Friday, November 21, 2008

The Winning Argument Behind MLB's Most Valuable Players

Let's put it out there right up front - I disagree that Dustin Pedroia was the American League's Most Valuable Player. I think there were worthier candidates, namely Carlos Quentin and Justin Morneau. But I have no problem with Pedroia winning the award.

His case was as flawed as the others so it's just a matter of personal taste making the slight difference between winner and losers.

I wrote as much recently.

Except for the one moron at the bottom, the response was muted. I usually take that to mean people either agreed, were ambivalent, or disagreed too mildly to post a response. That's a win as far as I'm concerned. But it was champ's response that got me thinking about how ridiculous the school of thought really is that argues for handing the MVP award to a player from a non-contender.

Here is a guy who believes so blindly in the power of statistics to prove true value that he calls me lazy for not including such insane candidates as Grady Sizemore, Milton Bradley, and (presumably) Josh Hamilton. He just assumes that, if I didn't include them, it's because I was too lazy to consider them.

He is so convinced that players from non-contenders are serious options that he tries to personally insult me for my presumed oversight.

And he is so, so, so very wrong.

However, the truly disturbing part is not that one random blogger believes this, it's that the mental midget in question represents a much larger group. One that seems to actually be taken seriously. A group that will condescendingly accuse you of not doing enough research into the idea if you dismiss the notion. Of grossly misunderstanding what real value in baseball means.

Bingo! That's the pinnacle of hilarity for this topic.

Because look at each MVP winner from both the American and National Leagues compared to his team's success since Major League Baseball expanded to three divisions and wild cards (if the MVP reps a division winner, I made no notation for readability's sake):

1995 - Mo Vaughn for Boston and Barry Larkin for Cincinnati
1996 - Juan Gonzalez for Texas and Ken Caminiti for San Diego
1997 - Ken Griffey, Jr. for Seattle and Larry Walker for Colorado (finished third)
1998 - Gonzalez for Texas and Sammy Sosa for Chicago (won NL wild card)
1999 - Ivan Rodriguez for Texas and Chipper Jones for Atlanta
2000 - Jason Giambi for Oakland and Jeff Kent for San Francisco
2001 - Ichiro Suzuki for Seattle and Barry Bonds for SF (finished second)
2002 - Miguel Tejada for Oakland and Bonds for SF (won NL wild card)
2003 - Alex Rodriguez for Texas (finished last) and Bonds for SF
2004 - Vladimir Guerrero for Anaheim and Bonds for SF (finished second)
2005 - A-Rod for New York and Albert Pujols for St. Louis
2006 - Justin Morneau for Minnesota and Ryan Howard for Philadelphia (finished second)
2007 - A-Rod for NY (won AL wild card) and Jimmy Rollins for Philly
2008 - Dustin Pedroia for Boston (won AL wild card) and Pujols for the STL (finished fourth)

In the 14 years since MLB switched to its current format, there have been 28 MVP winners. Eighteen were on division winners (64%), four were on wild card winners (14%), and another four were on teams that finished no more than four games out of the playoffs (14%). Those 26 athletes from contenders account for 93 percent of the winners.

It gets better.

The two guys who won the MVP despite playing for non-contenders were A-Rod in 2003 and Walker in 1997.

In 2003, there weren't any great candidates from contenders and Rodriguez had an insane year. He led the league in runs scored with 124 and homeruns with 47. He finished second in RBIs with 118 and hit .298. From shortstop. That's a pretty strong case, but there's a reason I led off with the lack of solid candidates from the contenders. If that statement weren't true, I'm not sure A-Rod wins despite the incredible year.

In 1997, Walker almost won the Triple Crown. He led the league in homers with 49, came in third with 130 RBI (trailed winner by 15), and finished second to Tony Gwynn with a .366 average. Gwynn won with a .372 mark. Not too shabby.

And it's not like Walker's team was awful; the Rockies finished that year seven games out of the postseason.

Lest you think this is a modern trend, take a look at the days of only two divisions in each league. The form holds; there's a reason the older fans all remember when the Hawk, Andre Dawson, won the NL MVP while playing for the woeful Cubbies.

It was rare. Really, really rare.

As if there were a need for another nail in the coffin of this ridiculous argument, I offer the Hank Aaron Award. The award for Hammerin' Hank was introduced in 1999 to be awarded to the best hitter in each league. There would be no need for the award if the MVP was meant to go to the best hitter without reference to his team's success.

The bottom line is that value in sports is measured by contribution to winning. If a team doesn't win very often, even the best players aren't as valuable. That's not to say they have no value. It's to say that they have less value than players on a winning team because losers have failed at baseball's ultimate goal.

They have failed to deliver the most valuable prize in the sport.

The rarity with which MVPs come from non-contenders and the tacit endorsement of the idea by MLB as proven by the creation of the Hank Aaron Award doesn't convince you, nothing will.

You might not agree with the principle, but denying that team success is a crucial part of an MVP's candidacy is just willful ignorance.

History and Major League Baseball are screaming it right in your face.

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