The 'Abreu for MVP' campaign--A romantic mistake

Jose Abreu is playing his best ball of the season. Heading into Wednesday night he was hitting .356/.401/.678 during a 36 games with a hit in 37 games stretch, and has taken claim of the league lead in OPS and total bases. A conservative stance might be that a very good hitter is very locked in at the moment and providing a lot of entertainment and excitement. An aggressive stance might be that Abreu is improving, rapidly adjusting to the league and will only continue his ascent into the upper echelon of hitters in the league. A constantly improving hitter is an intriguing concept, you might say

Abreu as an absurdist power monger racking up crazy counting totals of home runs and RBI was a marvel, Abreu hitting .300 with a thoroughly above-average on-base rate is a top-5 hitter in the sport, and since Sox fans have been worshiping him as the engine for the team's more watchable performances, it's natural they move on to the next level of support.

MVP candidacy stumping.

This is already a stigmatized practice since every award race became an exercise in how close we could come to determining objective truth. But it's double trouble now that Mike Trout is on the scene. He's a generational player. He's been the best player in the league since his first full season. He hits on par with the best sluggers in the league, while playing plus defense in a premium position and rounding the bases like a Miata. He could and should win every year, barring everyone concocting a reason why he shouldn't, like "The Triple Crown means you're the MVP."

Trout is fashioned as a darling of WAR advocates, but it really doesn't have to be that convoluted. He's hitting better than Abreu. At .299/.388/.582, he's not blown away by Abreu in the slugging department, and splits the difference by getting on base much more easily, and does it while playing in a bonafide pitcher's park. He has a 173 wRC+, Abreu has a 162 wRC+, which doesn't even address Trout's other responsibilities on the field.

This is not a rare case where people seek to latch on to a compelling storyline over a thorough statistical case. Derrick Rose was able to snatch an MVP award from LeBron James, after all, or to make an example that hometown fans will actually sympathize with, Karl Malone won over Michael Jordan. Or to actually talk about baseball, Jimmy Rollins not even being the best player on his own team wasn't enough of a deterrent to adoring voters in 2008. The MVP Award is ultimately a story, and firing the numbers up to spit out the most talented performer in the league is not much of a story. Or at least not enough to fill up the whole column.

But Abreu is a bit lacking on the narrative side as well. He's a fun story to be sure, but for a popular movement to recognize a guy's contributions to his team, usually the team has to be visibly benefiting from the impact. While the Sox are clearly better than last year, they have been rather anonymously on the periphery of any playoff discussion all year. You shoulda seen them in 2013, they were awful! only works if the team is the Yankees or Dodgers, and people really did see them.

The But Andre Dawson! counterargument is ill-fitting, because it calls back to the idea that the objectively best player should win despite the standings, in which case Trout wins again. Also, citing Andre Dawson winning the National League MVP with a perfectly league-average .328 OBP as a precedent worth continuing is...odd, but certainly rings true here. Dawson wasn't the best player in the league, but he hit a ton of home runs and knocked in a ton of runs, and any time the Cubs were doing anything worth watching, Dawson was the focal point.

Abreu has propped up notions of a White Sox offensive revival all by himself, and made the Sox daily watching rather than weekly appointment watching. Stumping for his MVP gives a sense of purpose to a season that, while necessary, has seemed a bit like spinning the wheels throughout. Adam Eaton, Jose Abreu and Jose Quintana all look like members of a championship core, but there's also been a lot of Beckham, Viciedo, De Aza and Flowers.

So it's easy to understand why Abreu for MVP makes sense as something to pull for.  He's had that level of impact on the franchise, the numbers show he's the kind of the elite guy who deserves the consideration, and gosh-darnett, people like him. The only rub is that he's not the MVP.


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