By In Baseball

Valuable By Any Other Name …

So here’s the explanation from Bill Ballou of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, who voted Mike Trout 7th on his MVP ballot:

I am a strict constructionist re: “valuable”. If the award were Player of the Year, Trout would get my vote. I’m of the school that in order to have “value” you have to help your team be good, at least to the point of contending. The Angels didn’t truly contend. To fully develop that logic, players from non-contenders should not be listed on the  ballot at all, but the BBWAA insists that we fill out all 10 slots, so I did, even though I did not think there were 10 worthy candidates from contending teams.

OK, three thoughts.

First, I have to say that I respect Bill’s explanation — it’s obvious he thought about his ballot and voted his convictions, and I think that’s the first and most important thing you ask of a voter. I don’t agree with his ballot, of course. I don’t agree with his reasoning. I don’t even think his reasoning is particularly valid since it says clearly on the ballot, “the MVP need not come from a division winner or a other playoff qualifier,” but does not say anything about how you should consider teams on contending teams more valuable.

But Bill is hardly the only person who believes that the MVP should come from a contending team, and he clearly tried to make his ballot reflect that belief not only at the very top but throughout. I respect the consistency of that viewpoint. To be honest, I’m not sure he went far enough. If he was really going to vote this way, he should have voted David Ortiz (8th) and Evan Longoria (10th) ahead of Trout too. They were on playoff teams. Hey, if you’re going to do it, you might as well go all the way.*

*I will say, though, that I can’t quite balance Bill’s uncompromising contender-value philosophy with his decision to vote for Chris Davis OVER Cabrera for MVP. I mean: the Orioles were contenders? Really? You have to stretch pretty far to get there. They were no better than third in the American League East after July 23. They didn’t clinch a .500 record until September 25. They finished ninth in the American League in final record … the Angels finished 10th. So that was a little bit weird.

Second, I find it strange that he says, “If the award were Player of the Year, Trout would get my vote.” That suggests that he really does believe Mike Trout was the best player in the American League this year. I understand that he says he’s a strict constructionist on his definition of value and all that, but I just don’t see how you harmonize those two thoughts: 1. Mike Trout is the best player in the American League; 2. I’m voting him seventh in the MVP voting. Maybe I’m just repeating myself here.

Third, the main thought: I think that I’ve been unfairly blaming too much of this MVP disagreement on the word “valuable.” I have long believed that there was something about the word “valuable” that scrambled people’s minds. I’ve long thought that if the award was simply called “The Best Player Award,” that a lot of this silliness would disappear. But when I read Bill’s quote, for some reason, it hit me all once: That’s probably not true. “Valuable,” the word, has been unfairly maligned and blamed. It’s a perfectly good word. It’s not valuable’s fault.

Bill says he would have voted for Mike Trout had it been called the Player of the Year award. Others have said things like this too. “It’s not Player of the Year,” they say. “It’s most VALUABLE player. There’s a difference.”

OK, let’s pretend we could go back to the beginning and replace “MVP” with “POY.” Would people’s view of the award change? Would there be different winners through the years. I spent too much thought on this and decided: No way. Absolutely nothing would chance. If anything, I think it’s possible people’s view about the award would be even MORE slanted toward narrative and contending teams and so on.

Why? Look at those words. Player of the year. What do you think those words would mean to people if that was the actual name of the award? The word “best” is not in there. If anything that is more vague than Most Valuable Player. I can see the columns in my mind:

“So, you wonder why I voted Miguel Cabrera Player of the Year. Well, it’s right there in the name. It says ‘Player of the YEAR’ That means the player who had the biggest impact on the year. Who is that? Mike Trout? Playing for a team that did not even finish .500? Miguel Cabrera led his team to a division championship. That’s what a Player of the Year does.

“You will hear people say that the award should go to the player with the most value. They will come up with all those “value-based” statistics like VORP and BLURP and MORPY and PAJAMAS. But, notice, the award isn’t called the “Most valuable player” award. That might be Mike Trout. But it says ‘Player of the year.” And this year that’s clearly Miguel Cabrera.”

No, it’s not the word valuable. It comes down to this powerful feeling people have that one player should be able to do much more than one player can do. We like story lines. We like things that add up in our mind. We like to believe that if a player is TRULY great, he somehow will carry his team, any team, to victory — by himself, if necessary. It’s illogical, of course. Baseball is not only a team sport, but a team sport where hitters can only come up once every nine times and pitchers can only pitch once every five days (or for an inning or two here or there). Miguel Cabrera’s team had THREE superb starters (including the first and fourth place Cy Young vote-getters) and a lineup with seven above-average hitters.

But illogical or not, baseball is more fun with the idea that Miguel Cabrera put Detroit on his shoulders and took them to the playoffs while Mike Trout could not do the same in Anaheim. It doesn’t matter if the word is valuable or productive or worthy or crucial. It doesn’t matter if the award is called Most Valuable Player or Player of the Year or American Idol or The Oscar. Miguel Cabrera still would have won.

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126 Responses to Valuable By Any Other Name …

  1. Reese says:

    How exactly did George Brett not win the 1985 MVP by every single one of the above arguments? The stupid arguments, the smart arguments, yours and theirs, all should lean Brett. Voters will vote whoever they want. Even when they pick the right guy, they’re probably doing it for insane reasons.

    • Dan says:

      Rickey Henderson was better than Brett or Mattingly . . . and those two were great.

    • johnq11 says:

      The voters only looked at the Triple Crown stats back then. Also RBIs were really important back then especially in MVP voting. It was almost a foregone conclusion back then that George Foster would be in the HOF because he led the league in RBI’s 3 consecutive seasons. I remember laughing when the writers would make a case for Jim Rice for the HOF saying that he led the league in RBI’s twice and HR 3 times. Once in a while someone would bring up Foster’s 3 RBI and 2 HR tittles and then they would go back to the “Most Feared Hitter” BS argument.

      The writers gave Rusty Stuab a 14th place finish on a third place 1975 Mets team because he had 105 RBI’s. I think he actually got a 5th place MVP finish in 1978 because he had 120 RBI’s as a DH in Detroit.

      Jeff Buroughs won an MVP in 1974 basically because he led the league in RBI’s. They gave Dave Parker a 2nd place finish in the MVP basically because he hit about 120 RBI’s.

      Mattingly had 145 RBI’s which was just an insane number for the mid 1980’s. I don’t think anybody had more in an A.L. season since 1949 with Ted Williams, Vern Stephens.

      I think they looked at Brett & Mattingly’s HR & BA numbers which were basically the same and then used Mattingly’s RBI’s as a tie breaker.

      Now we understand the R. Henderson was the best position player in baseball that year and had an insane year and was the reason Mattingly got all those RBI’s.

  2. James Crossley says:

    “First, I have to say that I respect Bill’s explanation.” You’re far too kind, Joe. As you point out later, the instructions to voters directly refute his argument: “the MVP need not come from a division winner or another playoff qualifier.”

    Faced with that statement, what can he say? That your team doesn’t have to make the playoffs for you to be able to win the MVP, it just has to be close? How close? For how much of the season? If I’m a .350/.450/.650 Gold Glove third baseman and my team is in front the league for five months and then blows a fifteen-game lead in September because all the starting pitchers get scurvy, have I played my way out of the MVP?

    It’s an absurd explanation that doesn’t deserve respect, but polite dismissal.

    • Bill White says:

      In much the same manner, it has always seemed to me that the MVP exercise itself is an absurdity that doesn’t deserve respect, but polite dismissal.

    • Jaime says:

      Finding Ellsbury’s stats from Sepember 2011 is being complicated by him having been born on Sepember 11th but on September 26th:
      .368/.409/.679, 7 HRs

      I seem to recall him scoring a game-changing HR in Yankee Stadium that cemented his MVP status if the Red Sox reached the playoffs.

  3. Krusty says:

    Joe, this struck me as a bit of a fish in the barrel argument. I don’t agree with that “strict construction” of valuable, but I think it’s utterly reasonable to factor in leverage.

    There’s more leverage as the season goes on, just the same as during a game. Because of scarcity of opportunity, a homer in tie game in the first isn’t the same as a homer in a tie game the 8th. There are stats which reflect that, and while some are really narrative (WPA is like a modern RBI), others are better tuned to that like REW. Dave Studeman, some years ago, did some great work on Pennant Probability Added, and how leverage rises to a crescendo.

    Every ballplayer talks about “meaningful games” and the playoff stretch. It’s not unreasonable – in fact, it’s very reasonable – that when considering the VALUE of a player’s offense and defense combined, and his character and makeup, you can look in those penumbras and find a justification for the term valuable to mean “accounting for impact on the pennant race and pressure played under.”

    Think of it like clutch: you don’t have to believe clutch skill is a repeatable thing to acknowledge that clutch hits exist, and to reward those hits.

    • Donald A. Coffin says:

      So…How’d Cabrera do down the stretch: In September: .273/.378/.333–an OPS of 711–in those highly leveraged games that ultimately determined the AL Central winner…

      And we reward that “clutch performance” with an MVP?

  4. Richie says:

    Both guys had monster years… the easiest way to differentiate em is team performance.. det was alot better this yr = cabrera gets the mvp. if they both were on playoff teams the vote would have been alot closer…. its that simple

    • richiew13 says:

      Did you read Joe’s next-to-last paragraph? Why does having better teammates make Cabrera deserving to get catapulted above Trout?

    • Robert says:

      Richie, dude, you so totally missed the point. They AREN’T that close; Trout was CLEARLY the best player, most valuable player, closest-to-God player, whatever you want to call him.

      Imagine two rowers, Rower A and Rower B. Both are fantastic, but Rower A consistently beats out Rower B in one-man races. Then they race each other as part of 6 man crews, and the Rower B’s team keeps winning. Does that mean Rower A suddenly sucks? No.

      Teams don’t matter. Ability and production are the only things that should matter.

      • Richie says:

        i get his pt… but they both had huge yrs… trout had a slightly better yr. not alot better yr… n if its close, the player on a good team should win… if the angels were contenders id vote trout 1st n cabrera 2nd…. but they didnt contend so i’d vote vice versa….
        y isnt any uproar about the nl mvp where goldshmidt was right there w/ mccuthen…. mccutchen won w/ a pitt team that wasnt better then 500 for 20yrs n deserved mvp… goldschmidt had a great yr on a 500team should come in 2nd place but andrew won in a landslide n no uproar from the joe posnanski’s of the world….
        war isnt the tell all end all, its another stat like any other stat, something to consider but like every other stat its not perfect, theres no such thing as a perfect sta.
        theres no way to justify not voting cabrera trout 1st or 2nd in whichever way u prefer, same goes for goldy n andrew…

        the voters got it right this yr, ppl need to stop bitching

        • Robert says:

          You DON’T get his point Richie. They both had huge years on offense. Trout had a huge year on the bases. Trout had a huge year in the field. Trout had crappy teammates. THAT is what he’s being penalized for, and we’re bitching because people like YOU just don’t get that.

          So until it sinks in, we’ll keep bitching, because while there are far greater injustices in this world, this is one we might actually be able to do something about.

          • BobDD says:

            hear, hear

          • Anon21 says:

            I think Trout should be MVP, but he didn’t have a huge year in the field.

          • Carl says:

            Actually, I (and the stats) disagree w some of your points. Trout actually had a bad year in the field. His defense was worth -9 runs and he lost almost 1 full WAR because of that. Far from a “huge” year.

            Also, please note that Trout had 16 fewer SB this year vs 2012, was thrown out 2 more times and scored 20 fewer runs in 2013 vs 2012. His baserunning was good in 2013 (.6 War) and certainly better than Cabrera’s, but far from a “huge” year.

      • At this point of this 18 month argument, people may not agree, but they most certainly get it.

  5. DG says:

    I just…. how is that even a “strict construction” of the word? When we talk about value or valuable outside of this context, when don’t base it on the difference it makes to the holder’s overall success, do we? Most valuable painting, or bottle of wine, or baseball card, we don’t ever think “Well how much of a difference did it make to that particular person’s portfolio?” It’s perfectly consistent with the most basic meaning of the word to ask: “Which player did we think was most valuable across the league — meaning he would have been most valuable on any team?”

    • Anon21 says:

      Yes, it’s very strange that he frames it that way, as though “valuable” is somehow inherently about the performance of people around the player under consideration. I think Ballou would be extremely hard-pressed to find a dictionary of pattern of usage that supports his idiosyncratic interpretation of that word, and yet he presents it as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world.

  6. DG says:

    *we* don’t base it on…

  7. Marco says:

    As we speak, somebody has to be going back to look at Bill Ballou’s previous ballots, right? Surely they’ll never find a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place vote for a player on a bad team……

    • Ian R. says:

      It’s like the controversy in 1999 when Pedro Martinez was denied the AL MVP because a couple of voters left him off their ballots completely. One of those writers, George King, claimed that pitchers were not sufficiently all-around players to be considered for the MVP award.

      Guess who voted for not one but TWO pitchers the year before? Yup, George King.

  8. Chris H says:

    In 1991, the Cleveland Indians lost 105 games, and pretty much the only reason to go to the ballpark was to see if Albert Belle would hit one to the moon (or punch out a hot dog vendor). It’s possible that without him they would have threatened the Mets’ record for historical terribleness. I reject the notion that Albert Belle had no value to that team.

  9. Chip S. says:

    Sorry, Joe, but Bill Ballou’s position is quite logical. In fact, it’s fully consistent with the *economic* concept of MVP (“marginal value product”), which defines the value of, say, an employee to an employer.

    This economic concept of “value” has two distinct components: the direct productivity of the employee and the incremental value of that productivity to the employer. Ballou’s hypothetical “POY” award could quite logically be given to the player who performed at the highest level, while the MVP award would logically take into account the degree to which that performance added to the team’s success.

    If you think that 10 additional wins are just as valuable to a team if they take it from 70 to 80 as they are if they take the team from 85 to 95, then MVP=POY under whatever measure of performance you prefer. But anyone who thinks that 10 additional wins are more valuable if they put a team in contention for the playoffs is being completely logical if he thinks MVP means something different from POY. And I happen to think that most fans are more excited when their teams become pennant contenders than when they wallow at or below .500.

    Please note that this doesn’t mean that the MVP has to come from a first-place team. It’s the interaction of pure performance and its effect on team success that matters.

    • DG says:

      Your explanation is perfectly correct Chip, but I just think it’s misapplied to this individual award. A 10 win player is more valuable to a 85 win team than to a 70 win team, but a 15 win player is more valuable than that player if put in the same context. That’s what should matter. A player shouldn’t be rewarded or penalized for the context. Are do we really think we have reason to believe that Trout (or 1991 Belle) would have turtled if put in a pennant race?

    • Except that it’s Most Valuable PLAYER, with no explicit mention of context. The 10-win player is the most valuable, whether he’s on a good team or a bad one.

      And if you’re going to start making economic arguments, we should probably also acknowledge that Mike Trout makes $500k, while Miguel Cabrera makes $21m. One is clearly more valuable, in terms of bang-of-the-buck.

      • Sam says:

        Well said. Mike Trout added 10 wins @ 50k per win in a market that pays $6 million per win. That’s REALLY valuable; in fact, EVERY team would prefer one year of Trout and his contract to one year of Cabrera and his. If we want to define value you can’t beat Trout. He’s basically a new Ferrari for $800.

      • Chip S. says:

        Let me revise your analysis slightly:

        “Except that it’s most VALUABLE player.”

    • Nick says:

      Are you sure you’re not dismissing off-hand Joe’s notion that the “POY” award would garner the same jump-through-hoops reasoning?

  10. A strict constructionist does not put a weaker player whose team finished 9th ahead of the best player in the league whose team finished tenth or the second best player in the league who team won its division. I read all 30 of the quotations from voters excerpted elsewhere and what struck me of them is that scattered were some voters who *KNEW* that they were making a biased vote and were expected everybody else to make similarly biased votes so it would all balance out. Particularly evident to me were these were voters from local media outlets. John Hickey, for example, writes for Oakland, put an Oakland player second. Bill Ballou, whose inconsistency is noted above, did not put a Red Sox player ahead of Trout but put Davis first, a player on a team which was not in the playoff race. Now perhaps it’s not very important now, but MVPs are *hugely* important when it comes time for HOF consideration. When Robin Yount won his MVP over Ruben Sierra, a lot of people thought “Sierra’s young, he’ll have more chances.” Of course, he didn’t have more chances, it was his career year, and the lack of an MVP award certainly was a minor factor in Sierra’s rapid disappearance off the ballot. And since that was such a bad voter’s year for MVP, maybe if Bret Saberhagen, who led the AL in WAR by a lot, had won MVP, he’d have gotten more HOF consideration, or Fred McGriff, whose WAR was a full run better than the guys who finished 1-2, might be in the HOF. Wade Boggs had a typical Boggs year and finished 23rd. Bad year for MVP voting, all around.

    We don’t *know* that Trout will win any MVP awards. Eddie Murray didn’t win any MVPs, and if the second best switch hitter in baseball history, a guy with 500 homers and 3000 hits and gold gloves and titles, was left off of almost one ballot, in six, it shows that these little things do matter. Mike Piazza, the best hitting catcher in history, so far is not close to election. And here’s why it’s bad for baseball. Players will more than ever look at the Miami Heat, and think that their best way to get into the HOF is to sign with the best teams so that they can win World Series titles and, yes, convince the Ballou’s of the world to give them the MVP awards they deserve. That’s bad for small market teams, bad for competitive balance, bad for baseball.

    I don’t object to Trout not winning. I object to bad reasoning, bad votes. This year the voters chose a worthy candidate: good! But there have been lots of unworthy candidates chosen, because they didn’t schmooze the local writers well enough or they were on a losing team in their career year or voters hadn’t yet realized that batting .406 was never going to happen again so they voted for the guy they liked instead of the most valuable player. It hurts baseball when a small market guy votes for a home towner he likes, or against one he doesn’t like. The MVP award should be won on the field. Trout won it on the field. So did Cabrera.

    • One correction. Most players will still go where they make the most money.

    • Nick says:

      I love your last paragraph. If you’re talking about a yearly ballot, it’s about the process that matters, not necessarily the end result. The end goald should be a consistent process that either produces the best candidate or a worthy candidate any given year. There are too many undeserving award winners.

      I wonder if some of the voters would look at the “undeserving” MVP awards mentioned in these comments and still say that the correct winners were chosen.

    • Zack says:

      Eddie Murray is not the 2nd-best switch hitter in baseball history – that would be Chipper Jones.

  11. Pat says:

    The following quote came from a story about Voters explaining their AL MVP vote:

    “Trout is the best all-around player in the league, I agree — but I weigh offensive output higher than defensive metrics for MVP candidates, and Cabrera remains the better hitter,” said former BBWAA president Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. “I do always consider how teams finish as a factor, too. It’s not always the deciding factor, but it’s a big consideration.”

    Does the MVP ballot ask voters to consider offensive output higher than defensive metrics?

    • The ballot says nothing about weighting offense or defense in any particular way. But it’s probably fair to devalue defensive metrics somewhat, because the metrics are admittedly imprecise. It’s easy to measure how many homers you’ve hit or runs you’ve scored; it’s difficult to determine whether you should have reached that ground ball.

      All that said, Trout and Cabrera were effectively equal after you count batting and running. So he had to have either also devalued his baserunning effects or reduced the fielding difference to zero. In either case, his argument doesn’t hold up so well.

  12. cato mayer says:

    Is it really that hard to understand that some people think that contributing to a successful endeavor is more valuable than contributing to an unsuccessful endeavor?

    • BobDD says:

      Scott Brosius was in 4 world series, and Mike Schmidt was in 2 WS. So if I understand your execrable reasoning, Brosius was twice as valuable as Schmidt in your world.

      Bernie Williams was in more WS than Ted Williams, obviously Ted was less valuable in your eyes. Bill Russell was a more valuable SS than Ernie Banks? Cesar Geronimo was more valuable CF than Tris Speaker? In the NBA Tommy Heinsohn won 8 championships, Elgin Baylor none, so you say Heinsohn was better? Too many examples like this to continue on.

      This supposed rationale is silly.

  13. Chip S. says:

    It would help a lot if people would distinguish between *logically valid* propositions and “opinions I disagree with”. My previous comment addressed the *logic* of Bill Ballou’s basis for defining value. His argument is completely logical.

    On the other hand, whether you *agree* with Ballou’s definition of value is a matter of personal opinion. Nothing wrong with differences of opinion on that subject, but you can’t claim that your opinion is the only logical one in this case.

    Distinguishing between the Posnanski and Ballou definitions of value helps clarify most of the arguments on either side of the general “Trout vs. Cabrera” debate. One argument is over the correct definition of “marginal product” specific to the player’s performance. That’s a “stat-head” vs. “seam-head” argument.

    The second argument is whether the value of the additional wins resulting from a player’s performance are context-dependent. If you don’t think so, then the argument over MVP is simply an argument over the best way to measure player performance.But if you do think it’s worth more for a team to go from 85 to 95 wins than to go from 70 to 80, then value is absolutely context-dependent.

    If you want to argue that the value of 10 wins shouldn’t be context-dependent, then your argument reduces to MVP=POY. That’s a matter of logic, not opinion.

    • Sam says:

      Interesting points. Several issues. First, Ballou’s statement is either false or delusional (either he’s saying by his definition he HAD to place Trout 7th which is false since his definition would place Davis 6th or 8th OR it’s delusional since he believed that the Orioles were contenders). Second, while in economics incremental value makes sense, in baseball, roles aren’t as specialized (at least among MVP candidates) and incremental value isn’t treated the same (teams looking to improve from 85-95 wins don’t seem to pay significantly more for talent than teams in any different range – generally it depends more on market size).

      • Chip S. says:

        The question of big-market teams is really helpful to the discussion. To a team, “value” is revenue, at least typically. “Big market” teams are those for which the dollar value of a win is highest. If wins were of equal value to all teams, we wouldn’t talk about “big” and “small” markets. Every team would be willing to bid the same amount for each player.

        Is it likely that a team’s revenue will get a bigger bump (including the next season’s advance sales) if it goes from 85 to 95 wins than if it goes from 70 to 80 wins? That’s probably been studied, although I don’t know for sure. Evidence like that would contribute to the value-of-wins discussion.

      • Stephen says:

        Whatever you may think of the Orioles IN RETROSPECT, they were 1 game out of (both) wild card slots as late as September 18. It is hardly delusional to see them as contenders.

        • KHAZAD says:

          Baltimore had a 14% chance of making the playoffs on September 18th. The last day they were over 20% was August 23rd. Chris Davis hit .220/.308/.449 after that date.

          • Stephen says:

            They were half a game behind Cleveland on 9-18. Are you saying it was delusional to think that the Indians were contenders at that point?

          • KHAZAD says:

            I am saying that they were in 4th place for the wild card with 10 games to play. Cleveland took the wild card by going 10-0 to end the season. Baltimore could have gotten a wild card by going 11-0, or they could have been in a tie for the second wild card by going 10-1. (It really seems like less than the 14% when you look at it closely)

            Instead they went 4-7 while (according to Ballou) the best player on a “contending” team hit .194/310/.444.

          • Stephen says:

            Sure, as it turned out Cleveland was basically impossible to catch. But that’s what I mean by saying that the reality at the time was different from the reality in retrospect. But at the time, more than halfway through September, they were a game out of a playoff spot, a game behind one team that made the postseason and half a game behind another than also made the postseason. That’s being in contention.

            And if you read what Ballou says carefully, you see that he doesn’t insist that the player do well in September, or that the team be a playoff team, just that “you have to help your team be good, at least to the point of contending.” Ballou’s, um, contention is that Davis did exactly that. Which, I think, is awfully hard to deny.

            Whether you agree with him is another matter. I suspect he’s backfilling, looking for reasons to support what he wanted to do anyway. But Davis did lead a team into a playoff race till the last week and a half, and in Ballou’s world that’s enough to make him an MVP candidate.

    • BobDD says:

      Yes, MVP=POY. Now you’re getting it.

  14. Clayt says:

    I’m still sticking with 1988 NL MVP as the worst slight in MVP history. Strawberry was better than Gibson. Next up: 1995 NL MVP (Bichette was better than Larkin) and 2000-2001 MVPs (Helton got screwed big time on both awards).

    • invitro says:

      “OK, let’s pretend we could go back to the beginning and replace “MVP” with “POY.” Would people’s view of the award change? Would there be different winners through the years. I spent too much thought on this and decided: No way. Absolutely nothing would chance.”

      There’s an easy way to answer the question: look at the Sporting News Player of the Year awards. Are they the same as the MVPs? No, they aren’t, but they’re more the same than I would’ve thought. For example, the 1988 Player of the Year was Hershiser, not Gibson. I’d be interested in seeing a study of the differences between this award and the MVP, and which is more likely to go to players from contending teams.

    • dshorwich says:

      Bichette better than Larkin. That’s some quality trolling, that is.

      • Clayt says:

        dshorwich – tell me which state line is better:

        A) .319/.394/.492 (.886 OPS) with 15 HRs and 66 RBI. 98 runs, 158 hits
        B) .340/.364/.620 (.984 OPS) with 40 HRs and 128 RBI. 102 runs, 197 hits

        Larkin is A.
        Bichette is B.

        You cannot possibly think that Larkin had a better year than Bichette. If so, well, maybe baseball isn’t for you. Ever tried Go Fish?

        • Lee Trocinski says:

          You clearly don’t understand park effects or positional adjustments. 1995 Coors Field had a park factor of 128, so the average hitter would have hit .301/.374/.469. ’95 Riverfront had a park factor of 98, so the average line would be .270/.339/.419. Overall, Larkin and Bichette had similar OPS+ marks between 130 and 135. You also need to add in Larkin’s 51-of-56 in steals and Bichette’s poor baserunning.

          So Larkin is already ahead on offense, and I doubt even you’d argue that they were close on defense. Between the 15-run differential in positions and about 10 run difference in their quality at that position, Larkin was way better. On B-R, the difference is 5.9 for Larkin and 1.2 for Bichette. Now Bonds, Piazza, Reggie Sanders were just as good, if not better, and Maddux was way better, but Bichette was amazingly just below average that year.

          • Clayt says:

            Larkin was a better baserunner, yes, and defensively he has an edge over Bichette – though Bichette notably had a great (and accurate) arm. The problem with “park effects” is that SOMEBODY had to play at Coors Field. Why should Bichette be penalized for it? Posnanski himself advocates for Larry Walker belonging in the HOF in part for the same reasons I just mentioned.

            Oh well. At least nobody is arguing about the screw that Todd Helton got in 2000, when he was 5th in MVP voting despite leading the league in most of the meaningful categories.

          • Lee Trocinski says:

            I hate to speak for Joe, but the common thought is that hitting in Coors is so easy that Walker and Helton get extra punishment by voters. Your train of thought is basically rewarding Bichette/Walker/Helton for playing in COL. If Bonds and Helton have the same stats, you know Bonds was a better hitter, since he wasn’t in such an offensive environment for half his games. Park effects don’t penalize; they adjust properly for environment.

            Helton, despite the big park adjustment, still led the NL in WAR in 2000. Park adjustments aren’t exact, but they are a good estimate.

          • tomemos says:

            “The problem with ‘park effects’ is that SOMEBODY had to play at Coors Field. Why should Bichette be penalized for it?”

            It’s not a “penalty,” it’s an attempt to account for a known factor. It would be much more accurate to say, “Bichette got to play at Coors Field and Larkin didn’t. Why should Larkin be penalized for it?”

        • BobDD says:

          hey, normalize those stats before comparing

          • KHAZAD says:

            Normalized offensive stats for 1995:
            Larkin .313/.388/.483 104 runs created
            Bichette .302/.325/.552 110 runs created

          • BobDD says:

            Normalized to 1995, NL, neutral park from Baseball Reference

            Larkin .320/.396/.493 134ops+ 6.3, oWar, 0.2 dWar
            Bichette .307/.330/.564 130ops+ 2.9, oWar, -2.5 dWar

            (if you want to look this kind of thing up, click on “More Stats” above the first stat line)

    • Chad says:

      Let me guess: You’re from Colorado, aren’t you?

  15. cato mayer says:

    I think Joe’s view would be perfectly appropriate in a pretend world where players didn’t get to pick what team they played for.

    • How did Trout pick the Angels? Oh wait, he didn’t. He was drafted by the Angels and is paid less than market value …. Because he doesn’t have enough years of service to have control of where he plays and how much he is paid.

  16. I thought Billy Ballou was the name of Judge Smails putter

  17. DjangoZ says:

    My first thought was that this is one of the dumbest explanations of a vote that I’ve ever heard. That he doesn’t deserve an MVP vote.

    My second thought was that what is really happening is people are becoming aware that defense and base running count and team performance really shouldn’t. These kinds of discussions and excuses are actually part of the change happening. And this very same voter could vote quite differently in a few years.

    On some level, I think even he knows he’s wrong. He can’t admit it now, but his behavior will change later on when no one is watching and he doesn’t have to lose face.

    • Richie says:

      I agree that voting trout 8th b/c he wasnt on a contender is obnoxious… but defensive stat arnt deffinitive, d stats have come along way but there’s still a big margin of error, same goes for baserunning… dwar is very inaccurate… for example if u have a fast cf like a brett gardner w/ two slow corner of’s on either side of him 1 yr… but then the next yr u put to fast above avg defensive of’s around the following yr… obviously the cf wont have to cover as mch ground so his range factor goes down, his put outs go down and his dwar goes down… but that doesnt mean the cf’s d got worse… it means he got more help….. then theres of’s and catchers w/ cannon arms who prevent runners from taking the xtra base or prevent steals on rputation but in alot of yrs chicken arm of’s have more assist then cannon arm of b/c baserunners take more chances… or w/ catchrs is it fair to say catch x throws out only 20 pct of sb attempts … catcher y throws out 40pct so by stats catcher y has a better arm… but what player x plays on a team w/ a bunch of sp w/ slow pitch deliveries and dont hold runners on good, and there pitchers as a whole have bad pik off moves…. and player y has the opposite…. theres no real wayto calculate any of the above… same goes for base running and baseball i.q.
      look at a guy like robinson cano, every says he doesnt hustle, never runs hard, an rightly so… but he plays 160+ games yr after yr…. maybe not running 100pct all the time keeps him from getting to sour to not play every day… maybe he knows if he runs a full speed all the time, he’ll pop a hammy… idont believe that but who knows.

      owar is pretty much accurate, but dwar d stats, baseball i.q., baserunning while better then they use to be are still flawed

      • Richie says:

        also offensive stats should be weighed more.
        an everday player gets 700pa a yr, if hes great, he has a 400 obp…thats 280x’s on base…. but how many x’s does baserunning even come in2 effect, most are routine hits, where theres no reason to take an xtra base, i dont knowwhat the pct of times a player has option of stretching a single into a 2b is but i bet its very low, same goes for defense…theres 27 outs a game, teams strike out 7.6 x’s per 9ip = thats mean d only comes into play for 19 outs per game + hits/bb. the avg whip is 1.30= 13 baserunners per game = the avg game has 33 d oppertunities…. again i dont know the pct, but i bet a high pct of those are routine groundballs and popups = d isnt even a factor… point is 700pa outways 280times on base + whatever putouts and assist where only a small pct of em even factor in2 the game.

        • Robert says:

          Trout had 716 PA and 359 PO, hardly your “small pct”. I love that “d isn’t even a factor”… You can’t honestly believe that. I mean, I read what you wrote above and you’re obviously grammatically challenged, but you can’t be that ignorant.

          Can you?

          • Robert says:

            Also, if you look at B-R’s similarity scores, they rate Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx, Ken Griffey Jr. and a couple other HoFers in his top ten comparable HITTERS. So if offense is the ultimate criteria, I’d say he can mash pretty damn well.

          • Richie says:

            I never said D isn’t a factor. My point was Hitting has to to be weighed more. and by small pct, i mean out of those 359PO, how many were outs that the avg LF/CF dont get to… maybe 5pct more, 10pct at most… thats 18-36PO a year out of 162g x 27PO = 1458PO in a season more outs that trout gets to = small pct

          • Karyn Ellis says:

            Richie, no one wants to be the grammar/spelling/punctuation police, but I can’t even read what you’ve written. It would help if you wrote out the words you mean to use, instead of using textspeak. Even if you’re on your phone, taking the extra effort would help some of us older folks understand what you’re trying to say.


    • Clearly his vote was challenged and he had to ad lib an answer…. Which is apparently not a skill that he’s mastered.

  18. I would go further, Joe. I would say that “valuable” has become a duck blind for writers to justify voting for their pet players or voting down players they think are over-rated. I suspect a part of this is backlash against the stats crowd. “You think Trout is the most valuable? I”LL say who is the most valuable!”

    You’ll notice this whole valuable stuff goes out the window when they want to vote for some like Andre Dawson.

    • Jason says:

      Andre Dawson’s MVP award was 26 years ago. It’s really unfair to suggest the writers today are somehow disingenuous because what a different set of writers did a quarter century ago. I don’t agree with Ballou’s logic either, but there’s nothing to suggest it is a pretext just to vote for his pet players or to revolt against the stat movement. A cursory examination of MVP winners in the last decade reveals that the current writers have collectively insisted that the winner come from a contending team. I don’t agree with that logic, but it’s disappointing to see nefarious motives somehow attached to it.

      • BobDD says:

        I think you’re right as far as you go, but Dawson is still one of the great all-time examples of MVP crap.

      • Dawson’s is the most egregious. They also gave awards to Larry Walker in 1997, A-Rod in 2003, Bonds in 2001 and 2004, Ryan Howard in 2006, Pujols in 2008. A-Rod and Bonds were hard to ignore. I’ve also left out times when they’ve decided Player A’s clutchiness or magical mojo mattered more than Player B’s when both teams made the playoffs or even from the same team (e.g., Jeff Kent, Justin Morneau).

        • largebill says:

          Don’t forget the ridiculous Mo Vaughn MVP of 1995.

        • tomemos says:

          Uh, what’s wrong with Bonds in 2001? He was the WAR leader in the NL that year, a win and a half over #2 (Sosa).

        • Ian R. says:

          Wait… how could you possibly have an issue with Bonds in 2004? He had a historically awesome season and his Giants were legitimate contenders. I mean… the guy got on base more than 60% of the time. Sixty percent.

          Even accounting for the Coors Field effect, Larry Walker was probably the best player in the NL in 1997. A-Rod was the best player in the AL in 2003, and the only guys who came close were pitchers. Pujols was the best player in the NL in 2008, and his Cardinals were good.

          The only one of your ‘questionable’ choices that I’d agree with is Howard in ’06, and he still had a great offensive year.

  19. Chip S. says:

    Andre Dawson’s award is easy to understand. Just read Neil Shyminsky’s comment @12:30 am, then look up the terms of Dawson’s 1987 contract.

    Of course, the 50% raise he got by winning the award made voting for him on the basis of “best value for the money” a bit of a paradox.

  20. Bob Lince says:

    Here’s a way to look at the MVP.

    The just completed season is going to be replayed. Every player is going to play exactly as he did and have exactly the same stats. But we’re going to choose up new teams.

    Your team gets first choice. What player do you most want? Or, conversely, what player do you least want any other team to have?

    That’s your MVP. That is the player you most value — not for next year, not for the preceding year(s), but for the season just completed.

  21. Toar Winter says:

    Stat-based evaluation is an evolving process– there is a margin of error in WAR, as well as subjectivity on the defensive end of the metrics. While it is incredibly valuable, it is imperfect. As it gets refined over the years, it may well gain more accuracy, and they may even go back and revise old WAR values to reflect new methods of evaluation (pretty sure this has already happened at least once in the short life of the stat). Even now pre-1970-ish WAR stats are not equal to current WAR valuations because the defensive stats of the bygone age are not as accurate as today. My takeaway is WAR is a useful tool, but not quite the infallible stat many saberheads make it out to be.

    • Of course, you’re right. But many who post on this blog, probably including Joe, believe you’ve just blasphemed.

    • invitro says:

      It doesn’t matter if WAR is infallible, or 10% fallible, or 90% fallible. What matters if it is BETTER than competing stats in measuring what it’s designed to measure. And my understanding is that it is.

      I’d like to understand why there are always people who want to attack things that are the best in their category, just because they’re not perfect.

      • Toar Winter says:

        I don’t think I attacked anything. I just tried to point out that WAR is flawed, where many people think it is an absolute. The folks on here that can’t acknowledge that Miggy had an outstanding year and was a worthy MVP need to take a deep breath and realize that greatness can be measured many ways, and just because you don’t agree with a vote doesn’t make it a grave injustice to the sanctity of the game.

  22. Jason says:

    I don’t agree with this at all and I’m on Joe’s side of the debate that “valuable” should mean best. The folks on the other side don’t insist that the “Rookie of the Year” come from a contending team, so why would they impose that construct to a hypothetical “Player of the Year” award?

  23. Greg C. says:

    Mr. Ballou appears not to understand what “strict constructionalist” means and, as such, it’s a poor support upon which to rest his argument. “Strict constructionalism” requires the application of the relevant text without looking outside that text for further instruction on what the text “means.” It does not require, and in fact would forbid, a process by which one would “strictly construe” a single word of the text while refusing to do so with respect to the remaining text.

    In this case, the text is a bit confusing, but not along any lines that would save Mr. Ballou. The text indicates that there is “no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means,” but then provides as it’s first “rule”: “Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.” Certainly there is some tension in the construction of this text as to whether “value” (however defined) is a team-independent measurement.

    However, Mr. Ballou’s claim to “strict constructionalism” is undermined entirely because the very text requing strict adherence also says “The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.”

    As such, Mr. Ballou’s use of “team contention” to measure value is one that appears disfavored by the text itself.

    I think Mr. Ballou’s argument is silly for any number of reasons, but mostly I just wish he wouldn’t attempt to imply some gravitas or formality to his approach by giving his “process” a name that appears not to apply.

    Greg C.

  24. Marzapan says:

    “Maybe I’m just repeating myself here.” Call me maybe? Everyone gets the point by now. You should feel free to get back to writing about how Tiger Woods won’t win again because age is the one thing that no athlete can beat. Or any other number of topics that you beat into the ground. We’re good on Trout and Cabrera commentary for now.

    • BobDD says:

      Personally I’m not tired of good baseball writing yet – keep ’em coming.

      • Wilbur says:

        It takes some gall to complain about what Joe chooses to write, when he’s not charging you a cent to read it.

        I don’t read everything he posts. But I would never think of complaining about the ones that don’t interest me.

        • You are hereby granted entrance to heaven. Seriously though, you NEVER write a comment giving Joe a hard time? This would be a pretty boring blog if everyone was like you…. Btw, maybe you should check out some of the Paterno blogs from a while back, and then get back to us. Joe is a great writer, but read him long enough and he’ll get your hackles up, now and then, if you have a pulse.

          • Wilbur says:


            I have no problem with a reader taking substantive issue with something Joe has written. I’m sure I have myself in these comments.

            But I don’t deem it appropriate to dictate subjects he should take up. It’s his blog, not mine. Nor Marzipan’s.

          • invitro says:

            “maybe you should check out some of the Paterno blogs from a while back,”

            I don’t agree with everything Joe writes (I think he mangled the BRHoF nominees and process), but I do agree with everything he wrote about Paterno. Maybe choose a different example.

  25. Indig says:

    Just so you know, MLB Player of the Year Award exists and Miggy won it this year.

  26. […] Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout have vied for the last two American League MVP awards, but the real battle has taken place off the field. Not only have sabermetricians and old school members of the BBWAA gone to war over which criteria best measure a player’s value, but they can’t even agree on the definition of the word. […]

  27. Pokey Joe says:

    Over in the NL a similar injustice took place when the Pirates center fielder won the award over the Cardinals catcher. Offensively they look similar but the catcher brings far more value to the table defensively. Best catcher I’ve ever seen. The power of the narrative was, unjustly, too much for the voters, it would seem.

    • Kris says:

      Except for the part where Molina was not in McCutchen’s league offensively, you are right. And the part where McCutchen had over 130 more PAs, and FAR more value on the bases. Molina’s value on defense (admittedly superior) could not make up for his inferior hitting, baserunning, and playing time. Absolutely the best man won in the NL. Just about everybody agrees.

    • KHAZAD says:

      Mccutchen was worth about 42 more runs offensively than Molina, and was an above average fielder as well, saving 5 less runs than Molina.

      This is not an injustice at all.

    • Ian R. says:

      Offensively they look similar if you only look at batting average. McCutchen reached base much more, hit for more power and was a much better baserunner. In terms of secondary skills, he blows Molina out of the water.

      Now, Molina’s defense is fantastic, but McCutchen is a great center fielder as well. I don’t think the defensive gap is as big as you claim it to be.

      I would have been perfectly OK with Molina winning the award, but there’s no injustice whatsoever in giving it to McCutchen.

  28. Chris Hill says:

    Well, given that the most famous “strict constructionist” around now is Antonin Scalia, maybe we can excuse Ballou for thinking the term meant “narrow minded, detached from reality, perhaps able to appear clever to the small circle who agree with me all the time, but looks like a buffoon to the 95% of the people outside my small circle.”

    It’s a hypothesis worth considering, at least?

  29. David Eberly says:

    They really should just rename it Most Outstanding Player.

  30. PatRick says:

    At least the guy who part-time covers the Red Sox and part-time covers the Worcester Sharks of the American Hockey League, has a vote in the AL MVP race.

  31. Ross says:

    Calling if POY probably wouldn’t get rid of the debate, but calling it “most outstanding” might

  32. Ross says:

    I know there are differences between last year and this year for Trout and Miggy, but I do think a comparison is useful. The numbers are somewhat similar as was the voting. There was a huge difference in the Angels record though. And so even when they contended last year, Trout still got blown out on the vote. Makes me think the difference is more around the traditional stats vs new stats rather than whether the team was in contention.

  33. BadHand says:

    Seems like the annual MVP award needs two categories, one with your teams pitching included and one without. Cabrera only wins because his pitchers were better than Trout’s. So, MVP-Pitching Included Statistics and MVP-Pitching Obviously Removed.


  34. Martin Leslie says:

    In Australian rules football the MVP-type award is called “Best and fairest”. There’s a rule that if you get suspended during the season you can’t win so that takes care of the fairest part of the equation and its just an award for the best players.

    Of course the award is voted for by the umpires so its got its own problems…

  35. Blake says:

    I just don’t understand why people care so much that a player on a third-place team didn’t win the MVP.

    You disagree that competing even matters. You write endless, seemingly literally, pieces with numbers and lamentations and insults of people who disagree with your way of interpreting the award. At least Joe is polite. Online commenters aren’t.

    But again, why do you care so much? Why isn’t this a 1-and-done story? Are you Mike Trout’s daddy?

    • Lee Trocinski says:

      It’s not a one-and-done story because the same thing also happened last year. Last year was the egregious act, as Trout was way better than anyone else, and the Angels won one more game than the Tigers. This year, I could make a case for at least 4 players, but it’s the inconsistent logic used by writers with awards and HOF votes that get people riled up.

    • BobDD says:

      I’ve always thought these kind of comments are about the silliest there are. Someone taking to task everyone else for caring too much – so what do they do but care enough to try to shut us up. What? Are we supposed to only comment on things we do not care about! Get a life.

  36. […] it or not his first place vote went to….Chris Davis. Were the Orioles really a contender? From Joe Posnanski: “[The Orioles] were no better than third in the American League East after July 23. They […]

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