By MARK KNUDSON @MarkKnudson41 Special to WoodyPaige.com
Just when you think MAYBE the Baseball writers have seen the light, and have opted to base their post-season awards on criteria more meaningful than just numbers on a stat sheet, along comes baseball’s 2017 post-season award finalists.
Point: Last season when he won his fourth consecutive Gold Glove AND the Silver Slugger as the best hitting third baseman, Colorado Rockies star Nolan Arenado had his MVP candidacy dismissed by voters who said his team’s lack of success (and the lingering BS about Coors Field, which has been factually debunked on several occasions) showed he wasn’t an actual MVP. They were right. NL MVP voters nailed it last season when they tabbed Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant the National League MVP. While Arenado was the far better defender and better run producer, Bryant did many non-statistical things to help lead the Cubs to their first World Series title in more than a century. Bryant WAS the Most VALUABLE Player in the truest sense of the term. It wasn’t just about stats.
Bryant’s recognition in 2016 gave reason to hope that moving forward, the math nerds and number crunchers who have overtaken baseball’s statistical base were not going to be the ones to solely dictate who won future MVP awards.
Then came this season.
When the three National League MVP finalists were announced, it was made clear once again that stats – meaningful and not so meaningful – were once again going to dictate the winner of baseball’s highest individual honor. Despite leading a 2017 play-off team, winning his fifth straight Gold Glove and actually improving his stats in several areas from a season ago, Arenado was once again snubbed. His teammate, outfielder Charlie Blackmon, who had a record breaking season as a lead-off hitter and embodied everything that an MVP should be (as Bryant did the season before) was also left out of the final three.
Instead, the NL voters placed a deserving Paul Goldschmidt from the Arizona Diamondbacks (who would not have reached the NL play-offs without him) on the list with two guys who have no business being there – Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton and Cincinnati’s Joey Votto. Both men put up wonderful offensive numbers during seasons where their respective teams were never ever in serious play-off contention….just like Arenado’s Rockies the season before.
How many times did Stanton stride to home plate this past season with something really meaningful – like a play-off spot for his team – on the line? The answer? Zero. None. Nada. In fact, during a late September trip to hitter-friendly Coors Field (with the Rockies fighting for a wild card spot) Stanton went 1-for-12 with no home runs or RBI. He wasn’t even good at playing spoiler.
This isn’t to say that the Miami slugger, who belted 59 homers during the past season, is not a great player, because he certainly is. But is he the ‘most valuable” in the National League? Of course not…how could he be when he never played for anything but individual numbers?
Then there’s Votto. His Reds were well out of play-off contention by mid June. They were never a factor in the NL Central race. Was that his fault? Of course not. He had a great individual season. But it also means that Votto also came to bat exactly ZERO times in any kind of true “pressure” situation. Zero. In 2016, that was disqualifying. In 2017, not so much.
The baseball nerds want you to believe that there’s no such thing as “clutch;” that every at-bat means exactly the same as every other at-bat…and that late game production isn’t any more important than what happens in the first inning.
This is where those of us who played the game AND those who’ve actually covered it close up – and not just observed the accumulated numbers from some ball and bat cave in a corner office – can show an understanding of things these nerds never will. Some at-bats mean A LOT more than others. Some games and game situations are 1,000 time more meaningful and pressurized than others, and those who players who produce with something on the line for their team deserve far greater accolades than guys who get lots of hits in games with no actual bearing on the standings.
IF this was the actual criteria, Goldschmidt would win the NL MVP with Arenado and Blackmon finishing as the runners up. Houston’s Jose Altuve could and should win the AL MVP over the Yankees power-hitting rookie Aaron Judge (the one-trick pony who thrilled baseball during an exciting but inconsistent season) for the same reason.
The writer/voters also swung and missed in the NL Manager of the Year voting, leaving Milwaukee’s very deserving Craig Counsell off the finalist list in favor of the Dodgers Dave Roberts. Manager of the Year is normally given to the guy who does the most with the least. Counsell most certainly fits that bill – far more than Roberts and his $250 payroll. Again, more floating criteria.
Arizona’s Torey Lovullo and the Yankees (since fired) Joe Girardi should be the Managers of the Year under the normal criteria (the Yankees made the American League play-offs during a full-fledged rebuilding season) and the Cy Young Awards should go to Washington’s Max Scherzer and Cleveland’s Corey Kluber. They probably won’t.
More evidence of floating criteria: Voters are quick to hold the high altitude of Coors Field against Colorado hitters when it comes to batting stats, but won’t do the same for pitchers whose stat lines benefit greatly from pitching at sea level in pitchers havens like Los Angeles and San Francisco. Six of the past 10 Cy Young Award winners in the NL have come from San Fran, LA & San Diego. It’s likely the LA’s Clayton Kershaw, who missed a significant portion of the season, will – wrongly – make that seven of 11.
Players and Managers work hard under extreme pressures. It would benefit the game if those who really deserved the post season coronations were the ones to receive them.