Life of Boswell
There, now that I am done telling you how I feel about the man and his work, I must say that I
Yes, I've read other columns along these lines, but the other columns I've read were from hometown Phillies writers or people I do not have any particular opinion about. I love the Boz. I respect the Boz. I read columns from the Boz and, even if my starting opinion is precisely the opposite of his, I find myself halfway through thinking, "Well, maybe he's right and I'm wrong."
And yet this column is overwhelmed with such twisted logic that I'm sitting here doing all sorts of
The key line in Boz's column seems to be this:
That sounds good. It really does. I read that sentence, once, twice, five times, and each time I read it I liked the rhythms of it, I liked the construction, I liked the use of all-capital letters in WILDLY.
Only, you know what? It isn't. It is, when you think about it, a horrifying premise -- I cannot believe that Tom Boswell, my hero, really believes that. Common sense says that the universe revolves around the earth. Common sense says that thunder clapping means God's angry. Common sense says that when your car is sliding you want to turn your wheel away from the skid. Common sense says that a fast guy with no power who might or might not get on base is the perfect guy to put in the leadoff spot. Common sense that the queen of spades is the middle card. Common sense says that if you put
But, forget that for a moment. There's a larger point ... so let's remember the line:
Now, one thing I should say is that I don't really see how the huge difference in VORP really cuts against common sense. Pujols hit 106 points higher than Howard. His on-base percentage was 123 points higher. His slugging percentage was 110 points better. It doesn't seem too much of a stretch that Pujols had a much, much better season and that this would be dramatically reflected in their VORPs. And VORP does not even consider the massive differences in their defensive ability (Pujols is a better first baseman) or their base-running ability (Pujols is a better baserunner) or their various splits (Howard was more or less helpless against left-handed pitchers). It seems pretty obvious from just about any angle that Albert Pujols is a much better player than Ryan Howard, and that he had a much, much, much, much, much, much, much better season -- I would say at least 61 VORPies better.
But -- I told you there would be some mental gymnastics here -- let's play along. Let's say that the VORP difference does indeed give pause ... hmm, this says that Pujols was almost three-times the player that Ryan Howard was in 2008, and that just doesn't pass the smell test. So where can we turn to offer a little common sense in this sea of numbers confusion?
Here's what Boz says: "Sometimes you have to underline the obvious; for example a first baseman with 146 RBIs is 'more valuable,'* especially when he plays on a first-place team, than a first baseman (Pujols) with 116 RBIs on a fourth-place team."
OK. So here's where we are now. Tom Boswell, who just crushed VORP for the way it crosses logic (and, later in the article, he does the same for runs created, OPS and
1. The number of runs they drove in.
That's it. Don't analyze beyond that. In fact, to quote Boswell's next sentence, "Don't analyze beyond that." See? The man who is basing his entire argument on that Boz Premise (to remind you:
And I know that Boz understands that Pujols is a much better player, because he spends the next paragraph pointing out that, yes, Howard can't field, and yes, Pujols outhit him, and yes, Howard strikes out a lot while Pujols walks a lot. He knows this to be true. But you know the Seinfeld line about how impressed he is that the Chinese are sticking with chopsticks. Well, Boz is sticking with those RBIs.
And he follows with these gems:
"But none of it outweighs Howard's RBI total, built on his .320 average with runners in scoring position." Pujols hit .339 with runners in scoring position and reached base more than half the time.
"For what it's worth, Howard wasn't even in the top half dozen in baseball in runners on base when he came to the plate." This is true; Howard was eighth with 483 runners on base. But you know what? That's a lot of runners. A
"[Howard] is Mr. Multi-Run Homer." Howard hit 26 of his 48 homers with men on base, that's 54%, which is pretty good. League average is closer to 44%. Pujols was at 46%. However it should be noted that Howard also
I think that's about right. I understand why people would want to vote for Ryan Howard as MVP. It fits a neat story line. We don't want our MVPs to just be the boring ol' best player -- we want them to be superheroes, we want to ascribe to them some sort of mystical talents that lift teams above their modest means and carry them to unforeseen heights. We want to believe that the MVP -- and the MVP alone -- lifted them higher than they've ever been lifted before.
Sure, the Phillies were defending division champs. Sure they have better players than Ryan Howard, including the guy who plays right next to him. Sure they had a couple of very good left-handed starters and a closer who did not blow a save. Sure Ryan Howard coming into September had been absolutely terrible (.234/.324/.490 -- but lots of 'dem RBIs!). Sure the Phillies pitchers gave up three runs or less in 12 of the last 16 games as the Phils overcame a sinking Mets team.
Sure, we all
Boz, in the column, proceeds to explain why K-Rod should have won the American League MVP, but I'm too tired to go into that.