Wednesday, July 31, 2013


As we say goodbye to the fourth month of baseball in 2013, our thoughts naturally turn in the direction of season's end and the accompanying awards that spark so much discussion...

...and Lord knows that this year we need to start focusing on that a bit earlier than usual, if only to get the bad taste out of our mouths from BS and his Draconian 'roid rage vendetta.

So (as is our wont) we found an issue that seems to have been overlooked by the kangaroo courtiers.

What is that issue?? Plainly, this: do Most Valuable Players have any tendencies to hit better in either half of the season? With eighty years' worth of MVP awards to examine, we've got enough of a sample size.

So we grabbed all of the data (from Forman et fil) for the MVPs selected by the BBWAA (excluding pitchers, and the awards given out in the strike years of 1981 and 1994) and ran the numbers. What we found is summarized in the table at right.

Over the timespan of the data, hitters have been a bit more than 4% better in the second half (measuring by OPS+). But the interesting trend here is how the level of second-half improvement is increasing.

Since 1980, MVPs have seen their second-half performance boost jump up from just under one percent to just under ten percent.

What could be the cause of this? Well, of course, it could be steroids. Several of the MVPs appearing on the "highest percentage gain" list have admitted to using PEDs. And the number of data points is small enough to be skewed by those results.

However, the list of top gainers (those whose second-half OPS+ was at least 20% higher than their first-half OPS+) is by no means dominated by recent players.

No, better overall conditioning is the likeliest explanation. While this list has more random results (spread across more of the 80+-year timeframe), its companion list--the top losers--is much more skewed toward the past.

The eight players whose data is shown in orange type give us another interesting little insight into how often a notable second-half improvement might sway the MVP results. The "Mrg" (short for "margin") column quantifies how close the MVP voting was in any given league-year. The eight players listed here--Ryan Howard, Ivan Rodriguez, Maury Wills, Alex Rodriguez, Marty Marion, Robin Yount, Mickey Cochrane, and Cal Ripken--all won their MVP awards by margins of less than 10%.

Who were the guys who coasted into their MVP awards? Three of the bottom five are found in three consecutive years in the AL from 1958-60. It turns out that Roger Maris had the greatest second-half drop (just under 40%) in his first MVP year of 1960 (he just barely beat out Mickey Mantle in both '60 and '61).

To his credit, Maris had a helluva first half in both 1960 (200 OPS+) and 1961 (179 OPS+).

The previous season (1959) is the one in which Nellie Fox set the all-time record for the lowest second half OPS/OPS+ of any MVP winner.

Jackie Jensen (AL MVP in '58) is  second to Maris in decline percentage (34%).

It's probably not surprising that Hank Sauer, who (prior to Barry Bonds) was the oldest MVP, ranks third on this list.

Dale Murphy's two consecutive MVPs in 1982-83 both make this list.

So the trend is clear: MVPs have been increasingly saving their best for last. Will that be the case in 2013?