Determining Baseball’s MVP Award


Back in 2002, I stood-up a little website with a focus on baseball. I was particularly driven to try and come up with remedy’s to what I saw as some of the biggest controversies at the time.

Below is the lean-in post for Baseball’s Most Valuable Player Award. It is a slightly edited extract from the website. I’ll be adding more posts in quick order.

Flashback to 2002

This is it. This is the subject that stirs some of the largest debates in baseball from year to year. After toying with it for quite a while, I believe that I have worked out a solution. Is it THE solution? Maybe not. I believe that it is a good solution.

First, let’s look at what we are trying to measure. MVP stands for something. It is the Most Valuable Player. Let’s think about that.

“Most”, more than any other. That is easy, we pick the one player from each league, not the ten or twelve we like. As for “Player”, that is easy as well. We need to pick someone that plays the game of baseball. These two words are not the problem. The problem is what does “Valuable” mean.

This is the crux of the matter. If we all agreed on what makes a player Valuable, this would be simple. I think we can agree on the foundation, A player that helps his team wins games is Valuable. A player can do this by either helping them score or by stopping the other team from scoring.

So who are the Most Valuable Player Award candidates? Probably the Most Valuable Player on each team. That leaves us with 14 players for the AL and 16 players for the NL in the current alignment. The question is, how do we now compare between teams. Who helped their club more than other players did?

You need a percentage/rate stat to differentiate. Take two players that gave/saved 100 runs for their respective teams through hitting, pitching, and defense. Tough call. Now say one team scored 700 runs and the other team scored 900 runs. It is simpler. The guy on the 700 run team was more valuable to that team as each run meant more and had to go further. The percentage in this case tells us that.

What about the defensive position? Take the same players, but now both of their teams scored 900 runs. A tie so far. What if I told you that one played shortstop and the other played first base. I think everyone agrees that all else being equal, the shortstop is more Valuable. So we need something in there to adjust for position.

Now, assume everything is the same. Same stats, same position, and even the same agent. Who is more Valuable? What if one team won the division and one team came in last? I’m thinking the guy on the first place team gets it. Should a person on a last place team win the award?Yes, if they are that much further ahead of the other players.

Just remember what Branch Rickey told Ralph Kiner during a contract negotiation in 1953,

We finished last with you, we can finish last without you.

If a team finishes last with your Most Valuable Player Award candidate, the odds are good that they would finish in last without him. It diminishes that whole Valuable part.

All these examples have been very black and white. However, when a tool is designed, the gray between first and last place (and shortstop and first base) have to be defined. Also, gray changes. Third base used to be a very defensive position. Now people expect more production from that slot. Seems to me that adjustments to the sliding gray scales may have to be made over the years.

What does all this mean?

The next post will through out some math.

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One thought on “Determining Baseball’s MVP Award

  1. Pingback: Putting WAR in Context for Trout versus Cabrera | Pie on Sports

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