Wednesday, June 18, 2014

0 comments Scott Miller Isn't Sure a Designated Hitter Should Win the MVP

Scott Miller isn't so sure that a designed hitter should ever win the MVP. This is an interesting problem because designated hitters already have a barrier entering the Hall of Fame because they don't play the field and now there are baseball writers like Scott Miller who think a DH shouldn't be the MVP. Tradition-minded voters (those same ones who possibly don't like the DH and wouldn't vote for a DH as MVP) like using a player's achievements like top-5 MVP finishes as a reason a player should or should not be elected into baseball's Hall of Fame. So what's a DH to do when he doesn't get enough MVP votes because he doesn't play a fielding position, yet otherwise his statistics show that he deserves election into the Hall of Fame? A DH is already behind because some MVP voters won't give him an MVP vote because he's a DH, which then affects his Hall of Fame candidacy. It appears that Scott Miller is one of those voters.

What's interesting, and I will show this in some more depth in a minute, is that Scott Miller is one of those baseball writers who thinks great defense should not be thought of as being on par with a great offensive season when it comes to voting for the MVP. Yet Miller holds the fact a player doesn't play defense at all against a player when he is only a DH. Fielding your position is only important in the MVP balloting when it needs to be important I guess. It's better to be a bad fielder who puts up great offensive numbers than a DH who doesn't field at all and puts up great offensive numbers.

1. Should a DH ever win an MVP Award?

No. Heck no. Hail no.

So if Miguel Cabrera won the Triple Crown as a DH in 2012 and Mike Trout played centerfield that season, then Trout should have won the MVP? But of course not! I do not believe Scott Miller would have then voted for Trout.


Ah yes, a caveat. There's always a caveat.

There is one avenue toward the MVP award if you are a DH, and one avenue only: A slugger must stack up offensive numbers so massive that they dwarf everything else in his path, from whomever is the runner-up in slugging percentage and homers to that year’s Super Bowl’s television ratings.

OK, so that last part is an exaggeration. But not by much.

If it's not an exaggeration by much then it's not really an exaggeration. So to win the MVP award in either the National or American League a DH has to be the most valuable player in either the National League or the American League? To be the MVP a player has to be the MVP.


What if Player A is a league average fielder at his position? He provides no positive differential to his team and no negative differential. If Player B is a DH and out-hits and out-MVP's Player A, but not by a whole lot, then why in the hell would Player A receive the MVP award simply because he played defense? His defense had no positive impact for his team (and this goes doubly for a player who actually had a negative impact for his team on defense), so he essentially had the same impact as a player who is primarily a DH.

It's weird how Scott Miller says, "Yeah, but a DH doesn't play defense at all" and then doesn't seem to care that much about defense in any other regard when it comes to voting for the MVP. Yeah, he considers defense, but overwhelmingly considers offense and other factors when it comes to voting for an MVP. Here is an example of this when it comes to the Miguel Cabrera-Mike Trout 2012 AL MVP debate. 

Far as I'm concerned there is no wrong answer here, they each deserve an MVP award. But you've gotta pick one, and based on the most dangerous bat in the game and season-long production, Cabrera is the choice here. 

His Triple Crown chances in these final days notwithstanding, Cabrera keeps opposing managers awake nights and rival pitchers on high alert. Nobody -- including Trout -- has carried his club all season like Cabrera, who, into Sunday, was hitting .342 with 36 homers, 36 doubles and 114 RBI over 127 games since May 10. 

When you read Scott Miller mention defense with any sort of indication that defense had a real impact on his hypothetical MVP vote, just tell me.

Trout was not with the Angels in April, and Torii Hunter has been their best player in September. Trout has had his worst overall month in September, batting .255/369/.436 with five steals...If it's a Player of the Year award, I go Trout. But if you include both April and September, it is Cabrera -- barely -- who encompasses the word valuable in its totality for all six months.

Miller's logic doesn't make a ton of sense here. I mean, Player of the Year goes to Trout, but MVP goes to Cabrera. I try not to be distracted by this logic and reasoning, but it seems like the same thing to me. Notice that Scott Miller says the MVP race was very close, there was no wrong answer and he uses mostly batting statistics to advocate for Cabrera as the AL MVP. Let's say that Cabrera was a full-time DH. Using the reasoning earlier where Miller said a player who was a DH would have to stack up numbers "so massive they dwarf everything in his path" then he would NOT have voted for Cabrera if he were a DH and had won the Triple Crown, right? Cabrera didn't dwarf Trout's numbers. How come I don't believe Miller would have not voted for Cabrera if he were a primary DH in 2012 though? Especially since he used mostly batting statistics to justify his choice of Cabrera as the AL MVP? So I think Miller is talking out of both sides of his mouth in this situation.

Here is another article about Cabrera after he was named AL MVP in 2012. Notice Miller mentions defense in this column, but mostly discusses hitting. Can I really believe that Miller would have suggested Cabrera was not the 2012 AL MVP as a full-time DH if he had won the Triple Crown because he didn't "dwarf everything in his path"? I can not.

The award is not Player of the Year. It is not Most Awesome Overall Skills.

It's not Most Awesome Overall Skills (well, yes it is) according to Scott Miller, but when it comes to a DH all of a sudden those Most Awesome Overall Skills are really factored into his MVP vote.

In the end, in a nutshell, here it is: Nobody combined overall statistics, badass lineup presence and value to his team more than Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.

Trout came close. Very, very close. Close enough that if he were to have won, well, then, that's the way it would go and we all should accept that because he absolutely is deserving, too.

Cabrera did not dwarf Trout's numbers, so therefore if Cabrera were a full-time DH then Trout would have gotten Miller's hypothetical vote (Miller didn't have a vote during the 2012 season), right?

But set aside, for just a moment, the fact that Cabrera this year became the first player to win baseball's Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Because a player should no more be automatically awarded an MVP for a Triple Crown than he should for posting an historic WAR number.

It is about many different things, and how they all fit together into the overall package.

Which is totally different from a player who should win Most Awesome Overall Skills. The "Overall Package" is completely different from "Most Awesome Overall Skills" in Scott Miller's head.

Cabrera posted his Big Boy numbers in the midst of a position change, and yet many of those supporting Trout, in citing his extraordinary defense (and oh man, is it ever), have gone overboard bashing Cabrera's defense while failing to acknowledge the whole position change thing.

Plus, despite their narrative, Cabrera is not the butcher at third base they'd have you believe. He not going to win any Gold Gloves anytime soon, but he did make a couple of plays down the stretch that helped the Tigers win the AL Central.

See? Defense is important to Scott Miller until he decides defense isn't important. A DH needs to play defense in order to be considered the MVP, but as long as a position player makes "a couple of plays down the stretch" then there's no need to consider defense for a position player. Defense counts until it doesn't.

But you can also stack arguments for Cabrera as high as the green-eyed Tiger prowling atop the Comerica Park scoreboard. And while I enjoy the new frontiers Sabermetrics have opened and while I am not anti-math … the batting title, the ERA race, those statistical departments are about the math and nothing but.

The MVP award? That factors in other variables as well, some of which simply are not quantifiable. Sorry.

And of course there is no way a DH can have other variables that aren't quantifiable which would lead Scott Miller to vote for him as the MVP. I fail to believe Miller would have not voted for Cabrera in 2012 simply because Cabrera hypothetically could have been a full-time DH. I don't believe it.

So there is proof Miller uses defense as important to the MVP race until he decides not to anymore and my speculation that Miller probably wouldn't heed his own words in voting for Cabrera (were he a DH) in the 2012 AL MVP race. Back to the article about why a DH shouldn't be MVP...

Which brings us to Detroit’s Victor Martinez, who is doing everything so far this season except fly the Tigers’ broken charter from Boston to Cleveland.

After May 18's games, Martinez ranked fifth in the majors with a .331 batting average, fifth in slugging percentage at .595, tied for ninth with 10 home runs and seventh in OPS at .973. As the Tigers roll in the AL Central, he’s popping up on television so often you’d think he had changed his name to V. Martinez and was hanging out with Donald Sterling.

Weak joke.

Now despite Martinez’s early momentum, he leads the AL in only one department (batting average) and is tied for the lead with the White Sox’s Jose Abreu in another (slugging percentage). His 25 RBI are well behind teammate Miguel Cabrera’s 39.

How dare Victor Martinez come up to the plate and not drive in runners because Miguel Cabrera has already driven in all the base runners! If Martinez had any decency he would bash Cabrera in the head with a baseball bat prior to the game just to jump ahead of Cabrera into the #3 hole and drive in more runs. That would make him the MVP, but alas, he doesn't do that and settles for driving in fewer runs than Cabrera partially because Cabrera has already driven in the runs that Martinez would have had an opportunity to drive in.

See how RBI's work? A player can't run up insane RBI totals if there are no players on-base to drive in.

And being that Martinez bats directly behind Miggy in the Tigers lineup, most of his RBI chances are going to continue to vanish just before he comes to the plate the way those delicious works of art disappear from the plates at Lafayette Coney Island in Detroit.

And this is absolutely something that should not be held against him when it comes to Martinez's MVP candidacy.

So while he’s absolutely in the early-season MVP discussion, he’s got some work to do. Much work to do, being that he’s a DH.

Martinez has to obliterate all other MVP candidates with his numbers, because he doesn't play defense, but of course a player who plays great defense doesn't get credit for this great defense if he doesn't have exactly comparable numbers (during cherry-picked months as well) to another position player. Defense is really important, unless it's not important. Crappy defense is okay, not playing defense at all is not okay.

There have been years in which a full-time DH has made a case to win an MVP award, and most of those bids recently have been made by Boston’s David Ortiz. Big Papi’s 2004-2006 period was a masterpiece, a time in which his successive RBI numbers were 139/148/137 and his homer numbers were 41/47/54.

Yeah, but Ortiz may have only been the most valuable player in the AL that year which doesn't mean he was the Most Valuable Player in the AL, because he didn't lay waste to his competitors for the MVP award.

In ’06, Ortiz out-homered Morneau 54-34, out-RBI’d him 137-130, out-OBP’d him .413-.375 and out-WAR’d him 5.7-4.3. But Morneau had a significantly higher batting average than Ortiz (.321-.287) and in two key departments contributed defensively because he played first base in 153 games (and DH’d in only four) and his Twins won the AL Central, while Ortiz’s Red Sox finished third in the AL East.

Boy, playing defense and being on a winning team certainly does hold a lot of sway for an individual award in Scott Miller's mind. Notice how Ortiz was the better hitter, but Morneau played defense and his team won their division. If only Ortiz had played the field he would have had a better shot at being MVP for the 2006 season. And really, who cares if Morneau contributed positively to his team on defense? That doesn't matter, does it?

And over the past couple of decades, award voters (members of the Baseball Writers’ Assn. of America, of which, full disclosure, I am) have increasingly appeared to value contributions toward a contending team.

Because it does make sense to weigh the achievement of a team overall heavily when determining an individual player's performance. In baseball, one player doesn't have the ability to pitch and hit at all nine spots in the order, so it makes sense to judge one player on the talents of his teammates.

Given those parameters, the deck remains badly stacked against a DH winning the MVP award.

Which means a DH won't be able to accumulate those important top-5 MVP finishes or win one of those MVP awards that Hall of Fame voters care about so greatly. So the idea a DH can't win the MVP could affect that player's candidacy for the Hall of Fame, which seems a little unfair.

And these parameters by the way, are all very silly and arbitrary...

Because by definition, if the pool of candidates is going to be narrowed to those playing for playoff teams, that will nearly automatically eliminate the MVP outliers from bottom-division teams (see: Andre Dawson for the 1987 Cubs).

The pool of candidates should not be narrowed to only those who play for playoff teams. A player could be the most valuable player on any team in the AL/NL and his team still not make the playoffs. The playoffs are a team achievement, I can't emphasize this enough.

And once the pool is whittled to players with contending teams, odds are astronomically against a DH given that he is not contributing defensively.

So a player who doesn't play defense can not be the most valuable player on his team. Someone should tell that to David Ortiz and the Red Sox, because they may disagree. I would also like an explanation how David Ortiz could win the MVP award in the World Series, but not for the regular season. Is it because he played a few games at first base during the World Series and therefore this made him more valuable (regardless of whether he played first base well or not)?

Is this right? I think it is. Yes, DH is a legitimate position and unquestionably should be considered in the MVP debate. But all things being equal, it’s not a fair fight.

A DH should be considered in the MVP debate, but he just shouldn't get any votes for being the MVP. Sure, makes sense. I would bet if Miguel Cabrera were a full-time DH then he would still win the MVP on a year where he won the Triple Crown. It also pisses me off that playing defense very well or very poorly has the same impact on Scott Miller. Defense is important and is a reason why a DH should not be the MVP, but defense isn't so important two player's defensive contributions should be factored in over hitting in any way.

Given that the past three AL MVPs have come from Detroit (Cabrera in ’13 and ’12, Justin Verlander in ’11)

Verlander only plays once every fifth day, which apparently is perfectly fine when it comes to him winning the MVP. Maybe a DH like Ortiz should field a position every fifth day and then he would get more MVP votes too. Victor Martinez better start stealing some time in the field now. Who cares if Martinez plays well or not in the field, that doesn't matter. He just has to be on defense, because it's an important part of the game of baseball, but not important enough to be used to differentiate between two MVP candidates like Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera.

well, if any DH is going to win an MVP award anytime soon, you’d figure he would be tiger-striped.

So basically a DH should not win the MVP award because that DH would have to play for a contending team, and even if he plays for a contending team, he still isn't contributing enough to the team by not playing defense. A player has to contribute on defense to win the MVP. Of course, even though defense is really important and it can lose the MVP award for a player it isn't important enough to help a player win the MVP.