Steve Slowinski sucks. And that's said in the nicest way possible. Not only does he front the great DRaysBay which makes it nearly impossible to hate a team this Fan is determined to hate, but now he writes a piece over on Fangraphs that wobbles the already shaky footing this writer has in the new world of sabermetric thinking. The topic is the Most Valuable Player and Mr. Slowinski (who truth be told, is one of the nicest smart guys in the world) writes a definitive piece on why the MVP should not go to a player on a losing team. Darned if the thing didn't make a lot of sense.
After years of slowly mucking his way out of the ooze of old world thinking, this writer came to the conclusion that players with the highest value of performance should win the MVP Award. It shouldn't matter that the players team loses more games than they win. Valuable means valuable so therefore, the MVP should go to the most valuable player. This year, that player in the American League has been Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays. But the Blue Jays this season have collected more draft picks and prospects than they have wins. The crux of Slowinski's cannonade:
The win curve essentially states that all wins aren’t created equal. It makes little difference to the Orioles this season if they finish with 74 wins or 76 wins*, while a two-game difference can have much more importance for a team on the cusp of making the playoffs. Teams keep this concept in mind when making personnel decisions, paying more for the players that will help put them over the top and into the playoffs. There’s lots of money to be made in the playoffs, so if you’re close, it makes sense to give up more for a chance at those elusive wins.
*This reminds of the old anecdote about Ralph Kiner. After having an All-Star year with the Pirates, he went to GM Branch Rickey and asked for a raise on his salary. Rickey’s response was short and unequivocal: “We finished last with you, we can finish last without you.
But can’t this same concept be applied toward the MVP Award? If a team fails to sniff the playoffs — or, similarly, makes the playoffs by a mile – doesn’t that make standout performances on their club “less valuable”, as little would have changed if that player hadn’t been on the club? And if a team is clawing tooth and nail for a playoff spot, wouldn’t performances by their stars take on an even greater significance?
Thanks, Steve. Now that makes sense but then how come the Cy Young Award can go to a guy who pitches on a bad team? Just when this writer thinks that he's on more solid intellectual footing, these guys throw marbles all over the floor. The problem, as Slowinski defines it is that the MVP does not define what the "Valuable" part is supposed to be. The Cy Young Award is easy because it's supposed to go for the best pitcher. And defining the best pitcher is easier since you can simply look at valuation statistics. But valuation statistics, in Slowinski's view does not a MVP candidate make. The great use of the Branch Rickey line makes a lot of sense here.
But let's look at it another way. Let's say Justin Upton finishes with a WAR of 7.2 or something. And say the Diamondbacks finish ten games ahead of the Giants. Wouldn't they have won with or without Justin Upton? Isn't that the same argument? So now this writer is confused again. Without Upton's 7.2 wins above replacement, the Diamondbacks (in theory) would have still won the division by two and a half games? Does this thinking disallow Ryan Braun from any consideration if the Brewers finish ten or eleven games above the others?
The MVP's name is the quandary. If it was simply called, "The Player of the Year." then it would be simple. Well, the Sporting News does have a Player of the Year, but does anyone pay attention to that anymore? The MVP is the award sanctioned by Major League Baseball and thus it is the big deal.
So after batting this around awhile, the Fan is going to come full circle and state that the MVP should go to the most valuable player with value being the defining emphasis. Sorry, Steve, going to disagree with you in the end because to make sense of your brilliant argument, only players on teams that just barely contend or barely win their divisions can qualify.