Where’s Yoshinobu?

Thanks to all those who replied on twitter.com to the Central League and Pacific League award ballots I filed Sunday. They generated a lot of interest, primarily about the complete absence of CL home run and RBI leader Kazuma Okamoto of the Giants and Orix Buffaloes ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto failing to get even a third-place vote for PL MVP.

One twitter.com reader wrote in Japanese: “It’s his personal opinion, of course, but I thought, “Kensuke Kondo MVP??? ” Other than that his ballot was normal.”

In another post, I explained the process that led me to omit Okamoto, who I’d have given a fifth-place MVP vote if we had those to give. Now, it’s time to turn my attention to the pitcher who has led the PL in wins, strikeouts and ERA for the past three seasons, and is now likely to be the PL’s MVP for the third straight year.

My estimates start by getting a run and home run adjustment for each team’s playing environment in 2023, that allows me to estimate how many runs a team scores and saves beyond an expected bare minimum. The relationship between marginal runs scored and saved determines how many of each team’s wins are credited to offense on one side, and pitching and defense on the other side.

Bill James came up with the brilliant idea of evaluating pitching and defense on a team level. By doing that, we can compare for team defensive context such as the nature of pitching staffs relative to the league, in terms of how many lefties threw and whether the pitchers tended to get ground balls or fly balls, got lots of walks and strikeouts, and gave up fewer or more home runs, and whether pitchers benefitted from good or poor double play support.

Once we have split the credit for team wins between pitching and defense, individual pitchers are given credit for various accomplishments. The proportion of each pitcher’s credits to all those of the team’s pitchers determines each individual’s share of team pitching wins.

One thing to know about the system is that it attributes 48 percent of credit for offensive results to the batter, with pitchers, depending on their teams getting 35 to 40 percent, with 12 to 17 percent going to the fielders.

This split is reasonable if one looks at how much the stats of individual hitters vary compared to how much individual pitchers vary. Virtually every breakdown you can think of shows that hitters’ performance–good or bad–is more extreme than pitchers. If the influence on each bat by pitcher and batter were the same, this would not occur.

This season, the system gave Orix’s pitching and defense the lions’ share of the credit for the club’s wins, 50.9, of that, pitchers were awarded 35.9 wins and the fielders 15. The system then figures out, from among the Buffaloes pitchers who made positive contributions, how much each pitcher gets. Yamamoto, it figures, with his excellent performance over 11 percent of his team’s innings, was assigned 18 percent of the team’s wins credited to pitchers to him.

The system doesn’t tell us what expectations are placed on a player, if – like Yamamoto – he is expected to carry the team in big games, or whether the player is a team leader, one of those guys who picks up everyone around him by creating a better working environment. Those things ARE valuable. I believe those are both true in Yamamoto’s case and for that reason, he probably was more valuable to Orix this year than the three teammates whom the system credits as making a bigger statistical contribution to the team’s success: Tomoya Mori, Yuma Tongu, and Keita Nakagawa.

But the system estimated Kensuke Kondo contributed 10.7 wins to SoftBank’s total, while Hideto Asamura contributed 9.5 to Rakuten’s while Yuki Yanagita contributed 8.4 to the Hawks. Yamamoto’s entire package of stats and responsibility might have put him ahead of Yanagita, but he too is in a leadership position and helped carry his team, so if Yamamoto deserves a lot of extra credit, Yanagita deserves a little, and he got my third-place vote.

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