Saturday, October 8, 2022

Nick Selbe doesn't know what he's talking about, Pt. I

This again. 

Almost as soon as Aaron Judge had belted his record-setting, 62nd home run of the season, Nick Selbe of Sports Illustrated was online, telling us yet again how Shohei Ohtani is "the correct choice"—his words—for 2022 MVP of the American League.

Hey, I get it. Mr. Selbe has got to keep chumming out content for the SI website and generating clicks. I'm happy to help him to a few here because he seems to be sincere enough about his arguments. The only trouble is that they don't hold water.

First, Selbe clutters his case with assertions that are extraneous or misleading, or that outright contradict the point he is trying to make.

He tells us, for instance, that Ohtani was "the fastest runner from home to first in the league" this year—a fact that only makes his .273 batting average and his dismal, 11 steals in 20 attempts all the more difficult to excuse.  

Selbe also informs us that Ohtani is "the first player ever to qualify for [the lead] in both batting and pitching statistical categories," though "[Babe] Ruth came close twice," in 1918 and 1919.

Left unmentioned is the fact that both of those Ruth seasons were truncated by World War I and its aftermath. Ruth's Red Sox played just 126 games in 1918 and 140 games in 1919.  

But Selbe's main case for Ohtani being the AL MVP rests on two main points. These are:

Selbe thinks the MVP Award should be what he says it should be.

"In my view," he tells us, "the MVP Award—which has a definition left intentionally ambiguous, and, to me, puts an unnecessary strain on voters to draw arbitrary lines in the sand—is meant to go to the best individual player. The best player is the most valuable, simply by being the best. Holding the Angels' ineptitude against Ohtani is an unfair demerit, though there are certainly voters who feel that Judge's production came under more pressure than Ohtani's by virtue of his team's place in the standings, and thus is more impressive. On that front, there might be nothing more to say other than, 'Agree to disagree.'"

No. Agree to agree that Nick Selbe has made up his own definition for an award that is over a hundred years old.

As Selbe himself admits, the MVP has always had those "ambiguous" definitions, and frequently it has not gone to the "best player." In 1937, for instance, Charlie Gehringer won over Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig; in 1947, DiMaggio won over Ted Williams; in 1965 Zoilo Versalles won over a cast of hundreds, etc. 

You can probably find a good 50-100 examples, taking both leagues into account, in which "the best player" has not been the MVP. And there's some merit to having things this way.

Judge did play brilliantly in carrying along a stumbling Yankees team and leading it to a division title, he did it by playing a terrific game in the field and on the bases, as well as the plate; and he did it despite a lineup that fell to pieces around him, due to injuries and horrific slumps.

Ohtani, on the other hand, did not play a meaningful game after his Angels endured a 14-game losing streak from May 25-June 8—a streak, incidentally, which he was unable to break in his two (pay attention to that number)! starts over that time. The rest of the season, he was basically playing exhibition games—and hitting in a lineup that included the great Mike Trout, an exponentially better hitter than anyone Judge was playing with.

So, should playing under the intense pressure of a pennant race, and the added scrutiny afforded by a record chase, and without much of a supporting cast, count more than playing mostly meaningless game with an all-time great batting ahead of or behind you in the lineup?

Uh, yeah.

But hey, no need for Mr. Selbe or other MVP voters to "strain" themselves. If you insist on living by statistics, be willing to die by them.

Judge's combined WAR this year was 10.4, compared to 7.9 for Ohtani, even counting his pitching. Judge's OPS was 1.111, compared to Ohtani's .875. Nuf ced.

So what does Shohei Ohtani do better than Judge, other than to rock a fashion shoot?

Pitch, of course, and the second argument that Selbe and company rely—and fail—on:

What Shohei Ohtani did this year and last has never been done before.

As previously noted ad nauseam, this argument relies mostly on smoke and mirrors. 

In 1918 and 1919, Babe Ruth not only cemented his standing as the best lefthanded pitcher in baseball—and set a consecutive, scoreless-inning pitching streak in the World Series that last for 43 years—and played the outfield and first base as well—and led the AL in home runs both years—and set a baseball record for home runs in one (shortened) season, a recored that he would break repeatedly in the years ahead...but also changed the entire nature of how the game was played.

This compares to a Shohei Ohtani who still has never pitched a complete game, much less a shutout, in the regular season, and never had so much as a chance at any fielding position other than pitcher.

But fine. Let's concede that, technically speaking, Selbe is right about the uniqueness of Ohtani's accomplishments, when it comes to numbers of starts and at-bats in the same season.

But to say that Shohei Ohtani has done what no other major-league player has ever done, is to say only that no other player was ever ALLOWED to do what he did. 

To say it yet again: Shohei Ohtani is a designated hitter who pitches once a week.  (Hence his only starting twice, even during his team's 14-game losing streak.)

The DH didn't exist until 1973. Starters were supposed to complete most of their games until sometime in the 1970s or '80s. Starters were supposed to pitch every 4-5 days, until...Shohei Ohtani. (Something, again, that doesn't matter that much for Ohtani because his team is never in contention.)

Really, Shohei is a remarkable player, but someone who's career is made possible only by recent alterations in the game. To insist that his accomplishments are unique in any meaningful way—or that they should override every other accomplishment by every other player in the game, every year—is, to be polite, malarkey.


Doug K. said...

Watching this 14 inning snore fest (Tampa v. Clev)where only two of the three outcomes prevail makes me yearn for the ghost runner. At least it adds strategy and excitement.

Seriously, no one can hit.

Doug K. said...

no runs 36 strikeouts so far...


HoraceClarke66 said...

Baseball as farce. 15 pitchers in 14 innings, and nobody even coming close to scoring until the 12th.

I've never seen so many playoff hitters swing at so much pitches outside of the strike zone.

JM said...

I'd pay more attention to Earl Scheib than Nick Selbe.

Corey Kluber keeping the Rays alive.

JM said...

Hoss, these AL first round teams all look pretty lame. One of them might beat us, but none of them have a prayer of getting a ring.

Doug K. said...


A ring? Right now I'd settle for a run.

Doug K. said...

OK there's your third outcome. Good riddance!

AboveAverage said...

Just got a text from someone I know in Cleveland.

He texted:


HoraceClarke66 said...

Finally. 15 innings. Third best team in the league against the sixth best—what excitement!

It was another great advertisement for Three True Outs Baseball. Amazing to see both teams absolutely refusing to put on a play—probably because they had no idea how to do so—even when 1 run would've won it all.

I have never seen a playoff team with less idea of the strike zone than TB displayed today. They couldn't even run the bases. Arozarena, as the lead runner on a DP, actually ran deliberately out of the way on a throw from second—something I have never seen before in a major-league game.

Later, Wander Franco just stopped in the base paths on another DP, which might have proved a smart that when the throw went to first, he sort of stayed where he was, and got thrown out at second anyway.

4:30 of 16 pitchers, striking out 35 guys, and one run finally scoring. Games like this will kill baseball dead.

JM said...

See ya, Tampa. So it's cold Cleveland and cold New York next week.

AboveAverage said...

Shall I send you a Greetings from California blanket to use during the series, JM?

AboveAverage said...

So why is it that the first game of the ALDS is Tuesday and the second is Thursday - then Saturday, Sunday and Monday?

Can anyone here explain that schedule to me with a straight face and get me to believe that it makes any sense at all?

AboveAverage said...

Oh - and HC - love the image that "chumming out content" brought to mind.

(something like "You're gonna need a bigger boat")

Joe Formerlyof Brooklyn said...


I love you. But you drag yourself down when you get into a "thinking" match with a guy who clearly cannot think.

Wanna get really ticked off? Read this moe-ron writing for the Washington Post

The sanctimonious baseball purists want to elevate Aaron Judge. Don’t let them

No, it's not April Fools' Day. It's not a parody. This writer got paid for thinking and writing these words.

I'd say I'm disgusted, but there's a lot of baloney in the front of the newspaper (real paper and online) -- too.

ranger_lp said...

@AA...yes it's not going 5 games...

The Hammer of God said...

@Hoss, No question about it. Ohtani is a good player, but not MVP caliber as compared to Judge. And the clearest indicator is the OPS. Or we can look at the on base and slugging separately. There's no question that Judge's season blows Ohtani's offensive stats out of the water. And Judge played defense every day, whilst Ohtani was a DH who pitched once a week. And as far as the pitching stats, Ohtani was a good pitcher, but he didn't blow anyone out of the water. There were tons of good pitchers.

WAR is a really stupid stat. It does not offer enough differentiation to make any sense as a tool for comparing players. When the player is one of the best in the game, the WAR value is often not high enough. When the player is one of the worst in the game, the WAR value is not low enough. Based on WAR values, you'd think that any player could be replaced with one or two other guys, and that that would make up for it. Not true! This year, for instance, Judge's WAR value should have been at least 20, if not more. You take away Judge and put in an "average" CF or RF, the Yanks are only an 81-81 team at best.

HoraceClarke66 said...

AA, actually, I have to admit, I wrote "churning out content." But "chumming out content" is so much better that I may go and change it to that, thanks!

Rufus T. Firefly said...


I applaud your Earl Scheib reference.

Remember to tape over your own chrome. When we say we paint the whole car, we DO!

AboveAverage said...

HOSS - That's funny - read it on my phone so I guess I saw what I wanted to see.

Consider it my gift to you for the hard work that you do :)

JM said...

Jesus. Cleveland and Seattle? Holy shit.

ranger_lp said...

Toronto…what an embarrassment…

HoraceClarke66 said...

Thanks, Joe FOB—and I'm intrigued by your description of the piece. Anyway you can get past their pay wall?

Unfortunately, the internet is wrecking ethics for newspapers, just as it does for everything else. For those that survive, at least, everything is clickbait now.

HoraceClarke66 said...

Yeah, wild game in Toronto.

I gotta say, it's probably bad for the Yankees that Seattle won—Houston was 12-7 vs. Seattle, 2-4 vs. Toronto—but I can't say I'm sad to see the BJ's gone. They are the most obnoxious team in baseball, and when they were winning by 8-1, they were cavorting all over the place, showing off their latest "home run jacket."

Good riddance.

Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside said...

Chum is bait for sharks. We’re all guppies at best.

HoraceClarke66 said...

Looks like the Mets will live for another day.

ranger_lp said...

Looks like Yankee Otto showed up…

AboveAverage said...

More baseball in Flushing (WHO NAMED IT THAT?!?)

The Archangel said...

There was a perverse pleasure in watching TB and Toronto bow out.
TB, because they were the original "Let's get rid of complete game pitchers like Ryan and Gibson and use 7 pitchers a game."

Toronto, because they are the obnoxious little kid next-door who deserved to be throttled, but you couldn't because he was the son of your mom's best friend and was "so sweet."

To use an old legal term, Fuck Them Both

Fuck any modern age dipstick scribe who thinks Othani is the MVP.

TheWinWarblist said...

I have this to say to "Puckered" Selbe, "Puckered, you are an imbecile and therefore your agreement is completely wrong. In addition, I'd hazard a guess that you're also ugly and your mother dresses you funny."