Every player has one goal in sports: Win a championship. However, if you were to ask most athletes, winning the MVP would probably be second on the list. The MVP award is interesting because of the middle letter. Valuable. What does it mean to have value? Is value simply putting up the best numbers in the league? Is it leading your teams to the playoffs? Or is it something else? To me, value means one thing and one thing only: being a productive enough member of a team to help them reach the playoffs. Before a season, every team will tell you that their one goal is to win a championship. Even if the front office knows it’s a rebuilding year, they still play to win. However, many people argue that you shouldn’t have to make playoffs to win MVP. Some people argue that you don’t even need a winning season to be an MVP (See: Mike Trout). Let’s look at each of the big three sports (Baseball, basketball, and football) and see why you should need to be on a winning team to be considered valuable.
Basketball is the sport where MVPs being on playoff teams make the most sense. In basketball, a player accounts for 20% of the people on the court (The highest in any sport). Also, unlike baseball or football, you are constantly transitioning from offense to defense and back, so you’re always making an impact. Because you play both sides of the ball and there’s so few players on the court, one player is able to carry a team. This is evident almost every year. Take Lebron off the Cavs and they are a 20 win team. Take Giannis off the Bucks and they miss playoffs. Take Isaiah Thomas off the Celtics two years ago and it’s a totally different team. Clearly, the voters see this too. Only one player has every won an MVP in the modern NBA without making the playoffs, and that was Kareem in the ’75-’76 season.
Football is a different animal than basketball. In football, you only play one side of the ball. Football is interesting because there’s so much going on at once. You have five linemen blocking, a running back running the ball or a route, and five eligible receivers blocking or running routes. And with all that going on, there’s one person who has to keep track of it all: the quarterback. He’s the one responsible for making the decision about where the ball goes. That’s why quarterbacks are the highest paid players in the league. They are the ones responsible for scoring points and winning games. Even if you have a tremendous defense, you still need to score points to win, and that starts with the quarterback. Because of this, quarterbacks should almost always win the award. Receivers never should because any stats they have, their quarterback also has. The only instance where it might be acceptable for a receiver to win is if there were multiple quarterbacks used because of injury or some other reason. That’s the only way the quarterback wouldn’t have all the stats that they receiver had. I’m okay with running backs getting the award but they have to have a truly special season. I’m talking 2000+ scrimmage yards AND being on a team with a mediocre quarterback. I think defensive players could get the award as well, but again, they need to do special things in big moments. They need to have multiple interceptions or strip sacks that effectively end the game and get your team the win. Even kickers should get consideration if they did something like make 10 game winning kicks. Now, you may be thinking that this all seemed like a tangent and gets away from the original point. However, each position that I made a case for involves doing special things that win games. So, if you are winning games, you are more than likely making the playoffs. Thus, you need to make playoffs to be an NFL MVP candidate. However, the NFL is unique because there are two major awards that great players can also win: Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year. These awards are great because they allow great players on mediocre teams to still be recognized for their talents.
Baseball is the sport who’s MVP votes seem to cause the most contention. Most people argue that because baseball is such an individualized sport, you can’t pick an MVP from only playoff teams. However, I’d argue that that’s the reason that you CAN pick a player from a playoff team. The individualized nature of baseball allows the use of advanced metrics to see how a player performs in any situation. You can see how they perform with runners in scoring position, late in games, or any other situation that matters. Baseball has so many metrics, so we can see exactly how someone impacts their team. Baseball, like football, also has awards for players to recognize their talents. If you’re a great hitter, they you can win the silver slugger. If you’re a great fielder, they you can win a gold glove. As much as I love Mike Trout, I think it’s a travesty that great players who lead their team to the playoffs aren’t getting recognized over him. When he won the MVP in 2016, Mookie Betts was the better option. Betts numbers were .318/31/113 with a gold glove. Trout’s numbers were .315/29/100. Trout obviously had a great year. But take Trout off the Angels and their season is no different. Sure, they win a few less games. But they miss the playoffs either way. Take Betts off the Red Sox that year and they may end up losing the division, which they only won by four games. Another example is the 2015 season. Bryce Harper obviously had a tremendous year but, his team ended up missing the playoffs down the stretch. The real NL MVP that year was on the team that passed the Nationals: Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes got traded from the Tigers to the Mets with just 57 games to go. At that time, they were three games back of the Nationals. Cespedes was hot the rest of the season and lead the Mets to two sweeps of the Nationals, securing them first place by 7 games. The Mets would ride that hot streak to the World Series, where they lost to the Royals. Even though Cespedes only played in 57 games, his numbers were great and he clearly was the spark that ignited the Mets to being the hottest team in baseball. (However, if you wanted to give the award to someone not on a playoff team, Arenado had a much better season than Harper. Same home runs, way more RBIs, and a gold glove). Also as a side note, I think pitchers should get more consideration for MVP. It should take a truly special season to do so, but it should happen more since a pitcher’s impact is so easy to identify.
So MVP. The Most Valuable Player. The most prestigious individual award in sports. It all comes down to what you consider “value”. While I argue that value is getting your team to the playoffs, other people might have a different idea of value. Unless people come to a unanimous decision on what value means or leagues put in rules about who can win MVP, we’ll always have the debate of who deserves to win each award.
-Stephen Brown III (@sbtrey23)