Thursday, January 5, 2012

Questionable Baseball MVPs; 2000-2011

This is the first installment of a series that will look at every MVP award in major league history that I disagree with.  Today I start with the awards from the new millennium.  Going back in time...

2011 NL MVP: Ryan Braun over Matt Kemp

This has nothing to do with the fact the Braun (my preseason pick for the award) will likely miss 50 games in 2012 because of a failed drug test.  I go into further detail here, but the bottom line is that Kemp had the more dominant season despite spending half his games in a pitcher's park while hitting in a lineup that allowed Aaron Miles (.275/.314/.346), Tony Gwynn Jr. (.256/.308/.353), Jamey Carroll (.347 slugging percentage), Rod Barajas (.287 OBP) and James Loney (.416 slugging percentage as a first baseman) to play every day.  It makes you wonder why in the world any pitcher in his right mind would give Kemp a decent pitch to hit.  Meanwhile Braun had the luxury of Prince Fielder protecting him in the lineup, and was surrounded by other talented hitters such as Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart, and, as much as it pains me to say this, Nyjer Morgan (.304 average and 111 OPS+).  Voters conveniently overlooked these factors, as well as the fact that Kemp played a more demanding position (center compared to left), because Braun's Brewers won the NL Central while the Dodgers barely finished above .500.  Braun was by no means a poor choice, but I just believe Kemp was better.

2011 AL Justin Verlander over everyone else

I provide a much more thorough explanation here.  Basically Verlander had a great season, the kind that stands out on a Cooperstown resume someday, but it wasn't as special as everyone made it out to be.  I can understand why the voters chose him over a crowded field of everyday position players, but I feel like they kind of gave it to him by default simply because no one else did enough to stand out.  Jose Bautista had just as many bWAR as Verlander--8.5--and was the best hitter in baseball in 2011.  I think he deserved it by a nose over Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson, and the criminally underrated Miguel Cabrera who, by the way, is Verlander's teammate and supplied 7.1 bWAR despite not being able to run or field worth a lick.

2007 NL Jimmy Rollins over Matt Holliday

Rollins got a boost for playing shortstop and compiling some amazing counting numbers (an inevitable consequence of acumulating nearly 800 plate appearances) out of the leadoff slot in a potent Philadelphia lineup that paced the league in runs, triples, walks, OBP, SLG, OPS, and total bases.  Therefore, he reaped the rewards of batting in front of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Pat BurrellShane Victorino, and Aaron Rowand, which helped him score a league leading 139 runs despite posting a pedestrian .344 OBP.  Like J-Roll, Holliday also hit in a loaded lineup (Troy Tulowitzki, Todd HeltonBrad Hawpe, Garrett Atkins) that took advantage of its offense-friendly park, but despite receiving 80 fewer at-bats than Rollins (nearly a whole month's worth) he still put up superior numbers in every meaningful category except for runs, triples, and steals.  Holliday was simply more dominant, as his 137 point advantage in OPS indicates, and he helped push his Rockies into the postseason by belting a dozen homers and posting a gaudy 1.236 OPS during his Carl Yastrzemski-esque September.

2006 NL Ryan Howard over Albert Pujols

Howard won many voters over with his eye-popping 58 dingers, 149 ribbies and 383 total bases, all of which led the majors, but The Machine actually had the better offensive season as he racked up comparable power numbers despite missing nearly all of June, outperformed Howard in the triple slash stats and was worth two and a half more bWAR.  Lastly, Howard's Phillies failed to make the postseason while Phat Albert's monster season made the difference for the 83 win Cardinals, who captured the NL Central flag over the Houston Astros by a single victory, so I'm surprised the writers didn't deem Prince Albert's season more valuable (although in fairness, I've always said standings shouldn't matter and the reigning MVP's team actually won two fewer games than Philadelphia did).  If Pujols had managed to stay healthy, there's no doubt in my mind that he would have been named MVP again.

2006 AL Justin Morneau over everyone else

Now this was a terrible choice.  Consider that Morneau, with his underwhelming 3.8 bWAR, wasn't even the most valuable player on his own team; Joe Mauer (seven bWAR) became a household name on the strength of a .347/.429/.507 line while playing catcher and Johan Santana (6.9 bWAR) led both leagues in the pitching triple crown categories and took home his second Cy Young in three seasons.  Both were clearly more valuable than Morneau, yet they finished sixth and seventh in the voting.  Either one would have been a better choice, and there were other more deserving candidates in David Ortiz, Jermaine Dye, Derek Jeter, and Grady Sizemore.  If Big Papi hadn't missed eleven games and his Red Sox hadn't crumbled like a house of cards, I think his season would have netted the first MVP for a full-time DH since the position's inception in 1973.  I know I would have voted for him.

2002 AL Miguel Tejada over Alex Rodriguez

Tejada's Moneyball A's won 103 games. A-Rod's Rangers won 72.  This differential is the only possible explanation for this voting travesty, because Miggy's numbers don't come close.  Rodriguez got screwed because his team had no pitching while Oakland had a big three in Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito.

2001 AL Ichiro Suzuki over Jason Giambi

Another case where the winner wasn't even the MVP of his own team, which won 116 games that year; Bret Boone finished with nearly two more bWAR than Ichiro because the second baseman hit .331/.372/.578 with 37 long balls, 118 runs and league-leading 141 RBI, and they both had ample help from John Olerud, Mike Cameron, and Edgar Martinez, too.  This vote resulted from a preference for style over substance; Suzuki led the league in steals and hits, won a batting title, and played magnificent defense in rightfield, perhaps the best since Roberto Clemente was gunning down baserunners with his rifle arm in the '60s.  Ichiro was the most exciting player in the game at the time, there was no one else like him, and I believe his flashy plays left a strong impression on many voters.  But at the end of the day more than three-fourths of those hits were singles, and he struck out twice as often as he walked.  Meanwhile, the defending MVP Giambi held a sizable 10.3 to 7.6 advantage in bWAR and helped lead his A's to 102 wins and a wild card berth with a Ruthian .342/.477.660 performance in his final season in Oakland.  I have always said Ichiro was overrated, and this vote is all the proof I need.   To kick him while he's down, Roberto Alomar, Jim Thome and A-Rod were probably better candidates, too.

2000 NL Jeff Kent over Barry Bonds and Todd Helton

Voters gave too much credit for Kent playing second base and thus ignored the superior stats of Bonds and Helton, who were both worth almost a full win more than Kent despite playing left field and first base, respectively.  Compared to his teammate, Bonds scored more runs, hammered sixteen more home runs and posted an OPS over 100 points higher while leading the league with 117 walks and a 188 OPS+.  Todd Helton looked like Ted Williams by making a Coors Field-enhanced run at the traditional triple crown (led the majors in batting average and RBI) while winning the sabermetric/stathead version of the triple crown by leading the league in batting average, OBP and SLG.  He also topped the Senior Circuit in hits, doubles, OPS, and total bases.  Kent, as you might imagine, did not lead the league in anything.


  1. It's hard to argue with his great year in '04, but I think voters gave Vlad the nod over Manny in large part because they could never give the MVP to him in Montreal while Bonds was playing. Besides, Manny is a goof. But he arguably had the better season in '04, I think.

  2. Josh Hamilton's MVP pick in 2010 was sentimental. The "criminally underrated Miguel Cabrera" had the same production, but for more games than the fragile Hamilton.

  3. While it's true that Hamilton basically missed September, he still had just as many bWAR as Cabrera while leading the majors in average, slugging and OPS. He was insanely hot that summer and helped lead Texas to a division crown. Cabrera (who missed two weeks and played for a .500 team) suffers from being a one-dimensional player who's value is tied into his bat, while Hamilton is perceived to be a superior all-around player. Definitely a close call, but I don't disagree with the voting.

    And as for Vlad/Manny in '04, Ramirez lost some votes to Ortiz who finished fourth, but Guerrero was worth twice as many bWAR anyways. Their offensive numbers were almost identical but Guerrero provided more value with his legs (15 steals)and solid defense in right. Also don't forget that the Angels won the division by just a single game over the A's, and voters probably gave Guerrero extra credit for his monster September that helped push the Halos over the top. Manny, like Cabrera, suffered from being a one-dimensional player while Guerrero was a five tool star.

  4. I disagree with the Ichiro knock. Thank God the voters didn't give the MVP to another PED user. This is one of the few MVP's from the era NOT under suspicion of PED use. It was a magical season and he was a wonder to behold that year. He also had to deal with more press and scrutiny than anyone else in the game that year, with the Japanese press following him everywhere he went.

  5. Good point about the PED thing. Looking back now it's good that they chose a clean player, albeit one less deserving than his enhanced peers.

  6. What about Carlos Delgado being robbed my A-rod? Delgado had 28 more RBIs, more walks, better average, better OBP, better OPS, plus the Jays were 15 games better.

  7. There's certainly a case to be made for Delgado, but I think you have to give the edge to A-Rod because of his superior baserunning and defense at a premium position. Delgado's offensive stats are slightly better, but that's more than made up for by Rodriguez's 17 stolen bases (Delgado stole none) and Gold Glove D at shortstop (Delgado manned first). That's why A-Rod was worth about 2.5 more wins than Delgado.

    Lastly, I feel like A-Rod's '03 MVP was a combination of two things. One, there was no clear frontrunner (10 guys got first place votes that year). Two, the BBWAA realizing they'd screwed him over the year before. 2003 was A-Rod's worst season in Texas, but still a very great year by any other standard and MVP-worthy. In that regard it's kind of like how Martin Scorcese got his Best Director Academy Award for The Departed. It was more of a lifetime achievement award than anything else, and while Departed definitely isn't his best film it was good enough to justify the award.

  8. "underrated Miguel Cabrera who, by the way, is Verlander's teammate and supplied 7.1 bWAR despite not being able to run or field worth a lick."

    You basically sabotaged your own argument. Should we just ignore fielding and running? I know Edgar Martinez will be happy to hear that.

    1. Of course not. Fielding and baserunning are extremely important. The point I was trying to make was that Cabrera had a pretty special season hitting-wise given that he was a seven win player despite being a liability in the field and basepaths.