Or a dogma and pony show. Couldn't decide on which was the best pun...
The American and National League Most Valuable Player Award for 2012 is going to be debated for a long time. Which does not make this year any different than last year. Everybody chooses a side and a dogma to hang onto and the problem for just us average joes is wondering who the heck is right when it comes to these arguments. Just this week, posts have been read on how winning the Triple Crown means nothing and just as many posts say it means everything. Others have been read that defense and base running stats are inexact sciences and shouldn't come in to play (thus voiding WAR arguments) and just as many have been read that they should mean a lot. It's soooo confusing!
The trouble with dogmas are that people cling to them as strongly as people in a political argument argue the left and the right. Basically, you are stupid if you don't agree with their point of view. Perhaps to illustrate the point, the dogmas should be listed here and discussed a bit. Let's take a crack at doing that:
1. An MVP should come from a contending team. This one will always be a problem because the award itself is ambivalent. It's not the Player of the Year Award. It's about the most VALUABLE player. If a team comes in next to last place like the Mets and David Wright has a terrific season, what difference did his efforts make? Perhaps this question has more angles than you would think. What if Wright's efforts meant an extra loss in the schedule for say the Dodgers or Cardinals? Did Wright not have an impact on the race? Yes, the Mets would still be terrible with or without Wright. But they will win 70 games and some of them were because of Wright and some of them were against contenders. Wright's efforts do matter and he should be an award contender with or without his team being in the race. And if a team wins its division by ten games and its best player has nine wins of WAR, wouldn't his team have finished in first by a game without that player? Maybe yes. Maybe no.
2. It's about WAR now at least, or, it should be. Not all WAR is created equal. During the season, this spaced has given examples aplenty of players that are given vastly different WAR by different stat sites. Jimmy Rollins is a great example. Go look at his WAR on both Fangraphs.com and baseball-reference.com. They are not close. Jacoby Ellsbury led all players last year in fWAR while Justin Verlander finished higher than Ellsbury in rWAR last year. So which is to be believed? Dogmatists are on both sides. And other dogmatists use this as the argument use this as their tenet of why WAR should not be the criteria for the MVP.
3. Position matters. Yadier Molina and Buster Posey are catchers. Catchers are one of the most important players on a team. So if they have great years and have less WAR because they take a day off now and then, they should get more consideration. Great center fielders are more important than great left or right fielders (back to Ellsbury versus Bautista last season). If catchers have great offensive numbers, that should be bonus points because catchers get beat up behind the plate and have to overcome physical limitations. Is that true? That's one of the dogmas floating around out there.
4. It's not the body of a season's work but how a player finishes the season. This is a big one that you hear from time to time. For example, Jose Bautista had a higher wOBA last season than Ellsbury. But Bautista was somewhat ordinary in the second half last year while Ellsbury was phenomenal down the stretch and almost single-handedly gave the Red Sox a chance for the post season. So does Ellsbury get the not there? This season, Ryan Braun has been steadily great all season. But Buster Posey--so the dogmas say--came on strong just as Melky Cabrera was suspended and propelled the Giants to their division win. Is that the difference maker?
5. A player's value is somewhat determined to his supporting cast. There is Andrew McCutchen, for example, who is the only great player on his team. So as such, he was the guy who carried the Pirates by himself for as long as they stayed in the race. Indeed, McCutchen accounts for 46% of his team's offensive WAR. On the other hand, Braun had supporting cast-mates like Aramis Ramirez, who is having a terrific season, which lessens Braun's value as in comparison to McCutchen. Can you buy that if McCutchen's team finally fell by the wayside because of the lack of support players? Mike Trout has Pujols and Trumbo. Who does Miguel Cabrera have besides Fielder?
6. And finally, pitchers have their own award and should not get MVPs. Well, how did this go last season when Justin Verlander won the award? Obviously, the WAR configurations have shown that a starting pitcher's value can be as high or higher than a position player. But the argument goes that pitchers only play every fifth day. Verlander also got consideration because of dogma number 5. Where would the Tigers have been last year without him?
As you can see, this is a very confusing set of dogmas and pony show. The award cannot be granted solely on the basis of value stats like WAR because such stats are imperfect. And so, in the end, the award becomes solely a subjective vote and the winner will depend on how many writers will support a specific set of dogmas. Your Fan wrote a piece over at IIATMS on who the Yankees' MVP was this season and many were up in arms over the choice not being Derek Jeter. We cannot forget those intangible dogmas, can we?
This site's own picks will happen next week as part of the BBA voting requirements subjected to that organization's members. Those picks here will be just as subjective and based on this writer's own set of dogmas. They may or may not be correct and you readers will certainly react one way or another based on yours. Depending on your point of view, it's either a great part of the baseball charm, or it is a pain in the butt because no one way of voting seems to please everyone.