MVP Awards and the Coors Field Stigma

I’ve been wondering to myself lately: “Self, what would it take for another Rockies player to win an MVP?” and yeah I know that whole winning thing goes a long way but I’m fairly unfamiliar with that as a Rockies fan. This has been in my mind all offseason long after the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado could barely break the top 10 after hitting 42 HR (22 on the road) and knocking in 130 runs and hitting .287. Oh yeah — and getting a Gold Glove as the hard-to-argue best defensive third baseman in the NL if not all of MLB. To try and figure this out I decided to see what makes an MVP using stats since I can’t quantify the minds of the writers that vote.

Since I wanted to see the Coors Field stigma that is placed on players statistically I chose wRC+ because it’s one of the best park-adjusted stats to see how much better than the rest of the league a player was. Then I tallied the wRC+ and WAR for the top five players in each league from 2009 – 2015. I stopped at 2009 because it became apparent before 2009 that these stats would not somewhat closely represent the best players vs the vote-getters. For the years in which pitchers won/made the top five I used FIP-.

At this point I’ve got all my players and their respective stats. To even things out a bit between wRC+ and FIP- I subtracted 100 from wRC+ and inverted FIP- and subtracted 100 so it became a points system essentially with 0 being average and seeing just how far from average players were. I then averaged out the points and WAR needed for 1st place, 2nd place, 3rd place and so on and here is what I found.

So I now had my “baseline,” per se, of what to look for in past Rockies seasons to see what a season would look like that is good enough for the stigma to break and a player have a chance to win the MVP. First-place vote-getters in the NL average right at a 170 wRC+ (170-100=70 points in this article), 2nd place averaged 160 wRC+. By the way if we take away Bryce Harper’s insane season in 2015 with his wRC+ of 197 it drops to 165 wRC+ average; his season was 17 points higher than the next-highest in the NL in the past seven years. We will look into that later but for now I need to look for Rockies players with a 170 wRC+. Well that was easy, there is only one, and it’s the only Rockies MVP ever.

In 1997 Larry Walker won the Rockies’ only MVP award ever with a wRC+ of 177, so what were his stats that year? He had a line of .366/.452/.720  with a 1.172 OPS. He had 49 homers and 130 RBI along with a Gold Glove in right field (which helps me wonder what a guy like Arenado would need to do). So what are the odds of reaching those types of numbers? Since 2009 let’s see how many players have hit those numbers at all let alone together. Minimum 500 PA

.366 Average = None (Joe Mauer hit .365 in 2009)

.452 OBP = Two, Bryce Harper (.460) and Joey Votto (.459) both in 2015

.720 SLG = None (highest is Albert Pujols in 2009 with .658)

1.172 OPS = None (highest is Bryce Harper in 2015 with 1.109)

49 HR = Two, Jose Bautista (54 in 2010) and Chris Davis (53 in 2013)

130 RBI = Seven (highest is 141 both Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard in 2009)

So…wow, that seems pretty unlikely to reach those levels. I did however mention what happens if we remove Harper’s 2015 season — the average wRC+ drops to 165. In the Rockies’ history they have four seasons within two points of 165 (excluding Walker’s 1997). Those seasons:

1999 Larry Walker = 167 wRC+ – .379/.458/.710,  1.168 OPS, 37 HR  115 RBI  –   Finished 10th in NL voting for MVP

2004 Todd Helton (Post-humidor!) = 166 wRC+ –  .347/.469/.620, 1.088 OPS, 32 HR 94 RBI  –   Finished 16th in NL voting for MVP

2001 Larry Walker = 163 wRC+ – .350/.449/.662,  1.111 OPS, 38 HR  123 RBI –   Tied for 24th in NL voting for MVP

2003 Todd Helton (Post-humidor also) = 163 wRC+ – .358/.458/.630,  1.088 OPS, 33 HR 117 RBI  –   Finished 7th in NL voting for MVP

So those number are a tad more reasonable. So is it possible for a Rockies player to ever win the MVP again? Absolutely, but this was written to show not whether or not the Rockies can have another MVP someday but more what numbers it may take to get the votes and erase the Coors Field stigma in voting, if for just one season. Which I think may never happen again without one of the best seasons we’ve ever seen.





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dirtbag
Member
dirtbag

You’re using the word “stigma” wrong.

TKDC
Member
Member

I wonder what effect Coors has had on Walker’s HOF case, and Helton’s in the future.

Joe
Member
Joe

You don’t have to wonder..it’s already had a HUGE effect on Larry Walker’s HOF chances. He’s been on the ballot for 6-years now I think and his last vote total was around 15%. He should stay on the ballot for the next 4-years, but I don’t think there is any chance he’ll get enough votes before he gets bumped off for not being elected in the 10-year window. It is a total shame too because there is a reasonable argument that he was a better player than Tony Gwynn who was elected first-ballot almost unanimously.

TKDC
Member
Member

Also, I like this article. I think you could dig deeper, too.

Lee Trocinski
Member
Member
Lee Trocinski

Matt Holliday finished 2nd in the MVP voting in 2007, behind Jimmy Rollins. The biggest thing the Rockies need to get an MVP is to win 90 games again, which is dumb but the way voting goes.

texg8r
Member
texg8r

This was fun. I would like to see the same idea extended to pitchers. What would be “fair” to allow a pitcher to accomplish in raw stats in Coors Field and still have a legitimate case for a Cy Young.

Operation Shutdown
Member

Interesting article. I must admit that I’m a bit puzzled why Arenado seems to be mentioned as a putative victim of anti-Rockie bias in the voting, given that his WAR and OBP weren’t very good last year, and his RC+ of 119 is miles below the other Rockies examples given. Btw, many of Arenado’s 2015 numbers are a spitting image of Dawson’s 1987 MVP year, a selection which Bill James criticized severely. Both also won SS and GG awards, and led their leagues in RBI and HR. Maybe this shows the evolution of the MVP voting process in the sabermetric… Read more »