The World Series is in full swing and within the next six days, there will be a new champion of baseball. When that champion is crowned, the offseason will begin almost immediately. One of the first orders of business on the calendar? The offseason awards.
The Baseball Writers Association of America will choose the best fielders, hitters, pitchers, and rookies of the 2017 season and then, the granddaddy of them all, the Most Valuable Player award.
With the impending announcement will come the almost annual debate of what criteria should determine the winner. This subject is always good for a few beer-fueled arguments between fans every autumn.
Here’s the thing: with one little tweak, we can eliminate this annoying rite of fall altogether. All it will take is one simple change.
The difference between valuable and best
There are two schools about what the MVP award should honor. Should the award go to the player who puts up the best numbers? Or is the MVP the one who was the most indispensable, the one on whom a team’s success hinges?
This has been a debate that has raged for years. Those in the latter camp often look at players in a vacuum: the one with the best numbers is the most valuable, the theory goes, because no one else is that good.
But is that player valuable to his team or to himself? This is where the latter argument comes into play. Is a fantastic player on a last-place team really making the kind of difference to the game of baseball—the thing the MVP should recognize—as a player who may have slightly inferior numbers but has propelled his team to greater success?
The gold standard of this argument was during Alex Rodriguez’s 2003 AL MVP season when he played for the last-place Texas Rangers. That race was seriously divided. Rodriguez only got six first-place votes out of 28, with the likes of Jorge Posada and David Ortiz, who propelled the Yankees and Red Sox, respectively, into the playoffs that year, receiving five and four first-place votes, respectively.
This year, the NL MVP award is looking to shape up in a similar manner. In one corner, you have Giancarlo Stanton, who had the best slugging season the league has seen since Ryan Howard’s epic 2006. He hit .281/.376/.631 and swatted 59 home runs and drove in 132 runs, most of them coming in a massive second half. In the other, you have Paul Goldschmidt, who slashed .297/.404/.563 with 36 homers and 120 RBI.
The biggest difference between them other than the home runs? Stanton’s Marlins finished second in the NL East but were still four games under .500 and never sniffed the NL Wild Card. The Diamondbacks, however, rode Goldschmidt’s performance to a surprising 93-win season and went all the way to the NLDS, where they fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers in three games.
It’s clear that Stanton was the best player in the league this season, but was he the most valuable? Did his performance do more for his team, which finished 20 games out of first, than Goldschmidt’s, which brought a team from 93 losses last year to 93 wins this year?
There’s a simple way to solve this problem—eliminate it.
The NFL has done it for decades. They have an MVP award and an Offensive Player of the Year. There is a Defensive Player of the Year, but in the NFL the MVP is almost always an offensive player, so we’ll use that as a baseline. The MVP and the OPOY in the NFL often line up, but they do occasionally diverge. In the last 10 years, it’s happened four times. When Peyton Manning was winning back-to-back MVP awards, the OPOY went to Drew Brees and Chris Johnson, respectively.
Baseball should do what football has been doing forever and acknowledge the difference between most valuable and best and create a new award: Player of the Year.
Doing this will have the dual effect of eliminating an annoying yearly debate and of recognizing players that deserve recognition. Stanton deserves recognition for his phenomenal season this year, and so does Goldschmidt for keying one of the most stunning year-to-year turnarounds of a baseball team this century.
Adding this new award will recognize players that deserve to be and bring clarity to a long-standing debate. It’s time to make this change. It will be better for the game.
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