Over the last few years, it really felt like we were beginning to see a progression in how awards voters picked their winners after the conclusion of the regular season. Zack Greinke, Tim Lincecum, and Felix Hernandez were able to capture Cy Young awards without even approaching lofty win totals because their peripherals were so good. Down-ballot votes were going the way of players like Ben Zobrist who typically get more attention from the analytic crowd. Yes, things were looking up for those of us who simply wanted awards to reach their rightful owners.
But then came the revealing of the 2012 award winners, which for the first time ever was full of especially grand pageantry. What we got were a couple of winners who are virtually indefensible to the savvy fan. First off, David Price took home the AL Cy Young narrowly over Justin Verlander without actually ever being better than him at anything. Then we have Miguel Cabrera just crushing Mike Trout in the AL MVP voting despite only topping him in one aspect of the game, and narrowly at that. Maybe we’re not quite as advanced as I was starting to think.
Price edged Verlander by a mere four points in the AL Cy Young voting, but I can’t help but wonder what happened here. Per WAR, which old school fans love mocking mercilessly despite its value, Verlander destroyed Price 6.8 to 5.1. In fact, Felix Hernandez was even a full win above Price. I’m not trying to diminish the great season Price had, because it was great, but Verlander topped him in strikeouts per nine innings, walks per nine innings, and FIP while contributing an extra 27 1/3 innings to his team. His ERA was a mere 0.08 points higher than Price’s, so the only reason a voter might have leaned toward Price would be pitcher wins, or as I like to call them, the devil. Those three extra wins must have been enough to sway the stubborn.
Over on the MVP side of things, Mike Trout had a historically impressive season. We don’t often get a chance to see 10-WAR years, and we never get the chance to see them out of 20-year-olds. Trout’s incredible season saw him lap the field when it came to defense and baserunning, and his offensive performance nearly matched Miguel Cabrera’s even if the latter won the traditional triple crown. Why is the triple crown so revered? Is it just due to rarity? If you’re going to judge a player solely based on three categories, you could do a lot better than using home runs, batting average, and RBI. Trout trailed Cabrera narrowly in wOBA, which takes external factors such as home park into consideration. He equaled him in wRC+, had a higher walk rate, and even slugged at nearly the same rate. And, as I mentioned before, he was the better player in every other facet of the game. How does that not appeal to old school voters? I’m not sure; honestly the rejection of modern statistics may have played a role.
Sure, awards aren’t even that important of a topic when you really get down to it. This is kind of like arguing about whether or not a certain actor should have taken home an Oscar or not; if you enjoyed the performance and know it to be better based on defensible criteria, the actual winning of the award is mostly irrelevant. However, this season’s award voting is telling in that it shows that we still have a long way to go in baseball. While many general managers and even tons of fans are starting to see the importance of evaluating players on a wider set of skills and statistics with depth, so many writers and big voices in the industry are still lagging behind. By and large, these are intelligent people we’re talking about, and a little more openness would go a long way in changing things.