Some MVP ballots are more "interesting" than others

Bob Levey

You know how sometimes you hear an idea, and you can't believe you didn't think of it first? And you smack your forehead real hard with your palm?

Thursday night, I had an idea about the MVP voting and couldn't believe that nobody else ever thought of it:

Or maybe somebody had thought of it, and just didn't bother. The thing is ... It would be a lot of work. You've got 60 voters, with 10 slots apiece ... hey, 600 data points. But that's just the beginning!

Well, according to my conception, anyway. We'll get to that in a minute. Someone did take my idea and ran with it. Ran with it real fast, as a young fellow put together a nifty table showing the standard deviation for every MVP voter's ballot! He initially described this as a way to rank the worst ballots, but I don't think that's fair. Maybe the voter who strays farthest from the crowd actually has the best ballot. Rather, I prefer to think of the ballots at the upper end of the scale as the most interesting. No judging here, friends.

Here were the most interesting American League voters, with highlights:

1. Phil Rogers (Chicago) - Kipnis 5th, Victorino 10th
2. Bill Ballou (Boston) - Trout 7th, Chris Davis 1st
3. Wallace Mathews (New York) - Scherzer 3rd, Felix Hernandez 10th
4. Rob Bradford (Boston) - Encarnacion 8th, Uehara 10th
5. John Hickey (Oakland) - Donaldson 1st, Adam Jones 5th

... and the most interesting National Leaguers:

1. Bill Brink (Pittsburgh) - Yadier Molina 9th
2. Rick Hummel (St. Louis) - Kimbrel 4th, Russell Martin 10th
3. Jon Heyman (at large) - Puig 8th, Kimbrel 9th
4. Tracy Ringolsby (Denver) - Hanley Ramirez 3rd
5. Bill Center (San Diego) - Freddie Freeman 4th, Jay Bruce 5th

I will note, in passing, that Yadier Molina's two first-place votes came from St. Louis writers Hummel and Derrick Goold. That's not a criticism; it's a defensible position, I'm sure. But I'll also note that Hummel doubled down with Matt Carpenter in the No. 2 slot. I mean, it's possible that the Cardinals were blessed with the two most valuable players in the whole league.

Probably not.

Again, though, this little essay isn't about bad; it's about interesting. Most of the ballots, even those mentioned above, are generally and often completely defensible. Yes, it's nonsensical to place Chris Davis first and Mike Trout seventh. No, I wouldn't have a closer fourth. And yes, Bill Center seems to have an unhealthy affection for Runs Batted In. But considering that both Cabrera and McCutchen were landslide winners, there's little point in picking on individual voters.

Back to my original idea, though ... I'd like to see the ballots compared to some measure of value, or values. You could compare them to a composite Wins Above Replacement, or Win Probability Added, or even (just for fun) R'sBI. Which would be a lot more work.

So why bother? Accountability, that's why. For better or worse -- better, I think -- the ballots are public now. But without any systematic analysis of those ballots, we're left to just point at Ballou or whomever and snicker. Which is good clean fun, sure. But not particularly illuminating.

Finally, I should mention that I don't mean to suggest that a systematic analysis would allow us to separate ballots into GOOD and BAD piles. John Hickey listed Coco Crisp ninth on his ballot. The raw numbers don't support the notion that Crisp was the ninth-best player in the league. But for all we know, Crisp played a key role in nurturing Josh Donaldson, who is a legitimate MVP candidate. Hickey was around the A's for seven months. If something like that did happen, he would know.

I just want to know who's doing what. Once we've got the data, it's our responsibility to figure out what it means. Without being jerks about it.

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