Friday, December 27, 2013

2013 Breakdown of the Ted Musial Award

Every year, the BBA (Baseball Bloggers Alliance) selects noteworthy individuals in the game to win end of the year awards.  There are a number of different awards given away by the BBA.  You can find a list of the awards and my picks for each on my ballot here.  This post is a breakdown explaining my choices for the Ted Musial Award, which compares to the MVP.

Well I bucked the trend here.  I can tell you that this is the only award I selected where neither my AL nor my NL choice aligned with the rest of the BBA community.  In addition, one of my choices was not the same as both the BBA or MLB.  So I’m not afraid to go out on a limb.  However I think a lot of that has to do with my issues with the MVP voting, and the inherent ambiguity that is not only prevalent, but almost celebrated in the voting process.

In the NL, I went with Paul Goldschmidt, who neither baseball nor the BBA agreed with.  The reason I selected Paul was pretty straightforward.  I went with the player I thought had the best statistical year.  Some say that’s the wrong way to do things, but I’ll cover that in the breakdown of my AL choice.  Goldschmidt hit 302 with a league leading 36 HR (tied with Pedro Alvarez) and 125 RBI.  He also added 103 R and 15 SB to those totals while getting on base at a better than 400 clip, slugging over 550 and notching an OPS of 952.  And his defense as first was great.  I don’t know that any single player compared to him across the board in offensive categories, but maybe some came close.  In addition, he was easily the most valuable player on a good Diamondbacks team that didn’t make the playoffs, but finished right at 500 and in second in the NL West. 

The winner of both the BBA and MLB award was Andew McCutchen, who was masterful for the Pittsburgh Pirates in their first winning season in about 2 decades.  McCutchen hit 317 with 21 HR, 84 RBI, 97 R and 27 SB.  He had a 404 OBP, 2 points better than Paul but only a 508 slugging percentage, almost 50 points less than Mr. Goldschmidt.  His 911 OPS was great, but nowhere near what the Diamondbacks first baseman produced.  It’s easy to look at McCutchen, the leader of a young team that had an emotional season culminating in a playoff appearance and a win over the Reds in the Wildcard round (before being bounced in 6 games by the Cards in the NLDS).  The Pirates were a great story and McCutchen was their leader.  But he was not the best player in the league.  And while that may not necessarily be what the MVP was intended to be, it’s what it has become.  McCutchen plays a much tougher position than Paul Goldschmidt.  And he plays it well.  But Goldschmidt plays his position about as well as you can play it.  McCutchen is a better base runner, but Paul is very good with the most steals at his position.  And while McCutchen had a slightly better AVG, Goldschmidt was close to as good and blew McCutchen away in every other category, including R, where you would think McCutchen had the advantage.  McCutchen also had a better team around him.  Russel Martin was hot entering the post season and cracked 15 HR on the season.  Pedro Alvarez was tied for the league lead with 36 HR.  Francisco Liriano turned into an ace and Jason Grilli was masterful in the bullpen.  For the Diamondbacks, it was Paul and a bunch of nobodys as Aaron Hill was hurt, Adam Eaton was hurt, Miguel Montero was hurt, Jason Kubel was ordinary and the pitching was a mess outside of Patrick Corbin.  I never consider that one team made the playoffs when looking at MVPs, as individual players have little to do with a team winning.  McCutchen played well on a team that played well that played in a tough division, taking home a wildcard place at second in their division.  Paul Goldschmidt played well on a team that played in a less tough division and didn’t make the playoffs.  That had nothing to do with Goldschmidt.  He was a force despite being the only bat in the lineup that anyone feared.  That’s not easy to do.  McCutchen had some protection and put up good numbers.  Goldschimdt had no protection and put up better numbers.  So for me, Goldschmidt was far and away my winner.

And now let’s start the breakdown on my AL Winner, Miguel Cabrera.  Last year’s Triple Crown and MVP winner had another strong season.  And while last year I mistakenly selected him as my Ted Musial winner (more on that here) this year I’m more comfortable with my decision.  Cabrera led baseball with a 348 ERA.  That’s his second straight batting title (though I never count past achievements in what is supposed to be a yearly award).  And 348 is a phenomenal average, not like those years when someone hitting 320 steals the title in a weak year.  Cabrera was second with 137 RBI and 44 HR, trailing only Chris Davis in both categories.  He had the best on base percentage in baseball (442), the best slugging percentage (636) and the best OPS (1.078).  In addition his 193 Hits was second only to Adrian Beltre in the AL and he scored 103 R. He had a good year.  He was still not good defensively; in fact he was not even average.  His base running was similar to his defense.  And yet, I still chose to give him the award.

I considered 3 other players for the award.  Obviously Chris Davis led the league in HR and RBI.  That’s great.  But he only hit 286, impressive to be sure, but nowhere near what Cabrera did.  In addition, Davis is blessed neither with an impressive glove nor superior speed on the base paths and playing first is easier than playing third, even if you don’t play third well.  Adrian Beltre led the league in hits and is a phenomenal defensive third baseman.  I gave him a quick look also, but the rest of his numbers (302/30/92/88), while impressive, were not in the Cabrera or even Davis stratosphere. 

However there is one other player who I really seriously considered giving the award to.  And that was Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  He had another great year.  He hit 323 with 27 HR, 97 RBI, a league leading 109 R and 33 SB.  He did this while playing center field for the majority of the year, with some left sprinkled in.  Center field is arguably the hardest position to play defensively.  In addition, Trout is a phenomenal base runner who took 33 bases in 40 attempts.  Metrics put him at creating an additional 124 runs for his team, both at the plate and with what he is able to do on the bases.  He is a complete player.  I think he is the best all around offensive player in the game.  He is superior to Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis, Ryan Braun and Hanley Ramirez.  There are few who can do what he does in all areas of the game.  If I were starting a team, he would be the first guy I would take.  He is, hands down, the best overall player in the game (in my humble opinion).

So, why does the best player not win MVP?  Well, because I don’t think that’s what the MVP is looking for.  At least not anymore.  If you talked to me last year before the MVP was awarded, I would have said the MVP recognizes and awards the best player in baseball.  However, after last year’s Mike Trout vs. Miguel Cabrera argument, I no longer am sure.  The original rules for MVP balloting are still used and are somewhat vague.  I’ve listed the original rules for MVP voting below:

The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931:
1.  Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.
2.  Number of games played.
3.  General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.
4.  Former winners are eligible.
5.  Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.
You are also urged to give serious consideration to all your selections, from 1 to 10. A 10th-place vote can influence the outcome of an election. You must fill in all 10 places on your ballot. Only regular-season performances are to be taken into consideration.
Keep in mind that all players are eligible for MVP, including pitchers and designated hitters.

The rules tell you to consider not just the offensive production of a player, but also the defense of a player.  Also, to be fair to those who thought Mike Trout didn’t play a full season, which is why he was not the winner last year, the rules tell you to consider the number of games played for an individual player.  However Cabrera missed some games due to injury this year, and ran away with the award.  And Trout had comparable numbers to Cabrera last year, despite playing fewer games.  Doesn’t that make Trout’s overall performance more impressive?

But I don’t want to fall back into last year’s argument.  The point is this; the “valuable” part of the MVP is still unclear.  Does the value denote how important a specific player is to his individual team?  Does it refer to overall performance?  Number 1 seems to say both.  Yet that can be mutually exclusive.  The most obvious reading of the rules, specifically number 1, seems to say that a player’s import to his team is to be chiefly considered, in the strength of his offense and defense (with base running being considered a facet of offense).  So in that case, Trout was by far the most important offensive player on his team, carrying them to their mediocre record.  Without him they would be lost completely, as we saw last season when they were abysmal without him for the first month.  By comparison, Cabrera played on a team where Torri Hunter and Austin Jackson received MVP votes in the last two years and Prince Fielder was backing him up (though this year was a down year for Prince).  In addition, Victor Martinez and Omar Infante had strong offensive seasons.  And his team featured 2 pitchers who got Cy Young votes (as well as one who won an MVP in the last 3 years).  Trout was the only All Star on his team last year.  So in value to his team, Trout seems to blow Cabrera out of the water.  He did last year and this year, though last year his offensive stats were much better, and closer to the lofty stats put up by Cabrera.  In addition, you could argue Chris Davis and Adrian Beltre were more important to their teams than Cabrera was to his.  Or Robinson Cano.  Or Josh Donaldson.  So the “value” portion of the MVP award is dreadfully vague, and probably is the most in need of being cleared up.   In addition, Cabrera was on a playoff team and Trout was not.  I can tell you with a certainty that that affected the voting.  But I don’t think it should.  As I mentioned in the NL breakdown, individual players help teams to be sure, but have very little overall impact on a team making the playoffs.  In the AL, the West was much tougher than the Central.  I don’t count that against Trout nor have it help Cabrera.  So while that’s a common criterion used in voting for MVP candidates, it has no basis and I think is the most over-used and inaccurate measurement for those being considered for MVP.

History has shown us that generally the MVP is given to the best player statistically in a season.  However, knowing that offense and defense matter, it can be anyone, including a pitcher that takes home the honors, as we saw a few years ago with Justin Verlander.  For that reason, I think it impresses upon voters the need to vote for someone who excels in all parts of the game, as offense is only a portion of what is counted.  If offense counted for more than defense, than HOW COULD A PITCHER HAVE EVER WON THE AWARD???  So, last year with the offensive stat categories of Trout and Cabrera being so close, I think Trout’s vastly superior game on the bases and in the field should have given him the nod over Cabrera.  This year, I think Cabrera was far enough removed from Trout and everyone else offensively that he could take home the award based on his offense alone.  This in no way means I think he was the best player in the AL this year.  That was still Mike Trout.  He is a far better player than Cabrera, because he comes close to equaling his offensive production and vastly surpasses Miguel on defensive and base running fronts.  Again, it’s not that Trout is just better than Cabrera in those two facets of the game.  It’s that he’s one of the best in the game in both of those facets, and Cabrera is among the worst at his position defensively and no better than average (and that’s generous with his size) on the bases.  So while Cabrera was my MVP, I made the decision based entirely on his offensive achievements being far and away the best in the AL, enough to make up for any defensive or base running deficiencies.  I in no way think he was the most valuable to his team, as Torri Hunter and Victor Martinez also had strong offensive seasons on the Tigers and they had a pitching staff with the Cy Young Winner and another Cy Young candidate.  If I had to choose a player that had the most value to his team, I might go with Josh Donaldson.  And while both Cabrera and Donaldson were on playoff teams, I still believe the best player in the game was Mike Trout, on an Angels team that missed the playoffs for the second straight year.

The BBA actually selected Trout as their Stan Musial Award winner for the second straight year, whereas baseball selected Miggy as the MVP for the second straight year.  In the NL, McCutchen took home the award easily, but I think that was way off.  However until we clear up some of the MVP vagueness, we will have the same style of player win every season, even when others are clearly superior.  It will be the leader of a playoff team that had a good offensive season.  Sometimes he will be the best player overall.  Sometimes he will have had the best season.  Sometimes he won’t be close to either category, but will be valuable to his team.  And sometimes, he’s just the leader of one of the most exciting teams in the game.  All are noteworthy distinctions to be sure.  But all do not singularly nor collectively equate an MVP.  I’m okay with the choices, as all the players had good years.  But if we always want the winner to be from a playoff team, then we should specify that.  If we want to focus on value to a team as the overall most important stat, we should specify that as well.  Or if it’s just overall talent or the best season, we should specify that.  But until we do, we will continue to have these debates and question our winners.

Okay, so that’s it for the awards.  Let me know your thoughts.  Reach out to me on Facebook or tell me your thoughts on Twitter (@payoffpitch86).

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