We learned two things on Monday. The first thing we learned is that Justin Verlander had won the American League MVP. The second thing we learned (or had reaffirmed) is that MVP voting is an imperfect science to put it nicely.
Seemingly every year, a member or two of the esteemed Baseball Writers Association of America mails in an MVP ballot that makes you scratch your head and go, "Huh?"
This year, one of those ballots belonged to Evan Grant, a Texas Rangers beat writer for the Dallas Morning News.
The BBWAA writers who vote on the MVP are asked to fill out a ballot of their top 10 for the award. A player gets a certain amount of points for a first-place vote and gets a lesser number of points for a second-place vote and so on and so forth.
So, Grant used his first-place vote on Rangers infielder Michael Young, who had a fine year, yes, but MVP worthy? That's probably going a bit far, especially when you take into account the fact the years that Verlander, Jose Bautista, Jacoby Ellsbury and Miguel Cabrera all had.
Young played in 159 games this season for the Rangers and was one of the primary reasons the Rangers won a second consecutive pennant. He led the league with 213 hits. Those hits helped him to a .338 batting average. His on-base percentage was .380, his OPS .854. He hit 11 home runs, drove in 106 runs and scored 88 runs.
All in all, not a bad season, right?
In fact, when you put it up against MVP numbers from the past few years, say with Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia's MVP campaign in 2008, it's comparable to say the least. Pedroia, like Young collected 213 hits, also to lead the league.
Pedroia's .326 average actually falls below Young's. As did his 83 RBIs, though Pedroia actually hit more home runs. Thanks to that, as well as a league-leading 54 doubles, Pedroia also bested Young in OPS. Pedroia also scored 118 runs, admittedly helped along by his position in a loaded lineup, but it was a figure that led the AL. Pedroia also won a Gold Glove to boot.
So, yeah, the comparison could surely be made. And if you want to call Pedroia an MVP in '08, you could also argue that Young could be the MVP in '11. Of course, however, there's a catch. Grant didn't vote for Pedroia to win the award in 2008, instead opting for teammate Kevin Youkilis. If you recall, however, Grant didn't even have Pedroia on his ballot during that season.
Grant has since backed off of that glaring omission, but when talking MVP ballots, especially when it comes to someone who placed Michael Young atop this year's ballot, the comparison, in my opinion, is valid and worth making.
Furthermore, Grant pegged Bautista in the seventh spot on his ballot. Ahead of Bautista, Young, Verlander, Cabrera, Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson, Ellsbury and Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez ahead of Bautista. To put Granderson and Gonzalez ahead of Bautista is perplexing to begin with, and even more so when you consider it didn't come from a not stationed in Boston or New York.
Of course, if we are going to criticize Grant for his voting, it's only fair to allow him a retort (and give him credit for defending it as well). He gave that on Monday afternoon when his column defending the pick was posted on his newspaper's website.
"My eyes told me Michael Young meant more to the Texas Rangers and their success than any player in the American League," he wrote.
Grant pointed to Young's consistency — a prerequisite for MVP in the eyes of many — as one of the reasons he voted for him. Fair enough. Grant also cited Young's numbers in "clutch" situations (the same reasons he initially used to defend the Pedroia decision) as a reason for voting for him. Young, Grant argued, stepped up when other Rangers around him went down with injury.
"And if we've learned anything from this year, it’s that projections don't win games –- performance does," Grant wrote. "Young gave the Rangers multiple contributions in multiple key spots in the lineup and by playing multiple positions when other key members of the starting lineup were hurt or struggling."
These are all sound arguments, and you'd be hard-pressed to say that Young didn't do all of those things. Yet, it's also tough to argue that players like Bautista, Verlander and Ellsbury didn't do those things as well. Heck, with a team crumbling around him in September, Ellsbury only got better. He hit .358 with eight home runs and 21 RBIs in September, with an otherworldly 1.067 OPS.
I know that because I watched Ellsbury all season long. If I had a vote, I'd have a hard time not giving it to Ellsbury (although Verlander is the right choice), but therein lies the bigger point. A lot of the voting is swayed, understandably, by who these voters see most often. That's only natural, and it certainly sounds like the reason Grant went with Young. It's probably one of the reasons he couldn't truly appreciate Pedroia's value in 2008, either — last mention of that, I swear.
In a perfect world, this imperfect system would have a clear-cut fix. I, admittedly, don't have that answer, and if that lessens my critiquing of someone's ballot, so be it. And like Grant said in his column, he's only one ballot.
And to prove this isn't just piling on, on top of Grant's ballot, it must be noted that there was someone who actually gave David Robertson a 10th-place ballot on their ballot. You could call this asinine, but that doesn't do it justice. Alex Avila got 13 points, and Alex Gordon received three 10th-place votes.
We haven't even touched on the fact that Verlander is left off of ballot in some cases because there's a school of thought that believes pitchers shouldn't get MVP votes — ever. It should go without mention, but apparently these people need a refresher, that there is no rule against pitchers winning the MVP. Maybe we can take a little solace in the fact that those people are very upset today. So there's that.
There are head-scratchers everywhere, not just on the ballot of one man in Texas.
Maybe it's time to find a new system for end-of-the-season award voting. There is plenty of stock put into these awards in terms of legacies, contracts and the like. Maybe members of the BBWAA just need a little more perspective. Whatever the case, until something changes, we'll likely be left to do a lot of head-scratching.
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