Monday, December 22, 2014

What is in a name, that which we call an MVP?

I'm going to tell you why you should feel perfectly comfortable for having voted Cabrera for MVP. I'm also going to tell you that your arguments for why you voted that way suck.

What is in a name, that which we call an MVP?

(Matt Slocum/AP file photo)
(Matt Slocum/AP file photo)

Nobody asked me, and, to be perfectly honest, I really do not care, but I'm going to tell you why you should feel perfectly comfortable for having voted Miguel Cabrera for MVP. I'm also going to tell you that, in general, your arguments for why you voted that way suck. First, though, to the folks on the other side of the fence:

I have no idea who I'd choose if I were in charge of picking the AL MVP because I have not looked at the situation closely. But I do know that I would not rely on WAR, not because I think it is a poor metric, but because I think that awards were created for achievements that actually happened rather than what those achievements "meant" or what they were worth in some dependent-variableless state. If a player hits a walk-off two-run single in Game 7 of the World Series, we don't show up to the water cooler the next day saying, "I can't believe people are making such a big deal out of Smith's single -- 7 times out of 10 that groundball isn't going to find a hole, and, besides, it only drove in the winning runs because Smith's turn in the order happened to arrive with two men on base. Let's talk about how much better a player Johnson is." Johnson might be a better player, but Smith is the hero, and that's just how sports work. If we were going to award an MVP based on who is "the best" player is each year, chances are Mike Trout would end up winning that award every year of his career, at least through his prime years, just like Willie Mays and Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth would have. If we were going to take the route of using "value" in the literal sense, the best pre-Arb player would likely win it each year, usually a pre-Arb player at a premium position. If I were starting a franchise, I'd take Trout for all of the reasons a lot of people think he should be MVP. And maybe he should be MVP. But not strictly because of those reasons.

The simplest way I can put it is this: the best team doesn't always win the World Series, or even make the playoffs. But we don't crown champions based on their cumulative WAR. Situational performance is very much a part of winning a World Series. And while a player's performance in a given timeframe, or in a given situation, might not tell you much about his overall talent level or his likelihood of repeating said performance in that situation or over a broader period of time, the fact of the matter is that he did perform in that (or those) given moment(s).

Now, to the other guys:

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First, the whole "played for a winning team" thing is nonsense. Ernie Banks won it in back-to-back years for sub-80-win teams. Andre Dawson won it in 1987 for a sub-80-win-team. So an MVP must play for a winning team unless he plays for the Cubs? Larry Walker in 1997 and Ryan Howard in 2006 both won the award over similarly qualified players whose teams finished better than theirs (Walker over Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza, Howard over Albert Pujols). Alex Rodriguez and Cal Ripken Jr. both won MVP awards for crappy teams. So as a voting body, the BBWAA has not automatically excluded candidates in the past. Probably because to do so would be ridiculous.

Second, don't build your argument around RBIs, because that will cause your target audience to dismiss your argument, and the whole point of making an argument is to convince somebody to change their opinion, which they are not going to do if you mention RBIs. And if you do mention RBIs, you better be willing to treat runs scored as being as valuable, or perhaps even more valuable, since they are worth the same number of points but you cannot score a run if you have made an out in the preceding plate appearance (unless you reach base on a strikeout). And, frankly, your target audience has good reason to dismiss RBIs, because they are so obviously dependent on a player's position in the batting order. Argue batting average with runners in scoring position, percentage of RBI opportunities converted, anything that does not involve a counting number, because counting numbers offer no context, and the whole point in your making an argument is to provide context that might lead somebody to change their viewpoint.

To me, a solid case for Cabrera over Trout would be his performance in high-leverage situations. Trout OPS'd .713 with one home run in 132 plate appearances. Cabrera OPS'd 1.188 with 11 home runs in 122 plate appearances. If you argued to me that high-leverage performance was a deciding factor, then I'd have no problem with it, since the two players are so very equal in most other respects (except, of course, for defense). I'm not saying that I'd pick Cabrera because of that, just that it would make logical sense to me, because I do believe that awards are for actual performance, and the peak of performance is when it occurs with the game on the line.

But, anyway, like I said, nobody asked me.

 

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David Murphy Daily News Staff Writer
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