Tuesday, October 1, 2013
My awards ballots and MVP precedent
By Buster Olney
Mike Trout should win MVP, but an outdated precedent means it won't happen.
CLEVELAND -- The worst rationale is always, "That’s the way we’ve always done it," a phrase that could be the mud bog for man’s evolution.
Which brings us to the MVP, because it’s time for the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to move forward with this honor, to shift into the 21st century, when the value of players is more precisely defined than ever.
For years, the MVP has been assessed by voters through the prism of team success. With few exceptions, such as Andre Dawson in 1987 and Cal Ripken in 1991, most serious candidates have been the best players on the best teams.
Which, unfortunately, means that the best players are often overlooked, because of murky bonus points bestowed upon others because they happen to be surrounded by better teammates.
Recently, a general manager noted the case of Mike Trout, who is generally regarded as the best player in the sport -- not only by those who wear suits and can define WAR, but increasingly by players and coaches and managers. The Angels look as though they may struggle for a few more years, the GM mused, and it’s possible that Trout could be baseball’s best player, generally, for the first five years of his career and not win an MVP "because his teammates aren’t very good."
That doesn’t make a lot of sense. In what sane world -- in what 21st century world -- is the question of "most valuable" among players defined by the ineptitude, or the aptitude, of teammates?
The player who was 17th in the voting that year hit .313 with 31 homers and an OPS of .982, but he was never seriously considered because his team finished third -- Earl Averill of the Cleveland Indians. The player who finished 10th that year clubbed 44 homers and was second in the league in OPS, at 1.102 -- Jimmie Foxx, whose Athletics were fifth in the AL.
The guy who led in the OPS that year was Lou Gehrig, at a staggering 1.172; he wrecked AL pitching for 49 homers, 40 doubles, 6 triples and an on-base percentage of .465; he scored 128 runs. Gehrig finished fifth in the voting.
The player who won that year -- the AL MVP -- scored 74 runs, with two home runs. Mickey Cochrane was the Tigers’ catcher and manager, and they went 101-53 and won the pennant. Cochrane is a Hall of Famer and this discussion is not meant to demean his accomplishments, but think of it this way: If you held a draft of all players among all teams at the beginning of that season, or at the end, there is no chance Cochrane would be the consensus first pick, or second pick, or third; he wasn’t close to being the best player at that time.
But because his teammates were better than Gehrig’s teammates or Foxx’s teammates, Cochrane was deemed the MVP.
From this vote and others, the foggy formula for picking an MVP was established, and, generally speaking, it has been followed.
In other words: That’s the way we’ve always done it.
It’s time for the writers to progress. It’s time for a conversation about separating team performance from the MVP voting, in the criteria for the award. It’s time to make the award about picking the best player in each league, in the same way that the Cy Young Award -- also the property of the BBWAA -- is about simply picking the best pitcher.
Currently, the instructions given to voters regarding MVP are extremely vague, and are open to a lot of interpretation. Over time, voters essentially decided that the MVP needs to come from a winning team, and the precedent has been set. These voting rules must be changed to something far more simple and direct. Something along the lines of, "When filling out your MVP ballot, vote for whomever you think is the best player in the league." Period.
Until that change happens, until there’s a serious discussion about that, the writers are locked into that precedent, to some degree, which is why Miguel Cabrera will almost certainly win his second straight MVP award even though Mike Trout has been a better player in both seasons.
I don’t have a ballot and am not casting a vote in any category (and haven’t since 1996), but if I did, it would be difficult to break away from the MVP history unless the BBWAA changed its directive to voters.
Precedent in Supreme Court decisions stands until the landscape is changed in writing, and that’s what needs to happen.
I also think Trout is the best player in baseball, and he unquestionably provides the most value to his team of any player in the sport; through advanced offensive and defensive metrics, we can define that in a way that they didn’t in 1934, or even 1994.
But the MVP voting is chained to the past, for now: That’s the way we’ve always done it.
Because the criteria hasn’t changed -- and until it does, the precedent should continue to carry interpretative weight -- I’d reluctantly submit ballots in each league that look like this, for 2013:
Managers of the Year: John Farrell (Red Sox) and Clint Hurdle (Pirates).
Around the league
• David Price pitched with an edge, and in the midst of early inconsistency Monday, he helped himself with a couple of pickoffs. As you watched the game, it felt as if David DeJesus’ two-out RBI double in the sixth inning -- which extended the Rays’ lead from 3-1 to 4-1 -- was the first significant dagger.
From ESPN Stats & Information, how Price won:
A. Hit the right spots: Only 21 of his 118 pitches were over the middle-third of the plate width-wise, which on a percentage basis (18 percent) ranked third lowest among his starts in 2013.
B. Dominated lefties: Rangers left-handed hitters were 1-for-10 against Price and 1-for-9 against his fastball. In Price's previous three regular-season starts versus the Rangers, lefties went 5-for-12 overall.
C. Threw strikes: 81 of Price's 118 pitches were strikes or put in play, tied for his fourth-most strikes plus in plays this season. Price's 53 strikes plus in plays on his fastball was his second most this season.
From Elias Sports Bureau: Price was the Rays' Opening Day starter and Monday he threw a complete game against Texas to end the regular season. Only two other Opening Day starters have had a complete-game win in a play-in game: Randy Johnson for the 1995 Mariners and Al Leiter for the 1999 Mets.
By the way: In the first 49 years of the Texas franchise, the Rangers had three seasons of 90 or more victories. This season was the fourth consecutive with 90 or more wins under manager Ron Washington.