On the Idea of Valuable

Earlier this week, Justin Verlander won the American League MVP a week or so after winning the American Cy Young Award. I can’t say I would’ve voted for Verlander, but I don’t have a huge problem with him winning; I guess I’m just finding it hard to get worked up. Friend of the author @bigmike05 had a great point here:

I find it hard to be worked up about any of the voting. This happens every year and given that we’re in the data recording age, no one’s going to get forgotten. Not like in 40 years someone’s going to go “you know, that Jose Bautista was pretty good in 2011. Too bad nobody noticed.”

That’s about how I feel now, though admittedly, I’ve gotten worked up about the MVP/CY/ROY etc. voting in the past. We’re most definitely at the point where everything will get its due attention–or at least close to it. Part of my “acceptance” is knowing that the word “valuable” will almost always mean something different to each and every voter. This is definitely a begrudging acceptance.

Yesterday, Joel Sherman wrote a piece that I didn’t necessarily find myself disagreeing with, but it still struck a nerve. Like I said, the word “valuable” will never be agreed on by the voters and they’ll like it that way. By allowing “valuable” to have an amorphous, constantly shifting definition, the voters can justify any selection they make by twisting the word valuable. I recall Moshe pointing out this practice earlier in the year when the awards candidates started to come into focus. He’d say things like “Well now we have to focus on X this year instead of Y like we did last year.” His point was that suddenly, things that were important to voters or analysts last year suddenly lost importance in 2011.

I’m painting with a very broad brush and I know this “accusation” certainly does not apply to every BBWAA Award voter. The fluid definition of valuable, though, means that writers can most certainly find a way to explain any vote, no matter how ridiculous.

Sherman suggests, “keep[ing] [the definition of valuable] beautifully in the eye of the beholder and award voter.” As it’s probably clear by now, I get where Sherman is coming from, but at the same time, I can’t help but be a bit annoyed at this. By keeping the definition with the voters, they can decide that valuable means whatever they want it to mean, whenever they want it to mean. This attitude is one that has lead some writers to adopt a sense of aggrandizement that is off putting at best and arrogantly condescending at worst.

What can be done to combat this? Not a lot, really. It’d be foolish to believe there can be some monolithic definition of “valuable” (though this is a tad hypocritical of me; I’m of the belief that the best player = the most valuable, but again, we can come up with many definitions of “best” can’t we?). It’d be foolish to say the awards don’t matter in the long run because they do help build the legacy of players, which is obviously important to them. The only thing we can do, then, is to demand consistency from those who vote for the award. If you vote for Player A in 2011 because of reasons 1, 2, and 3, apply those same reasons to Player B in season 2012. But therein lies another problem. To whom are the writers accountable? With some of the slop that gets published every day, it’s hard to say the editors are doing their best to put great product out. Ultimately, the writers should be accountable to us. If we stop reading their work, they’ll go away or change what they write. Sadly, this may be an impossibility in the world we occupy now. We hunger and thirst for information. We still need writers for that. What we don’t need them for, though, is to tell us what is valuable. We’re smart enough to determine that on our own.

A native and resident of the Mean Streets of Southwestern Connecticut, Matt is a narcissistic, misanthropic 20something English teacher who lives by a simple creed: Yankees Only.

2 thoughts on “On the Idea of Valuable

  1. fredweis

    The MVP shouldn’t be awarded to the player with the best statistics. That’s what individual awards like the Hank Aaron Award and Cy Young are for. If the player’s team is not even in contention to make the playoffs, how valuable was their season?

    The MVP should be awarded to the player who is literally the most valuable.

    The voters got it right this year with Verlander and Braun winning MVP. Both led their teams to the playoffs with not only great statistical seasons, but also as clubhouse leaders. Both of those teams might have missed the playoffs all together without their efforts.

  2. T.O. Chris

    I’m glad Verlander got the award. I’m a big fan of starting pitchers getting votes for MVP when they post seasons like Verlander did. The whole idea that a starter doesn’t have as much impact value wise as an everyday player is kind of silly. Every team wants an ace before anything else in the sport, we pay them more money than other positions because of it, but when it comes time for MVP they suddenly lose all this value we assign to them in every other conversation.

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