Brief thoughts on MVP voting.

November 14th, 2007

Another interesting post from Joe Posnanski has provoked me to articulate a sports opinion. (I know, this requires great arm-twisting.)

Here is my opinion on the very best way to decide on an MVP award, in any league:

  • Pretend that you and I have assembled all the players in the league, say all the players in Major League Baseball, at one ballpark. You and I are going to be the team managers for teams we will pick from among these players.
  • The teams will play each other a season’s worth of games to decide, I don’t know, the fate of the universe.
  • We have perfect foreknowledge that every player will perform over these games exactly as he did in the season just completed.
  • You have the first pick.
  • Who do you pick?

That’s it.

The most valuable player is the one who contributes the most to his team, in the sense that he helps his team put wins on the board better than any other player helps his team put wins on the board. To give an extreme example, let’s say that baseball Player A moves his team from 40 wins to 70 wins, so that they still miss the playoffs but are much more respectable. Player B, next-best in his league, moves his team from 78 wins to 88 wins, which makes the difference so that they make the playoffs. In my world, Player A is more valuable, because he had three times the impact on his team. It’s not fair to penalize Player A for playing on a crappy team.

Now, I’m flexible about this if the comparison between the players is very close. If the difference is 15 wins versus 12, or more likely 10 versus 8, you could give the nod to Player B and I wouldn’t complain. If Player B had to fight through a pennant race, if he was the emotional heart of a team that barely scrapped its way to the promised land, while Player A cruised along piling up numbers for himself on a team that was always out of it . . . okay, give it to Player B. If it’s close.

But by all means, get some idea of real merit in place first. Don’t talk to me about the cut of a player’s jib, or how RBIs are more valuable than on-base average,* or how Player B’s “grit” or “heart” or “clutch hitting” or whatever pushed his team over the top . . . unless we’ve already determined that there isn’t one player who’s clearly the best player in the league.

If there’s one player who’s clearly better, he gets the trophy. If that means that Alex Rodriguez or Michael Jordan or Jim Brown wins the MVP for nine years running, so be it. Let the merit of the players be the primary guide — not their team’s circumstances.

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* This is a separate, baseball-specific rant that I will spare you from. Unless I’m specifically provoked.

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