Monday, October 8, 2012

A (non-sabermetric) Look at the Arguments for Miguel Cabrera to Win MVP

Miguel Cabrera had a fantastic season, one of the best hitting seasons in the last 10-12 years. Not quite Barry Bonds level, but it certainly is on the same general level as the best from Alex Rodriquez, Manny Ramirez, Albert Pujols, Carlos Delgado, David Ortiz, Vladimir Guerrero and probably a few others. As a result, Cabrera has a lot of support to win the MVP, based largely on his winning the “triple crown” and the Tigers making the playoffs.

Mike Trout also had an amazing season. I’m not really going to make the case for Trout, because it’s made very well here and here (warning, stat-heavy) and plenty of other places (here). The purpose here is to provide a simple discussion around the arguments that Cabrera’s supporters typically make in his support.

Argument 1: TRIPLE CROWN!

I understand that simultaneously leading the league in Batting Average, Home Runs and Runs Batted In is not a common occurrence and is not easy to do. I am not making an attempt to frame it as something that is easy to do, or something that is not indicative of a great season. Let’s look at the triple-crown categories and the role they play into Cabrera’s MVP case:

Batting Average: Cabrera had a higher batting average than Mike Trout by 4 points. I’m not sure if people truly understand the differences in batting average actually. But, just so we’re clear here, 4 points is not a difference of 4 hits per 100 at-bats. It’s a difference of 4 hits for every 1,000 at-bats. That’s 1 hit every 250 at bats (roughly 50 games), or 3 hits over the course of a season. It means that the odds of Mike Trout getting a hit and the odds that Miguel Cabrera getting a hit are both 33%.

Mike Trout had a higher OBP than Cabrera by a slightly greater margin. If the goal of baseball is to not make outs, so that you can hopefully create runs – do you think that getting a hit a slightly higher percentage of the time is more important if it means you make outs a slightly higher percentage of the time? Should one hit every 50 or so games make a player more valuable if they actually made 1 or 2 more outs in those games? If Trout had won the Batting title, and Cabrera beat Trout in OBP, would that have made Cabrera less valuable than Trout? If you think it wouldn’t have, then you’ve just negated the argument that Cabrera winning the triple crown makes him the MVP.

Congratulations Miguel Cabrera, for that 1/250 lead in batting average, but you’re pretty lucky that whoever came up with the triple crown decided that batting average was more important than on-base percentage.

To further my point about rewarding batting average versus outs made, while Cabrera did get those extra 3 hits to win batting average, he also created an additional 28 outs that are not tallied by BA/OBP/SLG by hitting into double plays (Trout had 7).

Home Runs: Cabrera hit 1 more home run than Josh Hamilton. Hey, I think that’s awesome. But let me ask you this – suppose he didn’t. Suppose Hamilton didn’t miss a bunch of games and hit 2 more homeruns. Would that have changed Miguel Cabrera’s season? Or, more importantly, his “value”? WHY? Why is the performance of a player that is not Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera at all relevant to the argument of who, between Trout and Cabrera, should be MVP? If you can’t answer that question, sorry, but the entire “triple crown” argument is moot. Think about it – Mike Trout could miss out on winning an MVP because Josh Hamilton missed too many games. The only person Josh Hamilton missing games should impact in the MVP voting is Josh Hamilton.

Runs Batted In: Cabrera had 139 RBI. That’s great. Trout scored 129 Runs. Can we agree not to discuss this again? RBI and Runs are situational and talking about RBI is just like talking about Batting Average and Home Runs again with the added context of “opportunity”. If you think RBI are an “important” statistic in measuring value – you don’t understand context. Is a hit with no one on in the 8th inning of a tie game of less “value” than the same hit that knocks in 2 runs in the 5th inning extending a lead to 9-1? Do you see why it’s not? These are not actual game scenarios or an indictment on the nature of Cabrera’s RBI, but instead just an example to show that context matters.

Also, Cabrera is pretty lucky that whoever came up with the triple crown decided that RBI should be a triple crown category instead of runs.

You could craft a narrowly focused position that Cabrera was more valuable because he capitalized on his relative RBI opportunity better than Trout. I’ve seen that done. It doesn’t amount to many runs, but you could do that. But then I’d say – what about runs Trout saved with his glove versus runs Cabrera cost his team with his glove? What about runs created with Trout’s legs that Cabrera cost his team with his? What about runs Cabrera cost his team by creating a league leading 28 double plays? See, if you do this across all of the ways that these players impact the game, those “added” runs disappear extremely quickly. That’s the danger of taking such a narrow focus. You ignore too much.

If you think that the Triple Crown makes Cabrera’s season “one for the ages” or more “special”, I’ll just say this: There have been far more seasons like Miguel Cabrera’s in the history of baseball than seasons like Mike Trout’s. There’s been many seasons like Cabrera’s, or better, since 2000.

Argument 2: The Tigers Made the Playoffs

This one is awesome. The Tigers made the playoffs, and Cabrera played great. If Trout was so valuable, how come his team didn’t make the playoffs? Arguing this with someone is like when you say “we should spend less on our military; we spend more than the next 17 or so countries combined” and they respond with “you hate America and Freedom and our troops!” It’s hard to bring that person into a logical, rational debate.

Sadly, I’ve seen this argument a lot – perhaps more than the triple crown argument. Here are some counterpoints to think about:

- They are in different divisions. The Tigers are in an easier division.

- The Angels actually won one more game.

- They are only 1 of 25 guys on the roster. The rest of their rosters played, oh, we’ll just say….more than an incidental role in the performance of the team.

- In my HR example above, if you think it’s kind of silly to let Josh Hamilton’s inability to hit 2 more homeruns factor into the Trout versus Cabrera vote, well now you’re letting like 100 other player’s performance factor in.

- Let’s say the White Sox play great down the stretch and don’t puke up the division lead – would that have made Cabrera less valuable then Mike Trout? Why? If you think it doesn’t, then you’ve just negated this argument.

- Let’s say Justin Verlander was injured on May 1 and the Tigers finish 5 games back - would that have made Cabrera less valuable than Mike Trout? WHY? If you think it doesn’t, then you’ve just negated this argument.

I get that this can be hard if you're wired to think like your local talk radio hosts or beat writer, because the MVP award is really about overall contributions to the team, but you need to look at those contributions in a vacuum. If you’re unsure what I mean, stick your head up a vacuum and you’ll see. See how there’s no other baseball players up that vacuum? See how Justin Verlander is nowhere in that vaccum? A baseball player gets 4-6 plate appearances per game and a handful of chances in the field. To vote for Cabrera as MVP because the Tigers made the playoffs is, to be blunt, dumb. Prince Fielder, Justin Verlander and a host of other players (on the Tigers and on other teams) all combined to make that (barely) happen.

Argument 3: He Moved to Third to “Make Room” for Prince Fielder

Prince Fielder joining the Tigers was happening whether Miguel Cabrera moved to third or not. I’m actually not sure any other point should be made. He’s “more valuable” because Prince Fielder is really good? What if Fielder had been terrible, would that have made Cabrera less valuable? Why?  If this is your argument, you've just decided that Cabrera should be the MVP and you're grasping at anything to support it. 

Barely related side note – Derek Jeter refused to move to third base in 2004 when the better fielding Alex Rodriguez joined the Yankees. A-Rod outplayed Derek Jeter that year and Jeter STILL received more MVP votes.

Argument 4: He Was “Clutch” Down “the Stretch” and Trout SUCKED Down “the Stretch”

Cabrera’s performance was great in August and September, which is timely. But the extremes I’ve seen presented here are not accurate. Note that I’m going to honor this argument on its face and not enter into a debate of the value of games in May versus games in September.

This argument really isn’t about Miguel Cabrera, it’s about Mike Trout. Cabrera’s best month was August (.357/.429/.663), but he was consistently great all year, particularly after the all-star break. Mike Trout’s best month was July (.392/.455/.804), and then he was progressively worse after that. The first point I’ll make is that, short of being 2001-2004 Barry Bonds, it’s virtually impossible to not play worse than Mike Trout in July. Miguel Cabrera played worse in August and September than Mike Trout did in July, too.

So what did Mike Trout do in August and September that was so bad? He didn’t hit as well as Miguel Cabrera, but no one is saying Trout deserves the MVP for out-slugging Cabrera. The problem here is that it assumes we’re comparing two #3 hitting sluggers that can’t run and are non-factors (or negative factors) on defense. We’re not comparing Miguel Cabrera to David Ortiz here. We’re comparing him to a guy who is playing one of the two most valuable defensive positions (excluding pitcher), batting first, stealing lots of bases and taking many more that lesser runners would not AND hitting extremely well.

Trout was still that much better at every other phase of the game. Those difficult to measure parts of the game that involve preventing runs and causing runs to occur where lesser players would not have.

(There is a stat for this, but I’ve promised to make this non-sabermetric. But according to that stat, Trout was actually more valuable than Cabrera every month of the season, once he started playing. But let’s just pretend that stat doesn’t exist, because it seems to inspire what its acronym is pronounced as.)

So Trout had an amazing July, and Cabrera had an amazing August.  Then, in Sept/Oct, the difference between Cabrera (.333/.402/.675) and Trout (.289/.396/.500) works out to about 3 hits for 6 more bases. Trout walked 6 more times and stole an additional 6 more net bases, if that helps you bridge those differences. Cabrera hit into 5 double plays in September, if that helps as well. That’s the problem with focusing on a short time period with selective endpoints and why you need to focus on the entire season.

(You may do the math and notice that Trout needed an additional 5 hits to catch Cabrera in BA, but at 3 hits Cabrera’s lead in BA is actually the same as Trout’s lead in OBP, because Trout walks more – so I’m calling it even there.  Also, BA is like 1/20th of any story in comparing two players).

The biggest knock against Trout, honestly, has nothing to do with September. It is that he came up too late to impact his team in April.

Argument 5: No, You Don't Understand - He Made the Playoffs AND Won the Triple Crown

Taking multiple bad arguments and twisting them together doesn’t work either.


However you want to evaluate the merits of their performances; please let it focus on THEIR PERFORMANCES. Don’t let what Josh Hamilton didn’t do, or Justin Verlander did do, or the White Sox didn’t do, etc. allow you to feel differently about what Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout did do.

I know someone may read this and say “ha! But your argument is based on hypotheticals, because Hamilton did miss those games and didn’t hit those home runs and Verlander did play all year, so etc etc”. My point is only that if your MVP ballot hinged on what those guys did/did not do, you’re not answering the question of “who was the most valuable player”, you’re answering the question of “who had a great year and also had a number of extraneous, non-controllable circumstances go their way?”

Don’t do that.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Gregg Easterbrook - Is This Really the WORST PLAY?

I usually go through Gregg Easterbrook's Tuesday Morning Quarterback pretty quickly, since most of what he says is anecdotal bullshit.  But occassionally I'll read something he's written about a play I didn't see, and then I'll try to find the play.  It just so happens that this week's "worst play of the season, so far" was easy to find.  I'll let Gregg tell you about it.

Single Worst Play of the Season -- So Far: Michael Vick fumbled near the Arizona goal line on a play that began with six seconds remaining before intermission. James Sanders of the Cardinals recovered and was racing up the sideline. By the time he reached midfield, only two Eagles were even attempting to chase him -- though the clock expired during the play. All Philadelphia had to do was push Sanders out-of-bounds, and the half would have ended without Arizona scoring. Instead nine of 11 Eagles quit on the play, and Arizona got a touchdown.

Philadelphia Eagles offense, you are guilty of the single worst play of the season. So far.

Here is the play (courtesy of The Big Lead).  Go watch it.  Yeah, I'm way to lazy to embed something.

Who, the fuck, was going to catch James Sanders here?  Who had a snowballs chance in hell of pushing him out of bounds?

Easterbrook makes it sounds like 5 guys could have given chase but said..."aww maaaaaan...I don't want to run....that's haaarrrrrd."

When Sanders picks up the ball he is already in front of all but 1 Eagle, and he already running in the direction of the endzone.   Sanders is immediately swarmed by FOUR Cardinals who were running at the fumble and are therefore now running stride for stride with him to block potential tacklers.  In fact, when he is chased down, one of his blockers takes care of clearing his path again.

Receivers and tight ends, as you can imagine, were not close to the ball and were not in a position to react quick enough to do much....though everyone gave chase until it was clear that they had no chance.  Linemen had no hope.

All they had to do was simply push Sanders out of bounds!  Well, they actually needed to (mostly likely) change direction, make up 10-20 or so yards, run down a pretty fast guy, and get by his blockers and catch up to him, and push him out of bounds. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Gregg Easterbrook: You Owe Ed Liddy an Apology

Chances are you've read this post (like 200 times) from a few years ago where Gregg Easterbook expresses outrage at Ed Liddy's "kings ransom" like compensation package that he and AIG LIED about.  Well the wait is over, because now we have the exciting conclusion to this story.

While looking up Apple's proxy for the last post, I remembered the old AIG post and I thought it was a good time to do a follow up. 

For reference, Gregg took issue with AIG paying certain of Liddy's living expenses - calling it out as being essentially the same as base compensation.  See, Liddy lived in Chicago, and he was asked to step in as CEO during an insanely turbulent time (remember that financial crisis thing?  No?  Remember Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers?  Riiiighhht....that crisis).  They structured his compensation as $1 salary, he declined   stock options, and AIG would pay certain living expenses for him in NYC since he already was paying for ongoing living expenses in Chicago. Sounds reasonable, right?  The intent, as disclosed by AIG, was to make it so that Liddy wasn't paying to work for AIG.  What did Easterbrook say about Liddy's $1 a year salary and zero stock options?

Yet he lied through his teeth about this and got away with it.

Sure.  He said that the living expenses WERE salary and said that zero stock options was actually 200,000 stock options, based on what a different CEO was given.  Kind of a jerky thing to do, right?

What does this encourage? More CEO lying. Liddy also received stock options. AIG has never said how many; suppose it was 200,000, the number just granted Benmosche.  When Liddy went to AIG, its share price was hovering around $5; if that's the strike price, 200,000 shares would be worth about $7 million right now. Plus AIG quietly said Liddy may receive a bonus payable in 2010. The man who was widely praised for claiming to work for $1 may end up with a king's ransom in his pockets, all pilfered from the average taxpayers. Why have the media dropped this story?

At the time, I took issue with Easterbrook's hypothetical stock option grant and $7 million gain being passed off as if it was in Liddy's bank account.  AIG specifically disclosed that Liddy turned down an option award, and Easterbrook still told you the opposite. 

I checked AIG's proxy for 2009 here.  What did I find?

Final tally of options granted to Ed Liddy during his tenure at AIG: 0 shares
Restricted Stock awarded Ed Liddy: 0 shares
Gain on exercise of stock: $0
Gain assumed by Easterbrook in calling Liddy a liar: $7 million
Amount Easterbrook was off by: $7 million
% Easterbrook was of by: 100%
Bonus paid to Ed Liddy: $0

Why did the media drop the story?  There was no story.  You made up the story.

So Easterbrook frequently rails on the New York times for making mistakes in their reporting, but not issuing corrections with the same level of prominance. 

Where was his correction?   Since he insulted someone's integrity - where was his apology? 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Gregg Easterbrook Distorts Tim Cook's CEO Restricted Stock Award

Ahhh the NFL season is upon us, which means that Gregg Easterbrook has his forum on ESPN to write misleading half-truths and totally point out when people prepare for Christmas too soon.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, Easterbrook took issue with Apple CEO Tim Cook's compensation.  Let's see if he played it straight, or if he was misleading (he was misleading).

Is Apple the New Exxon/Mobil?

Timothy Cook, CEO of Apple, received $378 million in compensation for 2011.

Well, that’s clearly a lot of money – imagine if your compensation was $377,996,537 of cold, hard cash – all of it “received” in 2011.  Pretty crazy!  Now, what if I told you that $376,180,000 of that compensation would be paid in stock? Does that change your opinion? Maybe not. Sell stock, convert to cash. Couldn’t be more simple, right? What if I told you that 50% of that stock (500,000 shares) wouldn’t be yours unless you’ve been successful at your job for 5 years (your job requires you to maintain Apple’s impossibly high growth rates and market share). You may reply, “okay, but I get the other 500,000 shares now?” No – you get the other 500,000 shares in 10 years.   A bit of a catch.  So what Gregg has done is he's latched onto the proxy compensation reported by Apple.  Not wrong, but horribly misleading.  Usually, it's a good proxy (see what I did there) for annual compensation.  But when I saw Gregg's note, I knew it was impossibly high, and quick control-f in the proxy would tell the real story.  Let's see...

This is appalling avarice: Cook could have paid himself half as much and still been the highest-paid CEO in the United States! Cook pulled down $126,000 per hour, more per hour than the typical American family makes in a year.

Does my above paragraph change your view on whether or not Tim Cook “PAID HIMSELF” $378 million in 2011? The board paid him $900,000 of salary, a $900,000 bonus and gave him 1,000,000 shares of stock, vesting 50% in 5 years and 50% in 10 years.

But how could I possibly know this information, and why the board decided to give him that award? Well, maybe we could read the public filing?

In connection with Mr. Cook’s appointment as CEO, the Board granted Mr. Cook 1,000,000 RSUs as a promotion and retention award. The RSUs are payable, subject to vesting, on a one-for-one basis in shares of the Company’s common stock. Fifty percent (50%) of Mr. Cook’s award is scheduled to vest on August 24, 2016 (five years after the award date) and fifty percent (50%) of Mr. Cook’s award is scheduled to vest on August 24, 2021 (ten years after the award date), subject to Mr. Cook’s continued employment with the Company through the applicable vesting date. In light of Mr. Cook’s experience with the Company, including his leadership during Mr. Jobs’s prior leaves of absence, the Board views his retention as CEO as critical to the Company’s success and smooth leadership transition. The RSU award is intended as a long-term retention incentive for Mr. Cook, and, accordingly, should be viewed as compensation over the 10-year vesting period and not solely as compensation for 2011.

Interesting, what else?

Except for the longer 10-year vesting term, Mr. Cook’s award is subject to the same standard terms and conditions that apply to the Company’s RSU awards generally. Accordingly, the award provides that Mr. Cook’s unvested RSUs will be forfeited if his employment terminates in any circumstances, other than death or disability.

Sounds like a nice gig, 500,000 shares of Apple in 5 years, and another 500,000 in 10 years. All you have to do it is keep cranking out world class performance as the CEO of Apple and making your shareholders richer and richer. Sounds easy enough.

Recently The Wall Street Journal reported that Hon Hai Precision Industry, manufacturer of the iPad, pays workers about $345 per month. So if Cook had merely taken half as much, the money saved could have been used to double the wages of 46,000 Chinese workers. So which is more important, a better life for 46,000 people or greed for Apple's CEO?

There was no money to do anything with. You either didn’t read the filing (lazy) or you did and you’re being intentionally misleading to your readers (asshole).

Workers in China are not the sole issue. Apple's U.S. retail workers are much more productive than Costco or Best Buy workers, yet earn significantly less. Cook might say his extremely high pay is based on his being productive. But Apple's U.S. employees are productive, and are shafted on pay.

I have two counter points: Apple products are easy to sell (high demand, despite high prices), and you don’t make money in retail sales.

Also, nowhere in that article does it say that Apple employees earn less than counterparts at Best Buy and Costco.   Though I didn't read the whole thing, I did some word finds.

Cook would probably say that his extremely high pay is based on Apple designing and manufacturing expensive products at a low cost that fly off of retail shelves.

Apple products are cool and offer value. But when the social equation is taken into account, Apple becomes disturbing. How did this happen to what was once a progressive firm?

Apple becomes disturbing when you cherry pick information and ignore material facts.