I recently came across an NBA article by Marc Stein on espn.com that discusses MVP candidates now that the season is approaching the halfway mark. Well, in the article, Stein states his MVP-voting philosophy, which I find to be very misguided and all too common among his analytical counterparts on the baseball side.
Regular readers know that team success is always the foundation of our MVP deliberations, with at least 50 W's required to crack the conversation. (Unless you play in the modern-day East, which means you'd probably need at least 55 wins and a few of those unforgettable walk-off triples that Arenas keeps giving us.)
It's apparent that there's a great deal of confusion or disagreement about the definition of Most Valuable Player. Looking at nothing but the term itself, I would presume it's the most valuable player in the game. And value, I guess, is how much of a player's output affects his team's chances at success, because what could be more valuable than impacting your team's chances at success? So, to me, it seems rather fair to suggest that "most valuable" should be synonymous with "best."
It seems that Stein believes that a player is only valuable if his team is among the game's best. But what if one player provides much more value (i.e. production) relative to other individual players? By definition, isn't he still providing the most value, regardless of how productive his teammates are?
One counterargument is that certain players affect team success in more indirect, intangible ways, thus getting the most out of those around them. However, how can this even begin to be quantified? I guess the voters could conduct some interviews of other players to gauge who affects whom and to what extent. But even if that were done, how much could we trust the results? Also, in a game such as baseball (or even basketball, probably), I doubt these intangibles would help produce enough -- be it runs in baseball or points in basketball -- to close the gap between individual production, which is measured in a far more sophisicated, accurate manner. Furthermore, in basketball, the affect one player has on others while on the court can be determined with a reasonable degree of accuracy.
Players should not be disqualified from the MVP-voting process simply because of their team's futility. If a huge outlier such as Barry Bonds circa 2001-2004 were denied MVP consideration simply because of his teammates' poor production, that would be a gross injustice, for he easily provided the most value during each of those seasons.