Practice tolerance during award season

Every year, it seems a controversy accompanies the end-of-year awards process. This year won't be any different. On Monday afternoon, Sports Illustrated reporter and sabermetric lightning rod Jon Heyman released an early version of his ballot for the year-end season awards. Sure enough, his article set Twitter and the blogosphere afire with his position on the MVP selection process:

    But since the award is for most valuable player, and not most outstanding, the effect a player had on the pennant race should be vital. If someone else wants to interpret most valuable as synonymous to best, they can. And if someone else wants to interpret it as being valuable to a particular team, they can, too. But there is plenty of precedent to suggest it means valuable in the league.
    Of course, some will argue that precedent shouldn't count, and past mistakes should not be repeated. But I say the players understand going into a season that the criteria counted by most voters includes the team's standing to some degree. Players also know that winning is the goal. And I have yet to see a player on a non-contender publicly claim to be MVP.

The root problem behind the controversy plaguing the Most Valuable Player Award voting process is the word "valuable." What does it mean? How should we define it? It's pretty vague, and the rules provided by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) do a poor job clearing up the confusion. Not surprisingly, the lack of clarity about the rules leads each writer to create his own subjective interpretation of what the word means. When these interpretations don't jive with our own expectations, we tend to react emotionally, often with anger and disdain.

The portion of the article drawing the most ire from Heyman’s most fervent detractors was his placement of Jose Bautista on his American League MVP ballot:

    5. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays OF-INF. No question he's been the best player in the league. His 1.092 OPS is way ahead of the rest. Good at everything on a baseball field.

Understandably, upon seeing "the best player in the league" ranked fifth on Heyman’s ballot, it ruffled several feathers among the statistically-minded masses. If Bautista is the league’s best player, why wouldn’t he also be the most valuable? To most of us, it seems counter-intuitive and irrational to penalize a player for something he has little control over. Bautista can neither choose his teammates, nor magically lift his team’s performance to the level of a playoff contender at will. As good as he is, he’s just one person playing on a team with 24 other players. He can only be responsible for his own performance.

I'll be the first to admit my definition of value differs greatly from Heyman's. Whereas Heyman sees value meaning the best player whose "achievements did not go for naught and actually helped a team play into October," I view the process more analytically. I define value as a player's ability to create runs and wins as a result of his on-field production in all facets of the game. While I don't necessarily use Wins Above Replacement (WAR) specifically as a determinant, my methodology is pretty similar. At the end of the season, the player that produces the most on-field value wins my endorsement as MVP.

Since I focus solely on his on-field production, intangible factors like leadership and placement in the standings have no bearing on my opinion. To me, the league’s most valuable player and most outstanding player are synonymous. I neither see a distinction between the two terms, nor feel it’s appropriate to assume a player provides additional value simply by being on a playoff contender. Even if there was an intrinsic value associated with playing for a contender, we lack an objective method from which we can measure that value. In essence, we can neither prove it exists, nor determine its magnitude, thereby making it irrelevant.

Unfortunately, the vagaries that lie within the BBWAA’s cryptic MVP voting rules essentially allow one to set his own standards for voting. Despite feeling Heyman’s opinion is logically flawed, it’s one I must respect as being justified on its merits. Don’t get me wrong. I still vehemently disagree with him ranking Bautista fifth on his AL MVP ballot. Instead of getting angry about it, I’d rather stand my ground and respectfully argue my position. We all have our own methods for determining the MVP. It’s time we all cease in our attempt to redefine the word "valuable" to meet our own preconceived notions. If Heyman can do it, doesn’t he deserve the same respect?

Chip Buck writes for the Fire Brand of the AL blog on the Red Sox.