Is the Most Valuable Player one who has to carry his team to the postseason? Bryce Harper and his 2015 season would like to say a few words about all of that. Where does a transcendent campaign rank on the MVP scale if the team around him is complete garbage? Giancarlo Stanton would probably like to know. And what about a pitcher, who in a best-case scenario shows up in maybe 20 percent of his team’s games? Are you going to tell me Clayton Kershaw didn’t deserve his 2014 trophy?
The criterion for MVP is nebulous at best. With each voter supposedly following a uniform set of guidelines, it’s rare that a majority of voters are using the same line of logic. It certainly doesn’t help that we step on an imbalanced scale when we weigh all of the categories, and the creation of the two distinct awards—so there is absolutely no confusion as to what should be valued for each—would certainly help to eliminate a lot of tired debate that we have to endure every season.
Harper’s season is perhaps the best example considering it’s fresh in our memories. On a team of overpaid players with underwhelming production, Harper delivered an absolutely historical 2015. As a 22-year-old (now 23) playing in his fourth season—an unbelievable sentence to digest—Harper batted .330/.460/.649 with 42 home runs, 99 RBI, 118 runs scored and 124 walks. In 2004, when Barry Bonds produced a season that will be talked about every time the history of the game is told because it looks like something that belongs in a video game Hall of Fame, Bonds mashed to the tune of .362/.609/.812 with 45 home runs, 101 RBI, 129 runs and 232 walks. The fact that these two are even comparable within the same context—despite the entire MLB landscape changing so radically within the last decade after the Steroid Era—is unbelievably telling.
But does that provide us any clarity on the award’s distinction? Yes, Bonds was undoubtedly the best player in the game that year and Harper can claim that same title in 2015, but doesn’t that sound like the BPA, the Best Player Award, and not the coveted MVP? Like Harper’s Nationals, Bonds’ Giants team didn’t make the postseason in 2004, either.
Over in the American League, where this season’s MVP candidates are much clearer cut in a very limited field, we have another current example where it’s really between just two players: OF Mike Trout or 3B Josh Donaldson. An absolute freak of nature and supreme athlete who blitzed through Anaheim’s minor league system, Trout is averaging 33.5 long balls, 95.3 RBI and 114.3 runs scored over his first four full professional seasons. Considering he regularly hits at or above .300, flirts with an on-base percentage around .400 and hasn’t had a slugging percentage below .550 since 2012—his first full season in the majors—Trout could easily be in this category every year. His case is clear to see whether you’re watching with your eyes or crunching the insane numbers, and we haven’t even talked about his Gold Glove defense.
As for Donaldson, the story is quite different. A light-hitting catcher to begin his career, the third baseman unexpectedly arrived in Toronto with the Blue Jays as a result of a blockbuster offseason deal following two breakout seasons with the Oakland Athletics. Not only did his landing in the Bird’s Nest come with a complete culture change in the locker room for a team on its deepest playoff run in more than two decades, but Donaldson also produced a season that will be remembered as one of the Blue Jays’ most memorable of all time. Batting .297/.371/.568 with 41 home runs, 123 RBI, 122 runs while being one of only a handful of players to register more than 80 total extra base hits, you’d be hard-pressed to tell me or anyone else that Donaldson isn’t deserving of the 2015 award. But how do you draw the line in the sand for Donaldson over Trout?
A team making the postseason is about so much more than what one player alone can do. On a roster that includes 24 other guys at a minimum and can include up to as many as 39 others in September—not to account for any guys who come and go during the season—it takes significantly more than the effort of an individual for the group to thrive as more than the sum of its parts.
New commissioner Rob Manfred has demonstrated a very impressive approach to change. As the new head of a game that so many feel has lagged behind for so long, this is an excellent chance for baseball to be viewed as progressive. Establishing a second award would allow for more clarity among players, teams, voters and fans. Serving as another way in which to celebrate the sport, the Best Player Award would also allow us to spotlight another deserving superstar, in turn raising the national visibility of the game.
I believe that’s what they call a no-brainer.