Thursday is Most Valuable Player Day.
With Major League Baseball set to announce the two winners of the award for 2013—one each from the American and National Leagues—there's no better time than now to share an account of what goes on inside one person's mind when considering, evaluating and deciding upon MVP candidates.
That person is yours truly.
This exercise is not meant as a "how to" for everyone (or even anyone), nor is it intended to be the "correct" formula needed to properly reach a conclusion on this matter.
Rather, think of what follows merely as a peek into one person's particular approach along with a list of criteria. You might agree with all, some or none of it, but that's for you to decide.
With that in mind, here's a rundown of sorts that I try to employ when determining who should be each league's MVP-winner.
*All statistics are courtesy of FanGraphs.com, unless otherwise noted.
Let's start out simple. I like my MVP to stand out right away, just by looking at a batch of baseball's typical, traditional statistics.
I mean the ones that are known solely by their abbreviations: BA, OBP, SLG, R, HR, RBI, SB for hitters, and IP, ERA, WHIP, K/9, BB/9, HR, BAA for pitchers.
Players, even the best among them, come in all different shapes and sizes and with all sorts of skill sets, so it's not like across-the-board domination is necessary here. But leading the league or finishing in, say, the top five in a few of the above numbers—like Miguel Cabrera, who tops all of baseball in the triple-slash stats at .348/.442/.636—is a good place to start.
An MVP should be noticeable without having to dig too deep below the surface. I don't want to feel like I'm trying too hard to unearth the initial names worth considering. First impressions can be key.
An Advanced Approach
That doesn't mean, though, that another layer or two of data should be neglected or ignored.
With all sorts of ways to parse and splice fun (and more complex) advanced metrics—like ISO, OPS+, wOBA, wRC+, FIP, ERA-, GB%, HR/FB, BABIP and LOB%—this is where I start to confirm or deny what I figured out to this point.
Beyond those digits, it's worth looking into some in the defensive and base-running realms, too, since there's more to baseball than just offense.
And of course, wins above replacement (WAR)—an all-encompassing metric that puts every element of the game into one number—can be extremely useful for quick comparisons. This is especially true when weighing a position player, like Andrew McCutchen and his 8.2 WAR against a pitcher like Clayton Kershaw and his 6.5 WAR.
*If you need to brush up on the meanings of or calculations behind any of these, FanGraphs' glossary is a very useful and helpful resource.
Consistency or Crescendo
These two aspects aren't quite as high on the priority list, but they both can help with the decision-making process.
Ideally, the player I'm eyeing for MVP should have been able to remain consistent all season long or get better as the year progressed. Either scenario is great, with the only caveat being that the ability to get better shouldn't be tied to the player starting off so slowly that he can't help but improve.
There is value is playing everyday, or just about, as well as in avoiding wild fluctuations of production—where April's 1.100 OPS is followed up by May's .700, for example.
It also can be a nice little bonus for performance to spike over the second half of the year, particularly the final month or two if the player is involved in a playoff race. It's not a must, but hey, it doesn't hurt.
No Flaws or Faults, Please
I'm of the belief that the MVP should be as close to sans weakness as possible. While no player is perfect, possessing or displaying a major problem can be enough to downgrade a candidate.
Because we're already working with legitimate award-worthy candidates by now, the flaws are likely few and far between. Still, some of the more common ones for a hitter could be a bad strikeout rate, a poor platoon split or a noticeable disparity in performance on the road compared to at home (especially if home is a particularly hitter-friendly park).
A few examples of such flaws could be: Chris Davis' 29.6 percent strikeout rate this season, or his .763 OPS against lefties (compared to 1.142 against righties), or his .266 average on the road (versus .307 at home).
Position Player Over Pitcher
There's not a lot in the way of explanation needed for this one.
In my mind, even though pitchers have their very own award all to themselves, they're certainly eligible and capable of winning the MVP award, too.
The thing is, it's only happened a few times—most recently in 2011, when Justin Verlander became just the 10th hurler to do it—and it really requires the perfect storm scenario: a too-good-to-ignore year by the pitcher and no standout season by a position player.
Oh, and no relievers, please. It's hard enough for starting pitchers to even be considered for MVP when they accumulate 230 innings pitching every five days, so a late-inning arm can't get the hardware when he throws all of 70 innings, no matter how dominant.
In the End, Winning Counts
In short, while it's not a must, I do prefer my MVP to come from a winning team, and, ideally a division-winner.
I fully grasp and respect the argument that a player's teammates and their performance (or lack thereof) shouldn't be held against that player in his candidacy for MVP. Still, overall team success needs to be factored in to some degree.
That said, if a particular player is unquestionably head and shoulders above the other contenders, he has a claim to the award, even if his team finishes in last place. This happened most recently in 2003 when Alex Rodriguez pulled the trick while playing for the Texas Rangers.
Still, there is a definite advantage to being on a contending team, or at least a winning one. Think of it along the lines of how college admissions offices treat SAT scores or how hiring firms weigh experience on résumés; if you don't make the cut at a certain predetermined level, it's not impossible to get in or get the job—but it is that much harder.
All in all, when it comes to Most Valuable Player, I do think there's an emphasis to the middle word.
Now, if only it were called the Most Outstanding Player...
If you want to share your own MVP criteria, please feel free to do so in the comments.
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