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November 24, 2010

Prospectus Perspective

The AL MVP Vote

by Christina Kahrl

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If Monday's outcome as far as the voting on the National League MVP wasn't a bit of foreshadowing for who might have won out in the American League's Most Valuable Player voting, I don't know what is. The result should not have surprised, with Josh Hamilton winning handily, garnering 22 of 28 first-place votes, plus four second-place tallies. Miguel Cabrera finished with a stronger second-place finish than some skeptics expected, getting five of the remaining first-place votes and winding up first, second, or third on 26 ballots.

Here, as with Joey Votto, is an interesting personal storyline spiced with a post-season trip to come seems to have provided some motive, but the more basic proposition—as with Votto—that Hamilton was entirely deserving shouldn't really be an item of debate. It's easy to be cynical, but in point of fact Hamilton's WARP2 numbers were league-leading—or more properly, at least tied for the league lead. Switch over to WAR on B-Ref, and you wind up with an argument, however—Hamilton ended up ranking in a tie for sixth. That's a major discrepancy, of course, but one you'll find reflected in whether you're strictly concerned with offense, or offense plus defense. Per total run production, the AL's leader was the Blue Jays' Jose Bautista, trailed by Cabrera, with Hamilton rating third. Stick with True Average, and Hamilton is the most valuable batter per at-bat at .346, with Cabrera directly behind at .345, and then Bautista in third among full-season players (behind Kevin Youkilis) at .331.

Stick with more traditional stats, and here again, you'll find the same two names in the conversation: Hamilton and Cabrera were one-two in batting average for the oldest of old school, but also in OBP and SLG. Cabrera ranked third in homers behind Bautista and Paul Konerko's late-career career year, while the two of them ranked in the top four in total bases.

Basically, I think that it's a reasonable suggestion that most of the right people were in the conversation, and where the National League's MVP result produced a strange one-sided result, the AL generated a more reasonable spread. Hamilton won decisively, and perhaps his starring on a so-called “underdog” helped him, but by rate stats, he was as valuable as any batter. You can argue he needs to be taken down a peg for spending more time in a corner than in center, and that's reasonable enough.

The problem, at least for me, is when you get into how everything else shook out, because as I've danced around, the guy who Hamilton tied with in WARP wasn't Cabrera. And as it turned out, he didn't even merit the bronze in the eyes of the electorate. Third place belonged decisively to an infielder from the AL East, which was all to the good, but for the identity of the infielder: the Yankees' Robinson Cano. It takes an awful lot of optimism to assign much value to mere propinquity. Pegging Cano as more valuable than Evan Longoria or Adrian Beltre last season has little to do with outright defensive value—no metric pegs Cano as a major defensive asset, just solidly playable—but perhaps something to do with his being exactly that, the best offensive second baseman in the game, with none of the handicaps that come with employing everyone between him and Chase Utley on the second-base VORP leaderboard. Cano's out-performance of everyone else on that list helped him, of course, but so did the basic question of “which guy's team wound up in the playoffs?” Add in Cano's story: he was the durable quality contributor racking up counting stats. While Derek Jeter got old and Mark Teixeira was cold, somebody kept the Pinstriped Engine chugging, so why not put that on Cano?

The problem is that the MVP ballot is not the Olympic event for second-base self esteem, or the most-valuable Yankee award, it's about performance and value in the American League. Cano was exceptionally good, by any standard. He also wasn't as good as Longoria or Beltre. Or Jose Bautista or Carl Crawford. Instead, because the Rays' OBP-driven offensive machine seemed to defy easy explanation or easily-drawn narratives, Longoria wasn't given his due, even with a trip to the playoffs. Some voters lurched into a Crawford candidacy, but there was less reason. Rather than identify a guy who might have been the best player in the league in Longoria, rather than single him out for his club's presence in the playoffs, the Rays wound up being up being set aside as somewhat incomprehensible. And Beltre? Well, what did his team win, and sucks to be you, I guess.

As far as noticing the existence of pitchers, the American League voters generally had it right, not unlike their National League colleagues. Where the senior circuit electorate understandably noted that Roy Halladay was worthy of consideration and down-ballot recognition, in the AL there weren't really any pitchers who commanded—or deserved the same attention. Sure, we got a half-dozen electors stuffing CC Sabathia onto the back end of their ballot, but that's not really cause for irritation, not even for the fact that he outpointed King Felix—there's a plausible argument for Sabathia's critical importance as an innings-muncher on his team, otherwise maybe it's Boston who gets humiliated by the Rangers in the ALCS. But even here, Sabathia trailed a fellow AL East hurler, as the Rays' Rafael Soriano showed up on a quarter of the 28 ballots, even getting a fourth- and fifth-place vote. I'd chalk some of that up to a general struggle to really come to terms with how the Rays won, and deciding to blame somebody somehow for their contributions—so why not the save-generating dude? Which doesn't really sound very progressive, come to think of it.

But here again, I'm left wondering about progress. There's an understandable case for Hamilton, as there was for Votto. The results were more robustly diverse, as they deserved to be. But the attraction of Hamilton's backstory, the endless suspicion of the Big Apple factor as far as how easily Cano was credited with greater value than Longoria or Beltre in particular, leaves me wondering. Add in how much Cabrera owed to getting both of the first-place votes from Detroit, or that Bautista's lone first-place vote was also the product of one of his market's two electors, and you can wonder about parochialism, both for and against—Hamilton's story has been national for years, after all, and Yankees are unavoidably noticeable, where Cabrera, not so much, and Bautista, much less so. If anything, I find it troubling that Cabrera and Bautista got so little support for their cases outside of their markets, making me wonder if this vote has more in common with the Votto vote than I'd care to admit.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

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28 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

T. Kiefer

I think the issue you raise here, and in the NL MVP piece, about 'framing' or the 'personal storyline' is spot on vis-a-vis voting. On MLB Network's Hot Stove last night (11/23), the commentators said that if the Tigers had made it to the playoffs, Cabrera would have won the MVP vote 'in a landslide'. Does this simply mean that greater market exposure --something which the playoffs provide and something you mention above-- is the factor that gets an MVP candidate over the top? This doesn't seem like progress to me.

Nor does the fact that 'extracurricular' and team factors are not used in justification for Cy Young voting (e.g., 'the Mariner's offense was one of the worst all time, so Felix shouldn't be punished for such a dismal win-loss record', etc. ), but play a role in the MVP voting. I didn't hear anyone say Cabrera shouldn't be punished for not having Elvis Andrus and Nelson Cruz around him for protection, for hitting in one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the entire league, let alone for his team not making the playoffs.

(Related query: if the Braves had made it to the World Series, or even the NLCS, would Hayward gotten Rookie of the Year? Ditto with Austin Jackson? If so, it's just 'marketing' and team-effects that get players into the winner's circle, not pure individual achievement.)

I'm not saying Hamilton didn't deserve the MVP. I am saying that the vote should've been much closer between him and Cabrera, and that the voters are inconsistent in their standards.

Nov 24, 2010 08:50 AM
rating: 0
 
bbienk01

Just FYI, voting for the awards is completed before the playoffs begin, so the voters could not taken into account how deep in the playoffs the Braves and Giants went in the ROY voting.

Nov 24, 2010 14:09 PM
rating: 1
 
grandslam28

You talk about not having progress, but there is a big difference between the Cy Young award and the MVP. The Cy Young is suppose to be more of an objective award given to the best pitcher in the league. With Felix winning they ignored stats that are not in his control because he was the best pitcher. The MVP award is more of a subjective award. It is given to the most valuable player. Now it is up to the voters to decide what is more valuable. A guy who might be a little better, but whose team doesn't make the playoffs or the other guy who helped get his team there. There really is not a big difference between a team that's last or second to last. If the award was the best player in the league award it would be very different, but the point is that because it is a subjective award it is based on what someone thinks is more valuable, not who is better.

Nov 26, 2010 14:36 PM
rating: -1
 
JoeSky60

+1

Nov 27, 2010 11:08 AM
rating: -3
 
Patrick

Why wouldn't the most valuable player also be the best player in every instance? The idea is to win as many games as possible, so a player that accounts for, say, ten wins is more valuable than one that provides nine wins.

Let's say, though, that said nine-win player's team makes it to the playoffs, two games ahead of the next team. He should get the MVP award, right, since he "led his team to the playoffs?" Why does he get the credit, when the winning margin could have just as easily been a three-win player on the roster? How do you determine which individual players are responsible for which discrete wins?

Nov 27, 2010 11:50 AM
rating: 1
 
grandslam28

Well first off I'll start by saying that obviously the player that isn't considered to have the best season on a team will not win the MVP. (I'm not talking in cases where it's close. Like when personally I believe Maur should have beat morneau a few years ago) like what I said before the MVP award is more of a subjective award based on what you believe is more valuable. When there is not a significant difference in win shares between two players, the majority of writers & people consider the player's win shares that contribute to a team close to the playoffs as more valuable to the team than a guy who is on a team that has 72 wins instead of 69. Then there are also guys like adrian Gonzalez who only put up great numbers instead of monster numbers bc he plays for San Diego. Now he might be the nest case of a guy getting screwed over. Pujols and vottos numbers were better but Adrian still had great numbers/great defense in that stadium and was the sole source of runs on that team. Also no one has covered it because it hasn't happened this year but MVP candidates who are on the same team as each other because they obviously weren't that valuable to their team in comparison to another person who is the only MVP candidate on their team.

Back to my original point. It is a subjective award based on who you believe is most valuable. That could be to a certain team or for the whole league. Because it is not a strictly individual award your team and teammates do play a part. (also in rbis). Also I believe we can all agree that the most important thing in the regular season is to make the playoffs. So whatever player impacts that the most usually gets the award.

Nov 27, 2010 16:55 PM
rating: -3
 
grandslam28

P.S. Pujols defense was not great this year. He performed just average.

Nov 27, 2010 16:57 PM
rating: -2
 
juiced

Nonsense, the MVP is not intended to be a subjective popularity contest it is intended the best player. The voting criteria do not mention team strength a single time as a permissible factor in choosing the MVP. Value is specifically as "a player's contribution to his team accounting for his offense and defense". A player "need not come from a winning or playoff team to be eligible". No mention of team strength period.

Nov 28, 2010 16:51 PM
rating: 2
 
juiced

Otherwise it'd be called the "best player from a playoff team" award

Nov 28, 2010 16:53 PM
rating: -1
 
grandslam28

I'm not saying that team strength is a necessity. You do not have to be on a team that makes or is close to making the playoffs, but you better have a damn good year that is clearly better than everyone else. Also team strength can hurt a player too. A team that wins a division by 15 games probably would have won the division anyways without them. So then that would hurt the player. I do not think it is a popularity award but it absolutely is subjective to what someone considers more valuable.

P.S. I would like to know what the BP writers think on this issue.

Nov 29, 2010 11:07 AM
rating: -2
 
Patrick

What specifically do you consider more valuable? Is it being the player who most helps his team win, or being the best player on a playoff team? They don't always overlap.

Nov 29, 2010 15:02 PM
rating: 0
 
grandslam28

I personally think it depends on the situation. I think this year that Cano should have won the MVP. A very good defensive second baseman putting up great numbers. While also helping the Yankees get to the playoffs. I feel with an replacement second baseman they might not have made the playoffs. I'm not voting for him just because the Yankees made the playoffs. I think for the the position and defense and hitting and helping get his team to the playoffs is a combination of things that makes him the MVP. I think he was the Most Valuable Player in the league. I think the Rangers would have still made the playoffs w/o him and I think Cabrera's numbers as a first baseman weren't that much better even with his team being in the race he maybe shouldn't beat Cano.

If you want to go with the amount a person helped a team win, then check out the Bill James Handbook 2011. You will find that Bautista and Cano tied for the most win shares at 34 beating both Hamilton and Cabrera at 30 a piece.

Personally when it is close the guy on the playoff team/or in the race for the playoffs should win, but only when its close.

Oh yea also thought Adrian Gonzalez should have been at least second for the MVP, in the handbook it has him with more win shares than both Pujols and Votto. Adrian=35, Votto=33, Albert=32.

Nov 29, 2010 16:14 PM
rating: -2
 
juiced

The problem with using "being on a postseason team" as a tiebreaker is that it tends to overestimate the amount of time that there are actual ties and lead to lazy evaluation decisions. BP and baseballreference have Pujols an entire win over replacement better than Votto, yet that's deemed "close enough" that Votto gets the award for being on the better team. A 1-win difference is real, even if it isnt close to the 2.5 warp gap between Bonds and Pendleton 20 years ago, for example.

The better tiebreaking factor is to give the award to the more established player on the theory that his performance is more likely the result of greater portions of skill and less luck and is more repeatable. In other words, we all know Pujols is the better player going forward because of his superior history to Votto, who was merely achieving a career year. So in case of a tie -- and again I dont think this was a tie-- one should give the "defending champ" draw odds and the benefit of the doubt and give him the MVP. But of course in practice the voters do the opposite, they award the MVP to the shiny new toy because its the Cinderella story in a relative sense. Pujols becomes a victim of his own success, and effectively voters create a higher bar for him to cross than any other player. Personally, I think that's bullshit.

Nov 29, 2010 21:29 PM
rating: 1
 
juiced

And again, there is absolutely no mention of "being on a playoff team" as a tiebreaking factor in the actual rules, and I think rules matter, and it shouldnt be about the voters making up their own criteria as they go along. Otherwise the whole business devolves into this subjective popularity contest. We might as well award the MVP to David Eckstein every year because of his obvious hustle being arguably more "valuable" as an example to young players and in maintaining team "chemistry" and all that rot.

Nov 29, 2010 21:32 PM
rating: 0
 
awayish

that's not subjectivity, just different ways of measuring the same thing - player performance. it is possible to say which way is better.

Nov 30, 2010 05:53 AM
rating: -1
 
awayish

seems like it's currently easier to find offense at 3b than 2b.

Nov 24, 2010 09:12 AM
rating: 1
 
ruben398

So if this round of voting isn't really progress, what is? The NL Cy Young was decisively won by the best pitcher. AL Cy Young won by the most deserving, while certainly overcoming a historical bias. Both MVP's were very worthy. I understand being disappointed with the downballot issues like Cano and Soriano, and the lack of robust support for Pujols and Longoria, but isn't reaching that place where Longoria finishes 3rd and Votto only eeks out Pujols the utopia? The end of progress?

I certainly agree with T. Kiefer that the voters are inconsistent with thier standards, but isn't that progress when the old sway was that the voters were consistently wrong with their standards?

Nov 24, 2010 12:50 PM
rating: 2
 
jlefty

Cano had a better batting line than Longo and plays 2b rather than 3b. All of Longoria's advantage in terms of fWAR, bWAR, WARP2, etc basically comes entirely from advanced defensive statistics. There's also things built in there like quantitative positional and park adjustments. I think it's progress that the voters seem to have a better sense of what numbers matter on offense and are now at least thinking of these things (defense, position, and park) albeit probably less qualitatively. Because to be honest, the sabre community probably doesn't have the best possible handle on these things at the moment either.

Nov 26, 2010 06:33 AM
rating: 1
 
ofMontreal

I agree with T. Keifer. There was a media groundswell for Hamilton. The timing of his injury only helped his case since he was red hot going into it and the team didn't need him to win the division. The sale of the team also helped to make the Rangers a sympathetic underdog bunch. If your a writer who wants to back a winner, Hamilton's your man whether he wins or not. Was Cabrera as good or better? Of course he was. He was in a far more difficult situation and was punished for his injury and his team's sag. Nobody votes for baggage that soon. If he does it again next year he'll get the votes. It's how the media works. The table is set if Hamilton falls off the wagon tho. Boy oh boy is it.

Nov 25, 2010 19:35 PM
rating: 0
 
grandslam28

Also before I read Bill James handbook 2011 I thought Cano should have won the MVP. Now looking at it Cano tied for the most win shares with Bautista. 4 more than both Hamilton and Cabrera.

Nov 26, 2010 16:40 PM
rating: 0
 
BrewersTT

If the MVP award is meant to be subjective, and to depend on team success and other externalities, then do we need another award for Best Non-Pitcher?

Nov 28, 2010 10:22 AM
rating: 1
 
grandslam28

No the fact is ] that different people look at things different ways. BP might have had Pujols worth more, so obviously BP is all knowing and 100% right. Bill James has to be wrong because he hasn't been doing it for that long. So the fact that Bill James has Votto having better seasons than Pujols and Adrian Gonzalez doing better than Pujols doesn't matter. I love BP, but to think that they are best source and are never wrong is just stupid. The fact is that it was an incredibly close race and given that they gave it to a player who was absolutely deserving.

Nov 30, 2010 15:24 PM
rating: -2
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Which is sort of what I said, but then I'm not sure if anyone really thinks this is a zero-sum game, where there is only one truth. Different metrics come up with slightly different answers, but the core point--that Votto and Pujols were fairly close--doesn't really seem to be under debate. The fact that the voting was not, though, seems to me to reflect that Pujols suffered mightily for *not* being the Albert of yesteryear, or yester-yesteryear, contributing to a spirit of vive la difference.

Dec 01, 2010 14:39 PM
 
grandslam28

Yes both Pujols and Votto had similar stats, but Adrien Gonzalez had just as good a year as Pujols, and got no consideration. When it was close to the point of both them being equally valuable to their teams then their is a clear winner if one guy helped get his team at least close to the playoffs because he has one more extra thing that goes to the word Valuable.

Dec 01, 2010 21:12 PM
rating: -1
 
grandslam28

Also I was not trying to insult BP. I think BP has great ways to measure performance. Just insulting people who follow BP blindly.

Dec 01, 2010 21:14 PM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

No worries, certainly no offense taken. People should think for themselves and argue, and be won over by arguments.

Dec 01, 2010 23:21 PM
 
juiced

Actually James had Adrian Gonzalez having a slightly better season than Albert or Votto, with 35 win shares to 33 for Votto, 32 for Albert. one win share equals 1/3 warp.

Nov 30, 2010 16:30 PM
rating: 0
 
grandslam28

Which is exactly what I posted higher. which is why I say people who are upset about Pujols not winning should not be.

Dec 01, 2010 21:06 PM
rating: -1
 
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