Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
August 17, 2008
SPORTS: What makes an MVP?

Posted by Ricky West

This will be my final post as the Crank is returning from his much deserved vacation.  I want to thank him for allowing me this opportunity to reach a new audience and reignite the vigor for political debate that I'd lost a few months back when I went into virtual hibernation.  I'm truly not worthy. To all who felt like looking me up on google & pummeling me: I truly enjoyed it, it was a blast, and I wish you all the best....don't take this politics stuff too seriously.  Oh, and I was right and you were wrong. :)

The year 2002 gave us Miguel Tejada as the AL's MVP.  In 2006-2007, the NBA gave us Dirk Nowitzki as its league's MVP.  To me, both decisions were ludicrous and simply reinforced the oft-held notion that sportswriters are lazy and simply vote for the best players on the best teams.  Crank gave his arguments against Tejada almost 6 years ago, before the award was given:

The usual argument, then, erupts over whether you can give the award to Rodriguez, who played for a last place team, as opposed to Thome - no, scratch that, as opposed to Giambi or Miguel Tejada, both of whose teams made the playoffs, despite the obvious fact that neither of them was the best player in the league at his position. Some people have also mentioned Soriano as a candidate, but while Soriano was clearly among the top 10 players in the league, he wasn't on the same elite level as the others offensively (because he was just a point above the league on base percentage) and didn't compensate with especially dazzling glove work (Soriano is no better than, at his best, an average defensive second baseman, and probably less than that).

(Ironically, as Mel Antonen of USAToday notes, it's often the players who prefer to look at the numbers and the writers who go with the argument that "intangibles" that make "winners" are an important factor.)

An argument can most certainly be made against giving an award to the person who simply had the best numbers.  NFL teams with horrific defenses often have quarterbacks who throw for more than 4,000 yards simply because they're always playing from behind, for example.  I agree that it would be a bad precedent for adopting the practice of simply awarding personal achievement that may come at team expense.  Then again, if you just look at the top teams and eliminate the players that have the misfortune to be surrounded by excellence that the front office acquired, you can end up with laughable decisions like giving the esteemed Bill Russell the MVP during the season when Wilt Chamberlain averaged 50 points and 27 rebounds.  And, before anyone retorts that Wilt simply shot it every time he got it that season, keep in mind that he was 3rd in the league in FG percentage that season. I'm sorry, when someone has the greatest offensive season in league history, the greatest rebounding season in league history and is the 3rd most efficient field goal shooter, they're the MVP.  It wasn't Wilt's fault that Russell was surrounded by 8 future hall-of-famers (not taking anything from Russell, the greatest winner in sports history...he just wasn't as good as Wilt, period).  Or, Joe Dimaggio winning the MVP when Ted Williams is the triple crown winner.

In the case of A-Rod & 2002, you had Rodriguez having arguably the greatest offensive season for any shortstop in major league history:

G   AB    R    H   2B 3B  HR  RBI  SB  BB  BA   OBP   SLG  OPS  TB  HBP 
162 624  125  187  27  2  57  142   9  87 .300 .392  .623  1015 389 10

And, for anyone who says that it was just a case of Rodriguez putting up offensive numbers, he also won the gold glove that season.  So, you had a player who was not only the best offensive shortstop that season (he was the best offensive player in baseball) but he was the best defensive shortstop that season.  Who got the MVP?  Another shortstop.  One who wasn't as good offensively or defensively.  Yes, clutch hits and intangibles are huge, but they don't erase the sheer dominance that A-Rod displayed that season. 

Likewise, let's consider the case of Dirk Nowitzki.  Truly, the best player on the best team in the NBA that season.  Yes, he faded in the playoffs, but the voting occurs before the playoffs.  Let's ignore Kobe Bryant's statistical dominance over Nowitzki, substantial as it is.  It's quite simple: Kobe Bryant was the scoring champion that season.  Kobe Bryant was 1st team all-defense (Marcus Camby was the defensive player of the year).  Much like A-Rod winning the gold glove, Kobe Bryant was the best defensive player at his position.  Dirk Nowitzki, on the other hand, was neither the best offensive nor defensive player at his position.  Nowitzki wasn't among the top 4 defensive players on his own team, by the way.  Again, you have the best offensive player in the league and best defender at his position being denied simply because he played on the 'wrong' team.  With the passage of time, we know that Bryant wasn't the cause of the Lakers' mediocrity last season, but rather it was the rest of the team getting better as they made the NBA finals this year*.

Summation: No, don't give out the top awards to the guys who put up the best numbers.  However, you don't ignore those who are obviously the best and most valuable in the league simply because their teammates aren't quite up to par with the top franchises.  Or, in the case of Wilt & Teddy Ballgame, the sportswriters hate you.

Thanks, again, Crank! 

-

*Note: I most certainly do not bring Kobe Bryant into the discussion because I'm a Laker fan or Bryant fan.  Currently, the NBA player I dislike the most is Kobe Bryant. Thus, this is purely an argument based on the merits, not the personalities.

Finally, note to self: Something you believe + the words "Rush" and "Limbaugh" pasted at the top = blog comments gold!

Posted by Ricky West at 6:41 PM | Other Sports | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

The worst ever was the Peter Gammons nightly ESPN argument for Mo Vaughn and against Albert Belle. Belle's overwhelming superiority didn't matter because Vaughn's teammates sucked more. In the end, his argument boiled down to "the MVP is whoever was the best player on the weakest team to squeeze into the playoffs".

Posted by: stan at August 17, 2008 8:31 PM

Great reminder, Stan.
Belle lost the vote for two reasons: the press hated his guts and the press loved Mo Vaughn. 50 homers and 50 doubles on a top notch team still wasn't enough to surpass the 'community hero' amongst the sportswriting faithful. That vote was a joke, Belle deserved the award in a walk.

And don't get me started on the writers who left Mark McGwire off their '98 ballots so that they could ensure that Sammy Sosa won the MVP. Sammy deserved to win it, hands down. But, you had the spectre of some writers afraid that McGwire 'might win', so they left him off their ballots, altogether. I'll let everyone else fill in the blanks as to the particulars of the rationale.

Posted by: RW at August 17, 2008 8:57 PM

Thanks RW.

Posted by: MVH at August 17, 2008 9:05 PM

The raw numbers should actually be given MORE weight not less. How is playing on a better team anything but the luck of the draw? If Bonds smacks 50 homers for a losing Giant team that's more valuable than Wright hitting 30 for a 1st place Mets team, just as an example. The idea that Bonds would collapse under the pressure of a pennant race or that he should be punished for his team's poor quality is ludicrous.

Posted by: seth soothsayer at August 18, 2008 12:56 PM

Yeah, why would you ever think someone like A-Rod would ever collapse under the weight of the playoffs or a playoff race? That is absurd.

This comes down to the forever unanswered question of whether this is a "best player" award or a "value to team" award. I would say that it is mighty difficult for a great player to add much in the value to a team with little overall value. For instance the perennial 70 win teams of A-Rod's Rangers. They were a last place team with him and a worse last place team without him. So what's the value of his play if the difference is between 70 wins and 60 wins? It's a matter of perspective on the nature of this ill-defined question and award. Not to go to bat for Tejada here but that guy had a ton of late game, game changing hits in 2002 for a pretty damn good club.

BTW, as a Red Sox fan I am a realist enough to admit (and have here previously) that Mo Vaughn's MVP was easily one of the 3 worst MVPs ever handed out in the modern history of baseball. He was a great player who had a great year. Nonetheless he couldn't sniff what old Joey did that year.

Posted by: jim at August 18, 2008 3:20 PM

jim,
You make good points, but in essence aren't you really saying that no matter what a player does, if he's surrounded by bad teammates, he isn't deserving of the MVP? So, a KC Royal could bat .410 with 40 homers next season, but since the team stinks & they'd likely finish below .500 anyway, it's better to continue giving the award to Yankees & BoSox or Angels or the other teams with the cash available to acquire decent starters?

Posted by: RW at August 18, 2008 10:19 PM

No, I think the answer in indeterminate. I do think it is much harder when your team stinks to be the MVP if one is going to define that award as a "value to the team" award. If it's simply the "best player" award a la the Cy Young award then the answer is somewhat simpler. However if the award is about value the numbers a guy posts whaling away when his team is consistently down 7-2 in the 4th inning bring less to the table then some dude hitting 3 run jacks in the bottom of the 8th of tie games when a playoff spot is on the line. I'm not saying I know the answer or if I even lean one way or the other. But I definitely do not think that the best player in the league is always or necessarily the most valuable player. I don't have any stats in front of me and I would be a fool to say that Tejada was a better player than A-Rod but I sure as hell seem to remember a lot of SportCenter highlights of that guy circling the bases with the rest of the A's waiting at home plate in 2002.

Posted by: jim at August 19, 2008 11:39 AM

Ok, I felt like I needed a little info. Yes, A-Rod was the best statistical SS and probably the best player in baseball in 2002. If you look at what Tejada and A-Rod did when it counted (well, it never counted with the Rangers since they sucked from the get go) such as second half performance, RISP, close and late, RISP and 2 out, eigth inning and later, etc. Tejada fairly well dominates the dojo in relation to A-Rod. In this instance I think it does make a difference that Tejada was smoking hot in the second half (.325/.377/.550 with 19HRs and 72RBIs and a OPS+ of 145) when his team went 57-24 and nipped the Angels to make the playoffs. To me that stuff matters more than the overall raw numbers. Perhaps if Oakland had not had to make a late season rally or if he hadn't had so many huge hits to turn or win games but he did and his team was successful because of it. That, however, is a fairly dramatic circumstance and there have been other times when I was fine with a guy on a lesser team getting the MVP because the numbers inside the game or the season situation was not as striking.

Let's say this year, for argument's sake, Kevin Youkilis just goes crazy down the stretch hitting say .345/.415/.575 with some late game winners and the Red Sox catch and pass Tampa Bay. So he posts an overall very solid .318/.400/.540 with 36 HRs, 118 RBIs, etc. He would have taken over the 4-spot from Manny and carried his team across the line in first place. It would take one hell of a season for someone in KC to get the MVP IMHO. Maybe someone on LA or Chicago, etc. might win the award instead but, yeah, it would have to be ludicrously impressive for a guy playing for nothing but stats to beat out a guy playing great with every game meaning something for the better part of the second half.

Posted by: jim at August 19, 2008 4:53 PM
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