Thursday, September 25, 2008

Worst MVP Winners of All-Time (AL)

Before I get started, I want to reiterate a few things. First, this isn’t a knock on the players who erroneously won MVPs. The vast majority of these players had great seasons worthy of recognition. They just didn’t deserve the MVP.

Second, I mentioned this in the “NL” piece but I’ll touch on it again because it’s a pretty important element to these posts: The MVP should be given to the best player in the league. There are a number of acceptable methods for tabulating the best player. No two baseball fans will emphasize the exact same statistics to come to their respective conclusions. That’s fine. However, it’s not fine to use an alternative interpretation of what “MVP” means. By definition, the MVP is the best player in baseball. How can someone be more valuable than the best player? No GM in their right mind would value a worse player more than the best player. So, if you’re a voter, figure out who you think the best player in the AL was by whatever measure you think is the best and vote for that player. For the love of Fred Merkle, please don’t simply pick a player from a playoff team as your primary means for voting. I realize that no actual voters will read this so if you could just pretend you’re a voter for the moment that would make the last few sentences exceedingly more relevant.

As for this post, the players most adversely affected by shoddy voting in the AL are Ted Williams, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Belle, and Al Kaline. Try not to get too “bent out of shape” when you’re reading this. I’m giving you fair warning that some of these are just mind-numbing and will make you question your fellow man.

Worst AL MVPs of All-Time (winners listed first)


Miguel Tejada10834131738.862128336
Alex Rodriguez125571429871.015158389

Tejada’s MVP has to go down as one of the least deserving in MLB history. A-Rod destroyed Tejada in every category. Tejada won for two reasons; 1). He played for a playoff team and, 2). A-Rod was still dealing with the backlash from his $250 million contract. All of the Rangers failures were blamed on A-Rod for one reason or another. There was no chance he was going to win the MVP in ’02 even if he hit, like, 57 homeruns which he did.


Jason Giambi1093812021291.137198343

Ichiro had a very productive rookie season. It’s hard to argue, though, that he had a better season than Giambi. Even if Ichiro’s stolen base total is factored into total bases as the equivalent of a single, Giambi would still hold a sizeable advantage in OPS, 1.137 to .898. Ichiro won because he was a fresh face who did a few things extremely well (BA, SB, Runs, defense). Giambi was far more productive and probably would’ve won if seven voters didn’t think Bret Boone should’ve been the MVP. Giambi led the league in slugging %, OBP, OPS, doubles, walks, total bases, and runs created.


Juan Gonzalez11045157246.996149382
Albert Belle113491526811.054171399

IMO, Albert Belle should be in the Hall of Fame. It’ll never happen but he was one of the most feared hitters in baseball for 12 seasons. His career was cut short by a degenerative hip condition. I don’t see how Belle’s case is any different than Kirby Puckett’s. Both played 12 years and Belle was a better player. One of the reasons why he won’t make the HOF is because nobody likes him. That also just happens to be why he didn’t win—or even come to winning—the ’98 AL MVP. His season was better than Juan Gonzalez’s across the board. Gonzalez actually won two MVPs that he shouldn’t have. The other was in 1996…


Juan Gonzalez89471442451.011145348
Alex Rodriguez1413612315591.045160379

In his first full season, A-Rod should have won the MVP. He scored 52 more runs than Gonzalez, had a better OPS+ and had more total bases. He should have five MVPs as of 2008 but he only has three to show for it.


Mo Vaughn98391261168.963144316
Edgar Martinez1212911341161.107185321
Albert Belle121501265731.091177377

Belle should’ve won two MVPs. He finished second to Vaughn in ’95 despite having a much better season. Belle became the first player in MLB history with 50 home runs and 50 doubles in the same season. He led the AL in home runs, RBIs, runs, doubles, slugging %, and total bases. He had the most extra base hits in the American League since Lou Gehrig in 1927. His total of 103 extra base hits is the 6th best single season in MLB history.


Eck ‘90.61606.6148
Eck ‘921.91196.9151

Eck had no business winning the MVP in ’92. If a closer is going to win an MVP, it has to be a truly unbelievable season like, say, Eck in ’90. His numbers in ’90 were out of the stratosphere. It’s ludicrous that he won the MVP in ’92 and not in ’90. A better way to put it would be if Eck didn’t win the MVP in ’90, he sure as heck shouldn’t have won in ’92. The MVP should’ve gone to either Big Mac, Big Hurt, or Kirby Puckett.


Rollie Fingers1.04332.8728

Rickey Henderson8963556641.045150185

Henderson’s season totals don’t look that impressive but that’s because ’81 was a strike-shortened season. Rickey was on pace for 134 runs, 203 hits, 84 stolen bases, and 96 walks. The only reason Fingers won the award is because his numbers “looked” like full season numbers whereas Henderson’s don’t look impressive at all since 54 games weren’t played.. There’s no way Fingers wins the ’81 AL MVP if the season goes the full 162 games.


Don Baylor120361392271.901145333
Fred Lynn116391222821.060176338

Baylor received 20 first place votes. Lynn received zero. Lynn led the AL in batting average, slugging %, OBP, OPS, and Runs Created. Lynn’s OPS+ dwarfed Baylor’s. Lynn also had more doubles, home runs, and total bases. It seems pretty clear to me that Lynn was the MVP in ’79.


Thurman Munson79171051429.769125266
George Brett947672149.839144298

More times than not, catchers who win the MVP don’t deserve it. Brett was clearly the better player in ’76. He led the league in batting average, triples, total bases, hits, and runs created. Munson led the league in nothing.


Boog Powell82351141104.961163289
Carl Yazstrzemski12540102231281.044177335

Yaz not winning the ’70 AL MVP goes down as one of the worst votes in voting history. He pretty much destroyed Powell in every category. Yaz led the AL in slugging %, OBP, OPS, Runs, total bases, and runs created. Powell led the league in nothing.


Zoilo Versalles12619772741.781115308
Tony Oliva10716981955.869141283

There has always been a debate about what “MVP” actually means. Some think it means best player while others think it means best player on a good team. There really should be no confusion, though, when comparing two players from the same team. In that case, the award should obviously go to the player who had the better season. Mystifyingly, voters got in wrong in the 2000 NL vote and then again, in the 1965 AL vote. Versalles only had an OPS that was 15% better than the league average. That is one of the worst marks every by an MVP-winner.


Elston Howard752885035.970140257
Harmon Killebrew884596072.904147286
Al Kaline8927101654.889144283

Howard won the AL MVP in ’63 because the Yankees made playoffs and the Tigers and Twins did not. Killebrew and Kaline had nearly identical numbers. Both would have been worthy MVPs. Howard—despite having a pretty good season—was not worthy of the MVP in ’63.


Roger Maris13261142094.992167366
Mickey Mantle13254128121261.135206353

It’s hard to argue that Maris should not have won the MVP during the year in which he broke Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record. In fact, I’m not going to argue too much about it. If it were up to me, Mantle would’ve won. His OPS+ of 206 was much, much better than Maris’s 167.


Nellie Fox84270571.769114243
Al Kaline8627941072.940151271

When discussing Al Kaline’s MVP snubs, the question isn’t whether he should’ve won an MVP, rather, it’s how many should he have won? Kaline had as good a case as any in ’63. In ’59, he was clearly the best player in the AL. Nellie Fox won because the Chicago White Sox went to the playoffs. Kaline’s numbers are better in every statistic in the chart. It’s goofy things like Nellie Fox and Elston Howard winning the MVP when they shouldn’t that make Kaline one of the most underrated baseball players in history.


Jackie Jensen8335122999.931148293
Mickey Mantle1274297181291.035188307

There’s not a whole lot I can say that the chart doesn’t already make obvious. Mantle received zero first place votes. Ted Williams also had considerably better numbers and received zero first place votes.


Yogi Berra8427108160.819120254
Al Kaline12127102682.967162321

Instead of three MVPs, Al Kaline has zero. He should’ve won by a landslide in both ’55 and ’59.


Yogi Berra922788544.842130269
Ted Williams1093012611441.020165295

Get used to seeing “Ted Williams” in this post. You’ll see his name a total of five times. It’s insulting to compare The Splendid Splinter’s numbers with Berra’s. They aren’t even remotely close. Williams had almost as many walks as Berra had hits!


Phil Rizzuto1257661292.857122271
Larry Doby11025102898.987164299

The Yankees, of course, won the AL Pennant so, by law, a Yankee had to win the MVP. If voters of the day were going to use the “best player on the best team” logic (which is more like the anti-MVP than the MVP) then they should at least give it to the right player. Rizzuto wasn’t even one of the top two Yankees. Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra would have actually been sane choices. Rizzuto? Not so much. Doby had better numbers than Rizzuto and he finished 8th! Berra probably deserved more in ’50 than he did in any of the three years in which he actually won it.


Lou Boudreau11618106398.987154274
Ted Williams1242512741261.112189313

Broken record.


Joe DiMaggio972097364.913154279
Ted Williams1253211401621.133205335

Williams had three seasons in which he tallied an OPS+ of 200 or better without winning the AL MVP. He clobbered DiMaggio in ’47. There were clearly some shenanigans going on amongst the voters because Williams only lost by one point despite receiving five fewer first place votes. Oh yeah, he won the Triple Crown and had 162 walks too which was the second highest single-season total in baseball history at the time.


Joe Gordon88181031279.900155264
Ted Williams1413613731451.147217338

Williams’s OPS+ of 217 is the third highest total for a player who didn’t win the MVP. Williams failed to win in ’41 with a 235. Rogers Hornsby failed to win in ’24 with a 222. Clearly voters of the day were ignorant in a number of disciplines including math and logic. Williams had 87 more RBIs and Runs than Joe Gordon. He also had 66 more walks.


Joe DiMaggio122301254761.083184348
Ted Williams1353712021471.288235335

Ted Williams has the highest single-season OPS+ total of any player to not win the MVP. Ted Williams is on this list five times. That means he should have won five more MVPs than he actually did. I don’t think that was a coincidence.


Charlie Gehringer12214961190.978144293
Hank Greenberg1374018381021.104172397
Joe DiMaggio151461673641.085168418
Lou Gehrig1383715941271.116177366

What a race, huh? Gehrig, DiMaggio, Greenberg, and Gehringer. Gehringer had a good season but the other three had great seasons. I have no idea who I would’ve voted for. It’s a dead heat between DiMaggio, Gehrig, and Greenberg. For the second time in four years, a Detroit Tiger won the AL MVP without even being the best player on his team.


Mickey Cochrane74276878.840117180
Lou Gehrig1284916591091.171208409

I don’t think the MVP voters had their #@%$ together in ’34. Gehrig’s OPS+ was nearly 100 points higher than Cochrane’s. He scored 54 more runs and drove in 89 more RBIs. The most egregious part of this debacle is that Gehrig only managed a fifth place finish. Three Detroit Tigers finished ahead of him in the voting. Ironically, Cochrane wasn’t even the best Tiger in ’34. That distinction went to Charlie Gehringer.

The 2008 AL MVP Race

The AL MVP race is crazy enough to make you dizzy a few times over. Midway through the season, it certainly appeared that Josh Hamilton was the run-away winner. Hamilton followed up his amazing 95-RBI performance in the first half with a puzzling 31-RBI effort in the second half. He’ll end up with very good numbers for the season but he probably won’t win the MVP. There is no way of knowing how voters are going to spread out their votes so it’s possible that Hamilton could win without getting many first place votes. I can see a scenario where voters can’t agree on who should win but do agree that Hamilton should be in the top three or four. A number of guys could win via that avenue. The more I look at the statistics, the more I’m compelled to give the nod to Justin Morneau. Hamilton and Morneau’s numbers are nearly identical. Both are worthy of winning the MVP. However, Morneau has two advantages: 1) His team (the Twins) is in the thick of the playoff race while Hamilton’s team is 21.5 games out; 2) Morneau was more consistent.

Look for Pedroia and Youkilis to split votes. I actually think either would be honorable choices considering how well Boston played this year without a healthy David Ortiz and the Manny Ramirez-fiasco. Cliff Lee is having one of the great statistical seasons of all-time. His team is terrible but winning 22 of his team’s 79 games makes him a). pretty damn good and b). pretty damn valuable. Aubrey Huff and Miguel Cabrera will finish with some of the best numbers in the league but both played for terrible teams and both started out slowly. They were out of the race by mid-season.

The player who was in position to win the AL MVP once Hamilton hit his wall was Carlos Quentin. He got hurt like every other White Sox player and his improbable run at the MVP was finished.

Best Guess for 2008 AL MVP Results

1). Justin Morneau
2). Josh Hamilton
3). Dustin Pedroia
4). Kevin Youkilis
5). Cliff Lee
6). Miguel Cabrera
7). Aubrey Huff
8). Carlos Quentin
9). Grady Sizemore
10). Alex Rodriguez
11). Mark Teixeira
12). Joe Mauer
13). Milton Bradley
14). Roy Halladay
15). Raul Ibanez
16). Ichiro
17). Carlos Pena
18). Jason Giambi
19). Evan Longoria
20). Jim Thome

Worst MVP Winner of All-Time (NL)

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