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Some more arguing about what an MVP really is

Sep 9, 2011, 1:43 PM EDT

jose bautista points getty Getty Images

At the outset I’ll state that I disagree with a lot — and awful lot — of what Ken Rosenthal says in his latest column.  The biggest disagreement is Rosenthal’s stance that an MVP should play for a contender. I’ve been over that territory many times before, so I won’t regurgitate it here.

But despite the disagreements, I do like a lot about Rosenthal’s piece. Mostly because, unlike so many, he is out front in acknowledging the subjective nature of the MVP ballot. And it really is. Those of us who want to vote with a more sabermetric approach often ignore that, insisting on making it as objective as possible. Those who vote in other ways also ignore the subjectivity of it, insisting as a matter of natural law that “valuable means X” when there is no certainty about it at all. We’re all importing our own criteria.

So like I said: Rosenthal, I believe, is wrong about a lot of the stuff in the column. But the key word there is “believe,” because when it comes to the MVP, so much of it comes down to belief.  That may be cold comfort for a couple of people fighting over MVP candidates, but it’s actually kind of clarifying in some way. If for no other reason than it almost compels us to not take any MVP argument — or result — too terribly seriously as an assignation of merit.

  1. alang3131982 - Sep 9, 2011 at 1:49 PM

    Craig- my question would be, isnt journalism an objective profession? Isnt the antithesis of reporting subjectivity? Consequently, shouldn’t an award voted on by reporters be as objective as humanly possible?

    I do understand that the way MVP is defined can be construed a few ways. However, applying things like I feel it is harder to play for a winning team to your ballot is just adding your subjective viewpoint. Right? I mean shouldnt a writer only vote on what they know, objectively, to be true. Adding in things they believe will only cloud their ballots with their own prejudices.

    If you can prove that it is harder to play on a contending team, by all means make that part of your criteria. I can believe a lot of things about performance, but without verifying them what value do they have?

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 9, 2011 at 1:54 PM

      Adding in things they believe will only cloud their ballots with their own prejudices.

      For me personally, I think the big issue is there just aren’t many journalists any more. Everyone fashions him/herself as an editorial writer so they can interject their own thoughts/feelings/ideas whatever, even in sports.

      It’s so rare to see a story just filled with facts/information, devoid of subjectivity.

    • mkd - Sep 9, 2011 at 2:45 PM

      When it comes to the history of journalism, I think we will look back on the period between the emergence monopoly newspapers (one paper per city) and the emergence of the internet as a peculiar time when people believed that “objectivity” was possible in news.

      As it turned out, there were a million subjective biases being coded into “objective” news stories, but we never noticed them because our sources were so limited. With the explosion of the internet we’ve been forced to recognize that no matter how hard you try you cannot squeeze subjectivity out of reporting and so journalists have returned to their roots- coupling facts with analysis and opinion. I for one applaud the new willingness to acknowledge that objective news in an unattainable ideal. Long live debate!

      • alang3131982 - Sep 9, 2011 at 2:56 PM

        I really enjoy what you wrote and it makes sense to me on the surface.

        I agree that true objectivity can rarely (if ever) be reached. However, shouldnt writers aspire to do that. And cant they do that by striking things from their columns that they “believe to be true”

    • K. Harker - Sep 9, 2011 at 5:50 PM

      I think it’s impossible to be completely objective – it’s just important to recognize and report your biases.

  2. yankeesfanlen - Sep 9, 2011 at 1:51 PM

    Weel, I can’t really say I can tell if Granderson or Cano should be MVP. Both have stepped up to the task with ARod’s shortened season and the inevitable decline of………..never mind.
    I’ll take Grandy. I like the +23 runs scored over all others. He can get on base, then come around.
    There again, still not big on RSVP or SPQR.

    • zakharovsa - Sep 9, 2011 at 2:15 PM

      I’m a Yankee fan and you’re a ridiculous homer. Granderson has been great, but Cano isn’t even the best second baseman in the AL East. Jose Bautista should be the MVP in a walk.

    • zakharovsa - Sep 9, 2011 at 2:16 PM

      Oh, and please never use individual runs scored to evaluate a player. It’s silly for so many reasons.

      • yankeesfanlen - Sep 9, 2011 at 2:26 PM

        Sorry, I thought runs scored was the silly and ridiculous way we keep track of a team’s performance.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Sep 9, 2011 at 2:29 PM

        Len, what the hell is wrong with you? VORP, WAR, BABIP and xFIP are all that matters. Runs? What the hell do they mean? 😀

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Sep 9, 2011 at 3:19 PM

        Not sure if you are referring to Pedroia or Zobrist being better than Cano, but in either case it is a difficult argument. Cano has a lower OBP, but he’s slugging about 70point higher than either. On offense, Zobrist isn’t even in the picture, and between Cano and Pedroia, Cano has more hits, doubles, triples (!!!), HR and RBI and Runs. Pedroia is ahead in SBs, but he has a poorer success rate.

        I don’t mean that as a knock on Pedroia at all; he has been great this season. But he is getting some chatter about MVP, and Cano’s season stacks up awfully well against Pedeys. If Pedroia is in the conversation, Cano should be. (I don’t really think either guy should win it, but it is not ridiculous to have the conversations.)

    • alang3131982 - Sep 9, 2011 at 2:28 PM

      Yes, a team’s performance not an individual’s performance. MVP is an individual award…

      • yankeesfanlen - Sep 9, 2011 at 2:32 PM

        Now I get it. 98>126.

      • zakharovsa - Sep 9, 2011 at 2:34 PM

        What is difficult to understand? A player has some control over whether he gets on base, but very little, if any, over what happens once he’s there.

        Let me ask you this: what do you think INDIVIDUAL runs scored tells us about a player’s skill?

      • yankeesfanlen - Sep 9, 2011 at 2:44 PM

        So, a player on base, cannot discern when to steal, read a fly ball and know he can beat it to the next bag, hustle more with confidence on a wave to home?

      • zakharovsa - Sep 9, 2011 at 2:48 PM

        Runs scored is a messy at best metric for measuring that. If you want to measure baserunning value, you’ll have to venture into…SABERMETRICS! *ominous chord*

      • yankeesfanlen - Sep 9, 2011 at 3:08 PM

        z – You’ve got me pegged as Biily Martin but I’m not Joe Girardi either. Just enjoy our New York Yankees and the performance of, among others, Granderson’s exceptional skills at the bat and in centerfield.
        Had many numbers thrown at me over the years down to “basis points” so now I just go with what I see.
        Not counting any home runs (drove himself in) Grandy has scored 88 times.

      • spindervish - Sep 9, 2011 at 3:21 PM

        So you eliminate from consideration the only runs for which Granderson is actually solely responsible. Brilliant.

      • yankeesfanlen - Sep 9, 2011 at 3:32 PM

        Then you subtract home runs from RBI, 76 and add that to something, divide by pi, and get represented in a movie starring Brad Pitt!

  3. Chris Fiorentino - Sep 9, 2011 at 1:53 PM

    It all completely comes down to the word “valuable” Until they remove it, or define it for the sportswriters, there will always be ambiguity over whether it is “value to a winning team” or “outstanding player in the league”. Not going to dip my toe into the debate, just pointing out the facts.

    • alang3131982 - Sep 9, 2011 at 1:57 PM

      That is absolutely true – there is an incredible amount of ambiguity in the definition of the award, which has created some absurdity, but i think the writers take it one step further.

      Isnt the code of a journalist to be objective? If that is true and they are voting on the Most valuable player, shouldnt the criteria be what they know constitutes value (i.e., not what they think/believe constitutes value)?

      Consequently, a writer shouldnt add into their ballot anything like “i think it’s harder to play in new york, hard to play in a playoff race, without him the team would have won X more/less games.”

  4. cur68 - Sep 9, 2011 at 2:01 PM

    I’m pretty good with Rosenthal’s definition. It’s essentially the same as mine. If Bautista doesn’t win MVP I’ll be bummed and claim he earned it more than anyone else based on a whole lot of opinion based metrics and subjective reasoning to go along with his legit numbers. And I’m good with that too. Mostly though, it’s just great to see what a terrific story JB is. The fact that he’s even up for consideration as MVP says it all about his performance last season. He was not a fluke. It should also serve as a warning to teams for mismanaging a good player. All those teams that had him and dumped him in 2004 should be kicking themselves right now. MVP baby. MVP.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 9, 2011 at 2:08 PM

      Mostly though, it’s just great to see what a terrific story JB is

      this x1000. While he may not win it this year, it seems like the Jays have built a good farm system and could be surprise contenders next year if things fall into place (Fielder?). He’s only going to be 31 this year, so he should be ultra competitive throughout his contract.

    • jimbo1949 - Sep 9, 2011 at 2:51 PM

      Jays are presently 72/72, they were 85/77 last year. JB: AVG & OBP are up, SLG & OPS up slightly. HR, RBI, & 2B are noticeably down.
      Jays jettisoned Buck and Overbay, Arencibia and Lind played better yet team results are off.
      You might have an argument that Bautista was 2010 MVP, where’s the value in 2011?

      • sacharisma - Sep 9, 2011 at 3:08 PM

        In his stats, probably.

      • Mark - Sep 9, 2011 at 3:42 PM

        “Arencibia and Lind played better”

        Hold on there. Overbay had a 762 OPS (105 OPS+) last year. Lind? 739 OPS, 97 OPS+.
        Buck 2010 = 802 OPS (114 OPS+)
        Arencibia? 735 OPS (95 OPS+).

        Yeah, Arencibia and Lind hit more home runs. But sadly, the Jays were better off with 2010 Overbay/Buck than the 2011 Lind/Arencibia.

        The results are off because the bullpen stinks and the starting rotation has regressed (I’m looking at you, Morrow & Cecil).

      • cur68 - Sep 9, 2011 at 3:49 PM

        And buried by the lousy starting pitching & the lousy bullpen. Everyone knows they can pitch around him or send up their best short inning guy to face him. Pitching to JB with a healthy lead is FAR different to pitching to him with your team even or down a run. Given his season stats, with what’s gone on hitting & injury wise around and to him, the crumbling pitching rotation & the dead armed bullpen, he’s really remarkable to even be where he is. He is arguably the MVP for doing as well as he has done with all that.

        Best thing; with the emergence of Lawrie, Thames, Alvarez, & possibly Cooper, things are looking up. Even if Rasmus doesn’t pan out next season, all the Beaver Men need is for Johnson, Escobar & Encarnacion to keep on like they have in the 2nd half, and McGowan to be who i think he is, then things next season will be bright if JB remains the player he is right now.

  5. jwbiii - Sep 9, 2011 at 2:49 PM

    I just can’t see denying Jose Bautista a vote because Toronto trotted out guys like Aaron Hill, Jayson Nix, and Corey Patterson for a large part of the season. That makes the team a non-contender, but how does that make Bautista less valuable?

    • seanmk - Sep 9, 2011 at 3:13 PM

      let alone the difference in pitching

  6. trevorb06 - Sep 9, 2011 at 3:12 PM

    IMO the MVP should be like this. Which player in the AL and NL would you rather have had on YOUR team for the 2011 season, no matter if you were winning or losing? That sums it up. I’m sure most in the AL would rather have had Bautista on their team for the 2011 season, I would, too. THAT is value right there.

    • Mark - Sep 9, 2011 at 3:43 PM

      That’s what it should be. Unfortunately that requires too much logic.

  7. Francisco (FC) - Sep 9, 2011 at 3:24 PM

    Craig looked smug. He had added new functionality to his wonderful machine. The box now had settings on its panel. He pushed the button so it switched from “Jackass-ness to MVP-ness”. He had two new bobble head figures on his table. Granderson and Bautista. He put both on his machine (it was able to do comparisons). Brushing off a piece of lint on his bathrobe (must change dry-cleaners) and biting on his bubble pipe he pushed the tan button. The machine rumbled and it scanned both figures with its light.

    It called out: “Acquiring subjects: A, Granderson, B, Bautista. Commencing analysis.” It then proceeded to recite a long list of statistics for both players. Craig was starting to zone out when it declared the results: “Analysis Complete: Bautista’s MVP-ness is larger than Granderson’s.” As expected of course!

    • nategearhart - Sep 9, 2011 at 3:41 PM

      Not intentional I’m sure, but “MVP-ness” reminded me of this: Say it out loud.

  8. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Sep 9, 2011 at 3:25 PM

    My only problem with the subjectivity of the MVP race is how heavily it counts toward HoF consideration. (It is not the Hall of Value, so why are the so intimately connected?)

    Writes often suggest that MVP is not for the best, but for the most valuable, then look at MVP voting from past years to decide if a player was among the best in his era. Seems like a double standard that hurts great plays on bad teams twice.

    • alang3131982 - Sep 9, 2011 at 4:07 PM

      In fairness to Ken Rosenthall, who answered a question i tweeted at him (i’m name dropping), he said that he believes MVP to be subjective (which certainly can be argued based on the vague definition/guidelines of the award), whereas teh HoF is objective.

      So, at least for Ken, one has little bearing on teh other….now if every other HoF voter agreed….

  9. rjostewart - Sep 9, 2011 at 4:13 PM

    This will probably change fairly soon anyway as the “old guard” retires and the voters who gave Cys to Felix and Greinke and Lincecum over guys with shiny win totals gain enough years of BBWAA membership to be eligible for HoF voting. I would think, anyway.

    • rjostewart - Sep 9, 2011 at 4:13 PM

      Err, this was supposed to be in response to the above comment about MVP’s bearing on the HoF voting…

  10. stoutfiles - Sep 9, 2011 at 4:15 PM

    MVP – “If this player was removed from your lineup, how good would the team be? The worse the team would be, the more valuable that player is.”

    This is why it’s silly for the Yankees or Red Sox to ever have a MVP. They have so many good players on their team that the absence of one is never a huge deal. Plug and play.

  11. natstowngreg - Sep 9, 2011 at 7:41 PM

    Thought I was in Hardball Talk, not the Columbia Journalism School blog. So much heavy pontificating about the theory and practice of journalism today.

    Of course voting for MVP (or Hall of Fame) is subjective. You’re assessing human performance, and there are no truly objective criteria. So of course, writers are going to put their perspectives into it.

    Nothing wrong with arguing about who gets awarded. Been going on since there have been awards, and will continue as long as there are awards. Just don’t tell me you have some objective, definitive, answer.

  12. paint771 - Sep 10, 2011 at 3:23 AM

    It’s more than penalizing a guy twice. I understand the valuable vs. outstanding argument, which is why I can sort of see a case for Verlander over Bautista. But not only does Granderson get a huge advantage over Bautista in runs scored and RBIs, not only does he get all the ephemerals from being in that lineup and getting the pitches to hit and being keyed in and protected, but at the end of the day, defining “valuable” as having something to do with being on a contending team essentially penalizes the poorer clubs twice.

    The Red Sox and Yankees can first off buy the best talent – their players are going to be, individually, among the best because those clubs and afford to scoop up the best. The best players in baseball are far more likely to play for big money clubs, so it’s no surprise that teams like the Yankees and Red Sox will, every year, have more MVP candidates than any other team. Which is fine – Granderson shouldn’t be penalized because he’s terrific and only the elite can afford him. But then when you start adding in “…on a contending team” to the MVP definition, you compound that over-representation. Because as much as the Yankees can afford Granderson, they can also afford Cano, and ARod, and the Sox can get Gonzalez, and Ellsbury, and Pedoria, etc. etc.

    It is far more likely that any given Yankee is going to be the most outstanding player, versus any given Blue Jay. But it is ALSO far more likely that any given Yankee TEAM will be contenders over any given Blue Jay team – and that is true more or less independently of the ultimate ceiling of their #1 player. So to be a Blue Jay MVP, you have to in essence win twice – you have to not only be fantastic, but you have to be X% more fantastic than equal level players on teams that are X% better than yours. In reality, you have to be pretty significantly better than that, given the over-representation of those big money clubs among MVP voters. What do you guess the ratio is between childhood Blue Jays fans vs. Yankees fans amongst sportswriters?

    So why stack the deck twice, is my question? Why load the player’s hand, and then load the dealer’s hand in favor of the player too?

    More to the point: forget whether it’s fair or unfair to the best player. Is that really the way we want to reward baseball players? Is that really the incentive structure we want to not only perpetuate, but keep beating fans and “loser” clubs over the head with? Is that really how we want the sport, and sportsmen, to be remembered?

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