Kate Upton had a point. Her math is off, her facts are off, but she had a point.
Sorry, Kate, no writer should be fired for failing to vote for your fiance, Justin Verlander, for the American League Cy Young Award.
But, with all due respect to the Baseball Writers Association of America — of which I am a proud member — the omission of Verlander from the ballot by both Tampa Bay voters is indeed an indication that we can do a better job choosing the voters for our awards.
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The sad part is, we are doing a better job; the BBWAA increased its voting pool by more than 30 members this year, adding MLB.com writers and a few more national writers as well. Our electorate includes voters from Fangraphs, Baseball America and Japanese web sites, as well as local newspapers and national websites like FOXSports.com.
The writers strive for transparency — every individual vote is revealed on BBWAA.com, and the site also includes a list of frequently asked questions about the process. The scrutiny, however, increases when a race is this close — Rick Porcello defeated Verlander, 137 points to 132. And when two voters make seemingly inexplicable choices, it’s certainly fair for fans, players and even players’ fiancées to ask what the heck is going on.
Verlander led the AL in so many categories — innings, strikeouts, WHIP, among others — it should have been almost impossible to exclude him from the top five (the ballots require voters to list 10 candidates for MVP, five for Cy Young, three for both Manager and Rookie).
If I had a vote, I probably would have gone Zach Britton, Verlander, Porcello, Corey Kluber, Chris Sale. I listed Porcello ahead of Verlander in a column posted on Sept. 30, in part because at the time he had the league’s lowest opponents’ OPS. In the end, Verlander finished second in that category, Porcello fourth.
Porcello’s biggest edge — ugh — turned out to be wins, a statistic that hinges on run support (Porcello had by far the league’s best) and bullpen performance. The BBWAA should be beyond that by now, but it was an odd vote. Verlander had more first-place votes than Porcello, 14 to 8, but Porcello had the edge in second-place votes, 18 to 2.
No, Kate, I can’t explain it, either.
Judging voters too harshly is a slippery slope: I vehemently oppose penalizing anyone for holding an unpopular or even mistaken opinion. At the same time, it is the obligation of every voter to develop a sound rationale for his or her choices. Different answers are acceptable; it’s the process that matters.
The Tampa Bay voters, Bill Chastain of MLB.com and Fred Goodall of the Associated Press, cannot be held solely responsible for Verlander’s second-place finish, despite what Upton said in her epic Twitter rant Wednesday night. Verlander would have needed third-place votes or better from both to overcome Porcello – and seven other writers placed him fourth or fifth.
Chastain told the New York Daily News that he submitted his ballot with about a week left in the regular season; a curious choice, to say the least, when Verlander’s Tigers were still fighting for a playoff berth. Goodall, one of several AP writers who vote for BBWAA awards, does not solely cover baseball; he reports on a variety of sports in the Tampa Bay area.
The Tampa Bay area is down to one daily, the Tampa Bay Times. Atlanta, Phoenix and Milwaukee are among the other major-league cities in similar positions. Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, who lives in New Jersey, voted in the Arizona chapter for NL Manager of the Year. ESPN’s Marly Rivera, who lives in New York, voted in the Milwaukee chapter in the same award. I moved from Baltimore to New York in 2009, but still vote out of the Baltimore-Washington chapter; that is where my vote is needed.
The annual scramble to fill spots defeats the BBWAA’s goal of geographic diversity, with two writers unique to each market voting for the awards. The Tampa Bay Times’ Marc Topkin, chairman of the Tampa Bay chapter, had limited options when he distributed his ballots. Chastain and Goodall, longtime writers, did not seem to be inappropriate choices.
Ultimately, though, each writer needs to take responsibility; if you are not prepared to engage in or capable of the necessary analysis, then don’t accept the ballot. Chastain and Goodall did not make indefensible choices — Chastain went Porcello-Britton-Kluber-Sale-Masahiro Tanaka; Goodall went Porcello-Kluber-J.A. Happ-Britton-Aaron Sanchez. But the complete exclusion of Verlander by both makes little sense.
Votes are subjective, differences of opinion expected. But the BBWAA has a responsibility, too — a responsibility to make sure that we select the most qualified voters, the best of the best, to get the optimal result.