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Sports Authority

Kramer: Change MVP voting

| Wednesday, November 13, 2019

If you ever visit me on a summer night, expect my dad and I to be talking about Minnesota Twins’s third baseman Miguel Sano.

Amidst one of our countless exchanges, he makes sure to reference his flashy on-the-run throws from the hot corner, explosive at-bats and perhaps most importantly, his overall contribution to the Twins’ recent success.

While I leave these valid points uncontested, I nevertheless feel slightly uneasy about giving Sano due credit. As a full-blown one-dimensional performance, Sano’s latest (and arguably best) season fuels my argument as I point out his dreadful strikeout rate and infuriating failure to manage his weight. With nothing left to say, I end the exchange, as I always do, with “he’s just … SO slow!”

Admittedly, I cling to a bit of traditionalism as I evaluate the league’s elites. Players with a vast range of on-field assets quickly earn my adoration. Polished five-tool names like Josh Hamilton, Joe Mauer and Mike Trout sketched a blueprint for my emulation as an aspiring young player.

In the age of sabermetrics, contemporary criteria of on-field excellence are radically different from those used throughout my childhood. Refined, intricate and extensive, they push my evaluation of rising stars like Sano into the margins. Modern writers and analysts allude to Wins Above Replacement (WAR), a measurement of “wins” that a given player creates above the output of a replacement-level player, as a more relevant basis.

In spite of this analytical insurgence, however, the fact that I, an avid baseball fan and fairly tech-savvy Millennial, continue to cherish “traditional” methods of appraising MLB’s best speaks volumes to the lingering presence of love for high averages and speed above all else. The beauty that lies within the League’s five tools keeps them in widespread conversation.

In with the new, certainly, but this fanbase and mainstream media is far from out with the old.

This dichotomy is particularly significant in the MVP voting process. Nearly every year I hear voters from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America justify their rankings — a “top 10” that neglected to consider a major contender for the award — by reminding the fanbase that some candidates lacked well-roundedness or played for awful clubs.

Although this train of thought comes from a small percentage of voters, its power in the voting system should not be ignored. The MLB utilizes a Borda count system to determine the AL and NL winners; it requires the MLB’s 30 voters to submit 10 players, in ranked order, for each league. The top player from each voter earns 14 points, the second earns 9, third earns 8 and so on.

Even if a few voters reject Wins Above Replacement as the best metric for voting, basing their entire ranking on traditional criteria in the process, the Borda count makes the MVP nomination vulnerable to a 14-point swing per “rogue” voter.

I will leave your resident ACMS major to work out the math for you, but for now, trust me. The margin matters.

With the 2019 MLB awards release upon us, I find myself feeling haunted by the possible implications of the Borda count in sports. Yes, the “worst case scenario” of rogue voters making a legitimate difference in the process is seriously unlikely, but alternatively, less questionable voting methods that nearly reduce this likelihood to zero exist.

Consider this food for thought as Astros third baseman Alex Bregman outpaced Mike Trout (the traditional “five-tool player” model and an MVP favorite in almost every poll) in Wins Above Replacement this season.

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