For the second straight year, the AL MVP voting has yielded the same result and once again–the same debate. Miguel Cabrera won his second straight AL MVP award, besting the young phenom Mike Trout. I’m certainly on Team Trout™ (defensive metrics are real, guys), but that doesn’t mean that it is so undeservedly Cabrera’s to justify the uproar. But, there were a number of years in MVP history that were so undeniably bad decisions; I would not only like to point them out, but award an MVP to some players who really deserved it. Just about every MVP voting has some controversy around it, but the following, in my opinion, were completely misguided.
2002 AL MVP
Winner: Miguel Tejada
Should Have Been: Alex Rodriguez
We all know now that Alex Rodriguez was probably juicing during this period, but then again–so was Tejada. Tejada in 2002 compiled 4.5 fWAR, a wRC+ of 129, and a line of .308/.354/.508 with 34 home runs. That’s an All-Star caliber year. Rodriguez, though, was slightly (sarcasm) beyond that. In 2002 he put together: 9.8 (!!!) fWAR, a 158 wRC+, a line of .300/.392/.623, and had 57 home runs. It’s not like Tejada’s defense was any better to compensate–his UZR/150 was -13.7. Even by traditional numbers, Rodriguez surpassed Tejada in: home runs, runs, OBP and Slugging Percentage.
1992 AL MVP
Winner: Dennis Eckersley
Should Have Been: Kirby Puckett
This one made me cringe. There is no denying that until Mariano Rivera (and Trevor Hoffman), Dennis Eckersley was the best closer in baseball history. But the MVP? That’s a bit much considering he only pitched 80 innings. Those 80 innings were absolutely stellar–1.91 ERA, 1.72 FIP, 10.46 K/9, 0.56 HR/9–but it’s hard to argue that he was the most valuable player in the American League given that he didn’t even pitched ten full games worth of innings. Kirby Puckett finished 2nd in the voting, and boy did he deserve it. His 5.9 fWAR was the second best of his career, and he put up a wRC+ of 136 and line of .329/.374/.490. Sure, McGwire in that year put up a 171 wRC+, 6.3 fWAR, and 42 home runs, but his defense was also horrible. And because defense metrics prior to UZR are not at all precise, I’ll cut some slack to Puckett here. And while the Puckett/McGwire debate may be more interesting, I just find it laughable that a closer won this award.
1947 AL MVP
Winner: Joe DiMaggio
Should Have Been: Ted Williams
The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry came to a head in the late 1940’s (The Summer of ‘49 was legendary ), and the two poster children for this rivalry were Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. In terms of accomplishments, they traded blow-for-blow. DiMaggio hit in 56 straight games, and Williams hit .406. One would hit more home runs, another the batting title. In 1947, DiMaggio bested Williams in the AL MVP voting, according to the voters. But not really. In that year, DiMaggio had a respectable 4.9 fWAR–certainly not his best and actually one of the lowest marks of his career, but definitely All-Star caliber. He put up an excellent 152 wRC+ with a line of .315/.391/.522, but his defense was sub par even with his positional adjustment (albeit defensive metrics aren’t as precise in 1947), he had -8.9 defensive runs below average. This defensive line certainly hurts him against Williams, who is by far the superior hitter. Williams’ defense was actually better in 1947 with -6.7 defensive runs below average. That’s merely a small bump in contribution to his total value, as he put together an fWAR of 10.5. His offensive numbers were just off the charts–his line of .343/.499/.634 and 207 wRC+ blows DiMaggio’s marks out of the park. Man, he could hit.
1961 AL MVP
Winner: Roger Maris
Should Have Been: Mickey Mantle
This one is interesting because the decision to award Roger Maris the AL MVP in 1961 was tied to his single season home run record. It’s interesting, because had Maris hit 59, would Mantle have won? Mantle and Maris battled for the record for most of the season as they traded blow-for-blow, but overall it was clear that Mantle was the better player. Putting up 162 wRC+ certainly is not shabby, but in my opinion that is a little low for someone who hit 61 home runs. This is because Maris’ value was completely based on his home runs, thus his ISO. This explains why he had two amazing seasons and then faded. He only had a career BABIP of .254, so if the ball was not out of the park, then it was probably an out. Mantle, on the other hand, was an all-around better player. He possessed raw power, speed, and decent defense during his prime. So although he “only” hit 54 home runs in 1961, his 196 wRC+ and near league average defense certainly beats out Maris’ all-or-nothing offensive capabilities and poor defense.
1962 NL MVP
Winner: Maury Wills
Should Have Been: Willie Mays
Again, hindsight is 20/20. It’s really strange to see that an above average player beat out Willie Mays in the prime of his career. The vote was pretty close, as Mays was only 7 vote points away from winning, but still. And the reason for this is just because viewers overvalued baserunning (many people still do). In 1962, Wills stole 104 bases, which is an amazing feat and one of the best seasons on the base paths, and it definitely gave him great value. Other than his stolen bases, his hitting was completely league average, and his defense was actually pretty good (speed, duh) with 7.9 defensive runs above average. But Willie Mays is Willie Mays. His fWAR of 10.5 was the second highest mark of his career, he put up a 162 wRC+, and his defense was nearly three times better than Wills–20 defensive runs above average. I think if voters understood how many runs stolen bases actually contributed, then I’d hope Mays would have won.
1934 AL MVP
Winner: Mickey Cochrane
Should Have Been: Lou Gehrig
It’s hard to compare players of different positions, especially when one is a catcher. I think in general that catchers are underrepresented in metrics when determining awards, but it’s really hard to make an argument for a pretty good catcher in comparison to Lou Gehrig. Cochrane’s offensive numbers are great for catchers at 123 wRC+ in 1934, and his defense was certainly above average. Gehrig, though, tore it up. His 49 home runs, 194 wRC+, and line of .363/.465/.706 puts this season as one of the best seasons of his career. Like in the case with the 1947 and 1961 voting, it’s very difficult to reasonably compete with a player who approaches the ~200 wRC+ mark. Obviously this was unknown to the voters in all of these cases, but even the more traditional statistics would back up my claim.
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