DON’T OVERTHINK IT: A LEAGUE’S BEST PLAYER DESERVES ITS MOST VALUABLE PLAYER AWARD

November 8, 2015
Nicholas Patrick

By nearly any meaningful measure, Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper was the best position player in the National League during the 2015 regular season. For this reason, I believe he should win the National League Most Valuable Player award – and he will win the NL MVP award. Furthermore, I also believe he should win unanimously, but he won’t – because a faction of voters exists within the Baseball Writers’ Association of America who make things far more difficult than they need to be.

This irrational thinking transcends 2015, and transcends baseball. I believe the best player in a league is, necessarily, the most valuable player in a league. The BBWAA overthinkers find a number of different reasons not to submit a first-place MVP vote to the league’s best player. Each of the overthinkers’ reasons makes little to no sense to me:

  • “Most Valuable” means something other than “Best”

Major League Baseball offers awards for every category imaginable, including:
-Best pitcher in each league
-Best first-year player in each league
-Best manager in each league
-Best general manager in each league
-Best performance by player in each league returning from absence or uncharacteristically poor performance
-Best defensive performance by player at each position in each league
-Best offensive performance by player at each position in each league
-Best relief pitcher in each league
-Most meaningful contribution to community and humanitarian efforts

Overthinkers somehow believe that MLB would offer all of the awards listed above and not offer an award for the best overall player. Many rational voters realize that MLB does offer an award for the best player – the elegantly-named Most Valuable Player award.

  • A player is not truly valuable if his team does not qualify for the playoffs

MLB already offers a number of team awards. They come in the form of banners for qualifying for the playoffs or winning championships of varying significance, or in the form of the trophy with all the little flags for winning the ultimate championship. The MVP is an individual award, carrying a fundamental implication that voters should separate team performance from individual performance. Overthinkers ignore that implication.

But even if one believes team performance should be considered, it makes no sense to blame a team’s best-performing player for their collective underperformance. One can easily conclude that such a player has inferior teammates when compared to any other player on a playoff qualifying team, and it’s awfully unfair to conclude that inferior teammates make a player less valuable.

  • A player on a non-contending team doesn’t face the same pressure as a player in a pennant race

Mmm maybe. But every player still faces the pressure of trying to win individual games. Measures already exist to measure a player’s clutchiness – most notably, Win Probability Added. And WPA leaderboards generally resemble leaderboards in many other categories meant to measure offensive performance.

  • A player on a non-playoff qualifier isn’t worthy of a first-place MVP vote, but IS worthy of a second-place vote, or third-place vote, etc.

This is the most frustratingly confounding argument of all. Overthinkers rarely submit a first-place MVP vote for any player on a team who does not qualify for the playoffs  – they believe it’s wrong to rank such a player ahead of all the key contributors on playoff qualifiers. However, these voters will often submit a second-place MVP vote for such a player (ranking him ahead of all but one of the key contributors on playoff qualifiers), or a third-place vote (ranking him ahead of all but two of the key contributors on playoff qualifiers), etc.

Makes. No. Sense.

Please vote responsibly – vote the best player for MVP.

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