MLB, NFL, NBA: MVP Awards Are No Longer About Value, but Should Be
The Oxford English Dictionary defines value as “the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.”
For far too long sports writers, fans, broadcasters and commentators have made an MVP award – in every sport – synonymous with a “Best Player” award. More often than not it is the player deemed the best in that particular sport’s season that is awarded the title of “Most Valuable Player.”
And while he may have been the best-performing player, he is labeled as most valuable, when in all actuality he just put up the best stat line.
Sometimes the terms “most valuable” and “best player” can be interchangeable. However, there are other times when too much attention is paid to one player’s statistics, ignoring the true value of another.
A 2013 Bugatti Veyron—SS, GS, or GS Vitesse—may be the best car on the market today, but the most valuable car is a 1957 Ferrari Testa Rossa—occupying the No. 1 and No. 2 spots on the top-10 list of most expensive cars in the world, the 250 prototype on which all proceeding Testa Rossas will be built and one of only 19 1957 Testa Rossa 250’s that were built for those who may be interested.
The most recent case of “best” triumphing over “valuable” in the sporting world was the 2011 NFL MVP selection.
I would like to preface my argument by admitting I am a Green Bay Packers fan and make no bones about it. But as great as Aaron Rodgers was in 2011—and he was the best player in the NFL—Peyton Manning should have been named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.
Aaron Rodgers’ greatness in 2011 cannot be questioned. But after witnessing Matt Flynn’s performance in the Packers’ win against the Detroit Lions in Week 17 along with his performance on short notice in the Packers’ 2010 Week 15 loss to the New England Patriots with one the best quarterbacks and coaches of all-time on the opposite sideline, Aaron Rodgers’ value to the team has to have diminished, if only slightly.
It is difficult to place a value on Rodgers since there are not any football metrics equivalent to baseball’s sabermetrics—ESPN’s new Total Quarterback Rating comes close, but is still far away—and because he has not missed an extended period of time.
For argument’s sake, the Aaron Rodgers-led Packers had a record of 35-11 (games missed not included) from 2009 to 2011—a rounded-up average record of 12-4, making the playoffs all three seasons and winning Super Bowl XLV.
On the flip side, from 2008 to 2010 the Indianapolis Colts with Peyton Manning also averaged a 12-4 record, made the playoffs all three seasons and won their division twice.
And while their records and accomplishments are both admirable, the argument for Peyton Manning being the Most Valuable Player in 2011 lies in the win-loss column.
In 2011 without Peyton Manning the Colts managed a dismal 2-14 record. That means Peyton Manning alone was worth 10 wins to the Colts—that is 63 percent of regular-season NFL schedule, a stat unmatched by any player to any team in any sport.
One contemporaneous example in a different sport would be LeBron James when he left the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Cavs went 19-63 in the 2010-2011 season following the three-year span of the 2007-2008 to 2009-2010 seasons when they had averaged a regular-seasonal record of 58-24 while making at least the Eastern Conference Semifinals each year. This sets LeBron’s value at 39 wins per season.
So, after factoring the NBA’s 82-game schedule and the NFL’s 16-game schedule to equate to one another, one NFL game would equal 5.125 NBA games, or 5.125 NBA games would equal one NFL game.
That would mean LeBron’s value would be at 7.6 wins using the NFL’s short schedule; Peyton Manning’s value using the NBA’s schedule would be 51.25 wins—still greater than LeBron’s.
You could also look at the Patriots’ 2008 season when Tom Brady went down with a torn ACL in the Pats’ Week 1 matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Coming off the first undefeated regular season in the NFL since 1972, when Brady was lost for the rest of the year, the ultimate outcome of New England missing the playoffs was expected. But their record was not.
Even without Tom Brady, New England finished the season 11-5, barely missing the playoffs. In my eyes, the Patriots’ regular-season performance did diminish Brady’s overall value to his team, but it did not diminish my opinion of his talent.
If any team can lose a player like Tom Brady and barely skip a beat, then the player’s true value is not as high as it was believed to be prior to the injury.
It is this convergence of “best” and “value” that has distorted how we look at sports and an athlete’s accomplishments.
But in MLB’s 2012 season we have seen “best” and “valuable” divide from their formerly fused path to chart their own way to the American League MVP award. The 2012 A.L. MVP vote is a vote that could alter the way all future A.L. or N.L. MVP awards are voted upon, and how every sport’s MVP award should be voted.
This season’s American League MVP award will go to one of two players: Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout. The “best” or the “valuable.”
On one side, voters have a choice that represents the sporting world’s traditional MVP option: the best player in the game with the best stat line (i.e. Miguel Cabrera). On the other side, voters have a player that could set the new standard of voting for an MVP: placing a player’s value to his team and its success ahead of overall personal stat-line (i.e. Mike Trout).
Miguel Cabrera is believed by most to be the best player in the game and unquestionably the best hitter as he proved by winning the first A.L. Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967.
His talents at the plate are unmatched by any current player in the game. What he did by winning the Triple Crown is equivalent to a pitcher winning 25 games—a feat of complete and utter dominance.
Then there is Mike Trout, who finished the 2012 regular season ranked second in the A.L. in average at .326 and OPS at .963, with 30 home runs and 83 RBI, and 129 runs scored and 49 stolen bases – both good enough for first in the A.L. All as a rookie, I might add.
But what sabermetricians and those who use analytics to deduce the most valuable player will make note of is his WAR number—or Wins Above Replacement—and the Angels’ record prior to his call-up (6-14) and that thereafter (83-57) making him deserving of the MVP award.
But why is WAR so important? FanGraphs.com explains it as such:
You should always use more than one metric at a time when evaluating players, but WAR is pretty darn all-inclusive and provides a handy reference point. WAR basically looks at a player and asks the question, “If this player got injured and their team had to replace them with a minor leaguer or someone from their bench, how much value would the team be losing?” This value is expressed in a wins format, so we could say that Player X is worth +6.3 wins to their team while Player Y is only worth +3.5 wins.
Mike Trout’s WAR in 2012 was 10.7—2.5 above second place and 3.8 above Miguel Cabrera’s WAR of 6.9. But while both players have a WAR high enough to be placed in the WAR MVP ranking category Trout’s value of 10.7—No. 29 in the live-ball era—places his value to the Angels as greater than Miguel Cabrera’s to the Tigers.
Nothing that has been written here is to imply what Miguel Cabrera accomplished in 2012 is any less incredible and should not be inferred to dismiss or downplay his unbelievable achievement, but “best player” and “most valuable” are not one in the same.
It would not be the first time “value” and analytics prevailed over traditional voting in recent memory.
In 2009, Zack Greinke won the Cy Young Award with a WAR of 10.1, 2.16 ERA and a 16-8 record accounting for roughly 25 percent of the Kansas City Royals’ wins on a squad that mustered a dismal 65-97 record. It then again happened the next season with much more controversy.
In 2010, Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young Award with a 6.8 WAR, 13-12 record and a 2.27 ERA on a Seattle Mariners squad that amassed an astounding 61-101 record. That season he beat out David Price, who went 19-6 with 2.72 ERA, and CC Sabathia, who went 21-7 with a 3.18 ERA, but both had a WAR of only 4.4.
Will the rarity of the Triple Crown propel Miguel Cabrera to his first MVP award, or will the growing use of analytics in baseball propel Mike Trout to become the first player to win the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards in the same season since Ichiro did it in 2001 and the third player to do it ever (Fred Lynn, Boston Red Sox 1975)?
Now there is only one question left to ask: Who will be voted the 2012 American League Most Valuable Player?
We’ll just have to wait and find out.
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