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 Burrell, Shane 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 Helton, Brad 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.