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Explaining my MVP ballot

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  November 21, 2011 02:05 PM

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The American League MVP was just announced and as one of the two voters from Boston, accountability requires revealing who was on my ballot.

Two BBWAA writers from each AL city vote, ranking their selections 1-10. Voting is based on the regular season and ballots are due before the postseason.

Here is what the ballot says:

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.

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

I do not put much stock in general character, disposition or loyalty as it's impossible for me to get an accurate gauge of these qualities. These guys are what they are on the field, unless they're proven cheaters.

In making my vote, I relied heavily on the statistics at Fangraphs.com, particularly WAR. I also spoke to players, managers, coaches or executives of 11 AL teams, other writers whose opinion I valued and many fans.

My personal opinion, and certainly many would disagree with this, is that value is also seen in the standings. If two players are similar statistically, I would favor the player on the better team. I believe it's more impressive to put up good numbers when more is at stake.

Here's how I voted:

1. Justin Verlander (Tigers): This is the fourth time in my career I've voted for MVP and the first time I've voted a pitcher higher than sixth on a ballot. In my mind, playing 150+ games simply creates more value than starting 34 of them or appearing in relief 70 times.

But when I didn't feel strongly about any of of the other choices, Verlander made more and more sense. He was 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA and an 0.92 WHIP for a team with the second-best record in the AL.

Verlander faced 969 batters this season. Jacoby Ellsbury, by way of comparison, had 729 plate appearances. Obviously, a position player faces more of a challenge physically playing every day in the field. But the idea that a starting pitcher contributes so much less that he should be excluded from the ballot is false.

Verlander pitched 251 of a possible 306 innings in his 34 starts, assuming a nine-inning game. So the Detroit bullpen was called on to get an average of only five outs in games he pitched. That is tremendously valuable, both that day and in the two games that follow.

Verlander won with an average of 5.56 runs of support, a modest 28th in the AL. He also was 16-3 after a loss. Statistics like WAR are a great way to rate players, but sometimes a simple questions gets the best answer. Is there any way the Tigers win the Central without Verlander? I don't see how. So he was my MVP.

2. Jacoby Ellsbury (Red Sox): Ellsbury had a historic season, hitting .321/.376/.552 with 46 doubles, 32 homers, 39 stolen bases, 105 RBIs and 119 runs. He also won a Gold Glove. Ellsbury was the best player on the Red Sox from Game 1 to Game 162. It's a shame for him that he didn't get a chance to show what he could do in the postseason. I think in most years, I'd vote for Ellsbury. But Verlander's performance was such that this wasn't most years.

3. Jose Bautista (Blue Jays): If you clicked through to the WAR leaders, there's Bautista with an 8.2. second only to Ellsbury's 9.4. He also had a 1.056 OPS, tops in the AL. But he hit .255/.417/.476 after the break and the Blue Jays were 16 games out of first. So third it is.

4. Robinson Cano (Yankees): Curtis Granderson had a statistically superior season. But every Yankees person I spoke to, and I asked a bunch of them, felt Cano was more valuable because how he held down a middle of a lineup that showed some cracks this season. A-Rod (.276/.362/.461) and Mark Teixeira (.248/.341/.494) were nothing special. Cano also hit .318/.373/.636 with runners in scoring position.

5. Ben Zobrist (Rays): I was settled on the first four before the final few games of the season. Then the Rays won the wild card and I felt they should be represented fairly prominently on my ballot. Zobrist has been a quietly consistent and excellent player for Tampa Bay for several years now. He also had a WAR of 6.6 and started 33 games in right field in addition to his duties at second base.

6. Ian Kinsler (Rangers): There are plenty of very good players with Texas. But Kinsler had the best WAR (7.7). I only hope that Adrian Beltre does tear my arm off and beat me over the head with it when next we meet.

7. Curtis Granderson (Yankees): He was tremendous (41 homers, 136 runs scored, 119 RBIs, .916 OPS). I just felt like Cano was more valuable.

8. Dustin Pedroia (Red Sox): The September collapse wasn't his fault. He ended up with a WAR of 8.0, third in the AL. He had a great year at the plate and in the field and stole 26 bases despite playing with a pin his left foot that bothered him all season.

9. Miguel Cabrera (Tigers): You have to give him credit for posting a .344/.448/.586 season after that DUI in spring training and all the subsequent controversy. He also hit 30 homers and drove in 105 runs. His WAR was fifth in the AL. You can certainly make a case he was just as valuable as Verlander. But Victor Martinez and Alex Avila provided the Tigers with plenty of pop, too.

10. Alex Gordon (Royals): Once I decided I could not in good faith vote for a third Red Sox player or another Yankee or Tiger, I looked for the next best player I had not voted for and settled on Gordon, who had a 6.9 WAR.

Toughest omissions: Adrian Gonzalez (Red Sox) and CC Sabathia (Yankees). In my mind, devoting 30 percent of the ballot to players from a team that finished in third place and suffered a historic September collapse didn't make any sense. Sabathia was tremendous and actually had a higher WAR and lower FIP than Verlander. But I felt Cano and Granderson were more valuable to the Yankees.

So there you have it. I did the best I could and if you disagree, I respect that.

My next BBWAA vote will be for the Hall of Fame in December and I'll explain my vote again when the time comes.

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