You’ve probably read part of the kerfuffle from the weekend regarding Mark Teixeira, the MVP award, UZR, defensive statistics in general, and the usefulness of valuation metrics like WAR. It feels like half the world has weighed in on the issue, with pretty much every possible viewpoint represented. Instead of weighing in on that discussion, I wanted to branch off it just slightly.
The annual debate over what the Most Valuable Player is comes up every year. Because the BBWAA gets to vote on the award, and the rules governing how they should vote are vague at best, we are treated to a yearly exercise in listening to people attempt to define value. For many years, the majority of the BBWAA has defined value as “driving in runners on a winning team”, which is why high RBI sluggers on playoff teams almost always win the award.
With the advent of the internet and the coalescence of passionate, enthusiastic baseball fans who like to quantify everything, that definition has come under fire, and rightfully so. As a result, every fall, we see the same articles pop up, just with different names. Stop me if you’ve read this sequence before.
Beat Writer: “Joe Ribbi proves he’s the MVP with another clutch home run. Where would Team Win-All-The-Time be without him?”
Sabermetric Blogger: “Look at this ridiculous article about Ribbi being the MVP. What a moron. Deosn’t Beat Writer know that Sam Shortstop is the one getting on base all the time?”
Beat Writer: “I’m at the games, I travel with the team, I talk to the guys in the clubhouse, and we all agree – it’s Joe Ribbi. Sometimes, you just have to realize there’s more to the game than numbers.”
Sabermetric Blogger: “When does this fool retire? If I had a subscription to the paper, I would cancel!”
Reasonable people take swipes at each other, bridges are burned, Joe Ribbi wins the MVP, and life goes on. Rinse and repeat, every September.
In the end, it isn’t an argument about baseball. It’s an argument about the perspective of how the game is seen through various lenses, and in many ways, a disagreement about the progress of a generation. Most of us see baseball in a way that is very different from how our fathers and grandfathers saw it, which is not unlike the generational gap in almost every other area of your life. Does your dad use twitter? Is your grandpa a frequent visitor to the local tapas bar? Do you yell at them for their “ignorance”?
This isn’t meant in any way to disrespect people like Tyler Kepner (who I met briefly when he worked at the Seattle P-I, and I have heard is a good guy and a smart man), but I’m just not sure why we engage in annual argument about how he and his peers define the word valuable. Really, why does it matter to us?
I get why baseball players might care, since they have financial incentives tied to who actually gets the award and such. I get why their families might care, as shiny trophies are always fun to hand down through the family. I get why the writers care, as it gives them a chance to have their opinion heard. I just don’t know why we’re supposed to care.
With the invention of the internet (thanks Al!), we don’t need to look back through a list of MVP awards to remember who was good way back when. We have baseball-reference for that. History isn’t recorded in trophies, but in data and stories, and we now have the capability to store a massive amount of both. No matter who wins the AL MVP award this season, we’re going to have a ridiculous amount of information about what happened on the field in 2009, and we’ll be able to show our kids and their kids just how much fun it was to watch Joe Mauer play baseball. The history of the game, as told by us, won’t be changed one iota by how the BBWAA votes in six weeks.
If they want to think that Teixeira was the most important player to his team in the league this year, that’s fine. Most of us probably disagree, and we’re under no obligation to report that as any kind of factual statement. I’ll be telling people that Mauer was the most valuable player in the American League for 2009, and I’ve got a mountain of information to back it up. How other people view the definition of the word value has no real world impact on me.
Twitter isn’t dying because people over 50 aren’t using it, and Tapas bars are doing just fine without an early bird special. Mauer’s legacy, and the history of the game, will be just fine without Tyler Keper’s vote, too. We’ve got better ways of capturing what happened on the field than through an award based on an esoteric argument about the definition of a vague word.
Let them vote for whoever they want. I don’t care.
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