Tuesday, January 31, 2006

MLB MVPs
By Blogger

(Author's Note: I originally wrote this column about a year ago for my old all-topics blog. At that time, I'd only completed my analysis of the American League and intended to analyze the National League at a later date. That time has come. I've made a few alterations, but the cumulative effect is mostly aesthetic...)

I know the Super Bowl is upon us, but pitchers and catchers is just around the corner. I'm getting a fever, and the only prescription is more baseball. A while back, I chatted with my buddy Aaron about Fred Lynn's 1979 season and how he clearly should have won the MVP instead of Don Baylor. So, I fired up the computer and tried to remember which years the MVP selection was controversial. The first one I remember arguing about was the 1991 MVP, which Terry Pendleton won. In retrospect, it's obvious the award should have gone to Barry Bonds. Bonds lost because some votes went to his teammate, Bobby Bonilla, and a bunch of writers voted for Pendleton because Pendleton was the emotional leader of the Atlanta Braves, the NL's World Series team that year. Thus was born the Terry Pendleton Effect, whereby "Intangibles" (with a capital I) are the deciding factor in voting for MVP. Also note the MLB voting pattern in 1995 and Steve Nash's MVP in the NBA.

So what is that list below? Well, I started with the arbitrary year 1941 and examined the results of Major League Baseball's recognized MVP votes up through 2004, and made a list of guys who were more deserving than the guy who actually won it. The players are ordered chronologically. If there is more than one player, they are then ordered by how deserving I think they were, with most deserving coming first, top to bottom. Feel free to add your own suggestions, or to rip mine. This list is completely subjective and is for procrastination use only.

AL
Ted Williams 1941 -- Splendid Splinter hits .406 for the season, and Joltin' Joe hits in 56 straight games. Ted was still better over the course of the season.

Ted Williams 1942 -- He won the Triple Crown!!!

Ted Williams 1947 -- He won the Triple Crown!!! (sense a pattern?)

Reggie Jackson 1974 -- Reggie had a huge year, and the A's won the West... but Joe Rudi and Sal Bando took votes away from him. Sal Bando seemed to be in the top ten in the voting a lot in those years.

Fred Lynn 1979 -- Just look at the numbers. Then realize that Boston finished third in the East, but with a better record than Don Baylor's Angels. Then realize that Lynn was one of those Torii Hunter-esque outfielders in the grand tradition pioneered by Pete Reiser. Lynn was awesome.

George Brett 1985 -- This is one of those situations where looking at rate stats and the lineup a player was in helps you place a guy's value. Don Mattingly was tremendous that year, but Brett was awesome-er. The immortal Steve Balboni was the only other real threat in that lineup, and he batted after Brett, while Mattingly had HOFers sandwiching him in the lineup, Rickey Henderson ahead of him and Dave Winfield behind him, which pumped up all his counting stats.

Rickey Henderson 1985 -- Rickey never gets respect. He was a leadoff hitter, and he slugged over .500 that year. Come on, people!

Alan Trammell 1987 -- George Bell had a big year, but look at what Trammell did as the pre-ARod do-everything shortstop of his day. Besides, the Tigers won the East that year.

Rickey Henderson 1989 -- For the same reasons that Shannon Stewart was given MVP consideration in 2003, Rickey should have won it this year. He was the most important pickup over the course of the season, when the A's traded Luis Polonia, Eric Plunk, and Greg Caderet to the Yankees for him. At the time, he was hitting a shade under .250. He hit near .300 the rest of the way, and was the last piece of the A's championship puzzle. Really, the only reason Robin Yount won it this year was because nobody else seemed to step up, but Rickey was huge.

Albert Belle 1995 -- In a shortened season, the man hit 50 jacks and 52 doubles. He was the primary offensive force for a team that wrapped up their division something like a month before the season ended. For like five years, he was the best hitter in the AL.

Alex Rodriguez 1996 -- One of those situations where a guy is so young that people don't know what to do with him, so they shortchange him. Griffey took votes from him, too.

Albert Belle 1996 -- Yet another monster season, his last with the Indians. The lesson, children, is not to throw baseballs at reporters.

Ken Griffey, Jr. 1996 -- ARod took votes from him, but they were both tremendous that year. How do you quantify whether your CF or your SS is more important to your team? Juan Gonzalez was and is a terrible outfielder.

Brady Anderson 1996 -- I put him here because he was the reason his team made the playoffs. His numbers look like a 3 or 4 hitter, but he was hitting leadoff! One of those fluke seasons where a pretty good hitter puts it all together and finds his stroke over the whole season. Not to mention that he was also playing CF that year.

Mo Vaughn 1998 -- Poke fun all you want, we can say his defense and Juan Gone's are a wash, but Mo was still the more valuable player in '98. In a year that the NL (rightly) dominated the news, Mo was the muscle that let Nomar break out, and Mo was the muscle that led Boston to the second best record in the AL, behind the record-setting Yankees. Besides Mo and Nomar, we're talking about Troy O'Leary in that lineup, people. Gonzalez had Will Clark, Pudge, Rusty Greer, and a serious hitter's park.

Albert Belle 1998 -- Realize that this was an off year for the Big Hurt and Robin Ventura. Realize that this was before Magglio was Magglio. That pitching staff was the worst in the AL. And they finished second in the Central. Then, look at his numbers.

Pedro Martinez 1999 -- It's hard to argue against Pudge here. However, Pedro had an ERA that was THREE RUNS lower than the league average. Mark Portugal started 27 games for Boston that year. 27! Bret Saberhagen was the only other starter on that staff you might call "effective". Pedro's 2000 season was even better than in '99, but Giambi was so utterly dominant that he deserved the award.

Jason Giambi 2001 -- I know the Mariners won 116 games. I know Ichiro was the catalyst for all of it. I know he hit .350. But Giambi's 2001 was better than 2000. He had 18 more doubles, with only 5 fewer HRs. The A's won more than 100 games, and Giambi was a bigger part of his team's success than Ichiro was of his team's (That said, I am not the President of the Bret Boone Fan Club). Amazingly, even though Ichiro hit .350, he didn't lead his team in OBP. John Olerud hit .302 that year, but had an OBP that was 20 points higher, and even he was behind Edgar Martinez.

Jorge Posada 2003 -- They gave it to ARod, even though Delgado had a better season AND led his team to the brink of the playoffs, and even though Posada and Shannon Stewart meant more to their teams. Posada's tremendous performance as a catcher, though, should have put him over the top. Besides, he's one of the few Yankees I think might actually be underrated.

Manny Ramirez 2003 -- He split votes with Ortiz, and he looks bad in the field, but he really isn't that bad, and playing LF at Fenway helps him a lot on defense. I'm just saying that he was more deserving than ARod. Cripes. Manny is a first ballot HOFer. This season's stats are almost run-of-the-mill for him, too.

Carlos Delgado 2003 -- Just look at the numbers. Look at them! Would Delgado have won the award had he been on a last place team? Of course not. This was a case of ARod being rewarded for previous seasons' performance.

SPECIAL MENTION: In 2000, Manny Ramirez had what Aaron has called, "The greatest non-Bonds season of our era." I agree. Look at what he did, and then try to explain why he finished tied for 6th in the MVP voting. I don't think you can.

NL
Stan Musial 1944 -- Marty Marion, the shortstop on Musial's Cardinals, won the award. He was regarded as an excellent fielder, and Range Factor seems to bear that out, but a .686 OPS isn't exactly terrifying. The only other legitimate candidates besides Musial, who hit .347 with a .990 OPS, were Bill Nicholson and Dixie Walker, who played on second division teams.

Johnny Mize 1947 -- This year, Mize hit .302 with 51 HR. Good God. The Giants finished fourth, five games behind the Boston Braves. The Braves were led by the MVP winner, Bob Elliot, who hit .317 with 22 HR. Ralph Kiner put up an even more impressive line than Mize, who played in a more hitter-friendly environment, but Pittsburgh finished 32 games out.

Stan Musial 1949 -- In just about any other year, Jackie Robinson's performance would make him the clear-cut MVP, and I do feel uncomfortable saying Musial should have won the award, given Robinson's unique context. Robinson's Dodgers beat out the Cardinals for the pennant, as Robinson had his (MLB) career year. However, I can't deny that Musial was better that year. The Cards only finished one game behind Brooklyn, and Musial's .338 AVG, 36 HR, and 1.062 OPS went unrewarded. Also of note, Kiner again had a monster season wasted by a pathetic Pittsburgh team.

Del Ennis 1950 --
This one was understandable, as Jim Konstanty (yes, that Jim Konstanty) won the award as Philadelphia's ace reliever (RELIEVER!!!)... actually it doesn't make any sense. Konstanty went 16-7 with a 2.66 ERA. He threw 152IP, all in relief, and struck out only 56 while walking 50! Ennis hit .311 with 31 HR to lead a potent Phillies offense to the World Series. Despite being the best hitter on the league's best team, he came in fourth in MVP voting.

Duke Snider 1950 -- This could get out of hand. A reliever, and not even a particularly good one, won the NL MVP in 1950. Duke Snider helped the Dodgers finish in second place by putting up a .321 batting average and 31 HR.

Stan Musial 1950 -- Why did Stan Musial keep getting jobbed? Was it because he wasn't a character that the press could turn to for entertaining quotes? Was it because he wasn't a flamboyant self-promoter? Did they dislike him for similar reasons that the press hated Ted Williams? What gives? Musial hit .346 with 28 HR and a 1.034 OPS. Granted, St. Louis did finish barely above .500, but he was still a better choice than Konstanty. Oh yeah, and Kiner again had a monster year for an execrable team.

Stan Musial 1952 -- Robin Roberts led his team to fourth place with a 28-7 record and a 2.59 ERA, but Stan Musial led his team to third place with a .336 batting average and 21 HR. I'm starting to think this was an example of the Shaq Phenomenon, in which a guy is so good that while he could legitimately have won like ten MVPs, the writers didn't think that was right for some reason and overcompensated by shutting him out too many years. (Also, this was Kiner's first non-monster season since his rookie season in 1946. Has anyone compared Kiner to Albert Belle, yet? Kiner only played ten seasons, yet he's in the Hall. Belle might actually stack up favorably.)

Duke Snider 1956 -- Don Newcombe was a fantastic pitcher. Duke Snider was a helluva hitter. How did Snider finish tenth in the voting after putting up a .292 batting average and 43 HR, and after being the primary offensive threat on a World Series team? Again, Don Newcombe won the MVP with a 3.06 ERA, which, while impressive considering his home park was Ebbets Field, still doesn't impress me enough to say that a starting pitcher should win it over a hitter like Snider, who outshone all the other offensive candidates.

Hank Aaron 1959 -- Ernie Banks had a huge year, but the Cubs finished thirteen games out. However, Aaron hit .355 with 39 HR and a 1.037 OPS. As a former pitcher, that brings tears to my eyes.

Eddie Mathews 1959 -- Mathews slightly outhit Banks in all the major categories, in a more difficult home park, putting up a .306 average, 46 HR, and a .983 OPS, albeit at a less demanding defensive position (SS vs. 3B).
It would be easy to say the two Braves split sentiment on their way to finishing second in the league, but add their votes together and Banks still would've won the MVP that should have gone to Aaron.

1960 -- This one was an egregious example of the Terry Pendleton Effect gone all wrong. Dick Groat won the award, primarily because he played shortstop for the NL Champion Pittsburgh Pirates. Don Hoak, that team's third baseman, finished second in the voting. Neither player produced even close to an MVP type season. There are too many legitimate candidates that could have won over Groat, so I'm just going to list them and trust that you'll look at the voting to see the evidence yourself: Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, and Ken Boyer are the legitimate candidates, while Frank Robinson had a tremendous year, but played for a woeful Cincinnatti team.

Willie Mays 1962 -- Maury Wills stole 104 bases! Oooooooh, look at that! It's a record, you know. He also had a .347 OBP that season. Now, I understand the Dodgers finished second that year, and Wills was the catalyst for that offense, but... come on. Everybody knew that team was about pitching, with Drysdale, Koufax, and Podres leading the way. Willie Mays, on the other hand, was the number three hitter on the pennant winning Giants. He hit .304 with 49 HR that year. In Candlestick. When Candlestick was an open-ended stadium with the wind whipping in off the Bay.

Frank Robinson 1962 -- Also deserving of mention before Wills was Frank Robinson, who led the Reds to 98 wins and third place with a .342 batting average and 39 home runs, plus a 1.045 OPS, best in the league.

Sandy Koufax 1966 -- I've written above that a pitcher must give a superlative performance beyond that of even a superstar pitcher in order to deserve the MVP. Pedro did it in 1999. Here's another example. While Roberto Clemente deserved at least one MVP during his career, this year was a make up vote in his favor. He had an average year for a player of his caliber, hitting for a little more power and a little less average than usual, going .317 with 29 HR. However, the Pirates finished third in the league, and Willie Stargell had a fantastic year at the plate for Pittsburgh, too. However, Koufax had a magical season, his last before retiring due to arm problems, going 27-9 with a 1.73 ERA and 317 strike outs in 323IP. Wow. Um, yeah, that's an ERA+ of 190, with 27 complete games, for the pennant winning Dodgers.

Willie Stargell 1971 -- Joe Torre had a tremendous season, hitting .363 with 24HR and leading the Cardinals to second place in the NL East. Stargell was better, though, hitting .295 with 48HR(!) and a 1.026 OPS (compare to Torre's .976 OPS), leading the Pirates to the NL East crown. It should also be noted that, in a season when Atlanta was mediocre, Hank Aaron, at age 37, had another huge year, putting up an OPS higher than even Stargell's, at 1.079.

Joe Morgan 1973 -- Pete Rose hit .338, and the Reds won their division. But Mister Baseball Writer Dude Sir, do you realize that Rose hit for absolutely no power, stole no bases, and was an average defender? Do you realize that Joe Morgan hit for power as a second baseman, stole a metric buttload of bases (67), and despite hitting .048 points lower in batting average, still put up a higher OBP and significantly higher OPS than Rose? Stargell and Aaron, again, put up monster seasons, although both of them played for average to crappy teams, and Bobby Bonds had the misfortune of nearly putting up the first 40-40 season for an average Giants team, and of appearing surly towards the press.

Johnny Bench 1974 -- What? Steve Garvey? Garvey had a fine season, but not so good as to say he was the primary reason the Dodgers won the West over the Reds. A .312 batting average and 21 HR from a first baseman isn't exactly awesome. Meanwhile, Johnny Bench led the Reds to 98 wins and second place with 33 HR and an .870 OPS, nearly sixty points higher than Garvey's. I especially dislike this vote because some people try to use it as evidence that Garvey deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

Larry Parrish 1979 -- Pittsburgh ran away from everyone but Montreal in the NL East, and no one player from the West really stood out, except for Dave Winfield, who was playing for a terrible San Diego team. So, of course, the writers selected the Cardinals' first baseman, Keith Hernandez, as co-MVP with Willie Stargell. Hernandez received ten first place votes to Stargell's four, but they ended up with the same number of total points. Never mind that Larry Parrish had led the Expos to the brink of the playoffs with an even better season than Stargell's. Parrish was the Expos' third baseman, and while Hernandez hit .344 with 11 HR and a .930 OPS and Stargell hit .281 with 32 HR and a .904 OPS, Parrish hit .307 with 30 HR and a .909 OPS at a more demanding defensive position than the two first basemen. Stupid anti-Canadian bias.

Pedro Guerrero 1985 -- We're entering the Wasted Talent section of our list. Willie McGee had a damn good season in 1985, but giving him the MVP for hitting .353 with 10 HR is yet another example of the writers getting blinded by a shiny batting average. McGee's OBP that year? .384. He walked 34 times that season and ended up with an .887 OPS. In comparison, Pedro Guerrero, who was playing his home games in Dodger Stadium, mind you, put up a .999 OPS, with a .320 batting average and 33 HR. And the Dodgers won the NL West, to boot.

Dwight Gooden 1985 -- I have a hard time imagining how dominant Dwight Gooden was, because his numbers simply don't register with me as something that is possible for a twenty year old. How did he strike out 268 in 276IP? How did he put up a 1.53 ERA? By the way, that's an ERA+ of 226, off the charts in only his second season. The Mets finished in second behind the Cards with 98 wins.

1987 -- Another special case in which many guys were better candidates than the guy that won, Andre Dawson. On the face of it, Dawson's 49 HR make him seem a good choice, but even with all those jacks he only produced an .896 OPS! For Dawson, that season was surrounded by four seasons of HR totals in the twenties. 1987 was also the year weird stuff seemed to be happening to the ball, epitomized by Howard Johnson suddenly becoming a 30-30 guy. Weird, indeed. Anyway, take a gander at the better candidates: Tim Raines, Will Clark, Jack Clark, and Darryl Strawberry.

Darryl Strawberry 1988 -- Again, the sadness of wasted talent, right up there with Guerrero and Gooden. Strawberry was the real deal, and in 1988, writers couldn't see past his .269 batting average and instead see the 39 HR and .911 OPS that was far better than any other contender's. Kirk Gibson got Pendleton points that year, as he didn't exactly put up MVP numbers, but was a fiery leader of a Dodgers team that won the West. And Strawberry's team won the East.

Barry Bonds 1991 -- Hey, it's the Pendleton year! It's not that Pendleton didn't have a great season, which he did. It's that he wasn't even the best hitter on his team (David Justice), and he certainly wasn't as important to his team as Bonds was to his. For the record, Pendleton hit .319 with 22 HR, good for an .880 OPS. However, Bonds hit .292 with 25 HR, had a .924 OPS, and just for good measure, swiped 43 bags en route to an NL East title. It's interesting to note how often Will Clark was near the top of the MVP voting, but never actually won. For about a six year period, 1987-1992, his numbers, especially the rate stats, compared favorably to the best players in the game.

Greg Maddux 1995 -- Barry Larkin won in 1995, primarily because of his Leadership Juice(tm) and I guess because he stole 51 bases and was the shortstop on a surprise division winner. Unfortunately, he was the wrong choice. Greg Maddux had a season that defies belief, going 19-2 with a 1.63 ERA and a 0.81 WHIP. That's right, a 0.81 WHIP. That season, Maddux had an ERA+ of 259 (the season after posting an ERA+ of 273) and walked only 23 batters in more than 200 innings of work. He was the best pitcher on a Braves staff that would go to the World Series.

Mike Piazza 1995 -- The Dodgers' young catcher followed two big seasons with an even bigger year, hitting .346 with 32 HR and putting up a 1.006 OPS, bested in the league only by Barry Bonds. Piazza was playing the more strenuous position, however, and the Dodgers made the playoffs while the Giants finished in the NL West cellar.

Dante Bichette 1995 -- Say what you will about Denver's thin air, but not everyone who hits there puts up a .340 batting average with 40 HR. For one season, Bichette absolutely terrified opposing pitchers, and the Rockies captured the wild card behind his heroics. Granted, Larry Walker was just as good, but didn't play in quite as many games.

Mike Piazza 1997 -- Walker put up a huge year, one certainly worthy of MVP consideration, but I still can't understand why Piazza didn't win. Consider: Piazza hit .362 with 40 HR and a 1.070 OPS in DODGER STADIUM. Walker hit .366 with 49 HR and 1.172 OPS in COORS STADIUM. Walker's line is impressive, but even if the parks were neutral, you'd have to go with Piazza because he played catcher. Even if you ignored position, you'd have to go with Piazza because the Rockies finished third in their division behind... the Dodgers.

Barry Bonds 1997 -- Even Barry Bonds had a better claim on the award than Walker. Again, similar stats in a much more difficult hitting environment, and Bonds's team actually won the division. Bonds hit .291, but that's where the differences end, as he also hit 40 HR and put up a 1.031 OPS.

Barry Bonds 2000 -- Jeff Kent was excellent, but everybody forgets just how amazing Bonds was that year. I think it's because what normally happens in a baseball writer's mind just didn't happen. As I recall, and as the numbers bear out, Kent was big all season long, coming up huge in just about every clutch situation. Bonds just seemed to be cruising during the dog days. However, as the season wound down in September, Bonds went into another gear, and started smoking the ball, with ten September home runs. Conventional wisdom holds that a hot finish wins the MVP. Well, in this case, it didn't. Kent was rewarded for a season of excellence, while Bonds, who, at his "worst", was no worse than Kent, went unrecognized for the superior finish and superior overall totals. Kent ended up with a .334 average, 33 HR, and a 1.021 OPS, but Bonds finished with an otherworldly .306, 49, and 1.127 line. That OPS was second in the league only to Todd Helton.

1 Comments:

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