Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Ten Best MVP selections in Baseball History****

This time a year it’s easy to find crappy blogs like this one (or Bleacher Report) use the baseball MVP debate to post some list about the worst MVP selections in history (go ahead and google “worst MVP” + Baseball). I thought writing about that was a little too boring, and giving my input on who should win the 2012 awards (Trout/Posey) wouldn’t add anything unique to the discussion. So instead I decided to take the subjective topic of MVP worthiness and make it subjectivier.

Presenting; The Ten Best MVP selections in Baseball History****.

*Actually, I only came up with nine, because the BBWAA screws up that much.

*Best=The voters getting it right when every indication suggested they’d get it wrong.

*I only went back into the 1960s because this is partially based on what the public/media perception was on the players at the time. Call me lazy but I’m not going through pages of microfiche to see what Shirley Povich had to say about Roy Campanella. Plus the voters definition of “valuable “ has evolved greatly over the years. Pitchers use to win the award (or came close to winning) with much greater regularity. Having so few playoff spots meant there wasn’t so much of a premium put on players whose teams would play in October. Then there were a few years when the voters apparently just said “the hell with it.” (Dick Groat in 1960? Really?)
*Even after only coming up with nine selections there are about two or three picks that are a little sketchy.

In researching for this list a found a LOT of times the voters screwed up, it was very tempting to just go with the standard “worst MVPs ever” list. Instead I decided to cheat and spin one of those “worst MVPs” into one of the best.
The rightful winner of this award probably should’ve been Dave Winfield, who finished third, but Hernandez netting a share of the award at least kept this vote from getting too ridiculous. Stargell was the team leader of the World Series winning Pirates and hit 32 home runs, but was in just 126 games, played poor defense, and posted a merely above-average on-base percentage of .352. Hernandez on the other hand, while only hitting 11 homers, lead the league in batting and doubles, played gold glove defense, and had an OPS of .930. In not Winfield, Hernandez should’ve been the sole winner of this award. Sorry, Pops.

Okay, so Greg Maddux probably should’ve won the ’95 award, but let’s ignore that for now. The top two position players vying for the MVP were Barry Larkin and big, bad, Dante Bichette. Bichette lead the league in homers and RBIs, but did so at brand new Coors Field, while posting a good-but-not-great .364 on-base percentage, and playing some really crappy defense in the process. It all culminated for a WAR of 1.0. One. Point. Zero.
If we keep going with the WAR stat, then Maddux is a clear favorite over Larkin, but at least Barry had a decent-enough case for MVP, stealing 51 bases, posting an .886 OPS, winning the gold glove for shortstop, and being a revered leader of his team. Maybe this isn’t one of the “best” MVP picks, but it could’ve been one of the worst.

A few players had good MVP cases to be made in ’88, but the award ended up coming down to Gibson and the power-hitting wonder kid, DarrylStrawberry. Gibson’s winning of the award is pretty shocking when you take into account Strawberry had better marks in homers, OPS, and the favorite stat for voters, RBIs. Still, Gibson was able to out-value Darryl by posting strong numbers in pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium and playing superior defense. It’s also pretty clear who the winner is on the intangibles side of things.
Not that anyone knew at the time, but Gibson also ended up posting a WAR of 6.2 to Strawberry’s 5.1. Chalk this one up as another “it could’ve been worse” selection.

The voters pretty much made this pick by accident. Still, I’ve give them credit for it. A-Rod was clearly the league’s top player in 2002, but lost the MVP because Miguel Tejada played for a better team. In 2003, a few voters apparently decided it was time for A-Rod to get his award (he was also robbed of the 1996 trophy, and maybe '98 as well), and even then he barely beat out a crowded field of candidates. In the end, ten different players got first place votes, so despite actually seeing his vote-share go down from ’02 to ’03, A-Rod got just enough support to come away with an award he should’ve won handily for the third time.

Bonds was the favorite to take home this award, anyway. I added him to the list mainly because he was robbed of the ’91 award by the same guy he had to beat the next season, Terry Pendleton. In ’92, Bonds had a 30-30 season, won a gold glove, and posted an OPS of 1.080. Still, Pendleton somehow got four first-place votes. Gary Sheffield got two votes of his own, but at least had a near-triple crown season (and .965 OPS) to justify it.
Had Bonds won the award owed to him in ’91 he would’ve ended up taking home four consecutive MVP awards (having also won the ’90 and ’93 awards) and set the record for most MVPs by the ripe old age of 28. Keep in mind this is pre-steroid Bonds; does anyone remember that guy?
Guys like Jacoby Elsbury and Jose Bautista had decent cases to be made (and one has to wonder if Elsbury would’ve won MVP had the Red Sox won just two more games and gotten in the playoffs), but the great thing about Verlander’s winning was the fact his being a pitcher wasn’t used against him.
One of the worst MVP robberies in recent years occurred when Pedro Martinez’ historic 1999 season was completely let off of the ballot by some voters. Despite having the most first place votes, Pedro finished a close second to Ivan Rodriguez. The voters didn’t repeat that same mistake with Verlander, who had a very MVP worthy 8.2 WAR, although it does kinda suck that he probably won because of “his” 24 wins.

2008 seemed like a repeat of the 2006 season. Both years the top candidates were Pujols and (for some reason) Ryan Howard. Howard won the ‘06 award despite trailing Pujols in WAR, 8.2 to 5.0. The 2008 numbers weren’t nearly as close, with Howard posting a Bichette-esqe WAR, but the race seemed like another toss-up. Thankfully, Pujols’ 1.114 OPS beat out Howard’s 148 RBIs to net Albert his second MVP.
 The final first-place vote count had Pujols getting 18 votes and Howard 12. Two voters, apparently suffering from Groat’s syndrome, voted for Brad Lidge.
If this vote were held today, Cecil Fielder would probably win. I don’t know if this means the voters are getting a little big dumber or just more objective (since Ripken won the ’91 award partially because he was so much more liked than Fielder) and a LOT bit dumber.
Ripken’s Orioles had 95 losses on the season, while Fiedler’s Tigers went 84-78 and were at least in the pennant chase for part of the season. Looking at the numbers, this one should’ve been Ripken in a walk. Fielder lead the Iron Man in runs, homers, RBIs, and nothing else. Still, the big first baseman got nine first place votes and finished just 32 “points” behind Cal in the voting.

Let this be an example of how we can allow arbitrary milestones to artificially inflate a player’s value. Three years earlier, Mays lost the NL MVP to Maury Wills, and his .720 OPS, all because Wills had set a then-modern record of 104 stolen bases. Mays’ 49 homers went overlooked (along with his .999 OPS and 10.2 WAR, not that the voters would’ve known what those were).
Well, in 1965 Mays and Wills were in the MVP race again. This time Mays hit .317 with 52 homers (plus a 10.9 WAR) while Wills regressed to a pathetic 94 stolen bases. Apparently stealing 10-less bases was enough for Wills to go from MVP in ’63 to a distant third in ’65 (Sandy Koufax was second).