Fantasy MVP – Stats or Value?

As a true baseball fan, what are your criteria for choosing a “Most Valuable Player” (MVP)? Everyone seems to have a different take on this award and for the 60 baseball writers who vote on the award each year, there seems to be just as much confusion. Even the directions mailed out with the ballot say, “There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means”.

Are you in the camp of those who feel that the Cy Young Award is for Pitchers and the MVP is for everyday players? In the 1980’s, both Willie Hernandez (’84) & Roger Clemens (’86) were awarded both in the same year. It happened again in 1992 with Dennis Eckersley and as recently as 2011 & 2014 when Justin Verlander & Clayton Kershaw captured both trophies.

Or maybe you feel strongly that the MVP needs to come from a winning team that makes the playoffs? Ernie Banks won the NL MVP in both 1958 & 1959 playing on Cubs teams that were under .500. In those two seasons, he hit 92 HR’s and had 272 RBI’s making his dominance difficult to ignore. In fact, there are some who feel that winning teams dilute the value of star players because there are usually multiple members of the roster making significant contributions.

A few years ago, baseball writer Jeff Passan added another talking point to the MVP debate. He asked if “value” also includes a player’s contribution to his team relative to his salary and posed the question, “have we been missing what should be one of the chief criteria of value”. Bryce Harper is having an MVP-type season, but his salary is $25 Million. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has even more amazing stats, but makes only $605,400. The basic theory is “MVP in actuality is the one that most improves postseason chances given payroll limitations.” Passan wasn’t quite ready to use performance vs. contract as a primary factor in MVP voting but felt that when a spot on the ballot is “too close to call”, he would consider it as secondary criteria.

Of course, experienced Fantasy players have been utilizing this approach for decades. Unlike major league baseball, we all choose and manage our teams under the umbrella of a salary cap. When every team’s budget is $260, “value” becomes a relative term. While some may say that once you leave the Draft table, it’s all about performance, a given player’s salary impacts your roster’s flexibility throughout the season. So, let’s take a look at the MVP race in a real world fantasy baseball league.

For this laboratory experiment, we’ll use the industry’s premiere “experts” keeper league, the Xperts Fantasy League (XFL). A 15-team mixed, auction-style league with 5×5 stats (OBP replaces BA), the league is in its 19th season. As with most leagues, it has some interesting rules including dynasty-type salary guidelines, but the essence of the stats vs. value argument will be clear. Adhering to recent real-world MVP balloting, we’ll look at teams in contention as we head into the final quarter of the season. The current standings have five teams with 100 points or better and they are clear of the field by at least 10 points. Statistics are as of August 13th.

For purposes of anonymity, we’ll call the contenders the Mallards, Barristers, Gandhis, Broadcasters & Ronettes. Only players either kept or drafted in the December 2020 auction will qualify, eliminating $1 bargains chosen in the March 2021 supplemental phase like Emmanuel Clase, Jesus Aguilar and Jake McGee.

The  Mallards have received stellar production from Marcus Semien, who has produced a $29 return. However, his salary of $24 creates a gap of only $5 while Kevin Gausman has also contributed $29…with a $6 salary.

The defending champions Barristers have a plethora of great values with Bo Bichette, Rafael Devers & Ozzie Albies but the MVP is an easy call. Even with time spent on the IL, Fernando Tatis Jr. has contributed $39 in value for a $7 price tag.

The emerging Gandhis have boppers like Max Muncy and Joey Gallo, but they also get to put Shohei Ohtani into their line-up. Even though he takes up two spots on the roster, his $10 salary makes him the obvious MVP.

The Broadcasters have a number of outstanding players but the aforementioned Guerrero laps the field with a $7 salary and a $39 season.

The Ronettes have gotten $27 of value from Whit Merrifield but his salary of $21 won’t make him their MVP. How about Adam Frazier’s $16 season for a $2 salary and throw-in multiple position eligibility.

If you consider yourself an expert at this game or just a fan that plays for the love of the game, the theory of “value” should always be in your thought process, especially if you’re re-building for 2022. It impacts trade decisions as well as keeper choices next Spring. Determine your MVP for this year and you’ll be a step ahead of your competition.

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