The MVP post from earlier today has, predictably, set off a lot of debate. And it’s understandable debate given that there aren’t hard and fast guidelines for what actually constitutes the Most Valuable Player.
But that doesn’t mean there are no guidelines.
Indeed, as Anna McDonald of The Hardball Times reported last year after her conversation with the secretary-treasurer for the BBWAA, voters are given some guidelines. Among them, with the ones I feel to be germane to our discussion today bolded and italicized for emphasis:
“There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.
“The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931: (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; and (5) members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.”
So yes, that is pretty wide open. But there is at least some guidance there. Guidance which suggests that by making one’s MVP choices contingent on the player’s team being in the playoff race, one is reading in their own rules, not following any rule set forth by the BBWAA. It also provides at least some definition of “valuable,” and no part of that definition here contains the concept of “where would this team be without this player.” It’s merely the “strength of their offense and defense.” Strength which can be easily measured by statistics.
No, that doesn’t keep people from going off in their own direction. The voters can do whatever they want. But it should also be understood that many who make their voting decisions are bringing in their own predispositions to the process, not following some hard and fast rules written in stone.
Which, I should add, is actually kind of beautiful in a really frustrating way. My criticism of the “contenders only” camp does not mean that I find their views illegitimate. I just disagree with them and I find this kind of philosophical debate to be one of the things that make baseball — and arguing about baseball — so damn fun.