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Never Give Up! Never Surrender!
2002-11-13 15:13
by Mike Carminati

Never Give Up! Never Surrender!

It requires courage not to surrender oneself to the ingenious or compassionate counsels of despair that would induce a man to eliminate himself from the ranks of the living; but it does not follow from this that every huckster who is fattened and nourished in self-confidence has more courage than the man who yielded to despair.
-Soren Kierkegaard

It appears that we all have gotten a bit blasť when it comes to MVP voting. The openly acknowledged best AL player, Alex Rodriguez loses his umpteenth MVP award and this time it was not to an RBI-heavy outfielder or first baseman. It was to a fellow shortstop, arguably the third best in the league based on this year's stats. Not only that, it was a blowout-over 100 voting points (i.e, 25% of the maximum) different. For Pete's sake, Tejada admitted that he would vote for Rodriguez if he had a vote.

So the pundits are up in arms, right? No, they just shrug their collective head and march in line: "Was Rodriguez his league's best player? Yes. But the award doesn't go to the best player, it goes to the most valuable." (Jim Caple) and "I'm not going to argue that Alex Rodriguez should be the American League's MVP, because I'm not sure that he should." (Neyer) Does Jim Caple realize that Miguel Tejada is arguably the 17th best hitter in the league (by OPS)? Neyer at least argues that A-Rod is the fourth best hitter and that he plays in a hitter's park. I don't buy his argument, by the way, since a shortstop who is the fourth best hitter is more valuable than a first baseman (Thome) who is the best, especially one who won his first Gold Glove today. Oh, and his 23 road HRs are three more than Tejada had in 2002.

Not only that, A-Rod finished sixth on one voter's ballot! It's probably the same person who had Soriano tenth (while no one else had him lower than fifth). Not that Rodriguez would have caught up with Tejada had the voters picked him no lower than 2nd. Collect all of A-Rod's non-1st-place votes in the 2nd place bucket, and his total (277) is still almost 80 points below Tejada's.

My first reaction was that the system needs to be changed, but they won't do that since the writers don't want to change it. We could start a new award but this one will still have the cachet. So I give up on this issue.

Upon reflection my thoughts on the MVP issue are then twofold:

1) Do voters actually vote more based on the team's performance than the player's? Clearly they did with Tejada and Rodriguez, but does it hold true for all of the candidates. Here is a table of the MVP voting, each player's OPS (on-base plus slugging average), and his team's winning percentage. I have correlated the MVP votes to OPS and to the team winning percentage and then the MVP rank to OPS rank and team rank:

                 MVP Pos   OPS Pos    W-L Pos
                 Votes                PCT 
Miguel Tejada    356 1     .861 17   .636  2
Alex Rodriguez   254 2    1.015  4   .574 10
Alfonso Soriano  234 3     .880 14   .640  1
Garret Anderson  184 4     .871 16   .611  3
Jason Giambi     162 5    1.034  3   .640  1
Torii Hunter     132 6     .859 19   .584  4
Jim Thome         69 7    1.122  1   .457  9
Magglio Ordonez   59 8     .978  6   .500  7
Manny Ramirez     39 9    1.097  2   .574  5.5
Bernie Williams   32 10    .908  9   .640  1
David Eckstein    24 11.5  .752 57   .611  3
Nomar Garciaparra 24 11.5  .880 15   .574  5.5
Eric Chavez       14 13    .860 18   .636  2
Ichiro Suzuki     10 14    .813 32   .574  5.5
Mike Sweeney       1 15    .979  5   .383 12
Correlation Coeff         0.38%    39.22%
                                29.18%    24.51%

Note that the correlation between a player's performance to the MVP vote is only 29.18%. The correlation of his team's performance to the MVP vote is less than 5% less strong.

What does this mean? We have gotten to the point where the best players on the best teams are the ones that win the award, which leads to my second thought.

2) Don't Mr. Cub's MVP titles enter in to the conversation?

Caple argues that you cannot compare Rodriguez to Banks. Why not? Banks won the MVP in 1958 and '59 with the second and fourth best OPS, respectively, on a non-contender. Mays finished first in OPS in 1958, was second in batting average, third in on-base, 2nd (behind Banks) in slugging, first in runs, second in hits, sixth in doubles, tied for second (with Banks) in triples, sixth in home runs, sixth in RBI, sixth in walks, and first in stolen bases. He played for a team that finished third (in an 8-team league), 12 games behind the Braves. And he played a mean center field.

In 1959, Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthews, and Frank Robinson finished ahead of Banks in OPS. The also finished ahead of him in batting average and on-base percentage. Aaron was ahead of Banks in slugging; the rest were slightly behind. Also, Mays finished tied with Banks in park-adjusted OPS. He was ahead of Banks in on-base and slightly behind in slugging.

Besides, Banks wasn't a Gold Glove shortstop. He was two years removed from being shifted to first base. The other players were considered excellent fielders at their positions. By the way, Milwaukee (Aaron and Matthews) finished two games out of first and the Giants (Mays) were 4 out.

Clearly, Banks does not apply here. Rodriguez has a much stronger case. Let's just change the MVP award to the Best Player on a Playoff Contender award and be done with it. Oh well, at least there's always the TSN Player of the Year award to look forward to.

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