Joe Mauer and the MVP Award
The notion that Mark Teixiera is a shoo-in for the AL MVP award set off an absolute firestorm in the blogosphere, mostly circling around the fact that there’s a lot of people complete unaware that baseball exists outside of Boston and New York. Anyway, once the error in thinking was brought to the attention of the local guys in New York, the two sides quickly drew their battle-lines.
The debate centered mostly around exactly what the MVP is for. Of course, the ballot itself doesn’t exactly leave this up for debate. It lists the criteria in clear, bullet point form.
1. Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.
2. Number of games played.
3. General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.
4. Former winners are eligible.
5. Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.
Okay, so some of the criteria itself is vague and open to debate, but the most incredululous of emotions is derived from the stigma that the MVP has to come from a strong team, if not a first place team. That doesn’t pass the smell test to anyone who has senses, and just last year, Albert Pujols beat out Ryan Howard for the MVP award. Mind you, it was closer than it should have been, but the AL MVP race is shaping up similarly this year.
If you’ll remember, valuation metrics never viewed Ryan Howard as one of the top 2-3 players on the Philadelphia Phillies last year, despite the fact that he got significant pull towards the league MVP award. Unfortunately, that’s the way things have always been done. Howard is the middle of the order threat on a really good team, so he finished runner-up in the MVP race. This year’s AL race is not about Joe Mauer, and it never was.
There is no objective argument that suggests that Mauer isn’t the MVP this year, because everything we currently know about valuing baseball players says that this isn’t a close race. But that’s making the assumption that the Most Valuable Player award is about value, which is not entirely fair. The award is about what is fair to the contenders. And that’s not an objective arguement that suggests that there is a better baseball player in the AL than Joe Mauer.
This race is about Mark Teixiera. He’s going to wind up leading the best team in baseball in both RBI’s and slugging percentage. In the past, a performance like that has been rewarded with the MVP award. If it’s even close at the end of the year, he’s going to get the nod. Should he? That sounds like a rhetorical question, but it isn’t.
His numbers are very inflated by the ballpark he plays in, the people on base in front of him (like Derek Jeter), and general intangibleness…but he does fit all the criteria in most years. More importantly, he’s doing nothing right now that hasn’t earned plenty of people before him the MVP award. If you tell Teixiera “hey, you’re not actually the MOST valuable player in the league, (this is true) so despite your excellent production, you’re not actually under consideration for the award,” you’d be telling Teixiera that the performance level that was good enough for everyone in the past up until now is no longer what we’re considering. Is that fair?
Granted, it’s wrong to call this an open and shut case just yet with more than a month to go (says the man who called the AL Cy Young race with 2 months to go) for anyone. I think if Mauer continues this torrid pace, you have to give him the award. Have to. If he hits better than .360 on the year with a .450 on base percentage, and Pujols-esque OPS totals, then between that, and his defense, he’s GOING to win it. Outside of New York, I think Mauer has the lead in the mind of most people right now.
And I agree that, on a basic level, Derek Jeter is having a more valuable year than Mark Teixiera. I’m just saying that there’s nothing wrong with voting for a great player having a remarkable year.
Which is exactly why, if the race ended today, Joe Mauer should be the AL MVP.