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Way Too Smoltz-y Phil Rogers
2002-08-09 12:28
by Mike Carminati

Way Too Smoltz-y

Phil Rogers has his NL MVP ballot and steps he took to derive it on ESPN. His final ballot has John Smoltz number 1 and Barry Bonds #2.

His case for Smoltz, is that

1) pitching is why Atlanta has the best record in baseball.

2) "Nobody -- including Tom Glavine or Greg Maddux -- has been more responsible than Smoltz."

3) "His 39 [now 40] saves have been the anchor for a staff that had a 2.92 ERA [now 2.91]... the lowest since the 1988 Mets.

4) " He's ahead of Bobby Thigpen's record 57-save pace from 1990."

Let's take those one at a time:
1) They have great pitching, but if they are all pitching why does he then list Gary Sheffield seventh on his ballot. You can't have it both ways.

2) Can that be true? Glavine has logged 166 innings, Maddux 137.1, and Smoltz 61.2. Could he be more valuable to his team picthing fewer than half the innings of those men? Let's look at the Baseball Prospectus stat VORP (Value Over Replacement Level). It tells us how valuable someone is-if he were lost to his team and they had to get a replacement level player, how much worse would that person do? Glavine is currently ninth in the majors at 41.4 and Maddux is 12th at 39.6 (ironically one behind the "Poor Man's Maddux" Paul Byrd-or is that Rick Reed?). Smoltz with a VORP of 10.5 is 158th in the majors and is behind his Atlanta bullpen-mates Chris Hammond, Mike Remlinger, Kerry Ligtenburg, Darren Holmes, and Kevin Gryboski. Lest you think this stat is biased against closers, Smoltz's VORP is 16th among the major-leagues closers.

3) What do saves have to do with staff ERA? If a closer comes in with a 5-0 lead, two men on and 1 out in the ninth, gives up a 2-run double, and then strikes the last two men out to record the save, has he helped the staff ERA? Smoltz has done well stranding inherited runners. As Baseball Prospectus' Michael Wolverton wrote about Smoltz on ESPN:

Smoltz has inherited 13 runners so far this season. From where those runners were on base and how many outs there were when Smoltz took over, you'd expect those 13 runners to score 6.1 runs on average. Smoltz allowed just two of them to score, and none of the others were left on base when Smoltz left the game, meaning Smoltz saved his staff-mates around four runs. That makes him ninth-best in the majors this year at handling inherited runners.

OK, he has helped out his teammates to the tune of 4.1 runs over the year, which would raise the Atlantrs team ERA 3 points to 2.94. Big deal! However, his 3.94 ERA is almost one full run above the staff ERA. That really is a big deal. Even discounting is one horrendous outing on April 6, his ERA is still the 5th highest in the Atlanta bullpen (scoll down to see more).

4) Who cares about Bobby Thigpen's record besides Bobby Thigpen? It was very good year, but it was only good for fifth in the MVP vote and fourth in Cy Young that year. He never had over 34 saves in any other season, had stopped closing in two years, and was out of baseball in four. Was he such a great pitcher in 1990 or is it somewhat of an empty record? I say the latter.

As far as Bonds chances, Rogers points to Bonds' high batting average and his record-breaking walk and on-base numbers as positives. However, he erroneously states that "[b]arring a late surge, the Giants once again will fall short of reaching the playoffs." The Giants were the wild-card leaders at the time. Rogers also points to Bonds' hamstring problem as limiting his base running and defense.

AS John Sheehan explains:

Bonds has a .448 EqA (Equivalent Average). That's 105 points better than Brian Giles' second-place .343. Factoring in playing time, the difference between Bonds and Giles is about the same as the difference between Giles and Carlos Lee.
That's dominance. Sheer, jaw-dropping dominance.

Only Baseball Matters points out:

A team of nine Barry Bonds' would outscore a team made up nine Larry Walker's (#2 in runs created per 9 innings) by almost double, 18 to 10.
A team of nine Barry Bonds', playing a whole season behind the Giants pitchers, with no allowances made for defense, would probably go 140-22.

Bonds is having a season of historic proportions. Smoltz is chasing a marginalized record. Who would you vote the MVP?

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