Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers won the National League MVP yesterday, beating out Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers. I’m not going to get caught up in the argument about who was more deserving – I’ll leave that to people like Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times and every Dodgers fan I know on Facebook. At the end of the day, Kemp had the slightly stronger statistical year on a .500 while Braun played on a team that won its division. Where you stand on Braun vs. Kemp comes down to how much importance you place on a team’s success when considering how “valuable” a player is.
The issue I want to address occurs not at the top of the MVP voting results but a few places below. More specifically, I would like to know who voted for Justin Upton of the Arizona Diamondbacks as the NL MVP and how they can cover baseball as a media member without APPARENTLY KNOWING ANYTHING ABOUT THE SPORT!
This is not to knock Justin Upton, who is one of the best young talents in the game and a huge part of why the Diamondbacks were able to surprise everyone and win the NL West. The fact that he finished fourth overall is fine. Justin Upton had a good season, but he hit .289, committed a league-high 13 errors as an outfielder and – this is important – didn’t have nearly the offensive season that Braun or Kemp had.
However, this is a knock on whichever member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America decided to put him first on their ballot ahead of players who led the league in slugging and OPS (Braun) and or runs, home runs and RBI (Kemp). This isn’t like voting for Joe Paterno as Sports Illustrated “Sportsman of the Year”, but it is like passing over Thomas Edison and Robert Oppenheimer in a vote for “Inventor of the 20th Century” and choosing the guy who invented Cup O’ Noodles.
As far as I know, no member of the media has stepped forward to claim this vote – voting is done anonymously – but I’m guessing that it’s someone who lives in Arizona. If that’s the case, it’s a similar situation to what happened with the AL MVP voting, when Texas Rangers beat writer Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News voted the Rangers’ Michael Young first in his MVP ballot (ahead of winner Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers), despite Young finishing eighth overall. As you can imagine, Grant has been pillared for his vote and his justification that Young kept the team in first place despite injury problems and that his “eyes told me Michael Young meant more to the Texas Rangers and their success than any player in the American League.”
This explanation, of course, is entirely the problem with Grant’s vote and the entire MVP process. The voting block is made for a large part of beat writers who see their own team 162 games a year and other teams in the league a few dozen times at most. Of course his “eyes” are going to tell him that Young was “more valuable” to the Rangers than any other team. That’s the team he sees every day. My daughter might be the most adorable, charming and beautiful four-year-old in “my eyes” but that doesn’t mean everyone will feel this way. (Point of clarification: everyone will feel that way about my daughter because she is, in fact, the most adorable, charming and beautiful four-year-old. It’s a scientific fact, with child cuteness Sabermetrics to prove it.)
Fans are more sophisticated than ever before about a player’s true “value” and how to measure it. Thanks to Moneyball, even people who physically can’t sit through a nine-inning baseball game understand the basics of sabermetrics when applied to baseball. When the average fan appears to have a better understand of how “valuable” a player is than the sportswriters who cover the team, it’s the writers who look bad. I’m not advocating relying simply on numbers to give out post-season awards – just choosing the player with the highest WAR to receive the MVP and calling it a day – but if writers can get their act together, we might have to get the BCS computers involved. And no one wants that.
- Ryan Braun Named National League Most Valuable Player (tracking.si.com)
- Baseball’s MVP voting arbitrary by nature (sports.nationalpost.com)
- Evan Grant on his first-place MVP vote for Michael Young (hardballtalk.nbcsports.com)