I originally wasn’t going to sit down and write this because I thought it would be too similar to Doc’s previous post. In the end, I had to find some way to release weeks of AL MVP frustration, plus I think they diverge enough to make it worth my while.
Silly me thought once awards season was over we could put it all behind us and move on and focus on more important things, like which team Grady Sizemore will sign with. Of course, I forgot about the inevitable barrage of postmortem columns by “nerd-baiting” sportswriters. I need not name names. In the aftermath of an MVP award vote that has been framed as some sort of generational watershed moment, I should not be surprised.
Stat nerds vs. curmudgeonly old scouting guys is not a new way to frame a debate. Heck, it was basically 70% of the plot of the Hollywood version of Moneyball. It came up in the 2010 AL Cy Young vote when Felix Hernandez won despite not having enough precious pitcher wins to be considered under “normal” circumstances; that said, Hernandez was so much better than the rest of the field – and had enough clout in a few other old-school-previously-relied-upon categories (ERA, innings pitched, strikeouts, and so forth) that he was able to unite everyone and win convincingly. It was supposed to be some sort of big Mainstream Stats Moment, the point people could look to and say “that’s when nobody cared about pitcher wins anymore!” Then Justin Verlander won 2011 AL MVP based largely on his win total and that was pretty much debunked.
So this was the war. Brain v. Eyes, Stats v. Scouts, Nerds v. People With Social Lives, Smart People v. Old Cranky People (depending on which side you lie on, of course). And really, what annoyed me most was not who people thought should win – Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout were certainly fantastic choices – but the evidence being used to support their arguments. In short, it was largely awful. Let’s review a few talking points that were propagated by both “camps,” so to speak.
1. Mike Trout deserves the MVP because he did all this at the age of 20.
The fact that Mike Trout had the season he did at 20 years old is nothing short of amazing. But if he did this at, say, age 30, would it make him any more or less valuable than it does now? No, not really. So this is nothing but a distraction.
2. Miguel Cabrera deserves the MVP because his team made the playoffs.
Quite possibly my least favorite MVP evidence ever – and yes, it’s been used as a tiebreaker before, but pitcher wins have also been used to decide Cy Youngs, and it doesn’t have to stay that way, does it? Yes, Cabrera’s team made the postseason and Trout’s did not. But how does this make Cabrera more valuable? Trout’s Angels actually had one more victory than Cabrera’s Tigers. I’m sure Trout would have loved to play in the AL Central, but he was stuck in a division with two 90-win playoff teams while Detroit was not. How is Cabrera more “valuable” because he has better teammates – or in this case, a weaker division?
But that’s the reason you play the game, you tell me – to reach the playoffs and win a World Series. Yes, it is. That’s why they reward you with, you know, World Series rings and the like. It shouldn’t be a deciding factor over who wins an individual award.
In short: basically, by making this argument, you are essentially saying that if the Chicago White Sox play even .500 baseball down the stretch and do not choke away the division to Detroit, Miguel Cabrera is somehow less valuable. That’s nonsense.
3. Miguel Cabrera deserves the MVP because he won the Triple Crown.
So let me get this straight. If Cabrera hits one fewer home run and Josh Hamilton or Curtis Granderson hit one more home run, Cabrera is suddenly that much less valuable? If Trout hits four more singles than he did over the course of the season, which would have given him a higher batting average than Cabrera, Cabrera is suddenly less valuable? You can make an argument for Cabrera using his fantastic offensive numbers without falling back on a tired and illogical Triple Crown based argument.
4. Miguel Cabrera deserves the MVP because he has been so good for so long and deserves some recognition for it.
The MVP Award is not a lifetime achievement award. That is what the Hall of Fame is for.
5. Mike Trout deserves the MVP because the Angels had a better winning percentage during games Trout played than the Tigers did during games Cabrera played.
This one’s a distraction, too. It’s basically the inverse of the Cabrera Made The Playoffs argument. The Yankees were 74-48 when Alex Rodriguez was in the lineup, which is an even better winning percentage than Trout was for the Angels. I don’t think you’ll be seeing anyone make an A-Rod for MVP argument in 2012.
There are more, of course, but I won’t get into them. The five listed aren’t too terribly stat nerdy (the last one goes into wins and losses with the player on the field, which isn’t really too high-brow for anyone), and there’s nothing too terribly logical about any of those talking points (at least in my opinion). There are good, concrete cases to be made for both players – but those aren’t it. And this takes me to my next point: what does “most valuable” mean? The BBWAA definition as posted by Doc is intentionally vague; they want voters to make up their own mind. And therein lies the problem: everyone has a different definition of what “most valuable” entails. The Cy Young is for best pitcher; the Rookie of the Year is for best rookie. Both are pretty self-explanatory. “Most Valuable Player” isn’t. And it will always be that way.
And that brings me to my final point. Because there are now two pretty divided camps of “baseball watchers,” so to speak, who may or may not arrive at the same conclusions but almost certainly take different routes to get there. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone thinks their opinion is right. It’s become nearly political in nature.
Here’s a thought: there is no wrong way to enjoy baseball.
If you like to dig into advanced stats and memorize the wOBA of every 2012 Tigers player, more power to you. If you prefer to rely on your well-trained eye to figure out a player’s strengths and weaknesses, good for you. If you watch because you think Prince Fielder’s hair is awesome, that’s cool too. I don’t think it should matter as long as you’re enjoying yourself. I don’t even think they need to be mutually exclusive. Baseball clubs employ people who study advanced stats. Baseball clubs employ scouts. They take the input of all of them into consideration when making personnel decisions. Just because you like to learn about advanced stats and sabermetrics doesn’t mean you live in your mother’s basement and don’t watch and enjoy baseball. Just because you prefer to rely on your eyes and don’t give a hoot about sabermetrics doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be open to learning a few new things every once in a while about how the game is being studied. It’s okay to disagree, but it’s extremely annoying to watch the so-called “old school” baseball folks launch into vitriolic diatribes against the sabermetrically inclined, and vice versa. Know what you’re talking about. Understand what you’re talking about. You don’t have to agree with each other, but there’s a place in the baseball fandom for both of you.