Baseball’s 1998 M-V-P Race – Let the Games Begin

Keith R. Thompson,


October 2, 1998


“The wind-up, the pitch.
Oh baby its out-a-here.
Cianara. Arivadirchi. Hasta la Vista
Home R-r-run.
Number 62. Number 62.
Maris is now History.”

Coming on the heels of one of the most exciting--if not arguably the most tantalizing--baseball seasons ever, America has rediscovered her passion for her favorite pastime. The 1998 season has been colossal by every standard imaginable: a perfect game by one of those Damn Yankees! (or so say Bosox fans); A record tying twenty-strike out performance by … a rookie! A pitcher on the verge of a back-to-back pitching Triple Crown performance (for the first time since Sandy Koufax in 1965 & ’66); And one (or possibly two) potentially unprecedented fifth Cy Young Award(s) by two of the decade’s best pitchers.

But for all these pitching accolades the ’98 baseball season may best be remembered for its explosive offensive production. Sixty-one, Baseball’s Holiest Grail and a number embedded in the American sports psyche since October 1, 1961 has finally been
vanquished. And in its place stand two men, Sammy Sosa of the Dominican Republic and Mark McGwire a former pitcher (Babe Ruth anyone!), wrestling for the all-time single-season crown. By the end of the regular season it was the Big Mac (Mark McGwire) who finally set the record at 70, hitting 12 more than his previous career high. But of all the members of the 60-homer club it was Sosa who made the greatest career improvement, hitting 26 more home runs than his previous 1996 career high.

And how about the RBI race. Between World War II and the start of this season only one hitter--Tommy Davis of the ’62 Dodgers-- had driven in more than 150 runs. In 1998 we have three. Sosa has driven in 158 RBIs, Juan Gonzales (playing in 5 fewer games) has driven in 157, and Albert Belle (the current consecutive streak games player since Ripken broke HIS streak) has produced 152. For the former two they produced an RBI at the phenomenal rate of over one per game!

Or consider Albert Belle. The only 50-50 major leaguer in history (50 homers, 50 doubles) who just missed repeating his phenomenal 1995 season. What a year.

But for all these outstanding performances can we really single someone out for a truly outstanding season. You know, like M-V-P. Let’s start our analysis with the senior circuit, the National League.

The obvious beginning is September 8th in St. Louis. The batter is Mark McGwire. The accomplishment, Home Run number 62. Not only did he first break the single season home run record but he is the first member of the 60 homer club to accomplish the feat
in under 500 at-bats (434 at-bats to Ruth’s 540, Maris’ 590 and Sosa’s 585). That is one home run every 7.2 at-bats. Wow! In addition, his 162 total walks this season is second all-time for a single season and to put it in perspective ‘The Bambino’ never
had more than 148 walks in any of his four 50-homer seasons. Imagine if Mark was seeing more pitches around the plate. 80 Homers anyone. Then there is ‘Slammin’ Sammy. First in the league in RBIs, Runs scored and Total Bases, and second in Home
runs, and Slugging percentage. He has also posted the highest RBI total in baseball in two generations. Is it any wonder his team is in the play-offs for the first time in a decade? Them Cubs are lovable all over again.

And who can forget the career years of Moises Alou, and Greg Vaughn, or Ken Griffey mirroring his career ’97 season when he was the unanimous AL MVP. Their accomplishments have been overshadowed somewhat by the phenomenal performance of the aforementioned players but they are no less impressive. It would
be farfetched to think their teams would be where they are solely on the basis of these players however. Certainly not when we consider the phenomenal pitching performances of their staff, Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown and Trevor Hoffman included.
The National League MVP may therefore come down to two men, the history-makers. While Homers may be glamorous--and it is difficult to argue against their resuscitative effects on the game--the MVP measures overall contributions to teams success. And
for that reason one would be hard-pressed to ignore Slammin’ Sammy for NL MVP honors, on the basis of his team’s winning the wild card division. Although, “wouldn’t it be great if they just tied.”

And how about the American League. Juan Gonzalez has driven in 157 runs in only 154 games. He is second in the league with 97 extra base hits and is a primary reason his team has won the AL West division. But as good as he and the other AL stalwarts
have played, it is Albert Belle that has stolen the American League spotlight. Second in the league in Homers, and RBIs, his 99 extra base hits lead the majors and left him just one extra base hit shy of becoming only the second player in major league history with two 100 extra base hits seasons. Albert has been a model of consistency with 49 homers and 48 doubles and a top ten ranking in ALL the major offensive categories except stolen bases and walks. In addition he has led a resurgent White Sox team to one of the best post-All Star break records in all of baseball. Had the Sox not been leading the majors in team ERA (with all their rookie pitchers) before the break then we would almost certainly be speaking of them in post-season deliberations. Belle has hit .379 since the All-Star break with 31 home runs and 86 RBIs. If the White Sox had played the first half as well as the second, they'd certainly have contended for the division title from the anemic central division. After going 35-51 in the first half, the
White Sox outperformed everybody in the AL but the Yankees and Orioles, closing with a 45-31 record.

But for all those herculean performances is there a more scientific method whereby we can determine who deserves M-V-P consideration and eliminate all the guess-work in what has become one of the most memorable baseball seasons on record. Enter the PER methodology.

This PER (Player Efficiency Rating) Baseball methodology attempts to measure a Baseball hitter's and pitcher's performance relative to plate appearances and innings pitched respectively. It is a very comprehensive analysis as it assesses a hitter's complete performance at the plate, on the bases, and in the field, and a pitcher's complete performance on the mound.

For Hitters, the concept of a PER Batting Efficiency Rating is developed which comprises a player's
Batting Average, Run Contribution Average, and Earned Base Average (a statistic measuring all bases earned, whether by hits or walks, or stolen bases, per plate appearance and steal attempt). Accordingly, I've developed the following concepts of Run Contribution Average, Total Earned Bases, and Earned Base Average to complement the PER Batting Efficiency Rating.

Batting Average is the standard construct analyzing Hits per At-bats. A higher average (generally over .300) indicates a very efficient hitter, while a .350 indicates legendary status.

Run Contribution Average (RCA) comprises Total Runs Scored plus Runs Batted In, less total Home Runs, divided by Total Plate Appearances. (i.e. RCA=(Runs Scored + Runs Batted In - Home Runs)/ Total Plate Appearances). An RCA of .250 or higher indicates a good run producer, while an average of at least .300 indicates a hitter is an efficient run producer. This is a vitally important statistic since the primary objective of a hitter is to either score a run, or drive in a run if another player is already on base. The Run Contribution Average also underlines the fact that a run scored is just as important to a team as an rbi. While RBI’s illustrate a hitter’s ability to score a runner already on base the Run scored is what actually helps the team win. This method therefore values both run scored and run batted in as equivalent, hence a player who scored many runs--because of his speed--but bats in only a few is just as important to a team as the player who drives in many runs because of his power but scores only a relative few.

Total Earned Bases comprises Total Bases produced by the Hitter, plus total Bases on Balls, and total Stolen Bases. This construct is somewhat more efficient than mere Total Bases since it measures a hitter's total contribution for his team. He may not be a power hitter with a lot of total bases, but if he can take a walk and/or steal a base then he can have just as significant an impact on his team's success as a power hitter. This concept also recognizes the fact that a walk is tactically equivalent to a bases-empty single, and a walk or single or hit-by-pitch and a stolen base is just as important as a double with the bases empty. Obviously with runners on base a hit (whether it is a single or double) can advance the runner(s) more than one base and may even score them, but under certain circumstances a walk or a stolen base is as good as a hit.

Accordingly, the
Earned Bases Average (EBA) comprises Total Earned Bases divided by total plate appearances plus total steal attempts. This is the single most important statistic of a hitter since it measures all facets of his performance: hits (measured by
total bases), walks drawn, and stolen bases, and compares it against every time he is at the plate or attempts a steal. His overall baseball skills is therefore assessed, and a true measure of his greatness is established. An EBA of greater than .600 indicates a great batsman and base runner, while a .700 or higher EBA indicates a premier batsman and all-time great Hitter. Babe Ruth’s Career Run Contribution Average and Earned Bases Average is 0.346 & 0.735 respectively. Certainly “larger than life.”

The three concepts of Batting Average, Run Contribution Average, and Earned Bases Average are then combined in a very intuitive formula (and adjusted for a hitter's total plate appearances) to determine his Batting Efficiency Rating. In the case of the Babe
combining his career batting average of 0.342 with his aforementioned stats gives him a career PER value of 105.56. Unquestionably Baseball’s best.

This methodology is therefore the single best measure of a baseball hitter's overall performance since it measures his batting average, power, speed and run production, all combined in one statistic. This is a truly efficient measure of the annual MVP Award.
A PER value of between 90 and 100 indicates a superior performance while a value of over 100 indicates a truly legendary performance, or player.

The National League MVP Analysis   
                                            Run        Earned     Total
       Batting    Batting   Contribution  Bases      Earned    Total
Rank    Player             PER       Average    Average   Average  Bases       Bases
1        Mark McGwire    102.43        0.299        0.308       0.813        546        383
2        Sammy Sosa       99.74        0.308        0.316        0.682        507        416
3        Barry Bonds        96.07        0.303        0.301        0.684        494        336
4        Vinny Castilla      94.07        0.319        0.301        0.608        425        380
5        Larry Walker       93.80        0.363        0.303        0.679        364        286
6        Moises Alou        92.34        0.312        0.284        0.638        435        340
7        John Olerud        91.00        0.353        0.248        0.615        404        307
8        Craig Biggio        90.70        0.325        0.269        0.572        439        325
9        Vladimir Guerrero  90.69      0.324        0.269        0.613        420        367
10      Andres Galarraga  89.77      0.305        0.291        0.634        400        330
11      Mike Piazza          89.01       0.329        0.270        0.612        379        320
12      Greg Vaughn        87.46       0.272        0.278        0.648        432        342

The American League MVP Analysis
                                           Run        Earned       Total
       Batting    Batting    Contribution  Bases      Earned     Total
Rank    Player            PER        Average    Average   Average    Bases      Bases
1        Albert Belle        100.89        0.328        0.313        0.694        486        399
2        Juan Gonzalez     98.82        0.318        0.340        0.656        430        382
3        Manny Ramirez    93.72        0.294        0.321        0.646        423        342
4        Ken Griffey, Jr.     93.71        0.284        0.296        0.658        483        387
5        Mo Vaughn          93.19        0.337        0.272        0.628        421        360
6        Nomar Garciaparra  93.12    0.323        0.311        0.608        398        353
7        Alex Rodriquez     92.78       0.310        0.280        0.600        472        384
8        Bernie Williams     91.61       0.339        0.300        0.630        376        287
9        Derek Jeter           89.00       0.324        0.281        0.540        388        301
10      Rafael Palmiero     87.61       0.296        0.252        0.615        440        350
11      Frank Thomas        83.93       0.265        0.272        0.567        398        281
12      Ivan Rodriquez      83.54       0.321        0.259        0.545        338        297

Above is an assessment of the complete 1998 Major League Baseball season. It evaluates only the principals for each of the awards, starting with the ten front-runners for the American and National League MVP Awards, and the finalists for both leagues Cy Young Awards.

In the National League  Mark McGwire is undisputedly ‘the man’. Though his 383 Total Bases ranked him just fifth in all of baseball, his incredulous walk total of 162 has expanded his Total Earned Bases to an astronomical 546, the best in baseball in years.
Only Sammy Sosa also surpasses the 500 Total Earned Bases mark, owing to his impressive Total Bases which ranks him tied for 12th all-time.

The performance of Sammy Sosa is unquestionably historical as well, and though McGwire had the better overall performance (given fewer at-bats), maybe indeed they do deserve to share the M-V-P Award for what they have done for major league baseball this year. In the American League despite Juan Gonzalez’ phenomenal year Albert Belle clearly deserves the AL M-V-P Award. So say the PER Sports methodology, a more scientific analysis of sports.

The Cy Young Award
The 1998 Cy Young Award can rightly be considered a tale of two seasons. At the All-Star break Pedro Martinez’ and Greg Maddux’s hold on the AL & NL Awards was stifling. No one else, it appeared, had even a modicum of a chance. But since then they have
both been sub par, going a combined 13-12 and effectively opening up the race to all concerned. Maddux has posted an uncharacteristic 3.21 ERA since the break, with a record of 6-7. Nevertheless, he still leads the majors with a 2.24 ERA, belying his phenomenal first half-season of 12-2 and 1.53 ERA before the break.

In their stead what we have seen are some unbelievable performances from the likes of David Wells and Roger Clemens. Wells, who had only three complete game shutouts in his 12-year career before the start of the season had five on the season to lead the American League, while Clemens unleashed a swashbuckling run at an unprecedented fifth Cy Young. His 15 consecutive wins is the best in the majors since, well any of us
can care to remember, and he has certainly vaulted himself right into the Cy Young race. While, in the National League Kevin Brown has produced yet another scintillating pitching performance, second in ERA, and strikeouts and fourth in wins yet he is being upstaged in many people’s eyes by the 20-game winner Tommy Glavine who is bidding for his second Cy Young of the 90’s. What a year.

With these very impressive performances in the face of an offensive explosion it is necessary that to get to the bottom of this Cy Young debate we must first get inside the numbers, and here apply the PER Analysis--this time for pitchers.

For Pitchers, the concept of a Pitching Efficiency Rating is developed, distinctly for starters and relief pitchers. It comprises his
Earned Run Average (ERA), Walks to Strike outs Average, Opposition On Base Average and a statistic measuring success,
depending on the role of the pitcher. For
starting pitchers it adds his winning percentage, while for closers it includes his save percentage, and considers holds percentage for middle relievers.

ERA is the standard construct, comprising earned runs yielded by a pitcher every nine innings. Opposition On Base Average is a very important statistic (almost as important as the ERA) since it indicates the number of hits, walks and hit-batters a pitcher allows on base per inning pitched. Starting Pitchers are assessed by the criteria outlined above, but in addition by their winning percentage. It is important to note that although winning percentage reflects a lot about a starting pitcher it is not an accurate show of his capabilities or accomplishments. This is because winning percentage depends a lot on the amount of run support he receives (which is itself a function of his opposing pitcher on the mound). In contrast, criteria such as ERA and Opposition On Base Percentages depends primarily on the pitching ability of the pitcher, and his ability to get hitters out. The Pitching PER therefore more heavily relies on these two
criteria than on winning percentage, though it does allow some weight to it in the analysis. In addition, in order to minimize the bias that generally occurs with pitching too few innings, the statistic is slightly adjusted upwards for pitchers with more Innings Pitched.

In order to compare the performance of relief pitchers with those of starting pitchers the concept has to be further adjusted to reflect only actual pitching performances. As such, a new construct--the Pure PER--is developed and ignores decision stats (such as wins, losses, saves, blown saves, etc.). Wins and losses are important stats in determining the quality of a pitcher but they are a function more of run support than actual pitching. Shane Reynolds for example was second in the NL in wins primarily because he led the league in run support with 5 runs per start. Similarly, Tapani tied for second also with 19 wins despite a 4.85 ERA. The reason, his run support was seventh in the league. Winning percentage though important is however very biased in the analysis of a pitchers performance. A second reason all decision stats are ignored is that it is very difficult to compare a starter’s winning percentage with a closer’s save percentage, or a middle reliever’s hold percentage. They measure very different things hence to compare all pitchers it is best to use the Pure PER which includes only ERA, Opposition On Base Average, and Walks to Strike Outs. Further, since this allows us to compare ALL pitchers, irrespective of their roles, then this
statistic is an efficient method for determining the annual Cy Young Award Winner. Like the Batting Efficiency Rating a PER value of between 90 and 100 indicates a superior performance while a value of over 100 indicates a truly legendaryperformance, or player.

The 1998 Cy Young PER Analysis
American League                
                                 Winning                  On Base   Unearned   BB to K
Rank Pitchers     Team        PER         %            ERA         Ave        Run Ave     Ratio
1        Clemens     TOR        86.85        76.92        2.65        0.267        0.35        0.325
2        Martinez     BOS        86.53        73.08        2.89        0.267        0.27        0.267
3        Jackson      CLE         85.74        50.00        1.55        0.226        0.00        0.236
4        Wells          NYY         85.00        81.82        3.49        0.258        0.13        0.178
5        Mussina      BAL         83.84        56.52        3.49        0.271        0.22        0.234
6        Rogers        OAK        83.79        66.67        3.17        0.283        0.45        0.486
7        Wetteland   TEX         83.56       75.00        2.03        0.247        0.44        0.194
8        Cone           NYY         83.00       74.07        3.55        0.282        0.30        0.282
9        Gordon        BOS        81.13       63.64        2.72        0.252        0.00        0.321
10      Helling         TEX        79.20        74.07        4.41        0.307        0.12        0.476
11      Sele             TEX        78.46        63.33        4.23        0.336        0.68        0.503
12      Percival        ANA       76.17        22.22        3.65        0.291        0.54        0.425

National League                
                                Winning                   On Base   Unearned   BB to K
Rank Pitchers     Team        PER         %            ERA         Ave        Run Ave     Ratio
1        Maddux      ATL        90.25        66.67        2.22        0.246        0.47        0.221
2        Brown        SDP        89.95        72.00        2.38        0.262        0.32        0.191
3        Schilling      PHI        87.33        51.72        3.25        0.269        0.13        0.203
4        Johnson     HOU        87.28        90.91        1.28        0.247        0.00        0.224
5        Hoffman     SDP        86.41        66.67        1.48        0.221        0.00        0.244
6        Nen            SFG        86.27        50.00        1.52        0.240        0.61        0.227
7        Glavine       ATL        85.95        76.92        2.47        0.286        0.16        0.471
8        Leiter         NYM        85.18        73.91        2.47        0.277        0.09        0.408
9        Smoltz        ATL        83.95        85.00        2.90        0.273        0.21        0.254
10      Ashby         SDP        83.43        65.38        3.34        0.292        0.24        0.384
11      Shaw          LAD        82.68        27.27        2.12        0.269        0.21        0.345
12      Wood         CHI         81.16        68.42        3.40        0.288        0.32        0.365
13      Wagner      HOU        80.22        57.14        2.70        0.283        0.15        0.258
14      Beck           CHI         79.36        42.86        3.02        0.305        0.67        0.247
15      Tapani        CHI         78.12        67.86        4.85        0.318        0.08        0.456

Though Greg Maddux struggled during the second half of the season he still lead the majors in ERA (again), fewest Hits + Walks per 9 innings, Shut-outs, and recorded his first 200 strike out season (ranking him fifth in the NL). His 18 wins are also fourth best in the league and his first-half season performance was legendary positioning him for an unprecedented fifth Cy Young Award. In addition, Kevin Brown had a phenomenal
regular season with a second place ranking in ERA, Strikeouts, hits + walks per 9 innings, fourth in wins. Finally, Randy Johnson’s ranking is fourth because he pitched too few innings in the National League. Had he begun the season in the NL and pitched over 200 innings with the same levels of success then his rating would be 92.13 a sure bet for the Cy Young Award. Anyway, his entire 1998 rating (combining AL and NL stats) is 85.27, still a dominating season.

In the American League Roger Clemens’ second consecutive pitching triple crown just earns him his fifth Cy Young Award over Pedro Martinez. And so for the first time the two most dominant right-handers in baseball since Walter Johnson should both earn
the Cy Young Awards in the same season, and both for an unprecedented fifth time.

1998 PER Sports, Inc.

Have a comment on this article. Send an email to us via info@persports.com
Articles by Keith Thompson

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