Monthly Archives: December 2012

So Gabby Douglas is the 2012 AP Female Athlete of the Year. This is, of course, completely irrelevant. But because her name is now indelibly marked on this Wikipedia page and this Sporcle quiz (if “Ben” ever updates the damn thing, the lazy bastard), I feel compelled to tell our vast readership that the Associated Press made a mistake.

Admittedly, there is absolutely no good way to determine an “athlete of the year,” especially in an Olympic year. We need Baseball Reference to start computing a version of Wins Above Replacement for every athlete, in every sport. And even then, we’d have to compare it to the Fan Graphs version.

Roughly, though, we can examine how close an athlete came to maximum achievement in his or her sport. By this criteria, Britney Griner’s case (18 votes) seems strong — she averaged 5 blocks a game and her team never lost a game — but she played college ball, and until you’ve gone into the Verizon Center and stared down Crystal Langhorne’s Washington Mystics, you’re just an amateur. That Carli Lloyd even “also received votes” over Alex Morgan or Abby Wambach or Megan Rapinoe or Hope Solo probably speaks to a few sportswriters who saw exactly one women’s soccer game the entire tournament. Watch more soccer. It’s fun.

I don’t particularly understand how competitive skiing (or just skiing, really) works, but Lindsey Vonn (also 18 votes) appears to have had a better season, based on the little table in her Wikipedia page, than in 2010, when she won the award. Allyson Felix (“also received votes”) won three of the four sprinting events she entered in London, and more awesomely, didn’t bow to some public pressure to concede her spot in the 100 meters to Jeneba Tarmoh, who responded to feeling “robbed” by declining to participate in a runoff for the spot.

Missy Franklin — of four swimming golds and one bronze — finished second with 41 votes. Natalie Coughlin won six medals in 2008, but only one gold — Franklin’s performance certainly looks historic, although I’m always skeptical with swimming because of the sheer number of the events. (Can we really say Michael Phelps is a better Olympian than Usain Bolt? The Associated Press just did, but I wonder how much his medal total, which athletes in other sports don’t have the opportunities to accumulate, inflates our perceptions of him.)

Douglas, our winner (48 votes) won the women’s all-around and led the U.S. to its first team gold since 1996. Pulling the most inane passages I can find from the AP writeup: “With each competition, her confidence grew. So did that smile,” and “Douglas’ story is both heartwarming and inspiring, its message applicable those young or old, male or female, active or couch potato.”

Omitted, of course, is Douglas becoming the first all-around champion in Olympic history not to medal in an individual event. Nastia Liukin, the individual all-around champ, won two other individual silvers in Beijing, plus the team silver. Douglas certainly deserves credit for her performance in the team competition, where she registered one of the team’s two best scores in all four categories. But Liukin put in nearly as impressive a performance for a 2008 U.S. squad that actually scored higher in falling to the host country.

So who came in third place? An athlete with just as “heartwarming and inspiring” a story, even though most reporters rarely write about her smile. But she’s 31, so we’ve heard it all before.

Serena Williams won her semifinal and final matches at the Olympic tournament by a 24-4 combined game score against the first- and third-seeded players, and took gold in doubles. Outside the airs of the IOC, she won the Wimbledon and the U.S. Open singles’ titles, and the doubles Wimbledon title. Yes, Williams only won two of the four Grand Slam events, but if we’re treating the two-week Olympic period as the extent of female athletic achievement in 2012, then surely her complete annihilation of the Olympic tennis field counts for something. Williams won 94 percent of her matches in 2012, a figure slightly below Steffi Graf’s incredible 1988 and 1989 totals but the best of her career, higher than in her two previous athlete of the year victories.

See, Williams has won the award before, in 2002 and 2009. Therein lies the problem, and it’s a simple one: Voters get bored.


Let’s play a game. I’m going to reassign every MVP and Cy Young award since 1998, based solely on WAR, Win Shares, and DYAR — a simple, narrative-free statistic. It’s not perfect, but we get an objective, consistent measurement of the league’s best player that year. My hunch: more players will receive MVP awards than deserve them.

2011 Aaron Rodgers Drew Brees
2010 Tom Brady Tom Brady
2009 Peyton Manning Tom Brady
2008 Peyton Manning Drew Brees
2007 Tom Brady Tom Brady
2006 Drew Brees Peyton Manning
2005 Peyton Manning Peyton Manning
2004 Peyton Manning Peyton Manning
2003 Peyton Manning/Steve McNair Peyton Manning
2002 Rich Gannon Rich Gannon
2001 Kurt Warner Kurt Warner
2000 Donovan McNabb Peyton Manning
1999 Kurt Warner Kurt Warner
1998 Randall Cunningham Randall Cunningham
Year NBA MVP Win Shares MVP
2011-12 LeBron James LeBron James
2010-11 Derrick Rose LeBron James
2009-10 LeBron James LeBron James
2008-09 LeBron James LeBron James
2007-08 Kobe Bryant Chris Paul
2006-07 Dirk Nowitzki Dirk Nowitzki
2005-06 Steve Nash Dirk Nowitzki
2004-05 Steve Nash Kevin Garnett
2003-04 Kevin Garnett Kevin Garnett
2002-03 Tim Duncan Tim Duncan
2001-02 Tim Duncan Tim Duncan
2000-01 Allen Iverson Shaquille O’Neal
1999-00 Shaquille O’Neal Shaquille O’Neal
1998-99 Karl Malone Karl Malone
1997-98 Michael Jordan Karl Malone
2012 Miguel Cabrera Mike Trout
2011 Justin Verlander Ben Zobrist
2010 Josh Hamilton Josh Hamilton
2009 Joe Mauer Zack Greinke
2008 Dustin Pedroia Dustin Pedroia
2007 Alex Rodriguez Alex Rodriguez
2006 Justin Morneau Johan Santana
2005 Alex Rodriguez Alex Rodriguez
2004 Vladimir Guerrero Ichiro Suzuki
2003 Alex Rodriguez Alex Rodriguez
2002 Miguel Tejada Alex Rodriguez
2001 Ichiro Suzuki Jason Giambi
2000 Jason Giambi Pedro Martinez
1999 Ivan Rodriguez Pedro Martinez
1998 Juan Gonzalez Alex Rodriguez
2012 Buster Posey Buster Posey
2011 Ryan Braun Cliff Lee
2010 Joey Votto Roy Halladay
2009 Albert Pujols Albert Pujols
2008 Albert Pujols Albert Pujols
2007 Jimmy Rollins Albert Pujols
2006 Ryan Howard Albert Pujols
2005 Albert Pujols Albert Pujols
2004 Barry Bonds Barry Bonds
2003 Barry Bonds Barry Bonds
2002 Barry Bonds Barry Bonds
2001 Barry Bonds Barry Bonds
2000 Jeff Kent Todd Helton
1999 Chipper Jones Randy Johnson
1998 Sammy Sosa Kevin Brown
Year AL Cy Young WAR Cy Young
2012 David Price Justin Verlander
2011 Justin Verlander Justin Verlander
2010 Felix Hernandez Felix Hernandez
2009 Zack Greinke Zack Greinke
2008 Cliff Lee Cliff Lee
2007 CC Sabathia Josh Beckett
2006 Johan Santana Johan Santana
2005 Bartolo Colon Johan Santana
2004 Johan Santana Johan Santana
2003 Roy Halladay Pedro Martinez
2002 Barry Zito Barry Zito
2001 Roger Clemens Mike Mussina
2000 Pedro Martinez Pedro Martinez
1999 Pedro Martinez Pedro Martinez
1998 Roger Clemens Roger Clemens
Year NL Cy Young WAR Cy Young
2012 R.A. Dickey Clayton Kershaw
2011 Clayton Kershaw Roy Halladay
2010 Roy Halladay Roy Halladay
2009 Tim Lincecum Tim Lincecum
2008 Tim Lincecum Tim Lincecum
2007 Jake Peavy Brandon Webb
2006 Brandon Webb Brandon Webb
2005 Chris Carpenter Roger Clemens
2004 Roger Clemens Randy Johnson
2003 Eric Gagne Mark Prior
2002 Randy Johnson Randy Johnson
2001 Randy Johnson Randy Johnson
2000 Randy Johnson Randy Johnson
1999 Randy Johnson Randy Johnson
1998 Tom Glavine Kevin Brown

Hey, I’m right! Since 1998, voters have awarded 64.5 different players MVP or Cy Young awards, while only 49 different players have led their league in the chosen, all-inclusive statistic. (I reassigned running backs’ MVP awards to the quarterback receiving the most votes, for ease of comparison.) Team performance varies more than individual performance, so writers’ inclination to give MVPs to “winners” certainly plays a role — this helps explain why guys like Rodriguez and Pujols got shafted. And luck-based “performance” (i.e. pitcher wins) varies more than individual skill-based performance (i.e. WAR), which hurts the truly elite pitchers — Martinez, Santana, Johnson, and Verlander all lost a Cy Young award thanks to relatively weak peripherals. Some of these results, though, speak to voters’ need to be different: O’Neal’s Lakers actually won more games than Iverson’s 76ers in 2001; writers in 2011 were clearly eager to hand the award to anyone not named LeBron James and that Derrick Rose guy seemed nice enough.

Why does this matter? Look down the DYAR/Win Shares/WAR column again. The MVP processes obscure true greatness. Peyton Manning was the best quarterback in football for four straight seasons; Tom Brady’s set to follow that in four of his five most recent healthy seasons. LeBron James has been the best basketball player in the world for four straight seasons; whenever Kevin Durant knocks him off that pedestal (if the season ended today, he would), it’ll be that much more significant. If Alex Rodriguez has the six MVP awards he deserves, is he viewed any differently? Probably not, but at least he’d have six fucking MVP awards. Can we all appreciate that from 2001-2009, there really only should have been two NL MVPs? Pedro Martinez not only should have another Cy Young, but he probably should’ve won two MVPs — remember that when some jackass says he’s not a true first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Look, AP, I understand it’s no fun. But give Williams the damn award.