Monday, January 9, 2012

Questionable Baseball MVPs; 1980-1989

Overall, a pretty good job from the voters during the decade, but there were still a handful of selections I disagree with.

1988 NL Kirk Gibson over Darryl Strawberry

Nothing really stands out from Gibby's '88 campaign other than his league-leading 7.3 bWAR, and I think a case can be made that teammate/Cy Young winner Orel Hershiser, who finished sixth, was actually more valuable; Hershiser (6.9 bWAR) not only shattered Don Drysdale's 1968 major league record for consecutive scoreless innings pitched, but also ranked first among NL hurlers in wins, complete games, shutouts, innings pitched, batters faced, and bWAR.  For what it's worth he even won a Gold Glove for good measure, but I generally don't put too much stock in such awards. I understand that Gibson was an outstanding all-around player who provided value with his legs (31 steals) and his defense, and that he supplied plenty of intangibles such as leadership, grit, and hustle.  Nevertheless Straw, who topped the Senior Circuit in homers, slugging percentage, OPS, and OPS+, enjoyed the superior offensive season and was the  centerpiece of a New York Mets squad that won 100 games.  One final argument against Gibson; he didn't even make the All-Star team in '88.

1987 NL Andre Dawson over everyone else

After spending the first eleven seasons of his career north of the border for the Expos, the Hawk signed as a free agent with the Cubbies and swooped into the Windy City just in time for the 1987 season, when a juiced ball spiked offensive numbers.  The five tool stud (Matt Kemp has a higher ceiling, but is a good modern day comp) took advantage of the friendly confines at Wrigley, where his OPS was nearly 300 points higher than it was everywhere else.  Even though his Cubs finished in last place, Dawson's league leading 49 home runs, 137 RBI and 353 total bases convinced enough voters that he was the National League's Most Valuable Player (after a pair of second place finishes for Montreal in 1981 and 1983).  In reality, he was far from it, as his 2.7 bWAR and mediocre .328 OBP indicate.  Plenty of guys were more deserving that year, just take your pick; Jack Clark, Will Clark, Darryl Strawberry, Tim Raines, Tony Gwynn, and Dale Murphy.  I think I would have gone with Jack Clark and his league leading 136 walks, .459 OBP, .597 SLG, 1.055 OPS and 176 OPS+ for the first place St. Louis Cardinals.

1987 AL George Bell over Alan Trammell

Like Dawson, Bell compiled some gaudy power numbers of his own in Toronto; he blasted 47 long balls, scored 111 runs, slugged .605, and paced the league with 134 RBI and 369 total bases.  But Bell played left field and wasn't a great baserunner, so his monster stats only netted him five bWAR (indicating an All-Star season, but one that falls short MVP-worthiness).  Trammell's power numbers--28 dingers, 105 RBI, 329 total bases--weren't as eye-popping as Bell's, but they were still exceptional for a shortstop in the days before Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Miguel Tejada, and Nomar Garciaparra revolutionized the position.  Trammell didn't lead the league in any category outside of bWAR (8.4, roughly equivalent to Justin Verlander and Jose Bautista's value last year), but he put together a tremendous season across the board that ranked him among the league leaders in almost every category and included a .343/.402/.551 line for the first place Detroit Tigers.  He also swiped 21 bases and brought an above average glove to work everyday.

1984 AL Willie Hernandez over everyone else

I've said it before and I'll say it again; closers should never, ever, under any circumstances, win the MVP award.  A paucity of slam dunk candidates helped the Cy Young winner rise above the pack, but he wasn't even the most valuable player on his own team that year (Trammell was, with Gibson nipping at his heels).  Just to prove how misguided the voting was this year, Cal Ripken Jr. finished 27th despite notching 9.2 bWAR.  Tough call here, but I think I would have voted for runner-up Kent Hrbek, who carried an otherwise dreadful Minnesota offense to a second place finish.

1981 AL Rollie Fingers over Rickey Henderson

See Hernandez, Willie.  In fairness to Fingers, he did finish with a microscopic 1.04 ERA and 0.87 WHIP, and the strike-shortened season lumped everyone's hitting numbers together (for example, Eddie Murray, Tony Armas, Dwight Evans, and Bobby Grich tied for the lead in home runs with 22).  Even so, Rickey Henderson stood out by accruing seven bWAR in just 108 games, or two-thirds of a season.  The speedster led the league in runs, hits, and steals, and projecting his numbers to a 162 game season yields impressive totals of 133 runs, 202 hits, 84 steals and 96 walks.  Oakland's Man of Steal would have to wait until 1990 for his deserved MVP trophy.

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