New on my List – Keiz-who?

First, my apologies for lateness. I have a finished post on the bullpen – but I’m going to wait a day or so to post it until we know a little bit more about what happened to Joe Nathan during today’s game. Scary to say the least – if Joe goes down, I think some slightly insane combination of Crain/Rauch/Mijares becomes closer.

Gulp.

Now that I’ve had my depressing thought of the day, I move on.

…To a new addition to my list. I founded “The List” with the very first post on Call to the ‘Pen, which excoriated Manny Ramirez. Since then, there have only been two additions to my “list” – Bud Selig, for his astounding insensitivity with regard to race relations, and MLB and Fox for conspiring to deprive me of Saturday afternoon Twins games eight to ten times a year (and it appears it will stay the same this year).

However, Bud Selig has at least attempted to work his way out of my wrath, so I have decided to give him a pass. This is mostly based on the fact that I just can’t keep up wrath for something as relatively minor as Jackie Robinson Day, and also because it just isn’t of the same magnitude of the others on the List.

The List is reserved for people that do something that I just can’t forgive. Something so egregious no sane person can understand why they did what they did. The List is for the worst of the worst, the stupidest of the stupid, the most tone-deaf of the tone-deaf, the most mediocre in all mediocrity.

That is why, today, I induct Keizo Konishi, of Kyodo News, into infamy On My List.

If you are wondering, well, who the hell is Keizo Konishi, you’re not alone. Last year in November, Konishi became famous for the very first time. By doing something incredibly stupid.

Now, some people just aren’t ready for prime time. You see it in politics all the time. Right now, for example, U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) has risen to prominence due to his quixotic and (some say) self-defeating quest to kill either abortion rights or healthcare. Stupak was a long-term back-bencher, and now that he has started spending time on tv, it has become clear that he is renting a room for something like 1/3 fair market value (in the video), which is a big no-no, and could result in his reprimand in the House. His ties with a secretive religious group that some have described as a cult are also coming to light, and he is now looking at elective trouble. Now, don’t get wrapped up in his politics, but know that this probably never would have come up if he could have stayed on the back bench during the health care debate.

(Sorry to bring politics into this blog, which I have studiously avoided, but I lack for a better example)

Konishi is someone that I had never heard of, and it therefore surprised me to learn that he is a reporter that has been covering the Seattle Mariners for many years. As Dave Cameron of U.S.S. Mariner and the Indispensible Fangraphs wrote on his twitter last November, “I probably read more about Seattle-based baseball writing than anyone alive. I’ve never heard of Keizo Konishi.”* Apparently, he covers the Mariners for the Japanese periodical Kyodo News, which means he covers Ichiro Suzuki, who is a sort of demigod in Japan. I was going to give an excoriating review of his brilliant writing style (which is actually terrible), but at some point between last November and now, Kyodo News has switched to a subscriber-only model, and now I can only see 1-sentence summary of Keiz-who(?)’s articles. \

(By the way, follow Dave Cameron at @d_a_cameron. He’s smarter than me.)

Anyway, searching for his work yields one article. One. Uno. MLB allowed a writer who had one credit that is accessible to the U.S. audience to vote on (arguably) the most important honor when it comes to the later (mostly meaningless) Hall of Fame decision. Go ahead and read it. It’s terrible journalism. Every other link that comes off of a search for his name leads back to his vote in the MVP race. It takes real talent to be that much of a backbencher in the world of journalism.

Anyway, everyone knows that last fall, Joe Mauer was elected MVP of the American League by a near unanimous vote. I remember hearing “near-unanimous” and wondering who pooped the bed. I assumed that it would be a Yankees beat reporter, as everyone in media had spent the last couple months overhyping Derek Jeter’s candidacy. Or at least someone with an axe to grind or a bit of home-town favoritism. But no. It was Keizo-freaking-Konishi. Who didn’t even vote for his man-crush, Ichiro Suzuki. He voted for Miguel Cabrera, who was best known last year for going out and getting drunk with opposing teams during a division title hunt and then for (allegedly) assaulting his wife. Everyone – and I mean everyone – wanted to know what exactly Konishi had been huffing to make him think that Cabrera was more valuable than Joe Mauer. But he wasn’t saying.

Until last Wednesday. Then Tyler Kepner, who is (at least in my mind) best known for rendering Joe Posnanski and Rob Neyer both apoplectic with his suggestion that Mark Texeira was the “No Question” MVP in August 2009 (which really would have been pooping the bed, as it turns out), managed to track Konishi down and got him to talk about his vote. Go to that link and read all of it. I’ll wait.

Waiting.

Okay. That might be the worst argument for anything that I have ever heard in my entire life, and as a law student who reads a lot of crappy arguments and also as a guy with a wife who is excellent at pointing out the flaws in his arguments (love you, hon), I have heard a whole lot of crappy arguments in my days. I have read cases where the entire argument posed by one lawyer was that “the court should overturn modern contract law because it really hurts his client” (not an exact quote). I have read countless scribes argue that Derek Jeter should be MVP even as they acknowledge that he is not the most valuable player. I myself have made absurd arguments that the first day of spring training should be a national holiday so I don’t have to go to work or class.* But I simply cannot think of an argument that is worse than the one that Konishi made in support of his vote.

*I still had to go to work and class.

Before I get too far into Konishi, let’s remember one thing: Joe Mauer had a HISTORIC season. It was the best offensive season by a catcher, possibly ever. Exclude Piazza, who was a terrible defender, and it was the best offensive season by a catcher. Which is made all the more impressive by the fact that he is a catcher. Catchers are typically the player that has the least offensive impact in the lineup (other than maybe the shortstop, or the pitcher in the NL), because their value is in their defense. Or they have a lot of offensive impact, but no defensive impact. Cabrera is a first baseman. They’re supposed to be good offensively. And he was. Whee. But he didn’t add very much offensively. His UZR was 2.8 last year, which is above average, but not incredible. His positional value was terrible: -11.9. For more statistics, see Fangraphs. Mauer is here. Mauer had a 8.1 WAR. Cabrera had 5.5. I mean, there really aren’t many (if any) advanced statistics that give Cabrera a lead over Mauer.

That in mind, let’s break Konishi down (apologies to Kepner, I’m going to be quoting at length):

“I thought that the Western division and the Eastern division were almost decided by mid-August,” he said. “The only tight race was the Central division. Two teams went really deep, the Tigers and the Twins, so I thought the M.V.P. should be selected from those two teams.”

This is exactly the problem with the MVP award, and why no one takes it seriously anymore, including me (well, only serious enough to write about 2000 words or so, but not more). The standards for voting are so lax and undefined that it allows every voter to come up with their own standards. In this case, Konishi eliminated the East and West divisions because… well, he thought they should be eliminated. Never mind if there was a team in one division or the other that had a player that was “most valuable” (hypothetically speaking, of course). He just… decided that the East and West are too strong, and therefore, in these “strong” divisions there was no one “strong” enough to be worthy of the title of Most Valuable.

No, I get it. He subscribes to the theory of “the most valuable player is the one that drags his team kicking and screaming over the finish line.” With that mindset, of course the East and the West are ineligible for Most Valuable Players. They would be almost every year. The hallmark of the last few years has been the AL East wrapping up the Wild Card and its Division winner early, and the AL West either beating them to it or finishing just behind. Of course, there couldn’t be a player that is Most Valuable on a team that dominates their division, like the Angels did last year. That’s just silly to think that a good team could have a Most Valuable Player. Silly.

So, let’s look at the way that Konishi eventually got to the place where he pooped the bed:

“What I thought is, ‘Who has the most importance to those two teams?’ I imagined what would happen if you picked someone out of the lineup. For example, if I took Cabrera out of the Tigers’ lineup, I thought it would be a very different team. If I did the same thing for the Twins, if I picked Mauer out of their lineup, they would still have a better lineup compared to the Tigers.”

Wait, what? Are we talking about the same teams here? We’re talking about a Twins team that had no Justin Morneau and was giving regular playing time to THREE players that were hitting below .230 at the end of the season. We’re talking about a Twins team that had no Joe Crede and the worst defensive outfield in the Majors on average. We’re talking about a team that was relying on Jeff Manship and Brian Duensing to go six-plus innings two out of every five days. We’re talking about a team with no ace pitcher that survived on passable starters that were backed up by decent offense. We’re talking about a team that got a batting average of .209 from the 2-hole on the season (and that’s even with Joe Mauer batting there for a period of time when he was hottest). What was there really to like about the Twins lineup, other than Span, Kubel, Cuddyer, and Mauer at the end of the season?

Who did the Tigers have? Oh yeah, they had Curtis Granderson. Placido Polanco. Brandon Inge. Miguel Cabrera. Carlos Guillen. Magglio.  Jason Verlander. Rick Porcello. Edwin Jackson. Not perfect, but I like that list a whole lot better than I like the Twins as of Game 163.

So let’s pick Joe Mauer and Miguel Cabrera out of their respective lineups and see what happens. Here’s what happens: The Twins continue the fold they were accomplishing so well as of the end of July/beginning of August, and the Tigers ride their starting pitching into the postseason. Without Joe Mauer to say, “hey, guys, jump on my sideburns and let me carry you,” the Twins were done. True, as Konishi said, the Twins had players who exceeded expectations, but that was mostly because expectations were so, so low for many. Remember when Dave Cameron, normally a wise guy, excoriated the Twins for locking up Kubel when Hinkse was available? That still makes me chuckle. He also only lists three players that exceeded his expectations, while oh-so-many underacheived: Punto, Young, Casilla, Harris, Crede, and Tolbert, to name a few. This shallow analysis, unfortunately seems to be more typical than not. Without Joe Mauer, the Twins lineup was polar – there were a few really great players, but these were more than outweighed by the terrible and the under achieving. Without Mauer, the Twins wouldn’t have made it even to consideration for a game 163.

Without Cabrera,* the Tigers wouldn’t have had a player out drinking with the White Sox and getting into a domestic violence “altercation” with his wife (allegedly) in the heat of the playoff race/collapse.

* Oooh, oooh, something interesting. Cabrera is apparently a babalao, or high priest, of the Santeria  religion. The more you know!

Wait, you say Konishi had something to say about the Cabrera drinking incident? Do tell:

I asked Konishi if he considered Cabrera’s behavior on the final weekend of the season. With the Tigers clinging to their division lead, Cabrera’s general manager, Dave Dombrowski, had to pick him up at the police station early Saturday morning after a night of drinking and a domestic altercation. Cabrera played that night and went 0 for 4, stranding six runners.

Konishi said he was aware of the incident, but he said he was unaware of the details until after ballots had to be submitted. “If I had known what was going on there, my vote would probably be different,” he said. “Or maybe, I don’t know. I would have to think about it again.”

Give me a minute. I think I feel an aneurysm forming.

When deciding. Who was the Most Valuable Player. Based on who was most important to the team. Konishi didn’t do his research on Cabrera’s off-the-field unacceptable behavior? There are two ways to view this. First, he heard that something had happened, but didn’t follow up on it, which is irresponsible (and I think next-to-impossible, with the play the story got in the media and the baseball world). Second, he had already made up his mind and ignored the last week or so of the regular season. This would be reprehensible, and I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I don’t know of any other way to have avoided the news stories about Miguel Cabrera and his off-the-field antics.

Finally, the best part of the article, to me. Kepner brought it up as if it was no big deal at all, framing it as a “cultural distinction.” First of all, it’s not. Second of all, I’ll let Konishi’s words speak for themselves:

“Maybe not many Americans think this way, but outside of America, the World Baseball Classic is a huge deal for the Japanese people — enormous,” Konishi said. “And that year, Cabrera played to the semifinals. Mauer didn’t. And how many games both players played was different, too.”

Really? He used the World Baseball Classic, which was not part of the regular season, which did not involve the Tigers at all, and its importance to the Japanese people (!!!!!!!!) to justify his vote. The World Baseball Classic, which was an utter joke last year, thanks to the fact that fewer than 1/4 of Major Leaguers (assumedly, the best players in the world, excepting Japan and Cuba) took part. Mauer, for the record, was not taking part due to a back injury. The World Baseball Classic, in its current incarnation, is a joke. It’s no more important than the Arizona Fall League or the Dominican Winter League. It’s a diversion. It’s a way for MLB to make money. That’s it. It’s a vehicle to transfer dollars (and yen, and pesos, and yuan, and etc.) from the pockets of fans into the pockets of MLB and its owners and facilities. It should not, and does not (in a just world), have any influence whatsoever in the major league season, much less in the MVP voting.

That said, the one, single part of Konishi’s argument that I could see as logical or that I could agree with is his note about the number of games each played. Mauer played 138. Cabrera played 160. Important distinction, but what Mauer did in his 138 was so superior to what Cabrera did in his 160 that I don’t think it should be any real issue here.

And this is where I differ from Joe Christiansen, who normally I respect greatly. He said, with regard to the decision, “if they think he put it together without much thought they are wrong.” JoeC is wrong. Konishi’s decision did not take any thought. This was the opposite of thought. This was rationalization of a decision NOT to care about making a decision that, right or wrong, could have made a major impact on a player’s career. LaVelle gets it closer, but still whiffs on the important parts: “While I would have voted for Mauer (didn’t have the MVP vote last year) this shows how someone can look at things differently.” To be fair, he did make the same points I did above about the relative lineup strengths. Kepner brings up a good point, as well, in his article: “In six games against Seattle last season, Mauer hit .333. In nine games, Cabrera hit .471. Perhaps that colored Konishi’s thinking, on some level.” But then he whiffs it too: “But he sounded to me as if he really had given serious thought to his vote. He just came to a different conclusion than everyone else.” No. Sometimes there is room for interpretation and coming to different conclusions than everyone else. Not this time. Not by a long shot. There’s a difference between Konishi being willing to come out and say why he pooped the bed, and excusing him for doing so. That’s what LaVelle, Kepner, and JoeC did. They excused him. The only mainstream writer that I have seen that got it right is, as usual, Aaron Gleeman, at Hardball Talk:

I appreciate Konishi’s willingness to explain his ballot in a public forum, but I certainly don’t appreciate the lack of insight and logic that went into his decision making. His vote made little sense, the reasoning behind his vote makes even less sense, and his having a ballot in the first place perhaps makes the least sense of all. Oh well.

Konishi should be kicked out of the BBWAA, or at least banned from any further voting of any kind. However, because I know that there’s no way this happens, I do the next most terrible thing, at least to my self-important sense of justice.

I put him On My List.

One Response

  1. […] to his first MVP, almost unanimously, which he would have been if not for one idiotic writer who should lose his right to vote on all future awards. It's the Joe-point we'll be sadly missing this year. Courtesy […]

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