Here is a running dialogue between a reader, David de la Fuente and myself regarding the Al MVP vote and my abhorrence for it:
David de la Fuente:
I personally cheer the Tejada selection. I mean, just because you don't agree with the way a bunch of writers vote doesn't invalidate their position or mean they're wrong, it just means you disagree. Why can there not be more than one definition of "most valuable"? A-Rod got a few votes. So people feel differently. What's so wrong with that?
There's nothing really wrong with it. I mean I loved John Kruk, and he was a good ballplayer. What if I voted for Kruk as my number one MVP choice every year? What if I voted for Ichiro when his team sank in the second half due in part to his .280 second-half batting average? Four voters thought that his performance in 2002 was among the top 10 in the AL. His teammate, John Olerud, had a fantastic year, slumped somewhat in the second half, and didn't get a vote because of it.
All I am saying is that the a) A-Rod is a much better player than Tejada, this year, last year, and for their careers and b) the award was given to Banks but denied from Rodriguez under similar circumstances (actually A-Rod even has an edge statistically), i.e., the "rules" are applied differently to different players. But as you point out, the writers aren't wrong because there are no rules. The writers latch onto a player, he gets a buzz about him, and bang, he's the MVP. It happened when Sammy Sosa had a great year in 1998 to win the MVP, but Mark McGwire had one of the finest offensive seasons of all time and got squat. Sosa's team earned a wild card berth by winning a playoff against the Giants, and then got swept by the Braves. Sosa gets the MVP due to a playoff appearance in which his team wins no more games than McGwire's Cardinals, who don't even qualify. Does that seem logical? In that case, as in this one, the writers admit that one player is the best player, just not the most valuable. That's ridiculous. How do you quantify value to determine that?
If baseball wants to continually hand out awards to players who are quantifiably inferior to others, then it just invalidates the award. The MVP becomes a joke. There's nothing really wrong with it. It doesn't really affect anyone's live adversely, except maybe A-Rod's, but he's got all the money to keep him happy anyway.
I guess basically I felt that the people who knew better were growing complacent, and I just wanted to say that I wasn't going along with it. Rattle the old sabers, that sort of thing.
By the way, I think that Tejada had a great year. I followed the A's closely all year, I saw maybe 50 of their games, and he would be a good MVP choice...if there weren't better ones. I don't mean to take anything away from him for winning the award. I just have to call 'em as I see 'em.
Perhaps I didn't make myself clear in my earlier letter. I'm not arguing for some anarchic, very personal standard for MVP voting.
I think like anything else, it goes in waves. The writers vote Baylor over Grich, not understanding the importance of a good 2B over a good DH. I would argue that that vote wouldn't happen today -- that's the way that statistical analysis has helped contribute to a better understanding of baseball. The year Dawson won with 49 HRs, I dunno if there was someone of comparable value from a better team who got denied. (My sense of history is not that great, and I'm not sure where I'd look that race up on the Web.) I sure remember the arguments, though: Can you be valuable when your team is in last place? (See Kiner, Ralph.) I don't think "most valuable player" and "best player" have to be, or should be, synonymous, though that is certainly an argument for creating a Best Player Award, hopefully not henceforth known as the BP Award (for the best 5 o'clock hitter).
The one thing I don't remember seeing in either this response or on your site, however (and I read them pretty quickly, so bear with me if you did cover it) is whether a player can be valuable at all if his team isn't in contention after the second week of the season. Did the Rangers have a meaningful game at all after that point? I argue no.
You have my permission to run that letter or this one or a fusion of them if you want to use your post in your blog; I imagine it's a point some readers are wondering.
Yes, perhaps the Kruk comment was a bit facetious. OK, the issue at hand is most valuable player as opposed to best player. That is the rationale that the writers who have commented have given as to why they selected Tejada over Rodriguez.
So was Tejada more valuable? If A-Rod contributes about 12 wins above a replacement level player (he had 35 Win Shares and you divide by three to get wins, loosely). With a replacement-level shortstop, the Rangers finish 60-102 instead of 72-90. Is that valuable? Heck, yeah. If I may quote Rob Neyer:
Those 10 (or eight, or whatever) "extra" victories we might attribute to Rodriguez may not mean much to the MVP voters, but I promise you, they meant plenty to the thousands of Rangers fans who live with each win and die with each loss. That is where "value" lies: in doing things that help your team win.
That's what it's about, winning. The most valuable player tries to win if his team is 10 runs behind and 40 games back in the standings. Isn't there value in continually striving for excellence-and achieving it at least on a personal level-while your team is floundering? More valuable then Tejada's walk-off hits during the A's streak? Is it easier to excel in a winning environment making a player's contribution on a winning team less valuable? I don't know. Does anyone?
That's why I would love to chuck the "valuable" concept altogether. It's too subjective. What's valuable to one writer might be downright useless to another. It opens the door to a small group of cognoscenti foisting their eccentric opinions on the rest of the world-kind of like a blog. I think that we are in agreement that a "Best Player" award, though maybe less marketable, would do the trick. Or maybe they just instruct the writers to vote for the best player, if they would listen.
By the way, here are the final Win Shares for 2002 (thanks to David Pinto). Notice that Tejada is fourth? He isn't far behind Rodriguez and 32 is a reasonable score for an MVP (James describes the 30-40 as MVP-type seasons). So were Tejadas intangibles enough to overcome 3 win shares and 3 players?:
Alex Rodriguez, Tex 35
Jim Thome, Cle 34
Jason Giambi, NYY 34
Miguel Tejada, Oak 32
Bernie Williams, NYY 30
Alfonso Soriano, NYY 30
Manny Ramirez, Bos 29
John Olerud, Sea 27
Nomar Garciaparra, Bos 27
Carlos Delgado, Tor 26
Magglio Ordonez, CWS 26
Also, James claims in "Win Shares" that only 41% of the MVPs match the best players by Win Shares. I don't know if that is an indictment of his system or of the voting system, but I would vote for the latter. Here are the ones that don't match. One last thing to keep in mind are the rankings James imposed: 30-40 MVP, 20-30 All-Star, 10-20 Solid regular; 0-10 bench player:
Year Lg MVP (WS); WS Champ (WS); Difference
1931 NL Frisch (21); Berger (31); 10
1932 NL Klein (31); O'Doul & Ott (33); 2
1933 NL Hubbell (33); Berger (36); 3
1934 AL Cochrane (23);Gehrig (41); 18 (tied for worst)
1934 NL Dean (37); Ott (38); 1
1935 AL Greenberg (34); Ferrell (35); 1
1935 NL Hartnett (26); Vaughan (39); 13
1937 AL Gehringer (30); DiMaggio (39);9
1938 NL Lombardi (24); Ott (36); 12
1940 AL Greenberg (31); Feller (34); 3
1940 NL McCormack (27); Mize (33); 6
1941 AL DiMaggio (41); Williams(42); 1 (there's still only one point separating them)
1941 NL Camilli (29); Reiser (34); 5
1942 AL Gordon (31); Williams (46); 15
1942 NL Cooper (29); Slaughter (37); 8
1943 AL Chandler (29); Appling (40); 11
1944 AL Newhouser (35); Trout (42); 7
1944 NL Marion (20); Musial (38); 18 (tied for worst)
1925 NL Cavaretta (30); Hack (34); 4
1947 AL DiMaggio (30); Williams (44); 14
1947 NL Elliott (29); Spahn/Mize (32); 3
1948 AL Boudreau (34); Williams (39); 5
1949 NL Robinson (36); Musial (40); 4
1950 NL Konstanty (23); Musial/Torgeson (32); 9
1951 AL Berra (31); Williams (34); 3
1951 NL Campanella (33); Musial (39); 6
1952 AL Shantz (33);; Doby (34); 1
1952 NL Sauer (28); Musial (37); 9
1953 NL Campanella (33); Matthews (39); 6
1954 AL Berra (34); Mantle (36); 2
1955 AL Berra (24); Mantle (41); 17
1955 NL Campanella (28); Mays (40); 12
1956 NL Newcombe (27); Snider (34); 7
1958 AL Jensen (27); Mantle (39); 12
1958 NL Banks (31); Mays (40); 9 (More grist for my A-Rod mill!)
1959 NL Banks (33); Aaron (38); 5 (Again!)
1960 AL Maris (31); Mantle (36); 5
1960 NL Groat (25); Mays/Matthews (38); 13
1961 AL Maris (36); Mantle (48); 12*
1961 NL Robisnson 24; Aaron 35; 1
1962 NL Wills (32); Mays/Robinson (41); 9
1962 AL Howard (28); Yaz/Tresh (29); 1
1963 NL Koufax (32); Aaron (41); 9
1964 AL Robinson (33); Mantle (34); 1
1964 NL Boyer (28); Allen (41); 13
1965 AL Versalles (32); Oliva (33); 1
1966 NL Clements (29); Mays (37); 8
1967 NL Cepeda (34); Santo (38); 4
1968 AL McLain (33); Yaz (39); 6
1969 AL Killebrew (34); Jackson (41); 7
1970 AL Powell (31); Yaz (36); 5
1971 AL Blue (30); Murcer (38); 8
1972 NL Bench (37); Carlton (40); 3
1973 NL Rose (34); Morgan (40); 6
1974 NL Garvey (27); Schmidt (39); 12
1976 AL Munson (24); Brett (33); 9
1977 NL Foster (32); Schmidt/Parker (33); 1
1979 AL Baylor (29); Lynn (34); 5
1979 NL Hernandez (29) and Stargell (18); Schmidt/Winfield (33); 15 and/or 4
1981 AL Fingers (17); Henderson (27); 10
1982 NL Murphy (32); Schmidt (37); 5
1983 NL Murphy (32); Schmidt (35); 3
1984 AL Hernandez (24); Ripken (37); 13
1985 NL Mattingly (32); Henderson (38); 6
1986 AL Clemens (29); Boggs (37); 8
1986 NL Schmidt (32); Raines (32); 1
1987 AL Bell (26); Trammell (35); 9
1987 NL Dawson (20); Raines (34); 14
1988 NL Gibson (31); Clark (37); 6
1989 NL Mitchell (38); Clark (44); 6
1991 NL Pendleton (27); Bonds/Sandberg (37); 10
1992 AL Eckersley (18); Alomar (34); 16
1993 AL Thomas (32); Olerud (37); 5
1995 AL Vaughn (24); Martinez (32); 8
1995 NL Larkin (30); Bonds (36); 6
1996 AL Gonzalez (21); Rodriguez (34); 13
1996 NL Caminiti (38); Bagwell (41); 3
1997 AL Griffey (36); Thomas (39); 3
1997 NL Walker (33); Gwynn/Piazza (39); 6
1998 AL Gonzalez (25); Belle (37); 12
1998 NL Sosa (35); McGwire (41); 6
1999 AL Rodriguez (28); Alomar/Ramirez/Jeter (35); 7
1999 NL Jones (32); Bagwell (37); 5
2001 AL Suzuki (36); Giambi (38); 2
What does this tell us? First, catchers and relief pitchers have been overvalued throughout. Second, great players (Mantle, Musial, Bonds, Raines, Henderson, Schmidt, Yaz, Aaron, Mays, Williams, and Ott to name a few) are easily overlooked. They had established a superlative level and the writers were not impressed unless they notched it up a bit. Another thing that we notice is that David's statement that sabermetrics have improved the voting does not hold true. Look at Juan Gonzalez's MVP seasons. The writers still love the juicy RBI totals. They also like idiosyncratic choices like a Ken Caminiti or a Terry Pendleton or a Miguel Tejada over superior players like Bonds, Bagwell, Sandberg, and A-Rod. One of these groups contains only Hall-of-Fame players. The other contains no HoF-caliber players. Guess which is which.
Let's either get rid of the subjectivity inherent in the "valuable" label or get rid of the baseball writers. It seems to me that in other sports the Gretszkys, Russells, Jordans, and Montanas can be called MVPs just by being great players. With all of the statistics at the baseball writers' fingertips, can't they at least get it right half the time?