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Hey, it's about time for a new thread, right? It's probably also just about time for me to go off on some weird tangent down the dim and misty paths of history... that's how you really know baseball season's coming.

Or we can just blame it all on John Northey. What do you think?

Anyway, we now have exactly 90 years of MVP votes in each league under the current rules (you're allowed to win it more than once, mainly.) How often do they get it right?

What does getting it right even mean? I don't know and neither do you. How can we tell? We would need something like a convenient single digit integer to indicate who was the best player in the league each season. We could then see how they did in the MVP voting.

Well, gosh. I've complained about WAR often enough, and anything that depends on a theory of the game. But this kind of crude, dumb exercise is exactly what WAR is good for.

I did get the clear impression, as I scrolled through 90 years of voting, that the NL voters had done a slightly better job than AL voters. As it turns out, NL voters gave the MVP to the player with the most WAR 32 times in 90 years. Which is more often than AL voters did likewise (27 times in 90 years.)

One should immediately be aware that roughly one-third of the time the player who led the league in WAR without winning the MVP was a pitcher. Since the advent of the Cy Young Award in the mid-1950s, and its extension to both leagues a decade later, a sizeable contingent of voters think either: a) that pitchers by definition can't be the MVP, or b)  that they've got their own award anyway.  Shut up and stop complaining.

And so a pitcher has won the AL MVP just 11 times in 90 seasons, despite a pitcher being the AL player with the highest WAR in 34 of those seasons. In the NL, 29 pitchers have had the highest WAR and won just 9 MVP awards.

Even so, the voters managed to make some strange choices among the pitchers. The 11 MVP awards AL voters gave to pitchers only went to the league leader in WAR 3 times - 4 times a position player's season had a better WAR and 4 times some other pitcher's season was better.  The pitchers who must have been baffled by the voters choosing some other pitcher were Dizzy Trout (1944), Wilbur Wood (1971), Dave Stieb (1984), and Roger Clemens (1992). The four position players were Babe Ruth (1931), Lou Boudreau (1948), Carl Yastrzemski (1968), and Rickey Henderson (1981).

The NL's pitcher MVPs look a little better - 6 of the 9 pitchers did lead the league in WAR. Only  twice did some other pitcher appear to have a better season: Ewell Blackwell (1950) and John Antonelli (1956). Willie Mays also looks a wee bit better than Sandy Koufax in 1963.

Pitchers - they complicate everything. They're all liars and crybabies, right? But as a rule - they really haven't won as many MVP awards as they probably deserve.

And catchers have won more then they deserve. Catchers have won even fewer MVP awards than pitchers - just 8 in each league - but since 1931 only one catcher had led his league in WAR. That's 2012 NL MVP Buster Posey. Strangely, 6 of 16 awards given to catchers were given to a pair of New York City catchers during a single five year period (1951-1955.) But catchers are a problem, too. They generally don't play quite as many games as the other hitters, and no one has yet figured out a truly convincing way to account for their defensive contributions. (Jeff Mathis, folks, my ride or die!)

Anyway - let's summarize.

There have been 90 AL MVPS.
27 of them went to the player with the most WAR.
34 times there was a pitcher with more WAR than the MVP.
50 times there was a position player with more WAR then the MVP.
Yes, that adds up to more than 90, as 21 times there was a pitcher and a player with more WAR than the MVP.

There have been 90 NL MVPs.
32 of them went to the player with the most WAR.
29 times there was a pitcher with more WAR than the MVP.
48 times there was a position player with more WAR then the MVP.
Which adds up to more than 90 as 19 times there was a pitcher and a player with more WAR than the MVP.

So... what was the worst MVP vote ever?

I suppose it's a tie, with a fairly massive gap of 5.9 in WAR between the league leader and the MVP. But we're going to give the No-Prize to....

Juan Gonzalez, 1996.

I imagine a lot of you saw this one coming. Gonzalez season, according to BBRef, was worth just 3.8 WAR and thus nowhere near as valuable as Ken Griffey. This is interesting, because their hitting statistics are about as close to identical as one could ask for. Gonzalez hit .314/.368/.643 with 47 HR and 144 RBI. Griffey hit .303/.392/.628 with 49 HR and 140 RBI. The difference between the two seasons is a matter of their home parks - Gonzalez played half his games in that hitter's paradise down in Arlington - and defense. Gonzalez played right field, and not particularly well. Griffey played an outstanding centre field. I don't know that the real gap in value is quite as large as WAR makes it look. But it was pretty substantial.

But we do have another season with a gap of 5.9 between the MVP and the player with the most WAR. And it's in the Other League, which provides a pleasing symmetry. And who was this lucky individual?

Joe Torre, 1971.

Torre was always a very good hitter, but in 1971 he hit .378 on his balls in play. That's a little weird. Naturally, his BAVG just jumped, from .325 to .363 and his RBIs went from 100 to 137. Both figures led the league, and he was thus rewarded. There were 3 pitchers and 6 position players with more impressive WAR and no one's was better than Chatham's own Ferguson Jenkins. Fergie won 24 games and posted a 2.77 ERA, pitching 325 IP while calling Wrigley Field home. BB-Ref says that was worth 11.8 WAR, and that Tom Seaver and Dave Roberts also had more valuable seasons. And if you didn't want to vote for the pitcher - you could start with Willie Stargell (runner-up in the voting) who hit 48 HRs and drove in 125 runs, and throw in Roberto Clemente, Henry Aaron, Bobby Bonds, Willie Mays, and Rusty Staub before you needed to look at Torre.

Other truly egregious votes:

1992 Dennis Eckersley (5.8 WAR less than leader.) Oh, this one really stunk. The Eck had a nice season, but he pitched just 80 innings. He saved 51 games, and in 40 of them he had a lead of two runs or more. How much leverage does that really involve? Eck's year gets 2.9 WAR, which is quite a bit less than the 8.7 WAR of Roger Clemens or the 8.2 of Mike Mussina, who both pitched three times as many innings while winning 18 games apiece with ERAs of 2.41 and 2.54. And if you don't like pitchers, you still had Kirby Puckett. Eck's 2.9 WAR is almost the lowest of any MVP winner ever. Freddie Freeman and Jose Abreu both had a higher WAR in a 60 game season this year just past. The only MVP winner with a smaller WAR than the Eck was Willie Stargell in 1979, and Stargell had to share his award with Keith Hernandez, who was far more deserving (if not quite as deserving as Dave Winfield.)

1934 Mickey Cochrane (5.7 WAR less than leader.) Cochrane was a catcher, which has its own issues. He was also the player-manager. This was his first year in Detroit, and he took them to the World Series. Cochrane was a great player and he had a fine season (4.5 WAR) - but come on, people. Lou Gehrig hit .363/.465/.706 with 49 HR and 166 RBI (10.2 WAR.) That mighty performance was good enough for fifth place. Lou never did get any respect.

1974 Steve Garvey (5.3 WAR less than leader.) Sometimes a narrative takes over. This was Garvey's first season as the everyday first baseman, he was a write-in vote to start the All-Star game, the Dodgers went to the World Series, and maybe there wasn't an obvious alternative. Lou Brock was the runner-up, mainly because he stole 118 bases. Mike Marshall, Johnny Bench, and Jimmy Wynn all did better in the voting than your WAR leader. That was Mike Schmidt, having his first outstanding season but for a team that went 80-82.

1979 Don Baylor (5.2 WAR less than leader.) This is a fairly famous blunder by the voters. Baylor was still a good player (he didn't just lead the league in RBIs - he also led the league in Runs Scored) and he was still mostly an outfielder (97 games in the field.) The Angels won the division, and Baylor was always, always renowned for the intangibles he brought to a team. And there may have been something to it. Later in his career, he'd seem to wander from team to team, and hey presto - he'd find himself in the post-season yet again (Boston 1986, Minnesota 1987, Oakland 1988.) But Fragile Freddy Lynn, who'd already won an MVP, was busy putting together the best season of his life: .333/.423/.637 with 39 HR and 122 RBI while playing  a Gold Glove centre field.

1984 Willie Hernandez (5.2 WAR less than leader) I actually missed this one on my first pass - it's an especially weird one because Hernandez didn't have the league's best WAR among AL pitchers in 1984. That was the eternally star-crossed Dave Stieb, and because I'd put Stieb's numbers into the proper column (filled in almost every other instance by a pitcher who had posted the league's best WAR despite a position player winning the award) I was briefly under the assumption that Hernandez's WAR was only 3.1 worse than the league leader. Sorry, Cal. This is not quite the only time such a thing happened. In 1950, Konstanty won the NL MVP with 4.4 WAR, Blackwell led the pitchers with 5.2, and Eddie Stanky led everyone with 8.2.

1985 Willie McGee (5.1 WAR less than leader.) To be fair, no NL position player had more WAR than McGee in 1985. He had quite the year. But that was Dwight Gooden's year. He was just 20 years old, and he went 24-4, 1.53 with 268 Ks in 276.2 IP. His ERA+ was 229. I mean, mercy! But he was a pitcher. His Cy Young was unanimous, he was fourth in MVP voting.

1955 Yogi Berra (5.0 WAR less than leader.) This was that weird period of obsession with New York catchers by the voters. Berra and Campanella each won their third MVP in 1955, and both votes were pretty bad. Berra's own teammate, Mickey Mantle, led the league in OBP and Slugging, things which absolutely no one would have noticed in 1955. Mantle's batting average was 30 points better and he hit 10 more HRs than Berra - but Yogi cleared 100 RBIs and Mantle was one short. And no one had a clue that Mantle led the league in walks, with almost twice as many as Yogi.

That's every MVP vote where someone had 5 more WAR than the award winner. We can list a few more awful ballots, where some unlucky soul had 4 more WAR than the award winner:

In the AL

1974 Jeff Burroughs over Gaylord Perry or Rod Carew.
1947 Joe DiMaggio over Ted Williams
1969 Harmon Killebrew over Rico Petrocelli
1987 George Bell over Roger Clemens or Wade Boggs (I know, that narrative was all around Trammell.)
1976 Thurman Munson over Mark Fidrych or Graig Nettles
1995 Mo Vaughn over Randy Johnson or John Valentin

In the NL

1964 Ken Boyer over Willie Mays
1935 Gabby Hartnett over Arky Vaughan
1987 Andre Dawson over Tony Gwynn (I was beating the drums for Ozzie Smith, myself!)
1962 Maury Wills over Willie Mays
1944 Marty Marion over Stan Musial

So... here's the question I really want answered.

Which player got screwed most often?

And that turns out to be pretty easy.

Willie Mays 8 times (1955, 1957, 1958, 1960, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1966*)

Barry Bonds 4 times (1991, 1995, 1996, 1998)
Ted Williams 4 times (1941, 1942, 1947, 1951)
Roger Clemens 4 times (1987, 1990, 1992, 1997)
Mickey Mantle 4 times (1955, 1958, 1959*, 1961)

Greg Maddux 3 times (1992, 1994, 1995)
Mike Trout 3 times (2012, 2013, 2015)
Alex Rodriguez 3 times (1998, 2000*, 2002)
Rickey Henderson 3 times (1981, 1985, 1989*)
Albert Pujols 3 times (2006, 2007, 2010*)

* The asterisk beside the seasons of some of the position players indicates that while they were the position player with the highest WAR in their league, there was a pitcher who did better. You know, if pitchers are even eligible, and so forth.

It's odd how sometimes players win in years they didn't deserve to win, and then get shut out some other year when they really were the most deserving player. The voters owed Mike Trout one in 2019 after messing him around three times, but it certainly could have gone to Alex Bregman that year. Jason Giambi won it in 2000, stealing it away from Pedro or A-Rod, rather than in 2001, when he really was the best player. It was Ichiro who won it in 2001, rather than in 2004, when it went to Vlad Guerrero instead. Joey Votto took an award away from Roy Halladay or Albert Pujols in 2010, but was on the other side of it when Giancarlo Stanton beat him for the prize in 2017.

I rather expected to see those mysterious intangibles play a larger role in MVP voting. But hey, not so much. Off the top of my head, besides Stargell in 1979 when he shared the award, the most obvious occasions when the MVP was someone being rewarded for his "intangible" contributions were 1965 (Zoilo Versalles), 1988 (Kirk Gibson) and 2007 (Jimmy Rollins.) But Versalles and Gibson, in particular, accumulated almost as much tangible WAR as the fellow who led the league. Those were more reasonable outcomes than I expected. And Ivan Rodriguez did beat out Captain Intangibles himself in 1999 (although Pedro was even more deserving than Jeter that year.)

You could probably also consider the awards given to Miguel Tejada, Terry Pendleton, and all of the catchers to be Evidence of Things Not Seen.

Finally, there are a number of MVP votes that really stand out to me - not because they were particularly awful miscarriages of justice, but because of their impact on the player's legacy. Most of them were in the AL.

1954 Minnie Minoso led the AL with 8.2 WAR to Berra's 5.3. Minoso still hasn't made it into the Hall of Fame, and it's too late for him now.

1967 Ron Santo was easily the best player in the NL, and WAR agrees with me - but Orlando Cepeda got the MVP. Santo had to die before they'd put him in the Hall of Fame, which still grinds my gears.

1973 Bobby Grich led AL position players with 8.3 WAR - not as impressive as Bert Blyleven, but ahead of MVP Reggie Jackson. Making the Hall of Fame case for Grich has been notoriously complicated. This might have helped.

1976 Graig Nettles led AL position players with 8.0 WAR - less than Mark Fidrych, more than MVP Thurman Munson. I don't know if either old Yankee is Hall-worthy, but Munson's probably got a somewhat better chance than Nettles.

1994 Kenny Lofton led the AL with 7.2 WAR, but Frank Thomas won his second MVP in as many years. I've grown more and more sold on Lofton's HoF qualifications, and an MVP award would make a nice addition to an impressive resume.

Well, there's several hours of my life I'll never get back. But now I know these things!

Worst MVP Votes Ever! | 27 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
scottt - Monday, March 08 2021 @ 04:16 PM EST (#395008) #
RIP Rheal Cormier.
jerjapan - Monday, March 08 2021 @ 06:23 PM EST (#395010) #
Great read Magpie!  To my early adolescent brain, Eck was just so damn fearsome.  I thought he'd been deserving of that MVP.
Sad news about Cormier, only 53 years old. 
John Northey - Monday, March 08 2021 @ 07:29 PM EST (#395011) #
Some 'wrong' MVP's are easy to explain by storyline (Gibson coming to LA to provide leadership) or by the team winning (Mickey Cochrane). Others not so much (Bell & Dawson '87).

Thanks for the article. Saves me from doing it at some point (many of my articles seem to be from going 'what about this or that' and then digging in and figuring 'might as well write an article' rather than forgetting it).

Poor Stieb. He was screwed by voters so much. 7th in Cy voting in 1984 despite leading the league in WAR. Tied with 'winning pitcher' Jack Morris. 2 relievers were 1/2 for voting that year as voters loved 20 game winners who had under 10 losses (fail in either category and you'd have trouble getting the award). In 1983 Stieb didn't get a single Cy vote (or MVP) despite a 7.0 WAR season instead it went to LaMarr Hoyt having 24 wins (and a 3.66 ERA) and no pitcher getting votes had more than 5.5 WAR (Quisenberry - who was the best closer of that time frame but never got the respect he deserved). Stieb had 3 years of 7+ WAR, and a 6.8 (all in a row - 1982-1985) but never got a top 3 Cy Young finish. Voters in the 80's were idiots who tended to look at 'wins' and turn off their brains (sometimes also looking at 'saves' or in Hernandez' case his 34-1 saves-blown saves ratio which was impressive).
Glevin - Monday, March 08 2021 @ 08:02 PM EST (#395012) #
1987 was a shocking year. Trammell was the clear MVP because he was the better player on the team that won and Dawson? He was in the 15-20 best offensive player range and on a last place team. Voters just looked at RBI and voted for who had the most.
scottt - Tuesday, March 09 2021 @ 08:49 AM EST (#395014) #
Cormier died of aggressive lung cancer even though he was a non-smoker.

16 years in the majors. The staying power of throwing left handed.

Blue in SK - Tuesday, March 09 2021 @ 10:25 AM EST (#395020) #
Thank you for this interesting read! Appreciate your efforts for this and many of your historical perspective articles.
Chuck - Tuesday, March 09 2021 @ 11:01 AM EST (#395024) #
Which player got screwed most often?

And that turns out to be pretty easy. Willie Mays 8 times, Barry Bonds 4 times, Ted Williams 4 times, Roger Clemens 4 times, Mickey Mantle 4 times

This list perfectly illustrates skills that have long been undervalued: drawing walks and playing defense.

Starting pitchers, at least back in the 250+ IP days, often got short shrift on MVP voting since they had their own award and even if they were duly considered, were not adequately considered, unless they were a relief pitcher in which case they were over-considered.

People can say what they want about quants "ruining" baseball by landing on the conclusion that an adherence to TTO optimizes output, but it is fine time that we live in a world where most sportswriters did not complete their mathematics education in primary school.

Magpie - Tuesday, March 09 2021 @ 03:50 PM EST (#395034) #
Voters just looked at RBI and voted for who had the most.

In the specific case of Dawson, even more than the RBIs, there was a narrative at work. Collusion was an open secret, Dawson was caught up in it, and no one even offered him a contract. He famously signed a blank contract with the Cubs, letting them fill in the numbers. And then he went berserk all over Wrigley Field. It was a cool story.

I mean, Eric Davis was obviously the best player in the league in 1987. But he missed more than 30 games.
John Northey - Tuesday, March 09 2021 @ 04:45 PM EST (#395037) #
Heck, I much preferred Tim Raines narrative that year - missed April due to the rules of the day (couldn't resign with the Expos until May 1st) then hit the crap out of the ball day one, was MVP of the all-star game, led the Expos to a near playoff appearance. It was amazing to watch him single handedly nearly push that team into the playoffs. Yet the voters went for the guy who couldn't hit as well, field as well, run as well or lead his team out of last place. Sigh.
Parker - Tuesday, March 09 2021 @ 08:20 PM EST (#395042) #
This was great. Thanks, Magpie.
John Northey - Tuesday, March 09 2021 @ 08:53 PM EST (#395043) #
The worst being Gonzalez isn't a shock. His 2nd MVP was almost as bad 2 years later - There were 3 guys with 7+ WAR as hitters: SS Nomar Garciaparra hit 323/362/584, SS Derek Jeter hit 324/384/481 for one of the best Yankee teams ever (1998), and Albert Belle (if you like poor fielding OF) hit 328/399/655 but the royal screwjob was for Seattle's SS A-Rod who hit 310/360/560 with strong defense and came in 9th(!). Even before drugs and the mega contract he was hated by sports writers (he even scored 123 runs, drove in 124 with 42 HR and 46 SB so by any writer standards he was 'wow') but his team did finish sub 500 (not that that stopped Andre 'last place leader' Dawson). Nope, gave it to the poor fielding OF who hit 318/366/630 with 45 HR and 157 RBI and 4.9 WAR. Ugh.

Wonder if any 2 time MVP was so unworthy of either award?
Super Bluto - Wednesday, March 10 2021 @ 04:00 AM EST (#395046) #
This is interesting of course but brings up the question of if it is fair to judge the past via stats invented after the fact? I confess to being surprised many times over the last few years when checking on an individual's WAR numbers (in both directions). Perhaps some of you have had the same experience. Should we blame the sportswriters of 1981 or whatever for failing to see the value of a particular player based on a stat that had yet to be invented?

Chuck - Wednesday, March 10 2021 @ 08:53 AM EST (#395048) #
Should we blame the sportswriters of 1981 or whatever for failing to see the value of a particular player based on a stat that had yet to be invented?

With the rise of (the now quaintly anachronistic term) sabermetrics in the 1980s -- Bill James and his annual Baseball Abstract, Pete Palmer's The Hidden Game of Baseball, Craig Wright's The Diamond Appraised and to a much lesser degree, the Elias Sports Bureau's foray into the field -- there was no longer any excuse for the patently terrible voting exhibited in the 1990s. Yes WAR was not yet a thing, but its precursors were around. Certainly sophisticated Strat-O-Matic players of the time were valuating on-base and defensive skills, and even the concept of replacement value, when constructing player evaluation models.

It was widely remarked then, some 30-40 years ago, as analytics (not yet a term) was ever so slowly seeping into the mainstream, that a whole generation of sportswriters needed to age out of the system before widespread change could be seen (to say nothing of the seismic shift required in MLB front office hiring practises). Many writers were would-be journalists assigned to the ghetto of sports reporting, and old school traditionalists averse to anyone young daring to presume to enlighten them or anyone else (the way old people always treat young people). Worse yet, those doing the enlightening were outsiders -- nerds!!! -- and what could they possibly know about the real world? Their hostility to the "numbers guys" was worn as a badge of honour.

Of course, youthful bravado invariably leads to over-confidence and the pendulum would sometimes swing too far with players being drafted solely based on numbers and in the absence of proper scouting ("we're not selling jeans here"). It took a long time for something akin to equilibrium to be reached.

Oh dear, this post was a little windier than I had planned.

John Northey - Wednesday, March 10 2021 @ 10:31 AM EST (#395049) #
The trick with WAR is it measures a lot of things together. Yes, slight mistakes by writers makes sense, especially if the difference was due to a guy being really bad on defense or really good as few methods beyond the 'eyeball test' existed in the pre-2000's. However, even a Blue Jays addict like myself who was a teenager knew George Bell had no business being the MVP in 1987. For so many writers whose job was to know this stuff to get that wrong was a big deal. I see Andre Dawson that year as even worse as his team came in dead last. Every writer back then would talk on and on (and on) about how the V was for Valuable and that means you had to help your team. If your team was dead last then how much did you really help it? Helped it avoid 100 losses? A side effort might be to see how many MVP's came from 1st place or 2nd place teams (or teams within 5 games at the end) thus the player was on a contender, not a pretender.

In 1998 we had 3 shortstops who had just as good or better offensive seasons by every measure outside of raw RBI's than Gonzalez but he still was handed an MVP - now Texas did win their division both years but were not close to being the best team in the league (90 and 88 wins). As much as I detest Jeter he should've been MVP in 1998 (Yankees best by a mile, he was their best player and played at a key position) by the standards of writers of the day.

Lots of weird votes - 1993 picking a pure DH in Frank Thomas over John Olerud (who was a fine fielding 1B) despite Olerud out hitting Thomas by most measures and they moronic voters also put Paul Molitor ahead of Olerud despite his being a DH on the same team. Traditional stats...
O: 363/473/599 24 HR 107 RBI
M: 332/402/509 22 HR 111 RBI
T: 317/426/607 41 HR 128 RBI
As you can see RBI's decided who got the MVP and who came in 3rd. BA/OBP/Slg were common then and people were starting to talk about walks and their importance. Griffey Jr had an even better year but for a 4th place team thus had no chance unless a story could be made about him (like with Dawson). That years MVP bugged me a lot as it seemed so painfully obvious at the time who was more valuable of the 3, but writers fell in love with Thomas as the clear MVP for his team (every last one voted for him over all others) which won the AL West while Olerud had Molitor, Alomar, and many other top players.
Magpie - Wednesday, March 10 2021 @ 05:44 PM EST (#395056) #
About ten years ago, I looked at MVP voting - at the time I was looking for a) leading the league in a particular category; b) position played; c) team finish. The offensive categories were HR, R, RBI, BAVG, SLUG, OBP, and OPS+. It was already pretty evident that the voters had moved on from being unduly impressed by RBIs and Gonzalez in 1998 is still the last man to win an MVP while leading the league in that category. You're now much more likely to find an MVP who leads the league in runs scored and nothing else (Freeman 1920,  Bryant 2016,  Pedroia 2008, Rollins 2007, Pujols 2005.)  We've now had 180 MVPs, and 65 have led the league in Slugging and 61 in RBIs.

Since modern MVP voting began, just three men have led their league in all seven of those offensive categories - it involves winning the Triple Crown, of course, and that's happened exactly once in the last 50 years. Only two of those men (Robinson in 1966 and Yastrzemski in 1967) won the MVP. Ted Williams somehow finished second in 1942. Williams was once again the runner-up in his other Triple Crown season (1947) as was Chuck Klein in his Triple Crown year (1934.) Also in 1934, Lou Gehrig led the AL in HR, RBI, BAVG, SLUG, OBP, OPS and came in fifth in the voting. Go figure.
soupman - Wednesday, March 10 2021 @ 08:47 PM EST (#395059) #
I remember thinking Morneau was another really bad choice. The difference in raw WAR isn't as bad, but relative to the field he was the 19th most valuable player (tied with jays legend Troy Glaus!). By comparison, JuanGon and that guy that used to point his finger and yell were 17th most valuable the years they won.

I didn't do this systematically, and there's a reasonable chance my ability to tally rows by hand is off. I wonder if there's someone who overcame more players than Morneau?
Magpie - Wednesday, March 10 2021 @ 09:57 PM EST (#395060) #
I wonder if there's someone who overcame more players than Morneau?

I would assume it would be Eckersley, winning in 1992 with 2.9 WAR. There were 16 players on the MVP ballot worth more WAR than Eckersley but there were many, many, many more such players in the league who didn't receive any MVP votes at all. Every team in the AL in 1992 had at least two players who could surpass Eck's 2.9. Milwaukee had nine of them and the Blue Jays had eight. Altogether, there 62 players in the league (38 hitters, 24 pitchers) worth at least 3.0 WAR.
Magpie - Wednesday, March 10 2021 @ 10:14 PM EST (#395061) #
There were 42 AL players (27 hitters, 15 pitchers) who beat Gonzalez 3.8 WAR in 1996 and 34 players (22 hitters, 12 pitchers) better than Morneau 4.3 in 2006. I think Eck's going to be the champ!
John Northey - Wednesday, March 10 2021 @ 10:15 PM EST (#395062) #
soupman - quick check at BR and I see Andre Dawson in 1987 was tied for 18th with his 4.0. Bell was 10th that year (in both cases not counting pitchers).

Juan Gonzalez in 1996 was tied for 30th (!!!!!) with his 3.8, in 1998 he was better - 19th. Mo Vaughn in 1995 was just 15th best (4.3 WAR). 1979 Don Baylor was 28th in WAR (3.7) vs Fred Lynn (8.9) and George Brett (8.6 for a team that was a close 2nd in AL West). Not even half the value of either of them.

I'd say no excuse for these pathetic picks. I'm sure I'd find more if I hunted. In most cases it is HR and RBI over any defensive value. And walks? Those are for wimps.
John Northey - Wednesday, March 10 2021 @ 10:56 PM EST (#395064) #
Well, other relievers have a shot. In 1981 Rollie Fingers got the MVP with 4.2 WAR (wow, actually a LOT better than I was expecting but a 1.04 ERA/0 unearned runs allowed will do that over 78 IP) just 8 hitters did better than that (remember only 2/3rd of a season that year). 1984 Willie Hernández (4.8) wasn't too bad with 15 hitters ahead of him (Ripken Jr had a 10 WAR year that season but was MVP the year before and this was a lot of defensive value which would've confused voters then). 2.9 for Eck in 1992 was bad (Manny Lee had more that year for crying out loud at 3.2 - 39 hitters ahead of him).

An oddity I hit - Jim Konstanty was the first reliever named MVP in 1950 - 2.66 ERA, 74 games, 22 saves (not a stat then, retroactively figured out) just 4 blown. One of those blown he threw 3 innings in and got the win. The others were under 1 IP. Once had a 4 inning save (not easy) in a 5-4 game (he didn't allow a hit, just 1 walk) - a very different era. 4.7 WAR would've put him tied for 11th vs hitters, with 8 pitchers ahead of him. Very odd one.

Guess it isn't a shock that no closer has won MVP since Eck's very poor win (he did have a 1.91 ERA but just 80 IP 51-3 Sv-Bl) Funny thing is on the surface his season 2 years earlier was better - 0.61 ERA in 73 1/3 IP 48-2 Sv-Bl 3.3 WAR. I felt at the time the voters were more giving it as a lifetime achievement award.

I'm sure some other doozies are out there. But giving an MVP to a reliever has never made much sense other than to AL MVP voters in the 80's/early 90's
Magpie - Thursday, March 11 2021 @ 09:04 AM EST (#395066) #
giving an MVP to a reliever has never made much sense other than to AL MVP voters in the 80's/early 90's

Yeah, it was that particular group of writers who were particularly sold on the idea (like the guys in the 50s voting for catchers.) The role of relief pitchers was, as usual, evolving - the previous decade had seen Sparky Anderson celebrated as Captain Hook, the Yankees had just turned their most promising starting pitcher in years (Dave Righetti) into a closer, and relievers were for the most part pitching a whole lot more than they would quite soon afterwards.

Jim Konstanty - I wasn't there (honest, I wasn't) - I strongly suspect that a narrative took hold. The Phillies had been just awful ever since they got rid of Pete Alexander. Which happened way back in 1917. They'd improved to third place in 1949, but were still 16 games back of the Dodgers. Then in 1950 they beat the Dodgers in a dramatic pennant race with a bunch of young guys no one had heard of (Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts were both 23, Curt Simmons was 21, Del Ennis was 25.) And it was Konstanty who was doing stuff no one had ever done before. He was really good and no one had ever pitched in 74 games in a season - well, not since the days of Old Hoss Radbourn. Musial, the runner-up on a fifth place team, had a year that was slightly down (if only by his own standards) and it's a good bet that none of the voters knew Eddie Stanky had drawn 144 walks (which had a lot to do with his league-leading WAR) for a third place team.
Chuck - Thursday, March 11 2021 @ 10:55 AM EST (#395071) #
And it was Konstanty who was doing stuff no one had ever done before.

What manner of sorcery is this? 74 games? Surely that, gentlemen, is our MVP. But what about his teammate who pitched literally twice as many innings? Good sir, we have seen that accomplished many a time. It is fine, for what it is, but let it not distract us from the majesty of this novel, trailblazing performance. Paeans will be written to our Mr. K. He is a marvel of the ages. The game, gentlemen, has changed. Let us celebrate.

Magpie - Thursday, March 11 2021 @ 01:15 PM EST (#395077) #
What manner of sorcery is this? 74 games?

Which made me wonder what the record was before Konstanty and it turns to have been... 70. The immortal Ace Adams of the Giants in 1943, first man to pitch in 70 games at the 60'6 distance.

No, I never heard of him either. Adams had toiled in the minors forever, fnally got his chance during the war when he was already 31 years old, pitched in 60 plus games four years running (no one had done that before, either), and jumped to the Mexican League in 1946 when they offered him more money than the $9,000 the Giants were paying him. He lived to be 95 and had no regrets.
John Northey - Thursday, March 11 2021 @ 07:14 PM EST (#395085) #
My favorite is Mike Marshall (first one) throwing 208 1/3 innings in relief (one of 5 years in a row with 100+ IP in relief) in 1974 over 106 games going 15-12 with a league leading 21 saves but 12 blown. 2.42 ERA giving him 3.1 WAR and a Cy Young award and 3rd in MVP voting for a division winning LA Dodger team.

Steve Garvey got the MVP (4.4 WAR) with Lou Brock 2nd with 3.5 (and 118 SB to set the record) - 4th was Johnny Bench with over 7 WAR (leading the league in RBI's too as a catcher - shocked the voters didn't give it to him), Jim Wynn 5th with 7.7 WAR, Mike Schmidt 6th with 9.7. Quite the year for records. In the AL Nolan Ryan set the K record in '73 and set the walk record in '74 (202, broken by himself in 1977 with 204) - oops, wrong on that, Bob Feller walked 208 in 1938, with all other 200+ walk guys being in the 1800's under very different rules/situations. (289 walks in 1890 by Amos Rusie at the age of 19 over 548 2/3 IP - he threw 500+ innings in each of the next 2 years - only 22 innings after the age of 27).
Mike Green - Friday, March 12 2021 @ 10:53 AM EST (#395097) #
Willie Mays also looks a wee bit better than Sandy Koufax in 1963.

Mays does have a slightly higher WAR, but Koufax beat his runs allowed rate throughout his career and spectactularly so in 1963 (and 1964).  When you complete 20 of 40 starts, win efficiency (being able to make the most of the runs you're given) has some value that isn't captured in WAR.  It's not really relevant to a pitcher vs. position player MVP discussion now, or not to the same degree anyways.   

With the Dodgers winning the pennant in 1963, Koufax was a solid MVP choice.  On the other hand, I suspect that bWAR underrated Mays' defence that year (they had him at +12) and it would have been fine if the voters had gone the other way.  Two excellent choices for MVP that year, both with WAR greater than 10.
Glevin - Friday, March 12 2021 @ 06:25 PM EST (#395105) #
I don't care about marginal differences in WAR. WAR is a rough stat where 1-2 WAR difference is meaningless so Mays 9.8 versus Koufax 9.3 is essentially the same.
Magpie - Friday, March 12 2021 @ 09:28 PM EST (#395107) #
WAR is a rough stat where 1-2 WAR difference is meaningless so Mays 9.8 versus Koufax 9.3 is essentially the same.

Absolutely. So Kirk Gibson's 1988 MVP was extremely reasonable. Brett Butler may have had the best WAR of any NL position player, but his 6.8 to Gibson's 6.5 might as well be a dead heat and Hershiser (7.1) got the Cy Young to keep him happy!

Zoilo Versalles in 1965 - the other guy I always thought of as being rewarded for intangibles - to my utter amazement turned out to have most WAR of any AL position player in 1965. Sam McDowell had the most impressive WAR in the entire AL and Sudden Sam didn't even receive a single vote for the Cy Young (only one award back then, and Koufax was unanimous.) But I suspect the 1965 voters would have given it to Mudcat Grant anyway.
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