Every year hundreds of baseball books are written.
Some try to save the baseball world, through extensive research or assumption driving mechanical advice.
Others provide an in-depth look behind your favorite team or player.
And yet others are mere dribble.
LuckilyBaseball’s Most Baffling MVP Ballots, written by Jeremy Lehrman of Plate Coverage, is not dribble.
Let me provide some honest backstory to how we arrived at providing our opinion of the book.
Several months ago, before the launch of Innings Pitched, we reached out to Plate Coverage, in hopes of providing guests posts.
Mr. Lehrman was kind enough to offer us the opportunity to research, write, and publish an article about the rise of Rick Porcello. Following that, Innings Pitched inquired about his book and his publishers were kind enough to set us up with a review copy.
Let’s jump into the quick summary of the book, then into a snapshot judgement, and wrapping up with specifics.
Reading the back cover of the book provides great context for what to expect.
Examining the most controversial ballots, this book attempts to settle some arguments and and answer some compelling questions: Which of the so called “worst MVPs” holds up to modern statistical analysis? Who cast the single worst vote in MVP History? Who really deserved the award in a given year.
Does that get you excited…
Baseball’s Most Baffling – Snapshot Judgement
The book is beautifully written, well researched, and meticulously edited.
Jeremy’s, let’s call it, whimsical personality shines through the text. There are some nice one-liners, that relate streams of data from separate chapters together, in a nice approachable manner.
Although not required, reading the book in order from start to finish, allows the reader to fully appreciate the interconnection of the text.
On the contrary, there is also a marketed consistency across each chapter that allows the rebellious reader to enjoy the book in any order.
If we were to add one snapshot compliant it would be some sections of the book focused more on the background of why a player was not selected (i.e. politics, bad personality) versus fully analyzing the numbers.
This complaint is really splitting hairs though, as each section is broken down into smaller data sets to allow the reader to easily digest the data themselves. The book would be awfully boring (to most readers, not us though) if every chapter simply talked about the numbers.
Which brings us to our next point.
A big praise comes in the amount of historical research that Mr. Lehrman completed. Connecting the past to the present is not easy and Jeremy did it seamlessly. We learned a lot about the early days of baseball and very much enjoyed the read.
Baseball’s Most Baffling – Detailed Synopsis
Our detailed review will focus on the pitching (given that we are a site devoted to pitching sabermetrics and pitching mechanics, after all).
Our first detailed comment is about the selection of the metrics. What we mean is Lehrman (for pitchers) selects the following categories for review.
pWAR, Wins, Losses, W%, ERA, Games Started (GS), Complete Games (CG), Shutouts (SHO), Innings Pitched (IP), Hits against (H), Runs Against (R), Earned Runs Against (ER), Walks (BB), Strikeouts (K), ERA Plus (ERA+), Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched (WHIP), and Strikeout to Walk Ratio (K/BB).
The selection of each metric was well thought out, but our qualm comes in some of the reliance on old school metrics to help dictate the more deserving pitcher.
Take for example the following excerpt from Chapter 10 – Curiouser and Curiouser
…[Robin] Roberts was the best pitcher in baseball. Roberts pitched 40 more innings (or about five starts worth), won ten more games, and completed nine more starts than any other pitcher in the league. He easily led all pitchers in WAR (8.3), but that number doesn’t do him justice. The indefatigable Roberts went 17-1 over the second half of the season.
In the age of sabermetrics, the value of a win-loss record has been diminished. We hate to see that as a basis for saying a pitcher deserves and MVP award, although, we cannot really fault the book for this.
In 2017, Rick Porcello was widely debated as the recipient of the Cy Young Award for the flash of his win-loss record. When other more advanced metrics showed he had an above average, but not elite season.
What we would have liked more was focusing on ERA plus or FIP (or even FIP minus or xFIP). Robin Roberts may have had a better record, but Joe Black had a better ERA plus, and WHIP.
So that synopsis may be considered nitpicking, in a world of a million sabermetric values, but it would have been nice to have a wider swath.
Let’s take a look at a few of the detailed stories and writing that we absolutely loved.
This may seem simple, but the timely placed historical photograph was astounding. Often times, as a reader we try to create an image to an persona written on paper, and it is great to see the person in action.
Simple, yet, timely and satisfying.
One of the better photos is of John Evers, who Lehrman states has a “metabolism of a hummingbird, the temper of a wolverine, and an obsessive need to win”. Evers, who notoriously ate bags of candy to gain weight had an extreme temper and the side eye glare he gives on page 17 of the printed text sums up what we would think of the man. We would show you the picture, but we do not have the adequate copyright.
So we urge you to get the book to see for yourself. Here is a link if you are interested (which you should be by now).
The last thing we want to touch on here in the detailed section, is the depth at which the author goes into to paint a picture about the controversy behind the inception of the award itself (nevermind selecting a recipient).
The MVP award started off as a marketing ploy that players enjoyed at first, then grew tired of after the introduction of bogus parameters. Then players benched themselves in order to maintain statistics in hopes of getting the award.
How is that for controversy?
Baseball’s Most Baffling – Conclusion
So would we recommend you read Baseball’s Most Baffling MVP Ballots written by Jeremy Lehrman.
If we must attach a rating to the book, we would say it is deserves a 4.75 out of 5.
We wish there was more detail in terms of the sabermetrics, but that may not have appeased the audience this book is catered to, as much as it would have me.
Overall the book is a must read.
Book is published by McFarland, visit their website at www.mcfarlandpub.com