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Sometimes September matters. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Oct 1, 2013, 12:35 PM EDT

Mike Trout AP

Jon Heyman prefaces his awards column with an explanation that he does take winning into account when he chooses an MVP. He also says that, if you differ, and if you simply view the MVP award as a “best player award” that’s fine. He just sees it another way.

This, I think, is reasonable. He’s clear and he’s open to alternative approaches even if he’s not likely to adopt them. It’s his ballot and he can do what he wants with it.  As such — and I am being 100% sincere here — the purpose of this post is not to mock Heyman’s choices. He chooses Miguel Cabrera as his MVP as I feel the voters will as well. I’ve said several times that it’s not a bad choice, even if I’d make a different one. Cabrera is probably the best hitter in baseball, especially when he’s healthy, and we’re a long way from the days when Juan Gonzalez was winning this award.

My point is merely to say that, when you choose to make a winning team matter — and when you choose to make finishing strong an important factor — you should probably be consistent with it. Here’s what Heyman wrote in his 2012 awards column:

Cabrera, I believe, won the award with his big finish. He had a 1.032 OPS in September compared to .836 for Trout. Cabrera’s big finish put the Tigers into the playoffs.

Here’s what he wrote today:

[Cabrera] couldn’t do much the last month because he was hurt, costing him a shot at back-to-back Triple Crowns. But he pretty well had the MVP wrapped up by August. His batting percentages are better than anyone else, and way better than anyone on a contender. (Note: the reason his big September last year counted so much is the Tigers needed it, whereas they had things pretty well wrapped up by September this year even if they only wound up winning the division by a game.)

That parenthetical does a lot of work here. It has to given that the Tigers won the division by three games last year and one this year. It has to given that last year Heyman said that Trout’s .836 September OPS cost him while Cabrera’s sub-.800 OPS is brushed aside.

Again, as Heyman explains what he’s doing it’s merely a difference of opinion, and he is entitled to his. But it does illustrate that, the farther you stray from merely picking the best player for the MVP and step into the tall, amorphous weeds of “value,” the harder it is to apply consistent criteria. Sometimes September matters, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes a team that wins by one game had it in the bag all along, sometimes a team that won by three was fighting for its playoff life. Some games are pressure free, some games are pressure packed. It can get a little messy. And I don’t figure any reporter would dare tell Mike Trout, as Heyman says here, that he didn’t play any meaningful games after May, thus had no pressure.

My view: pick the best player and you reduce the number of impossible to quantify variables. You also, you know, reward the best player for something. Which, under the “winning matters” criteria, often won’t happen. And that seems like quite an oversight.

  1. cohnjusack - Oct 1, 2013 at 12:54 PM

    I hate it, hate it when people do this sort of thing to justify an action, be it in politics, religion, baseball, etc. For the sake of this blog, I’ll just stick to baseball here.

    To Heyman, September never mattered, not in 2012 or 2013. What did matter was that he already felt that Cabrera was the MVP, so he went looking for ways to justify this decision and make it appear as though he put a lot of analytical thought in to it. In 2012, “Hey! Look how awesome he was in September! I’m so right, of course he’s the MVP!”. In 2013, “Man, he didn’t do so hot in September, but he was so great all year, what does September matter?”

    Cabrera is not a bad choice for MVP, there are plenty of arguments in favor of him. I disagree with choosing him, but it will be faaaaar from a bad choice and in fact, he’s more deserving this year than he was last year. But if you think he should be MVP, please, just state the actual reasons for it and don’t cite a bunch of shit that doesn’t actually make a difference to you.

    To end on an overly-high minded, pretentious note: man needs to spend a lot more time thinking about why they believe in something and questioning those beliefs instead of just blindly citing confirmations of them.

    • natsattack - Oct 1, 2013 at 3:34 PM

      Another point:
      September doesn’t mean anything more than April.
      Heyman: “the reason his big September last year counted so much is the Tigers needed it”
      The games they “didn’t needed” in April counted just as much in the final standings as those in September, because baseball is a sport that is played for 6 months, where no one game counts more than another.

  2. twenty1miles - Oct 1, 2013 at 1:06 PM

    I’m a big fan of the advanced metrics we use to evaluate players nowadays. But I wouldn’t want these awards to be decided merely by the numbers. Otherwise there would be no reason to speculate and debate, which ruins all the fun. There should be a good balance of statistics and narratives.

  3. kevinbnyc - Oct 1, 2013 at 1:11 PM

    Doesn’t Trout need the MVP more – since his team cratered and didn’t make the playoffs – so that he can feel valued??

    • deaninajijic - Oct 1, 2013 at 6:38 PM

      Trust me he feels valued. And for the person who said there were no pressure games after May for Trout, you’re wrong. Every game is pressure when you’re the one guy who can lead your team to a win most of the time, and believe it Trout wants to win every game, or he wouldn’t play so hard!

  4. bowens3181 - Oct 1, 2013 at 1:17 PM

    HBT is as much a blog about baseball writers as it is a blog about actual baseball. That being said, I am kind of split on which side I fall on in this particular argument. I do agree that Heyman is incredibly inconsistent, but this isn’t news. Sports writers work in hyperbole and so inconsistencies are bound to occur. On the other hand I agree with Heyman that Cabrera should be MVP, just as I agreed with him last year. I actually do subscribe to a lot of advanced statistics, I simply value offense more than any current popular calculation of WAR does, and so in my books Miggy’s superior hitting outweighs his deficiencies compared to Trout on the base paths and the field. I get the argument to the contrary, and acknowledge that Trout is a phenomenal player, I simply would rather have had Miggy on my team then Trout this year.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Oct 1, 2013 at 1:29 PM

      I simply value offense more than any current popular calculation of WAR does, and so in my books Miggy’s superior hitting outweighs his deficiencies compared to Trout on the base paths and the field

      Without using WAR, if we can make an argument that Trout > Cabrera, would you be interested in hearing it?

      • chiadam - Oct 1, 2013 at 1:32 PM

        At least you’re willing to throw WAR out. The NL WAR leader is Carlos Gomez, so there’s that. Now let us never mention WAR again.

      • rynev - Oct 1, 2013 at 2:09 PM

        “The NL WAR leader is Carlos Gomez, so there’s that. Now let us never mention WAR again.”

        The NL batting average leader is Michael Cuddyer, so there’s that. Now let us never mention batting average again. (this works both ways…)

      • Darkoestrada - Oct 1, 2013 at 5:59 PM

        Chiadam must either be Brian McCann or someone who hasn’t followed baseball since 2011. Carlos Gomez is really good .

  5. chacochicken - Oct 1, 2013 at 1:19 PM

    All animals are equal but some are more equal than others.

    • chacochicken - Oct 1, 2013 at 1:20 PM

      Oooops, I meant Septembers, some Septembers are more equal than others.

      • Old Gator - Oct 1, 2013 at 1:26 PM

        I wonder if there’s a difference between an animal farm and a Bronx Zoo.

      • DJ MC - Oct 1, 2013 at 6:32 PM

        One is controlled by pigs and the other by jackasses?

  6. chiadam - Oct 1, 2013 at 1:29 PM

    Winning does matter, but then so must divisions. Trout plays in a real division with actual baseball teams. Cabrera gets the Twins, Sox and always rebuilding Royals 57 times a year.

    • butchhuskey - Oct 1, 2013 at 1:49 PM

      If you you that logic you also have to take into account that the Angels played the Astros 19 times.

      • butchhuskey - Oct 1, 2013 at 1:52 PM

        *If you use

      • grumpyoleman - Oct 1, 2013 at 2:51 PM

        And let’s not forget the Mariners. And also the Royals finished with a better record than the Angels. Don’t let reality get in your way when posting.

      • chiadam - Oct 1, 2013 at 5:11 PM

        ohhhh…right. is 19 more or less than 57? I forget.

  7. Stiller43 - Oct 1, 2013 at 1:33 PM

    Im kind of a fan of the MVP being a “if you knew then (beginning of the season) how everyone performed by the end of it, who’s the one guy you would take above all others for your team?”

    One guys MVP award shouldnt be hinged on whether or not his teammates got hurt and/or just flat sucked so the team didnt make the playoffs. The one guy you’d pick is the MVP to me.

    Thats what i dont get about the MVP awards across leagues…no real clear definition of how it should be judged. Some guy may prove himself to be the most valuable to his team by a longshot just by him being injured and the team tanking because of it, is he the MVP then?

    • cohnjusack - Oct 1, 2013 at 2:22 PM

      I remember an old FireJoeMorgan article where they talked about a reporter choosing Ryan Howard over Albert Pujols for the 2008 MVP (see note on bottom). The reporter cited the fact that the Phillies were making the postseason while the Cardinals were languishing in 4th place. Both teams had great offenses, which lead the FJM crew to the very obvious conclusion that reporter had to be making: “Albert Pujols was not a good enough pitcher to win the MVP”.

      NOTE We should feel blessed that our MVP debates are now Cabrera v. Trout. In 2008, Pujols won the MVP with 18 1st place votes, Ryan Howard got the other 12 in a remarkably close voting (369 to 308 total)
      Lest anyone forget, Pujol’s average was 106 points higher, his OBP was 123 points higher, his slugging percentage was 110 points higher, his OPS was 233 points higher, and at that point in his career, he was probably the best defensive first baseman in baseball. Yet 12 voters chose another play who was significantly worse by virtually any standard a reasonable human could apply.

  8. tfbuckfutter - Oct 1, 2013 at 1:40 PM

    Don’t forget the “grit” factor.

    Back in the 70s and 80s they used chest hair as the tie breaker. But now I think it’s grit.

  9. pieman1121 - Oct 1, 2013 at 1:41 PM

    Heyman starts with his conclusion that Cabrera is the MVP and works his facts to “prove” his position. Bad logic all around.

  10. butchhuskey - Oct 1, 2013 at 1:51 PM

    Heyman always has really wacky/completely illogical MVP choices. Remember when he said K-Rod was the 2008 AL MVP?

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2008/writers/jon_heyman/09/30/scoop.awards/

    • cohnjusack - Oct 1, 2013 at 3:35 PM

      He also once named Steve Garvey signing to the Padres as one of the best free agent signings of all time.

      For those who don’t remember, here was Garvey’s contributions to the Padres

      Year 1: Missed 1/3 of the season, but hit a solid .294/.344/.459
      Year 2: Hit 8 home runs and posted a sub-700 OPS…as a 1st baseman
      Year 3: Meh. 17 Home runs, 109 OPS+
      Year 4: .284 OBP, sub .700 OPS again , ranked 21st out of 21 qualifying 1st baseman in WAR
      Year 5: Played 27 games, hit .211 and was out of baseball.

      Over the life of that contract, Garvey ranked 27th out of 28 first baseman in WAR (min: 1500 PAs)

      Jon Heyman, ladies and gentlemen.

      http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2008/writers/jon_heyman/05/14/heyman.bestfreeagents/

      • lawson1974 - Oct 1, 2013 at 4:51 PM

        He was a big part of their first World Series.

      • cohnjusack - Oct 1, 2013 at 5:04 PM

        Ahh yes, that makes it a great signing then.

        And actually wasn’t a big part because he was terribly that year. He had a good LCS, but he did more to prevent the Padres from getting to that point than virtually any one else they could have plugged at first base.

    • cohnjusack - Oct 1, 2013 at 3:44 PM

      Holy god, I just read that.

      His NL MVP choices (note: Albert Pujols won that year hitting .357/.462/.653)
      1. Manny Ramirez (played 53 games)
      2. CC Sabathia (pitched 17 games)
      3. Ryan Howard (OPS an astounding 233 points lower than Pujols. Was bested in WAR by 7.5 wins)
      4. Brad Lidge (pitched 60 innings)
      5. Albert Pujols

      Even better
      2008 NL Cy Young
      1. Santana
      2. Sabathia

      Okay…let me get this straight. CC Sabathia ranks 2nd on your MVP list, yet falls behind your 7th choice for MVP on the Cy Young scale?

  11. raysfan1 - Oct 1, 2013 at 2:02 PM

    I hate to feel like I am defending Heyman ever, but (while I disagree with his opinion) I think I see where it came from without him being as inconsistent as it seems on the surface. Last year, a lot of voters went with Cabrera primarily for having won the Triple Crown. If his September hadn’t been as strong offensively, or if Trout’s had been equal to Cabrera’s, then he would not have gotten the Triple Crown, and enough votes therefore might have swung to make Trout the MVP recipient. This year, Trout is not seen as strong, wasn’t quite as good defensively, and so many of the Cabrera supporters feel the gap is wider this year, even with the relative lack of production by Cabrera in September.

    Like I said, I do disagree with him. I think the award should go to the best overall player, and I think that’s Trout this year. However, I do not think Heyman’s opinion is illogical or inconsistent.

  12. bh192012 - Oct 1, 2013 at 2:06 PM

    If you don’t see it as “best player” then………..

    Nothing in the concept of “Most Valuable Player” inherently requires consistency. One year you can value home runs. Another year you can value a great April. Sometimes you can value grit. Maybe you value leadership. Of course that also means the non “best player” versions of MVP awards are pointless.

  13. raysfan1 - Oct 1, 2013 at 3:00 PM

    Clearly, the most valuable player is the one with the most money. Who had the highest salary + endorsement income + investment portfolio growth? Whoever the SEI leader is for each league wins. Simple. /s

  14. lawson1974 - Oct 1, 2013 at 4:49 PM

    OK Craig, I’ll pick the best player……. Miguel Cabrera

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