David Ortiz v. Alex Rodriguez
Baseball Player Won-Loss Records
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David Ortiz v. Alex Rodriguez: Who Was the 2005 American League MVP?

The 2005 American League Most Valuable Player race was a two-man race between Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees and David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox. Rodriguez received 16 first-place votes to 11 for Ortiz (Vlad Guerrero received one first-place vote) and beat Ortiz overall 331 – 307. A comparison of the Player Won-Lost records of Ortiz and Rodriguez is very instructive, I think, at highlighting the real strengths of this system.

1.    Basic Offensive Statistics
Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz put up similar offensive statistics in 2005. Their traditional statistics are shown below.

Basic Offensive Statistics, 2005

Alex Rodriguez 162 715 605 194 29 1 48 124 130 91 139 0.321 0.421 0.610
David Ortiz 159 713 601 180 40 1 47 119 148 102 124 0.300 0.397 0.604

Rodriguez had 2 more plate appearances and 14 more hits, the latter of which was nearly offset by Ortiz drawing 11 additional walks. Ortiz hit 11 more doubles, but Rodriguez hit one more home run. While Ortiz drove in 18 more runs, Rodriguez managed to score 5 more runs. All in all, these are extremely similar season lines.

Turning to more advanced offensive metrics simply reinforces the same thing.

Advanced Offensive Statistics, 2005

Alex Rodriguez 1.031 163 10.2 173
David Ortiz 1.001 149 9.0 158

Not surprisingly (in fact, encouragingly), the similarity between these two players carries over to their context-neutral batting Player Wins and Losses:

Player Won-Lost Record: Batting, Context-Neutral

eWins eLosses eWinPct eWins over .500
Alex Rodriguez
David Ortiz

Once again, Rodriguez comes out slightly, but clearly, ahead, with 0.2 more wins and 0.7 fewer losses.

2.    Everything Else
There’s more to playing baseball than simply batting, of course.

•     Baserunning

David Ortiz is a rather notoriously slow baserunner with 15 career stolen bases. Alex Rodriguez stole more bases than that in 2005 alone (21). Even beyond stolen bases, Rodriguez is, in general, a much better baserunner than David Ortiz. The context-neutral baserunning Player Game Points accumulated by each of them are shown below.

Player Won-Lost Record: Baserunning, Context-Neutral

eWins eLosses eWinPct eWins over .500
Alex Rodriguez
David Ortiz

While Rodriguez was a better baserunner than Ortiz, they were actually both below-average baserunners in 2005. Nevertheless, Rodriguez gains about 0.3 net wins (Wins minus Losses) on Ortiz thanks to his baserunning.

•     Fielding

David Ortiz is a poor-fielding first baseman who played a total of 78 innings in the field in 2005. Alex Rodriguez is a former Gold-Glove winning shortstop who played 1,390 innings in the field in 2005.

Let’s see how they compare.

Player Won-Lost Record: Fielding, Context-Neutral

eWins eLosses eWinPct eWins over .500
Alex Rodriguez
David Ortiz

While A-Rod looks to have been a below-average third baseman, he was nevertheless a better fielder, relative to his position, than Ortiz (by 0.082), and, perhaps more importantly, because Ortiz was primarily a designated hitter in 2005, A-Rod accumulated 24 times as many context-neutral Fielding Wins as Big Papi. Because Rodriguez was a sub-.500 fielder, those extra decisions actually lead to Rodriguez accumulating fewer Fielding wins over .500, though.

Adding up what we have so far, here is how Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz compare in terms of basic, context-neutral Player Wins and Losses.

Player Won-Lost Record: Context-Neutral

eWins eLosses eWinPct eWins over .500
Alex Rodriguez 23.317.50.5712.9
David Ortiz 17.712.70.5832.5

So far, this really isn't much of a race. David Ortiz has the better winning percentage, 0.583 to 0.571, but because Rodriguez played the field all season, he leads Ortiz in Wins over .500, 2.9 to 2.5 and in total wins, 23.3 to 17.7.

3.     Contextual Adjustments
So why did David Ortiz do as well as he did in the MVP voting?

The answer is hinted at in the one basic offensive statistic in which Ortiz beats Rodriguez fairly convincingly: RBI. David Ortiz led the American League with 148 runs batted in, while Rodriguez, despite one more home run as well as a higher batting average and slugging percentage, managed to finish only 4th in the American League with 130 RBIs.

So how did Ortiz lead the league in RBIs? Well, supposedly, he had a phenomenal season batting in the clutch. The MVP argument in support of David Ortiz basically revolved around the notion that he was the best clutch hitter in all of baseball.

There is an argument that invariably arises every year at MVP voting time, that the "Most Valuable Player" is not the best player, but the player who contributed most to his team's success. In other words, the argument goes, to be the MVP, it doesn't just matter what you do, it also matters when you do it.

Of course, Player Wins and Losses are perfectly designed to exactly measure the extent to which a player's performance contributed to real wins and real losses by his team.

Player Wins and Losses are adjusted in two ways to reflect the impact of the timing of player performance: Inter-Game and Intra-Game.

•     Inter-Game Adjustments: Performance in the Clutch

Inter-game contextual factors adjust for the relative importance of a player's performance within the context of a given game. In other words, hitting a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of a tie game is worth more than hitting a home run leading off the top of the 5th inning of a game in which the player's team is already leading 12-1.

There are two inter-game adjustments to Player won/lost records: Context and Win Adjustments.

•     Inter-Game Context

Inter-game context is basically what some other people refer to as Leverage. This measures the relative importance of situations within the context of a single game. In 2005, Alex Rodriguez performed in an average inter-game context of 0.991, about 0.9% below average. This serves to lower A-Rod's total player decisions by 0.4 games.

In contrast, David Ortiz performed in an average inter-game context of 1.039, about 3.9% above average, which increased Papi's total player decisions by 1.2 games.

•     Inter-Game Win Adjustment

Of course, the issue is not simply how many high-leverage situations a player performs in, but how well he does in those situations. The MVP argument for David Ortiz was not simply that he had a lot of high-leverage at-bats (which, as we just saw, he did), but that he rose to the occasion in those situations, performing even better in those high-leverage situations than his already-excellent self.

In this regard, David Ortiz excelled. Overall, in 2005, Ortiz batted .300/.397/.604. With runners in scoring position, he improved that to .352/.462/.580. With two outs and runners in scoring position, he batted .368/.507/.719. When the score was tied, Ortiz batted .289/.405/.583. In "late and close" situations, Ortiz batted .346/.447/.846. No matter how you slice the data, Papi delivered big-time in the clutch in 2005. Because of this, his effective winning percentage was better than his context-neutral winning percentage of 0.583. In fact, his inter-game win adjustment increased his winning percentage by 0.034 to an inter-game adjusted winning percentage of 0.617.

Alex Rodriguez, on the other hand, while not as "un-clutch" as maybe some people thought at the time, performed almost exactly the same regardless of the inter-game context, so that his inter-game win adjustment was -0.001.

Taking inter-game context and inter-game win adjustments into account, the comparison between Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz looks thus.

Player Won-Lost Records, Inter-Game Adjusted: 2005*

Wins Losses WinPct Wins over .500
Alex Rodriguez
David Ortiz 19.612.00.6203.8

*Player wins are also adjusted to control for the performance of one's teammates in shared components.

Now we see why David Ortiz did so well in MVP voting. Taking inter-game performance into account, Ortiz moves much more decisively ahead of Rodriguz in winning percentage, 0.620 - 0.572, and also moves ahead of him in wins over 0.500, 3.8 - 2.9.

•     Intra-Game Adjustments: Performance in Team Wins versus Team Losses

In addition to adjusting for inter-game context, I also adjust for intra-game context. As with inter-game adjustments, I adjust for two factors here: Context and Win Adjustments.

•     Intra-Game Context

Intra-game context adjusts player wins and losses to normalize the total number of player decisions per game to be equal to exactly three decisions per team per game.

Alex Rodriguez played in an average Intra-Game context of 1.070 about 7.0% above average. This increased Rodriguez's total player decisions by 2.8.

David Ortiz had an average Intra-Game context of 1.012 (1.2% above average), increasing his total player decisions by 0.4.

The intra-game context adjustment basically gives A-Rod as much of an edge in player decisions over Ortiz as the inter-game context adjustment gave to Papi. This is because intra-game context is somewhat negatively correlated to inter-game context. This is because games with lots of high-leverage plays will tend to generate more raw Player Game Points than games with relatively few high-leverage plays. But, at the end of the day, all games count exactly the same in the standings: a team can only win a game once no matter how many clutch hits its players managed to get.

•     Intra-Game Win Adjustment

There is one final adjustment that I make to Player Won-Lost records. This adjusts player wins and losses such that the players on a team earn exactly two player wins in any team win and exactly one win in any team loss, and that players earn exactly two player losses in any team loss and exactly one loss in any team win. In this adjustment, positive events which contributed to wins are weighted more heavily than positive events which happened in team losses, while negative events which contributed to team losses get more weight than negative events which happened in team wins.

This final adjustment improves David Ortiz's player winning percentage by 0.008 and A-Rod's winning percentage by 0.023.

This final adjustment benefits both Rodriguez and Ortiz, as they both tended to perform better in games which their teams won than they did in games which their teams lost. Of course, this is true of most players (that’s why their teams win those games after all). Rodriguez and Ortiz were both also helped by the fact that their teams won 95 games apiece.

While this adjustment helped both players, the help to Ortiz was fairly minimal, an extra 0.3 wins (and a reduction of 0.3 losses). Rodriguez, on the other hand, gained more than 3 times as many wins as Ortiz (1.0) by virtue of having produced better in Yankee victories than in Yankee losses.

Does this make sense?

Well, here are A-Rod’s numbers.

Alex Rodriguez's Batting Line in 2005

Yankee Wins 95 437 0.376 0.490 0.736 101 101
Yankee Losses 67 278 0.241 0.313 0.430 23 29

Now, as I said, most players perform better in games that their team wins than in games that their team loses. On aggregate that would have to be true; that’s why the winning teams win and the losing teams lose. But, let’s compare Rodriguez’s numbers to David Ortiz’s numbers.

David Ortiz's Batting Line in 2005

Red Sox Wins 94 431 0.332 0.441 0.685 92 104
Red Sox Losses 65 282 0.253 0.330 0.490 27 44

Now, compare just those top lines. A-Rod outhit Ortiz in victories by 0.044 in batting average, 0.049 in OBP, and 0.051 in slugging (which makes his OPS a full 0.100 higher than Ortiz). He outscored him by 9 runs and had only 3 fewer RBIs. And remember, the Yankees and Red Sox won the same number of games (although Ortiz sat out one Red Sox victory).

So, while Ortiz performed better in situations that were very valuable within the context of a particular game - inter-game context - A-Rod performed better in situations that ended up contributing to Yankee wins - intra-game context. And, in fact, combining batting, baserunning, and fielding, these effects were nearly offsetting: Ortiz gained about 1.3 wins on Rodriguez through inter-game adjustments while Rodriguez got 0.9 of those wins back through intra-game adjustments.

Let me try to illustrate with an example.

On September 29, 2005, David Ortiz went 3-5 including a home run leading off the bottom of the 8th inning to tie the score 4-4 and a walkoff RBI single with one out in the bottom of the 9th inning. Baseball-Reference.com credits Ortiz with a WPA of 0.584 for the game. Obviously, those hits were huge for the Red Sox and Ortiz was rightly celebrated as the hero of that game.

On April 26, 2005, the Yankees defeated the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (or whatever they were calling themselves that season) 12-4. The Yankees took a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning and led 10-2 by the end of the 4th inning. Obviously, there weren't a lot of "clutch" situations in this game. It was over early. Do you know why it was over early? Because Alex Rodriguez hit a 2-out, 3-run home run in the bottom of the first inning to give the Yankees that 3-0 lead, he hit a 2-out, 2-run home run in the bottom of the third inning to extend the Yankees' lead to 5-2, and he capped it off with a 2-out grand slam in the bottom of the 4th inning to give the Yankees that aforementioned 10-2 lead. For all of that, Baseball-Reference.com only credits Alex Rodriguez with a WPA of 0.490 for that game.
Take Ortiz's two RBIs off the scoreboard for the Red Sox in that September 29th game, and the Blue Jays would have won that game 4-3. Then again, if Ortiz made a (single) out in his final at-bat, Manny Ramirez would have come to bat with the potential winning run still in scoring position (albeit with two outs).

Take Rodriguez's ten RBIs off the scoreboard for the Yankees on April 26th and the Angels would have won that game 4-2. Moreover, all three of Rodriguez's home runs came with two outs in the inning. Turn them into outs and the Yankees would have had no further opportunities in any of those innings.

In retrospect, Alex Rodriguez's performance that day was not merely every bit as valuable as Ortiz's, but almost certainly more so, even if it was less "clutch" by a conventional inter-game "win probability" reckoning. My Player won-lost records credit David Ortiz with a batting won-lost record that day of 0.48 - 0.02, good for 0.46 net wins. Alex Rodriguez had a batting won-lost record on his big day of 0.91 - 0.02, good for 0.89 net wins. I think this is a reasonable measure of the relative values of these two batting performances.

3.    Comparing a Third Baseman to a Designated Hitter
Taking everything into account, here is where we stand with Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz in 2005.

Final Player Won-Lost Records: 2005

pWins pLosses pWinPct Wins over .500
Alex Rodriguez 25.717.50.5954.1
David Ortiz

So, Alex Rodriguez earned more Player Wins (pWins) than David Ortiz, 25.7 - 20.1, while Ortiz had a higher winning percentage, 0.628 - 0.595. Big Papi leads in pWins over .500, 4.095 - 4.124, but by an amount that can best be described as trivial.

But is this really a totally fair comparison? In terms of fielding wins, is an average third baseman worth the same as an average first baseman or, worse, an “average” designated hitter? Clearly, an average third baseman is a better fielder than an average first baseman and is considerably more valuable than an average designated hitter.

Why? Think of it this way. To replace David Ortiz, all the Boston Red Sox would have had to do in 2005 would have been to find the best possible hitter they could find. That hitter would surely be a good deal worse than David Ortiz, but the pool of possible replacements for Ortiz was nevertheless fairly large: the population of major-league caliber hitters.

On the other hand, if the New York Yankees had to replace Alex Rodriguez, they would have not only had to have found a hitter, but they would have had to find a hitter who could also play third base. The pool of possible replacement candidates to replace Rodriguez – major-league caliber third basemen - would clearly be smaller than the pool of possible replacements for Ortiz.

•     Positional Average

A player who hit (and ran) like an average third baseman given Alex Rodriguez’s batting opportunities, and fielded like an average third baseman given A-Rod’s fielding opportunities, would have been expected to compile a 0.501 winning percentage. In contrast, a player who hit (and ran) like an average DH/1B given David Ortiz’s batting opportunities, and fielded like an average first baseman given Ortiz’s fielding opportunities, would have been expected to compile a 0.515 winning percentage.

Using these figures for “average”, then, Alex Rodriguez’s final won-lost record was 4.1 pWins over Positional Average (pWOPA) while David Ortiz compiled a pWOPA of 3.6, a solid, albeit modest, lead for A-Rod.

•     Replacement Level

Alex Rodriguez earned 35% more Player decisions than Ortiz because he played so many more innings in the field than Ortiz. If Rodriguez had earned the same number of decisions as Ortiz (if, say, he missed 40 games to injury), is it likely that the Yankees could have found an average player (which, in Rodriguez’s case, means a 0.501 player) to make up those extra decisions? No, it is not. Instead, the most likely scenario is that the Yankees would have had to make up those Player decisions with a below-average player. Consider who the Yankees played at third base in April of 2009 while A-Rod recovered from a hip injury: Cody Ransom, who batted a robust .190/.256/.329 for the Yankees.

Hence, instead of comparing A-Rod and Papi to average players, a more relevant measure of the relative value contributed by Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz is to measure how many Wins they contribute over Replacement Level (WORL). In my work, I set Replacement Level one standard deviation below positional average.

I have recently made one adjustment to this calculation, which actually helps Ortiz in this comparison. In constructing replacement level, I calculate separate standard deviations for four groups of players: position players who play the field, offense-only players (DH, PH, PR), starting pitchers, and relief pitchers. The logic behind the distinction between the first two is that, in replacing a fielder, a team may be able to ameliorate some of the loss of A-Rod's bat by replacing him with a player who was a better defensive third baseman. For a DH, such as Ortiz, however, there's no such opportunity to ameliorate the loss of Ortiz's bat (outside of the ability to find a better baserunner).

The standard deviation applied to Alex Rodriguez's positional average for 2005 was 3.6%, so that the relevant replacement level for Rodriguez is 0.465 (0.501 - 0.036). For Ortiz, the standard deviation was somewhat wider, 5.9%, so that the relevant replacement level for Ortiz is 0.456 (0.515 - 0.059).

Wins over Replacement Level for Rodriguez and Ortiz are shown below.

Final Player Won-Lost Records: 2005

Wins over Positional
pWins pLosses pWinPct Average Repl Level
Alex Rodriguez 25.717.50.5954.15.6
David Ortiz

Alex Rodriguez was 5.6 pWins over Replacement Level in 2005 for the New York Yankees. David Ortiz was 5.5 pWins over Replacement Level for the Boston Red Sox. Both Rodriguez and Ortiz had excellent seasons that were extremely valuable to their respective teams. It was close, but, ultimately, I think that the voters got this one right: Alex Rodriguez deserved to be the Most Valuable Player in the American League in 2005.

All articles are written so that they pull data directly from the most recent version of the Player won-lost database. Hence, any numbers cited within these articles should automatically incorporate the most recent update to Player won-lost records. In some cases, however, the accompanying text may have been written based on previous versions of Player won-lost records. I apologize if this results in non-sensical text in any cases.

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