Simpleton baseball experts can be highly annoying. For example, when I hear an MVP debate in which someone argues for a hitter over a pitcher simply because "a hitter is an everyday player, whereas a pitcher only plays every fifth day," I want to pull my hair out.
I assume the logic behind the argument goes something like this: no matter how good a starting pitcher is, he can only affect the outcome of 1 out of every 5 games. A position player, on the other hand, can impact the outcome of every game. So a guy with roughly one fifth the potential impact of his MVP rival can't possibly be as valuable.
Well, let me ask you this: if I go to work for 30 minutes every day, does that mean I'm contributing more than a co-worker who goes to work only once a week but for 8 hours?
I think you see where I'm going with this. I certainly agree that a starting pitcher can only impact the 1 in 5 games he plays. But if it's potential impact we're concerned with, why are these pundits choosing "games played" as the metric? Why are they ignoring the potential impact within those games played?
Let me break it down:
|PA's/ game (both teams)||PA's/ game directly involving player||% of PA's/ game directly involving player||Games player plays in||% of team's games player plays in||% of team's PA's directly involving player|
Let's look at the hitter first. In an average MLB game, there are roughly 81 plate appearances total for both teams1. A typical MPV-caliber hitter averages 4.4 PA's per game2, or approximately 5.4% of the game's 81 PA's. And on average he plays in 158.5 of his team's 162 games2, or 98% of them. This means that for the season, the hitter is directly involved (i.e., at bat) in roughly 5.4% x 98% = 5.3% of the plate appearances of the games in which his team plays.
Now let's look at the pitcher. The typical MVP-caliber starting pitcher averages 6.9 innings per start and 33.8 starts per season3. The 6.9 innings per start means that in a given game, the pitcher is directly involved (i.e., on the mound) in 37.4% of the game's plate appearances. And the 33.8 starts per season means the pitcher starts 21% of his team's games. So across the season, the pitcher is directly involved in 37.4% x 21% = 7.8% of the plate appearances of the games in which his team plays. Compare this to the 5.3% for the hitter and guess what? By this metric it's actually the star pitcher who has significantly more potential impact than the star hitter.
Now, there's at least one big factor unaccounted for4: hitters, more so than pitchers, can substantially impact plate appearances in which they aren't directly involved. Ryan Howard on deck or Jimmy Rollins on the basepaths can certainly affect the current at-bat. And while I can't quantify this impact, I can assure you it isn't enough to boost the hitters' 5.3% factor very far beyond the pitchers' 7.8% figure - and certainly not enough, in my opinion, to give the "everyday player" argument validity. So in the next few weeks when you find yourself in an MVP discussion, if you hear someone base their choice solely on this argument, go ahead and kick 'em in the groin.
In all seriousness, this issue has been a pet peeve of mine for quite some time, as perhaps you can tell. Your thoughts?1Derived from the MLB avg WHIP of 1.38. Three outs + 1.38 = 4.38 plate appearances per half inning. 4.38 x ~18.5 half innings per game = 81. I'm assuming the net effect of DP's, HBP, FC's, and other possible occurrences is minor.
2PA's per game and # of games played for typical MVP hitter taken from last four MVP seasons: Rollins '07, A-Rod '07, Howard '06, and Morneau '06.
3Innings per game and starts per season for typical MVP-caliber pitcher based on last four Cy Young seasons: Peavy '07, Sabathia '07, Webb '06, and Santana '06.
4Many minor factors, such as the players' fielding skills, NL pitchers' batting abilities, etc are also unaccounted for. I assert that these factors are negligible compared with the players' batting and pitching abilities.