Evidence is for suckers

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Or: How I learned to stop caring about the MVP.

Marty Marion was the Most Valuable Player of the National League in 1944. He hit .267 with 6 home runs and 63 runs batted—

—Wait, that doesn't sound right. Let me double check that ... No, I guess that's right.

He also scored 50 runs and stole one base.

Hold on, I must be reading the wrong line or something ... No. No, that's correct.

Marion's on-base percentage -- nobody except Ted Williams and Branch Rickey paid any attention to on-base percentage in 1944 -- was .324. In the first half of the season, he hit .254/.314/.317.

Okay, it is now apparent to me that someone (possibly hacktivists!) has been screwing with Baseball-Reference.com. I better consult my old Baseball Encyclopedia. Just a sec ...

*I'll be danged.*

Marty Marion was not a great hitter. In his best seasons, he sort of flirted with average. But he was, by all accounts, a brilliant shortstop, the Ozzie Smith of his era, and he won the MVP with his glove. Actually, I'm just assuming he won the MVP with his glove, because he sure as shit didn't win it with his bat.

Stan Musial, Marion's teammate, was the best player in the National League that year, and basically every year until they let Willie Mays out of the army. But Musial had just won the year before* and besides, any idiot can hand the MVP to the best player. Why would we need the BBWAA to do that? Just as only an architect can design a building that deliberately obstructs the view of an adjoining creek, only a sportswriter can make the case that the best player isn't the most valuable.

* What are you going to do, give the MVP to the same guy TWO YEARS IN A ROW?! That's ignorant!

The story is what matters to the writers, because they're the ones who write the stories. One year the story is Marty Marion's defense or Maury Wills' baserunning.* This year, defense and baserunning don't matter. The problem isn't that the voters overvalue fielding and baserunning one year, and undervalue them in another. The problem is that these kinds of considerations -- the value of baserunning, or, say, how runs are scored -- don't enter into it.

* One year the story was Andre Dawson's blank contract. One year the story was almost Shannon Stewart.

The story is why there's not an MVP Predictor. In The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers, the authors introduced the Cy Young Predictor, a formula that tells you who will win the Cy Young award in a given year. You may have heard about it on the news because NASA uses it to calibrate their instruments. That's how accurate it is.

Anywhoozles, because there are fewer candidates for the Cy Young award every year and/or because the Cy Young award, unlike the MVP, is mostly divorced from team performance, it's easier to guess who's likely to win from the statistical record. This isn't possible with the MVP award. Here, let's try it anyway:

The Most Valuable Player is ...

a) The guy with the most RBIs
b) ... On a playoff team
c) ... Unless he won last year
d) ... Or is a big jerk like Ted Williams or Albert Belle
e) Definitely not a relief pitcher
f) ... Except every 20 years or so
g) Triple Crown winners are automatic
h) ... Unless d) applies
i) No PEDs.
j) Ha ha, just kidding. PEDs!
k) No seriously, you guys. No PEDs. From now on.

You can't predict who will win the MVP from the statistics because there are no real principles underpinning MVP voting. You can sort of make out what the writers like with pitchers -- Wins, ERA, strikeouts, innings -- that's usually enough information to sleuth the Cy Young winner. The only principle in MVP voting is "Whoever we want, for whatever reason we decide."

Evidence doesn't matter. The writers use anything at hand as a cudgel against their ideological enemies. (They especially like to use statistics to put statheads in their place.) Last year's junk stat is this year's trump card. Winning the Triple Crown is dispositive if you're Miguel Cabrera but meaningless if you're Lou Gehrig. Being the best fielder in the league is persuasive if you're Marty Marion in 1944 but worthless if you're Brendan Ryan in 2009. Defense and baserunning carried the day for Ichiro and Jimmy Rollins, but this year, the writers have discovered that fielding is some kind of abstract nerd conspiracy.

The problem isn't a matter evidence, exactly, it's deciding the outcome before marshaling evidence and making an argument. We're all guilty of this to some extent. Politicians do it. Judges do it. Mainstream sportswriters do it like the world will stop spinning if they don't. Do not misunderstand me, this not a plea to the writers to change their ways and rethink their processes before turning in their ballots this year. That's not happening.

This is a plea to you, Baseball Nation reader: Marshal your evidence and then decide for yourself. Do what I do and stop caring about who wins the MVP, because the people who vote for the MVP don't care a whit about you.

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