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Are Writers Picking Better MVPs and Cy Youngs?

When Josh Hamilton and Joey Votto brought home MVP trophies this offseason, it marked the second consecutive year that the American and National League MVPs were also the league leaders in wins above replacement. For the Cy Young, three of the last four leaders in league WAR also took home the hardware.

It begs the question: Are the writers finally getting it? Has the statistics revolution finally gotten to the point where mainstream writers not only understand wOBA, xFIP, and UZR, but use them on their awards ballots?

To examine this question, I ran correlations between awards votes and WAR for both the MVP and the Cy Young for the past 10 seasons and looked for the positive trend that I was expecting to see.

So, are the voters using these numbers? In a word: nope. In fact, there has been a slightly negative trend for both awards over the past 10 years.

This result is somewhat counter to the narrative that surrounded Felix Hernandez‘s Cy Young victory this year, which was widely hailed as a sign of the revolution. This decade has seen major shifts in attitude toward baseball statistics on every level. Sites and blogs have popped up at every corner, there have been countless books printed, numerous statheads have garnered employment in front offices, and ESPN has incorporated things like WAR into their baseball coverage. Yet, the reality seems to be that, while some things are changing, award voters are not using advanced statistics  any more today than they did 10 years ago.

It comes as no surprise that a subjective award voted on by mainstream baseball journalists does not perfectly correlate with an advanced statistic that many baseball fans have never heard of. Also, I am not suggesting that every ballot should list the WAR leaders in order, but I found it awfully surprising that these measures of overall player value do not align more today than in 2000.

But what about the last two seasons?

Well, the last two years were decent in terms of the correlations to WAR. However, there were still plenty of head scratching votes that dragged the correlations down. Tim Hudson finishing ahead of Josh Johnson for this year’s NL Cy Young, and the 7.2 WAR Ryan Zimmerman finishing 16th for this year’s NL MVP to name a couple examples.

Again, I am not suggesting that voters will ever solely use WAR to decide their awards votes, nor should they. However, given the talk that surrounded Felix’s victory despite his lack of victories, it is worth noting that the writers don’t appear to be moving towards WAR at all. They simply moved from one mainstream stat to another. The move from wins to ERA is progress, but it isn’t the bloodless revolution that has been described.