June 25, 2018

The Trouble With “Tribbles” Part One — The MVP Award Arguments

November 16, 2008 by · 3 Comments 

If you are a fan of the “old” Star Trek: The Original Series television show, you’ve seen or heard of the episode “The Trouble With Tribbles”.  The episode featured a cute, pink furry creature known as a Tribble that posed a pest because it rapidly reproduced out of control.  Without getting too much into it — mainly to avoid the tag of being a total geek — baseball has it’s own version of a Tribble.  From complicated statistics oversimplified to fit a flawed argument to the “DH vs. no DH” argument, these types of discussions often are unproductive and repeated ad nauseum.  Like the “Tribbles” in the show, baseball’s Tribbles tax the resources of the average baseball fan and diminish the actual enjoyment of certain aspects for others.

This week, there will be one of those moments when we all take a break from the Hot Stove League that has barely heated up to argue about the MVP Award.  No matter who is selected — Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, Hanley Ramirez, Lance Berkman, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Joe Mauer, Josh Hamilton to mention a few possibilities — someone will take exception to the selection.

The arguments will look eerily similar:

Once again the BBWAA screwed up the MVP Award again!  It’s time for Major League Baseball to come up with a new way to select who is considered to be the league’s [best/most valuable] player.  I mean how could they possibly pick [MVP winner] over [person writer thought should have won].  Obviously this is not a new problem.  One just has to look at when [previous MVP winner] was selected over [previous MVP snub with really good season].

This year’s MVP award selection might have been the worst of all, though.  Consider [MVP winner]’s [statistic writer has fallen in love with] compared to [person writer thought should have won].  Not only was [MVP winner] behind [person writer thought should have won] in this [statistic writer has fallen in love with], he also trailed [list of players not good enough to win the MVP in writer’s eyes but also really good in the statistic writer has fallen in love with].

So why did the BBWAA choose to ignore [statistic writer has fallen in love with] despite the fact that anyone with half a baseball brain knows it is the single greatest measure of a player’s ability?  Because, once again, the BBWAA decided to make their selection based on their [love of the home run/ignorance of ball park effects/New York bias/inability to understand the criteria of what an MVP is/the BBWAA voter’s infatuation with MVP winner’s story over statistics/inability to ignore the fan’s chants of “M-V-P”/influenced by ESPN].  (There is also the possibility the writer will argue that the MVP winner wasn’t even the best player on his own team.)

Surely, this final blow to the award selection process has wiped out the meaning of the MVP Award completely.  No longer is the Award based on who the [best/most valuable] player is but instead a popularity contest from a group of writers who often cast a ballot to gain attention for themselves rather than make the right decision.  Sure, the average fan will be OK with the decision but most baseball fans don’t truly understand the game and are basically [idiots/jerks/dumb/stupid/don’t know what they are watching/smell funny].

Look familiar?

Surely, the process has it’s flaws.  The easiest to criticize is the actual definition of who should be awarded the MVP.  Should it be the best player?  Should it be the player most valuable to his team?  Should it weigh in whether the team makes the playoffs or not?  Should it consider the player’s position and the performance of other players in the league at that position?  The criteria presented to the BBWAA is, in a word, vague.

Then there are some of the voting decisions that come out.  This year, National League Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum was actually left off of the 32 ballots.  On the National League ballot for Manager of the Year, Milwaukee Brewers interim manager Dale Sveum received a third place vote despite only managing 12 games and posting a 7-5 record.  Finally, the American League Manager of the Year ballot was the most puzzling.  The winner was a no-brainer and the right manager won — Tampa Bay’s Joe Maddon — but one of the 28 voters decided to cast a first place vote for Ron Gardenhire instead of Maddon.  The reason given:  Gardenhire’s improvement of nine wins despite the loss of Johan Santana and Torii Hunter was more impressive than Maddon’s 31 win improvement over the previous season and leading the Rays to a worst-to-first turnaround in the American League East — widely accepted as baseball’s toughest division.  However, with these misguided ballots cast, still, the right person won… so maybe the system isn’t as flawed as many like to think.

But most importantly is that no matter what your opinion, it is possible that there’s a way to justify it.  For example, if you use Bill James’ Win Shares as a reference for value and figure out who makes up the team’s largest percentage of Win Shares for the ’08 season, the National League MVP should be Lance Berkman and the American League MVP should be Raul Ibanez… RAUL IBANEZ!?!?!  As much as I like the concept of Win Shares, arguing Ibanez as the AL’s MVP choice is not something I’d be willing to do.

They’re warming up their pens and keyboards now.  Expect to see the columns and posts on the Internet and in the newspaper soon after the announcements for American and National League MVP — especially if Ryan Howard beats out Albert Pujols in the National League — taking away valuable space for the latest trades, rumors and free agent signings.  Instead, we should just accept what the selection really means.  It’s the consensus of the BBWAA’s selection to cast a vote on who is the MVP widely accepted as THE MVP.  Nothing more, nothing less.  If we can accept these awards for what they are, they’ll be no “tribble” at all anymore.


3 Responses to “The Trouble With “Tribbles” Part One — The MVP Award Arguments”
  1. Mike Hoban says:

    Wait a minute!!

    What is this business about Raul Ibanez? Is it meant to be deliberately misleading?

    Raul Ibanez has “the team’s largest percentage of win shares”? So what? Maybe he is the MVP on the Mariners.

    If anyone were to suggest using Win Shares to award the MVP (and I have not heard anyone suggest that), then the only logical way to do it would be to give the award to the highest win shares player in each league.

    That would be Lance Berkman in the NL and Joe Mauer in the AL, I believe.


  2. Mike Lynch says:

    In addition to the Lincecum/Sveum screwups, three writers voted for Edinson Volquez for National League Rookie of the Year, even though he lost his rookie eligibility in 2007. That three members of the BBWAA didn’t know the rookie eligibility rule is inexcusable as far as I’m concerned.

  3. Brian Joseph says:

    Mike H:

    Here’s where that came from. Earlier this year on another site, I got into a discussion about why I think Albert Pujols shouldn’t be the MVP this year. The person argued that Pujols is more responsible for the Cardinals success than any other player in the NL and commented on his Win Shares and the large percentage of the Cardinals’ Win Shares he had.

    So, I went through and calculated the top player on each team’s win shares as a percentage of the team’s total win shares. The top two players in each league were:
    Lance Berkman (followed by Albert Pujols) in the National League and Raul Ibanez in the American League

    So, that is where that came from. :)

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