Awards Time: MVPs That Weren’t

23 Oct

Alright, we had a bit of a layover inbetween awards, so here’s some linkbacks to the preivous ones:

CY Young  Rookie of the Year   Manager of the Year

OK, so now it’s time to decide WHAT exactly makes a ‘most valuable player’.  This post will NOT be about the current MVP award, that will be later in the week.  For many years, a not so secret requirement of many baseball writers is that the winner must come from a playoff team or contender.  Only Andre Dawson’s 1987 selection (which I’m not sure was even just) and Alex Rodriguez’s 2003 selection bucked this trend.  Barry Bonds recieved the award in 2001 and 2004 when his team failed to make the playoffs, but they won 91 and 90 games those years and his performance simply could not be denied.  However, this quasi-requirement of playoffs or bust has led to some fairly sub-par picks, in my view.  For example:

- Barry Larkin was not in the top 10 in OPS in 1995 when he won his MVP.  I’m not sure 51 SB make up for that fact, nor does his position.  Sure, playing SS HAS to factor in, but enough to jump that much? Oh yeah, his team made the playoffs.  Barry Bonds led in OPS (1.008) and Mike Piazza was 2nd (1.006).  I’d have probably given it to Piazza because of his position, but the extra games Bonds played does make up for some of that.  Larkin even had two teammates (Ron Gant and the oft-overlooked Reggie Sanders) that outhit him that year.
Kirk Gibson will always be remembered in 1988 for his one at bat in the World Series where he could barely move enough to run around the bases, was running on pure adrenaline, and then smacked a two-run game winning homer in the 1st game and propelled the LA Dodgers.  Surely his MVP that year was deserved.  However, there was this entire 162 game ‘season’ thing.  And he had a fine season himself, as he was 4th in OPS and 7th in runs created.  But it’s those very numbers that should have prevented him from getting the MVP.  Darryl Strawberry (.911 OPS) and Will Clark (.894 OPS) had obviously better years at the plate, and Gibson can’t even fall back on the ‘defense’ argument (LF) to boost anything.  Strawberry led OPS and Clark led runs created, so Gibson gets the nod?  And all of this ignores that this was quite a year for pitchers like David Cone, Orel Hershiser, Danny Jackson, etc.

-Then there’s another way the writers fuck up…overrating the ‘save’.  So much so that in 1992 they gave the CY Young AND MVP to Dennis Eckersly, the guy who threw 80 innings that year.  Yes, 80 innings.  This over guys who played 150-160 games or threw 200+ innings and impacted their teams’ chances in far greater ways simply by PLAYING MORE.  Yes ol’ Denny had a great year (80 IP, 93Ks, 1.91 ERA, 0.91 WHIP) but he simply didn’t pitch enough.  Maybe if he was a starterImagine that, balance quality and quantity to give out awards.  The thing is, that’s not even the worst thing about the 1992 award…Joe Carter, with the 807 OPS and 309 on-base percentage, was THIRD in the voting.  THIRD! But he had 34 homers and 119 RBI!  And nothing else.  If there was ever a textbook definition of overrated player, Joe Carter’s picture would be next to it.

- Speaking of Oakland As players, the 2001 MVP was Jason Giambi.  Period.  Ichiro was not the MVP.  He wasn’t.  Just no.  And 838 OPS to 1.137?  Which would you pick?
- 1999 was a year of some great performances.  Pedro Martinez had one of the best pitching seasons of all-time, with a 2.07 ERA and 0.92 WHIP when the league ERA was 5.07.  Manny Ramirez came into his own with power, patience and presence at the plate, Rafael Palmeiro(roids or not), Jim Thome was smasing balls, Nomar Garciaparra (as a SS), Derek Jeter(as a SS),  and so many others destroyed the ball this year.  And the best catcher that year? Ivan Rodriguez, with only Darrin Fletcher any close this year.  However, when compared to so many other hitters, and Pedro, there’s no comparison.  His .332 average looks great, but coupled with a 356 OBP?  And 25 steals as a catcher is amazing, but caught 12 times as well?  If you’re going to get caught like that, what’s the point in running? And grounding into 31 double plays isn’t that great either (worst in the league).  But he won the MVP based on batting average (7th), steals, being a catcher, and a catchy nickname (Pudge).

- 1998 was the year that Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire saved baseball.  Well, baseball would’ve been ‘saved’ regardless, but it’s a nice story.  And Sammy Sosa belted 66 homers, had a funny little hop after every one, and his team made the playoffs.  But he wasn’t nearly as good as Mark McGwire, who that year his 70 home runs, had an OPS of 1.222 to Sosa’s 1.024 (who was 4th behind Todd Helton and Barry Bonds as well), and got on-base a ton more too.  Sosa had 18 SB, but was caught 9 times, and played RF.  McGwire played 1st, but the defense is purely pointless between these two.  This was simply an injustice.

- Miguel Tejada rode his 2002 MVP into a big contract with the Baltimore Orioles, even after he struggled somewhat in 2003.  Tejada (862 OPS) flashed a lot of power at the SS position, fielded his position fairly well, and played every single game. In fact, he’s played every single game in the past 6 seasons.  The guy’s a workhorse and definitely one of the best SS in the league.  Thing is, Manny Ramirez (1.097 OPS) simply had another tremendous season, and was robbed of the MVP.  Or Alex Rodriguez (1.015 OPS) was robbed of the MVP as well, as he outproduced Tejada at the plate and in the field, at the same position.  However, Tejada had all the pub going for him with the should’ve been  (Jason Giambi) 2001 MVP leaving the Oakland As for New York, and them still making the playoffs.  And since it’s all about the playoffs, a guy not in the top 10 in OBP, slugging, OPS or runs created per 27 outs(he was tied for 10th in total runs created due to his ability to stay healthy).   It would’ve been a coin-flip between Ramirez or Rodriguez.  Either way, they got robbed.

- Juan Gonzalez won the 1996 MVP because he had a lot of RBIs, which are a team-dependent stat.  He also had a slug-heavy OPS, wheras SS Alex Rodriguez’s was OBP heavy and was still higher (1.045 to 1.011).  Don’t forget about the positions they both played too. AND Rodriguez played 12 more games.  So what gives here?  I literall have no clue as to why voters would have gone for Gonzalez other than the HR and RBI numbers.   Oh, and the Texas Rangers finished 4.5 games ahead of Rodriguez’s Mariners.  So what?  Did Gonzalez somehow contribute more to the Rangers by hitting slightly worse and playing a less demanding defensive position?
- Finally, here’s one I don’t think was a huge rob job by the voters, but was still suspect.  Everyone remembers Terry Pendelton’s ‘gift’ in 1991.  Barry Bonds was robbed right?  He had a better OPS  (924 to 880), his adjusted OPS was higher too, and the Pittsburgh Pirates also made the playoffs (to face Pendelton’s Atlanta Braves).  He also created more runs per 27 outs (7.45 to 6.95) .  Thing is, Pendelton played 13 more games, as Bonds only played 140 games that season.  He also played a tougher defensive position, and both of these close the gap on those numbers.  Quantity and quality matter, so while this appears to simply be a gross injustice, it’s at least only a minor one.   And the funny thing about this debate is that Bobby Bonilla, Bonds’ teammate, actually had more total runs created then either of them (112 Bonilla, 111 Pendelton, 109 Bonds).  So what the hell to make of this mess?  Was it simply a toss-up?  Looks like it, and perhaps Pendelton’s position drives him past the other two.

So, by my count, Manny Ramirez should have one or two.  Instead, he’s never been ranked higher than 3rd for MVP voting, which is simply ridiculous.  A guy who is probably one of the top 3 hitters in the current era(past 10 years, Bonds, Manny, Rodriguez) may retire without an MVP?  And speaking of Rodriguez, he should have at least one more, if not two.  For some reason people are inclined to downplay Rodriguez’s contributions to almost every team he’s on.  When he left Seattle, people said they got better because of it.  When he was with Texas, many didn’t want him to have the MVP because of his team’s record.  And now as a Yankee he’s booed by the home fans and is daily fodder for talk radio stations who need time to fill.  Everything he does is analyzed, critiqued and ridiculed in one way or another.  And the guy’s a freaking monster of a hitter! It really makes no sense except that it may just be human nature to want successful people to fail.

BTW, I found a good list of MVP controversies here: Page 2′s list  5 of the ones I listed above were on the list.

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