The Great MVP Debate: Can the MVP Come from Losing Team?

It seems like every year, in every sport, someone poses the question: Can a player win the Most Valuable Player award if they play for a losing team?  Well, there are no rules that stipulate that a player must be on a winning or at least contending team to receive the award, but voting has said otherwise.  Players who have posted great years on mediocre teams tend to receive less than a blink from MVP voters in just about every sport.

Matt Kemp’s Case for MVP

As the Major League Baseball season winds down, this debate is inevitably getting brought up again.  Matt Kemp for National League MVP is quickly turning into one of the most controversial topics around the league today.  Kemp is posting MVP numbers, no doubt.  In fact, he is in the running for the triple crown still. Kemp is in the top 5 in batting average (Just 15 points behind Ryan Braun), tied for the lead in home runs with Pujols, and second in RBI to Prince Fielder.  Nobody has won the triple crown since 1967 when Carl Yastrzemski did it for the Boston Red Sox.  Even defensively, Kemp will likely win a Gold Glove for his work in center field.  But the debate still rages on whether a guy who is putting up the best all-around season in the Majors should be considered a candidate for the NL’s Most Valuable Player Award.

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A Problem with the Definition of MVP

MVP stands for most valuable player – a definition that is vague and subjective at best.  What does “valuable” really mean?  How much value can a single player in a team sport really have on the success of their team.  I could see that if a player accounted for more than half of his team’s offensive production, then you could make a case that the player was more valuable than anyone else on the team, but there is no single player who ever has or ever could come close to those numbers.  So instead, we try to define value as something that helps a team realize success.  While that is a valid argument, it is also still very tough to pin a team’s success on just one player.  Kemp, for example, has done more all-around offensively than any other player in the Majors, yet his team sits near the bottom of their division.  Is that Kemp’s fault?  Is he any less valuable to the Dodgers now, than if his team had stepped up all season and they were instead leading their division?  The answer is a resounding No.  It makes no difference.  The problem lies in the word “Valuable.”

Most Outstanding Player Award

The NCAA has a similar award for success in the postseason, but they call it the Most Outstanding Player Award.  I think that is a little more fitting of a title for what this award truly means.  It doesn’t have anything to do with wins and losses (which are team achievements), instead it focuses simply on the player who was the most outstanding during the season.  I truly believe that if the name of the award were to change, there would be no question whether Matt Kemp was the frontrunner.

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Should Matt Kemp Receive the NL MVP?

In a word…Yes.  But not because his team was successful, but because of everything he accomplished personally.  The MVP award doesn’t sit in a team’s trophy case, it sits on a player’s mantle and for that reason alone, any discussion about how competitive one player’s team is compared to another should be stricken from the conversation.  This is a personal award, meant to recognize outstanding personal accomplishments.  Now if the voting committee could just see it that way. 

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