We’re destined to have a good postseason award fight every year. Last year was the great pitchers’ wins debate, in which people argued about whether or not Felix Hernandez should win the Cy Young despite not having a lot of them. This year it’s going to be the “MVPs can only come from winning teams” debate, with Jose Bautista as the bone of contention.
Today’s Jon Heyman’s column crystallizes the issue for us. A column in which he says that Jose Bautista would be his fifth-place MVP candidate. The reasoning is familiar and not unique to Heyman:
Stats are most assuredly a major part of the equation. But they shouldn’t be completely determinative. Otherwise, let’s just run the numbers through a computer. And rename the award Most Outstanding player. Because there’s no way to put a number on the value of leading a team into the postseason, which should be everyone’s goal.
Like people, stats are imperfect. Even WAR, which I agree is a very useful stat, is imperfect because it depends on the value placed on other statistics by the person who devises the formula. The ultimate goal of any player is to win, so the value of the individual accomplishments that lead to a pennant should be viewed in that context.
So while Bautista has been the most outstanding player in the league whether you use WAR or OPS or or any other key stat, it’s a tough case to make for him as MVP in a year when so many stars are ushering their team into the playoffs.
I guess what I don’t understand here is if “leading a team into the postseason” is the criteria, how can Heyman include four Red Sox in his top ten? Jacoby Ellsbury, Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz all being so awesome, how can it be said that anyone “led” that group? It was a total team effort — of a stacked team — which got the Red Sox where they are. None of those guys has either (a) played as well as Bautista; or (b) done anything superhuman or singular. It’s a wolfpack of excellent players, none of whom are as good as Bautista, and none of whom — if surrounded by Bautista’s supporting cast — would be playing on a playoff team this year either.
I know the arguments that will come. I am well-aware of the how people engage in the precise parsing of the term “valuable” and put forth the idea that it’s not called the “most outstanding player award.” But it seems to me that in order to get to the place where one can start hashing out the definition of “valuable” one has to totally ignore the fact that baseball is a team sport. And I don’t understand what good an award is if it’s premised on completely and utterly divorcing it from the essence of the game itself.
And of course there’s a final irony here. It’s usually the guys who are the biggest proponents of “team chemistry” — the guys who believe that you can’t win jack without 25 guys working together — who tend to argue that one guy can single-handedly lead a team into the playoffs. Does that make any sense to you? It doesn’t to me.