Friday, February 25, 2005

My Least Favorite Stat

Projected VORP.

This stat simply should not exist.

If you read this site, there's a good chance you're familiar with VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), a stat that quantifies a player's offensive value relative to a replacement-level offensive contribution at their position. VORP is a highly-contested stat in itself; in my humble opinion, it's waaaaaay overused by those who like it but completely misunderstood and foolishly discarded by its mainstream detractors. The question of quantifying a replacement-baseline as well as the question of measuring value are both problematic. Baseball Prospectus, for example, uses raw stats (1B, 2B, 3B, HR, outs, BB, etc.) in determining value, when a true measure of value would also evaluate context and add win probabilities and so forth. The difference is largely negligible, but it's there.

The problems with VORP, however, are easily dealt with if you know what you're getting into and you know about the context in which a player's VORP was earned. It's a useful summary.

However, a player's projected VORP, a stat I've seen bandied about on sites I frequent quite a bit since the release of BP's PECOTA spreadsheet, tells me very little. Here's an exercies: rank these four players in terms of who you would want to have playing third base for your team in 2005:

Player A: 19.3
Player B: 17.2
Player C: 17.2
Player D: 13.9

Doesn't tell you much, does it? You'd probably gravitate toward listing them based strictly on VORP, but you wouldn't be very confident in your decision. Now let's say I give you EqMLVr, the offensive rate stat upon which VORP is based:

Player C: .096
Player A: .069
Player D: -.017
Player B: -.039

If we prorate that production to 150 games, the difference between Player B and Player C is a full 20 runs, yet they're the same in projected VORP. Now, in a sense, projected VORP is right in creating that difference, and I'll explain why in a second. But if all you have is VORP, you don't know why the difference should be there.

Player A is Andy Marte, player B is Russ Branyan, Player C is Jose Valentin, and Player D is Eric Hinske. Now that you know that, you should be able to intuit why Valentin's VORP outstrips his MLVr by so much: he's counted by the system as a shortstop. Given that the difference between Valentin and Branyan in defense can be reasonably projected at about 20 runs, VORP seems to get this right. However, it gets it right for the wrong reasons: it uses playing time projections and defense-neutral position adjustments. If Valentin fielded like Derek Jeter and Branyan fielded like Scott Rolen, VORP projections would be getting this one clearly wrong.

Now, playing time projections are important for many reasons. For one, since PECOTA uses comparable players, a playing time projection can tell you about how often similar players stayed in the lineup. For another, the amount of playing time in the projection can demonstrate the context from which the projection was derived; Olmedo Saenz won't maintain his offensive rates as an everyday player and so forth.

That being said, the lack of opportunity Branyan received with the two Ohio-based organizations doesn't have much bearing on how good he will be if given a shot at a full-time job. As such, projected VORP is telling us about noise and not talent.

Now, we shouldn't expect VORP to tell us about talent; it's a value measure. The problem is that there's no reason to project value; when looking to the future, we want talent. If you're choosing a player for the season, you want to know their talent and their ability to manifest that talent (i.e. their ability to stay in the lineup and so forth). VORP combines them for us in an ad hoc manner. We don't need that.

For instance, if we know J.D. Drew is an injury risk and have a good idea of the relative probabilities of how many games he'll play, we'll already account for that in building the team by getting a quality fourth outfielder like Ricky Ledee and having players like Cody Ross and Chin-Feng Chen in the wings as right-handed hitters who will be average or better offensively if used as the starters against LHP. Thus, the generic replacement level isn't really germane in considering the actual amount of value that Drew adds to the team nor the value lost if he's injured. VORP essentially averages out Drew's injury risks to get playing time and then multiplies that by his offensive talent level to get VORP. What we really want to do is model Drew's overall contribution to the team; if he plays a full season, the team will score this many runs; if he misses 80 games, they'll score this many runs. Then we weight each scenario by its probability. This is a much better model for projected value.

On top of that, VORP acts as if it knows about a player's defense and baserunning by adding a positional adjustment. It doesn't. Wouldn't you rather know a player's position, defensive ability, and offensive ability separately then to merge them all together?

While VORP is a useful shorthand to describe a player's contribution in a season, it's far from complete. When looking at projections, our goal should be to stay as far away from shorthands as possible; they're distracting. If we care enough about a player's performance to want to project it, how is it possible that we don't care enough about the player's performance to contextualize it in determining value?

Of course, projected VORP doesn't make any claim to tell us the whole story. But I can't think of any reason to use it, and it is taken by many to actually tell most of the story of a player's future. Since all the data to calculate a player's projected VORP can be derived from PECOTA's numbers, projected VORP is only useful insofar as it saves you a little bit of spreadsheet programming. It is counterproductive in that it discourages attempts to combine that data in more useful ways.

Man, I'm cranky this week.

Comments:
I think VORP, when used in conjunction with salary, *is* a very useful tool.

By itself, though, I agree it is not especially useful.

Daniel
 
OTHER USELESS STATS I'D LIKE TO SEE:

1) The chance of a pitcher throwing a shutout on any given day.

2) Production received for dollar spent. Like Gagne's Cy Young season cost just $500,000. That should rate pretty high.

3) Baserunning Errors

4) Self-blown saves

5) Steroid factor: is it like playing all your games in Colorado?

6) Mad factor: stats for what a batter does in the at bat after being bruhed back by a pitch.

7) Swung at balls out of Strke Zone or SABOOZ.

8) Swung at balls in the dirt or SABID.
Stephen Bright
 
All valid points, and you do a good job pointing out the flaw that many make when using the stat incorrectly (even myself when I first learned of it). But don't fall into the trap of labeling something as useless because it doesn't suit the analysis you intend to do. Projected VORP is certainly a different beast than actual VORP
 
I second the second anon comment.

Tom, if you and Woolner want to get into a cage death match, which I think this is an invitation to, the rest of us will stand back and watch. I imagine this is about to get, um, interesting on BTF very shortly.
 
VORP is not useless. It's obviously less than ideal since it does not measure the quality of a player's defense. I think it's a useful summation of value *in the past.*

My feeling is that VORP is a tool for looking at the past and not for looking at the future. Projected VORP combines two things that we really need to look at separately to understand a player.

This is *not* an invitation to a cage match with Keith Woolner for several reasons. First, I don't have a problem with VORP. I just think blanket "value" measures shouldn't be included with projections. Second, hardly anybody reads this blog unless it gets linked to on Primer. I did *not* expect this very, very brief thing that I wrote because I hadn't written in a week to get linked to.

Frankly, this (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2005/writers/jacob_luft/02/03/new.lineups/) nauseated me and I've seen that type of "analysis" repeated in a number of places recently - including on BP itself - and simply wished it would stop.
 
The Projected VORP King has no clothes.

It amazes me how snooty statheads (i.e., BP types) rail on normal baseball fans for using RBIs and other dreaded counting stats, then trot out Projected VORP like it's the end-all-be-all.

I've seen so many people simply add up Projected VORPs of team players then compare it straight across to other team's aggregate Projected VORPs.

Sure VORP has value, but so does RBI. Still it's about as convincing to compare team's aggregate Projected VORPs as it is to claim Juan Encarnacion is a good player because of his RBI totals.
 
The article you linked to I feel is a appropriate way to use projected VORP, because it as you pointed out takes into account playtime projections as well as MLVr. When deciding who to put in your lineup of course you wouldn't look at projected VORP, because of the reasons listed. But in a situation like this article, where the team lineup is basically already set using projected VORP to see how a lineup as a whole performs seems fair enough. The reason being is that the theory is that the high injury risk guys value is appropriately discounted for the pt effects. You can't project the output of a lineup with Ken Griffey Jr and Nick Johnson and expect them both to get 500 at bats. So combining MLVr and proj PT into one stat is appropriate here. OF course, you don't always have a league average guy ready to step in, sometimes it's Wily Mo and sometimes it Endy Chavez, but that speaks to the inclusion of more players in your team vs team proj vorp analysis (your 4th outfieler, the utility man, etc... so long as the proj ab's match up for each team). I for one, would much rather see someone trot out an article with a meaningful use of projected vorp than most of the crap out there. You point still stands, projected VORP is easily misinterpreted, and you can always dig deeper into the compnonets of the stat. But the value of digger deeper will always be there, at many times you will have to recombnie those in a new way to become a stat with a different value.
 
No, Luft clearly uses projected VORP incorrectly. Take a look at his Dodgers comparison. Hee Seop Choi and Dave Ross have low VORP projections not because of injury risks but because of limited playing time in the past. Why does Valentin get credit for being a shortstop in Luft's article?

If you do it the way Luft does it, Adrian Beltre's season counts for a lot more relative value than it should because it's measured relative to a replacement baseline, skewing that final count. If you want to predict a team's runs scored without a sim, you must use an average baseline (or convert your replacement level numbers to an average baseline).
 
I stand corrected. A closer look shows a LOT of flaws (like those individual comaparisons and team run totals). I still don't disagree with the general concept, but the commentary he adds unfortunately amplifies the flaws of misusing projected vorp. Instead, one could have used the same stat charts highlighting the areas where projected vorp might not be appropriate and added value from that standpoint (like you've done here in the column and comments). It is funny to note that I thought Choi was undervalued from a projected vorp standpoint last year due to his projection of 346 at bats, and after all was said and done he ended up with 343 at bats albeit through a unique path. I appreciate you taking the time to reply to my posts and continually look forward to your column.
 
Jacob Luft has been pissing me off for a year when I do read his articles.
 
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