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November 15, 2012 at 4:52 PM

Miguel Cabrera wins AL MVP, now everybody take a chill pill

miggy.jpg
They say the youth is wasted on the young. Along those lines, I’m starting to think the internet is wasted on the…um, the intelligence-challenged. I mean, we have this great tool at our disposal, a treasure trove of information sharing at our fingertips, and we use it to become dumber, not smarter.

Exchanging ideas? No, let’s be honest. We use the internet to take our own ideas, seek out anyone who agrees with them, then dismiss out-of-hand those who don’t. We use it to insult the other side and never consider what they’re trying to say.

Somebody brings up a valid point worth considering? Hey, just switch web sites (or news channels) and go to one that tells you exactly what you want them to. It’s a great way to grow one’s mind.

It’s landed our country in fantastic shape, as evidenced by the last half-decade of economic turmoil, not to mention a really fun election campaign in which serious issues were properly vetted and considered.

And that same line of thinking, on a much lesser scale, has led to a marvellous discussion over the merits of Miguel Cabrera versus Mike Trout in the AL MVP debate. In case you hadn’t heard, Tigers slugger Cabrera won it tonight with 22 of 28 first-place votes.

Already, the internet is exploding with dissenting opinion bordering on schoolyard trash-talking. The twittersphere is all agog. Even before the results were announced, some were ridiculing the choice of Cabrera as winner, sensing that their preferred guy wasn’t going to make it.

For those who fit that description, it’s time to take a chill pill.

As I wrote a month ago, there were compelling cases to be made for both players that go well beyond the overly-simplistic “This is a referendum on WAR” or “It’s all about the Triple Crown” arguments.

Both players were deserving. There are easy cases to make for either player without resorting to cheap cop-outs and labeling.

The first thing you have to accept when looking at BBWAA MVP awards voting is the best part of the whole process: there isn’t meant to be a right or wrong answer. This isn’t a vote for Most Outstanding Player who compiled the best stats over a full season. It isn’t for The Best WAR Total, or The Best RBI Total or The Best Producer on a Winning Team.

It’s for the Most Valuable Player.

And yes, it’s been left open to interpretation. By design, not by accident or omission.

Photo Credit: AP


There’s a very good reason why the baseball MVP debate continues to be the strongest and most widely watched of all the major sports awards. It’s because there is no clear-cut definition of what makes somebody valuable.

Value is in the eye of the beholder.

This isn’t the same as the Gold Glove Awards, which are clearly supposed to be about the best defender. Those awards generate controversy each year because there are newer statistics that purport to show the defensive side more strongly than older numbers and which continue to not be represented among winners.

That isn’t the case here with MVP Awards.

Again, there is no one stat that defines value, even though some claim to try. Value is something subjective, so no one objective stat has cornered the market on it. Not WAR (Wins Above Replacement Level), not OPS (on-base-plus slugging percentage), not RBI, not batting average, not Fielding Percentage, UZR, DRS, DIPS or anything else. Not an ALCS championship, a World Series championship, a third-place finish in the AL West, nor a clubhouse straw poll.

It can be a combination of all of the above, or none.

That’s up to the individual voter to decide and I happen to know quite a few of them who consider a majority of these things, if not all of them.

I don’t want this to be a WAR Award, nor an RBI Award.

Boring.

I want a little suspense. I want to go into the process knowing there may something that comes out of it that surprises me. I don’t watch sports events because a computer tells me two hours before the game which team will win. I watch because I realize that life is more random than we think, surprises can happen, and we really don’t have it all figured out.
If somebody were to vote for, oh, I don’t know, Howie Kendrick, as league MVP, yeah,I’d have a big problem with it as would most of the country.

But that’s not how these votes have traditionally gone. The winner is usually a very deserving ballplayer whose merits can be easily explained through a collective methodology that a majority of voters come to a consensus on all by themselves.

A majority, yes. Not a unanimous collection of voters. At least, not most of the time. Guess what? That’s life. Not everybody has to be in unanimous agreement.

I didn’t have an MVP vote this year (I did pick Trout for Rookie of the Year and it was pretty easy to do so). If I did have an MVP vote, after some very long and careful deliberation, I probably would have given it to Cabrera.
Not because of his Triple Crown, or his offensive WAR or anything like that.

For me, an MVP is a player who continues to produce at an elite level when the pressure is on and something big is at stake.

Both players, in this case, were involved in playoff races that stretched through August and September. We know that Cabrera’s Tigers eventually won their division and Trout’s Angels did not make the playoffs — though they finished with more wins than Detroit.

Anyhow, that’s only part of the equation.

Trout produced an OPS of .866 in August and .900 in September. Very good numbers, to be sure.

But Cabrera took his numbers well beyond those, posting a 1.092 and a 1.071 in August and September.

For me, in an MVP debate, that’s a marked difference. Enough of a difference to assign more “value” to Cabrera and give him the award.

That’s it and that’s all. No more complex than that. In a very tight race between two deserving candidates, I’m giving it to the guy demonstrably better on offense whose play helped his team win the division.

Now, I suppose we could try to factor in the defensive and baserunning differences over that two-month span and try to see how much closer Trout got in terms of WAR over that timespan.

But I also know that I keep being told how WAR is somewhat unreliable over small samples. Just like defensive metrics — part of WAR — should not be looked at on a monthly or even half-season basis for anything too reliable. There is a degree of subjectivity to it that tends to be weeded out over longer periods. They have that with offense as well, to a degree, but again, we’re still in the infancy of really nailing down the defensive side of things when it comes to advanced metrics. So, yeah, that adds to the uncertainty if I’m gauging performance over that final stretch of the season.

Hey, it’s not a perfect methodology. I’ll admit it. If we were a little more certain about how the reliability of defensive excellence compares to offensive performance over small samples, I might take yet another look.

But for me, a nearly 200-point OPS difference over the most crucial part of a season is a tough thing to overlook in a discussion about value.

That’s just me. That’s how I see it. Doesn’t make me right or wrong. Nor does the fact that 22 of 28 voters felt Cabrera was the better guy.

And if Trout had won the MVP because other voters felt his defensive contributions in May-through-July were just as compelling, I would not take to the internet to whine about it and insult those who disagreed with me.

If somebody wants to tell me that Yuniesky Betancourt deserved the Gold Glove award at shortstop, yeah, I’d get on here and be pretty vehement in my opposition because there’s night and there’s day and we’re all smart enough to know the difference.

But for something this close between two guys who performed some extraordinary feats? There are better things in the world to throw down over.

The internet was a fabulous invention for those who want to use it to share ideas and engage in real debate. For others, it’s become a platform to vent their anger because life isn’t turning out how they’d planned, or they’re finally figuring out that their feelings and agendas aren’t shared by all. All I’ll say to those people is…grow up.

The baseball MVP award is among the most widely-anticipated in all of sport because it reflects the differences of opinion we as human beings have. I don’t want an award where I knew who the winner was going to be six weeks ago because I read it in a newspaper boxscore.

I like surprises. I like diversity. I like differences of opinion.

For those of you who don’t, or who want the world to be an orderly place where you know all the answers and can predict what’s going to happen long before it ever does? All I can say is, you’re in for a rude awakening. Life just doesn’t work that way. The sooner we all figure that out, the quicker we’ll start to use the internet as the tool it’s meant to be rather than the mud-slinging gripe-fest it’s become.

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