More distractions: Manny’s best year ever, the absence of “clutch” in VORP, and more fun with numbers

August 7th, 2006 → 11:28 am @ // No Comments

Last night, the enigma known as Eric Van wrote that Manny Ramirez was having the second-best year of his career, as measured by VORP.

(A very quick primer: VORP stands for Value Over Replacement Player, and measures the number of runs a given player produces over a replacement-level backup at his position, with replacement level being more or less defined as a scrub you can promote from AAA for minimal value, or, to put it another way, someone slightly better than Kevin Millar, circa 2006.)

So far this year, Manny’s clocking in at a 55.1 VORP, tops among batters on the Red Sox* (and fifth in all of baseball). Since VORP measures both quantity as well as quality, this figure needs to be multiplied by 1.47 (the Sox have played 110 out of 162 games; 162/110=1.47) to get the projected VORP for the season, bringing Manny to 80.0 (and David Ortiz to 77.61). The only time Manny has had a better VORP score in his remarkably consistent career was in 2000, his last year with the Cleveland Indians, when he put up a VORP of 81.3, which means that Eric’s right when he says Manny’s having the second best year of his career. And it also means that it’s Manny, and not Ortiz, who should be the team MVP…never mind the league MVP. Right?

Well, that depends. First off, there are plenty of problems with VORP. (One of the biggest ones, in my mind, is the assumption that the replacement for a player will be a scrub. There are plenty of cases — injury history, an inability to hit left-handers, etc — in which a club prepares for a player not being able to suit up for 162 games.) For the sake of this discussion — which is considering whether 2006 is actually the second-best year of Manny Ramirez’s career — let’s focus on the problems with combining quality with quantity. If you look solely at the stats Manny put up in the games he did play (and average out a full season of Mannyness to 155 games, which is exactly what he’s on pace for this year), 2006 is actually the fourth best year of his career, trailing 2000, 1999 (projected 155-game VORP of 82.5), and 2002, when Manny put up a 75.4 VORP in just 120 games, which projects out to 97.4. (Since we’ve only played about 68 percent of the season, it seems more than fair to extrapolate out past years in much the same way we’re extrapolating out the rest of this season.)

As far as MVP goes, one thing VORP does not take into account is the kind of situational hitting that David Ortiz does so well, those situations being the bottom of the ninth inning with the Red Sox either tied or trailing. I’m convinced that there is such a thing as “clutch” hitting; just because we haven’t figured out a way to precisely quantify it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be considered. (There’s obviously the inverse: instances where a batter presses and therefore doesn’t perform as well. Last year, when Jason Varitek hit his first career grand slam, John Henry let out an audible sigh of relief…not only because of the four runs, but because Tek had finally gotten that monkey off his back. See also Rodriguez, Alex.) Another thing VORP doesn’t take into account–and admittedly doesn’t try to take into account–is bang for the buck. Ortiz is making $6.5 million this year while Manny’s pulling in $18,279,000, which means the Red Sox are paying Manny $228,487 for every run he scores over a replacement player, while paying Ortiz $84,440. (There are some reports that indicate the four-year, $12.5-million-a-year contract extension Ortiz signed this past April also bumped his 2006 salary up to $12.5 million. If that’s true, he’s being paid $162,337 for each run he’s worth over a replacement-level DH.)

So is Eric right? Only in a world in which stats are considered more or less devoid of context. And, as Bill James told me for Feeding the Monster, “I believe in a universe that is too complex for any of us to understand. … It is one thing to build an analytical paradigm that leaves out leadership, hustle, focus, intensity, courage, and self-confidence. It is a very, very different thing to say that leadership, hustle, courage, and self-confidence do not exist or do not play a role in on real world baseball teams.”

* All of the links to VORP comparisons (but not VORP definitions) lead to Baseball Prospectus pages in which you’ll need a subscription.

EDIT: Brain fart of the day (thus far): there actually is a formula out there to measure how much a player is “worth”: marginal value over replacement player, or MORP, which, before the season began, showed Ortiz to be worth $8.85 million this year (and Manny to be worth about $9.5 million this year). This figure averages out all players; I’d like to see something that only took into account players who have already reached free agency. In either case, as BP’s Paul Swydan pointed out in an email, if you calculated Manny’s and Ortiz’s projected end-of-year MORPs based on what they’ve done so far, they come out almost identically, with Manny performing almost exactly as expected at $9,242,560 and Ortiz bettering his forecast at $9,526,500.

Post Categories: Baseball Prospectus & Bill James & David Ortiz & Eric Van & Manny Ramirez & sabermetrics

7 Comments → “More distractions: Manny’s best year ever, the absence of “clutch” in VORP, and more fun with numbers”

  1. yerfatma

    17 years ago

    the assumption that the replacement for a player will be a scrub

    Without arguing one way or the other for VORP, why is this a problem? It’s only useful as a yardstick if you have a consistent base. Isn’t VORP a metric to measure one starting LF against another, not a way to measure which team has a better set of players who can man the LF position? And I don’t get “Another thing VORP doesn’t into account is bang for the buck”; neither does OPS, OPS+, BA, etc. But if you divide any of them by the player’s annual salary*, you have the metric you’re looking for. I guess you’re focusing on the “Value” in the name, but it seems like asking a lot of one measurement.

    * Which is a sunk cost by the time you can measure the player’s performance against it. Handy for deciding whether to resign a player, but not meaningful in season unless you like to grind the “Players are overpaid” axe.

    Fair enough (and I fixed the omission of “take”). But projected VORP is one way to measure whether or not it makes sense to trade for, sign, or trade away a player, and too often that’s looked at in a vacuum. When comparing, say, Jon Lester to Andruw Jones, one point of comparison is the specific needs of a team. Another is their relative values. And a third is their costs, and what those costs will mean for a team’s flexibility moving forward. By looking at value, I wasn’t trying to denigrate VORP so much as I was trying to take a look at what it can and can’t tell us.

    Finally, while VORP is a way to measure players as compared to other players at their positions, it’s also used as a kind of catch-all stat vis a vis arguments for MVP, etc.

    — Seth


  2. yerfatma

    17 years ago

    Yeah, I’ll buy that, but I think without a salary cap it’s kind of a black hole of analysis. Should we just look at VORP/salary or do we also have to consider the total team payroll (or revenue stream)? The Red Sox’ flexibility is very different from the Kansas City Royals (at least given the fake set of restrictions some billionaire owners operate under). Without a hard cap or an honest and accurate account of total revenues derived from the on-field product, you’re going to develop a very percise metric that doesn’t measure anything real.


  3. Kevin

    17 years ago

    Even if you work in slaries, then there are a number of variables… the previous free agent market, strength of league, strength of schedule, quality of replacement players, injuries…

    I’m knee-deep in the Historical Baseball Abstract (new ed) right now, and I feel like win shares tries to be the closest thing there is to the stat we’re shooting at… but even that seems a bit odd.

    If you ask me who had the most to do with the success of the 1998 Yankees, I’d say Jeter, but he’s 2 behind Bernie Williams (somewhere in the family of 26-28) who led the team.


  4. Sox Blog

    17 years ago

    Chin up…


  5. kml1258

    17 years ago

    One thing that everyone discounts, why does David get great pitches to hit? Manny may not be as clutch as David, he’s not, but there is a reason for that, David bats 3rd and Manny bats 4th. VORP can not factor in that assumption that he gets great pitches to hit because if you walk him, “here comes Manny”. We try to statstically analyze each player, but the same thing that makes David clutch, makes Manny hitting behind him even more of a forgotten statistic to analyze. Manny makes David and vice versa. That’s why they are the #1 3-4 hitters in the game.


  6. crimsonohsix

    17 years ago

    Does MORP use a linear scale for payment/performance? If this is the case, this is clearly unrealistic – it seems pretty clear that the payment/performance scale has some sort of convexity effect to it… (linear increases in performance at the upper end seem to result in exponential increases in payment)


  7. Sox Blog - Chin up

    16 years ago

    […] So is Manny. (Seth Mnookin tries to look on the bright side of things here and here.) […]


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