That time again

I began filling out my postseason award ballot on Wednesday, and drew some interested responses, and after reflection, I have to think that Yoshinobu Yamamoto is going to win the PL MVP award because people infer that the player whose season is the biggest outlier in the league MUST be the MVP.

I was asked why Yamamoto was absent from my Pacific League MVP votes, and why Lotte’s Shogo Nakamura was there at all.

Although I think it’s exceedingly hard to argue that Yamamoto was more valuable than Mastaka Yoshida, there are things players do and don’t do that aren’t measured except in anecdote.

For the first time in a few years, I’ve relied on my own work to cast my postseason award ballots. This allowed me to do without wins above replacement, which I kind of understand but philosophically can’t get behind for two reasons:

  1. WAR allows elite pitchers working seven-plus innings a week to be considered on a par with elite hitters who also have some defensive value.
  2. WAR credits or debits hitters with a “positional adjustment” based on the contribution of the players at their position. But batters don’t contribute offensively as catchers or first basemen, they contribute as hitters, period.

That’s why I’m partial to Bill James‘ Win Shares, and for the further reason that the individual players on a team cannot receive more credit for wins than their team actually wins.

That credit is divided among all a team’s hitters on one side, and its pitchers and fielders on the other, based on how many runs each team scores and allows given its run context and the league norms. Credit for the marginal runs scored is divided among individual hitters, while the credit for runs saved is divided between the pitchers as a group and the fielders as a group.

Teams that strike out few batters, walk more and give up more park-adjusted home runs, will find their fielders being credited with a larger share of the defensive wins. Teams that make more errors and turn fewer double plays than expected will find their pitchers getting a larger share of the defensive wins.

The total pitchers’ share divided up among individual pitchers, while the fielders’ share is further subdivided by position, based on how well the team’s fielders at that position stack up against the league norms in different categories. Once each position gets its share of the team’s fielding wins, these are divided among the teams’ players at that position.

These are then summed and adjusted so that the sum of each team’s individual credits matches the credits earned as a team for its wins and ties.

We start with each team’s wins and ties, and marginal runs scored and saved: the number of runs scored – the park adjusted league average * 0.52. We compare that to each team’s marginal runs saved: the park-adjusted league average runs allowed * 1.52 – runs allowed. Credit for a team’s wins are then doled out according to the ration of marginal runs scored to marginal runs saved.

Let’s look at the PL this year. Each team gets three win shares for each win and 1.5 for each tie. James’ system doesn’t account for ties, but it’s hard do ignore them in Japan.

TeamWSMarginal R ScoredMarginal R Saved
TeamBat WSPitch WSField WS

It’s not just about runs scored and allowed. The Hawks were better at both than the Buffaloes were, but can’t get any more credit than the allowed by their team’s wins and ties. This analysis suggests the Lions made it into the postseason mostly because of their pitching and defense.

Let’s start with Yamamoto’s case for MVP relative to Buffaloes’ teammate Masataka Yoshida.

Once the hitters, pitchers and the fielders at each position have a group total of credit for their team’s wins, these are divided based on claim points.

  • For hitters, it’s essentially runs created.
  • For pitchers it includes wins, holds and saves, results in the three true outcomes, runs saved relative to what is considered the floor for that team’s park-adjusted run context — the Buffaloes this season was 4.51 runs per nine innings.
  • For fielders the claim points within each position are largely based on errors, double plays and basic range.

The argument for Masataka Yoshida

The Buffaloes hitters’ earned 111.25 win shares, and the hitters combined for 255.3 claim points. Yoshida had 72.4 of those so his offensive win share total is: 111.25 * (72.4 / 255.3) or 31.6, more than his next two teammates put together. Yuma Mune earned 14.7 and Keita Nakagawa 14.1 with Yutaro Sugimoto third at 10.8.

All the Buffaloes outfielders shared a total of 5.1 win shares and Yoshida earned 0.4 of that, giving him a total after all the rounding of 32. Each win share represents three wins, so he is credited with 10-2/3 of Orix’s 77 wins (I give them a half for each tie).

The argument for Yoshinobu Yamamoto

Is easier. Pitchers’ fielding is incorporated in their pitching value, while. Yamamoto’s cost as a hitter in interleague dings his pitcher claim total ever so slightly. The Buffaloes ace amassed 71 claim points of his team’s 331. His win shares total is: 85.5 * (71 / 331) or 18.3.

Like Yoshida, Yamamoto was by far Orix’s most valuable contributor in his area of expertise. Closer Yoshihisa Hirano earned 41.3 claim points, and reliever Shota Abe 32.

Could this be wrong?

What would one have to do to claim Yamamoto was more valuable than Yoshida? One could argue:

  • Pitchers are much more valuable, as a class of players, than the system allows for.
  • Ace pitchers should get extra credit for carrying the load for whole games on their shoulders. Starters can blow up a game like no one else in the starting lineup and expectations upon big aces are extremely high.

To argue pitchers’ values are under-represented, one would look for evidence that the pitcher is the dominant factor in the outcome of plate appearances, but this is demonstrably false. One could also remove all credit from fielders.

If we did that for Orix, Yamamoto would have 25.7 win shares instead of 18.3, although that, too, would require pitcher be the single most important variable in every plate appearance, something the evidence does not support.

It’s tough being on top

How about the ace pitcher argument? John E. Gibson used a similar approach when he supported Ryoji Kuribayashi of the Carp for rookie of the year in 2021 over Shugo Maki, that the pressure on being the closer was different by being consistently in high leverage situations.

I think there is something to that. A team can win a pennant when its cleanup hitter has a lousy year, but going to an ineffective closer for too long can sink a season faster than you can say Kazushige Nagashima.

Shouldering what is perceived as being a high-pressure role and getting the job done is valuable. This system accounts for wins, but credit for those wins are distributed based on individual contributions, and to the extent that an individual’s non-playing contribution put wins in the team’s ledger, those wins are distributed among the team.

To believe Yamamoto and not Yoshida was the PL MVP, one would have to believe that the ace influenced his team to five more wins than all the effort of the rest of his teammates.

Good teammates have a positive effect on wins, so do good leaders, and it might be fairly large, since players causing trouble and making it harder for others to do their jobs will tend to have a negative effect on winning. It’s there. We just don’t see where it comes up in the win column or who should get the credit for it.

My problem is not with handing extra credit to Yamamoto for his team’s wins. I wouldn’t give him any extra credit for being the best PL pitcher by a mile, but if we are handing out leadership wins on the Buffaloes, you have to explain to me why Yamamoto deserves so many more than Yoshida.

You can download the 2022 Win Shares for both leagues in an excel file.

My file for all win shares in Japanese pro baseball history is available to paid subscribers at “NPB Win Shares 1936 to now.”

My awards

I don’t cast my award votes strictly along the line of comprehensive value estimates like WAR or Win Shares, but tend to use that kind of analysis as a basis of comparison, and then use how well teams finish in the standings as a decider between relatively even candidates.

Based strictly on Win Shares, the PL award ballot would like this:

  1. Masataka Yoshida, Buffaloes, 32
  2. Hotaka Yamakawa, Lions, 27
  3. Shogo Nakamura, Marines, 24
Rookie of the year

Tatsuru Yanagimachi, Hawks, 11

Best Nine (10 for the PL)
  • Pitcher: Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Buffaloes, 18
  • Catcher: Tomoya Mori, Lions, 20
  • First base: Hotaka Yamakawa, Lions 27
  • Second base: Shogo Nakamura, Marines, 24
  • Third base: Yuma Mune, Buffaloes, 18
  • Shortstop: Kenta Imamiya, 18
  • Outfield: Hiroaki Shimauchi, Eagles, 22
  • Outfield: Go Matsumoto, Fighters, 21
  • Outfield: Kensuke Kondo, 20
  • Designated hitter: Masataka Yoshida, Buffaloes, 32

But I also like to give a bump to players of similar value whose teams finished higher in the standings. With that in mind the following players will receive votes as follows:

  • Hideto Asamura, Eagles, 23 — MVP 3rd place, Best Nine 2B
  • Yuki Yanagita, Hawks, 17 — Best Nine OF
  • Keita Nakagawa, Buffaloes, 16, Best Nine OF

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