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    Friday, September 16, 2011

    Pitchers, the MVP, and the Hank Aaron Award

    Some people, as of late, have been offering their two cents on the Most Valuable Player race. With basically a dozen games to go in the regular season, I figure now is as good a time as any to get involved in the discussion.

    And my picks for the MVPs are...

    I still don’t know. The NL race is pretty close right now, and I would like to see how the season finishes and take the playoffs to reflect. The AL, I’m a little more decided, I suppose. I had Jose Bautista as the favorite for the entire season up until now, but Jacoby Ellsbury has been coming on strong lately. I feel like this race also needs the rest of the season. Hey, not every award race can be as clear as the AL Cy Young this year.

    Actually, though, it’s preemptive winner Justin Verlander that I would like to discuss right now. Some have found his season so impressive that they’re advocating him for the MVP as well as the Cy Young. I think that’s taking it just a little too far.

    Let’s leave aside the fact that Verlander, while having a Cy Young caliber season, is not having a Clemens/Maddux/Pedro/Big Unit in their prime type season. This isn’t a knock on him; it’s just that it isn’t apparent that he’s that much better, if at all, than Bautista/Ellsbury/the other candidates. Pitchers only usually get considered for MVP if they are heads and shoulders above the everyday players (or 1980s closers, for some reason), and that isn’t really the case with Verlander.

    But should pitchers ever win the MVP Award? I’m hesitant to even say yes, even though starters face roughly as many batters in a season as a hitter has plate appearances. They have their own award right now; winning both the Cy Young and the MVP totally leaves out position players. And this is where I’ve seen an argument that really bugs me.

    Some people have been trying to argue that there is an award equivalent to a Cy Young for hitters: the Hank Aaron Award. The Common Man is by no means the first person I’ve seen make this argument, but his piece was the easiest to find. And, quite frankly, it’s ridiculous.

    Let’s start with the obvious: the Hank Aaron Award is by no means anywhere near as popular as the MVP or Cy Young. Heck, it isn’t even as big as Manager of the Year; right now I’d put it more or less on the same tier as the Edgar Martinez Award (best DH), Comeback Player of the Year, Rolaids Relief Man, and the Delivery Man Award as far as notoriety goes. That is saying something, especially when you consider that I thought the last two were alternate names for the same thing until 30 seconds ago. You have to be good to win it, and it’s nice trivia, but not nice enough that it gets its own Sporcle quiz or anything.

    Big deal; MLB could publicize it more. Still, that doesn’t fix some of the biggest problems. First, it’s a different voting process; fans actually get a 30% say in it. Which is nice, in some ways, until you consider the uproar over other things fans get a say in, like All-Star Rosters. Besides, in general, things that are picked by non-writer sources are generally less accepted (and sometimes with good cause, in the case of the Gold Gloves). So the process itself is already a strike against the award gaining popularity.

    Also, the Hank Aaron Award is actually for the best hitter, not best position player. Fielding, base running, and position are technically not part of the criteria (and for those of you that try to argue otherwise, please keep in mind that Manny Ramirez won in a year where he cost his team 1.2 bWAR on defense). As Bill in the earlier-linked TPA article pointed out, “of the 24 HAAs to be given out to date, nine have gone to first basemen or DHes, seven to corner outfielders, and six of the remaining eight to either Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter.” Yes, the award as of now is basically straight offense, leaving the Troy Tulowitzkis and Dustin Pedroias of the world out in the cold.

    Okay, maybe we can reinterpret the award after we complete its viral popularity increase or whatever the plan is. Make hitter equate to position player or hitter relative to his position or something (after all, we should have no problem getting a standard interpretation, with as easy as it is to get every writer to agree on “Valuable”). That still leaves one problem: What’s the point of the MVP then? We’ll have a Best Position Player and Best Pitcher Award for each league, and the two of them have to fight out which of them is more valuable? Or, even more bizarre, some third party will be the Most Valuable without being the best at anything?

    Adding a new award doesn’t really seem to fix more problems than it creates. I would say leave the awards as they are for now; position players almost exclusively win the MVP, pitchers win the Cy Young (and the MVP only when they are having a historic, Pedro-in-1999 type season and no good position candidate exists), and 1980s mustachioed closers come out of nowhere to sweep both when the voters are really confused.

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