Fun With Numbers: Calculating the MVP

The MVP debate is similar to debates in politics.  At least it seems that way this year.  There are clearly two sides in this debate - the saber metric community and the traditional community.  Sure, there are people who could be lumped into either.  Let's call them independents or swing voters.  Mike Trout's incredible rookie season was adored by just about everyone in baseball, but he did not win the MVP.  This was an outrage to those who study advanced statistics and understand defense is part of the game. Their anger at Miguel Cabrera's win was instant and deep.  "But Cabrera won the *bleeping* Triple Crown," the other side shouts.  And the debate rages.

I'm not about to jump into the middle of this debate.  That would be like jumping in the middle of two stray dogs fighting.  Not smart.  What I'd like to do is look at value from a different perspective.  After all, this site is dedicated to injuries.  Players who are injured and unable to play certainly have less value than others.  But there's more to it than that.  What's valuable to an individual may not be valuable to a team and may not be valuable to a front office.

That being said, let's consider three things: 1) Contribution to the team.  2) Cost (Salary).  3) Games played.  Combined, these three things account for almost everything any one individual may be looking for in an MVP.  But how do we define number one?  We can't simply look at a pitcher's wins and losses or a hitter's batting average.  We can't use Win Above Replacement because, well, clearly BWAA don't use it.  So, what do we use?

I'm still going to use advanced statistics.  Quite frankly, traditional statistics are boring.  But believe me, this is not a saber metric argument.  For the hitters, I will use runs created - "A set of formulas developed by Bill James and others that estimates a player’s total contributions to a team’s runs total," according to Baseball Reference.  I'm going to leave pitcher's out of the discussion for this season's debate.  I don't think anyone would argue that a pitcher should have won, or could have won, MVP this season.  

From there, hopefully we can draw some conclusions, but we probably won't.  This is a debate that can be taken in so many directions.  It's just fun to talk about.

I chose my top five MVP candidates from each league by using the top players in runs created, but you can really use any category you'd like in this method.  From there, I chose what each category (contribution, cost, games-played) would be most important.  In this case, I chose games played as the category with the highest weight.  Considering the basis of this site, games-played makes the most sense.  A player can only add value while he is on the field.  I gave contribution and cost the same weights.  So let's take a look at what I came up with.

I chose to assign points to each player's spot in a particular category.  This, of course, helps with the weighted average.  As you can see, the top spot in each category gets five points and it decreases from there.  Now, to calculate the National League MVP, it's as simple as taking the weighted averages of each's player's point total for all categories.  This is what we get:

If we use this method and the calculation/weights I chose, it looks like Andrew McCutchen is our MVP.  Of course, he wouldn't really have a chance because of the team for which he plays.  It's hard to win the MVP on a bad team.  An interesting choice on this list is Chase Headley.  He flew under the radar a bit because he plays for the San Diego Padres.  He earned a lot of the vote here because of his games-played and cost.  The actual NL MVP finished fourth in my voting.  He lost a lot of the vote because of his low runs created totals and his low games-played totals.  

Let's move onto the American League MVP.  Same concepts. 

Again, each player was assigned points based on where they finished in a particular category.  So let's see who wins the AL MVP. 

Miguel Cabrera wins by virtue of his games-played and his runs created.  His cost certainly didn't help him, but interestingly the top two finishers had the two highest contracts.  

So, does this mean the writers were right in picking Cabrera but wrong in picking Posey?  Absolutely not.  This is just an interesting way to examine the MVP and toy with the numbers.  The beauty is, you can do this any combination of parameters and weights.  Think batting average is important?  Insert BA for one of the categories.  Feel like playing GM and think cost is the most important parameter?  Up the weight on it and see who finishes where.  

I uploaded the spreadsheet I used as a Google Doc.  Feel free to play with it, change the players, change the parameters, and change the weights.  See who ends up being your MVP.

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