Some insight into BBWAA postseason awards voting

Twice in the past three days, a large number of Dodgers fans have gotten various stages of angry — the range was from mildly annoyed to utterly apoplectic — at a BBWAA postseason award voter whose ballot didn’t make any difference whatsoever in the outcome but which didn’t give what those fans felt was the proper recognition to, first, the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig for National League Rookie of the Year, and then, yesterday, the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw for the N.L. Cy Young Award. Puig didn’t win the ROY, nor would he have if John Maffei of U-T San Diego (that is what used to be called the San Diego Union-Tribune) hadn’t left him off his ballot entirely. Kershaw DID win the Cy Young going away. He got 29 of 30 first-place votes. So in real terms, it didn’t matter that Mark Schmetzer of the Cincinnati chapter of the BBWAA, who is officially listed in the balloting as a reporter for Reds Report (which he is) but whose primary job there is as an Associated Press correspondent, had Kershaw SECOND on his ballot, behind St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright.

So why were Dodgers fans so upset about this? Does it really matter whether Kershaw was a unanimous winner or not? He either won the Cy Young or he didn’t, and he did.

Anyway, some insight:

Each year, for each of these awards, the BBWAA selects two members from each city to vote. With the two leagues now split evenly at 15 teams apiece, that means there are 30 voters for each award — two from each of the 15 A.L. cities for A.L. MVP, two from each of the 15 N.L. cities for the N.L. Cy Young, and so on and so forth. … Because there are four of these awards (Rookie of the Year, Manager of the Year, Cy Young and Most Valuable Player), that means the BBWAA needs to find a total of eight voters associated with each MLB team (although there is occasionally some doubling up — I remember voting for both Manager of the Year and Cy Young in 2003).

Back in the good old days, these ballots were limited to traveling beat reporters — people who saw the teams they covered play on an almost-everyday basis throughout the season — and, as a backup pool for when they ran out of beat reporters, columnists who saw the team often. But with the decline of the newspaper industry in general — some papers that used to travel with the teams they covered no longer have the resources to do so, and some papers have simply gone belly-up — the pool of available voters has begun to dry up somewhat. Add to that the fact that some papers — the Los Angeles Times, for example — no longer allow their reporters to take part in award voting due to concerns on the part of upper management that it raises some kind of ethical issue — and then throw in the BBWAA’s own ridiculous refusal to allow reporters from MLB.com, most of whom DO travel with the teams they cover on a semi-regular basis, to be active members eligible to vote on these awards, and that pool of available voters is almost a dry creek bed.

Now, consider the case of Schmetzer, who is a friend of mine dating to my Cincinnati days. I mentioned this on Twitter yesterday, and among the responses I got back were that Schmetz, as we affectionately call him, is ignorant, a joke, an idiot and “King Dipshit.” All from people who know absolutely nothing about him, of course, except that he didn’t have Kershaw at the top of his Cy Young ballot, thus preventing Kershaw from being a unanimous winner. I can tell you two things with some certainty: Mark Schmetzer is none of those things — he is a great guy who works hard and almost never misses a Reds home game; and even if Kershaw had gotten all 30 first-place votes, they don’t give out any extra awards for that.

Notice, though, that I said Schmetzer almost never misses a Reds HOME game. Schmetzer doesn’t follow the team on the road, and as I peruse the list of N.L. Cy voters, I see that less than ONE-THIRD of them are traveling beat reporters who cover a team on a daily basis. I saw at least one guy voting from the Atlanta chapter who lives in New York. And one voter writes for Bleacher Report, of all things.

This is what I’m talking about when I talk about what has happened to the voter pool. Because Schmetzer doesn’t work for an outlet that sends him on the road with the Reds, he didn’t see as much of Kershaw, whose team comes through Cincinnati once a year, as he saw of Wainwright, whose team comes through three times. Now granted, Kershaw’s one start in Cincinnati this year was pretty good (seven innings, two earned runs, four hits). And granted also, Wainwright made only two starts at Great American Ball Park this year, and one of those was bad (six innings, six runs). So the simple rationale that this voter SAW more of Wainwright than he did of Kershaw doesn’t really hold up, I don’t think.

Consider this, though: the Reds were involved all summer in a three-way race in the N.L. Central with the Cardinals and Pirates, so Wainwright’s exploits would have been much more in the forefront of what this particular voter was following on a daily basis — and that has a way of seeping into a voter’s subconscious. Had Schmetzer been a traveling beat reporter, he also would have seen Kershaw dominate the Reds on July 26 at Dodger Stadium (eight innings, one run). And, he would have seen the Reds absolutely SMOKE Wainwright for nine runs over two innings on Aug. 28 at Busch Stadium. Perhaps then, Schmetzer’s ballot would have been different and Kershaw would have been a unanimous winner.

The voting for these awards is the same now that it always has been. The only thing that has changed is the available pool of voters. And I’m not being critical of the people who are in that pool. It isn’t their fault their outlets don’t have the money to send them on the road. But there was a time, and it wasn’t that long ago — it was still going on when I began covering ball in 1995 — when there were about eight papers that traveled with the Dodgers. That’s eight postseason award voters right there, without having to even dip into the columnist pool. Today, not counting this blog, there are TWO media outlets (the Times and the Orange County Register) that go on EVERY trip, and the Times guys aren’t allowed to vote. There is a third, MLB.com, that goes on MOST of the trips, and none of their people are allowed to vote because the BBWAA, for whatever reason, won’t let them. And unless it’s the playoffs or the heat of a September pennant chase, there are NO other traveling media outlets covering the Dodgers. So do the math. It’s just hard to come up with eight guys from that, and this is one of the largest media markets in the N.L. So just imagine how difficult it is to find eight qualified voters in St. Louis, Milwaukee and, yes, Cincinnati.

In light of all that, we shouldn’t be surprised if someone gets it wrong once in a while. Check that. No one ever gets it WRONG. These things are always in the eye of the beholder, which is why they try to get such a wide swath of voters in the first place. So there is no right or wrong. There are only ballots with which you may agree or disagree. And to cast a ballot with which you disagree does not make someone a joke, an idiot or King Dipshit. It merely means they saw things differently from the way you saw things.

At the end of the day yesterday, Kershaw was the N.L. Cy Young winner for the second time in the past three years. That one ballot kept him from winning it unanimously was irrelevant, insignificant and immaterial. And by the time Kershaw is actually handed that award at the New York BBWAA chapter’s annual awards dinner next month, it probably won’t even be remembered.

6 comments

  1. Who did you vote for in 2003?

    • Can’t believe I still remember, but I do. Eric Gagne for Cy (he won) and Jack McKeon for MOY (he also won)

  2. Thanks for the insight. It’s articles like these which seem to give a more balanced view, from an insider’s perspective, that make this website unique.

  3. >> Because Schmetzer doesn’t work for an outlet that sends him on the road with the Reds, he didn’t see as much of Kershaw, whose team comes through Cincinnati once a year, as he saw of Wainwright, whose team comes through three times.

    It’s also worth noting that any particular starting pitcher may be skipped in some of those series. If it’s a three-game series, there’s a 40 percent chance that any particular starter may not pitch at all, and 20 percent in a four-game series.

  4. A minor quibble. You wrote that “these things are always in the eye of the beholder”, which they are, sure, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that “No one ever gets it WRONG”. Plenty of people get it wrong, but lemme explain.

    Murray Chass, for example, recently argued that the MVP should come from a team that ‘couldn’t have done what they did’ without that player, and he subsequently explained that he’d vote for Cabrera over Trout, in part, because Cabrera’s team made the playoffs. I don’t think that’s the BEST reason to vote for someone, but it’s a defensible one.

    The problem is, he then says he’d vote Paul Goldschmidt for the NL MVP. Goldschmidt, whose team was in contention for nothing. And in doing so, Chass gets it WRONG – not because his previously stated logic was necessarily faulty, but because he couldn’t adhere to his own stated criteria. He was wrong in relation to his own standard.

    So, sure, eye of the beholder. But you can still get it wrong when you aren’t able to adequately explain your process and/or actually follow it.