More Reform: BBWAA Balloting Needs to Change

The regular season is winding down to a close, which means not only do baseball writers and bloggers get to debate the annual awards, but also the pros and cons of each of the voting systems. I’ll get to Hall of Fame stuff once we get deeper into the offseason, but for now, I want to give my thoughts on the current MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, etc. balloting systems.

Here are my thoughts: the Baseball Writer’s Association of America does a terrible job of conducting MVP, Cy Young, ROY, and Manager of the Year voting.

You can stop reading if you want to, because that’s pretty much the entire article in one sentence, but if you want to get my justification, read away.

Firstly, we must acknowledge the fact that, save for the occasional extremely rare circumstance, there’s only one of each. Dating back to 1911 (when MVP started being awarded), there has only been one instance of a split ballot: the 1979 NL MVP was shared between Cardinals first baseman Keith Hernandez and Pirates first baseman Willie Stargell, and with all due respect to Stargell, he should not have even come close to sniffing that MVP award. Stargell got 10 first-place votes even though he didn’t lead the league in any of the major batting categories (he didn’t even qualify for the batting title due to playing in only 126 games), and the primary reason he was on anyone’s ballot that year was probably because he was the “star” player on a Pirates team that had the best record in the National League. It helps that Stargell was a star throughout his career, but in 1979 he was 38 years old, far past his prime, and was not even the best offensive player on his team according to wRC+, that would be right fielder Dave Parker. Obviously there’s no way the voters could have known this because wRC+ had not yet been invented, but in hindsight, I think the 1979 MVP election is probably one of the most botched MVP votes in league history.

We must also keep in mind that MVP has generally been given to a player on a winning team or a team that performs extremely well over the course of the season. I’m getting a little sidetracked, but my point here is that in 1979, along with many other historical seasons, voters tended to give the award to someone on a winning team, not necessarily the best player in each league. Recently, however, we have seen a shift in that thinking, and this is particularly exemplified by Mike Trout taking home the MVP award twice in seasons where the Angels didn’t make the playoffs, and in one of those seasons the Angels actually finished 14 games under .500. It is for this reason that I think now would be an appropriate time to get rid of the current balloting rules and switch it to a new format: one vote for each person per award.

As it stands now, according to the BBWAA website, for MVP in each league, each voter must fill out their top ten choices. For Cy Young, each voter fills out their top five candidates, and for ROY and Manager of the Year, they vote for their top three choices. Voters are not permitted to leave any spots blank, which I think is ridiculous, but not surprising given how ridiculous the entire process is. At the end of the day (except for Keith Hernandez and Willie Stargell in 1979), there is one MVP, Cy Young, ROY, and Manager of the Year crowned in each league. Why do voters vote for their top ten? They’re not voting for the “ten most valuable players” award, they’re voting on the Most Valuable Player. That’s one person, not more. That means they should vote for one person, not more. My proposal is for each voter to simply submit the one player who they believe to be the most valuable in each league, and then tally the votes instead of the current system, which asks the voters to rank their top ten and then assigns points based on the place in which each player was ranked (a first place vote gets a player 14 points, then a second place vote gets a player 9 points, a third place vote gets 8 points, fourth place vote gets 7 points, and so on).

I understand that sometimes, perhaps even often, there is no clear-cut most valuable player in each league, so I would be okay with voters submitting their top two names for MVP and Cy Young, and only using second place votes as a tiebreaker. By this I mean that the BBWAA secretary would tally up all the first place votes, and only if there is a tie tally up the second place votes and whomever got more second place votes would be crowned the MVP. Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year are often less hotly contested, and regardless, there are far fewer candidates for each of those awards than the first two, so I think that for these only a first place vote should be submitted. I think a second place “tiebreaker” vote could be used for these as well, but I don’t find it likely that either of these votes will result in a tie, especially considering that the ROY and Manager of the year have only been split three times total (twice for ROY, once for MOY). For the record, the manager of the year tie would not have happened had the voters submitted only their first place votes; instead of Yankees manager Joe Torre and Rangers manager Johnny Oates splitting the award, Oates would have edged Torre by two votes. The rookie of the year votes were both split in first place votes, and the rest of the voting aside from first place votes is not readily available, so I can’t shed light on to whether those awards would have been split, but regardless, if two players get an equal amount of first place votes, it’s safe to assume that it was a very close race and that both players are equally deserving of the award, so perhaps the award should be split.

I recognize that it’s pretty unlikely that any voting reform will take place in the near future, be it for Hall of Fame voting or for the balloting that I have mentioned in this article, but that doesn’t mean that they way they’re doing it now is the best way to do it, or that it even makes sense. That being said, the BBWAA does manage to get it right most of the time.

(Image Credit: Baseball Writer’s Association of America)

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