Saturday, January 14, 2012

Questionable Baseball MVPs; 1950-1959

1958 AL Jackie Jensen over everyone else

Jensen (4.6 bWAR) played everyday for a thoroughly mediocre Red Sox squad that was four games over .500, and he enjoyed what has to be the best season of his eleven year career.  He led the league in RBI with 122, but probably wasn't even the MVP of his own team since Ted Williams (four bWAR and a seventh place finish) won his sixth batting title at the ripe old age of 40 and second baseman Pete Runnels (tenth in the voting with 5.3 bWAR) was a Boston homeless man's Dustin Pedroia by batting .322 and scored 103 runs for Boston's typically potent lineup.  Mickey Mantle (9.8 bWAR) finished fifth but deserved a third consecutive trophy here after leading the AL in runs, homers, walks, OPS+, and total bases while leading New York to another World Series championship.  More deserving players than Jensen include bronze medalist Rocky Colavito (6.9 bWAR, 1.024 OPS including a league leading .620 slugging percentage) and future Yankee Bob Cerv (6.7 bWAR in a fluky career year).  Unfortunately for Jensen, a fear of flying forced him into early retirement three years later at the age of 34.

1956 NL Don Newcombe over everyone else

Newk (4.8 bWAR) was the unquestioned ace of the Boys of Summer and he came away with baseball's first ever Cy Young award (back when they only gave out one per year) after helping Brooklyn win their sixth pennant in ten years.  Even though he led the majors in wins, winning percentage and WHIP he still wasn't the most valuable player on 'Dem Bums.  Versatile leadoff man Jim Gilliam (6.3 bWAR, fifth place) ignited an otherwise aging lineup with his great plate discipline and speed while playing outfield and second base.  After getting stiffed the previous year, Duke Snider finished a distant tenth despite topping the Senior Circuit in big flies, walks, OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, and bWAR with 7.7.  The Duke of Flatbush was clearly the most dominant offensive force in the National League that year and would have been my choice for MVP, but you could also make a case for talented all-around players such as Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and rookie Frank Robinson, who tied Wally Berger's record (established in the offensive orgy otherwise known as 1930) for most home runs by a rookie with 38.

1955 NL Roy Campanella over Duke Snider

Brooklyn's star catcher edged the team's graceful centerfielder by just five points in this controversial vote (go here to read why) even though the Duke (8.9 bWAR) was superior to Campy (5.5 bWAR) in every category not named batting average.  Campanella got a boost for his superb work behind the plate and veteran leadership, but Snider was no slouch in center and had been with the team longer than almost anyone else. The Silver Fox led the majors in runs and RBI, while Campanella failed to post any league leading offensive totals.  What's more, Campanella had already won a pair of MVPs, and he was lucky to even finish in the top five given the monster seasons turned in by Willie Mays (9.3 bWAR, 51 home runs), Ernie Banks (8.1 bWAR, 44 home runs), Ted Kluszewski (47 home runs) and Eddie Mathews (8.3 bWAR).  Mathews is a perfect example of how screwed up this ballot was; Milwaukee's third baseman led the league in walks, slugged 41 longballs and maintained a 1.014 OPS but finished 18th in the voting, behind indispensable teammates such as Johnny Logan and Del Crandall

1955 AL Yogi Berra over Al Kaline and Mickey Mantle

I guess the voters really liked catchers this year, because they overlooked Berra's good-but-not-great .819 OPS and 3.8 bWAR and handed the New York backstop his third MVP award in five seasons (another parallel to Campanella).  Yog didn't lead the American League in any offensive category and wasn't the best player on his own team; Mickey Mantle, who should have won the award but finished fifth instead, racked up a league leading 9.5 bWAR for the World Series-bound Yankees and also paced the Junior Circuit in triples, home runs, walks, OBP, SLG, OPS, and OPS+.  One explanation is that up until then the highly touted Mantle had been viewed as a disappointment in the Bronx, wheras Berra was a more established star who had overcome a 5'7, 185 pound frame that seemed to lack even a smidgen of athleticism. 20 year-old Al Kaline was right on the Mick's heels with nine bWAR, though, and became the youngest player to win an AL batting title when he hit a career best .340.  He also led the league with 200 hits and 321 total bases and played a stellar right field, but he was penalized for Detroit's fifth place finish in the standings.  Kaline would never win an MVP despite swatting 399 home runs and amassing over 3,000 hits.

1952 NL Hank Sauer over Robin Roberts

The Honk (5.3 bWAR) won two-thirds of the triple crown by hitting more home runs and driving in more runs than anyone else in baseball, but none of his other statistics are exceptional and his mediocre Cubs finished an even .500 on the season.  1952 was a weak year for MVP candidates in both leagues, and I feel like voters just gave this one to Sauer by default.  Runner-up Robin Roberts was worth two and a half more wins and enjoyed what was probably the finest season of his Hall of Fame career.  He nearly won 30 games for Philadelphia, and for good measure led the bigs in starts, complete games, innings pitched, batters faced, fewest BB/9 and K/BB ratio. People who think Justin Verlander and C.C. Sabathia  are workhorses should consider that Roberts completed 30 games and finished 330 innings in '52.  Even at a time when starters were more or less expected to finish what they started, those are still some impressive figures.

1950 NL Jim Konstanty over everyone else

Closers should never win MVP awards.  It's as simple as that.  Almost all of the 35 other players on this year's ballot had more than his 3.6 bWAR, and while it makes sense that the MVP came from Philadelphia's Whiz Kids, who improbably wrestled the NL pennant away from Brooklyn at the end of the season, the voters should have given the award to Del Ennis (league leading 126 RBI) or 20 game winner Robin Roberts.

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