It’s one of those silly sports arguments that may be too subjective to resolve. Should baseball’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award go to the best player in the league even if his team has a poor year? This report from ESPN shows that, in the minds of those who vote on the award, the answer is “no.” Alex Rodriguez of the Texas Rangers was clearly the best player in the American League this year. An outstanding fielder at the key defensive position of shortstop, he put up wonderful offensive numbers. Yet because his team finished in last place, he finished a distant second in the MVP voting to Miguel Tejada of the highly successful (but not champion) Oakland A’s. Tejada is also a fine fielding shortstop, but his offensive production falls far short of A-Rod’s. The numbers I look at most closely are Slugging Percentage and On-Base Percentage. Rodriguez’s numbers are .623 and .392 respectively. Tejada’s are .508 and .354. Runs produced (RBI plus runs scored) is also considered a significant statistic, and it favors players like Tejada, who play for top teams. Yet Rodriguez “produced” 267 runs, compared to 239 for Tejada. But the A’s won 103 games and the Rangers won only 72.
So who should be the MVP? As I suggested, this is a somewhat silly debate, but one that many fans can’t resist. I come down firmly on A-Rod’s side. To me, a player’s value is measured by the extent to which he causes his team to score runs and stops opponents from doing the same. Studies demostrates what is obvious — causing your team to score runs and the other team not to score them translates pretty straightforwardly into creating victories for your team, which is what every player is there to do. It is clear to me that Rodriguez created a significantly larger run surplus for his team this year than Tejada did for his, and thus created more wins.
The typical response is to note that Texas could have finished last without Rodriguez (although with fewer victories), whereas Oakland could not have edged out the Angels for first place in their division without Tejada. But, because of the closeness of the race in the AL West, there are probably half a dozen or more Oakland players of whom this can be said. Are they all more valuable than A-Rod? Moreover, the 1927 Yankess were so good that they probably could have won the pennant without Babe Ruth. Did that make him less “valuable” than Paul Waner, without whom the Pirates could not have won the National League pennant that same year? In the end, I think sportswriters should stick to identifying and rewarding excellence and not concern themselves with what might have occurred in counter-factual situations. They seem to have enough difficulty doing the former.
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