I've been talking, and tweeting, for a while about my belief that Ian Kinsler has been the Texas Rangers Team MVP for the first half of the 2011 season.
With 82 games in the books (only 82 games -- thanks again, Gerry Davis, for stealing a win and Mitch Moreland's grand slam), I thought it would be worthwhile to look at who the leading Rangers are using a handful of the "advanced" metrics...
WAR -- what is it good for? Ranking 2011 Ranger performances, for one thing...
Starting with fWAR, let's see who the top five Ranger position players are:
If we include pitchers, C.J. Wilson (2.7 fWAR) and Alexi Ogando (1.8 fWAR) would knock Young and Napoli out of the top 5.
It isn't shocking to see Kinsler at the top of this list...what is shocking, though, is the size of the advantage he has over the next-closest Rangers, sitting a full win ahead of Andrus and Beltre.
Although Kinsler takes a lot of heat for his .241 batting average, his .359 OBP is the second-highest on the team (Endy Chavez, in a limited role, has a .360 OBP), and FanGraphs' system loves his fielding and baserunning.
Seeing Elvis 2nd among positional players, and third overall, in fWAR is probably a surprise to most folks, even Rangers fans, but as with Kinsler, the FanGraphs' stats like Elvis's defense and are crushing on his baserunning. With 4.2 runs above average on the bases, FanGraphs has Elvis as the best baserunner in the majors.
Beltre checks in at third largely on the strength of his glove. Beltre's bat has disappointed this year, but FanGraphs has Beltre at +7.8 runs with the glove this season, the seventh-highest total in the majors (and, strangely, the seventh-highest total in the A.L. -- all the players ahead of him on the list are in the Junior Circuit).
Moving on to bWAR, we have the following top 5 list for positional players:
If we include pitchers, Elvis, Napoli and Young drop out in favor of C.J. (2.6), Ogando (2.4), and Matt Harrison (2.0).* Still, using bWAR -- whose defensive stats are, I think, a little less sophisticated than UZR, which FanGraphs uses for fWAR,** and which doesn't drill down in the baserunning data like fWAR does -- Kinsler is the top ranked position player, and 2nd overall.
* The big swing between bWAR and fWAR for Ogando and Harrison is due to FanGraphs using FIP while B-R uses ERA...because Ogando and (especially) Harrison have better ERAs than FIPs, they come out much better in bWAR.
** If you substitute DRS for UZR in calculating fWAR, you don't see a significant change -- all five of the leaders have a DRS that is within a run or two of UZR.
I also want to look at VORP for the Rangers. VORP, one of the Baseball Prospectus metrics, is a measure of offensive production, adjusted for park effects. It does take into account defensive position -- a catcher will have a higher VORP than a first baseman with the same raw offensive production -- but doesn't take into account performance at the defensive position.
I think this is worth looking at because, while we're pretty confident in our ability to measure offensive performance granularly, defensive stats tend to have more variation. VORP allows you to get a fix on what we can measure with a good deal of accuracy and precision, and you can then adjust your VORP figure using the number (or range of numbers) of runs above or below average you feel is appropriate for that player, based on whatever method you choose to use.
Here are the top 5 Ranger positional players so far this season, in terms of VORP:
Elvis Andrus is close behind Napoli, at 11.2, and Josh Hamilton is right behind him at 10.2. Among pitchers, C.J. Wilson (17.1) and Alexi Ogando (17.0) are the only ones to crack double-digits.
Once again, we see Kinsler with a sizeable lead, this team over Moreland, who makes his first appearance on the leaderboard. If each of these players has been average, defensively, for their positions this season, Kinsler still has the edge on everyone else. Looking at these figures, it is hard to think that you could dock Kinsler enough runs defensively, or add enough runs saved with the glove to any other Ranger, so that Kinsler would be supplanted from the top spot.
Finally, we can look at WARP, Baseball Prospectus's version of Wins Above Replacement. I generally find BP's defensive stats more suspect than UZR or +/-, which is why I usually use VORP and adjust for defense rather than WARP. This is how the leaderboard shakes out for the Rangers:
Mike Napoli also comes in at 1.4. Elvis Andrus* is only at 0.9, due to BP's defensive stats having him as below average in the field this year.** Nelson Cruz, meanwhile, jumps into the mix because BP's defensive numbers have him as the best defender on the team this year. If we include pitchers, C.J. Wilson is at 1.9 WARP, and Ogando at 1.8 WARP.
* I'll mention this here because I didn't know where else to put it -- BP has Elvis at only 1.9 runs above replacement on the basepaths this year, #43 in baseball, while Kinsler is 2nd in the majors at 6.0 runs above replacement, behind only Ichiro.
** Insert the standard caveat/complaining about the variability/unreliability of advanced defensive stats here.
So there you have it. I don't think any one of these stats is definitive, and I wouldn't say that this is all anyone should look at when determining how well a player has played or who a/the "MVP" is.
However, I do think it is meaningful that every measure has Kinsler ranked #1 among positional players, and only bWAR doesn't have him ranked #1 among all Rangers, with C.J. edging Kinsler out.
I said a week or two ago I thought that there were several players with legitimate arguments for team MVP. Looking at everything right now, though, I'm hard-pressed to come to any conclusion other than that Ian Kinsler is the clear choice for Ranger first half Most Valuable Player.