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November 17, 2004

AL MVP Voting

Down-Ballot Weirdness

by Jim Baker

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Vladimir Guerrero has joined a long line of players who have copped MVP awards in their first seasons with a new team--and deservedly so. Guerrero continues a proud tradition, started by Hall of Famer Johnny Evers in 1914, of players who were either traded or jumped via free agency and had an immediate positive impact on their new clubs (at least in the eyes of the voters). Citing Value Over Replacement Performance, Guerrero was the best choice for the award.

As it was with this year's Cy Young selections and with the National League MVP Award (which we'll look at later this week), the more interesting topics of voting discussion come lower in the ballot. For instance, Vlad's margin in VORP over the next two position players is pretty significant. In fact, Manny Ramirez of the World Champion Red Sox and Gary Sheffield of the non-World Champion Yankees finished eighth and 10th in VORP respectively. In spite of the showing of Alex Rodriguez in last year's balloting, there are still some who would rather place their high votes on players who competed for a contender. In this case, the top 10 is devoid of anyone who fits this bill other than David Ortiz, who we'll discuss later.

First, though, what are the purposes of the lower selections? There are three things a voter can do with them:

  1. Use them for purposes of strategery
    (I'm sorry, but ever since Will Farrell used that word while playing George W. Bush in an SNL parody of the 2000 debates, I have been unable to get back to using the correct word from which it is derived.) I don't think anybody does this anymore--it's pretty seedy. How it works is this: Let's say you not only think Vlad Guerrero should be MVP but that you really want him to win. You also think his main competition is going to come from Manny Ramirez and Gary Sheffield. What do you do? You leave Ramirez and Sheffield off your ballot or, for appearances, vote them ninth and 10th. Voters actually used to do this sort of thing when they had a grudge against a player. In this case, Ramirez and Sheffield placed in the top five on all their ballots, so we can surmise that there was no such chicanery at play here. I'm glad it's a thing of the past. (It is a thing of the past, isn't it?)

  2. Use them to be creative
    This has to be the excuse given by the two men who thought Chone Figgins was the 10th-most valuable player in the league, doesn't it? Either that, or they confused "value" with "handiness." Figgins was an extremely handy guy to have around in 2004, but he was by no means anywhere near one of the 10 most valuable players in the league.

  3. Throw the vote away
    Look, we're all busy people, right? Baseball writers are no different. Why should they care who they vote for once they get past number five? They've got other stuff to do. This has to be what the guy who voted Torii Hunter sixth was thinking, doesn't it? This is not the vote of a person who was taking the lower ballot places seriously. Hunter finished 51st in VORP among American League position players this year. Even chucking some love at him for his stellar defense doesn't get him near the runway for the final top 10 posedown.

Now that we've sort of established what these votes are for, let's look at some of the more interesting choices for 2004:

  • The polarization of David Ortiz: Something that always intrigues me are the players who warrant high consideration by some voters and no consideration at all by others. This year, we've got David Ortiz getting a couple of polar outliers. He received one first-place vote but was left off another ballot entirely. That was the greatest spread--if you consider being left off as position number 11. Miguel Tejada also experienced a somewhat similar showing, being named second on one ballot, fourth on six others and then left off three completely.

  • Travis Hafner nowhere to be found: Let's say a voter hates the DH more than he hates his old drunk daddy who wouldn't let him watch Gilligan's Island re-runs so he could fantasize about all the erotic possibilities seven people trapped on an island implies. So what does he do? He takes it out on the DH with the best VORP in the bunch by not including him in the ballot. The problem is, unless he's that one person who left David Ortiz off his ballot, it just won't fly. I'm not necessarily advocating that Hafner should have finished ahead of Ortiz in the voting (though as noted, Hafner did score higher than Ortiz in VORP, one run higher to be precise). But if you vote put Ortiz in the top five--as more than half the voters did--then you must make room for Hafner in the bottom five, no? Hafner had the fifth-best VORP in the league among position players in 2004. He gets nothing for defense, so, again, I'm not saying he deserved to finish fifth, but he certainly deserved a mention somewhere.

  • One vote for Carlos Guillen: The first- and second-biggest reasons for the Tigers' rise from the ashes both finished in the top 10 in VORP in 2004, with Guillen coming in seventh and Ivan Rodriguez finishing ninth. Oddly, though, neither got the kind of support one might expect for fellows helping a team to a 29-game turnaround. Guillen was especially hosed, bringing home one stinking ninth-place vote. (Rodriguez, at least, was mentioned on 11 ballots. Last year, he actually finished behind teammate Juan Pierre on the World Champion Marlins.) Among shortstops, there's no argument against Tejada deserving more support, but Guillen definitely had a better year than both Michael Young and Derek Jeter, the other two shortstops who finished ahead of him in the balloting. One voter even thought Young was the third-best candidate out there. Man, that's a stretch.

  • No Curt Schilling: If one includes pitchers in the counting (which I haven't been doing prior to this), American League Cy Young winner Johan Santana had the second-best VORP in the league. Some might argue he deserved to finish second or third in the MVP voting, and I think they'd have a pretty strong case. Instead, he got two third-place votes, 22 other lower tallies and was left completely off four ballots. I am going to assume that the four men who shafted him have strong convictions that pitchers shouldn't be winning the MVP award. OK, fine. Forget about them. If Santana got 117 points and was mentioned on 24 ballots, doesn't it stand to reason that the man who garnered the majority of second-place votes in the Cy Young race might at least get some attention down among the zed men? Instead, two of the pitchers that finished behind him in the Cy Young--Mariano Rivera and Joe Nathan--got votes. Rivera was on 20 ballots and Nathan was actually put in fifth-place on another. Oddly, Keith Foulke of the Red Sox got no ballot attention either, this in spite of the fact that he was pretty close to Nathan in terms of effectiveness and also pitched for a playoff team.

  • Paul Konerko with five 10th-place votes: Wouldn't it be very interesting if a majority of the voters decided a guy was 10th-place material? Wouldn't you love to see a guy's voting line read 0-0-0-0-0-0-0-1-3-22? It won't happen, though. Konerko's five 10th-place votes are more in line with what you would expect. It's pretty obvious that it's easier to reach a consensus on who is the best player than it is for who is the 10th-best.

  • Hank Blalock in fifth place: They all laughed at Galileo. (Actually, they did worse than laugh.) They laughed at the Wright Brothers. So, let's join in and laugh at the fellow who thought Hank Blalock was one of the five most valuable men in the A.L. this year. Was Blalock even one of the five most valuable men on his team? Actually, he was third-best behind Michael Young and Mark Teixeira according to VORP, just ahead of Alfonso Soriano and Ryan Drese. Was he one of the five best at his position? Yes, you could argue that he was: He had the fifth-best VORP among third basemen. Somehow, though, he managed to be placed ahead of Melvin Mora (second-best VORP in the league and nearly twice as high as Blalock's) on this particular ballot. Much is made by some voters that one "needs to see a guy play every day in order to appreciate him." The problem with that argument is that, by seeing one player every day, the observer is not getting a chance to see his opponents any more than the schedule versus the voter's team allows. I ask you: Does that make for an informed voter?

In the end, the voters got the right man at the top spot. When they do that, it's a cause for celebration. Everything else is academic, or, at the very least, fodder for some decent kibitzing.

Related Content:  The Who,  David Ortiz,  Best

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