When it comes to MVP voting in Major League Baseball, there is no uniform criteria for deciding the most worthy candidates. From Anna McDonald at the Hardball Times:
BBWAA members assigned to the National League Most Valuable Player committee are told, “There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.
“The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931: (1) actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense; (2) number of games played; (3) general character, disposition, loyalty and effort; (4) former winners are eligible; and (5) members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.”
The MVP committee members are also urged, “to give serious consideration to all your selections, from 1 to 10.” The voters understand that a 10th-place vote can influence the outcome of an election. They must fill in all 10 places on the ballot and they are to consider only regular-season performances. The writers must also, “Keep in mind that all players are eligible for MVP, including pitchers and designated hitters.”
As you can see, the criteria is ambiguous. Look no further than point number 1. The award should determine the most outstanding player from each league. But determining “value of a player to his team” opens up a Pandora’s Box of questions that aren’t necessarily asked by MVP voters.
We’ve seen that voters tend to value team success when voting on candidates and don’t put much consideration into contract values. I’d argue that a 8.5 WAR player making $10 million is more valuable to his team than a 9.0 WAR player who makes $25 million, assuming the teams have similar payrolls. Team success should play a minor role at best, as baseball is a team sport more so than any of the four major American ones. And if we’re determining “actual value of a player to his team,” then it makes sense to also consider who would be playing instead of said candidate, were he to be removed. For example, Angel Pagan and Coco Crisp are roughly equal players in terms of production, but the drop-off from Pagan to his replacement (Gregor Blanco, who is bad) is steeper than Crisp having the potential to be spelled by Craig Gentry (yes I know he’s injured), Yoenis Cespedes or Josh Reddick.
But it doesn’t really matter what I think because I don’t have a vote. Keeping in mind that though the criteria is cloudy, voters typically vote for the best players on the best teams, lets check in on the AL and NL MVP races.
Note: All statistics are courtesy of FanGraphs.com