WTFonomics: Baseballís Prop 8, Heisman apartheid and tomatoes.
As opposed to other awards like Emmy’s, Grammies, or Oscars for example, each sport has an abundance of numerical data to justify historical comparisons, narrow down nominees and ultimately determine winners. Baseball has always been at the forefront of this 'stat-trackery' and this year’s AL MVP award became a referendum of sorts. On the one side you had the Statistical Fundamentalist (Triple Crowners) versus the Analytically Progressive (Sabermetricians). We’ve always held certain traditional baseball achievements in higher esteem just because, well, it’s always been that way. The definition of Most Valuable has always had a conventional meaning even if voters defined it subjectively.
2012 was really the first time advanced metrics were on the ballot so to speak. Cabrerra vs. Trout. Traditional vs. progressive. All the numbers were, at least, based on the same type of numbers just seen through the prism of differing interpretational significance. Social-statistically (‘just made that up), some said it was like comparing apples to oranges as a cop out to not understanding their equality. What everyone could all agree on though, was the questionable non-case for Verlander. This was clearly akin to comparing ‘pitching’ stats or tomatoes, to those traditional apple or progressive orange offensive stats. They are technically all fruit, but, umm, what do we compare to what? It’s a completely different position with a completely different way to evaluate performance. Pitchers have nothing statistically to compare in the On-Base % vs. Batting Average debate. It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and WHIP!
The case against Verlander did have a ‘separate but equal’ component in the form of the Cy Young Award. Fair enough. I guess? College football however does not.
I used the term apartheid when referring to the Heisman not as a hot button racial issue, but as a way of highlighting how defensive players are discriminated against when it comes to college football’s highest individual honor. (Simmer down, this could have been much worse. I edited out a wildly inappropriate, tongue and cheek “Concentration Camp Randall” analogy. And full disclosure as it pertains to race: when I first heard of Manti Te’o I thought it was his first name and that he was black. I assumed his full name was like MantiTe’o Williams or something? Come on, two capital letters, an apostrophe? I may be a horse’s backside, but that assumption is defensible. Actually, maybe it’s not. Let’s just move on before I go full ‘Rob Parker’ and question his Samoan-ness.)
The point is there’s a reason the Heisman Trophy is a guy running with the ball and there’s a reason why no defensive player has won a Heisman except for Charles Woodson. He had return stats, or offensive stats, to even the playing field. Comparing offensive players like QB’s to RB’s is like comparing apples to oranges. The numbers are different but have some similarities to use as a common denominator to determine a winner. This year a LB was thrown in the mix, a tomato if you will. Technically a tomato is a fruit just like apples and oranges, but who really ever thinks of them in that way? A LB doesn’t have the same kind of numbers that offensive players do, yet they are all playing a team sport making it incomprehensible that a defensive player has had relatively no chance of ever being deemed “the most outstanding player in collegiate football.”
Granted there are a wide variety of awards in college football, but the Heisman is clearly the “Best in Show’ which only factors in one side of the ball. The other ones (Butkus, Outland, Doak Walker, etc.) are casually perceived as lesser in importance almost like technical awards at the Oscars. Who remembers them beyond the night they are given out? Do they even show them on TV? They are separate, but in no way equal.
The NFL has tried to address this issue by ridiculously gerrymandering their annual MVP awards - Really!? Offensive, Defensive AND League MVP? - But in reality it only serves to recognize an extra apple or orange. What are the chances of the Bears Charles Tillman winning Defensive MVP and Houston’s J.J. Watt winning League MVP this season? I’m not saying this should be the case, but there should be a way to make the case.
Hopefully the analytical progressives (I’m looking at you Nate Silver) will figure out a more inclusive statistical formula that will account for tomatoes, because tomatoes are people too. And so are Manti Te’o and J.J. Watt for that matter.
In the next column: I use a sassy speech impediment to run down the BEST of 2012 in my year-end lisp.