Choosing an MVP in the KCL
Author: Robert Reyes, Applied Mathematics Major at UCLA, Normal Cornbelters Baseball Analytics Intern
How do you decide on an MVP? This is the question MVP voters have been asking themselves for generations. The crux of the question is the word value. What defines value? Who has more value than others? Do you have to be on a good team? What percentage of games do you have to play? What statistics should matter? What matters other than statistics, and how do you measure that? This article will aim to shine a light on several factors that I believe to be important in deciding on an MVP. The areas that will be discussed are fWAR, Fantasy Points, statistical leaders, and games played. Both league and team leaders will be looked at, as both can be crucial to determining value to a team. The stats used were taken 27 games through the season, with the knowledge that the final statistics will be close enough to these. It is worth noting that because this is a summer college league it is a lot harder to measure the intangibles, as there exists fewer media shining a light on those intangibles for the rest of us to see. At the end of the article, I will present my own ballot, ranking in order the 10 players I believe most deserving of the MVP award for this season with a short explanation for why I have ranked them as such. So, readers, I invite you to join me in this journey of deciding who to award the KCL MVP and encourage you to make your own decisions based on the evidence I lay out.
fWAR, or FanGraphs version of WAR, attempts to determine how many wins a player is worth above a replacement player. This is important to analyze because fWAR attempts to gather all a player’s contributions and give a number that empirically determines value. To see the formulas I used to determine fWAR for the KCL, please see the article titled “fWAR for the KCL” posted in the Kernelytics Blog.
1.1 League Leaders
First, we will take a look at the league leaders in WAR. Anyone who is at the top of the leaderboard in WAR has provided some of the most value to their team. Naturally, we must include them in our candidates for the most valuable player. Here are the top 15 players on the WAR leaderboard.
Obviously, all of these names are all candidates for MVP. However, there are some other graphs we can look at to maybe add names to the list or cement names that are already there. First up is each factor that goes into determining fWAR. As a recap, if you have not read my fWAR article (if you haven’t, you should go check it out), Batting Runs, Baserunning Runs, Fielding Runs, Positional Adjustment and Replacement Runs are the factors that determine runs above replacement, which is then divided by runs per win to become wins above replacement. What I want to look at now are players who have a positive impact in all areas of play. Therefore, the player will need to have positive Batting Runs (wRAA), Baserunning Runs, and Fielding Runs + Positional Adjustment. The reason we take Fielding Runs + Positional Adjustment is that the Positional Adjustment adjusts the fielding runs a player has based off how easy their defensive position is, creating a fielding number comparable across positions. We leave replacement runs off because every player has positive replacement runs as it has to do with the number of at-bats, which we will factor in in a later section. Now, here is the chart of the top 15 WAR getters with their Batting, Baserunning, and Fielding + Positional Adjustment Runs listed as well.
Now, people we see who not only have a high WAR but who also contribute value across the board are Auggie Rasmussen, Alec McGinnis, Derek Botaletto, Chase Adams, Jackson Blemler, Ben Karpowicz, and Logan Van Heuklon. These are some names we might want to pay extra attention to when considering MVP as they are valuable in every sphere of a baseball game. Another interesting thing to look at would be each of these fWAR categories individually and see the leaders for each stat. So, that is what we will do now. First up is Batting Runs, or WRAA.
Some familiar names, as every name here, is also on the WAR leaderboards. Rasmussen, McGinnis, Botaletto, Adams, and Karpowicz were all also on the list of players who add value in every sphere of a baseball game. Now, we will look at Baserunning Runs.
Almost all the names here are new, adding more possible names to consider. We also see Rasmussen and McGinnis for the fourth time and Blemler for a third. Finally, we will take a look at Fielding Runs + Positional Adjustment.
We have a mix of new names and familiar names here. This is the second time we see both Mike Maloney and Gage Wolfe, the third time we see Adams, the fourth time we see Blemler, and the fifth we see Rasmussen.
1.2 Team Leaders
Now, I want to look at each team individually, and see who adds higher value compared to their teammates. Here, I also want to look at WAR added per game, as players in the KCL have played in a large range of games. Also, each team’s graph has a linear regression line that predicts how much WAR per game a player should have based on the number of games they have played using team data. Each graph also contains a confidence interval around the regression line. Thus, I want to take a look at points that are above the confidence interval for each team, as these are the players who we can confidently say produce more WAR per game than the average player on their team would, given the number of games they have played. We will start with the Bobcats.
Again, some familiar names with the Bobcats, as we see McGinnis, Rasmussen, and Hensley again, as well as some new ones, as Shai Robinson and Colin Kalinowski both appear for the first time. Now, let’s take a look at the Merchants.
Again, we see two names that should be very familiar to us by now: Lutz and Botaletto. Moving on, we will look at the BlueCaps graph.
Again, some familiar names here, with all of Karpowicz, Hagen, Wolfe, Coartney, and Mulcahey having made appearances on the WAR leaderboard. Finally, the Ground Sloths.
We see Adams and Pacella here again, as well as JP Gauthier, a new candidate. Finally, I have one more graph that shows how much WAR each team has.
We can look at this chart in two ways. The first is that players on the BlueCaps, Bobcats, and Sloths should have higher MVP consideration because they play on better teams. However, I personally would look at it the second way, which is that Merchants players who earn consideration should have weight added to their case as they provided value to a team who did not have much of it, meaning without them their team would be objectively worse. Now that we have all the considerations for MVP based on WAR, I will list my personal tiers of candidates for MVP from these observations. The tiers are based on how many times their name appeared on the different lists and graphs, as well as how high they appear on the list, with an extra boost for Merchants players.
Tier 1: Auggie Rasmussen, Alec McGinnis, Jackson Blemler, Travis Lutz, Derek Botaletto, Ben Karpowicz, Joey Hagen, Chase Adams
Tier 2: Eli Hensley, Logan Van Heuklon, Patrick Mulcahey, Gage Wolfe, Ty Coartney, Daniel Pacella
Tier 3: Mike Maloney, Liam McGill, Peyton Dillingham, Luke Lawrence
Tier 4: Shai Robinson, Colin Kalinowski, JP Gauthier
2. Fantasy Points
Fantasy Points may seem like a simple, undeserving stat to base MVP consideration on. However, Fantasy Points takes stats and assigns them worth, and then calculates that total to give you a player’s value. Therefore, Fantasy Points is a statistic that aims to measure value and then awards the person with the higher value team a win in fantasy leagues. The formula that I used is ESPN’s standard formula, which is runs + RBIs + walks – strikeouts + stolen bases + total bases.
2.1 League Leaders
As with WAR, we will first take a look at the leaders in overall Fantasy Points. These players must be considered for MVP.
We have seen most of these names before, as well as Zach Carpita making his debut on the list. Now, we will not take a look at what factors into Fantasy Points separately as we did with WAR, as they will be covered in the league leaders category.
2.2 Team Leaders
I do want to take a look at each team specifically, and the players who exceed their team’s confidence interval of average Fantasy Points per game. This time, we will examine each team, and then see if there are any new names or if they are all familiar.
Every single name here has already been seen at least once. This is good for us, as it means the measures we are using allows the cream to rise to the top. One final note is summing up team Fantasy Points as we did for WAR.
Again, we see the Merchants in dead last. However, because the difference is not as big as it was before, I will not be adding any additional weight to Merchants players. Now, here is my personal tier list based on Fantasy Points.
Tier 1: Auggie Rasmussen, Alec McGinnis, Logan Van Heuklon, Liam McGill, Peyton Dillingham
Tier 2: Travis Lutz, Derek Botaletto, Mike Maloney, Chase Adams
Tier 3: Jackson Blemler, Ben Karpowicz, Zach Carpita, Daniel Pacella
Tier 4: Eli Hensley, Shai Robinson, Gage Wolfe, Patrick Mulcahey, JP Gauthier
3. Statistical Leaders
Another important area to factor in is statistical leaders. Leading the league or your team in a statistic is a good measure of contributing value to your team. Thus, we will now take a look at leaders in a variety of different categories which I have grouped by similar statistics.
3.1 League Leaders
The first set of statistics I want to take a look at are measures that account for knocking in and scoring runs.
It makes sense that the lists are pretty split, as the top of the lineup gets on base and scores runs while the middle knocks them in. The only names on both lists here are Auggie Rasmussen (first in RBIs, third in runs) and Davey Fitzpatrick. Other notable names are Dillingham leading the league in runs, Blemler, Otten, and Van Heuklon placing top five in runs, and Karpowicz, Shields, and Lutz being top five in RBIs. Now, we will take a look at hits and extra bases. The six categories here will be hits, doubles, triples, home runs, extra-base hits, and total bases.
Now, Rasmussen is the standout here, again being near the top of every chart. Other notable names are McGinnis (hits and total bases), Porter (doubles, extra-base hits, total bases), Dillingham (hits, home runs, extra-base hits, total bases), Shields (hits, home runs, total bases), Blemler (doubles, extra-base hits, total bases), Gauthier (doubles, extra-base hits, total bases), Pacella (home runs, extra-base hits), Lutz (triples, home runs, extra-base hits, total bases), Carpita (home runs), and Wolfe (triples). Now, it is time to look at the stats that represent averages, those being batting averages, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS. These are also called the slash line. We will look at only qualified batters, meaning they had to have at least 64 plate appearances.
We see the two most dominant names here are Alec McGinnis and Auggie Rasmussen, finishing first or second in every category except OBP, where McGinnis is first and Rasmussen is third. Dillingham (top 4 in three categories), Fitzpatrick (top 5 in one category), Hagen (top three in 3 categories), and Blemler (top 5 in two categories) also feature in the top 10 of each category. Van Heuklon (OPS, top 4 in AVG, OBP) and Wolfe (OBP, SLG, OPS) are in the top 10 of three of the four categories, while McGill (AVG, SLG) Steinbaugh (AVG, OBP), Porter (SLG, OPS), and Carpita (SLG, OPS) each feature twice. Names like Lutz, Botaletto, Adams, and others that we have become accustomed to seeing are not here because they do not qualify as they have had less than 64 plate appearances. Up next are some more averages and percentages that are less common, but good at measuring underlying metrics that are important to note. These are RISP, wOBA, BABIP (batting average on balls in play), and contact rate.
Once again, McGinnis and Rasmussen can be found near the top of all four categories, and Fitzpatrick places in all four categories as well, including the top 5 in RISP. Van Heuklon (wOBA, BABIP, contact rate) and Steinbaugh (RISP, wOBA, BABIP) each place in the top ten for three categories, each having one top 5 finish as well. Hagen, Porter, Shields, LeCrone, McGill, Dillingham, Maloney, Blemler, and Wolfe, all place in two categories. Hagen (BABIP and wOBA), Maloney (contact rate and RISP), Dillingham (wOBA, contact rate), Blemler (wOBA and BABIP), Lecrone (BABIP), and McGill (contact rate) all have top-five finishes in these categories. Next, we will examine free passes and strikeout statistics. These will be walks, strikeouts (lowest among qualified hitters), walks to strikeouts, and hit-by pitches.
Three of these categories are led by players we have not seen a lot of so far in Otten, Campbell, and Jones, while McGinnis is a familiar name that leads the fourth category. Rasmussen, Van Heuklon, and Dillingham are the only three to place on three leaderboards, as all three placed on walks, strikeouts, and walks per strikeout. Blemler, Maloney, Lawrence, and Murphy also place impressively on different leaderboards. Finally, we have another assortment of statistics that measure underlying metrics. Stolen bases, hard-hit balls, quality at-bats, and two-out RBIs will factor in here.
These categories are the Blemler and Rasmussen show, with both placing on all four leaderboards, with each leading a category. McGill places on the leaderboard of three categories and leads stolen bases. McGinnis, Hensley, Dillingham, Fitzpatrick, and Van Heuklon each place on two leaderboards and place high in at least one, while Carpita, Coartney, and Hostetler each appear on two as well. Karpowicz only appears on two out RBIs, but he leads the category.
3.2 Team Leaders
Leading a team in statistics is also an important factor to measure, as it measures your value to your team. If a player is on all or most of the leaderboards for their team, it signifies that the team would probably be doing worse without that player. One thing to note is because each team does not have a lot of qualified hitters, the averages on this list include non-qualified hitters. First, we will start off with the Bobcats.
The first name that stands out is Rasmussen, as he is top three in every category for the Bobcats and leads 9 of them. McGinnis appears on eleven of the charts and leads two, and Blemler (leads three) and Hensley (leads two) each appear on seven boards. Mathieson and Robinson are the only others to appear on more than one board, with both appearing on two. Now, we will take a look at the Merchants team leaderboards.
The Merchants have several players who make multiple appearances on their charts. Lutz appears twelve times and leads seven categories, both team highs. Botaletto appears ten times and leads one, while Van Heuklon is listed eight times and leads four. Anthony Martinez is on the board five times and leads once, and Porter and Shields each appear four times, leading three and two categories respectively. Otten appears in three categories and leads each while Durbin appears twice and leads one. Next up are the BlueCaps leaderboards.
The BlueCaps are consistently led by about seven players. Karpowicz appears twelve times which is the most for the BlueCaps and leads five. Hagen appears nine times and leads four, while Mulcahey shows up ten times. McGill, Coartney, Carpita, and Maloney each appear five times, leading five, two, one, and zero categories respectively. Wolfe also appears on two leaderboards. Finally, we look at the leaderboards for the Ground Sloths.
The Ground Sloths have four players consistently on the leaderboards, and a few others with multiple appearances. Dillingham appears on a team-high ten boards and leads four. Adams appears on eight boards and leads a team-high five. Pacella is listed on nine boards and leads three while Gauthier appears nine times and leads one. Fitzpatrick shows up six times and leads one, while Steinbaugh appears in and leads three categories. Moore also appears on two boards. Finally, I can give my personal tiers based on leading statistical categories, both for teams and the league.
Tier 1: Auggie Rasmussen, Alec McGinnis, Jackson Blemler, Logan Van Heuklon, Camden Porter, Joey Hagen, Peyton Dillingham, Davey Fitzpatrick
Tier 2: Travis Lutz, Ben Karpowicz, Liam McGill, Zach Carpita, Daniel Pacella, JP Gauthier
Tier 3: Jack Shields, Zach Otten, Mike Maloney, Gage Wolfe, Ty Coartney, Cale Steinbaugh
Tier 4: Eli Hensley, Derek Botaletto, Anthony Martinez, Patrick Mulcahey, Chase Adams
4. Games Played
A final statistic of note is perhaps the most important stat to consider when deciding on an MVP. A player who plays in most of their team’s games is much more valuable in my opinion than someone who maybe has better stats but shows up much less. To be the most valuable, you must play to show that value to help your team throughout the season. Every time you show up and play well you create value, so the more you show up, the more value you have accrued. Thus, players on this list will rise and players not on this list will fall when looking at the three-tiered systems for consideration. Instead of doing a league most played and a team most played, I will just give each player who played in at least 18 games for all four teams at once. Anyone on these lists will have their MVP case boosted while those not on these lists will fall down and maybe even off the rankings even if their stats are impressive.
5. MVP Rankings
Finally, it is time to decide on overall MVP rankings. In my considerations, I give WAR the most weight as WAR measures a player’s total contribution. The second most important is statistical leaders, as leading the league or your team in multiple statistics shows dominance in multiple areas. Finally, I give Fantasy Points the least weight because it only accounts for a few statistics. It is still a good factor to look at, but I personally believe the other two factors to be more important. As stated, all of these will be looked at in the lens of games played, as it is crucial to play in a majority of games to add value. In the MLB, MVP voters pick their top ten, in that order, and points are given depending on which place they are in. Because it is only my ballot in this article, I will skip assigning points and just present the rankings. At the beginning, there will also be some honorable mentions (in no particular order) because there were a lot of KCL players who at least deserve a shout-out for MVP. After, I will go from 10 to 1 in order to keep you all in suspense. Now, here are my rankings for the 2022 KCL MVP.
Honorable Mentions: Camden Porter, Derek Botaletto, Patrick Mulcahey, Mike Maloney, Gage Wolfe, Ty Coartney, Zach Carpita, Chase Adams, Davey Fitzpatrick, Cale Steinbaugh, Daniel Pacella, JP Gauthier
10. Travis Lutz
Games played matter a lot when deciding MVP, and the fact that Lutz is nowhere near the games played leaderboards shows just how dominant he was when he played. Lutz is third in WAR and seventh in Fantasy Points, and on six of fifteen leaderboards he is eligible. He leads the league in wRAA and would lead the league in batting average, OBP, slugging, OPS, and wOBA if he was eligible. Had he kept up his pace, he would have been at the top of every leaderboard. He was also a Merchant, a team that desperately needed the value he provided. Despite missing several games, Lutz’s monster statistics earn him my tenth place vote for MVP.
9. Eli Hensley
Eli Hensley accrued the seventh most WAR in the KCL this season, impressive for a DH. He also was on seven of his team leaderboards and was on several league leaderboards as well. Despite qualifying for the games played leaderboard, he missed out on being a qualified hitter by one plate appearance. If he had qualified, he would have been on the leaderboard for all the average categories, and he would have finished in the top three of seven more leaderboards. He was also above team averages in WAR and Fantasy Points per game. Eli Hensley was a big part of why the vaunted Bobcats lineup could win games despite uneven pitching performances.
8. Liam McGill
Liam McGill is the definition of “freaky fast.” He led the league in baserunning runs, which makes sense considering he also led the league in stolen bases. He finished third in stolen bases and above confidence intervals for team averages in Fantasy Points per game. Any time McGill got on base, he was almost guaranteed to make it to third if no one was running ahead of him. McGill also led his team in five categories, suggesting it was not just his speed that made him so valuable to the BlueCaps. McGill also played in twenty-four games, good for third in the league and the most on his team. McGill showed up, ran fast, and produced consistently.
7. Joey Hagen
Joey Hagen ended the year eight in WAR, led by his prowess at the plate. He finished sixth in wRAA and eight in wOBA, proving he was a top talent with a bat in his hands. He was above confidence intervals for team averages for WAR per game. He also led the team in four statistics while finishing on nine team leaderboards. Joey Hagen appears on several of the league leaderboards and has two top-five finishes and three top-three finishes. He was tied for fifth on games played for the BlueCaps. His walk-up song tells it how it is: Joey Hagen “looks real good” every time he steps up to the plate.
6. Ben Karpowicz
Ben Karpowicz was a menace for opposing pitchers at the plate this year. He was ninth in WAR, ninth in WRAA, and had a positive impact in every aspect of the game by WAR categories. He was an RBI machine, finishing second in total RBIs and first in two out RBIs. He also finished on twelve of sixteen team leaderboards, a team-high, and leading five, a tied team-high. Karpowicz also finished above confidence intervals for team averages for eighteen games in WAR per game and Fantasy Points per game. These reasons are why he was awarded team MVP and why he is sixth in my MVP rankings.
5. Jackson Blemler
Jackson Blemler was a big part of the best hitting lineup that led the Bobcats to a second-place finish. He finished both sixth in WAR and in Fantasy Points. He also finished fourth in baserunning runs and was a positive contributor in every aspect of the game. Blemler was a doubles machine that would score a ton of runs, as he led the league in both categories. Blemler also finished on seven team leaderboards, leading three. Blemler was also versatile in the field, playing four different defensive positions. Blemler’s high WAR, ability to get to second and then score, as well as helping his team finish second gets him into the top half of my MVP ballot.
4. Peyton Dillingham
Dillingham was the biggest contributor to the league-leading Ground Sloths. Ranking fifteenth in WAR and second in Fantasy Points, Dillingham did just about everything for the Ground Sloths. Dillingham shows up on a team-high ten team leaderboards as well as leading four. He is above the confidence interval for team average for Fantasy Points per game for appearing in twenty-two games. Those twenty-two games are also a team-high. As mentioned, it is tough to measure intangibles, but Dillingham’s leadership has shined so much it is common knowledge. Dillingham’s mentorship and on-field production also won him team MVP.
3. Logan Van Heuklon
Logan Van Heuklon was a bright spot for a struggling Merchants team. Van Heuklon placed tenth in WAR, a big boost to a team with collective negative WAR. Not only did he finish with a high WAR, but was also one of seven players to be positive across the WAR categories. He also finished fifth in Fantasy Points and above team averages, boosting a Merchants team with the least collective Fantasy Points. He also played catcher, first and third base, designated hitter, and even pitcher, showing his versatility. Van Heuklon appeared in a team-high twenty-six games and finished on eight team leaderboards, leading four and winning him team MVP.
2. Alec McGinnis
Alec McGinnis put together an MVP-worthy campaign this season. He finished second in WAR, third in wRAA, and fifth in baserunning runs, as well as adding value in every aspect of the game. He was fourth in Fantasy Points and finished above team confidence interval averages in both WAR and Fantasy Points per game. He finished on sixteen league leaderboards and was top two on most of them. He also finished on eleven of the team leaderboards and led two of them. Had it not been for this next guy, he would have been first in almost all league and team statistics and easily been team and league MVP.
1. Auggie Rasmussen
Auggie Rasmussen put up unreal numbers this year as part of the KCL. The only leaderboards/charts/graphs that I have presented that he is not a part of our league triples and hit by pitch. The fact that he is everywhere else, including leading in WAR, Fantasy Points, and nine team and league leaderboards shows that he has been a dominant force. He is above confidence intervals for team averages in WAR and Fantasy Points as well. He also played in the most games on his team, and the second most in the league. I will leave you with a graph plotting Fantasy Points and WAR to show how far ahead of anyone else Auggie Rasmussen was this season.
First off, I would like to thank the Normal Cornbelters organization for providing me with this opportunity to work with the KCL and get access to all the data in order for me to complete this project as well as encourage me throughout the process. I would also like to thank my fellow Analytics Team members Cade Nelson, Clark Heideman, Ian Thompson, Jacob Hallowell, Jeff Brover, Matt Bowerman, and Christian Taylor for helping collect statistics for each game and also providing encouragement. Special thanks to Jeff Brover for posting this article to the website.
ESPN. “Standard Scoring for Public Baseball Leagues – ESPN Fan Support.” ESPN, https://support.espn.com/hc/en-us/articles/360057163871-Standard-Scoring-for-Public-Baseball-leagues.
Slowinski, Piper. “WAR for Position Players.” Sabermetrics Library, FanGraphs, https://library.fangraphs.com/war/war-position-players/.
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