Troy Tulowitzki: NL MVP?

On Friday, we recorded our latest version of the podcast, which focused on the postseason awards. During the discussion, I suggested that I’d lean toward voting for Troy Tulowitzki, and that was before he launched two more home runs on Saturday. His numbers in September are just crazy good(.357/.407/1.000, .577 wOBA), and he’s a big reason why the Rockies are right back in the NL West race. But I’m not throwing my support behind him just because he’s bashing the baseball of late; I think there’s a pretty decent argument to be made that he’s been the league’s best player, even after accounting for the time he spent on the disabled list.

I think we can probably all agree that he’s been the best player in the NL on a rate basis. His .420 wOBA ranks second to Votto in the NL, and he’s a shortstop. Yes, his numbers get a boost from Coors Field, but his park adjusted wRC+ is still a fantastic 158, and translates out to 42 runs above average per 600 plate appearances. Votto’s 174 wRC+ translates out to 53 runs above average per 600 PA, leaving a gap that is easily overcome by the difference in scarcity between SS and 1B.

Of course, Votto actually has 600 PA (611, actually), while Tulowitzki has racked up just 476 trips to the plate this year. While Colorado’s shortstop has been the league’s best player when he’s been on the field, Votto has a significant edge in playing time, which is why he’s right there with Ryan Zimmerman at the top of the WAR leaderboards, and why he’s likely to win the award.

Even with Votto holding a +1 win advantage by WAR, I still think a vote for Tulowitzki is justifiable. WAR is more blunt hammer than precise chisel, so while it does a great job at telling you whether a player is good or bad, it is not designed to be used to separate out small differences among players having similar seasons. Votto’s +7.0 WAR isn’t so much better than Tulowitzki’s +6.1 WAR that we should definitely say that Votto has been more valuable. The best interpretation of those two numbers is that both have been fantastic, and that there’s room for discussion about which one has been better.

While we’re obviously big proponents of the usefulness of Wins Above Replacement, we do not encourage the use of it as a definitive ender of discussion when the subjects are within the margin of error. It’s one thing to use WAR to declare that Votto has clearly been better than, say, Aubrey Huff, but its another to state that it is perfectly accurate down to the decimal point. Votto and Tulowitzki are both good candidates, as is the always overlooked Ryan Zimmerman. To me, it is not nearly as clear cut which one should take home the trophy as it is over in the American League. I think reasonable cases can be made for all of them, and given the level to which Tulowitzki has been performing, it’s likely that the gap between he and Votto will decrease even more before the season is over.

Quantity or quality? Tulowitzki has the latter, having shown himself to be the NL’s best player when healthy. Does the time spent on the DL hurt his value? Certainly. But I think he might be the NL MVP anyway.





Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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andy s.
11 years ago

But what happens when you regress tulo to votto’s pas? It’s naive to think that tulo would keep up this production

The Duder
11 years ago
Reply to  andy s.

I think you missed the point a bit.

The MVP shouldn’t be (and isn’t) based on your xFIP or ZiPS or or UZR/150, it’s what you’ve done this season on the field to help your squad.

Which brings us to the question Dave raises: Votto has been a stud every single for the Reds this season, yet Tulo has been even better… but was hurt for a bit. Do we hold that against him? Of course we do, to a degree, but by how much? Whether he would regress or not (which he would likely, and so would Votto (slightly)) isn’t the issue.

The Duder
11 years ago
Reply to  The Duder

Oops, didn’t mean to include UZR/150, that’s just a rate and not a projection, so it’d be somewhat useful for MVP.

Andy S
11 years ago
Reply to  The Duder

I most certainly did not miss the point.

Dave is trying to argue that we should reward him because of his rate stats. He may have missed some time, Dave argues, but he was clearly the best player if you measure by rate. But this is a fallacy because value is quantitative and must be measured over an entire season, so in order to suggest that we can use rate based stats, you must be either suggesting that the value added in the shortened time is equal to another player’s extended season. So you in no way, shape, or form, can argue that Tulowitzki was more valuable than Votto, because here you should go by WAR.

Dave suggests then that WAR is not perfect. This should be obvious. But it’s the best we have, and if we’re not going to go by the best we have, then why go by it? The biggest complaint with WAR is that UZR has inaccuracies, but Tulo’s being further rewarded for his defense than Votto. At any rate, at such low magnitude UZRs, you would assume the variance to be low as well. wRC+ has been consistently shown to be a good stat.

So this brings me to the only conclusion I can possibly imagine – that Dave is rewarding Tulowitzki not off value, but because he sees him as a better player (based off rate). But even that’s not true, because that would assume that Tulowitzki would continue to perform at his current level outward – but instead, that is a level that we should regress since it is much, much higher than he had performed in the past.

Should Tulo be on voters’ ballots? Probably. Is there ANY logical argument for Tulo over Votto or Pujols (esp. when you throw in WPA or WPA/LI)?

Quite obviously, no.

The Duder
11 years ago
Reply to  The Duder

Well, now that you’re all worked up I’m not sure if you’ll be much fun talking to, but I’ll give it one more whirl.

If you looked at just their rates and nothing else, Tulo would hands down be the MVP. He has a .420 wOBA from SS, with plus defense. It’s not even a question. The issue is their WARs are 7.0 and 6.1. This is cumulative, not a rate. This is also close enough to say that while Votto seems to be ahead, this isn’t precise enough to close the book on the conversation.

What Dave is saying is that Tulo producing at 99% for 80% of the season could be more deserving of Votto producing at 95% for 95% of the season.

The question is……….

Look at their cumulative contributions alone, without rates, who is the MVP? They are very close. It’s just part of the story line that Votto has more playing time and Tulo has better rates.

Andy S.
11 years ago
Reply to  The Duder

But that’s where the WHOLE definition of replacement comes in. You assume that if a player is not playing, the contribution is that of a replacement player. So th idea of a player not being there for part of the season is factored in. Again, why preach a statistic on a website if you’re not going to use it (especially, again, when removing/regressing the component of defense, the sketchier factor, still keeps Votto ahead)?

Now, I understand the argument that having a high standard deviation in performance could be more valuable than a low standard deviation. But is it so large to overcome one WAR after accounting for all the other factors? I think that’s highly unlikely.

B N
11 years ago
Reply to  The Duder

In my opinion, if he missed time the team hurts as a result. You count that missed time fully. Imagine if the time that he missed was flipped: instead of missing some time earlier in the season, Tulo was out for the last 6 weeks of the stretch run. Would he have a chance at MVP? No way in hell. They needed him to win games in that case and he wasn’t there.

Well, if they had been able to win more games by having him off the DL earlier in the season- they wouldn’t need to win so many now. Same difference. And same reason why his missed production is just that: missed.

In my opinion, for the purposes of MVP- rate stats mean nearly nothing. You only get points for what you contributed, not what you coulda-shoulda-mighta over more appearances.

vivaelpujols
11 years ago
Reply to  The Duder

Agree with Andy 100%.

saberbythebay
11 years ago
Reply to  The Duder

Yeah, agree with Andy. If the question is who’s the best hitter in the NL, I think it’s Pujols without a lot of argument. The MVP isn’t for the player who has the most to potentially contribute. It’s the player who has provided the most to his team on the diamond that season. I’d like to see Zims get a little more talk, but unless the Nats are a true playoff contender in the next few years it’s not gonna happen.