Saturday, January 7, 2012

Questionable Baseball MVPs; 1990-1999

1999 AL Ivan Rodriguez over Pedro Martinez

Pudge's career year netted the Texas Rangers their third MVP award in four years, but his numbers were more than a little inflated by the era, ballpark, and loaded lineup around him (reflected in a great, but not stellar, 125 OPS+).  He also failed to top the Junior Circuit in any offensive category.  On the other hand, Pedro's deadball era numbers were absolutely ridiculous given the context--pitching in Fenway during the height of the steroid era--and his season has to be considered one of the most dominant campaigns by a starting pitcher in baseball history (go to his baseball-reference page and you'll find a lot of black ink in '99).  It blows Justin Verlander's overhyped 2011 season out of the water.  When one considers that he out-bWAR-ed I-Rod by more than two while anchoring a mediocre staff that had no other starter win more than ten games, it becomes obvious that Martinez was indispensable in Boston. 

1998 AL Juan Gonzalez over Nomar Garciaparra

Two years after eclipsing an elite shortstop in the MVP race, Gonzalez (5.1 bWAR) did it again in '98.  His AL best 157 ribbies and 50 doubles impressed many voters, especially since Nomah didn't lead the league in any significant hitting statistic.  Garciaparra (7.3 bWAR) couldn't compete in the power department despite slugging 35 homers and knocking in 122 runs, but he matched Juan Gone in almost every other category while playing a much more difficult defensive position and providing some value on the basepathas by stealing a dozen bases.  The Red Sox icon probably split votes with Mo Vaughn, Boston's 1990s version of David Ortiz who finished fourth in the race after smacking 40 home runs and hitting a robust .337/.402/.591.

1996 NL Ken Caminiti over everyone else in a unanimous vote

Not sure how Caminiti pulled this one off; he had a big year (173 OPS+) that helped push the Padres into the playoffs but he didn't lead the league in any major offensive category.  Bonds (my pick)enjoyed a superior all-around season; he became the second player ever to go 40/40 and was worth nearly three more bWAR than the San Diego third-sacker.  Ellis Burks put up monster numbers in a career year for the Rockies, but got little love for his .344/.408/.639 line.  Throw in big seasons from Gary Sheffield, Chipper Jones, Mike Piazza, and Andres Galarraga, and I have no idea how Caminiti earned every first place vote (consider that A-Rod couldn't do it in 2007, when he was far and away the best player in baseball that season).

1996 AL Juan Gonzalez over Alex Rodriguez

In a race that was decided by three points, voters inexplicably gave Juan Gone and his paltry 2.8 bWAR the award.  Gonzalez posted impressive power numbers for Texas with his 47 home runs, 144 RBI and .643 slugging percentage but didn't lead the league in any major offensive category, whereas Rodriguez (9.4 bWAR) led the AL in runs, doubles, batting average, and total bases in his first full season, all while playing the premium defensive position of shortstop and stealing fifteen bases.  A September slump dragged his numbers down a bit and he split some votes with teammate superstar Ken Griffey Jr., who finished fourth after accumulating 9.7 bWAR, 49 home runs and 140 RBI while playing a dazzling centerfield.  The list of candidates more deserving than Gonzalez is a long one: Albert Belle, Mark McGwire, Mo Vaughn, Frank Thomas, Brady Anderson, and Rafael Palmeiro, among others.  Unfortunately, Rodriguez would have to wait until 2003 to win his first MVP award.

1995 NL Barry Larkin over everyone else

Larkin (5.1 bWAR) was an excellent all-around shortstop who helped Cincinatti make the playoffs, but he didn't lead the league in any offensive category and he may not have even been the most valuable player on his own team, which benefitted from big years by outfielders Ron Gant and Reggie Sanders. Like Pendleton in '91, most of his numbers look rather ordinary.  Dante Bichette, a byproduct of Coors Field with huge triple crown numbers but a measly 0.3 bWAR, had no business finishing second, but third place Greg Maddux deserved this award for the best season of his Hall of Fame worthy career that netted his fourth consecutive Cy Young award.  His mind-boggling 8.7 bWAR (in a shortened season, no less) are an accurate reflection of the dominance that produced a 0.81 WHIP and 1.63 ERA as offensive numbers were just starting to take off.  Like the '99 AL race, these results puzzle me, and I think the Mad Dog got dinged because he pitched alongside Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.  Interestingly, Larkin's numbers were much better the following year but he finished a distant twelfth in the voting and this trend where the MVP improves, but doesn't win the award, has happened quite frequently throughout baseball history).

1995 AL Mo Vaughn over Albert Belle

Belle got shafted here; the Cleveland slugger outproduced Vaughn across the board and put together a much more dominant season by leading the league in runs, doubles, home runs, RBI (tied with Vaughn), slugging percentage, and total bases.  At the end of the day a lot of writers didn't like Belle, who was surly and unpopular, while the more affable Hit Dog was a fan favorite, and I believe that made the difference.

1992 AL Dennis Eckersley over everyone else

Closers shouldn't even be in the MVP discussion no matter how great they are, because they simply aren't that valuable when they only pitch 80 innings.  No clear frontrunner in this race helped Eck stand out, but there was a plethora of deserving candidates in Kirby Puckett, Mark McGwire, Roberto Alomar, Frank Thomas, and Roger Clemens.  Thankfully, I think voting has evolved to the point where we will never see a closer win the MVP award ever again, especially if Mariano Rivera, Francisco Rodriguez, and Eric Gagne couldn't win it with some of the best performances in the position's relatively brief history.  I would have voted for the Big Hurt (7.6 bWAR), who led the league in doubles, walks, OBP, and OPS.

1991 NL Terry Pendleton over Barry Bonds

Although Pendleton won the NL batting title and paced the league in hits and total bases, none of his other numbers stand out.  Bonds was worth over two wins more than the Atlanta third baseman and had a better all-around season; he led the Senior Circuit in OBP, OPS and OPS+ while also swiping 43 bags and winning a Gold Glove for his play in left.  Bonds lost some votes to teammate Bobby Bonilla, who finished third in the voting, and that probably cost the reigning MVP another trophy.  Pendleton wasn't named to the All-Star team, didn't win a Gold Glove, and didn't receive a Silver Slugger, so that should tell you something about how his season was perceived.


  1. I think that Juan Gonzalez deserved the Mvp over A-Rod because he was in the league longer and had a more consistent season! However I question his 98 MVP because Nomar was a complete player who excelled in every aspect of the game unlike ARod who usually is just an offensive batter and base stealer! The only reason why I believe Nomar did not win the MVP was because like ARod he was not in the league as long as Juan was!

  2. Actually A-Rod was a pretty good defender as well and won two Gold Gloves before moving over to the hot corner for Pastadiving Jeter. I see your point about how more established players tend to win the MVP (only two rookies--Fred Lynn and Ichiro--have ever won itsince they have more name recognition. Although Rodriguez had been brought up in 1994 and '95, they were brief stints and 1996 was essentially his rookie season. In both cases Juan Gone had the superior power numbers, but A-Rod and Nomar were clearly more productive all-around players.

  3. I'm surprised you didn't give Edgar Martinez' 1995 season a closer look. After all, he led the league in games played, runs scored (tied with Belle, granted), doubles (again, tied with Belle), average, on-base percentage, and OPS. Without Martinez' monster season while Griffey was on the DL, the M's probably don't make the playoffs that season.

  4. You're right about Martinez's monster season, but he was a full time DH which diminished some of his perceived value in the eyes of many voters. I'm all for a Designated Hitter winning the thing (if Boston doesn't fold in '06 then Ortiz probably wins it), but I think in order to do so he must CLEARLY have the best offensive season, no ifs ands or buts about it. Belle was right there with him in most categories, outhomering him by 21, driving in 13 more runs and outslugging him by 62 points. His power numbers were off the charts, especially for a strike shortened season, and it helped that the Indians won 100 games, 14 more than any other AL team.

    No question Martinez has always been underrappreciated, and he deserves to make it into Cooperstown eventually. Nowadays he'd get more credit for his huge rate stats, but don't forget that Jay Buhner and Randy Johnson also put up some big numbers for Seattle that year. The M's got a lot of help from the Angels, too, who had the division locked up in July but went 24-34 afterwards to complete one of the biggest chokes of all time.

  5. A-Rod and Griffey both got screwed in '98. The Kid hit 56 homers while Rodriguez had an AL high 8.5 WAR, led the league in hits and had a 40-40 season. Both had decent seasons at premium defensive positions; most likely they split the vote like in '96. Speaking of ' 96, correct about Bonds. Easily the best player in the NL That year, but the Giants' last place finish sunk him.

  6. Caminiti won the award for his monsterous Aug/Sept.
    He went .359/.446/.797 with 23 HR and 61 RBI and really was Mr. Clutch as his 1.286 OPS (for the year) would attest. He probably clinched it going into the last series against the Dodgers when the Padres needed to sweep the 3 game series just to stay alive. Cammy went 4-4 with a HR in game 1 and the Padres never looked back. It was the perfect storm for a unanimous selection.

    1. Makes sense I guess. Voters like to give more weight to second half performances even though the first half matters just as much. In 2012 for instance both Cabrera and Posey were beasts in the second half.

    2. Actually, Caminiti won the "second half NL Triple Crown". So, it was a case of a great JULY, August, and Septemeber. God bless him-Caminiti, more than any other ML'er, absolutely proved steroids work for batters

  7. The 1995 MVP fiasco shouldn't be surprising. How on earth did Ted-you-know-who not win the MVP in his phenomenal triple crown years? He treated the writers like bubble gum stuck on his shoe.