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On Awards and Voting

Dejan Kovacevic, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s beat writer for the Pirates, caused a ruckus earlier today when it was revealed that his National League Rookie of the Year ballot diverged from the consensus with a Buster Posey, Neil Walker, Jose Tabata lineup, omitting Jason Heyward.

Prior to today, the ROY debate came down to the first place finisher — Posey or Heyward? It was unanimously believed that those two players made up the top two in either order. Walker or Tabata never entered the discussion.

Kovacevic’s voting resulted in lots of debates, and lots of baseless accusations and fallacious argumentation. FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron does a good job of defending Kovacevic but I would like to take it a bit further. As far as I can tell, there are two groups of people: the reactionary and the logical.

Imagine that we’re back on October 31 and you’re at a Halloween party. You, a liberal, strike up a conversation with someone who reveals himself to be a Tea Party supporter who plans to cast all his votes for people like Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell. Upon learning this, you can either be aghast that he’s a Teabagger (reactionary) or inquire more about his positions and then make a judgment (logical). It would be disingenuous to discredit him simply because he’s a Teabagger. After learning about his positions, you can legitimately discredit him after he says that he wants to see the deficit lowered but does not want to raise taxes or cut defense spending.

Similarly, many baseball fansĀ and writers reacted as disingenuously to Kovacevic without ever hearing his justification, which can be found on his Twitter feed. When he justifies his voting with…

Re: ROY voting. Felt very firmly about Posey, thus chose him 1st. Felt Walker/Tabata had strong years, comparable to rest of class.

Neither Walker nor Tabata is off-the-board choice, as seen from list of NL rookies with 400 PA, ranked by OPS. tinyurl.com/3x9aghm

Obviously saw way more of Walker/Tabata than others, but that also gave perspective on them performing at high level in poor lineup/setting.

Feeling always has been with voting that broadest variety of perspectives bring best results. Few can argue final overall tally, I’d think.

…then you can go ahead and argue against him. Kovacevic could have had some legitimate justification but now that we see his reasoning is flimsy at best. Have at it!

The thing with these awards is that the criteria is so vague and amorphous that you can’t begrudge someone for the way they vote unless they have a completely objectively-reached ballot. Otherwise, their positions are unfalsifiable. “He’s a good clubhouse guy” or “he’s a leader” can’t be argued against by outsiders and that’s why a lot of voters resort to those defenses, as bland as they are.

Questionable ballots have been a part of awards voting for a while now — a product of a flawed system. Either you can have an automated system (based on pure objectivity; statistics) or you don’t. With the latter, you can’t fault the writers when their votes don’t line up with yours. You can argue against their reasoning, but not against their credibility to have the privilege of voting.

Awards are fun to discuss and debate, but in the end they’re mostly meaningless and will never mean much until they are turned over to an objective system. It is likely better for baseball to have this flawed system anyway, since we spend so much time talking about it — free publicity! In two weeks we’ll have forgotten that Kovacevic voted for Walker and Tabata over Heyward, turning our attention to the coming winter meetings.

In the event that Roy Halladay does not win the Cy Young award or receives fewer than all of the first-place votes, criticize the system and not the voters — until you hear their justification. Said differently, “don’t hate the player; hate the game.”