TURES COLUMN: Harper over Austin Riley makes the MVP irrelevant

Published 10:30 am Tuesday, November 23, 2021

As Major League Baseball’s National League East race came down to a three-game series, Philadelphia Phillies OF Bryce Harper wilted, while Atlanta Braves 3B Austin Riley blossomed.  Yet it was Harper who was given the MVP Award, showing how irrelevant the Most Valuable Player vote, and voting process, have become these days.

Imagine two leaders on a pair of baseball teams, locked in a duel for the division, playing a three-game series. One hit .308 in those three games, with a home run and double, knocking in five runs enabling his team to sweep and clinch the division. The other went 0 for 11.

Guess who won the MVP Award? That’s right, the hitless wonder won it.

Austin Riley didn’t just outplay Bryce Harper in the days that determined who would take the NL East. He also went on to hit over .300 in the National League Division Series and World Series, a key player in MLB’s 2021 Champion Atlanta Braves. 

Even in the NLCS, when he hit under .300, Riley singled home Ozzie Albies with a walk-off hit that took game one from the L.A. Dodgers, following his monster home run that tied the game, one of seven extra-base hits during the playoff run, to go along with some great defense.

And Harper? As Sports Illustrated said of the Phillies’ MVP Winner “He was a force to be reckoned with in the second half, and had it not been for his outstanding numbers and leadership, the Phillies would have been eliminated from playoff contention much sooner.”

The problem with the BBWAA is that any setting is the same. A home run in the middle of May is no different and has no more meaning than a home run to secure a division, or decide a playoff game. Why does clutch performance have to count when you can glance at any WAR, JAWS, OPS+, waaWL%, oWAR, dWAR, oRAR, Rpos, Rbaser (and yes, these all really do exist), but I’m beginning to think it’s all a bunch of “BS” stats (as in “Blown Save,” of course).

If you think the whole season matters, consider this. Riley and Harper had nearly identical batting averages, while Riley had 23 more Runs Batted In (RBIs. Yet Riley finished seventh in the vote, behind guys who were traded away mid-season, saw their managers fired for late season collapses, and didn’t even play in All-Star Games (including Harper). Freddie Freeman would have been a better choice than most of them too.

You may not know this, but it was only a few decades ago that the college football National Championship too was picked only by writers. They bequeathed the award before the bowl games were played, so there are numerous cases of National Champions losing their New Year’s Day contests. It wasn’t until the 1970s when games, not just writers, would decide the best.

Additionally, you had some cases of pretty spotty Heisman Trophy Picks. Notre Dame’s Paul Hornung won the college football player of the year award for guiding his team to their worst record in school history, at 2-8. Maybe it was because he threw only three touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Hornung ran for 917 yards, but still had fewer rushing yards than Syracuse running back Jim Brown, who managed to finish fifth in the balloting.

Until baseball’s writers and voters consider critical games, and even postseason play, and traditional statistics instead of these conjured-up calculations, they’ll be as irrelevant as college football’s old method of picking the best teams and players.