We're at that point of the year where writers vote for the best baseball players across different categories. Here's my annual critique of the system in 2012.
It's awards season again! Time to rehash.
Last season, we got into a little bit of a kerfuffle when our vote for the SB Nation Cy Young Award dissed Clayton Kershaw pretty readily. I defended the vote as it was cast by our very own Jodes and tried (unsuccessfully) to make this point:
If we are reviewing something completely "objectively" then any voting on the matter should reach a consensus.
If we're not completely objective, then any subjective measure should be valid, including whether or not one just dislikes the team that the player plays for.
Cue the sound of some people ignoring the rest of the post to go off and call me an idiot.
You still here? Good.
Look at it this way. At the end of the season, there is one player who will have the most home runs. There is one player who will have the highest batting average (after disregarding players who fail to meet a minimum requirement). There is one player who will have the lowest ERA or the most wins or the most strikeouts or the least walks.
Based on all of that objectively measured information, baseball writers are asked to vote "objectively" for who the best players of the year are.
But that leads us to this problem: You have all of these different measures. Which one (or ones or weighted combinations of ones) are the best indicator of a player's worth?
Answer: It's up to the voter to decide.
And at that point, if the voter doesn't really know (or care to know) all of the details of all of the statistics that they're being bombarded with, that vote just kinda has to go with what they trust. Because other people may be able to say that they've seen a sufficient amount of video for every player to make a judgement of who was the "best" in a given season, but jbox and I haven't (and those other guys probably haven't either).
Therefore, we decided to avoid the topic of subjectivity in terms of players entirely, in favor of just picking a metric and running with it, keeping our subjectivity to a minimum and avoiding the hassle of being called homers or idiots or whatever.
In our votes for the SB Nation Awards this year, we used WAR (as calculated by FanGraphs).
Before you start to yell at me, we know that it's stupid to use WAR this way. Yes, we have that basic understanding of how WAR wasn't meant to be used this way (even though the name of the statistic implies that it really should be used this way). We know that WAR is calculated differently by different people. We know that the limitations with WAR in respect to things like fielding and speed.
We know all this and yet, in our subjective opinion, the guys at FanGraphs seem pretty smart, they make their calculations pretty well known and the charting was very accessible.
No one can accuse us of being homers. No one can say we went with statistically irrelevant numbers that cloud the voting of the baseball writers MVP and Cy Young votes. The only thing we changed from the straight up ranking of players by WAR was to prefer Ryan Braun over Buster Posey and Chase Headley over Andrew McCutchin (since WAR taken out to a single decimal had those respective players tied with one another).
I am curious to see what the criticism of this will end up being.
"Those idiots at Gaslamp Ball just used WAR to vote for MVP? Stupid motherf_ckers didn't even bother to customize UZR to even try to get Chase Headley into the top 3."
"Sure they're supposed to be objective, but taking the human element out of baseball kills the game!"
"If they aren't gonna be fans and bump Chase Headley up because they like him and instead are just gonna use a stat to make their decisions, then why are they even voting?"
So what would I propose as alternatives?
I'd propose an annual discussion/debate among those in the know on how best to measure baseball players. Stick those guys up on a stage and then let an audience vote on which method is best and award based on that.
I'd propose that each team nominate their representatives and then establish elaborate marketing campaigns complete with highlight DVDs, autographed memorabilia, Excel worksheets and lists of endorsements targeted at baseball writers to influence their vote.
I'd propose that a number of the votes for these awards be sent to coaches and general managers with the caveat that they can't vote for their own guys.
But maybe most of all, I'd propose just leaving things the way they are so that annual arguments about the merits of things like MVP and Cy Young can continue to exist to give people stuff to talk about.