Valuable or Not Valuable, Not Less Valuable

I wrote about my feelings on the MVP award earlier today, and I’d say at this point, I’d consider myself somewhat apathetic towards the actual result. People are going to define Most Valuable however they want, and in general, there’s little desire for a consistent, logical approach to coming up with an answer. For many, part of the appeal of the award is its ambiguity. I don’t really like ambiguity all that much, so that part of the process doesn’t appeal to me. And that’s okay. This award doesn’t have to appeal to me. I can sit at home and celebrate Mike Trout tonight whether anyone else is or not.

That said, before I bow out of the conversation entirely, I do want to ask one additional question of those who prefer their MVPs to come from winning teams: why are you simultaneously in favor of Mike Trout finishing second?

The must-come-from-a-winning-team argument can essentially be summed up in the feeling that the goal of every team is to make the playoffs, and any contributions that do not result in the achievement of that goal are of minimal value, because there is no real difference between 70 wins and 90 wins in terms of postseason qualification. All that matters is achieving the final goal, and without achieving that goal, everything was in vain.

I don’t necessarily agree with that position, but I can understand it, and to some degree, I understand that argument’s appeal. But what I don’t understand is why people who believe that argument are still willing to put Trout on their ballot at all, especially above every player in the league not named Miguel Cabrera.

If we disqualify Trout, and every other player on a non-playoff team, because his contributions didn’t result in achievement of The Goal, then what makes Trout more valuable than Josh Donaldson, Evan Longoria, Jacoby Ellsbury, or Max Scherzer? Each of them were clearly excellent in 2013, and for each of them, their achievements helped propel their team to the postseason.

The A’s won the AL West by just 5 1/2 games, and if you remove Josh Donaldson and replace him with a Triple-A scrub, they probably don’t make it to October. Take Scherzer — or any of the Tigers starters, really — out of their rotation and the Indians probably win the AL Central. The Red Sox don’t win 97 games without Ellsbury in center field. Why is Trout more valuable than any of these players, when their superb performances resulted in playoff berths for their teams and Trout’s did not?

These arguments, to me, seem incongruous. On the one hand, it is essentially dismissive of Trout’s performance accruing any value, because his team failed and so his contributions were rendered meaningless. We don’t think Donaldson, Ellsbury, or Scherzer’s contribtions were meaningless, though, so why is it completely acceptable to use this logic to exclude the best player from the first spot on the list but not the second, third, fourth, etc…?

I will readily admit to being biased in favor of logical consistency, and I struggle to see that here, so perhaps I’m missing something. Perhaps there’s a way to reconcile the belief that Trout’s performance has little value compared to Cabrera but more value than other players on winning teams who were 95% as good as Cabrera. I don’t see how those two beliefs co-exist, but I’m open to hearing how these two beliefs are not contradictory.

So, MVPs-must-be-from-winning-team believers, what’s the difference? Why can the best player be the second most valuable, but not the first most valuable? Why is this not a logical contradiction? Why does the take-him-off-the-team-and-they-don’t-make-the-playoffs argument only work for Miguel Cabrera and no one else?

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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