What if they held an awards vote and, instead, a philosophical debate broke out?
That's how the American League Most Valuable Player balloting -- the results of which will be revealed Thursday night -- is being viewed in some circles.
It's not about the central question: Which A.L. Player was the most valuable to his team in the 2012 regular season? No, it's somehow devolved into something much more complicated. More than any award in recent baseball history, it's become generational and political.
To some, it's not about value at all, but rather, methodology. It's not about Miguel Cabrera vs. Mike Trout, the two favorites. It's about evaluation, analytics, historical precedent and other variables.
But not to me.
As a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America's Boston chapter, I get to vote, on a rotating bases, on one of the four BBWAA-sponsored awards each season -- Rookie of the Year, Cy Young Award, Manager of the Year and MVP.
Sometimes, the voting is clear-cut and obvious, like this year's Rookie of the Year balloting which, predictably, Trout won unanimously. Sometimes, it's an incredibly close vote with two great candidates, as was the case in both the manager (where Bob Melvin edged the equally-deserving Buck Showalter) and Cy Young (where David Price narrowly defeated a worthy Justin Verlander) balloting.
Boston Red Sox
The MVP race, on the other hand, has become something else. This isn't about two qualified candidates. It's become a watershed moment, a What-Side-Are-You-On? debate.
Generally speaking, those who support Cabrera cite the more traditional statistics -- batting average, home runs and RBI, all categories in which Cabrera led the league, resulting in the A.L.'s first Triple Crown winner since 1967 -- and the more advanced metrics, such as WAR, or wins over replacement.
It's boiled down to this: Are you old-school or new-school? Are you traditional (or a dinosour)? Are you cutting edge (or a stat-driven geek?).
All of which, frankly, seems pretty silly to me.
After great deliberation, I voted for Trout first and Cabrera second. But I didn't do it to make a statement. I didn't do it to further the cause of advanced metrics. I didn't do it to change people's minds about how we evaluate players.
I did it -- get this -- because I thought Trout was . . . the most valuable player to his team.
I neither ignored Cabrera's Triple Crown achievment, nor overdosed on Trout's advanced metrics. They were both part of the evaluation process.
I believe there's some nuance to all of this, and that seems to have gotten lost in the increasingly contentious debate. While Cabrera's Triple Crown is a significant achievement, it doesn't, by itself, guarantee an MVP. Four times in history, a Triple Crown winner has failed to win the MVP, so if Cabrera loses -- and for the record, I don't think he will -- it won't be some historical rejection of traditional statistics. It's been done before.
At the same time, we now view more traditional baseball statistics differently, and to suggest otherwise is foolhardy. Let's face it: Batting average is no longer regarded as the primary indicator of a hitter's skills, thanks to our understanding of the importance of on-base percentage and other meaningful measures of a player's offensive performance.
Don't think so? Quick, name the batting champions in both leagues in 2011. In the past, identifying the batting champ of a season ago would been an easy task for most serious baseball fans. Today, I doubt many could quickly come up with the answers. (For the record, they were Cabrera in the A.L. and Jose Reyes in the N.L.)
Now that we have begun to appreciate offensive performance using different measurements, is it not backward to reward what we know now is less important?
Which isn't to suggest that Cabrera's season wasn't a great one. Of course it was; he had a terrific year. But it was also largely one-dimensional.
And that's where Trout comes in.
As good as Cabrera's offensive numbers were -- by any measurement, new-school or old -- the other components of his game were far less impressive. He's a fringe defensive third baseman, and a decidedly below-average baserunner.
Contrast that with Trout, who was probably the game's best outfielder as well as a terrific baserunner (an astounding 49-for-54 in stolen bases, with a league-leading 129 runs scored).
If we've learned anything about measuring performance on the field in the last two decades or so, it's this: Baseball is far more than hits and homers and runs knocked in. It's also about preventing runs (in the field) and scoring them, or the very least, getting closer to scoring them (on the bases).
Trout did far, far more of both of these things than did Cabrera. That makes him, in my mind, a far more complete player, and thus, more valuable.
You may have noticed that I haven't yet mentioned WAR (wins above replacement), so often cited by many of Trout's backers and so derided by those who support Cabrera. For the uninitiated, WAR seeks to quantify how many more games a player helps his team win over the equivalent of a minor-league player.
In 2012, Trout's WAR was 10.7, compared to Cabrera's 6.9.
I incorporated that into my decision-making -- it would be foolish to ignore it -- but it was far from the determining factor. Instead, it was a useful measurement that, along with other factors, I utilized. For instance: It was impossible to ignore the fact that the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim took off when Trout was promoted from Triple A. Trout was the 'X' factor in their season. Without him, they struggles; with him, they became contenders.
I'm not taking a stand here. Nor am I representing some faction, or spearheading a movement.
Instead, I took as many variables -- statistical and otherwise -- into account to determine who was, truly, the most valuable player to his team and came down on the side of Trout.
Now, was that so hard?