Monday, September 22, 2008

Worst MVP Winners of All-Time (NL)

This post is a little overdue. I meant to have this out immediately following my “worst Cy Young winners” posts but this took much longer than I anticipated. Apologies.

The criteria for winning the Cy Young Award is pretty straight forward. Voters simply vote for the best pitchers. The criteria for the MVP Award is much more confusing and frustrating. Some choose to vote for “the best players on the best teams.” Others like to say it should go to “the player who meant the most to his team.” I will admit that ambiguity is inherent to an award titled “Most Valuable Player” rather than “Best Player.” However, I believe that the spirit of the award was for it to be given to the best player. I can see where the word “Valuable” could cause confusion but I think that was used instead of “Best” or another synonym because it sounds fancier. Remember, the award was created near the beginning of the 20th century. People cared about fanciness back then. Plus, why would the criteria for the Cy Young (an award for pitchers) be different than the MVP (an award primarily for hitters)?

Even though I understand why there might be some confusion as to what “Valuable” is supposed to mean, I do not support multiple interpretations of the criteria for winning the award. The people who think it should go to “the best player on the best team” are way off base unless, of course, that player is the best player in MLB as well. Simply being the best player on the best team is not even remotely close to an acceptable reason to award the MVP. The best player on the best team by definition isn’t as important because the team is already good. Likewise, the people who think the award should go to “the player who meant the most to his team” are way off base. People of this ilk generally dismiss players from poor teams. Ironically, those players are just the players who mean the most to their teams. Imagine how much worse a bad team would be without its best player. Great players on bad teams are usually the most “valuable” players in the league. They are surely more valuable than great players on great teams. I'm OK with using "value to team" as a tiebreaker but it's weak as the primary criteria for awarding the MVP.

So, for the purposes of this post, please understand that I believe that the MVP should be given to the best player. Voters should vote for the best players. It is the years in which they failed to vote for the “best” players that you’ll find in my list of the worst MVP winners of all-time.

Worst National League MVP Winners of All-Time (winners listed first)


Jimmy Rollins13930944149.875118380
Matt Holliday1203613711631.012150386
David Wright113301073494.962150330
Prince Fielder109501192901.013156354

Rollins had a pretty good season but I’m not sure he had a better season than David Wright or Prince Fielder let alone Matt Holliday. Holliday was robbed. The stat-lines speak for themselves.


Jeff Kent1143312512901.020162350
Barry Bonds12949106111171.128188330

This was pre-70 home runs but, by many accounts, Bonds had already begun taking steroids. His numbers show it. He had his best season in nearly a decade. Nonetheless, Bonds should have easily won his fourth MVP award (which would’ve given him eight overall) in 2000. His numbers dwarfed Kent’s and they played for the same team.


Chipper Jones11645110251261.074168359
Mark McGwire1186514701331.121177363

I kind of feel bad for McGwire but it’s hard to feel too bad for a guy who juiced his way to the front page of every newspaper in the country. McGwire should have won at least two MVPs but ended up with zero. Chipper Jones had a very good season in ’99 but it wasn’t nearly as good as McGwire’s. McGwire led the league in home runs and RBIs. He had more HRs, RBIs, Runs, and walks than Jones and had a much better OPS.


Sammy Sosa1346615818731.024160416
Mark McGwire1307014711621.222216383

I never understood the results of the ’98 MVP race. It was almost as if the voters decided to give the MVP as a consolation prize to the loser of the great McGwire/Sosa home run race. McGwire had an OPS+ of 216! Sosa was 160. No player since Ted Williams was routinely hosed out of winning the MVP in the 40s and 50s had failed to win the MVP with an OPS+ of at least 216. Sosa had more runs and RBIs than McGwire but it’s important to remember that McGwire was walked 89 more times than Sosa. How many more RBIs would McGwire have had if he got as many looks as Sosa? McGwire destroyed Sosa in ’98. Few players in MLB history have had a big margin in OPS than McGwire had over Sosa and not won the MVP.


Ken Caminiti1094013011781.029173339
Barry Bonds12242129401511.076188318

Bonds’s reputation cost him the MVP in ’96 as it did in 2000. Caminiti didn’t deserve the award any more than Kent did in 2000. Heck, Bonds was 40-40. At the time, only Jose Canseco had accomplished 40-40. That should’ve been an automatic MVP-win. Bonds also had Caminiti beat in virtually every other statistic. This should’ve given Bonds nine MVPs. Bonds finished fifth (!!!) in the voting.


Barry Larkin9815665161.886133244
Barry Bonds10933104311201.008168292

Larkin is one of the least deserving MVP winners of all-time. If the player with Bonds’ numbers had been anyone else, Larkin wouldn’t have won. But, once again, Bonds was denied an MVP because of his popularity—or lack thereof. The numbers aren’t even close. Hilariously, Bonds finished 12th in the voting. Vendetta, anyone? This would’ve given Bonds 10 MVPs.

Greg Maddux1.6326290%209.719.81181

If Bonds wasn’t going to win the MVP in ’95, the only other logical choice (unless you want to make a somewhat understandable case for Mike Piazza) was Greg Maddux. Maddux had one of the greatest seasons in baseball history. To suggest that Larkin was better in ’95 than Maddux is to insult the intelligence of every baseball fan in the world. Maddux went 19-2 with the fifth best ERA+ in MLB history.


Terry Pendleton9422861043.880139303
Barry Bonds952511643107.924160262

This was the first year Bonds was screwed out of the MVP. Pendleton’s numbers don’t even come close. This should’ve been his second overall and should’ve been his 11th total.


Kirk Gibson10625763173.860148262
Darryl Strawberry101391012985.911165296

As much as I love Gibby, Darryl Strawberry was the man in 1988. If not Strawberry, then it should’ve been Will Clark.


Andre Dawson90491371132.896130353
Jack Clark933510611361.056176250

As I mentioned in the intro, some of these are much worse than others. This one isn’t as bad as most but Jack Clark was clearly the more feared and productive hitter. He had 104 more walks than “The Hawk”. His OPS and OPS+ were much better. Clark also played on a team where the second highest OPS+ was 105. Dawson played on a team with nine players who had an OPS+ better than 105. Clark had the better season and he was more important to his team. I’m sure a decent argument could be made that Dawson deserved the MVP but I think a better argument could be made for Clark.


Steve Garvey9521111531.811130301
Mike Schmidt1083611623106.941158310

Garvey’s win in ’74 is one of the worst in MLB history. Schmidt has him beat in every category and most of them aren’t close. It’s unfortunate for Schmidt that he was robbed of this MVP because it would’ve given him four for his career which would have been a significant accomplishment. When Schmidt retired, nobody in MLB history had won four MVP awards. Even now, Schmidt would have been one of two players with four or more MVPs.


Pete Rose1155641065.838138297
Willie Stargell106441190801.038186337

Rose won the MVP in ’73 because he led the league in hits and batting average and played for the first-place Reds. Unfortunately for “Pops”, that is a recipe that’s hard to beat even if your season is twice as impressive. Rose had 49 extra-base hits. “Pops” had 44 home runs alone. He had 90 extra-base hits. He had 55 more RBIs. This is definitely won of the worst MVP results in MLB history. This kept Stargell from becoming a two-time winner which would’ve certainly increased his already-impressive resume.


Orlando Cepeda91251111162.923164295
Roberto Clemente10323110941.954171324

This one is another like the ’87 NL MVP voting. It’s not horrible but I think it went to the wrong person. Clemente has Cepeda beat in OPS, OPS+, Total Bases, and RBIs+Runs. Cepeda’s advantages are razor-thin. I could’ve easily not included this one but it seems pretty obvious to me that Clemente had the better season.


Roberto Clemente10529119746.896146342
Dick Allen1124011010681.028181331

The ’66 NL MVP voting saw Clemente on the other side. Unlike ’67 when he lost but should’ve won, he won but should’ve lost in ’66. The only difference is that the ’66 race was much more decisive. Dick Allen destroys Clemente in a season vs. season comparison. Allen was similar to Albert Belle in the sense that he was a feared slugger who dominated baseball for ten years but was denied an MVP and ultimately election to the Hall of Fame because the writers didn’t like him.

Sandy Koufax1.7319075%32327.99317

Koufax had a legit claim to the MVP in ’66 as well. His numbers weren’t as good as Maddux’s in ’95 but they were pretty stellar. If Allen wasn’t going to win the MVP, it should’ve been Koufax.


Ken Boyer10024119370.854130307
Willie Mays121471111982.990172351

This is easily one of the worst. A comparison of Mays and Boyer’s statistics in ’64 goes something like a comparison of Mays and Boyer’s careers. Mays dominated Boyer. I really don’t have much more to add. The result is inexcusable. Get used to seeing Mays. He appears four times on this list as a player who should have won. He should have won five MVPs at a minimum.


Maury Wills13064810451.720100259
Frank Robinson1343913618761.045173380
Willie Mays130491411878.999165382
Hank Aaron1274512815661.008170366

The ’62 NL MVP results are one of the two worst of all-time in my opinion. There are other instances when players who didn’t win had equally greater stats than the eventual winners as the ’62 group. However, there has never been an instance where three of the greatest players of all-time had unbelievable seasons and all lost to a weak player. It’s astonishing. Just look at the numbers Aaron, Mays, and Robinson put up. Then look at Wills. I’m getting fired-up just talking about this. Wills had an OPS+ of 100. By definition, that means he was simply average in ’62. How did he end up beating three phenomenal seasons?


Dick Groat85250039.765110226
Willie Mays291032561.936159330

The fact that Willie Mays didn’t win the NL MVP in ’60 is ridiculous. The fact that Dick Groat did is just silly. It’s really not worth discussing since the chart pretty much paints the picture. Mays even played 15 more games than Groat.


Ernie Banks9745143264.970155351
Hank Aaron116391238511.037181400

Banks had a very good season in ’59 but Aaron was considerably better. He had huge advantages in Total Bases, OPS, and OPS+.


Don Newcombe3.0613279%26827.99139

Hank Aaron1062692237.923151340

There have been a litany of pitchers in baseball who have put up the numbers Newcombe put up in ’56 and never came close to the MVP. Pitchers should win the MVP under two conditions; 1). There season was historically good and 2). There aren’t any obvious hitting candidates. Neither applied to the ’62 NL MVP race. The voters didn’t see it that way, though. Seven different players received first place votes and none of them went to Hank Aaron.


Roy Campanella8132107256.978153260
Willie Mays1235112724791.059174382

Campanella won three MVPs but probably should have won only one. Mays clearly outperformed Campy in ’55. I realize that, for a catcher, Campanella had a magnificent season. However, there is no way that his defense from the catching position or the offense that he provided above and beyond the average catcher was enough to offset the remarkable season that Mays had.


Roy Campanella9033108153.983159298
Stan Musial124321084981.063182355

Ditto. Musial should’ve won three more MVPs than he did which would’ve given him six.


Jim Konstanty2.6615270%152161.0456

Stan Musial105281095871.033163331

Konstanty’s season should not have been good enough to win the award over Musial. In fact, Konstanty wasn’t even the best pitcher in the NL in 1950. He only pitched 150 innings. Robin Roberts pitched twice as many innings with a pretty damn good ERA+. Sal Maglie pitched 50 more innings with a nearly identical ERA+, more wins, and a better winning percentage.


Jackie Robinson122161243786.960152313
Ralph Kiner1165412761171.090186361

Robinson was good in ’49 but Kiner was flat-out robbed. He led the league in home runs, OPS, RBIs, walks, and slugging percentage. Baseball writers must have had a grudge against Kiner because he didn’t receive a single first place vote while six other players did.


Bob Elliot9322113387.927147287
Ralph Kiner118511271981.056173361

Kiner was robbed even worse in ’47 because at least Jackie Robinson led the league in something in ’49. Bob Elliot won the MVP without leading the league in anything. Kiner led the league in home runs, OPS, slugging %, total bases, and runs created. Again, Kiner didn’t receive a single first place vote while 10 others did.


Phil Cavaretta94697581.949166249
Tommy Holmes125281171570.997175367

I hadn’t heard of either of these dudes before looking this stuff up but there were some shenanigans going on in the ’45 voting. Holmes drove in and scored 51 more runs than Cavaretta. He had 118 more total bases. This was one of the worst votes of all-time…


Marty Marion52663143.68691183
Stan Musial1121294790.989175312

…but not the worst. That has to go to the ’44 NL MVP vote. If it was a joke, it wasn’t funny. Marion didn’t even have a 100 OPS+ which I believe makes him the only non-pitcher in MLB history to win the award with less than a 100 OPS+. Musial destroyed him in every category. Marion wasn’t a decisive winner garnering only 7 of 24 first place votes but voters probably had their own agendas and that cost Musial—clearly the best player in the league—another MVP.


Frank McCormick9319127252.849132298
Johnny Mize111431377821.040176368

Mize doesn’t get near the fanfare as he should and some of that has to do with the fact that he was robbed out of two MVP awards. In 1940, he led the league in OPS, slugging percentage, total bases, home runs, RBIs, and runs created. McCormick led the league in hits and doubles. Go figure.


Bucky Walters2.2916871%319271.13137

Johnny Mize104281080921.070178353

Mize was just as good in ’39. He led the league in batting average, home runs, OPS, slugging %, runs created, and total bases. The ’39 result wasn’t nearly as bad as in ’40 because Bucky Walters led the league in virtually all pitching statistics. He had a very good season.


Ernie Lombardi601995040.915153256
Mel Ott1163611621181.025178307

Mel Ott and Johnny Mize were easily the two best hitters in the NL in 1938. Naturally, they received a combined zero first place votes. They combined to lead the league in virtually all major statistics. Ernie Lombardi led the league in batting average. Whoop dee doo.


Gabby Hartnett671391141.949151225
Arky Vaughan10819994971.098190303

This probably had something to do with the precedent that catchers can win the award with inferior statistics simply because they are catchers. Vaughan clearly has the advantage in every statistic.


Frankie Frisch964822845.764102205
Chuck Klein12131121759.982152347

1931 is generally considered the year in which the MVP began as we know it now. Before ’31, the MVP voting process was a joke. Unfortunately, the ’31 voting process was a joke as well. Frisch over Klein was not a good way to begin the “new and improved” voting process.

The 2008 NL MVP Race

Just like the 2006 NL Race, the ’08 race comes down to Albert Pujols and Ryan Howard. In ’06, Howard had a phenomenal two months (23 home runs and 62 RBIs) to overtake Pujols. Phat Albert’s numbers were better than Howard’s but Howard’s surge to end the season led the Phillies into the playoffs. The exact same scenario is unfolding in the NL this year. Howard has been scorching over the last two months leading the Phillies back into another likely playoff appearance. There are two differences from ’06, though: 1) Pujols and the Cardinals will not be in the playoffs and; 2) Howard’s OPS+ is only 120 compared to 167 in ’06. Maybe those factors will cancel each other out and we’ll see Howard over Pujols again. While I was fine with Howard over Pujols in ’06 (in fact, I wrote a post supporting that outcome), I wouldn’t be supportive of if it happened again this year. Pujols has a 184-120 advantage in OPS+. He has a .633-.533 advantage in slugging percentage. He has a .453-.336 advantage in OBP. Pujols has nearly a 2 to 1 BB:K ratio. Howard is much worse than 1 to 2. The numbers are there for Pujols. His team won’t make the playoffs but he deserves the MVP. Here is a guess at how the voting might turn out…

Best guess for 2008 NL MVP Results

1). Pujols
2). Howard
3). Manny Ramirez
4). Berkman
5). Chase Utley
6). D. Wright
7). H. Ramirez
8). Aramis Ramirez
9). Chipper Jones
10). Carlos Beltran
11). Adrian Gonzalez
12). Delgado
13). Jose Reyes
14). Prince Fielder
15). Ryan Braun

Worst MVP Winners of All-Time (AL)


susieandrew said...

Interesting list. What would you say are the top 5-10 most egregious NL MVP results in history?

Jake said...

Coming in a few hours!

Anonymous said...

Rich Rod has taken superior talent and turned Michigan into a mid-level MAC team. Michigan been in the Top 10 in recruiting over the past 5 years. The team should be on in transition not a total rebuild. The world Millen come to mind.

I know everyone thinks it is just a one-year thing. But winning next year with a true freshman QB or Threets is a recipe for another marginal year. If the new QB does not turn into a Pat White, the Rich Rob experiment will be over and the program will be starting over - again.

mraithel13 said...

What about Stargell co-winning in '79? That was Keith's alone.


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