I don’t feel like saying anything about the A.L. MVP award which will be unveiled in a couple of hours, but whatever your thoughts on that question, this article by Dave Cameron is well worth a read, especially if you subscribe to the notion that an MVP has to come from a playoff team. The premise is pretty simple: if not making the playoffs means Mike Trout can’t be the American League MVP, then how does he get on your ballot at all? If Miguel Cabrera finishes ahead of him because he got the Tigers into the playoffs, don’t you then have to rank any player that the same could be said about on all five postseason teams ahead of Trout? And yet. there’s basically no chance that even the most ardent Cabrera supporter will have Trout outside of the top five, let alone the top ten.
My new working theory on this “race” is that it’s all just an elaborate ruse concocted by the baseball gods to lay waste to the traditionalist/anti-saber position for good. It’s just too perfect not to be. I mean, look at the contest they’ve set up: Miguel Cabrera wins the triple crown, but in a year in which Mike Trout is clearly the best all around player in the game, and not only is a clearly superior defender and base runner, but even posts a better on base percentage than our triple crown winner. What’s more, his team wins more games, despite the triple crown winner’s team residing in the worst division in baseball. Seriously, if you had drawn this up as a hypothetical before the season I don’t think anyone would have imagined it was even possible.
But what I would have guessed was possible, and what has been most striking about the matter, is the amount and magnitude of the bad arguments being employed to justify a vote for Cabrera. Let’s just be clear: there’s no good argument in Cabrera’s favor, which is why the arguments that are being made ultimately come down to RBI and the postseason. The simple fact of the matter is that, while new ways of thinking are making progress even within the BBWAA, the segment of the organization that votes on awards still tends to slightly older/more experienced, and there’s at least still a traditionalist impulse in most of the voters. The people who are voting for Cabrera are doing so because he won the triple crown, full stop, because the impulse to do so based on the supposed historical significance of the accomplishment is too strong to ignore. But they’re faced with the dilemma of Trout, a phenom who wasn’t much worse offensively than Cabrera, but was clearly a vastly superior player in every other aspect of the game. Oh, and his team won more games than Cabrera’s. Anyone coming into this question with an open mind would be voting for Trout, but the Cabrera supporters have already decided that Triple Crown=MVP. And so we get a plethora of terrible arguments to rationalize it, as is always the case when someone tries to justify a decision they’re making for reasons of illogical personal preference.
In the broader sense, this rank illogic is why I’ve lost all appetite for even bothering with anti-sabermetrics arguments anymore. On the one hand, their own internal inconsistency makes it clear that there’s a deeper matter of ideology/zealotry at play in their positions. After all, he can blast sabermetrics types until he’s blu in the face, but it’s Murray Chass, not Dave Cameron, who argued that one statistic (pitcher wins) made Felix Hernandez ineligible for the Cy Young Award back in 2010, and that leading the league in three arbitrary statistics means that it will be a crime against the foundation of the game if Miguel Cabrera doesn’t win the MVP this year (never mind that no less an all-time great as Ted Williams won the triple crown without winning the MVP award. More than once). That’s because logic and reasoning are beside the point here: the point is railing against a change in the way we understand and talk about baseball, because the change makes the individual uncomfortable or challenges their own authority.
The thing is: these illogical, dogmatic standards only hold up so long as no one’s challenging them. Because once they’re challenged, people start thinking about them. And once people start thinking about them, they start rejecting them clearly because they so clearly lack any logical foundation. That’s true of younger people being exposed to the arguments for the first time, but it’s also true of older writers/voters, most of whom are genuinely intellectually curious, and are coming around to rejecting the old nonsense, if slowly. Felix Hernandez did win the Cy Young Award in 2010, after all. A triple crown winner might be too much for those voters to resist, right now, but that’s of no matter in the long run. In the long run the argument will continue to get away from the reactionaries, and they’ll become even more incoherent as they fade into deeper obscurity. And while Miguel Cabrera might win the MVP award this evening, before too long that victory will be viewed most notably for the fact that the voters somehow snubbed Trout after he had one of the best single season performances in a generation.