Purgatory Online

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

Randy Johnson wins his fourth straight Cy Young Award. Talk about your no-brainers. There are exactly two statistics that really matter when you talk about starting pitchers: ERA and innings pitched. How well the guy pitched, and how often.

I think a lot of people still look at strikeouts, walks, and opponents batting average, but to me those are just indicators of how a pitcher goes about compiling a low ERA; voting on those is like saying that "Dogs Playing Poker" is a superior painting because the paint is durable.

And wins, of course, are irrelevant. Giving up three earned runs per nine innings does not suddenly become more impressive if your teammates score four. It's an individual award, and statistics that depend on how the rest of the team does shouldn't be evaluated. Somewhere, someone is looking at a pitcher's low ERA and so-so won-lost record and thinking, "that guy pitches just well enough to lose, he doesn't know how to get it done." That person should take up watching football.

In a related vein, we're being treated yet again this year to a discussion of what the "Most Valuable Player" means. Here are the instructions from the Baseball Writers Association of America:

Dear Voter:

There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.

The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931:

1. Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.
2. Number of games played.
3. General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.
4. Former winners are eligible.
5. Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.

You are also urged to give serious consideration to all your selections, from 1 to 10. A 10th-place vote can influence the outcome of an election. You must fill in all 10 places on your ballot.

Keep in mind that all players are eligible for MVP, and that includes pitchers and designated hitters.

Only regular-season performances are to be taken into consideration.

Okay. The controversy stems from the argument that the best player in the league, who everyone pretty much agrees is Alex Rodriguez, is not necessarily the most valuable player in the league, because he played on a last place team, and if you took him away, they would still have been a last place team, so how much value did he add?

I used to argue that "Most Valuable Player" didn't necessarily refer to the player's value to his team, but rather to the league - value was defined as how much better he made his team, plus how much better the other teams would be if that person played for them, too. But after seeing the actual instructions, it's clear that you're supposed to vote for "the most valuable player in each league to his team." Well, fine. But then the instructions go on to define value as "strength of offense and defense," which sure sounds a lot like "best player" to me.

In any event, the AL MVP will be announced on November 12.