me fair. Maybe it makes me a stupid player apologist. Or maybe it makes me nonjudgmental about the way I cover sports.

Dan, the third one was the correct answer. You didn't need to keep going. And did you honestly write that last sentence? You've got some balls, kid, I gotta hand it to you.

Either way, we're all a little clouded when it comes to T.O. and his behavior, so I guess it just took too many pills to make him more like the rest of us.


Owens is many things -- complicated, defiant, stubborn, moody -- but he is not a liar.

[Dan's Secretary]: "Mr. LeBatard's office! Can I help you?"

[Andy Reid, Steve Mariucci, Ozzie Newsome on a conference call]: "Yeah, can we speak to your boss?"

And he cries when talking about his grandmother, whom he appreciates even though he was shackled to his front yard as a child and only escaped when she passed out from the drinking.

Geez, Dan ... you know what that sounds like? Motive!

Anyway, I'm skipping over a lot of stuff because it's really stupid, does nothing to further LeBatard's point (not that anything in the column actually does further his point) and the tangents I will inevitably go off on will probably make this the longest post in internet history. So, instead, I'm going to show you what Dan buried about 2/3 down the way in his story, but what really should have been the lede:

T.O. and I are in our second year doing a weekly radio show together.

And there's our answer. As usual, ESPN is truly the Worldwide Leader in Ethical Journalists.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Before you get to the Frank Thomas article ...

I'd like to call dibs on one small section of it. One sentence, actually:

"...the Bulls were (with the notable exception of the '85 Bears) the greatest collection of human talent ever assembled for a common purpose."

I have to stop now, and process my rage, lest I spew completely incoherent babble and spit mouth-foam all over my keyboard. I'll come back to this, but I wanted to throw that out there.

The rest of it's all yours, Sexual Harassment Panda.

The first of its kind!

First subject: Why is Justin always wrong?

Diesel's opening argument: It is because he obviously suffers from an overactive thyroid gland, which has caused his gorilla-like height and posture, tiny testicles, and George Muresan-like speech impediment.