Carlos Gonzalez And The Value Of Runs

When Joe Posnanski, Jayson Stark, and Rob Neyer all weigh in on a topic within a few days, odds are pretty good that there’s something of interest there. Odds are also good that most all of the points worth making have already been spoken for, as those three are among the best on earth at discussing issues relating to baseball. And so, when they all tackled Carlos Gonzalez over the last few days, I figured they’d touch all the bases. However, while they did a good job of discussing most of the issues, they left out one pretty important piece of the discussion, and that’s where I’m going to throw my hat into the ring.

Gonzalez is having a great year, certainly. No one will argue otherwise. His .423 wOBA is among the best in the league, and he’s spent a significant amount of time in center field this year. Offense from an up the middle position is extremely valuable, and his bat has been more than adequate even when he’s playing one of the corner spots. Of course, when discussing Gonzalez’s performance, it is impossible to talk about the numbers without also mentioning Coors Field. Posnanski tackles the issue of his home/road splits with quite a bit of depth, and does a good job of explaining why you shouldn’t just look at his road numbers and treat them as his true talent level, assuming that the entirety of the difference should be attributed to the park.

However, there’s another piece to park effects that goes beyond trying to figure out what a guy would have done in a neutral environment, and for the purposes of MVP votes, I’d argue that it’s even more important – the value of a run in a specific environment. Put simply, a run in Colorado is worth less than a run in other places.

The name of the game is to win, of course. You win games by outscoring your opponents, whether its 1-0 or 11-10. Anyone who has watched a game in Denver in San Diego will tell you that the park has a pretty significant influence on whether a game leans more towards one side of that spectrum than the other, and Colorado is notable for promoting offense. It is still the best place to hit in baseball, and because of that, the average game in Coors Field will see more runs scored than in other parks.

That makes each individual run less valuable in helping a team win. If the Rockies need to score six runs at home in order to win, a home run – which has a league average run value of 1.4 runs – by Gonzalez gets them 23.3 percent of the way there. The Padres, for instance, only need to score four runs in order to win at home, so a home run at Petco by Adrian Gonzalez, worth the same 1.4 runs, gets them 35 percent of the way to their needed total. A run in San Diego, or anywhere really, is worth more than a run in Colorado because of the run environment.

This is why we have to adjust the raw numbers before we compare players side by side. The goal is to win games, not to accumulate counting stats, and each individual hit does not have the same effect on winning a game for each player. This is why Carlos Gonzalez’s .423 wOBA is worth 39.2 runs, while Adrian Gonzalez’s .388 wOBA is worth 37.4 runs. Their raw offensive numbers are quite different, but their actual value is essentially the same. Offensively, the two Gonzalez’s are having equivalent seasons – that reality is just obscured by the parks they play in.

It isn’t about what they would have done in other parks – it’s about how many runs it actually takes to win a game in the park they currently play in. Even with the park adjustments, Gonzalez is still an MVP candidate, and if he keeps hitting the cover off the ball in September, he’ll have earned his way onto the ballot. However, we have to keep in mind that his raw performance has to be better than everyone else in order to have the same value, because he’s playing in an environment where runs are pretty easy to come by, and therefore, each one is less valuable.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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13 years ago

I agree with neutralizing for park effects but does ‘run environment’ also account for the quality of pitching/hitting of the teams that play in that park? It seems to me that you could drive the value of a run down by having a better lineup, no?

13 years ago
Reply to  Dave Cameron

I figured as much, thanks!