Practicing Tolerance During the Award Season

The portion of the article drawing the most ire from Heyman’s most fervent detractors was his placement of Jose Bautista on his American League MVP ballot:

“5. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays OF-INF. No question he’s been the best player in the league. His 1.092 OPS is way ahead of the rest. Good at everything on a baseball field.”

Understandably, upon seeing “the best player in the league” ranked fifth on Heyman’s ballot, it ruffled several feathers among the statistically-minded masses. If Bautista is the league’s best player, why wouldn’t he also be the most valuable? To most of us, it seems counter-intuitive and irrational to penalize a player for something he has little control over. Bautista can neither choose his teammates, nor magically lift his team’s performance to the level of a playoff contender at will. As good as he is, he’s just one person playing on a team with 24 other players. He can only be responsible for his own performance.

I’ll be the first to admit my definition of value differs greatly from Heyman’s. Whereas Heyman sees value meaning the best player whose “achievements did not go for naught and actually helped a team play into October,” I view the process more analytically. I define value as a player’s ability to create runs and wins as a result of his on-field production in all facets of the game. While I don’t necessarily use Wins Above Replacement (WAR) specifically as a determinant, my methodology is pretty similar. At the end of the season, the player that produces the most on-field value wins my endorsement as MVP.

Since I focus solely on his on-field production, intangible factors like leadership and placement in the standings have no bearing on my opinion. To me, the league’s most valuable player and most outstanding player are synonymous. I neither see a distinction between the two terms, nor feel it’s appropriate to assume a player provides additional value simply by being on a playoff contender. Even if there was an intrinsic value associated with playing for a contender, we lack an objective method from which we can measure that value. In essence, we can neither prove it exists, nor determine its magnitude, thereby making it irrelevant.

Unfortunately, the vagaries that lie within the BBWAA’s cryptic MVP voting rules essentially allow one to set his own standards for voting. Despite feeling Heyman’s opinion is logically flawed, it’s one I must respect as being justified on its merits. Don’t get me wrong. I still vehemently disagree with him ranking Bautista fifth on his AL MVP ballot. Instead of getting angry about it, I’d rather stand my ground and respectfully argue my position. We all have our own methods for determining the MVP. It’s time we all cease in our attempt to redefine the word “valuable” to meet our own preconceived notions. If Heyman can do it, doesn’t he deserve the same respect?

17 thoughts on “Practicing Tolerance During the Award Season

  1. David

    Simmons had a great new mailbag up about this specific question today.

    • Mike

      Yeah I went into the mailbag thinking it should be the WAR leader Bautista, but I think he made a pretty valid argument for Verlander. Basically on the premise that if you substituted an average performance for Verlander, the Tigers would be in 4th place (look at the rest of their starting staff), whereas an average performance in Bautista's place would still keep the Jays in 4th by a mile. So, I guess it basically boils down to whether you believe in Chip's view of value produced on the field, more about the #s in a vacuum, or the Sports Guy/Heyman view of who's performance most helped their team win a division / make the playoffs.

      I also agree with Simmons' view that MVP for pitcher should only be done when there is a dominant pitching season, and no offensive player stands head and shoulders above everyone else (in the AL this year that would only be Bautista, but on a non-contender).

      • LarryAtIIATMS

        Mike, if you judge by fWAR, Verlander has been worth a bit more than 6 wins for the Tigers over a replacement player (about the same as CC). Substitute a replacement player for Verlander, and the Tigers would be neck and neck with the ChiSox and Indians — third place at worst.

      • ChipBuck

        Buster Olney made the argument that Verlander has faced 859 batters this season, while the average starting position player receives ~600 PAs. While he makes an interesting point, the average top notch SP will participate in 200+ innings, while the average starting position player will play 1200+ innings in the field PLUS receive 600 PAs. In essence, the average position player provides significantly more value.

        In cases of truly dominant SP performances (think 1999/2000 Pedro or 2001/2002 Randy Johnson), I agree they should be considered for MVP. As good as Verlander has been this season, his performance isn't anywhere near that caliber.

      • BrienJackson

        I find the argument that a pitcher can't win the MVP because "he only plays once every five days," which Curt Schilling off all people trotted out the other night, to be incredibly superficial. A much better comparison to me is batters faced, compared to a batters plate appearances. If you measure playing time that way, the pitchers actually come out ahead of the batters in terms of "playing time before you account for defensive innings, so there's no reason a (starting) pitcher shouldn't be in consideration for the MVP.

  2. im never sure if the mvp is who played the best that yr. or who is literally the most valuable player to their team, the later doesnt seem all that good 2 me cuz it means it seems like you have to be a great player on a crap team to win it. I don't care how the teams doing as long as the play of that player isn't hurting the team….1 man can only do so much. But your stats are affected by the players around you…..any hoot Granderson is leading in alot of offensive categories, could take over a couple more, makes great plays at center field so hes the mvp to me….strikeouts are the only serious knock against him i think of off the top of my head

  3. rick

    http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/6921420/passi

    This Bill Simmons article, a great great read. I think that when a pitcher carries his team completely on his own and that particular team is a playoff contender because of that said pitcher, that pitcher should get the MVP and I only feel this way because of the word "valuable" attached to the award.

    So basically what I am saying is, if there are no pitchers that have done anywhere similar to what Verlander has done this year, then the highest WAR position player should get the award in any given year. It's kind of paradoxical but I think that's just the way the award should be: Rank players according to WAR but if there's one pitcher that is absolutely carrying his team to the playoffs all on his own then that pitcher should be the exception and be given then award (Usually this means that the pitcher will have a top ranking WAR anyways).

    • ChipBuck

      @Rick – While the perception is that Verlander's carrying the Tigers on his own, that's not really true. He has Avila (5.0 WAR), Cabrera (4.9), and Peralta (4.5) all carrying part of the load. Though his rotation mates haven't picked up nearly as much of the slack as they should have, Scherzer (2.0), Porcello (2.0), and Coke (1.9) have all been league average starting pitchers using the Fangraphs method. Many of their issues have been a result of Detroit being in the bottom third of MLB in defensive efficiency. Objectively, he's the team's best player, but it's not like he's doing it all on his own.

  4. rick

    I'll add to what I said with this: the second exception is that if the number one WAR player is ways above anyone else, including the super-dominant-team-playoff-hopes-saving pitcher, then the player with the best WAR should win.

  5. Mister D

    This is why I advocate making a best positional player award, and rewrite the rules for the MVP so that it specifically singles out the player (pitcher or position) that most contributed to a team's persuit of a playoff berth (whether or not the team ended up being successful).

    • ChipBuck

      @Mister D – I would be completely fine with this. That's the biggest issue in the MVP debate. Valuable is such a vague word. Let's change it to Most Outstanding Player. It's much cleaner and simpler that way.

  6. LarryAtIIATMS

    The experts like Simmons are putting the MVP in a narrow place where very few players can win the award, no matter how well they play. These experts would disqualify players like Bautista (clearly the guy who should win the award) because the teams they play on are not good enough to contend for the post-season. At the other extreme, these experts would disqualify Granderson and Pedroia, because these two players play on teams with lots of good players — the Red Sox and Yankees would (probably) make the post-season even without Granderson and Pedroia. This effectively leaves the MVP to a player on a team barely good enough to make the playoffs, the Tigers being a perfect example. Arguably, we could look at the Rangers (Ian Kinsler being their best everyday player by a considerable margin) as another team eligible to produce an MVP candidate, and perhaps we could look at the Angels (Howie Kendrick) and Indians as well, but the other 10 teams in the American League are simply disqualified from consideration.

    How dumb is that? In this consideration, Mickey Mantle does not win the 1956 MVP — he may have won the Triple Crown, but the Yanks finished first in 1956 by 9 games, so who needs Mickey Mantle? In this consideration, we can toss out Ernie Banks two MVPs in 1958 and 1959, as the Cubs finished below .500 both years.

    Actually, if you go back before the time of division play, you'd have stretches of years where NO ONE can win the MVP. The only way that you could have an MVP before division play was if there was a close pennant race, in which case you could award the MVP to the best player on the first place team. But in years when one team won the league with ease, you could not award the MVP to any player on the winning team (because the team was good enough to win without its best player) or to any other player (since they did not lead their team to the World Series).

    Dumb, dumb, dumb.

    Chip is not only right here, he is articulating the only rational position possible. Without Bautista, the Jays are probably six games further back in the standings. THAT's value.

    • ChipBuck

      Thank you Larry! I'll be the first to admit that I made a lot of cracks at Heyman's expense after initially reading the article. After I took a step back and re-read the piece, I tried to come up with constructive, rational feedback. I think I did that. If you removed Bautista from the Jays lineup for the entire season, they'd likely be battling the O's for last place. Outside of Romero (and I suppose Morrow when you strip out luck factors), the SP staff has been poor. The lineup has also been disappointing with Aaron Hill struggling (until traded), Adam Lind failing to OBP above .300, Corry Patterson receiving 341 more PAs than he should have, and Travis Snyder failing to develop. The Jays are in much better position now after making a few key moves (Johnson, Lawrie, Rasmus), but they'd still be in really sorry shape without Bautista.

    • zipzip

      The Jays 6 games back in the standings would have them right where they are. Ensconsed in 4th place with no where to go. Can't catch the Yanks or Sox or fall as low as the O's. Bautisa has moot value.

  7. zipzip

    Though Desmond Jennings (aka Ken Griffey Jr 2.0) has been amazing, and Nick Swisher has been on a Don Mattingly 1988 like tear the last 2 weeks, Curtis Granderson has easily been the best all around player in the AL and especially since the All-Star break.

    Barring any unforseen September surges or slumps, Curtis Granderson is the AL MVP. He's projected to finish with 45 HR, 30 SB, 150 Runs, 575 SLG, 950 OPS, is a top 5 defensive outfielder and his team is in 1st place team while they've been without their #4 hitter – 3 time MVP Alex Rodriguez – for most of the season.

    If that's not an MVP season what is?

    Gonzalez, Bautista or any other hitter in the AL doesn't provide near the awesome dynamic Granderson is bringing to the table right now. Walking Granderson with less than two outs is almost equal to giving up a run. That's Rickey Henderson in his prime territory. And to think Granderson could be stealing even more bases.

    In the NL, I hope for some kind of cosmic intervention where the votes cast have Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder sharing the award. Both are worthy, and none more than the other.

  8. Jim P.

    Great series of Comments that lay the issues out on the table, and I think Rick and zipzip have nailed it. And I have to agree with Heyman’s definition. “Valuable” is a different meaning than “best” and suggests there was some actual value of significance delivered by the player and received by his team. The tree falling in the forest comes to mind — we all know it makes a sound, but if no one is there, who really cares? Does it matter to anyone other that Juan Bautista if he were to win the award that he helped his team to a 4th place finish rather than 5th? His own team and their fans won’t remember or care by the time next spring training rolls around. But help lead your team to the playoffs and we’re talkin’ lifelong memories, that special skip in your step as a fan, that, “Hey, if my team can win this thing then maybe anything’s possible!” feeling. Right now, I gotta agree with zipzip on Granderson and it doesn’t have to be so complicated — he’s leading in both RBI’s and Runs Scored (what the game is all about), plays excellent defense, and has been the one consistently great hitter on a playoff bound team while everyone else has had their turn struggling, on the DL, or both. But the year is not over yet, and rick’s Exception #1 — that a truly dominant pitcher who leads his team to the playoffs and who is well ahead of other pitchers should win — may come into play if Verlander can go something like 25-5. Right now, Verlander has 16 more wins than losses, and without him the Tigers are a sub-.500 team. When one compares the value he provides, singlehandedly, (think of the smiles on the faces of those cherubic kids and long-suffering old-timers who may be given a season to remember for the rest of their lives) to Bautista who may help his team finish 4th instead of 5th, the meaning of “value” becomes crystal clear.

  9. BrienJackson

    And now…stay tuned for my upcoming series about why all of the postseason awards (well, except the Cy Young I guess) are stupid. :)

    (The awards themselves, not so much the way people vote on them)

Comments are closed.