Living Through the MVP Voting Transition Period

As expected, Miguel Cabrera just won the American League Most Valuable Player award, and he won it by a landslide. Compared to a year ago, Cabrera gained a first-place vote. Compared to a year ago, Trout lost a first-place vote. Things played out the same, precisely because things played out the same, and so no one’s shocked by the outcome. Everyone has had his or her own opinion, but last year set the precedent and there was no way this year things were going to flip. For some of you, it’s the right outcome. For others, it’s the wrong outcome. My belief is that it’s the wrong outcome, but right now I’m left considering three things — two facts, and one line of speculation.

One factual consideration: Trout and Cabrera were both absolutely amazing. Cabrera trailed off, but for understandable reasons. Trout didn’t play for a contender, for understandable reasons. Trout just posted the highest AL WAR of the past decade. Cabrera just posted the highest AL wRC+ of the past decade. In a few ways, both players are coming off seasons that were historically great, so as much as this announcement feels like one guy beating another, this vote decided between the best of the best. The right response isn’t to celebrate Cabrera only, or to put Trout down. It’s to count our blessings that these players are alive today and performing as they do. The voting recognized the best players in the AL, and you can appreciate more than one guy at a time.

A second factual consideration: WAR isn’t as accurate as we want it to be. None of our numbers are as accurate as we want them to be. We don’t have a clear definition of what “valuable” means with regard to this award, but even if we did, we wouldn’t be able to say with absolute certainty that one guy deserves the award over another. WAR comes with its own error bars, and then there are questions about sequencing and leverage and whatnot. And there’s the matter of intangibles, in that it’s conceivable that one player makes other players better. A lot of the baseball game is hidden, and a lot of what’s not hidden is complicated, and so it becomes a matter of probability. I think Trout was this year’s AL MVP. I’m open to the possibility it was actually someone else. On that basis, I’d still vote for Trout, but I wouldn’t be sure. There’s uncertainty everywhere, more than we’d care to admit.

The speculative consideration: I think we’re living through an MVP voting transition period. I think that the landscape is changing, but that it’s changing slowly. I think this is good for the future of the award, but in the meantime I understand how it can be frustrating.

I think there’s a pattern of progress, where “progress” means “greater thought and open-mindedness,” although it’s hardly without its fluctuations. Consider, if you will, Ryan Howard‘s MVP consideration in the not-distant past. Consider also Alex Rodriguez‘s MVP on a last-place Rangers team. Those two points on their own might represent a step back, but I do think the process is improving overall, for a variety of reasons.

More and more, voters now are publishing their own votes, and their own explanations. They’re putting themselves out there, and they’re held more accountable, and just by publishing these things, it’s made clear the decisions weren’t made lightly. Also, the voters are exposed to feedback and new ideas they might not have encountered in the past. Often there are conversations taking place in the lead-up to the award announcement. Then there are conversations afterward, which might make an impact for voting the next year. Voters are taking responsibility for their votes, all but requiring them to think the process through.

There is, of course, the element of influence from the sabermetric wing. Even articles that claim WAR doesn’t capture everything cite WAR in the body. Voters are thinking about numbers they didn’t used to think about — numbers that, in the past, might not have existed. Behind those numbers are ideas, like the relative value of power or defense or position or baserunning, and this can all make a difference, even if a voter picks the “traditional” guy in the end. The MVP is being thought of differently. Voters think about why power numbers matter. They think about why it matters for a player to come from a winning team.

The conversation can be good and it can go both ways. Sabermetrically, we can identify the most productive players. The voters can talk about what those numbers are leaving out. Analysts can then come back with other numbers, like clutch numbers, or win-expectancy numbers, and we can all figure out how important it is, really, for a player’s team to have been competitive. These are conversations that haven’t arrived at solutions, but there’s a greater degree of open-mindedness today, and that’s what progress requires. More and more, voters are open to having conversations, meaning the process should be getting smarter.

It would help for voters to be given more official guidance. The company line is that the debate is the fun part, that it’s good for baseball, but right now there’s so much uncertainty over what “valuable” means that different voters are voting for a different award. Seems to me such varying interpretation shouldn’t be necessary. It’s conceivable we could see progress here, too.

The case I can’t stop thinking about is Bert Blyleven‘s case for the Hall of Fame. That right there is a clear example of a shift in voter thinking. His first three years of eligibility, Blyleven was named on less than 18% of ballots. He started making progress in year four, and just a couple years ago he finally climbed over 75%. Year after year, Blyleven was considered by a majority old-school voting pool, but the voters were open to having their minds changed, and thanks to their own open-mindedness and thanks to a powerful sabermetric campaign, Blyleven went from little support to Cooperstown. Still today, I don’t know if I’d describe the Hall of Fame selection process as “smart”. But it’s smarter. Blyleven is in the Hall of Fame, and Jack Morris still isn’t.

As a different example, the Gold Glove awards were long sliding toward virtual irrelevance. In response, they’ve introduced a sabermetric component, and now the results aren’t laughable anymore. There’s actual substance to the process, and while that doesn’t reflect a change in voter thinking, it perhaps does suggest that the MVP voting guidelines could be amended down the road. The Gold Gloves are a traditional award that recently changed a little bit. Perhaps one day we’ll get more than a few words on what “valuable” means within a regular season.

Politically, there’s a long history of things that shouldn’t be. I will of course not go into detail, but as these things have changed, they didn’t change overnight. They changed over the course of years or decades or more than that, with little shifts that turned the tide a little more and a little more. During the transition periods, there’s frustration on the part of those who seek change, since to them the change is obvious, but people don’t change policy that fast. Not when they’ve been doing it a certain way forever. It takes time for minds to grow, and it takes time for more stubborn minds to be replaced. In the little picture, there’s the frustration of defeat. In the bigger picture, there’s often the reality of encouraging progress. Progress toward a goal that seems to be inevitable.

As things are right now, we’re never going to agree unanimously on what the MVP is, and on who ought to win it. Realistically, we don’t have enough information to decide who ought to win it. We can just come up with mathematical favorites. The important thing, though, is that I think the voting process is improving. The voters are more accessible, they’re more accountable, and they’re open-minded in greater numbers. We’re able to have more conversations, they’re able to consider more ideas, and the result is that, while stubbornness will forever exist, by and large things ought to be smarter. My sense is that we’re in the midst of an MVP voting transition period. I don’t know exactly where we’re headed, but don’t lose sight of the fact that Mike Trout still got a lot of support, even if he didn’t come close to winning. We’re able to have arguments with voters today. Down the road, there might be fewer arguments, and those arguments ought to be better, on both of the sides.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

69 Responses to “Living Through the MVP Voting Transition Period”

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  1. tz says:

    Most Valuable Progress in MVP Voting Award, 2013:

    Josh Donaldson finishing 4th in the AL. Like the Blyleven HOF election, change is coming, albeit slowly….

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  2. Tigerdog1 says:

    Good take, Jeff. This debate really does boil down to the definition of “value to his team”, and not really about how to measure performance. It’s really the anti-saber folks in the mainstream media who readily dismiss WAR and sabermetrics all in one breath, not really wanting to consider what the numbers mean, but to the extent that pro saber supporters try to convince them that the MVP should be measured by WAR, they’re not winning the argument, and I think not helping the cause of sabermetrics.

    The MVP has traditionally been given to a player on a playoff team. Players on teams that did not make the post season, but have the best individual performance in their league have usually finished as runners up in the MVP voting as well.

    Most MVP voters subscribe to the theory that “value to his team” must include a measure of the impact that a player’s performance has on his team’s finish in the standings. That, and nothing else, is the objective in playing baseball, which is a team sport. Yes, it’s true that a player’s team mates contribute to where the team finishes, and yes, that leaves lots of players out of the discussion. But that’s how it has been traditionally and that’s how most BBWAA voters view “value to his team” today.

    The same criteria that denied Cabrera the award in 2010, when he finished second to Josh Hamilton, who missed the entire month of September, is the criteria that helps Cabrera to win consecutive MVP awards.

    When you take a player out of his real life events and place his performance into a “context neutral” situation, and then give him a value based on a hypothetical or average set of circumstances, you depart from the reality that is used by BBWAA voters. You can’t take Trout and put him on the Tigers, or take Cabrera and put him on the Angels, and play “what if” to hand out the MVP.

    These matters do evolve. There was a time that the Cy Young award was pretty much just handed to the pitcher with the most wins. Not any more. The previous five Cy Young winners in the AL were given to the ERA leader. That string was broken this year, but it’s not like Scherzer won the award primarily because of wins. I suspect that changing minds on what “value to his team” means is something that will change very slowly, if at all.

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    • Daniel says:

      “must include a measure of the impact that a player’s performance has on his team’s finish in the standings.”

      The funny thing is that WAR answers/attempts to answer that question.

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      • novaether says:

        Daniel, WAR tells us roughly how a player would have contributed to his team in a context neutral environment. Many voters or baseball enthusiasts such as myself would argue that context does matter. I think WAR is a better measure of talent displayed rather than actual value contributed.

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      • JimNYC says:

        Actually, it really doesn’t. A 10 win player who moved his team from 65 to 75 wins was not as valuable as a 5 win player who moved his team from 90 to 95 wins.

        If the best player on Earth was posting a 1.750 OPS in the Pacific Coast League, he wouldn’t be considered particularly valuable, because cares what happens in the Pacific Coast League. It’s basically the same for second-division MLB teams.

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  3. James says:

    There are several counter-arguments that point out pretty clearly how silly it is to say a player isn’t really valuable because his team isn’t making the playoffs anyways.

    1. Flip it. If a team wins their division by 10+ games, then they couldn’t possibly have an MVP winner, because they’d have won their division anyways. How valuable is their best player, really? They’d likely be in the same position either way.

    2. Play it out further. If a team wins their division by 1 game, then literally every player who helped them win a single game is more valuable than Mike Trout. Because each of them made the difference between making the playoffs and not, whereas Trout did not. Ergo, using this logic, Brandon Inge was more valuable than Mike Trout last season.

    Here’s an analogy to consider. We each want to buy something that costs $1. I’ve got a quarter, 8 nickels, and 10 pennies. My “team” of coins is worth 75 cents and falls short of being able to buy the item. You have one dime and 18 nickels. Your “team” is worth $1, and you successfully buy the item.

    If your dime more valuable than my quarter simply because it led to a successful item purchase?

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    • Ruki Motomiya says:

      Isn’t this just a slippery slope argument? Just because a person thinks that being on a playoff team makes them more valuable doesn’t mean that it follows that all people who are on a playoff team are worth more or that Mike Trout is worthless. Like, seriously, Mike Trout got SECOND. People don’t say “He didn’t make the playoffs, he has NO VALUE EVER!” They say “He didn’t make the playoffs, he is slightly devalued”. You can make tons of reasonable arguments look silly if all you do is stretch the point to an extreme.

      Also, on the first point, the removal of various sequencing could cause them to lose, in addition to the fact that WAR is not perfected as said and thus for all we know each player has more affect than we know right now OR that they have less, while a team that has already lost will not lose anything when replaced with a worse player. I don’t really think the “playoff argument” is a large component or a good argument, but it seems like a team that is into or heading towards the playoffs who loses a better player will, at the very least, be a worse team heading into the playoffs, whereas the team who misses the playoffs is not affected by being worse except in getting a better draft pick.

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      • Randy Lahey says:

        I was thinking argument ad extremum rather than slippery slope. But I love your use of fallacies. *wink*

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      • Daniel says:

        It’s a little bit more of a argumentum/reductio ad absurdum (or equivocation/straw man if you feel your argument is not represented).

        1. Brandon Inge is not more valuable than Mike Trout. (take as accepted/given for the contradiction later)
        2. Mike Trout’s team missed the playoffs. (given)
        3. Brandon Inge’s team made the playoffs. (given)
        |4. A player whose team misses the playoffs did not provide value to his team. (assume the negative to prove it leads to a contradiction)
        |5. Mike Trout provided no value to his team. (2. and 4.)
        |6. Brandon Inge at least provided some value to his team. (3. and 4.)
        |7. Brandon Inge is more valuable than Mike Trout. (5. and 6.)
        |8. Brandon Inge is and is not more valuable than Mike Trout. (1. and 7.)
        Therefore, a player whose team misses the playoffs at least provided some value to his team. (reductio ad absurdum from contradiction in 8.)

        Now you have objected that the team’s playoff appearance should be considered at least in part.

        Why? It is called the Most Valuable Player award. What do the playoffs have anything to do with the criteria. Sure, you could change the criteria, but that is not in there. In fact, the official BBWAA criteria explicitly say to that it is not necessary to consider the playoffs: “The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.”

        So, yes, you could consider the playoffs anyway, but why would you? What do the playoffs have to do with “strength of offense and defense” and “number of games played.” (Cabrera’s post season games only gave Cabrera 2 more games played) If you want to include the playoffs as a criteria, the award’s name has no meaning.

        You can’t attribute clutch, pressure, or leverage to this because they simply are not controlled by the player. This isn’t the “best story of the year” award. Even if you did start doing that, you would have to follow the logic to the point that the MVP can only be on the World Series winning team. Because how can clutch, pressure, or leverage get any higher than that?

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        • JimNYC says:

          As Gabe Paul said, “There is no such thing as second place. Either you’re first or you’re nothing.” The point of baseball is to win, and at the end of the day, a guy who did a great job in a losing effort just hasn’t contributed as much as a guy who did a very good job in a winning effort.

          A pitcher who throws 32 perfect games in AAA had a phenomenal season, and is probably the best pitcher on the planet. But he didn’t do it in the majors, so it doesn’t really count. MLB teams who miss the playoffs aren’t really major league teams – they’re cannon fodder for real teams.

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    • C'mon Man says:

      You’ve been politely asked to at least cite the comment you’ve copied and pasted to the last 3 or 4 articles debating the MVP. At minimum you should at least acknowledge that these are not your original thoughts.

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    • Pirates Hurdles says:

      This line or reasoning is equally as silly as those who want to use one single number to decide the winner. Its typical black and white polarization through which many people prefer to view things in this country. No one on the traditional side is suggesting that being on a winner means everything. They are simply using team result as a qualifier for value just as those using WAR would suggest. Taking it to the extreme is a simple attempt to belittle a valid argument.

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      • Hendu for Kutch says:

        On the contrary, it’s using a simple black and white example to show that a single player’s value is NOT dependent on the value of the team surrounding him. His value is his value, whether he’s surrounded by replacement level players or surrounded by Hall of Famers.

        It’s not belittling a valid argument, it’s pointing out that the argument is not actually valid.

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        • JimNYC says:

          Not so. If a guy wants to be a big fish in a small pond, that’s his choice. Trout could have refused to report unless he got traded to a contender. He did not, because he’s comfortable with accepting failure.

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    • Jon says:

      I’m as sabermetrically-inclined as anyone, and I wish it was the “best player award”, but to me, value means getting your team to the postseason.

      I don’t think the player HAS to be from a playoff team. It’s essentially a huge bonus to his candidacy, but not a strict requirement. If a guy on a team that missed the playoffs by one game hit 100 HR, then yeah, he’s the MVP. But to me, for a player on a team that was out of the playoff hunt all season long to win, he would have be SO much better than players on better teams (off the top of my head, I’m thinking a WAR advantage somewhere around 6).

      About your scenarios:

      1) I agree. Just as a player gets my “valuable” bonus for leading his team to the playoffs, that bonus is much bigger if they would not have made the playoffs without him. If the Tigers won the division by 12 games, then Donaldson would be the clear-cut winner.

      2) That’s where my “huge bonus” comes in. It’s not precise, but was Trout more valuable than Austin Jackson? I’d say yes. If, hypothetically, Cano was on the Tigers, then I would say Cano was more valuable than Trout.

      Good analogy, and yes, the dime is more valuable because it’s dependent on your circumstances. Buying the $1 item is your goal.

      Here’s another analogy (sorry for it being a little gruesome!):

      What’s more valuable? $500 Million dollars or a motorcycle helmet? In that context, and given no more information, I think we can agree that no matter how awesome this helmet is, $500 Million dollars is more valuable.

      But here’s a little more information:

      I give Alice a check for $500 Million dollars which she puts in her pocket. I give Bob a motorcycle helmet which he puts on his head. They’re walking down the street and two bowling balls fall from a window. One hits Alice on the head, the other hits Bob.

      Now what’s more valuable?

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      • Well Bearded Vogon says:

        “but to me, value means getting your team to the postseason.”

        And to me, it means posting a high wRC+ in the World Series. Neither concept is useful.

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      • Hendu for Kutch says:

        The dime is not more valuable. If you had the quarter instead, you’d be able to buy your item and still have 15 cents left over.

        Your helmet example doesn’t work either. Useful in that moment does not equal more valuable. How do I know? Because I can go to the store and buy a helmet for much less than $500 million.

        Besides, using that sort of non-quantifiable “what’s better right now” argument leads to nothing having any value at all. What if the bowling ball was thrown from the side or dropped for a floor higher up? Your helmet was worthless. What if a guy comes at you with a gun and demands your shoes. Then shoes are move valuable than $500 million plus a helmet put together! However, a quarter ALWAYS has more value than a dime.

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        • Jon says:

          It seems like we just disagree that value is context-sensitive. You prefer to analyze it in a vacuum and that’s fine.

          The quarter would be more valuable if I had it and it contributed to my “win” (buying the item). But on your “team” it served no useful purpose.

          And because of the situation, the helmet is worth more. In your alternate scenarios, then yes, the shoes would be worth more. In an alternate season where the Angels were contenders and won the division by 3 games, Trout would be MVP.

          In short, the MVP is an award that’s dependent on the context. You disagree and that’s fine, they’re both valid views, both of which have their supporters.

          To me, Cabrera is the MVP, and Trout should have won the Hank Aaron award.

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  4. Chicago Mark says:

    More WOW! A third article on this. I like the write Jeff. You and Dave are really into it today. I agree with tz. Your day will come. Good job.

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  5. adohaj says:

    I don’t want a unanimous mvp. I like debate.

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  6. mvbasten says:

    thanks for reasonable/rational post.

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  7. Breadbaker says:

    I think the results here were fine. If you want an award based on “the statistical method I currently prefer, recognizing I’ll change my mind about it next year” you can send a nice plaque to Mike Trout. This award was given by a group of writers who took into account the best performances of the year and chose amongst them. That’s a different standard. Some of their choices are silly, but then again Bill James once picked Harlond Clift as the tenth best third baseman of all time (and, oddly, using James’ own similarity scores, the player he’s most comparable to is Ken Keltner, who in some ways started this whole mess).

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  8. Ruki Motomiya says:

    Miggy and Trout were so crazy good I can’t be upset if either one wins. Miggy had one of the better all-time third basemen seasons offensively and Mike Trout put up over 10 WAR. I’d like to lean towards Trout, but I will admire the allure of Miggy’s offensive numbers appeals to me, given Trout’s defense was down this year and Miggy’s feels historic and…well, I just don’t care all that much if I make the “wrong” choice in value when it’s as close as it is here. (WAR puts Miggy like 3 wins below Trout, but I will admit I thnik that feels like a bit of an error bar)

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  9. Old School says:

    I respect the data and research. How many different ways will fangraphs show Cabrera being unworthy of the mvp. Two years ago, Verlander was also unworthy of the MVP, right fangraphs. This has devolved into clown journalism.

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    • Randy Lahey says:

      Thank you for stopping by to entertain us with your willful misinterpretation of the article.

      Process, not results. Repeat that again — it’s about the process.

      Change is coming.

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  10. jerusalemartichoke says:

    well said I think the important thing to do for the more statisticly savvy folks is to keep pressing, keep researching, and not condescend too much when confronted with obstinate “old school” analysis.think about how much is changed in the last 10 years and how much will change in the next 10 especially as new technology makes measuring the game that much more exciting. besides if you ever get depressed about baseball punditry just flip on espn and look at what passes for football analysis it’s kind of a disgrace.

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  11. John Havok says:

    Trout was voted 7th by a Boston writer Bill Ballou behind Pedroia.

    There’s just no way that’s defensible. There’s no way this idiot should be voting for anything.

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  12. baycommuter says:

    John Shea tweets: I’m going to try not to watch any games or monitor any standings in 2014 so that if I get an MVP vote, I can get it right.
    Now John is an old-school writer, but I kind of get what he means. I watch the A’s play the Tigers and Angels every year and know which player I want to see least. I suspect Bob Melvin feels the same way. Is there a rational way of justifying that?

    Thought experiment: You are the manager of an AL team entering the ALDS. You are not told who your opponent will be, only that 23 players will be the same. The other two will either be Miguel Cabrera or a league-average third baseman in both fielding and hitting, or Mike Trout and a league-average center fielder. Which do you take?

    My answer is Trout. Cabrera’s power screws up your pitching too much. Cabrera gets the MVP vote.

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  13. tz says:

    Lest anyone dare to consider Cabrera’s MVP wins to be on the order of Juan Gonzalez’s wins, let’s remember how awesome Miggy’s hitting has been.


    Miggy’s wRC+ in his 2 MVP seasons: 192 and 166

    Juan Gonazlez’s wRC+ in his 2 MVP seasons: 141 and 145

    footnote: Cabrera’s wRC+ in his Triple Crown season (166) is actually lower than his career wRC+ (170). Never let the validity of this debate be taken as any negation of Cabrera’s all-time greatness.

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  14. pft says:

    WAR is a context neutral stat. How can it be used to measure value (as considered in MVP discussions), which by most definitions includes context.

    Also, speak more about those error bars. Since we don’t know the absolute or true value of that being measured, we can only estimate the error, but given that MGL has suggested a 50% regression for 1 yr defense, the notorious inaccuracy of park factors applied to individuals of different handedness and spray charts(same park factor used for Pedroia and Ortiz?), and the assumption of run estimators used to assume the same value of BB. HR, DB etc regardless of batting order position or a teams overall offense (assuming it to be league average), the failure to consider quality of competition (schedule)then I would think an error bar of +/-20% or more is probably appropriate, but that number is just pulled out of a hat for lack of anyone else making a more scientific estimate.

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    • pft says:

      Actually, +/-20% is probably too low. I have seen different versions of WAR vary by as much as 50% for the same player in the same year

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    • Brandon Firstname says:

      Fangraphs does change park factors for handedness.

      Yeah, WAR is imperfect. Simply siting WAR is never a good enough argument, in and of itself. But it does give a good starting place. And most importantly, it factors in parts of the game that we often leave out when we come up with who’s better more or less in our heads.

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    • todmod says:

      I want to get to the park factors for handedness/spray charts debate. I absolutely think this should not be factored in (and it is not). The whole point of park factors is that the value of a run is different in different parks due to high or low scoring environments. A run scored in San Diego is worth more than a run scored in Colorado because it has a greater impact on winning the game (which will be low scoring).

      Even though parks help/hurt some players more than others, this doesn’t make the players performances more valuable. Adrian Beltre was severely hindered as a RH power bat in Safeco, but the Mariners didn’t get any extra benefit just because he was hurt more than other players.

      Looking at park factors for particular player types is useful for knowing how valuable they would be on a different team, but it doesn’t do anything to show how valuable they were in a given season.

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      • ReuschelCakes says:

        not true. the point is to translate runs into wins – and your opponents are always in the same park as you. so your contribution of less runs in a lower run-generating park is worth more wins than someone contributing more runs in a higher run-generating park.

        doesnt matter if it is measured over the course of a day, week, year or career.

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        • Erik says:

          Not sure if you are actually disagreeing with todmod here.

          There are two reasons to calculate park factors.

          1) To determine actual skill, repeatable or translatable to other environments and contexts.

          2) To determine the value of a players performance within the context of their actual playing environment.

          Using L/R handed splits is good if your goal is #1, but it simply confuses anyone concerned with #2. A left handed homerun is not more valuable than a right handed homerun unless your a GM evaluating potential players for a team with a short right field porch.

          As far as I know WAR does not use such unnecessary calculations.

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  15. semperty says:

    I know it wouldn’t be BBWAA, but do you think the results would be more widely accepted if the GMs voted for MVP? AL GMs vote for NL players based on the value they believe the player provided, and NL for AL players – each team gets 1 vote, and it’s entirely anonymous. Seems like it’ll never happen, but I know I’d be fine with Cabrera being MVP if the guys that determined value believed he was most valuable.

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  16. Mac says:

    Great read. At the end of the day, this whole concept of “best” and “valuable” is subjective. The sabermetric community thrives off of strictly defined questions and quantified answers. But beyond that there’s narrative and gut feel and popularity and character.

    One thing that gets forgotten sometimes in sabermetrics is that baseball has more than just winning and losing. Sure, winning is the goal of baseball, but journey is important to.

    Some people like the story side of baseball. Narrative is crap at predicting future performance, and often gets basic facts wrong. But facts alone also miss a part of the game.

    The fuzziness of the MVP is a strength that allows flexibility. For too long it’s ignored the sabermetrics side, but that also shouldn’t mean sabermetrics is the right and true and only side that matters

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    • C'mon Man says:

      I don’t think anybody who appreciates advanced statistics (or have a basic level of understanding of the importance of defense and base-running)is making the argument that stories ought not be told. It’s so weird how this position is being misrepresented.

      Sullivan went into great detail to emphasize the greatness of both Cabrera and Trout, and that maintaining some level of nostalgia is integral to baseball.

      Appealing to apathy and basically throwing your hands in the air because of “subjectivity” is just not a place people ought to go. Fans of baseball since the dawn of time have been using objective numbers (AVG/HR/RBI) to weigh the greatness of players against the generations past (it confounds me as to how people can use numbers in any way to evaluate something, and not strive to use the most informed ones, but that’s another issue).

      Bottom line, MVP voters are using antiquated objective statistics to draw muddy lines between players. Using more informed evaluative methods does not preclude somebody from being whimsically nostalgic about a player. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. You can be a responsible voter and still be in awe of Miguel Cabrera’s offensive aptitude.

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  17. Franklin Ettinger says:

    I think at least part of the reason that some people are holdouts on WAR is the existence of pages like this: . Obviously there isn’t a ton of difference between a fWAR and a rWAR and, apparently, reasonable people can calculate positional adjustments differently (BB ref says a third baseman is worth half a run less than a centerfielder where here they rate the same), but any disagreement appears arbitrary. When Dave Cameron says we give a DH -17.5 rather than -22.5 because hitting is harder when you don’t also play the field (true, but somewhat defies common sense) – but doesn’t tell us how, exactly, we know it is 5 runs harder vs 2,4,6 or 8 (I know he isn’t pulling it out of his bum, but it looks bad) it leaves some people scratching their heads. If ANY element of WAR is an arbitrary bonus then we are awarding points to people for stuff they haven’t done. In the minds of many out there, awarding bonus points because of the formula is a worse sin than counting bogus absolutes (RBI) which, while not really valuable, at least reflect the outcomes on the field. Of course every method we have rates Trout as more valuable than Cabrera, but there are people that want to throw the baby out with the bathwater rather than accept the taint of ‘meta’ production.

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  18. grant says:

    Excellent post.

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  19. octelium says:

    Any thoughts about using something like (WPA/G)+ ?
    This should contextualize how valuable each player was per game compared to league average….

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  20. I swear there is no weight behind this other than sheer curiosity. But has someone taken Miguel Cabrera’s season-long rate stats at August 31st and extrapolated them over the month of September, in an attempt to get an (unscientific) idea as to what his wOBA/wRC+/WAR would have been had he stayed healthy and remained on the same pace?

    For example, his defense and base-running rates were much better at 8/31/13 than where they wound up at the end of the year, as his WAR was higher as well.

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  21. KCDaveInLA says:

    If Miggy fielded third base at a replacement level, we may not be having this discussion (or at least fWAR would be much closer).

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    • John C says:

      He probably did field at about replacement level, which is the problem. Replacement level is about a .250 winning percentage. If he had fielded at league average, rather than replacement level, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

      On the other hand, you have all of the people who argued for years that Derek Jeter should be MVP even though he fielded shortstop at a replacement level all of the time.

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  22. Josh says:

    I’m a college student currently reading Thomas Kuhn’s On the Structure of Scientific Revolutions and I can’t help but notice many similarities between scientific revolution and the sabermetrics revolution. There is an established paradigm of old-school statistics that people hold to be unalterably true. In addition they believe in the authority of precedent ways of thinking, with emphasis on observable production and run-scoring (i.e. HRs, RBIs, etc). The sabermetrics community has its own separate paradigm of analysis of a baseball player based on mathematical formulae and the non-observable run- scoring/preventing (i.e. taking an extra base, making an above-average defensive play, etc). In the 17th century, people believed the sun revolved around the earth, even though Copernicus’ heliocentric theory fit slightly better with calculations. It wasn’t until Galileo came up with definitive observable proof against the paradigm that the sun revolved around the earth that people changed their minds. Similarly, sabermetrics will remain a lesser paradigm to old-school statistics until it as a definitive proof that this way is better. How do we KNOW that WAR is a better measure of a player’s value than traditional statistics? Where is the definitive proof? Until this proof appears, this argument will between old and new will continue.
    On another note, I think you’re right, Jeff, in that things are trending in the right direction. I think change will eventually come about, though it may still be a while yet.

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    • BDF says:

      Great and apt reference to Kuhn, down to the behaviors of the competing parties in a period of revolution. Note, however, that in Kuhn’s paradigm (!) there is no “waiting for proof” to appear. Galileo did not displace Copernicus because proof appeared. That’s a fundamental misreading of SSR, in which there is no (separate, metaphysical, abstract) truth. If we extend the Kuhn analogy, the sabrmetricians and old-school voters are operating under incommensurable research frameworks–asking different questions, different standards of evidence–and there is no external framework which would enable one to choose rationally (in that separate, metaphysical, abstract sense) between them.

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  23. Jake says:

    Very well written article in a direction I would like to see the trend move. The outrage over the outcome yesterday was a bit comical from the advanced metric expert media members. I’m all for debate, and disagreement, but the discontent that it led too was far too much for any serious advocate to have. Now I realize that they are media pundits, it is there job to stir the pot, create the controversy, publish their brand . . .but in the actual baseball world this turns people off to advanced metrics. It’s reminds me of ‘the angry atheist’ sentiment (to which I used to be) screaming at those that believe in a deity . . “Where is your evidence?!” The truth is that sabermetrics isn’t a fool-proof hard science at this point, and that “value” is a subjective term to every individual. Somethings cannot be gauged, somethings can be valued more then others, and in the end it is merely an award. The players of this great game of baseball came up with the exact same results for their exact same awards and nobody has called them “unintelligent, old-fashioned, uninformed” and trust me, having your peers acknowledge will always be more important to anyone then any media source.

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  24. Snarky McSnarkleson says:

    “None of our numbers are as accurate as we want them to be.”

    Actually, I think home runs, strikeouts, etc. are *exactly* as accurate as we’d like :)

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  25. Surprised says:

    Great article Jeff. However, I was surprised that you said that Alex Rodriguez’s 2003 MVP was a step back. He led the league in WAR. You can argue that others were more deserving. But to say that his award was a step back seems to go against the argument that Mike Trout should be considered as a top candidate for 2012 and 2013.

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