The MVP “Debate”

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Atlanta Braves

It turns out there was no real MVP debate: Miguel Cabrera wins the American League’s Most Valuable Player, nabbing 23 of 30 first place votes. Andrew McCutchen earns the National League honor, picking up 28 of a possible 30 votes. Those are not really debates, those are landslides.

Which would be shocking if you looked only at the candidates. Looking across the baseball landscape, free from baggage, you have two very good fields of players vying for the right to be called the best or most valuable player in each league.

In the AL, Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout stood head and shoulders above the competition. In the National League, a strong case can be made for as many as five players as the best in the league. But the voting failed to reflect this diversity. Instead the memories of bitter, entrenched battles fought over the same silly ballots as one year ago changes the discussion to a black/white, right/wrong dichotomy that cheats all baseball fans out of the finest barstool arguments.


Instead of lively conversation we have…nothing. The Most Valuable Player award isn’t interesting, it’s tiresome. Watching the great players do their thing on the field is a pleasure – sorting out which guy we liked the best is an exercise in futility.

There is something about the tone and tenor of these MVP discussions that brings the worst out of people. The least authentic, the most obtuse and/or strident screaming matches drown out nuance and interplay. Cherry-picking bogus stats and intellectual dishonesty turns people off, it doesn’t win hearts and minds.

One writer wondered how, if you selected Mike Trout as the AL MVP, you could explain it to Miguel Cabrera. Easy – Mike Trout played better. The end. I’m sure Miggy would understand. Even if he didn’t get it right away, maybe asking how his Tigers would do without two of the last three AL Cy Young winners in their rotation should give him reason to pause.

But the NL debate is the most puzzling to me. Specifically – why is there not more debate? How did only two voters out of 30 feel somebody other than Andrew McCutchen was the most valuable player? Certainly Clayton Kershaw, Yadier Molina, Paul Goldschmidt, and Carlos Gomez could attract some sort of MVP support, couldn’t they?

The race that seemed the most wide open was the most lopsided. The vote that seemed the most obvious (to some) ended up with four different players receiving first place consideration. A mixed up world where nothing makes sense and nobody is happy.

Some folks are happy. Miguel Cabrera and his fans should be happy, as baseball’s best hitter has his second straight MVP award. Unless you’re selling something, it is hard to get too upset when an award goes to as deserving a winner as this (even if he wasn’t the most deserving by many measures.)

When it comes to selecting these winners, it turns out we’re all losers. The fun and lively debates are gone and what remains in their place is an unpalatable mess.

The issue at hand seems to be those “measures.” Jamming different statistical measures down the throats of those reluctant to embrace them hurts the cause more than it helps. It is the 2013 – unless you’re crunching numbers and banging away on SQL, you aren’t a sabrmetrician. You aren’t. I’m certainly not.

Dropping weighted on base into an 800 word internet post on baseball isn’t advancing the field of baseball research. In 2013, some might consider it standard operating procedure if your goal is serving your customers to the best of your ability. I’m a baseball writer. I write about baseball for my job*. If I feel as though my thesis is best supported by a statistical measure that doesn’t weigh singles and home runs equally then I’ll use it. It is a tool to help entertain/distract/illuminate.

If readers understand the significance of the measure and it helps provide context, in it goes. It isn’t about “the cause”, it’s about conveying information and opinion. There is no crusade to change undecided minds that is worth winning. Present the facts and opinions as you see them and let the chips fall where they may.

The readers will decide which approach they prefer. Judging by the current state of our business and some recent personnel decisions impacting more established baseball writers, the readers’ decisions are clear.

It is not a Quiet War. It is not about reflexively swinging from one extreme to another as each side aggravates you more than the other. Baseball is fun. Talking about baseball is fun. Maybe try keeping the polemics to a minimum? It seems like the current scolding tone inhibits debate and fun, which seems counterproductive.

There is no need to identify with one cause or reject it outright. The stats debate is over. It’s all just baseball. That the awards are decided by a quickly-shrinking pool of writers dooms their relevance to marginal at best. There is plenty of room for healthy, fun, and entertaining discussion on the meaning of “value” and who really is baseball’s most valuable player. Don’t let the screeching deter you, a little bit of critical thinking will go a long way.

* – lol