The Most Valuable Player award is the ultimate individual recognition in sports, in terms of outperforming your peers. But over the years, the misunderstanding of what represents value and overall statistical output has created controversy about why players win an MVP award over other seemingly deserving players. And adding to the growing uncertainty of whether or not the award is accurately distributed is the evolution of advanced statistics. Ultimately, understanding old statistics as well as new and advanced statistics are equally important when trying to determine a players value.
In the National Basketball Association, the MVP has been easy to vote on for the past few years. Lebron James has won three out of the past four MVP’s and will likely win his fourth in a few weeks when the votes are tallied. However, the NBA has had its difficulties with its selection of the winner. It seems as if though there was hesitation to give Lebron another MVP award when Derrick Rose took home the hardware in 2010-2011. Not to take away from the absolutely stunning season the point guard had leading his Chicago Bulls to a 62-20 record and the number one overall seed. James’ Heat earned the #2 seed, which was a possible justification for giving the award to Rose over James.
However, the Miami Heat were in their first season after acquiring James and Chris Bosh to pair alongside Dwyane Wade to form the NBA’s most fearsome trio. The team struggled with chemistry early on (star-studded teams usually do at first), but towards the end of the season they were the favorites going into the playoffs. And no one was more impactful, or valuable, to an NBA team than Lebron James. Additionally, James had far better stats across the board than Rose; even acting as the main ball-handler for the Heat much like Rose was for the Bulls. James shot over 50% from the field en route to scoring 26.7 points per game with 7 assist, 7.5 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game–he also led the Heat in minutes played. Derrick Rose finished with 25 points per game, shooting just below 45% from the field with 7.7 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1 steal per game.
Perhaps the two players stats were too close, though they weren’t really, that it came down to the simple question of which team would suffer more with that player removed from the roster. Well, luckily we can evaluate that by looking at the Cleveland Cavaliers post Lebron James and the Chicago Bulls without Derrick Rose (Rose missed the entire 2012-2013 season recovering from an ACL tear). The 2009-2010 Cavaliers went 61-21 with Lebron James leading the way, in 2010-2011—the year after Lebron bolted for South Beach—they went 19-63. That makes a pretty good case for Lebron in terms of “value”. In 2010-2011, Rose’s last full regular season, the Bulls went 62-20–Rose played 81 of those games and won the MVP. The next season, in a lockout-shortened season, Rose played just 39 of the teams 66 games but the Bulls were still an incredible 50-16. And now this season, where Rose has played a grand total of zero games for the Bulls, they are playoff-bound at 45-37. Certainly not dominant, but surely not lottery bound like the Lebronless Cleveland Cavaliers.
Let’s make it simple; there is no player more valuable in the NBA than Lebron James. Sure, Kevin Durant is putting up incredible numbers for the Thunder and Carmelo Anthony single-handedly turned around the Knicks this season, but no one is doing anything Lebron couldn’t do better.
A more complex discussion is taking place in Major League Baseball. It’s very different from basketball in that you have pitchers and hitters both vying for the award, and there is an abundance of advanced stats that some people still do not accept. Maybe you’ve heard of a thing called Sabermetrics (you probably saw the movie Moneyball with Brad Pitt). Common baseball fans follow stats like homeruns, runs-batted-in (RBI’s), batting average–and for pitchers, stats like wins, losses and earned run average (ERA). These stats are valuable in determining a player’s worth but when paired with advanced stats, a more complex and complete evaluation of the player is possible. Which is why Sabermetrics are good to also understand. The idea of a good baseball player is one who generates runs for a team–after all, this is how you win a baseball game. The RBI statistic seems like it’d represent this idea sufficiently.
However, a good player can be on a bad team, and for a player to be able to drive in runs, there have to be players on base. You put a great player on a bad team, as compared to a good team and they will drive in fewer runs. Sabermetrics urge the idea of determining a player’s Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) or Wins Above Replacement Player (WAR), which is precisely what it sounds like—how would the average minor league call-up fare in the absence of said player. Sabermetrics more accurately portray a player’s individual value outside of his or her team–which isn’t true for stats like RBI’s, wins and losses.
The 2012 MLB season witnessed one of the most incredible rookie seasons in the history of the league, if not simply the best ever. Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels was held down in the minor leagues for the first month of the season, a tactic the Angels employed for financial purposes, but when he was called up, you would have been hard pressed to find someone who didn’t consider Trout the MVP. Though when it came to the MVP voting at seasons end, voters were swayed towards Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers who captured an antiquated accomplishment known as baseball’s “Triple-Crown award”. The Triple Crown is given to a player who has the most home runs, highest batting average and most runs batted in. But the accomplishment has as much to do with luck as it does with dominance (Not to say Cabrera wasn’t one of the most dominating players in MLB last year). So if you give any consideration to a statistic like WAR, then you would see that Trout was the clear-cut MVP in 2012. Mike Trout: 10.7 Wins Above Replacement player, Miguel Cabrera: 6.9 WAR. Funny thing here is that Robinson Cano of the New York Yankees had an 8.2 WAR. But those three stats that Cabrera led the league in were just too much to look past. And if by chance you simply cannot accept a stat you can’t actually count on your fingers each game, then just look at the runs. We all agree that runs are important, don’t we? Mike Trout had 129 runs scored, which was 20 more than Cabrera and Cabrera played in 22 games more than Trout. We won’t even get into specifics about how absolutely atrocious Miguel Cabrera was in the field last year. And how Mike Trout was arguably one of the best fielding outfielders in the game.
Mike Trout was a rookie; so he got the old fashioned ‘earn your ups’ slap on the wrist while Cabrera came away with the hardware. Lebron James should be winning his 5th MVP award next month, but it’ll only be his fourth. The fear of accepting new age statistics is taking a lot away from the game and the ability to define value. Perhaps the hesitation with this is the thought of having to abandon stats that you’ve acknowledged your entire life, which isn’t the case. Pairing the old with the new would do the trick, and until then, the MVP is the least valuable award.