Walkoff Woodward

Concerning Detroit Baseball
November 16, 2012

Hey You Kids! Stay Off My Lawn! (A Most Valuable Internet Story)

In the hours leading up to the BBWAA announced that Miguel Cabrera was indeed their selection for the 2012 American League Most Valuable Player I found myself increasingly interested in the reactions that would soon follow. In this liberated internet age I knew reactions would be diverse and diluted given the variety of National baseball writers who had completely different opinions regarding who should win the award. I did not, however, expect to see such a blatant attack on groups of people over an award that is subjective in nature.

Whether you are ‘Old School’ or ‘New School’, as people like to call this divide between traditional statistics and advanced statistics, you certainly had an opinion of who would was the Most Valuable Player in the league. How could you not? The internet is there for you to formulate your own opinion. Opine away! Express yourself! That’s why we blogz on teh internetz!

I personally would have voted Mike Trout as an MVP. A reality I let slip yesterday morning and a twitter follower decided it was his opinion that he wished I was dead. (A link to this said person would be provided but, alas, his twitter handle has been banned). The reasons I would have voted Mike Trout as MVP are mine and my own because it is a subjective argument. But many people don’t view it that way. They want the MVP and Cy Young to be like the Batting Title, or the Home Run Leader. They want one simple answer.

As Kevin Goldstein formulated yesterday:

That’s not what the MVP is about. At least, to me its not. Neither, apparently, is what it’s about to the BBWAA.

There seems to always be a debate about the definition of the MVP. What does the ballot say?

Dear Voter:

There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.

The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931:

1.  Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.

2.  Number of games played.

3.  General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.

4.  Former winners are eligible.

5.  Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.

You are also urged to give serious consideration to all your selections, from 1 to 10. A 10th-place vote can influence the outcome of an election. You must fill in all 10 places on your ballot. Only regular-season performances are to be taken into consideration.

Keep in mind that all players are eligible for MVP, including pitchers and designated hitters.

The MVP vote is one that is awarded to two writers from each city in each league. The American League has 14 teams, so there were 28 writers voting. Theoretically there could be first place votes for 28 different players. But that never happens. Because every year several players distinguish themselves from others and in the end, there are never really more than five players who receive the bulk of the vote.

In the case of the vote this year, the American League was granted spectacular performances from Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout. No matter who you asked, Old or New, the MVP of the league was either player. And, in the end, that held true. 22 writers put Miguel Cabrera’s name down for their first place vote. 6 put Mike Trout’s name down.

I was surprised Cabrera won so easily. I think perhaps I read Fangraphs too much or something, but I honestly thought the vote would be more like the AL Cy Young voting where David Price beat out Justin Verlander 14 to 13 (that 1 vote for Fernando Rodney has to go down as the most meta vote ever).

No matter why the vote went the way it did. That’s how it happened. That should have been it. Cabrera won the MVP fair and square. No matter what your opinion is, you can hold it, but the writers felt the MVP was Cabrera. Off to the next thing!

But wait. This is the modern internet age and we but grab a topic and beat it like grandma beat the living sh*t out of that old throw rug every Monday that summer your parents got fed up with you and set you out to her house till school started.

If you’re reading this you know exactly what I am talking about. Every post, every blog, every article, every column regarding this MVP race has to bring up the key difference in the Cabrera camp and the Trout camp. The difference is the numbers. Cabrera is ‘Old School’ MVP. Batting Average. Home Runs. RBI. Trout is ‘New School’ On Base Percentage. WAR (Or Wins) RE24, Triples While Wearing Specific Colors of Underwear. You name it.

Those Old Hooters! They just want to ignore stats and make fun of my moms basement and meatloaf and say that they actually watched the game and they know who was the most valuable because they can see it with their eyes!

Those New Newfangled Kids just make up a bunch of crap to fuel their narrative! Now, hold on while I get my weed stick so I can come over to your side of the fence and poke you with it!

This is stupid. No matter what bloody stat you look at, Trout and Cabrera were in the top five. They were the two best players in the American League this season and the writers voted accordingly. But people can’t just let this go. Baseball fans want one right answer and will not rest until they get other people to agree with their views. Disagreeing is one thing. A healthy argument is fantastic for a relationship. Just ask my wife. Or my therapist. Or…hey…wait…nevermind.

This has turned into a Civil War. It’s the Union against the Confederates all over again. Brother pitted against brother in a War that no one can win until someone agree to sell the damn slaves.

If you would:

It also answered the kind of frenzied cyberspace argument that never shadowed baseball 20 years ago but may never stop shadowing it now.

Statistics geeks insisted Cabrera was less worthy than Angels rookie centerfielder Mike Trout. Not because Trout’s traditional baseball numbers were better. They weren’t. Cabrera had more home runs (44), more runs batted in (139) and a better batting average (.330) than Trout and everyone else in the American League. It gave him the sport’s first Triple Crown in 45 years.

But Trout excelled in the kind of numbers that weren’t even considered a few years ago, mostly because A) They were impossible to measure, and B) Nobody gave a hoot.

Today, every stat matters. There is no end to the appetite for categories — from OBP to OPS to WAR. I mean, OMG! The number of triples hit while wearing a certain-colored underwear is probably being measured as we speak.

So in areas such as “how many Cabrera home runs would have gone out in Angel Stadium of Anaheim” or “batting average when leading off an inning” or “Win Probability Added,” Trout had the edge. At least this is what we were told.

I mean, did you do the math? I didn’t. I like to actually see the sun once in a while.

These are the words of best selling author Mitch Albom in a column titled: Miggy’s award a win for fans, defeat for stats geeks. Albom’s shots at the advanced stat community are just that. A shot. It’s Gimme Journalism at it’s worst.

I like Albom. I respect him. His books are fantastic and well written. But this is below the belt. ‘Stat Geeks’ as he says are being hired all over baseball. As in, professional baseball teams are hiring stat geeks to advise their teams.

Nate Silver. Is a stat geek. He created PECOTA which is probably the statiest thing a stat geek could feasibly come up with. He’s also a well respected columnist and politcal blogger now. I bet he sees the sun. He wrote about the race in his normally political rich column for the New York Times, Five Thirty Eight, suggesting that Trout should win but Cabrera would end up with the award. Just like the Presidential Election, Silver was right. Albom, of course, used Silver’s words as fuel in his slapdash atrocity. In doing so he exemplified what many see as the basic beef ‘Old School’ has with the ‘New School’.

“In basements across America, Mike Trout groupies are crying in their mother’s meat loaf,” a national columnist tweeted Thursday night.

So now we’re back to You Kids Get Off My Lawn! and take your made up stats with you and just for good measure I’ll attack the color preference of a players underwear and make fun of bloggers blogging from their mothers basements!

This is where I just roll my eyes and walk away. (No its not.)

So now it’s become more than an argument. Now it’s a bunch of nasty people just attacking each other in stereotypical fashion and making this excited and spirited debate into a mockery of the highest degree.

This is not journalism anymore. Journalism reports facts. Journalism tells stories. Journalism informs people of what they would not normally know. There are plenty of good Journalists. Mitch Albom is a respected figure in this world.

What he did isn’t Journalism. It’s not even opinion. He showed to everyone that he’s no better than those ‘bloggers blogging in their mother’s basements’ who get all defensive the minute their views are attacked. He showed he’s no better than the twitter follower who wished I was dead for suggesting someone other than Cabrera was the MVP.

I’m not so upset that I’m going to sit around the computer and bang my head against a desk. I’m disappointed that I read what I did. I wrote this because I had two hours to kill before I go finish a 74 hour work week off and go home to my four year old and seven month pregnant wife. That’s probably why I don’t see the sun.

The MVP is subjective, Mitch, you should know that better than anyone.

(By the way, check out this post by Grant Brisbee of Baseball Nation if you want your ‘Advanced Stats’ fix for Mike Trout. Wink. Wink. Also, he makes fun of Albom, which is basically bringing this argument full circle. Uh. Again.)

  • cestma

    Mitt? (last sentence)
    Also–when baseball replaces the umps with computers, we’ll all be on board the stat-geek thing. Till then, baseball practically defines the phrase “old school.” Evolution is a very slow process. (I’m firmly in both camps. Is that possible?)
    Interesting to see #3 in the rules above. No question with this year’s top two, but I can think of otherwise-phenoms, over the years, who might have flunked this guideline.

    • http://www.walkoffwoodward.com/ Josh Worn

      Nice catch.

    • http://www.walkoffwoodward.com/ Josh Worn

      Also yes you can be in both camps. You might get shot though.

      • cestma

        Also–what do the geeks have to say about this whole big deal resting on the votes of just 28 annointed scribes? Statistically significant or not?

        • http://www.walkoffwoodward.com/ Josh Worn

          Heard one guy comment on how in any given year it could be a completely different outcome based on who was awarded a vote. Which is true. In ten years the voting will lean on the advanced metric side as the OLD GRANDPAS retire.

  • stinkfish

    Nicely done though you’ve got to give Mitch a break. Its not Tuesday and Morrie is no longer here.

  • Pingback: A Final Word on ALmageddon, Stat Wars, And General Stupidity | Walkoff Woodward

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lee-Panas/724536412 Lee Panas

    Awesome. I haven’t received an internet death threat since 2000 on the AOL Tigers board

  • http://twitter.com/ftn030102 Bill ONeill

    Part of the problem with sabermetrics is that assumptions are made that do not hold true and also that a player gets extra points he doesn’t deserve. Let’s take Trout as an example, I think I read where he went from 1st to 3rd 55 times on a single to right and that Cabrera did this 34 times so he was credited with an extra 21 runs produced. This doesn’t take into account what followed, I’m assuming that of those 21 extra bases he didn’t score on a sacrifice fly. Here’s an example let’s say that a runner on 2nd with less than 2 outs scores 30% of the time and if he’s on 3rd with less than 2 outs he scores 40% of the time. So if Trout goes from 1st to 3rd 50 times he would get an extra 5 runs(10% of 50). Now through some quirk he scores exactly the percentage of times he made it to 3rd 20 runs scored. Well if the player batting after him gets an extra base hit each of those 20 times that he scored he still gets credit for the 5 extra runs even though him making it to 3rd had nothing to do with him scoring. Sabermetrics is a great way to measure what will happen and a good way to evaluate talent but it doesn’t necessarily mean that is what happened.

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