958 words on weirdness in the AL MVP ballot

Edit: Why not to base your title on word count: Found I missed 2007, so now we’re up to 958.

The annual Baseball Writers Association of America awards are bringers of great joy this time of year, not for celebrating the best the game had to offer in the past season but creating fantastic opportunities for snark and studies of human nature.

I’ve spent the past half an hour starring at the AL MVP Ballot, which gave Justin Verlander the MVP, the first time a pitcher has won the award since 1992.

While pitchers on the ballot is a whole other discussion, what fascinated me was the wide range of opinions demonstrated up and down the ballot, leading me to conclude that the 28 writers selecting the award have almost no cohesive idea how to value performance by baseball players.

Before I get into it, let me say that on its face, that’s not a bad thing. Having many different voices is a great thing and should be applauded most of the time. There was definitely no “right” choice this year in the AL, and it was expected to be a tight race with lots of candidates at the top.

Still, there seems to be almost no consensus of what any given player meant to his team, which you would expect to see (at least a few times) when 28 people who do nothing but watch baseball get together to decide which one of those players was the best.

I start with Michael Young of the Texas Rangers.

Yes, he had a good year, hitting .330/.380/.474 on the year, good for 3.8 fWAR. He spent the majority of the year as a DH.

While that was a good year, it wasn’t even the best on his own team. Ian Kinsler player good defense at second base and had a .370 wOBA, earning 7.7. fWAR.

Despite that, Young got nearly four times the number of MVP points as Kinsler. But that’s not what jumped out to me.

Young got a vote in all 10 positions, from first place to 10th. Someone thought he was the best player in baseball, someone else found nine other guys. Both writers cover American League baseball for a living.

Since Young was a DH you can take fielding out. That means someone thought Young was a better hitter this year than Jose Bautista, or more likely, that Bautista didn’t count becuase the Blue Jays didn’t make the playoffs (which still wouldn’t explain away Miguel Cabreara …)

There has been lots of discussion about whether or not this was “right,” as in correct, but I don’t mind that. Writers have made awful choices in these awards all the time, with mostly harmless results. You cover the Rangers and think Young is a gerat guy and that counts more than talent at hitting a baseball? Knock yourself out.

If Young got his one first place vote and the rest down ballot, whatever. It’s the range that seems odd. If you got all the writers in a room, there would be almost no agreement how much Young actually contributed this year.

Young wasn’t even the only player to get a first and 10th place vote, with Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox also pulling off the feat.

Of the top eight finishers (using Young as our floor), no player had a range of less than seven, with Yankee Curtis Granderson getting first though seventh place votes.

After looking through some past ballots, though, this isn’t so surprising.

Jose Bautista got first and 1oth place votes last season, though everyone agreed winner Josh Hamilton was at least one of the top four players in the league.

In 2009 Miguel Cabrera got first and tenth, with that one first place vote the only thing keeping Joe Maurer from an unanimous victory. Cabrera’s supporter put Maurer second.

In 2008 Francisco Rodriguez got a first and 10th for setting the single season saves record. While Dustin Pedroia only received votes in first through fourth, he was left off a ballot.

In 2007 ARod ran away with the vote, with no first-10th players.

In 2006 Johan Santana was first and 10th, while teammate Justin Morneau won with no voted lower than fourth.

In 2005 there were no first-10th players, with everyone agreeing winner Alex Rodriguez and second-place finisher David Ortiz were two of the top three players in the league.

In 2004 Vlad Guerrero ran away with the award, no votes below fourth, no first-10th.

Aw, but 2003, that was a vote.

It had the most recent total for a winner (242 for Alex Rodriguez) lower than Verlander’s 280, saw eight players get at least one first place vote and six first-10th players.

There were also two players, Manny Ramirez and Shannon Stewart, who pulled Michael-Young’s with votes in every position.

What’s really surprising is none of it had to do with pitchers, who seem to mess up the ballot. A’s reliever Keith Foulke was the top-finishing pitcher at 15th.

While this wasn’t a scientific study in any way, it appears the BBWAA freaks out every once in a while. There also seems to be deep divides in how to measure the value of a pitcher and someone who doesn’t play much in the field, with those two types more likely to get a wide range of votes.

What’s holding me back from digging into this more is that lack of ballots from pre-2003. BBWAA has those up on their website, but Baseball-Reference only has order of finish, not full ballots, before then.

As I was writing this up Joe Sheehan tweeted something I thought put this into a better light. We have to remember that award voting is a side-benefit to being a baseball reporter, not something integral to the job. Reporters are not hired based on their voting behavior.

The ability to report and the ability to evaluate are completely disparate skills. The voting pool pulls from reporters, not evaluators.


Joe Sheehan



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