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MVP: Correction and More

November 22, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Matt Kemp

[Christian Petersen / Getty Images / September 27, 2011]

I realized this morning, in reading about Justin Verlander’s receipt yesterday of the American League Most Valuable Player award, that my post on the matter last night had some errors. Tyler Kepner’s NYT article mentioned the last pitcher to receive the MVP, Dennis Eckersley in 1992, and I thought simultaneously “of course” and “how did I forget that last night?” I can blame the supposed list of MVP pitchers I relied on in Sports Illustrated, but I should have known better. And when I next checked my email this morning, there was a polite note from Joel suggesting that I might want to revise my post. This is my correction.

On being reminded of Eckersley, I also thought of Willie Hernández, who sure enough won the MVP in 1984. Like Eckersley, he was a relief pitcher. And Rollie Fingers in 1981. Oh, but maybe that’s the point. Maybe the SI list consisted of starting pitchers who received the MVP, not all pitchers. Well, if that’s the case, then they missed a starter too, Don Newcombe in 1956. Who knows? It was just a lousy list. I should have checked a more reliable source, such as baseball-reference.com. I apologize for my sloppiness.

As long as we’re on the subject, the National League MVP was announced today: Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers. With Verlander’s award in mind, I decided to take a look at the vote to see how pitchers fared. See for yourself. You’ll find that highest placed pitcher was Roy Halladay, named on 14 of 32 ballots and finishing 9th. Clayton Kershaw was on 11 ballots and finished 12th. Starting two positions lower, in 14th, players got just a handful of votes, with two more pitchers, Ian Kennedy and Cliff Lee, appearing in 14th and 15th and being named on 4 ballots each.

What to make of this? Not much, I suppose. But why did Halladay finish ahead of Kershaw after Kershaw dominated the Cy Young voting announced last week? (Kershaw received 27 first place votes along with 3 seconds and 2 thirds, while Halladay received just 4 first place votes along with 21 seconds and 7 thirds, both appearing on all 32 ballots.) Does it have something to do with Halladay’s team, the Phillies, making the playoffs, whereas Kershaw’s Dodgers, through no possible fault of his own, didn’t?

Speaking of the Dodgers, the more important question is why Matt Kemp finished second to Ryan Braun in the MVP voting. The two dominated the voting, the only ones to appear high up on all 32 ballots: 20 first place votes and 12 seconds for Braun; 10 firsts, 16 seconds, 6 thirds for Kemp. Shift six of Braun’s first place votes to second and six of Kemp’s second place votes to first and Kemp is the MVP. But as long as enough voters believe the MVP is an award for members of playoff teams only, we’ll keep having skewed elections.

There are bigger issues out there, I know. But as long as I was correcting yesterday’s post, I thought it worth exploring this theme again in light of today’s data.

PS In looking for a photo of Kemp, I found this column by Bill Plaschke in tomorrow’s LA Times (and the photo at top). Let me quote from it, the boldface emphasis being mine:

I need some dirt to kick. I need a base to throw. I need a big blue chest to bump. I need an explanation

How did the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp not win the National League most-valuable-player award?

Somebody tell me. Somebody show me. Use sabermetrics. Go to the video. I don’t care. If there is one piece of concrete evidence that says Kemp should not have been voted MVP over Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun, I want to see it.

This is a robbery greater than a Kemp leaping catch. This is a steal more blatant than a Kemp sprint. This is a hosing more definitive than when Kemp puts on his socks.

In voting by my fellow members of the Baseball Writers’ Assn. of America, Braun won the award Tuesday over Kemp, and it wasn’t really close, and it shouldn’t have been close. Kemp should have easily won, and if baseball ever needs instant replay, it is right now.

Kemp had more home runs than Braun. He had more runs batted in. He had more runs scored. He had more stolen bases. He had a better on-base percentage.

When you throw everything together and calculate the hot stat known as wins above replacement, which determines how many wins a player is worth to his team, Kemp led the NL and Braun finished second.

All this, and Kemp batted in a lineup filled with mediocrity while Braun had the benefit of batting in front of the man who finished third in the MVP voting, the mighty Prince Fielder.

[snip]

Braun won the MVP award because many writers have come to associate “most valuable” with “postseason,” and while the Brewers won the Central Division the Dodgers went nowhere.

Never mind that five other NL MVPs since 2000 have come from teams that didn’t reach the playoffs. Never mind that the last time a Brewer won the MVP award, Robin Yount led the 1989 team to a fourth-place finish.

And, really, never mind that the actual MVP ballot contains the mandate: “The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifiers.

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