There’s a concept in NBA circles known as “voter fatigue,” in which – on occasion – it’s theorized that the most deserving candidate for the league’s MVP award will fail to bring home the hardware if they’ve already won the award several times in close proximity. Essentially, because the voters become tired of voting for them, developing a mentality of “Well, it’s Player X’s turn this year.”
This concept has really only ever applied to two players – Michael Jordan and LeBron James, both players so transcendently great that voters actually seemed to feel they needed to share the spotlight, or at least some are inclined to believe. Often pointed to are Karl Malone’s trophy in 1996 (after Jordan’s fourth MVP win the year before) and Derrick Rose’s in 2010 (after consecutive wins by James), both seasons in which a large contingent of people believe the wrong guy came out on top.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this theory lately. It’s not one you see particularly often in MLB races; perhaps it’s the higher level of immersion for baseball statistics or the difficulty of routinely putting together MVP-caliber seasons – every player has a down year eventually – but “not voting for one guy because they’re tired of doing so” doesn’t seem to be in the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s playbook.
Of course, the BBWAA has it’s own litany of other issues, and that’s where the connection lies, in my mind. The idea that an award like Most Valuable Player could be determined by outside factors not at all based on performance cheapens the award itself. Whereas voter fatigue in the NBA is seldom actually a consideration – it could very well be in play this season, when you combine James again coming off back-to-back victories with factors like Derrick Rose’s return from injury, Paul George’s emergence into stardom, and the continued brilliance of Kevin Durant – the BBWAA’s problems are constant and predictable.
The fact is, I’m just not as invested in the MLB’s major awards as I am with those in the NBA (I would include the NFL, but that league does not feature an actual “MVP” award, only a “Most Valuable Quarterback/Running Back” one). I’m not upset about Derek Jeter winning Gold Gloves based on his offensive reputation anymore. I’m not upset that Andrew McCutchen lost out on two first-place votes – and one second-place one – because the beat writers representing St. Louis voted for Cardinals players. I’m not really even upset that, for the second straight year, Miguel Cabrera took home an award he probably didn’t deserve.
You know why? I have award fatigue.
With the BBWAA, it’s always some variation of the same story every season. Is the player with the gaudy stats a poor candidate for MVP because his team missed the playoffs? If a player puts up a season that has some kind of historical significance – say, a Triple Crown – does that some kind of special consideration? How do pitcher wins relate to a player’s Cy Young candidacy? Can a reliever be the league’s most valuable pitcher? Should an award candidate be penalized for time missed due to injury? Can a pitcher win the MVP award?
Just in the past decade, how many times have we had those exact debates? And of those instances, how many times did you feel that, in the end, the voters made the right decision?
I’ve written about this before, but I thought the 2012 MVP race was a fascinating case study for the state of modern baseball. In one corner, you had the traditionalist’s darling, Cabrera: a big, Triple Crown-winning slugger with gaudy RBI totals and a nice, healthy batting average playing for a successful, mainstream team. In the other, Mike Trout, the “new-age” candidate: fresh off the greatest season by a 20-year-old in MLB history and superior to Cabrera in almost every possible advanced measure, who, oh-by-the-way, played for a third-place team.
You know the story, though: Cabrera dominated, taking 22 first-place votes to Trout’s six and proving that, in some ways, the sabermetrics community hadn’t made quite as much progress as they’d thought.
Let’s put it in context: the past three MVP races were all embroiled in some kind of controversy (the past four, if you count 2010’s “Should Josh Hamilton win if he doesn’t play in September?”). Now, I acknowledge that there are many angles to this, and that my truth is not the absolute, but by my count, the voters went 0-3 in those races: both times with Cabrera and with Verlander beating Jacoby Ellsbury in 2011.
Here’s my point: I’m an award junkie. I love debating each and every one of them, from the start of the year to the finish. Those of you who have read my work before know that I touched on this season’s races multiple times in this very column (and, at one point, thought Trout-Cabrera was much closer than it ended up being). What you may or may not have picked up on, though, is that I almost always distinguish between who I think should win and who I think will win.
That, right there, is the breaking point. I no longer have faith in the right guy coming out on top. I’ll debate candidates and break down numbers with you all day, but when it comes time for the awards to actually be delivered, it’s an afterthought to me. It’s strange to consider that I spent so much time considering something only to hold no interest in the final result, but here we are.
Maybe that will change eventually. Maybe the things most of us take as common sense will also take hold in the ranks of those who vote on the players we analyze. Maybe, when that happens, award season will be something I get excited for again.
For the time being, if a pitcher pushes his win totals into the mid-20s or posts an ERA under 2.00, he’ll get MVP support. For the time being, the guy playing for the winning team will always have an edge over the guy whose team is rotting in fourth place.
For the time being, Miguel Cabrera wins over Mike Trout ten times out of ten.
And for the time being, I am fatigued.