The Worst According to Warp - MVP Edition

November 9, 2010
 
A countdown column: here are the thirty-six worst Most Valuable Player selections, according to WAR (Wins Above Replacement player). I’m using baseball reference’s version of WAR for this article.
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
36-t
2002 AL
Miguel Tejada
5.2
Alex Rodriguez
8.2
3.0
 
Right position, wrong guy. This was the year Tejada gate-crashed the media fawning over A-Rod, Jeter, and Garciaparra, reminding everyone on the east coast that the AL West had a pretty good shortstop, too.
 
But Tejada (.308/34/131, 5.2 WAR) wasn’t actually as good as A-Rod (.300/57/142, 8.2 WAR), and he wasn’t better than Nomar Garciaparra, either (.310/24/120, 6.7 WAR). He does rate ahead of Jeter, but only because of Jeter’s terrible defensive ratings in 2002.
 
The difference in WAR between Tejada and Rodriguez was 3.0….that’s the cutoff here….these are the MVP selections who missed the league lead in WAR by 3.0 or more.
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
36-t
1940 AL
Hank Greenberg
6.4
Bob Feller
9.4
3.0
 
There are two kinds of pitchers on this list: starters who should get the MVP but don’t, and relief pitchers who don’t deserve the MVP but get it anyway.
 
Feller won the pitcher’s Triple Crown in 1940, pacing the AL in wins (27), ERA (2.61) and strikeouts (261). The nearest guy to Feller in strikeouts was Bobo Newsom, who had164. Feller was twenty-one years old at the time. Also: Feller’s strikeouts and ERA match.
 
Greenberg led the majors in homeruns and RBI’s, and was 12 points behind DiMaggio for the batting title: .340/41/150. He and Feller finished 1-2 in the MVP vote.
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
35
1967 NL
Orlando Cepeda
7.1
Ron Santo
10.2
3.1
 
Santo’s offensive numbers aren’t exactly eye-popping: he posted a .300/31/98 line to Cepeda’s .325/25/111. But the Cubbie great had an excellent defensive season at third base, posting a 2.0 defensive WAR, winning the Gold Glove, and ranking as the best fielder in the league in 1967.
 
Ron Santo: underrated. Who’da thunk it?
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
34
1972 NL
Johnny Bench
9.1
Steve Carlton
12.4
3.3
 
It’s not that Johnny Bench had a bad season: he hit forty homeruns as a catcher and posted a terrific 9.1 WAR. It’s just Steve Carlton blew everyone out of the water. 346 innings pitched, a 1.97 ERA, and 27 wins for a Phillies team that won just 59 games. Carlton had the best season of the decade, and Bench didn’t quite compare.
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
31-t
1938 NL
Ernie Lombardi
5.3
Mel Ott
8.7
3.4
 
Catchers make a lot of appearances on this list. Ott is one of those players who had a long and consistently great career, but never managed to win the hardware. We call a .300/30/100 season a Hall-of-Fame season…Ott had six seasons with those totals, and a few more where he missed it by a few RBI’s or a few points in batting average. Actually, his 162-game average shows a .304/30/110 Triple Crown line.
 
Eddie Murray and Dave Winfield were like this: they had lots of good years, but every year someone else would have a slightly better year and they’d get the trophy. Ott was terrific in 1938, but a catcher won a batting title, so they gave it to him.
 
Of the ten players listed so far, seven are actual Hall-of-Famers, one should be a Hall-of-Famer (Santo), and one will be Hall-of-Famer (A-Rod). And then there’s Miguel Tejada, who has a change at reaching Cooperstown. Pretty good group of players.
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
31-t
1952 AL
Hank Sauer
5.3
Jackie Robinson
8.7
3.4
 
Jackie Robinson led the National League in Offensive WAR every year from 1949-1953…five years in a row, he was the best hitter in the league…he was also, as most of you know, an unbelievably great defensive player. He was thirty years old at the start of that run…the mind reels at what he might’ve done had he reached the majors earlier.
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
31-t
1976 AL
Thurman Munson
5.1
Mark Fidrych
8.5
3.4
 
Mark Fidrych was the most famous, entertaining player in 1976, but until now I didn’t realize that there is an argument that the Bird was the best player in 1976. He finished 11th in the MVP vote, but he shows as the most valuable player in the league that year, 0.5 WAR ahead of George Brett.
 
Fidrych was the first ballplayer I ever met…this was decades after he retired, at a bar on Cape Cod that happened to be across the street from the baseball card shop where I hung out. I must’ve been ten or eleven years old, and it was probably the first time I was ever in a bar. I remember wondering if I could actually go in to ask for an autograph; if it was legal for me to walk into a bar. Fidrych was a helluva nice guy, had that great Massachusetts accent. He signed some cards that I brought and gave me a black-and-white photograph. We were born in the same city: Worcester, Massachusetts.
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
29-t
2008 AL
Dustin Pedroia
5.2
Joe Mauer
8.7
3.5
 
I’ve covered this one. In the past, catchers tended to be overrated by the MVP voters. Hence you have Campy and Berra with three each, Bench with two, and Elston Howard and Ernie Lombardi and Thurman Munson winning them.
 
In the mid-1980’s, catchers started getting underrated. Gary Carter is the first example. Carter never won an MVP, but had he had his career in the 1950’s he almost certainly would’ve. Mike Piazza didn’t win the award either, when he was putting up absurd offensive numbers. Ivan Rodriguez won his, but he beat out a pitcher to win it, and that was a strange voting year. Joe Mauer won his trophy, but it took the voters a long time to catch on to him.
 
Not that there was anything wrong with Laser Show getting the MVP in 2008.
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
29-t
2006 AL
Justin Morneau
3.8
Grady Sizemore
7.3
3.5
 
It’s easy to forget that in 2006 Sizemore was one of the very best players in baseball. He hit .290 with 53 doubles and 24 homeruns, scored 138 runs, stole 22 bases in 28 attempt…and he was twenty-three years old.
 
Incidentally, Sizemore’s Wikipedia page communicates a lot about the psyches of Cleveland sports fans right now. It’s hilarious. Go and read the account of his 2010 season before someone edits it.
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
26-t
1969 AL
Harmon Killebrew
6.1
Reggie Jackson
9.7
3.6
 
Killebrew should be in the group with Ott and Murray and Winfield, except Harmon actually won the 1969 MVP that he didn’tdeserve. Killer posted a .276/49/140 line, which was almost exactly the same line that Reggie Jackson posted (.275/47/118). On defense Killebrew split time between first and third, playing poorly at both positions, while Reggie! rated as one of the ten best defensive players in the league. Plus, Killebrew enjoyed hitter-friendly Metropolitan Stadium, while Reggie! suffered in the new and expansive Oakland Coliseum.
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
26-t
1970 NL
Johnny Bench
6.5
Bob Gibson
10.1
3.6
 
Look, it’s not Johnny Bench’s fault: if a catcher hits 45 homeruns and drive in 148 runs, he win the MVP award. Bench didn’t make the rules.
 
Bob Gibson actually led the NL in WAR for three consecutive seasons, 1968-1970. He won the real MVP award in 1968, but finished 30th in the MVP vote in 1969, because his won-loss record (20-13) didn’t impress the voters.
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
26-t
1985 AL
Don Mattingly
6.4
Rickey Henderson
10.0
3.6
 
The first teammates on the list (but not the last), Mattingly and Henderson are also the first Yankee teammates on the list (but, again, not the last).
 
Bill covered this in the 1986 Abstract, but Mattingly’s edge over Henderson in the Triple Crown categories were more than balanced by Henderson’s edges in walks, stolen bases, and defense. Mattingly posted a .324/35/145 line, while Henderson was at .314/24/72. , but Henderson trounced Mattingly in walks (99 to 56) stolen bases (80 to 2), and runs scored (146 to 107). Henderson was better at avoiding the double play (8 GIDP to Mattingly’s 15), and while Mattingly won a Gold Glove at first base (Defensive WAR of 0.1), Henderson rated as the second-best defensive player in the league in 1985 (1.4 Defensive WAR, trailing only Jesse Barfield’s astonishing 2.3).
 
Henderson won the 1990 MVP. According to WAR he deserved the 1981 and 1985 trophies, too.
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
25
1970 AL
Boog Powell
5.4
Carl Yastrzemski
9.1
3.7
 
Yastrzemski led the AL in WAR in 1967, 1968, and 1970, winning the MVP in 1967, when he won the Triple Crown.
 
This is a case of the winners getting the award: Yaz beat Powell in almost every category…played more games, hit more homeruns, had the higher batting average, had 22 steals to Powell’s one. Yaz played a more important defensive position, and he played it better than Powell. But Boog’s Orioles won 107 games, so the trophy went to him.
 
Yastrzemski was the best in 1967-1969, and he ranks fourth in WAR in 1963...and that’s it. He played twenty-three seasons, but he was only great in four of them…the rest of the time he’d hit 15-20 homers and get walks and play solid defense…he had four years of absolute brilliance and nineteen years of grinding it out, day after day.
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
23-t
1971 AL
Joe Torre
6.8
Fergie Jenkins
10.6
3.8
 
Torre’s defense brings him down here: he has a 9.4 offensive WAR, but a staggeringly bad -2.6 defensive total. He made 21 errors and turned 22 double plays, which is not a good ratio for a third baseman. He led the league in batting average (.363) and runs batted in (137)…he did have a monster year at the plate.
 
Fergie Jenkins went 24-13 for a mediocre Cubs team, throwing a staggering 325 innings and winning the Cy Young Award…Is it just me, or did a lot of the big pitching seasons of the 1970’s take place on bad teams?
 
Checking on it: you have Carlton with the 1972 Phillies (59 wins), Gibson with the 1970 Cardinals (76 wins), Gaylord Perry with the 1972 Indians (72 wins), Phil Niekro with the 1978 Braves (62 wins), Randy Jones with the 1975 Padres (71 wins), Wilbur Wood with the 1971 White Sox (79 wins), Nolan Ryan with the 1977 Angels (72 wins), and Blyleven with the 1973 Twins (81 wins)…counting Jenkins, that’s nine huge pitching seasons on lousy teams. Only Ron Guidry in 1978 had a monster year for a winning team.
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
23-t
1955 NL
Roy Campanella
5.5
Willie Mays
9.3
3.8
 
Like Johnny Bench, Campanella isn’t given a lot of love by the WAR metric.
 
Willie Mays led the NL in WAR ten times…’54-’55, ’57-’58, and ’60-’65. The only guys who led in WAR more often that Mays was Babe Ruth (twelve seasons) and Honus Wagner (eleven seasons). For anyone interested, Bonds led for nine seasons, Mantle 8, Hornsby 8, Ted Williams 6, Cobb, 6, A-Rod 6, Musial 4, Schmidt 4, Jackie Robinson 4, Gehrig 3. Staggeringly, Albert Pujols has led the NL in WAR seven times…he trails only Ruth, Wagner, Mays, Bonds, Mantle, and Hornsby. Hank Aaron never led his league in overall WAR, but he finished 2nd seven times and 3rd twice.
 
This was a close MVP race…Campanella beat teammate Duke Snider by five votes, 226 to 221. Snider and Mays were very close in value in 1955..Snider was at 8.9 to Mays’ 9.3 mark. Campy played in just 123 games, but hit 32 homeruns, drove in 107, and batted a robust .318 on the season. It was his third MVP Award, and his last great season as a catcher.
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
22
1935 NL
Gabby Hartnett
5.2
Arky Vaughn
9.1
3.9
 
The Cubs won 100 games in 1935, and the writers decided that Hartnett was the best player on the club. Hartnett, who was thirty-four (one-hundred and seven in catchers years), hit .344 with 13 homeruns in 116 games.
 
Hartnett is an interesting player…the first time he hit over .300 was in 1928, when he hit .302. He was twenty-seven. He hit .339 two years later, when he was twenty-nine years old…that should’ve been his career high, but he topped that during his MVP season, when he hit .344 at age 34. And he topped that two years later, when he hit .354 at age 36.
 
Hartnett was like a good wine: he kept getting better as he aged. It’s a weird pattern…has any other hitter ever done that?
 
Arky Vaughn had an insane year for the Pirates in 1935: his slash line was .385/.491/.607, and he led the league in all three categories. There are about five articles that I want to get to that have come out of this one, and one of them is about Arky Vaughn. I’ll try to get to it soon.
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
21
1960 NL
Dick Groat
5.7
Willie Mays
9.7
4.0
 
Hey, Willie Mays again! I wish I could say that this is the last time he shows up here, but it’s not.
 
Dick Groat was the shortstop and team captain for the pennant-winning Pittsburgh Pirates, and he led the league with a .325 batting average. Interestingly, the two players who won the 1960 MVP awards (Groat and Roger Maris) were almost traded for each other prior to the start of the 1960 season. Probably wise that the Yankees kept on to Maris.
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
19-t
1987 AL
George Bell
5.0
Wade Boggs
9.1
4.1
 
Bell led the AL in RBI’s, but Boggs (and Alan Trammell and Roger Clemens) had much better years. I hope I’m not giving anything away by saying that this was the second-worst MVP vote of 1987.
 
Wade Boggs…he’s another player who I need to write an article about.  
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
19-t
1985 NL
Willie McGee
8.4
Dwight Gooden
12.5
4.1
 
Willie McGee had a really good year: .353 batting average (and the batting title), 56 steals, a Gold Glove in center, 18 triples, 10 homeruns. A fine season.
 
But Dwight Gooden was historically great: 24-4, 1.56 ERA, 268 strikeouts, 12.5 WAR…the last pitcher to topGooden’s 12.5 WAR was Walter Johnson in 1913. The only pitchers who have come close to Gooden since then were Bob Gibson in 1968 and Steve Carlton in 1972. Gooden was twenty years old and he had a season that has been unparalleled in almost a century of baseball. 
 
We’re entering the players whose difference in WAR is 4.0 or more…
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
17-t
1979 AL
Don Baylor
4.4
George Brett
8.7
4.3
 
When I was a kid the trivia books had a question about the first DH to win the MVP award. Baylor actually played more games in the outfield than he did at DH (97 to 65).
 
1979 was George Brett’s Triple-Twenty year: he hit 42 doubles, 20 triples, and 23 homeruns. Fred Lynn and Darrell Porter were also deserving candidates according to WAR (8.4 each). Porter has a staggering 121 walks in 1979.
 
Actually, the 1979 MVP really stinks. The AL had a bunch of fun seasons: Brett had a terrific year and Freddie Lynn had a terrific year and Porter had a terrific year. Willie Wilson hit .315 with 83 stolen bases. Jim Kern had a 1.57 ERA in 140 relief innings. Gorman Thomas hit 45 homeruns…just a bunch of fun years. But the writers went with Baylor. It was a good year, but it wasn’t all that interesting.
 
The NL vote was terrible. This was the year Keith Hernandez tied with Willie Stargell. This vote doesn’t appear on the list because Hernandez was a deserving candidate (WAR has him just behind Dave Winfield and Mike Schmidt). But Stargell was a poor candidate (2.3 WAR). He won because the Pirates won and he was the team’s ‘heart.’ He might’ve been that, but Dave Parker was way better a player than Stargell in 1979.
 
1979 wasn’t the worst MVP vote ever, but it’s in the running.
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
17-t
1995 AL
Mo Vaughn
4.2
???
8.5
4.3
 
Who was the 1995 WAR MVP in the AL?
 
I thought it’d be Albert Belle. I assume that most of you remember this race…Vaughn had a very good year for the BoSox (39 homeruns, .300 average, 126 RBI’s), but Belle was a monster: 50 homers, 52 doubles, .317 batting average, 121 runs scored, 126 RBI. Belle beat Vaughn in everything, so when Vaughn won the award, a few people bitched that he won because he was a nice guy, whereas Belle was about as popular as chum in a swimming pool.
 
Belle was better than Mo Vaughn in 1995. But Albert Belle wasn’t the WAR MVP.
 
It wasn’t Edgar Martinez, either. Edgar hit .356 with 29 homeruns and 116 walks.
It wasn’t Frank Thomas, who hit 40 homers, walked 136 times, and hit .308.
It wasn’t Tim Salmon, who hit .330 with 34 homeruns. And it wasn’t Rafael Palmeiro or Manny Ramirez, who both had .300/30/100 Triple Crown lines.
 
The WAR MVP in 1995 was John Valentin, Mo Vaughn’s teammate on the Red Sox.
 
Valentin had a terrific season that was lost in all the noise from all of the homeruns hit in 1995. He posted a .298/27/102 Triple Crown line, which was nice for a shortstop but unimpressive next to the feats of the mighty sluggers. He also had 37 doubles, 81 walks, and 20 steals (in 25 chances). He grounded into just seven double plays in 621 plate appearances. He also played exceptional defense at shortstop. It was, according to WAR, the 19th best season a shortstop has had in baseball.
 
I’ve had the fortune of attending two playoff baseball games in my life, both of the games at Fenway Park during the 1999 ALDS against Cleveland. With Boston facing elimination, they beat Cleveland 9-3 and 23-7, setting up Pedro’s great relief effort in Game 5. John Valentin was 6-for-10 with three homeruns and 10 RBI’s during the two playoff games that I saw…suffice to say I remember him with considerable fondness.
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
15-t
1984 AL
Guill. Hernandez
4.8
Cal Ripken, Jr.
9.2
4.4
 
Were the 1984 Tigers the best team ever who didn’t really have a star? Don’t get me wrong: they had a ton of talent on that ballclub: Whittaker and Trammell and Darrell Evans and Kirk Gibson and Jack Morris and Lance Parrish. But they didn’t have a real MVP candidate. They destroyed the AL in 1984, and their best hitter was probably Gibby or Chet Lemon. Their rotation was Jack Morris, Dan Petry, Milt Wilcox, Juan Berenguer, and Dave Rozema.
 
They didn’t have a single great player, but they didn’t have any holes, either. Their worst offensive regular was Howard Johnson…if Ho-Jo is your worst guy, you’re going to win a lot of ballgames. The Tigers won 111.
 
I don’t know who Cal Ripken, Jr. is. He didn’t amount to much, obviously.
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
15-t
1950 NL
Jim Konstanty
3.6
Eddie Stanky
8.0
4.4
 
This is a trickle-down award….basically, all the great players in the NL in 1950 had slightly off years, so the award trickled down to Konstanty, when it should have tricked to Stanky. Or Jackie Robinson (7.5 WAR).
 
Stanky, as a few of you probably know, was really good at drawing walks. From 1945 to 1951he walked almost once per game, and he must’ve had a terrific ratio of pitchers per plate appearance. He walked 144 times in 1950, which was a career high. He reached the majors in 1943, during the Second World War…I’m guessing here, but I’d guess that he had a career because of the war. I doubt he would’ve reached the major leagues without the war. The same is true for George Kell and others.
 
Stanky walked 144 times in 1950, which was the most in the majors. Despite his insane ability to get on base, none of his teammates proved adept at driving him in: no one on the Giants managed 100+ RBI’s in 1950.
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
14
1962 NL
Maury Wills
6.1
Willie Mays
10.6
4.5
 
We’re just going to move on. Nothing to see. here.
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
12-t
1964 NL
Ken Boyer
5.6
Willie Mays
10.2
4.6
 
Ber-loody hell. Sometimes the guy who hits the most homeruns is the best player. Especially when that player is Willie Mays.
 
And just for the record, Mays also ranks as the WAR MVP in 1963, by just a hair over Sandy Koufax.
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
12-t
1974 AL
Jeff Burroughs
3.6
Gaylord Perry
8.2
4.6
 
Perry posted a 2.51 ERA in 322 innings. This was actually lazy by Perry’s standards: he tossed 342 and 344 innings during the previous seasons. The voters were punishing him.
 
 Jeff Burroughs led the AL in RBI’s. He won the MVP running away.
 
(About this year’s MVP race: Josh Hamilton will win the AL MVP. If I lived within 6,000 miles of a casino that would take my bet, I would bet on that. MVP voters love the Texas Rangers. I have no idea why this is the case, but it is. For further examples, see Ivan Rodriguez. Or just keep reading).
 
We’re getting to the final ten. Actually, the final twelve, as there is a three-way tie for the 9th worst MVP vote.
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
9-t
1968 AL
Denny McLain
5.4
Carl Yastrzemski
10.1
4.7
 
This was the year of the pitcher, the year that McLain won 31 games. Yaz had a terrific year: he led the league with a .301 batting average and walked 119 times. But his homeruns fell in half from his Triple Crown season of 1967, and he had 50 fewer RBI’s, and the Red Sox didn’t get back to the World Series, so there was no chance he was going to win this award.
 
Denny McLain…McLain’s life would make a terrific biography, and it would make an excellent basis for a novel. He has led a life…he is obviously no saint, but there is a clear humanity to his story. Because of his failings he seems more familiar to us than most of the more celebrated athletes. I’d rather read one good McLain biography than fifty biographies about Ripken or Jeter or Nolan Ryan.
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
9-t
1961 AL
Roger Maris
7.2
Mickey Mantle
11.9
4.7
 
This is another famous MVP debate…Maris or Mantle. It’s a bad selection…in addition to playing a more important defensive position better, Mantle had a batting average 48 points higher than Maris (.317 to .269), and an on-base percentage that was 76 points higher (.372 to .448). But Maris broke the record and Mantle missed the stretch run, so Maris got the award. Plus Mickey had enough trophies.
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
9-t
1947 AL
Joe DiMaggio
5.6
Ted Williams
10.3
4.7
 
This is less controversial than the 1941 MVP (Williams hit .406, DiMaggio had the 56-game streak), but it’s far more egregious.
 
You can look up the stats if you want. I’ll just throw one out there: DiMaggio walked 64 times in 1947. Ted Williams walked 162 times. That is a difference of 98 walks. 
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
8
1992 AL
Dennis Eckersley
3.0
Roger Clemens
7.9
4.9
 
Closers probably shouldn’t be MVP’s…all of the closers who won the MVP award are on this list. The BBWAA hasn’t given an MVP to a closer since Eck, which is probably wise.
 
Clemens won seven Cy Young Awards…he is shown by WAR as deserving seven Cy Young Awards, but not necessarily in the years that he won them. In 1986, Roger’s first Cy Young season, Teddy Higuera actually had a slightly higher WAR than Clemens, 8.4 to 7.9. Clemens also shows as deserving of two MVP Awards: he had the highest WAR in the AL in 1992 (Eck won the Cy Young Award and the MVP) and 1997 (Griffey won the MVP).
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
7
1944 NL
Marty Marion
4.0
Stan Musial
9.1
5.1
Marion and Musial were teammates…Musial was an exceptionally good player in 1944, but he wasn’t the homerun-hitting slugger he’d become after World War II. He hit 12 homeruns in 1944, to go along with a .347 batting average. He posted better numbers than Marion across the board, and in a lot of metrics he was way out ahead: walks (90 to 43), homeruns (12 to 6), batting average (.347 to .267) , runs (112 to 50), RBI’s (94 to 66), even steals (7 to 1). Marion does show as a terrific defensive player in 1944, but Musial was pretty good defensively, too.
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
6
1958 AL
Jackie Jensen
4.6
Mickey Mantle
9.8
5.2
 
Jackie Jensen led the league in RBI’s, and Mantle had just 97 on the season. Mantle did outscore Jensen, 127 to 83, and Mantle’s Yankees won the pennant.
 
I’m going to throw this in here because it seems like a good place to mention it: Robinson Cano will not win the AL MP award this year. There is a good case that he should win the MVP, and if he played on any other team he would probably be the favorite to win the MVP. But he plays on the Yankees, and Yankees players rarely win close MVP races.
 
I know this seems counter-intuitive. After all, Alex Rodriguez has won two MVP awards in pinstripes. And Mantle and Berra and DiMaggio won three apiece. All told, the Yankees have won 19 ‘modern’ MVP awards…19 awards since 1930, when they started letting the writers vote. Nineteen MVP’s in eighty-one years…almost 25% of the MVP’s. That’s a lot.
 
But the Yankees have reached the playoffs forty-three times in those eighty-one seasons: they made the playoffs 53% of the time. And for a lot of those seasons the Yankees were the only team to reach the playoffs.
 
Taking into account the strong correlation between winning and winning the MVP vote, it’s actually surprising that more Yankees haven’t won the MVP. Consider:
 
-Derek Jeter never won an MVP…Jeter was a good candidate to win the MVP in 1998, 1999, 2006, and 2009, and he never won.
 
-Don Mattingly didn’t win the 1986 MVP…he or Clemens were the two frontrunners, and the pitcher from Boston won it.
 
-Ron Guidry didn’t win the 1978 MVP. As Bill pointed out in one of the Abstracts, Guidry/Rice is very comparable to Clemens/Mattingly...both had a pitcher on a winning team against a slugger on a second-place team…and both times it was the Yankee who lost the trophy. 
 
-Reggie didn’t win one with the Yankees. Neither did Rickey Henderson. Or Dave Winfield. Teixeira hasn’t won one yet.
 
-Mickey Mantle could’ve won something like eight or nine MVP awards...he won three, which is great, but he also lost awards to guys like Nellie Fox and Jackie Jensen.
 
-This is a side-bar, but Mariano hasn’t won an MVP or a Cy Young award…he’s the greatest closer in history, but he’s never come close to winning major hardware. That’s weird, right? If you wanted to look at it, I think you’d find that the same is true for Yankee pitchers: they win the Cy Young if they’re head-and-shoulders above the pack, but they lose the close races.
 
Yankees players have not won a lot of MVP awards that they should have won. In contrast, they have very few MVP awards that they shouldn’t have won, and most of those fall into the category of ‘MVP Awards Mickey Mantle Deserved That Another Yankee Received’ (see below).
 
Alex Rodriguez is a good example…he won his MVP awards because he was head-and-shoulders above anyone else in the league. In 2005 he had a WAR of 8.4…the next closest was Teixeira at 6.4. In 2007 he was a fair bit ahead of Magglio Ordonez, and people screamed bloody murder because one guy voted for Magglio.
 
This isn’t always the case: Thurman Munson’s 1976 award is a good counter-example. Generally, though, Yankees players win MVP awards when they are obviously and incontrovertibly the best players in the league. And if it’s close (as it was in 1978 and 1986 and 2006), Yankees players lose the award.
 
Why is this the case? Why is there an anti-Yankee bias in the MVP vote?
 
Because there is a general anti-Yankee bias. They’ve been whumping on the rest of baseball for ninety years…it’s tough to not build a grudge.
 
If anything, that grudge is worse now than it has been. Partially, that’s because we’re aware of the gross differences in revenue. And partially it’s because the modern Yankees are a team of utterly soulless automatons. At least Ford, Mantle and Martin (and later) Munson, Nettles and Jackson had personality. You could enjoy hating those guys. Now the Yankees are a bunch of squeaky clean bores who harp on about the ‘fine Yankee tradition’ and never say anything remotely interesting. Who is interesting on the Yankees? No one.
 
It’s the ‘valuable’ part that’s the hang-up. If you have an All-Star at every position, how can anyone really be most valuable? How does anyone stand out from the crowd?
 
Hamilton is obviously the best guy on the Rangers…he’s the superstar on that team.
 
Cano is the best player on the Yankees, but it’s not obvious. Guys like Jeter and A-Rod and Sabathia and Teixeira take up a lot of the spotlight. They’re big names, and it’s tough to stand out against big names.
 
Cano’s Triple Crown line is 29/109/.319. Dustin Pedroia had a Triple Crown line of 17/83/.326, and he won the award easily…there wasn’t any doubt Pedroia was going to get the award. Cano was better in 2010 than Pedroia was in 2008 (6.1 to 5.2 in WAR), but Cano almost certainly won’t win the award. If he played on the Twins I think he would win the award. If he played on the Rangers they’d give it to him twice.
 
But he’s a Yankee, and for better or for worse Yankees players seldom win close MVP races. He won’t win the trophy 2010.
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
4-t
1974 NL
Steve Garvey
5.1
Mike Schmidt
10.5
5.4
 
The 1974 MVP vote split between Garvey and Lou Brock, who stole 118 bases in 1974. Their combined WAR doesn’t match Schmidt. Schmidt was a helluva player: he led the league in homeruns in 1974, stole 23 bases, walked 106 times, had seven triples, played excellent defense, and grounded into just four double plays on the year. Though he had most dramatic seasons later, WAR rates 1974 as the most valuable season of his career.
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
4-t
1987 NL
Andre Dawson
2.7
Tony Gwynn
8.1
5.4
 
I thought this would show up as the worst in history. It’s not.
 
Dawson was one of the five best players in the National League between 1981-1984, finishing second in the 1981 and 1983 MVP races. His most deserving year was probably 1981: he wasn’t quite as good as Mike Schmidt in 1981, but he was pretty damned good. He ranks behind Schmidt and (MVP) Dale Murphy in 1983, but he was a fine ballplayer.
 
Tony Gwynn hit .370 in 1987, which led the league. He stole 56 bases, walked 82 times, struck out just 35 times, and won the Gold Glove award.
 
Let’s not cry too hard for Tony Gwynn…1987 was a wild year, a year where a lot of players had astonishing seasons. Jack Clark had 136 walks in 131 games. Dale Murphy hit 44 homeruns and finished 11th in the vote. Eric Davis hit 37 homeruns and stole fifty bases and finished ninth. Strawberry had 39 homeruns and 36 stolen bases. Howard Johnson had 36 homers and 32 steals. Ozzie Smith was really great. Tim Raines hit .330 with 68 steals. Vince Coleman stole 109 bases. Mike Schmidt had a Mike Schmidt season: 35 homeruns, 113 RBI’s, .293 batting average. Pedro Guerrero hit .338 with power. Will Clark, Tim Wallach, and Juan Samuel had great years.
 
The problem with the 1987 MVP Award is the problem of American life in these modern times: there were too many choices. It was just about impossible to get it right, because what the hell was right? You can’t go with Davis and not go with Strawberry. You can’t go with Gwynn and ignore Raines. You can’t give it Schmidt again.
                                                &​nbsp;                        &​nbsp;                        &​nbsp;                        &​nbsp;                        &​nbsp; 
They were bound to screw it up; we were bound to be pissed off by the results. To paraphrase from Barry Schwartz, when we have unlimited options, we’re bound to be disappointed.
 
I don’t want to get the writers off the hook here: they had the ball and they threw it away. Bell and Dawson were terrible choices. But just look at the list of guys they had to choose from…it’s staggering. In both leagues, it’s staggering. We shouldn’t be shocked that they screwed it up: we should’ve expected it.
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
3
1955 AL
Yogi Berra
3.8
Mickey Mantle
9.5
5.7
 
Mantle had just 99 RBI’s in 1955…he received zero first-place votes for the MVP that year. Hank Bauer and Gil McDougald, teammates with Mantle and Berra, also received first-place votes, but not Mantle. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say that no other player had a worse disconnect between what he did on the field and how those actions were interpreted by the media than Mantle. He was perpetually underrated. The DiMaggio effect, I suppose.
 
Onto the season: the Mick led the league in triples and homeruns, which is an astonishing feat. He also led in walks, slugging percentage, and on-base average. He was twenty-three years old and 1955 was his first huge year, and I suppose that the writers thought, ‘he’ll get his share.’ Of course, Yogi Berra already had his share.
 
Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
2
1934 NL
Mickey Cochrane
4.3
Lou Gehrig
10.7
6.4
 
I plum forgot about this one…Cochrane winning the MVP over Gehrig, who won the Triple Crown.
 
Cochrane didn’t have a bad year: he hit .320 with a .448 on-base percentage. He hit two homeruns…that isn’t impressive, but he wasn’t a slugger. It was Mickey’s first year with the Tigers, who had finished 75-79 during the previous season, and the Tigers won 101 games and the AL pennant. And Cochrane was the manager of the team.
 
These were the early years of the MVP award, and it’s likely that the writers gave Mickey extra credit for being the manager of the team. They didn’t have a Manager of the Year award back then.
 
Gehrig hit .363 with 49 homeruns and 163 RBI’s…but the Yankees came in second place to the Tigers, and winning did matter to those voters, as it does matter to today’s voters. Gehrig finished fifth in the vote, behind three Tigers (Cochrane, Charlie Gehringer, and Schoolboy Rowe) and Lefty Gomez.

Rank
Year/Lg
Actual MVP
WAR
WAR MVP
WAR
WAR Diff.
1
1996 AL
Juan Gonzalez
2.8
Ken Griffey Jr.
9.7
6.9
 
The problem with 1996 is the same problem as 1987: there’s just too much to sort through.
 
Alex Rodriguez was twenty years old…he hit .356 with 36 homeruns and 123 RBI’s. At shortstop. Albert Belle had a monster season: 48 homeruns, 148 RBI’s, .311 average. Griffey hit 49 homeruns, drove in 140, and hit .303. Mo Vaughn hit 44 homeruns, .326 batting average. Mark McGwire hit 52 homeruns and had a .312 average. Frank Thomas hit 40 homeruns with a .349 average. Rafael Palmeiro hit 39 homers, had 142 RBI’s. Brady Freakin’ Anderson hit 50 homeruns. Paul Molitor hit .341. Jim Thome hit 38 homers and batted .311. Buhner hit 44 homers. Roberto Alomar scored 132 runs as a second baseman, and hit .328. Chuck Knoblauch scored 140 runs and hit .341. It was an insane year.
 
The writers picked Juan Gonzalez. Gonzo hit 47 homeruns, drove in 155 runs, and hit .314. Those are fine numbers, but it’s an inexcusable choice. Gonzalez walked 45 times…that’s half of what Roberto Alomar walked, and Alomar played second base. Belle, Griffey, Mo Vaughn, Palmeiro, McGwire, Thomas, Thome, and Knoblauch all had had at least 90 walks, and most of them were over 100. Gonzalez scored 89 runs…Alex Rodriguez scored 141 runs. Seven guys in the league scored 120 or more runs…but Gonzalez is the MVP? How?
 
Gonzalez played 134 games for the Rangers…Mo Vaughn played 161 games. I’m not saying the Vaughn deserved to win, but Gonzalez missed 28 games, 17% of the season. Vaughn isn’t a great choice, but he would’ve been a better choice than Gonzalez.
 
But…there were too many better choices…if it had been A-Rod versus Gonzalez, A-Rod would’ve won the award. But it was A-Rod versus Gonzalez versus Thomas versus Griffey versus Vaughn versus Belle, with a dozen other versus thrown in there. Gonzalez floated to the top because the Rangers won the West, and the best players on the other division leaders were Bernie Williams (who needed about 12 more homeruns to be taken seriously) and Albert Belle.
 
It was a terrible selection, and the writers can’t be forgiven for ignorance, either. They had twenty years of people like Bill James trying to tell them that walks matters, and defense mattered, and they ignored it and gave it to the guy who hit a lot of homeruns and did precious little else.
 
Worst MVP selection ever: Juan Gonzalez, 1996.
 
Dave Fleming is a writer living in Wellington, New Zealand. He welcomes comments, questions, and angry letters from Rangers fans here and at dfleming1986@yahoo.com.
 
 

COMMENTS (23 Comments, most recent shown first)

Kev
Dave,

Was Delmon the 4th best hitter in the AL because he happened(?)to get a lot of CLUTCH hits? Yes, if measured by WHEN. After all what is the purpose of hitting? If it's not when it counts,it's an empty stat.
12:57 PM Nov 28th
 
Kev
Dave,

Not sure if your response answers "WHEN". Got to do some digging, but thanks very much for getting back to me
3:06 PM Nov 17th
 
DaveFleming
Yes, Brian, Juan Gonzalez was a poor choice for both of his MVP awards. Actually, every Ranger who has won the award has been a lousy choice, according to WAR (and conventional wisdom). And I'm staggered that you didn't mention Ivan Rodriguez over Pedro Martinez.

Josh Hamilton, when he wins the award this yera, will be the first Ranger who MAYBE deserved it. Me: I'd go with Cano or Crawford.
3:46 PM Nov 16th
 
DaveFleming
Sorry, Kev...we had a long holiday on the South Island, in the staggeringly beautiful Milford Sound. Sadly, there isn't a lot of internet access down there.

Trying to find the question....you wrote: "the fatal flaw in all evaluative systems is that they don't address the question of WHEN the numbers were collected." Well, Win Probability Added does that...WPA basically measures how much each event contributed to a team winning or losing. This is one of Tom Tango's inventions, and it's listed on fangraphs.com. Sadly, the data doesn't go back as far as Jackie Robinson.

It's tough to find the perfect stat...the problem with WAR is the one that Richie cites: it compares players against others at their position. John Valentin probably WASN'T the MVP of the 1995...it's just the rest of the shortstops in baseball were kinda lousy, so he looks really good when set against THOSE guys. By contrast, there were a bunch of sluggardly corner outfielders and first basemen, so Mo Vaughn and Albert Belle don't stand out.

Win Shares: I like Win Shares, but I think it has the opposite problem: under Bill's system, a player's defensive position has no bearing on the measure of their offensive contribution. Joe Mauer does VERY well under WAR, because he's head-and-shoulders above the rest of the catchers in baseball. He does well under Win Shares, too, but it's not nearly so dramatic.

WPA comes the closest to measuring purely on contexts. But: it gives too much weight to the situational contexts. Delmon Young finished 4th in the AL in WPA...do we really believe that a hitter with a .333 on-base percentage was the fourth best hitter in the AL last year? Jason Heyward is 4th in the NL...he had a fine year, but he obviously wasn't the fourth best hitter in the NL. He just had a lot of clutch hits, a lot of moments when he happened to come up and deliver when the game was on the line.

Does that answer your question? Lemme know.
3:41 PM Nov 16th
 
BrianFleming
More disapointing I think for A-rod would be the results of the 1998 MVP vote which again went to Juan Gone instead of A-Rod. Juan had a conventional line of .318/45/157 with 2 SB and a WAR of 5.1 to win the award where A-rod as a shortstop, hit .310/42/124 with 46 SB and a WAR of 7.9 and he finished 9th in the voting!!!! He went 40/40 and no one noticed even though when Jose Canseco did it 10 years earlier he was named a unanimous MVP! Amazing how poorly the MVP voting goes, I would say though, Juan Gonzalez was a damn poor choice for either MVP he won.
1:52 PM Nov 16th
 
Kev

Dave,

Still waiting for your response.


12:04 PM Nov 15th
 
renny
My apologies for the errors, that'll teach me not to write after my bedtime. However, I do stand by the basic idea. And please note that I was talking about African Americans, not Latinos of African descent. Very different things; don't know if you caught any of the discussion this year about lack of African Americans in baseball, in which young African Americans emphatically made the point that culturally most of them don't see Latinos as sharing their experience or culture...
12:49 PM Nov 12th
 
DaveFleming
Um, RP: what are you talking about?

Orlando Cepeda won over Ron Santo. George Bell won over Wade Boggs. Don Baylor won over George Brett. Mo Vaughn won over John Valentin. Guillermo Hernandez won over Cal Ripken, Jr.
12:13 AM Nov 12th
 
renny
Far be it from me to point out that in every (every) case cited above, if there was a conflict between the WAR MVP and the actual MVP, and one was black and one was white, in every case it went to the white guy. But sportswriter are cool...
6:11 PM Nov 11th
 
hankgillette
You have Hank Sauer and Joe Torre in the wrong leagues.
12:35 AM Nov 11th
 
ventboys
Good stuff, Dave. I'm not a huge WAR fan, but it works about as well as anything for this purpose. How about a companion article, the best MVP votes?

If it was me, I would look for the times when there were a couple (or more) players with very similar WAR (if you use that, why not?), where the writers got the right guy. Another way would be to look at the times when there was a candidate that seemed to be the public's fair haired boy (like Stargell in 1979, McLain in 1968, maybe Lou Brock 1974 or several Jeter years) but did NOT win, and the voters got the right guy.
12:26 AM Nov 11th
 
ventboys
Good stuff, Dave. I'm not a huge WAR fan, but it works about as well as anything for this purpose. How about a companion article, the best MVP votes?

If it was me, I would look for the times when there were a couple (or more) players with very similar WAR (if you use that, why not?), where the writers got the right guy. Another way would be to look at the times when there was a candidate that seemed to be the public's fair haired boy (like Stargell in 1979, McLain in 1968, maybe Lou Brock 1974 or several Jeter years) but did NOT win, and the voters got the right guy.
12:26 AM Nov 11th
 
jdw
1996 is a bit odd. 3.2 dWAR for Griff vs 0.8 dWAR for A-Rod... which is very odd. That wiped out A-Rod's +2.1 oWAR advantage.

.358/.414/.631/1.045 A-Rod
.303/.392/.628/1.020 Griffey

A-Rod has 22 more outs in 39 more PA's.

I would be intested to see the W-L Shares. I tend to think it wouldn't be too tight, and that perhaps WAR is quite a bit off defensively.
9:30 PM Nov 10th
 
tbell
Why use WAR (for the crustily anachronistic, that's "Wins Above Replacement") when no one has any idea what replacement level actually is?
6:30 PM Nov 10th
 
DaveFleming
Richie is right: Jackie wasn't the best hitter in the NL, just the best in relation to other players at the position. Thanks for the correction.

I'll try to tackle Kev's comments later...unless he beats me to it.
2:35 PM Nov 10th
 
Kev
Dave,

This is one of your best articles--the commentary is a pleasure. Would you reply to Richie's comment (immediately below yours)?
In my opinion, there was no one close to Jackie in the NL (Berra in the AL), at bat or in the field as a clutch performer. The fatal flaw in all evaluative systems, sabermetrics included, is that they don't address the question of WHEN the numbers were collected. For example, HOFer Don Drysdale had a career sub-.500 W-L record against contenders for every year in which the Dodgers either contended or won. Hardly HOF stuff.
So was Jackie best hitter for the period you cite? Dunno. Is WAR enough? I suggest not because as I understand it, it looks downward rather than upward for its merit. For me, using intuitive "When", if you accept its application, Jackie was the best player offensively and defensively in the NL for that period. Perhaps I should do a work-up on Jackie similar to that on Drysdale--maybe I'd shock myself.
Again, please answer Richie.

Thanks again for a provocative article.



1:26 PM Nov 10th
 
Richie
Thanks, andrewg!
11:15 AM Nov 10th
 
slideric
You show 8 pitchers not receiving awards when they should have. Also two pitchers who should not have gotten awards who did, Konstanty and McLain who as I recall were both media favorites. There also appears to be an age bias with younger players not receiving credit. Thanks I also hope this means more writing from you.
8:42 AM Nov 10th
 
papahans5
The Grady Sizemore wikipedia entry on 2010 has indeed been changed, but I rummaged around in the dumpster and found it. A classic: "After an injury-plagued 2009, 2010 was sure to be a career year for this budding superstar. After having played in 33 games, Grady showed he could hit about as good as actor Tom Sizemore (of Breaking Point fame). Cleveland's management had no excuse for this happening to the over-paid centerfielder, so decided it would be best to invent an injury to retrospectively make the brutal beginning of the season seem logical. In panic mode, something Cleveland finds themselves in quite often, they shut down Sizemore for the remainder of the season and shortly thereafter, [[microfracture surgery]] was performed on his left knee. Critics expect 2011 to be another banner year for the player they refer to as "el douche-bag," which translates to "the douche-bag." Expect to see Cleveland in the World Series in 2056 with a veteran Grady Sizemore leading their way.
1:38 AM Nov 10th
 
Richie
Apparently too late on the Sizemore Wiki page, though. Hardly nothing at all under 2010 there. What'd we miss??
1:07 AM Nov 10th
 
Richie
And thanks yet yet again again for the article, Dave! In a writin' frame o' mind, hmm? :-)
1:03 AM Nov 10th
 
Richie
Correct me if I'm wrong, but offensive WAR still compares 2nd basemen to 2nd basemen rather than hitters in general, right? Just 2nd baseman only-offensively compared to fellow 2nd basemen only-offensively?

In which case, Jackie Robinson was not the best 'hitter' in the league for five straight years, if any of those. Just always offensively more better than his positional replacement than any other position player.
1:02 AM Nov 10th
 
DaveFleming
I should add that these are the worst of the BBWAA era...the post-1931 awards. I didn't want to get into the weird rules of the earlier awards, because the strange rule about 'previous winners not being eligible' made a lot of those awards really terrible. I didn't want the list to be dominated by guys who won when Babe Ruth should've won. There were some really bad MVP selections back then, but the rules MADE the selections bad. You couldn't vote for Ruth, so you get someone like George Burns winning in 1926 (4.5 WAR), when Babe Ruth hit like three George Burns's (12.0 WAR). You can't hold the voters responsible for the silly rules back then...so Babe Ruth/George Burns don't make the list.
12:01 AM Nov 10th
 
 
©2019 Be Jolly, Inc. All Rights Reserved.|Web site design and development by Americaneagle.com|Terms & Conditions|Privacy Policy