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I love crowdsourcing projects. I love them because they take virtually no effort to set up, and yet we get a huge amount of information out of them. They work because the voters are the ones doing all the work, and whatever biases they may have get cancelled out, so that we're left with a reasonable view of the perceived truth. That's if everyone is playing fair. Sometimes, the voters try to game the system.

When I run my annual Fans Scouting Report, it became very apparent very quickly that ballot stuffing was a problem. The target of the fans, every year, was Derek Jeter. So, I knew I had to create a process to throw out ballots. Bill James 30 years ago turned the ranking system over to his readers in The Baseball Abstract (and in fact, it was that initiative that inspired my projects). And he also noted that fans would try to game the system by listing Don Mattingly high and Eddie Murray low (or vice versa). James said that if any of his readers tried to do that, he'd just throw out their ballots.

So, we come to the IBA. I love the IBA, for all the reasons I've already noted. Except for one: There's no throwing out of ballots. Normally, it doesn't matter because when you get hundreds of votes, a few dishonest votes won't affect anything. Until it does. And in the Trout v. Donaldson race, it actually did.

There's actually a fairly simple process to voting without resorting to the point systems being employed. Before we bring that up, let's discuss the reason that we use the points system. We're asking hundreds of voters to vote on dozens of people. This is in fact just like voting for a political leader, except in political elections we don't give them "place" votes. In effect, those candidates go through a "run off" system: After every vote, someone will drop off.

And then we vote again. And after another drop out, we vote again. And the cycle continues until someone gets 50%+ of the vote. This is a first-past-the-post system. The points system is a way to have this run off, without doing a runoff.

Since this is the internet, we don't have to ask people to go through multiple rounds of voting. We can simply ask everyone to "place" their preferred candidates, 1 through 10. And as people get dropped off, everyone below that person on the ballot moves up. If you vote for Pete Rose no. 1, he will get dropped off, and your no. 2 moves up to no. 1. This is called an instant runoff method.

Now, on to the main event: Trout v. Donaldson. There were 374 ballots cast, meaning the first-pass-the-post is the first one to get at least 187 votes. Here's what the initial totals look like:

The first thing we do is throw out anyone who was listed, anywhere 1 through 10, on fewer than 187 ballots. Suppose, for example, that Donaldson was listed on 179 ballots, all at first place, and nowhere at all on the other 195 ballots. Well, he could never get first-past-the-post. Think of Donald Trump. Should Trump be allowed to "win" if he gets 179 first place votes out of 374 ballots, and not place at 2 through 10 at all in the other 195 ballots? I think most would agree he shouldn't get the win.

But, maybe I'm wrong. Anyway, let's proceed.

So, after throwing out all the players with fewer than 187 votes, we are left with these first place votes:

  • 184 Trout
  • 181 Donaldson
  • 5 Keuchel
  • 1 Machado
  • 1 Cain

So, Trout picked up 2 votes, as did Donaldson. Notice however that we're down to 372 ballots. That's because two people put in joke ballots. When Salvador Perez and his first-place slot was removed, none of the remaining five were listed on his ballot. His ballot included all Royals players—yet somehow ignored Cain! The other voter had CC Sabathia first, and you don't want to know the rest of his ballot. (Note that Baseball Prospectus gave me the ballots with user names and user IDs redacted.) Because of the two jokesters, first-past-the-post is now set at 186+ ballots. The race is on.

We knock out Cain and Machado. As it turns out, Trout and Donaldson each pick up one vote.

  • 185 Trout
  • 182 Donaldson
  • 5 Keuchel

Finally, where do the Keuchel votes go? Two went to Trout, three went to Donaldson. The final tally:

  • 187 Trout
  • 185 Donaldson

And based on a first-past-the-post system using the instant-run-off method, Trout wins the AL MVP according to Baseball Prospectus readers. Unofficially anyway.

Next time, I'll look at the three-way race in the NL Cy Young.

Thank you for reading

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jtwalsh
1/22
Tom,

For a site that has thousands of readers, I think the real problem is that only 374 ballots were cast. I admit I abandoned mine a quarter of the way in. A simplier/easier format may increase participation to a level that the jokester ballots would be washed out by volume.

aquavator44
1/23
Ballot design is more important than people realize (even after Florida 2000)! My biggest issue has always been the sheer number of names. We don't need CC Sabathia on the ballot.
Scartore
1/22
Yeah, I agree with the above. The ballot for the IBA is annoying as all get out.
OuagadougouGM
1/22
I'm surprised that it was that close among Prospectus readers. Trout had significantly better stats at a tougher defensive position in a tougher hitter's park with way worse hitters around him. Trout over Donaldson in a slam dunk in my book.
TangoTiger1
1/22
3B and CF are considered equivalent in terms of their defensive impact.
OuagadougouGM
1/22
That's news to me. Generally, more hitting is expected (and received) by a 3b, which tends to mean that the defensive difficulty is less. Still, it is possible that you are right. Where did you get this information? If I were to rate the positions by difficulty from easiest to most difficult, I'd say: DH, 1B, LF, RF, 3B, 2B, CF, SS, C. (Catcher almost belongs in its own category, though)
TangoTiger1
1/22
This is the scale:
C

SS

2B/3B/CF



RF

LF

1B

DH
TangoTiger1
1/22
Hmmm... I messed up something. Let me try again:

C

SS

2B/3B/CF

{large gap}

RF
{tiny gap}
LF

1B

DH
vic19x
1/25
You might be understating 1B. It's not "difficult" in terms of what a player has to do there, but a good 1B is invaluable to the rest of the infield positions and might have a bigger impact over the course of the season than a LF or even RF given the shear number of total chances at 1B. It seems easy to "hide" a big bat there simply because a lot less running is involved compared to LF and RF but it understates its importance.
TangoTiger1
1/26
The scale is not "difficulty". It's "defensive impact".



TangoTiger1
1/22
I've been talking about positional value for 15 years on my blog. It's one of the more intricate topics to discuss.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/split.cgi?t=b&lg=MLB&year=2014#defp::none

In 2014 OPS by position:
.724 LF
.719 CF
.715 3B

In 2015:

OPS
.755 3B
.739 CF
.736 LF

As I said, it becomes a fairly intricate and complex topic to discuss. You can check my old blog if you have interest in this topic.

http://www.insidethebook.com/ee/index.php/site/categorylinks/
ErikBFlom
1/23
Tom,

My unscientific observation over the years is that while generalizations about defensive spectrum and offensive average can be made, there is some granularity. I don't recall many instances of tanking defense in the name of offense for CF like at 3B. Encarnacion and Miguel Cabrera come to mind at 3B. More often, offense is tanked in CF for the defense, while at 3B the defense is more often tanked. CF offense benefits some from the CF often being the best athlete among the OF, even if not the best basher to keep things competitive.

What do your more scientific observations tell you?
TangoTiger1
1/23
My scientific observations has led me to the fielding spectrum I noted above.
WaldoInSC
1/22
Ahem...back to our regularly-scheduled discussion:

I'm shocked that so few people voted. Is that the norm?

I've always been under the impression that BP subscribers are highly-motivated to exercise their franchise since they are shut out of the real awards process and believe they are more knowledgeable than the average sportswriter. (And might be.) I have never failed to vote in the IBA and always assumed that was pretty standard.
TangoTiger1
1/22
BPRo makes it easy to find the data.

http://www.baseballprospectus.com/other/iba2014/index.html

2014 had 563 votes for AL MVP
2013: 644
2012: 654

I think it was probably they put out the pages late or had a smaller window time for voting maybe?
ErikBFlom
1/23
I don't complete it because I cannot believe that anyone cares that I think.
TangoTiger1
1/23
I think fan participation is crucial. No one might care about your opinion in isolation, since it seems like it could very well be just a fart in the wind (*), but when you are part of a collective, your opinion is extremely valuable.

I encourage you to always participate when you can, and the effort is low. Your opinion has more value than you can possibly fathom (**).

(*) Great movie.
(**) Another great movie.
bpars3
1/25
It seemed to me that this last year the ballot ran later than normal, plus there wasn't as much publicity by BP pushing the IBA as in year's past. Maybe there should be a WAR cutoff for players to clear in order to get on the ballot? Or, maybe we need to make all ballots public like we are clamoring for in the HOF voting...kidding.
jnossal
2/10
Why should I bother to vote when you are going to fudge the count to better align with your own preconceptions? Just declare a winner and be done with it.