Determining Awards: Results Versus Performance

I’m starting on blogging requests. This one actually came in before I opened the queue.

How much do you think the Cy Young voters should take into account things like BABiP? On the one hand, it’s not [Tim] Hudson’s fault he’s getting lucky and getting outs, and that is his job. On the other hand, it’s not all Hudson’s performance that has led to all those outs. My tendency is to want the BBWAA to hand out individual awards based on performance and not based on results. How much should results matter over performance, if at all, in your opinion?

Sports awards are kind of silly when you think about it. We use awards for the arts when there are no winners (e.g., Oscars, Emmys, etc.), but sports competitions have winners. Why bother? And the ESPYs? Who watches that? But, for whatever reason, awards have been around for a long time, and it’s fun to argue over who is the best. So, it’s a worthy topic of discussion.

The results versus performance debate is an interesting one. If I was trying to predict future outcomes, then distinguishing true performance from luck in outcomes is of utmost importance. Awards are backwards looking, and in sports competitions all we care about is outcomes. At the end of the regular season, we don’t pick post-season participants based on Pythagorean records or some other luck-sanitizing measure. For individual awards, should the standard be different? On the hitting side, I developed PrOPS to identify when players may be over- and under-performing based on the way they hit the ball. Fortuitous bounces and wind gusts may push a good hitter into the elite category, but I wouldn’t pick a player with a higher PrOPS over a player with a higher OPS to win an offensive award. I think what actually happens on the field matters more.

Here is another example. I don’t think Jose Bautista will ever hit 50 home runs in a season ever again, but should the flukyness of his season take away from the luster? Maybe he’s not in the MVP discussions, but if he was, I don’t think any favorable match-ups, wind-conditions, or other factors beyond his control that may have helped him outperform other players should put him out of contention for the award. The reason I’m reluctant not to single the performance out as an aberration is that an alternate explanation for Bautista’s improvement is that the took active steps to play better. Even if I can specifically identify good luck he benefited from, there is also the chance that there is unidentified bad luck that I am missing.

When it come to pitchers, that analysis gets a little more complicated. Batters do most everything they do by themselves. Pitchers need the help of fielders to get outs. Batting average on balls in play is something that pitchers have little control over, and BABIP is heavily influenced by randomness. I’m a strong-DIPS proponent. I think the evidence is clear that pitchers have very little control over hits on balls in play, and even on extra-base hits on balls in play. When I see a pitcher like Tim Hudson near the top of the league in ERA with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of less than two, I have a hard time treating Hudson as pitching as one of the league’s elite pitchers. Tim Hudson is a good pitcher, and at times this season he has been one of the best, but the award should go to the best pitcher for the entire season. Even if Hudson led the league in ERA, I couldn’t support him for the Cy Young.

It may seem that I am judging Bautista and Hudson by different standards by ignoring luck for the former but not for the latter, but I’m really focusing on different types of randomness. The role that randomness plays for pitchers is different than it is for hitters, because the main metrics that we use to judge pitchers are heavily polluted by factors beyond their control. If a pitcher gets lucky in striking out batters or preventing walks and homers, I’d have no problem supporting a Cy Young campaign, even if I thought there was little chance that he could continue to perform with the same level of outcome success.

So, when its outcomes versus performance, I prefer to focus on outcomes, but I there has to be some accounting for luck. And due to the nature of the luck they experience, I think we have to treat pitchers differently than we treat hitters when accounting for luck.

2 Responses “Determining Awards: Results Versus Performance”

  1. Jose says:

    My favorite part of the award season is the debate. I’m also completely partial to the “MVP of this month, this half, this week” conversation. I love it, mainly because I love debate. Pre-season MVPs, Statistical MVPs, MVPs on losing teams – it’s all great.

    That’s what I think is great about these awards is that they are voted on and the criteria is not definite. Voters should (and can as far as I know) pick whoever they want. I could pick Manny Ramirez because of the obvious impact he had on Andre Ethier and the Dodgers this year (Blogged about it back a few weeks). The “rules” are arbitrary, and thankfully, changing. It’s not BA/HR/RBI anymore. It’s OBP, OPS, etc., etc., etc.

    I think it’s extremely tough to draw the line between a player who helped his team more and a player who had the best season sometimes. Which opens the door for even more debate.

    The point being: I don’t think there isn’t a right or wrong. There’s always going to be a committee to vote on it, and all will use their own methods, and all of us will continually debate it. Stats don’t tell the whole story, because the MVP is not a fixed award, and not all statistics mean the same thing (just as not all MVP candidates mean the same to their respective teams).

  2. Shaun says:

    I sent that to Mr. Bradbury before Hudson’s recent slide. His BABiP and his ERA have increased over the last few starts. Now it appears Hudson’s a lock to finish no higher than third in the Cy Young voting.

    In trying to predict future outcome, this is exactly how Hudson’s performance “told” us things would play out. His BABiP has started to become more normalized and his results have suffered slightly.