IBWAA Awards – American League MVP – My Ballot
Last week I wrote an article that stated that as a new voting member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America (IBWAA), I wanted to put great thought into my votes. I want the IBWAA awards to be treated with the same (or even more) respect than the awards presented by other worthy organizations (BBWAA, Sporting News, etc.) The only way for this to occur, I reasoned, was for all of the writers to put great thought into their decisions.
With that as my charge, I set out to get this right. I want my votes to be carefully thought out, well-reasoned, and easily defensible. A person might disagree with my selections, but, in the end, I would hope that the critic would also admit that my decision process was sound and to also know that I didn’t take this task lightly.
And I didn’t…
As I started the process, I wanted to base my decision primarily on statistics. Stats are easily defensible, and, while they don’t tell the complete story of a player, or provide the absolute full picture, they tell a lot. We all know Babe Ruth was great, but knowing he hit 714 homeruns helps to illustrate how great he was. Ted William’s historic season in 1941 is remembered because he hit .406. In short, the numbers matter.
Knowing that numbers matter, that statistics tell much of the story, I was faced with my first quandary… what numbers should I look at? As a fan who grew up with the big three numbers for a player being batting average, homeruns, and runs batted in, there was a temptation to base my decision on those old standard metrics. But, as a fan who also embraced the early free thinkers in baseball (including Bill James and others), and many of the modern day metrics, I also know that those three measures are poor ways to truly judge a player’s overall worth. I still think they are important, I still care about those numbers, but they certainly don’t tell the whole story.
As such, I was also very tempted to just use some of the newer stats, including bWAR (from Baseball-Reference) as the guide by which to make my decision. That, too, though, seemed a somewhat empty way to choose the winner.
To make the process as fair as possible to the players who qualify, I then determined a hybrid approach, of sorts. I decided to base my decision primarily upon the players who scored the most points as I considered a host of offensive categories. After ranking the players, I then determined that I’d use some other areas as “tie-breakers” to award “bonus points” for achieving in certain categories, playing more important positions, also to also add a human element to the process if the decision became close.
To start, I determined that for the American League Most Valuable Player, I would only look at position players and not pitchers. Pitchers have their own award, the Cy Young Award. To me, except in very rare situations, the MVP should go to a position player.
After making the decision to base my ballot on position players, I decided to focus on ten offensive categories, one defensive measure, and one overall statistic that is supposed to give a true indication of the complete player.
The areas I chose to focus on were the following, WAR, oWAR, dWAR, Batting Average, On-Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage, On Base Plus Slugging, Runs, Hits, Total Bases, Home Runs, and Runs Batted in. Added into this mix, to help with close decisions, I determined that I’d consider games played, stolen bases, a player’s history, and whether or not a player played for a competitive team. I don’t have a problem, necessarily, awarding the MVP to a player on a losing team, but if the decision is a close one, I think being part of a winning team can sometimes tilt the decision in favor of the player who helped lead a team in a pennant race. Of course, the alternative argument would be that a player surrounded by other great players doesn’t have to carry the load as much as a great player on a lesser team. If the race got really close, I’d ultimately look at their overall numbers and use the “eye test.”
I then took the top 10 players in each of those categories and ranked them from 1 to 10, awarding 10 points for first place, 9 points for second place, and so on. The player who ranked tenth in each category earned one point.
For instance, if we looked at Total Bases, Rafael Devers led the American League with 359 total bases. In that category, he earned ten points. Marcus Semien ranked second (343 total bases) and earned nine points. The rest follows rather logically.
Still, even before I added up the totals, I wasn’t completely happy with this system. I determined that WAR, which comprises so much of what a player accomplishes, should carry additional weight in my rankings. As such, I doubled the total in that category only. When I did this exercise, Mike Trout was leading the league in WAR (the ballots were due on Sunday, September 29 at 9:00 and I had a very busy weekend so I had to calculate my ballot about a week before the end of the season). As the league leader in this category, Mike Trout earned twenty, not ten, points. The second place player, Alex Bregman, earned 18 points (and so on).
By the end of the season, Alex Bregman actually inched out Mike Trout in WAR for the 2019 season (8.4 to 8.3). One could fault my decision making because I did not wait until the end of the season. I rationalized my decision to get the ballot done early because, first, it was the only time I could do the ballot, and second, when I did the calculations the season was about 96% complete and any fluctuations would be minor. My calculations were based, then, the bulk of the season, absenting any player’s last six or seven games.
After all my calculating was complete, the clear leaders for MVP were Mike Trout and Alex Bregman. And in my calculations, absent of the last week of the season, Trout won in a close race 80 total points to 76 total points. I did consider the fact that Bregman played in 156 games and the fact that he was on one of the best teams as factors in his favor. Trout, on the other hand, still seemed to still be the clear winner. I awarded Mike Trout first place on my ballot and Alex Bregman second place. I do see as I write this that Alex Bregman could easily be considered the MVP using the criteria I laid out above. Alex Bregman would be a worthy MVP.
Still, Mike Trout is the best player in the game today. Of that, I don’t think there is any doubt. He is a superstar in every sense of the word and is on pace to be among the greatest players in baseball history. As stated above, the “eye test” in this regard, as it relates to a player’s history, should count as well. There is no shame in naming Mike Trout the MVP.
Still, I am bothered by the fact that with the results being so close that I might have blown it by choosing Trout over Bregman. Both are worthy, one has to win, but I want my vote to be as correct as it can be. With that being the case, I think when the numbers are stacked against each other, that Mike Trout still wins in a close race. I base this decision on the following:
Mike Trout led Alex Bregman in the following categories –
Home Runs (45 to 41)
On-Base Percentage (.438 to .423)
Slugging Percentage (.645 to .592)
OPS (1.083 to 1.015)
OPS+ (185 to 162)
Bregman was great, and the numbers with my methodology make this race extremely close, but I am very comfortable with awarding my first place vote to Mike Trout.
(On my ballot, I gave D.J. LeMahieu fourth place after Trout, Bregman, and Marcus Semien.)