It’s That Time of Year

We’re past the midpoint of September, and you know what that means: award debates. Well, award arguments. It’s the same dance every year: the professionals take an intentionally controversial stance, we bloggers disagree with them (and subsequently respond and link to their explanations), repeat cycle. It’s actually kind of fun, except when the goading is blatant.

With a hat tip to The Big Lead and BBTF, here’s Ken Rosenthal’s attempt to fire up an argument:

MVP Award Deserves Robust Debate

I’m inclined to agree with the choice of Mauer, but that’s not why I’m writing. No, I’m writing because of the cyber-shoutdowns of anyone who offers dissent, anyone who dares suggest Derek Jeter, Kevin Youkilis or whoever is a legitimate alternative to Mauer.

I’m inclined to label the above statement as a strawman. Derek Jeter and Kevin Youkilis are not ridiculous alternative MVP suggestions. Yes, it’s true that if you take position into account, it’s not a particularly close call between the three. But suggesting Jeter or Youkilis is not outrageous. I would like to see who, exactly, Rosenthal is reading from the Sabermetric community that is cyber-shutting him down.

Taking a contrary position does not make me just another unenlightened member of the MSM (translation: mainstream media). But it will subject me to a certain level of scorn for rejecting SGT (translation: sabermetric groupthink).

I like to compare fans of Sabermetrics to atheists. The common saying about atheists is that they’re hard to herd, like cats. I think Sabermetricians are similar. Very rarely will two Sabermetricians think exactly alike and interpret statistics the same way. There is no leader of Sabermetrics, not even Bill James. No one is sending out newsletters with official Sabermetric viewpoints, like “Do not support David Eckstein. He is too small and too gritty and mucks up our calculations. Boo him if possible.”

The mainstream media is a common target of scorn because, Ken, you guys are supposed to be smarter than us. You guys are supposed to have that oh-so-important access; you should be making better decisions, but instead, a majority if you guys — the MSM — don’t use the wealth of information at your fingertips. A Sabermetric blogger in his mom’s basement really shouldn’t be able to so easily out-reason someone from the MSM, but it’s a common occurrence.

Here’s the problem: Sabermetricians were ignored for so long, they had to shout to be heard. Now they are getting heard — properly heard in the highest levels of baseball media and front offices. But some continue to shout, dismissing those who disagree as ignorant dolts.

I’m inclined to label the above as another strawman argument. I’d love it if Ken would have linked to examples of Sabermetricians acting this way. And, frankly, even if there were one or two legitimate examples given, they wouldn’t represent Sabermetricians as a whole. If I run into two different members of a local chess club and they are both uncouth, I cannot fairly assume that the entire group is composed of uncouth chess lovers.

Last I checked, it’s a free country. Last I checked, the MVP is a subjective choice.

If it’s a free country, and if the MVP is a subjective choice, why is Kenny complaining about people disagreeing with him?

A very childish way for a professional journalist to go about this “debate”.

But the beauty of the award, as outlined by the instructions given to voters, is “there is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means.” Which, of course, drives sabermetricians nuts.

More addressing of Sabermetricians as one cohesive group. Does Ken really think that those of us who use Sabermetrics get together once a week and file official viewpoints and analytical methods over a baseball game?

Most Sabermetricians don’t even agree with each other. For a good majority of us to reach a conclusion, there has to be an overwhelming amount of evidence. Such happens to be the case with regard to Joe Mauer’s value. The only player who even comes close to Mauer in value is Ben Zobrist of the Tampa Bay Rays.

If you want to say “it’s a subjective choice, I can use any criteria I want” then go ahead. But an opinion backed up by zero facts does not hold as much weight as that backed up by many facts.

And while the definition of value, in this case, is somewhat subjective, I don’t think Ken would disagree with the interpretation of Sabermetricians, which takes into account just about anything you can think of.

The award is not for highest VORP. It is not for most win shares, most runs created, most wins above replacement player. It is for something that no one can quite define

Ken tells us what the award is not about, and then he says, “Well, we don’t know what it’s about.”

In other words, Ken doesn’t know what the award is about, he just knows that the Sabermetricians’ general interpretation is dead god damn wrong.

Skipping a bunch of weak “Mauer missed a month” talking points…

It certainly creates the opportunity for debate, which is my entire point.

Ken doesn’t want a two-sided debate. He wants you to shut up and listen to him. The fact that he took the time to write this article shows that he is not interested in a debate.

Slavishly adhering to sabermetric dogma reduces the level of discourse.

Slavishly adherering to any dogma reduces the level of discourse. Yes, absolutely, there are likely some people who follow Sabermetrics too closely that it blinds them from considering alternate viewpoints, but that is not unique to followers of Sabermetrics.

Slavishly adhering to Oprah’s book recommendations reduces the level of discourse.

Slavishly adhering to Rolling Stone’s political viewpoints reduces the level of discourse.

Try it yourself.

For all intents and purposes, the Sabermetric slobs he’s been talking about are imaginary. I have yet to read a defense of Joe Mauer that is so one-sided, so close-minded that it fits the descriptors Ken has used throughout his article. I would love to see who, exactly, he had in mind while he was typing up this article.

We’re supposed to debate.

So what’s the problem then? Why even write this article?

So, the question becomes: Does anyone but Mauer deserve the award?

Deserve? You can name a bunch of players who deserve the award. Does Mauer most deserve the award? The facts point to yes.

My top alternative is Youkilis. But I also can make cases for Jeter and Cabrera and, to a lesser extent, Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira and Angels first baseman Kendry Morales. Heck, Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez — who missed even more time than Mauer while recovering from hip surgery — might be the most valuable of all.

Remember above, when Ken said Mauer missed a lot of games, so it hurts his MVP eligibility? Games played:

  • Mauer: 121
  • Youkilis: 121

This is why Ken gets criticized. All it takes for Ken to make sure he has no holes in his logic is to simply look up each player on Baseball Reference, which takes ten seconds. If you read further, Ken realizes that Youkilis and Mauer have similar playing time, but he didn’t backtrack. He willingly ignored his flawed logic and went on.

The super-important Ken Rosenthal, with his press pass, makeup crew, and microphone, either thought too highly of himself or too little of his readers to clean this up. When he then writes articles insulting followers of Sabermetrics for being too rigid about facts, this stuff sticks in the collective craw. If you’re going to insult the methodology of others’, you’d better have a flawless one of your own.

Still, he is second in the league in OPS to Mauer and possesses the unique ability to shift almost seamlessly between first base and third. Youkilis even made two starts in left when the Red Sox were depleted by injuries. While the experiment did not work, it demonstrated anew Youkilis’ team-first approach.

This criticism is not a subjective argument: this is some Grade A awful logic. Ken factors in offense, Mauer wins. Ken factors in defense: Youkilis played three of the least important positions on the diamond; Mauer plays the most important. Mauer wins. Youkilis hurt his team by playing poorly defensively in right field, and yet Ken denotes this as a positive.

The MVP award is, yes, subjective. But logical arguments are not. Look at it this way, Ken is saying:

  • Mauer and Youkilis are close enough in offense that it’s a wash (not taking into account defensive position, which does enhance the usefulness of offense)
  • Mauer plays an important defensive position, but Youkilis is versatile having played at first, third, and in left field, so it’s a wash
  • Youkilis may have played poorly but it illustrated a selfless approach, so the tie is broken here; point Youkilis!

You do not have to follow Sabermetrics to a T to understand Ken’s Swiss cheese argument.

Jeter, like Mauer and Youkilis, possesses many of the same selfless qualities.

The problem with these intangible arguments is that anyone from anywhere can attribute an intangible and it’s impossible to disprove. Ken says Jeter, Mauer, and Youkilis are selfless. Hey, fine, I don’t think anyone will disagree with that. But what if I say Milton Bradley is a selfless player? How do you disprove it? How do you prove or disprove selflessness?

Essentially, in a debate, both sides can claim intangibles for their choices and it leaves us in a stalemate.

Example:

  • Me: I like Mauer. He’s selfless. Can you disprove it? No? One point.
  • Ken: I like Jeter. He, too, is selfless. Can you disprove it? No? One point.
  • Me: I like Mauer. He’s gritty. Can you disprove it? No? Two points.
  • Ken: I like Jeter. He is also gritty. Can you disprove it? No? Two points.
  • Me: I like Mauer. He’s a grinder. Can you disprove it? No? Three points.
  • Ken: I like Jeter. He has an aura about him that helps his team win. Can you disprove it? No? Three points.

It’s not that intangibles don’t exist, it’s that they don’t do anything to enhance an argument because they’re unprovable. Jeter may be the grittiest, grindiest, most aura-having player in baseball history, but I can just as easily claim the same about Eric Bruntlett and they’re suddenly on equal footing.

I just want to have a nice, civil discussion about a fascinating MVP race, a discussion that includes number geeks sitting in their basements, overworked hacks in press boxes across America and fans of all ages, colors and philosophies.

Ken says it, but clearly doesn’t believe it. We have — mostly — been having nice, civil discussions for years. It’s just that the advent of Sabermetrics has allowed the common fan access to nearly as much information as the professional journalist. Thus, the fan then is able to formulate more educated, more logically sound arguments. As a result, the professional journalists like Ken are no longer required to tell us what we should think, as we can now think for ourselves.

What Ken wants is for us to need him again. He does not want a debate, as a debate entails two relatively equal sides, and that has been the case for a while now.