MLB.com Columnist

Brian Kenny

MVP Award voters may not reward right statistics

Kenny: MVP voters may not reward right stats

The irony of this year's American League Most Valuable Player Award race is that so many who cover the game seem to be unwilling to reward the very things they claim to value the most.

When the sabermetricians point to the value of Adam Dunn (or his type of player), old-school analysts howl over how these low-batting average, base-clogging, bad-fielding lugs are a hindrance to their teams and an insult to baseball.

What about defense? This game is running and throwing! The "little things" made someone a "ballplayer." It was the sabermetricians who were pointing out that drawing walks -- not making outs -- and hitting home runs were the "big things," and the big things mattered more.

So it is quite a reversal for many people now set to back Miguel Cabrera -- the MVP Award candidate who is basically a poor-fielding, slow-running power hitter -- over a player who fields, throws, runs, hits and hits for power.


Mike Trout steals bases, goes from first to third, climbs walls to make catches and is still a top-five power hitter. Where's the love for the tools? What about the so-called little things?

This is more than Trout vs. Cabrera, more than just an MVP Award debate. It is a familiar pattern of incorrect valuation. Analysts and observers of baseball have long paid lip service to the "little things," but refuse to reward it when it comes to its highest honors.

Step back from Trout and Cabrera for a moment. Drawing walks, taking extra bases and fielding great rarely get any love in either the MVP Award or Hall of Fame voting.

Two great fielders with superior on-base skills -- Keith Hernandez and Dwight Evans -- fell off the Hall of Fame writers' ballot for a lack of support. Hernandez was in the top three in the National League in on-base percentage seven times in an eight-year period. He is acknowledged as the greatest to ever field his position, first base. Yet when I bring up his name for the Hall, it actually gets laughs.

Anyone who saw Alan Trammell play will laud his nuanced game. Even if you didn't, his fielding, baserunning and power, compared to other shortstops, are easily found when looking at his stats.

Statistics make it possible to quantify the less-obvious skills. Is that too much trouble for someone with a Hall of Fame vote? If so, leave the analysis to others.

Tim Raines was an incredible player -- a no-doubt Hall of Famer. But he stole bases and drew walks. Evidently, those are skills too subtle to bring even 50 percent of the necessary 75 percent of votes for induction.

Minnie Minoso was a marvelous all-around player. He stole bases, took extra bases and won Gold Glove Awards. He had very good power, but not enough home runs to make it easy to see.

Take a look at Richie Ashburn's career sometime. He was a plus defender in center field -- a vital defensive position, akin to second and third base. He led his league in on-base percentage four times. He stole bases, took extra bases. Rarely struck out. An exceptional leadoff man, one of the best in history. He spent 15 years on the writers' ballot, never topping 42 percent.

Fortunately, a Veterans Committee in 1995 voted Ashburn into the Hall of Fame; a Veterans Committee that was disbanded a year after Bill Mazeroski -- a light-hitting second baseman who was the greatest to ever field his position -- was inducted.

So here we are again, this time with an MVP vote between a slugger with obvious home run and RBI numbers vs. a player with the all-around skills the baseball "purists" allegedly value.

I know, I know, the Triple Crown is fun. Miguel Cabrera is having a monstrous year. But it's not deciding the MVP Award race for me. The soulless stat lovers can do what they want. I'm going with the better baseball player.

Brian Kenny is a host for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.