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“Exotic math” is going to cost Justin Verlander the MVP award

Sep 12, 2011, 1:35 PM EDT

Justin Verlander Getty Images

A friend asked me if there was a point to the “Moneyball” movie coming out now, several years after the book.  All of the lessons its insights have long since been coopted and mainstreamed, my friend said. It’s kind of old news.

I considered the argument for a minute and, as I often do, I randomly surged the web as I thought. I somehow landed on Jerry Green’s column in the Detroit News, lamenting the fact that “narrow-minded” baseball writers will “gyp” Justin Verlander of the MVP award because they’re under the spell of voodoo baseball metrics:

The problem is with the voters, the select journalists in the Baseball Writers Association assigned to the voting. Two from each franchise city. And the problem is that this exotic math known as Sabermetrics has contaminated baseball’s once-neat statistical system. We have cryptic designations such as WHIP and WAR and OPS thrown about by stats geeks who believe themselves to be geniuses with ciphers.

And you know exactly what’s next. No, not some call for a more subjective criteria for MVP. A desire to insert drama and good stories into the mix.  I could at least understand that kind of argument as an appeal for something different.  No, what comes next is Green saying “all of these stats are awful” and proving the point by citing … other stats:

I prefer the ancient meat-and-potatoes stats — a better mixture. Batting average, home runs, runs batted in, runs scored for the position players. Victories, earned run average and strikeouts for pitchers.

And what I do know is that Justin Verlander has won 22 games this season against five losses. His total projects to 24 or 25 victories. No other pitcher in the major leagues is anywhere near him. And I know that his strikeout total, 232, is the highest in baseball and that his ERA, 2.24, is tied with Jered Weaver‘s for the lowest in the American League.

All that is in the baseball’s ancient stats info. You could look it up — as this ancient did.

As always, these arguments are not about statistics. Or even about baseball.  They’re about politics. Tradition vs. modernity. Fear of change in a changing world.  Baseball statistics are simply the McGuffin in this grand debate. It could just as easily be music, hairstyles or the height of one’s pants.

  1. cur68 - Sep 12, 2011 at 1:39 PM

    Damn stat geek better get off my lawn!

    • kopy - Sep 12, 2011 at 1:47 PM

      The article link is worth clicking just to get a mental image of the man that is saying this.

      • cur68 - Sep 12, 2011 at 1:56 PM

        Crikey. Aviator non-shades and all. Like wow. You just know he’s drives a Ford LTD in pea soup green, that he bought new in the mid 70′s. Calls her ‘Betsy”.

      • jimbo1949 - Sep 12, 2011 at 2:54 PM

        Thought it was a Gran Torino, like the name of the movie?

    • cur68 - Sep 12, 2011 at 1:51 PM

      Now that i’ve beaten everyone to that line, I can write the comment I really wanted to. This, and a judicious portion of anti-sabermetrics rants, is more about the fear of change, the fear of something new, different and seemingly more complex than it is anything to do with flaws in sabermeterics.

      Anyways, he’s wrong about Verlander for AL MVP. Its Bautista. MVP baby. MVP.

      • kopy - Sep 12, 2011 at 1:56 PM

        But of course, as the headline dictates, it’s the ones that use advanced statistics that are narrow-minded. The fact that the writer thinks WHIP is some exotic math is pretty frustrating.

      • mpescaro - Sep 12, 2011 at 2:03 PM

        WHIP is VERY exotic math. You have to add two totals and divide the sum by another total! It involves division. Sort of like…ERA? No, no, that can’t be right…

        Don’t you love how the “exotic math” that is going to cost him an award lists him as the MLB leader? He has a WHIP of .91. I know this guy doesn’t know what that means, but still. If anything, he will win BECAUSE he may have a de-facto quadruple crown.

      • proudlycanadian - Sep 12, 2011 at 3:25 PM

        Jose Bautista deserves the MVP award on merit. He has won a lot more games than Verlander or any of the other candidates.

  2. heyblueyoustink - Sep 12, 2011 at 1:41 PM

    I’m sure if Verlander was going to lose the MVP due to something exotic, a dancer would be the preference..

    Long live exotic things!

  3. phrontiersman - Sep 12, 2011 at 1:43 PM

    If “Exotic Math” is Jose Bautista’s pseudonym for hotel check-ins on the road, then yeah, I could see that being to blame.

  4. nolanwiffle - Sep 12, 2011 at 1:45 PM

    ….apt analogies at the end, I suppose. Except for the fact that our author likes the Pixies, is bald, and doesn’t see fit to wear pants in the workplace.

    • cur68 - Sep 12, 2011 at 2:17 PM

      I’ve tried to post a “Megamind” link twice now, but have been thwarted by cruel the nbc servers. Lets see what happens if I leave the link out:

      “When I read FC’s “Craig’s Lair” pieces what I see is Megamind, only with a bubble pipe, the bathrobe and juuuuuust an apology of hair lingering around the edges.”

      Lets see if that makes it in.

      Of course, later 2day there will be all 3 comments from me all saying basically the same thing and I’ll be forced to avoid this article out of shame for the rest of the week.

      • Francisco (FC) - Sep 12, 2011 at 3:00 PM

        “When I read FC’s “Craig’s Lair” pieces what I see is Megamind, only with a bubble pipe, the bathrobe and juuuuuust an apology of hair lingering around the edges.”

        Ahh, how opportune. I’m setting up a blog where I hope to slowly gather all the Craig’s Lair posts in one place. Hopefully I’ll be able to have it complete sometime tonight.

  5. joshfrancis50 - Sep 12, 2011 at 1:47 PM

    How dare we use new information to gain a better understanding of anything. I’m not feeling so well, but I’ll be back to complain some more after I apply a few leaches and expel my illness with some additional blood-letting.

  6. clydeserra - Sep 12, 2011 at 1:49 PM

    I love love love it when the cranks use WHIP and OPS to denigrate the “Stats” crowd.

    I will now sit up in my seat in my mothers basement and push my glassed back mid nose where they had slipped to point out that SABR types don’t use those anymore.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 12, 2011 at 1:51 PM

      Can’t believe I actually read the column, but I love nuggets like this:
      Imagine, on base percentage plus slugging average — appearing in baseball literature as OPS. It’s like mixing sand with gasoline

      Ah yes, two out of the three items in the triple slash. Like mixing sand with gasoline. Wait what?

      • clydeserra - Sep 12, 2011 at 1:59 PM

        Well, one, OBP, measures what a batter does a certain percentage of the time when he is at bat, and the other, SLG, measures what a HITTER does a certain percentage of the time he is at bat.

    • mpescaro - Sep 12, 2011 at 1:58 PM

      Are you kidding? WHIP is a useless voodoo stat! How dare someone measure a pitcher’s value by determining the number of baserunners he allows per inning? How could that be useful? I mean, “walks and hits per inning pitched” is not the least bit relevant!

      What’s that? Verlander also leads the MLB in WHIP? Yay, WHIP! Let’s use WHIP! WHIP must be useful!

      • Mark - Sep 12, 2011 at 4:54 PM

        WHIP is kind of useless, and that’s coming from one of those “Exotic math” guys. I’d rather know a pitcher’s BB/9, BB% or their BABIP before I considered looking at a player’s WHIP. Whenever someone uses WHIP I kind of have that “Really, her?” look on my face that they always used on George Michael when he was talking about Anne.

        Now if he had complained about FIP the gloves would be off.

  7. Jonny 5 - Sep 12, 2011 at 2:01 PM

    How dare people use the results of the season to pick who the best pitcher was ?!?!?.

    That is all this voodoo “exotic math” is really… It just helps to separate the pitcher from the performance of others, unless they want the Cy Young to be a team honor?

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 12, 2011 at 2:13 PM

      How dare people use the results of the season to pick who the best pitcher was ?!?!?.

      bravo!

  8. Tim's Neighbor - Sep 12, 2011 at 2:04 PM

    He completes the Old Man Trifecta with the glasses, complaining and the causal use of an Old World racist term: gyp.

    • Tim's Neighbor - Sep 12, 2011 at 4:38 PM

      I guess at least 4 people like Old World racist terms.

  9. thefalcon123 - Sep 12, 2011 at 2:07 PM

    Damn exotic math. It’s ruining baseball just like it ruined bridge engineering. Sure, we now know if a bridge will hold x amount of weight, but it was so much more fun and romantic when the bridge may just collapse at any minute.

    Math is for a**holes that just like to ruin everything.

  10. scatterbrian - Sep 12, 2011 at 2:12 PM

    “We have cryptic designations such as WHIP and WAR and OPS thrown about by stats geeks who believe themselves to be geniuses with ciphers.”

    Why are you complaining about these stats?? Verlander leads AL starting pitchers in WHIP, WAR and OPS allowed.

    • xwingr2 - Sep 12, 2011 at 3:06 PM

      The only way this old feller’s article could have been any more sterotypically from a cranky old man would be if he called it “THE WHIP, THE WAR and THE OPS” Really, old people these days, amirite?

  11. sjhaack - Sep 12, 2011 at 2:14 PM

    But that same exotic math has everyone agreeing that Verlander should walk away with the cy young award easily. How does it work one way but not another?

    Plus Bautista is leading the league in new fangled advanced stats like “Home Runs”.

    • Ace - Sep 12, 2011 at 2:58 PM

      Actually—and this is so rich—CC Sabathia currently has the edge over Verlander, according to fWAR. I kind of want to see an insurgent CC for the CY campaign to break out amongst the stats community, just to watch some old school heads explode.

      • seanmk - Sep 12, 2011 at 3:16 PM

        tried that on friday. only problem is boston pretty much beat CC so much that he would not win on “record vs boston.”

  12. pbannard - Sep 12, 2011 at 2:42 PM

    I agree that it’s about politics, but I’m not sure it’s about fear of change. Instead, I think it’s about finding whatever statistics (in this case the “ancient” ones) best supports the foregone conclusion he’s arrived at which is, shockingly, in favor of the local player.

  13. halladaysbiceps - Sep 12, 2011 at 2:44 PM

    Jerry Green of the Detroit Times is my kind of guy. Preach on, brother!

    • paperlions - Sep 12, 2011 at 3:17 PM

      Dios los crea y ellos se juntan

      • halladaysbiceps - Sep 12, 2011 at 3:24 PM

        Speak American.

      • paperlions - Sep 12, 2011 at 3:39 PM

        Sorry, I don’t know any American languages, a little Guarani, which is South American…other than that, I just know European languages (English, Castellano), don’t know any American languages.

      • halladaysbiceps - Sep 12, 2011 at 3:45 PM

        paper,

        You are trying to be smartass to me, just you do to Chris F. You waste my time.

      • cur68 - Sep 12, 2011 at 3:46 PM

        Ya Ta Hay (pronounced “Yah-ah-Teh”). That’s all I got.

      • Jonny 5 - Sep 12, 2011 at 4:09 PM

        Cur, that’s not native American. That’s the language of “Nell”

        may tay chichapay

      • cur68 - Sep 12, 2011 at 4:17 PM

        Navajo for “Hello” J5, unless Tony Hillerman has mislead me all these years. Now, I could have gone with Cree (tânisi) but I can’t find a good enough translator to see if I’m right about the spelling or not.

    • ditto65 - Sep 12, 2011 at 7:59 PM

      Maybe if you weren’t such a big, annoying target, others would leave you be, Bicepts.

  14. trevorb06 - Sep 12, 2011 at 2:54 PM

    If Verlander can win an MVP does that mean Drew Butera should be eligible for the Cy Young?

    #sarcasm

  15. citifieldurinal - Sep 12, 2011 at 3:04 PM

    Actually, in a division that was pegged to be mediocre (and has been) you could take Verlander’s 6.4 WAR away and the Tigers would still lead by 4.5 games. If you take CC Sabathia’s 6.8 WAR away from the Yankees, they’re in 3rd place in a very competitive AL East.

    I just made myself shiver defending a Yankee, but it had to be done. Both Verlander and Sabathia have been awesome this year, but the value argument can be easily debunked in the context of their division races.

    • scatterbrian - Sep 12, 2011 at 3:41 PM

      I’m loving this narrative that Justin Verander single-handedly willing the Kitties to the AL Central title. Never mind the fact that the Tigers are fourth in the AL in scoring with a heart of Cabrera, Martinez, Avila and Peralta…

      • citifieldurinal - Sep 12, 2011 at 6:41 PM

        Hence, why I said if you took away Verlander’s WAR the Tigers would still be leading the division by 4.5 games.

  16. Detroit Michael - Sep 12, 2011 at 3:08 PM

    Best guess is that Jerry Green was born circa 1934, making him about 81 years old now: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Green_(writer)

    If you read his column (and I enjoy it still partly out of nostalgia because I grew up reading his columns), you don’t expect the most state-of-the-art opinions necessarily.

    Obviously, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about here. Most advanced baseball statistics such as WAR will show that Verlander is the AL’s best pitcher and at least among the top handful of MVP candidates. Sabermetrics won’t hurt Verlander’s chances.

  17. thefalcon123 - Sep 12, 2011 at 3:34 PM

    He, according to this guy, do you know who had the best pitching season since Steve Carlton in 1972?

    Bob Welch, 1990. He single handily won 27 games*

    *with a little help from Rickey Henderson, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Harold Baines, and a bullpen with a comically low 2.16 ERA. Repeat…the entire bullpen had a 2.16 ERA.

    • clydeserra - Sep 12, 2011 at 3:46 PM

      was that the year LaRussa changed pitchers every third pitch?

      • Alex K - Sep 12, 2011 at 4:14 PM

        That’s every year.

  18. frank35sox - Sep 12, 2011 at 4:17 PM

    Craig, maybe this is just another case of being disconnected with public sentiment, but “gypped” is every bit as offensive as Rod Allen’s “midget.” If Mr. Green had used an anti-semitic slur implying Verlander is being swindled, there would be much more out roar. Not trying to start any problems, just acknowledging that there are many more people in the world than just Rod who need to be more mindful of what they say.

    • Kevin S. - Sep 12, 2011 at 4:37 PM

      I think so few people are aware of the etymology of the term “gypped.”. It would be blatantly obvious if he said Verlander was going to get Jewed out of the award. Not so much with gypped. I don’t think the slur was intentional.

    • Matt - Sep 12, 2011 at 4:43 PM

      Noone cares about gypsies.

    • clydeserra - Sep 12, 2011 at 6:30 PM

      isn’t that why Craig put it in quotes? TO point out that its a racist term?

  19. robertjamis - Sep 12, 2011 at 4:51 PM

    It’s clearly a case of sportswriters who are used to mailing in their opinions based on checking a few columns in a box score here and there being unwilling to take time out of their bloviating schedule to learn about something new they imagine they cannot understand rather immediately.

  20. A.J. - Sep 12, 2011 at 6:26 PM

    “All these narrow-minded nerds with these new ideas which I refuse to consider.”

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