Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Questionable Baseball MVPS; 1970-1979

1979 NL Willie Stargell tying Keith Hernandez

Despite receiving just four first place votes, "Pops" managed to finish in a flat-footed tie with slick fielding first baseman and NL batting champ Keith Hernandez (7.2 bWAR).  I go into more detail here, but overly sentimental voters gave the 39 year old slugger too much credit for his intangibles and conveniently ignored the fact that he wasn't even the most valuable player on his championship team (Dave Parker was).  If anything, his selection was the baseball equivalent of a lifetime achievement award that rewarded his two decades of outstanding performance and character.  "Pops" desevered some down ballot votes for his strong .281/.352/.552 line and veteran leadership, but there he is no way he should have finishEd Higher than Parker, Dave Winfield (8.4 bWAR), and Mike Schmidt (7.4 bWAR). Hernandez, who won a Gold Glove and led the Senior Circuit in runs, doubles, and batting average, deserved the award outright.

1976 AL Thurman Munson over George Brett

The fall of 1976 was not a good time to be George Brett; first his Royals lost a hard-fought LCS to the Yankees, and then Thurman Munson edged him out in the MVP voting.  Munson, the 1970 American League Rookie of the Year and emotional backstop, helped lead the Bronx Bombers to their first World Series in a dozen years.  Before the season began he was named team captain, making him the first Yankee since Lou Gehrig to hold the title, and because of his leadership voters were willing to overlook his ordinary .337 OBP and .432 slugging percentage.  Munson (5.1 bWAR) also failed to lead the league in anything and was nearly two and a half wins less valuable than teammate Graig Nettles (7.4 bWAR), who supplied plenty of power (32 homers, 93 ribbies) and Gold Glove defense at the hot corner.  Meanwhile, fellow third baseman George Brett pushed the Kansas City Royals into the playoffs with his eight bWAR, second in the league to Detroit hurler Mark Fidrych.  Brett topped Munson in almost every category except for home runs and RBI, and the first time batting champ led the league in hits, triples, total bases, and offensive WAR.  The fiery third-sacker would take home the trophy four years later after fallig ten points shy of hitting .400.

1974 NL Steve Garvey over everyone else

Garvey (5.1 bWAR) put up some pretty good counting numbers (200 hits, 111 RBI, 301 total bases) for a Dodgers team that won 102 games, but he didn't lead the league in anything and wasn't the most valuable player for Los Angeles; Jim Wynn (8.6 bWAR), who finished fifth in the race, was better.  In addition, Garvey's .342 OBP and .469 SLG were unimpressive figures for a first baseman.  The voting was a real mess this year, with the light-hitting Lou Brock (3.3 bWAR, .749 OPS) and LA closer/Cy Young award winner Mike Marshall (3.1 bWAR) rounding out the top three ahead of viable candidates such as Wynn, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, and Mike Schmidt, a WAR monster with 10.5.  Tough call between Bench and Schmidt here, but because of the massive statistical edge I would have gone with Philly's stalwart third baseman.

1974 AL Jeff Burroughs over everyone else

Four members of the first place Oakland A's finished in the top six, allowing Jeff Burroughs, the American League RBI leader with 118, to sneak away with the award.  Problem was, Burroughs (3.6 bWAR) wasn't even the most valuable member of the second place Texas Rangers that year; former Chicago Cubs ace Fergie Jenkins (more than twice as valuable with 7.6 bWAR) dominated the Junior Circuit in his AL debut by finishing first in wins, complete games, K/BB rate and fewest BB/9.  He finished fifth in the voting, after his aforementioned teammate and Oakland's trio of Joe Rudi, Sal Bando, and reigning MVP Reggie Jackson (who combined for nine first place votes and 423 points after putting up nearly identical numbers, a coincidence comparable to how Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Melky Cabrera, and Billy Butler finished with eerily similar stats for Kansas City last year).  There was no clear-cut candidate here, but I'll give it to Jenkins for keeping an otherwise mediocre rotation (he was the only starter with an ERA+ above 100) afloat.

1973 NL Pete Rose over Willie Stargell

This reminds me of the Ryan Braun/Matt Kemp argument from last year.  Charlie Hustle (8.5 bWAR) paced the NL in hits with 230 on the way to his third and final batting crown, but he was surrounded by talented teammates and benefitted from  hitting at the top of a loaded lineup that included perennial MVP candidates Joe Morgan (finished fourth), Tony Perez(seventh), and Johnny Bench (tenth).  Although he only stole ten bases, he played such an exceptional left field that he actually led the league in dWAR by providing two full wins above replacement with his glove.  Nevertheless, the fact remains that Morgan (9.9 bWAR) was probably more valuable than Rose that year, and there's no questioning that Willie Stargell (8.1 bWAR) enjoyed the most dominant offensive season in baseball by topping the majors in doubles, home runs, RBI, slugging percentage, OPS, and OPS+.  Unfortunately for Pops, his Pirates had lost Roberto Clemente the previous winter and tumbled to an 80-82 record, so Stargell was likely penalized for his team's lack of success (as Kemp was).  Meanwhile, Rose's Big Red Machine won 99 games.  The all-time hit king's season, while still MVP quality, just can't compete with Stargell's in my opinion.

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