Where Do You Find Value? Discussing the M.V.P. Criteria
By TYLER KEPNER
Published: September 3, 2011
Jose Bautista is a strict constructionist. To Bautista, the slugging right fielder for the Toronto Blue Jays, voting for the Most Valuable Player award should not be open to interpretation.
Greg Fiume/Getty Images
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“Whoever created the award created it for a reason, right?” Bautista said Saturday morning by his locker at Yankee Stadium. “When you create a type of award like that, you’ve got to define what it means and who can be considered. If you stick to what that says, that should be good enough.”
Here’s the bad news for Bautista. The very first lines of the letter sent to M.V.P. voters say this: “There is no clear-cut definition of what most valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the most valuable player in each league to his team.”
The Baseball Writers’ Association of America has voted for the award since 1931, with two voters from each league city casting a ballot. The criteria have never changed.
The letter specifies that the winner need not come from a playoff team. It says that pitchers and designated hitters are eligible, and that voters should consider offense, defense, number of games played, character, disposition, loyalty and effort.
In other words, it’s murky — but also fascinating, especially in the race for the American League M.V.P. this season. Two of the top contenders, Bautista and the Yankees’ Curtis Granderson, are taking different approaches.
“Until people start talking about it, that’s the only time it crosses my mind,” Granderson said. “It’s only for that split second that somebody says something about it.”
Bautista said it was only natural for a player to care about his chances. But he sounded pessimistic about winning, because the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox get more attention than the fourth-place Blue Jays.
There is no disputing that, although the last two winners were Joe Mauer of Minnesota in 2009 and Josh Hamilton of Texas last season.
The bigger concern for Bautista is that the Blue Jays are not contending, and voters generally emphasize candidates from playoff-bound teams.
The trend is nothing new. In 1934, Lou Gehrig hit .363 with 49 homers and 165 runs batted in, league-leading totals in each category. But the Yankees lost the pennant to the Detroit Tigers, whose player-manager, catcher Mickey Cochrane, was the M.V.P. Cochrane hit .320 with 2 home runs and 76 R.B.I.
Pitchers have won the award 20 times, though not since Oakland’s Dennis Eckersley in 1992. Detroit’s Justin Verlander makes a compelling case this season, partly because the division-leading Tigers were 22-8 in his starts and slightly above .500 in all other games before Saturday.
Granderson argues that pitchers should be considered, but Bautista does not.
“I don’t think so,” Bautista said. “They have the Cy Young, and it’s kind of like the same thing for pitchers.”
Bautista leads the league in on-base percentage and slugging percentage; his combined figure is 1.082, about 100 points higher than the next-best mark in the league. He is hitting .309 with 39 home runs and 91 R.B.I., compared with Granderson’s .271-38-107.
Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez, another strong contender, is at .342-23-103 , with the league lead in batting average and total bases. Advanced statistics also show Gonzalez to be a better defender, relative to his position, than Bautista or Granderson.
Granderson leads the league in two classic back-of-the-baseball-card categories: runs (with 125) and R.B.I.
He said those were the most important statistics.
“No matter what the other ones are, they have nothing to do with winning ballgames,” Granderson said. “You could have 200 hits, you could have a .500 on-base, you could slug over 1.000, but if you’re not scoring any runs, it doesn’t mean anything.”
It helps Bautista’s case to consider the context of his team. The Yankees and the Red Sox are loaded with strong hitters. But when teams face the Blue Jays, they often refuse to let Bautista beat them.
Bautista has 109 walks, 20 more than any other A.L. player. He has 95 runs, 1 more than Gonzalez but 30 fewer than Granderson. Bautista trails the other two in runs batted in.
“One thing I would look at is the amount of opportunities a player’s had to contribute for their own team,” Bautista said.
“You can’t really control how many runs you score. You can get on base, but your teammates have got to drive you in.
“With R.B.I., you’ve got to have teammates get on base in front of you. When they’re there, then you’ve got to drive them in — if they pitch to you. It’s been frustrating. I’m trying to work on being patient. I want to contribute, but at the same time I’m not seeing many pitches in the strike zone. It’s a tough balance.”
And, perhaps, the toughest call for voters in years.