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Friday, November 16, 2012

DINOSAUR REVOLT 

Like the Second Amendment's vague pronouncements about militias and well-regulation, the BBWAA's MVP guidelines are a conceptual quicksand. The first criterion of the MVP is "Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense." We don't have to figure out what "actual value of a player to his team" means -- it gives us the definition right there: "strength of offense and defense".

This isn't good enough for the BBWAA, evidently, or at least their proxies in the broadcast media. I saw Harold Reynolds for a bit on the MLB Network today; he rankled at what he characterized as an attitude of arrogance on behalf of those who would use stats to justify arguing Mike Trout as the AL MVP. I only saw a few minutes; I don't know if he was similarly rankled at those who argued that Miguel Cabrera's Triple Crown was cause to elect him MVP. After all, isn't the Triple Crown a collection of stats?

I saw Sean Casey for a bit on the MLB Network today; his entire pro-Cabrera argument was that the Tigers made the playoffs and the Angels didn't. He wasn't considering strength of offense and defense; he was considering strength of teammates. And so we fall into the situation where the "Most Valuable Player" is a player on team good enough to make the playoffs, but not good enough to make the playoffs to easily: Best Player on a Team that Barely Makes It (or, as we learned when Justin Morneau beat out Joe Mauer in 2006, Player with Most RBI on a Team that Barely Makes It).

The notion that the Trout-Cabrera debate is some stats-traditional debate is a monumentally silly one, of course. You can't make a pro-Cabrera argument without resorting to stats, and until a few years ago the "traditionalists" would have supported the defensive/baserunning dynamo over the one-dimensional slugger. But the only tradition the BBWAA seeks to uphold is their own and their own power; definitions and ideologies do not exist -- hell, facts don't exist (Sean Casey, an employee of Major League Baseball hired to analyze major league baseball on television, said today that Mike Trout was "average at best" in September, a month that [plus October] saw him hit 289/400/500 with 7 SB to 1 CS, all with great defense; the MLB Network should apologize to its viewers for broadcasting such ignorant and ill-prepared drivel).

What exists is the need to persist, as any organization's primary directive is survival. We don't need baseball writers anymore, not the kind that formed the BBWAA in our game's Jurassic age. We can see every game we want, when we want it, we have all the stats at our disposal, the databases, the analysis. It's all open and free and we exchange ideas dozens, hundreds of times per day. We don't need writers to tell us who is best, we can decide on our own now. But this is no good for the writers' power, and so they strike back. Everyone knows that Trout was better than Cabrera in 2012, but the BBWAA is pointless if they're telling you what you know, they have to tell you they know better, that they are the true arbiters of value, not any measure of strength of offense and defense. And once upon a time that meant that the light-hitting shortstops and catchers were more valuable than "we" thought (and in several cases they were), and today it means that baseball's story of the year isn't. It's reactionary and perverse.

There is nothing but inertia that gives the BBWAA's votes any more prestige than the determinations of, say, Baseball America, The Sporting News, or, hell, The Internet Baseball Awards. The voters of the BBWAA don't care about their own voting guidelines, and I see no reason to humor them. If they're going to ignore their guidelines, I say we ignore them, and move on and let the dinosaurs consume themselves.

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Nice! Great take on this. Thanks!
 
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