You hear a lot about this or that player getting robbed in MVP voting. I decided to take a look at every single MVP race in history and decide for myself. Yes, I had way too much time on my hands. Here’s my list of the ten worst MVP selections of all time.
1. 1925 AL Roger Peckinpaugh
Peckinpaugh was a typical good field, no hit shortstop who was winding down his career in 1925. He hit .294 with little power. His on base average was ok – .367, but he also missed 25 games. Now in those days the voting rules precluded prior winners from being eligible, so Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson and George Sisler weren’t eligible. That still left a large number of candidates however. Among those who received votes but didn’t win:
Al Simmons .387/.419/.599 .. In a full season no less. Simmons probably should have won the award.
Harry Heilman .393/.457/.569, also in a full season.
Mickey Cochrane.. had an OPS almost 100 points higher, and played in 8 more games. Cochrane finished 10th.
Particularly mystifying is the case of Joe Sewell. Sewell finished 3rd despite the fact he:
1. Was also a shortstop, and an even better fielder than Peckinpaugh.
2. played 29 more games than Peckinpaugh.
3. Had an OPS 81 points higher.
I suppose you could explain Peckinpaugh’s selction in part to the Senators winning the pennant, and Walter Johnson not being eligible as a prior winner. But if that’s the case, why not Stan Covaleski, who actually had a slightly better year than Johnson, or why not Goose Goslin?, easily the best hitter on the team that year. Sam Rice also had a good year, why not him? Why not 2nd baseman Bucky Harris, who also played an important defensive position well, had pretty much the same offensive statistics, but played in 18 more games? He also happened to manage the team to the world series. Bucky Harris didn’t receive a single vote. By my estimation Peckinpaugh should have finished around 20th, IF I were being generous. No matter how you slice it the 1925 AL MVP award was the worst selection of all time.
2. 1944 NL Marty Marion
Except maybe for this one. Like the 1925 AL selection this one has been universally derided. There were a boatload of people who were more deserving than Marion, second place Bill Nicholson of the Cubs for instance. But the winner SHOULD have been Stan Musial who finished 4th, and a comparison between the two is striking.
1. Both were on the pennant winning Cardinals, so no advantage to either there.
2. Marion was an outstanding defensive shortstop, no question. I’ll go ahead and state this is the sole reason for his award. Musial was a pretty good first baseman. But well, it is first base.
3. Offensively it isn’t even remotely close.
Marion hit way down in the order because, well, he stunk. As a result he came to the plate 565 times compared to Musial’s 667, despite the fact he only played in two less games. Marion hit .267 with a whopping 34 extra base hits. Musial hit .347 with 77 extra base hits (Musial wasn’t even much of a home run hitter in those days). Marion drew only 43 walks, Musial had 90. Marion had 113 runs plus RBIs, Musial had 206. I could go on but you get the idea. I think you could easily state the case Musial was responsible for the Cardinals producing 80-90 runs more than Marion was. Marion’s fielding just isn’t enough to fill that find of gap.
3. 1962 NL Maury Wills
A truly abyssmal selection. Wills won the award for the singular reason of breaking the 20th century steals record with 104. Now the interesting thing about that to me is that second place went to Willie Davis wth 32 steals, an incredible difference of 72. Why was Maury Wills able to steal so many more bases than everyone else, was he THAT fast? Well I don’t know. What I do know is that it didn’t really translate into being a more valuable player. Wills won the gold glove, but he was maybe only a slightly better than average fielder. He did score 130 runs, but mainly because he had Tommy Davis, who had a bizarro career year with a .346 average and 153 RBis and Frank Howard with 31 home runs and 119 RBis hitting behind him. Wills had an OPS of .720 Among those who didn’t win: Willie Mays, .999. Frank Robinson, 1.045, Hank Aaron, 1.008. His Teammates Howard and Davis had over .900. Aging Stan Musial topped .900. A difference of over 200 OPS is quite a lot to make up. Even teammate and Cy Young winner Don Drysdale would have been a better delection.
4. 1959 AL Nellie Fox
The problem with this selection is not so much that Nellie Fox was way worse than everyone else, it’s that there were so many other players who were at least somewhat better. Fox was the gold glove second baseman on the pennant winning White Sox. He was good, but he was only 2 or 3 errors better than average over the course of a season. He also had one of his better offensive seasons, hitting .306 with 71 walks. But like I said he wasn’t THAT great of a fielder, and there were plenty of other selections that would have been better but played on teams that finished less than first. I probably would have given it to Al Kaline.
5. 1913 NL Johnny Evers
In these days it was called the Chalmers award, and Evers of course was best known as part of the Tinkers to Evers to Chance poem. All in all it was a typical year for Evers. he hit .279 with a single home run, and had an OPS of .728. He did draw a lot of walks but people didn’t care much about that back then. He had a much worse year than 1911 when he hit .341 against the same level of competition but finished 20th in the voting. But again, he was a good fielder on a pennant winning team. I might have given the award to pitcher Bill James.
6. 2007 NL Jimmy Rollins
The most recent MVP award clunker and proof even modern voters have their view skewed by misleading statistics. Rollins won the award by a small margin over Colorado’s Matt Holliday, who almost certainly would have won the award had he posted his statistics anywhere but Colorado. Rollins set a major league record with 716 at bats, led the league with 139 runs, and had a 30-30 season (31 home runs, 41 SBs). Impressive until you realize most of those stats are mesleading. 716 at bats simply means he didn’t draw many walks. Despite being second in the league with 212 hits he only had a .344 OBP. his OPS was a mediocre .875. Rollins did win the gold glove at shortstop for a pennant winning team however. Notice a running theme throughout history with these selections? There were a buttload of better hitters in the league including his teammates Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Aaron Rowand. Chipper Jones was probably the best hitter in the league that year, and he finished 7th. Prince Fielder also had an OPS over 1.000. Sure Rollins had a 30-30 season, but so did David Wright, who was a better hitter and won the gold glove at third base. So did Brandon Phillips of Cincinnati who finished 22nd and didn’t win a gold glove at 2nd but probably could have.
7. 1950 NL Jim Konstanty
Stan Musial gets screwed out of yet another MVP award. I suppose you couldn’t give it to him every year. Konstanty did have a pretty good year, going 16-7 with a 2.66 ERA and 22 saves for the pennant winning Phillies. Now this brings up a good question as to how to handle relievers in MVP and CY Young award voting. The other relievers to win the MVP award have been Dennis Eckersly in 1992, Willie Hernandez in 1984, and Rollie Fingers in 1981. All in the American league. In addition Cy Young winning relievers have included Eric Gagne, Mark Davis, Sparky Lyle, and so on. Now I’m of the opinion the value of relievers is a bit overstated. Regardless of how perfect a reliever pitches, he’s only doing it in a third of the innings a starter does. It’s the batting equivalent of hitting .400 in only 200 at bats. Great but so what? Now obviously relievers come into the game at crucial juctures, but usually later when the hitters are more fatigued and they can give it 100 percent. John Smoltz was a very good starter who towards the end of his career, after major injury, became easily the best reliever in the National league. So one wonders, how hard is it really to be a great reliever? Mariano Rivera has certainly been the best over the last 10 years, but has yet to win a single Cy Young or MVP. In any case the other three MVP relievers won it more recently, when a reliever’s role was better defined and in each case they were far and away the best relievers in years where there was no single dominant hitter.
That’s not the case with Konstanty. First of all there was a viable pitching alternative on his own team: Robin Roberts. Roberts might not have been the best pitcher in the National league that year but he was mighty close, and he pitched twice as many innings as Konstanty. But like I said the real winner should have been Musial. Musial in 1950 led the National league in batting average, Slugging Average, was 2nd in OBP, 5th in runs and RBIs, 8th in home runs, 6th in walks, and did all this while A) having for him pretty much an off-year and B) playing for a terrible team with little pitching or hitting support.
8. 2001 AL Ichiro Suzuki
One of my pet peeves is when a rookie of the year winner isn’t really a rookie. Satchell Paige in 1948 won the rookie of the year award. I’m sorry but he was no rookie. Hideo Nomo in 1996 wasn’t a rookie, and Suzuki, who was an established star in Japan was no rookie. In any case he burst onto the Major League scene in 2001 leading the league in hits, stolen bases, and batting average while winning the Gold Glove with exactly one error all season. That’s dammed impressive. But not as impressive as people thought at the time. He edged out Jason Giambi who hit .342 with a .477 OBP and .660 SLG, both easily tops in the league. Of course we now know about the Steroids, and perhaps you can discount Giambi, but how about Bret Boone who hit .331/37/141 in 3rd place? or Alex Rodriguez who went .318/52/135 and finished only 6th? Of course Arod has since been linked to Steroids and maybe that’s the point: even then we knew something was fishy and didn’t trust these eye popping statistics. Suzui brought something new and exciting and nonartificial to the game. As a side note of the top 20 MVP vote getters in the AL in 2001 eight have been directly linked to steroids and another 2 or 3 have been highly suspect. A sad case indeed.
9. 2002 AL Miguel Tejada
Speaking of steroids. Miguel Tejada won the 2002 award with a slightly better OPS than Ichiro the previous year. Unlike Ichiro, Tejada was a mediocre fielder at best however, and 2nd place Rodriguez also played shortstop, won the gold glove, hit 57 home runs, had an OPS over 150 points better, and by and large should have been the slam dunk selection. Of course A) there was still backlash over the massive contract Rodriguez has signed with Texas and B) people were likely already suspicious about Arod and steroids (Tejada wasn’t suspected at the time). But from a purely objective standpoint it shouldn’t have been close. Jim Thome also would have been a far better choice.
10. 1996 AL Juan Gonzalez
Although I can’t argue too terribly much with the 1998 NL selection of Sammy Sosa over Mark McGwire, McGwire’s snub in 1996 is far more puzzling. Juan Gonzalez always did well in MVP voting because he hit for a pretty decent average, hit lots of home runs, and lots and lots and lots of RBI’s. All things MVP voters love. Now both Gonzalez and McGwire were both roid users so that’s a wash, and really in 96 the public wasn’t thinking about the issue that much anyway. In any case no less than 9 players had over 1.000 OPS in 1996. Of those Gonzalez was the 8th highest. He also had the lowest on base percentage of any of them and scored the fewest runs. McGwire had an OPS over 100 points higher than any of these guys and finished 7th in the voting, Frank Thomas was 2nd to McGwire in OPS and finished 8th in the voting. Just looking at the top 20 names or so I just can’t for the life of me figure out what make Gonzalez the MVP.
1987 NL Andre Dawson over Jack Clark.
1926 NL Bob O’Farrell over Hack Wilson
1960 NL Dick Groat over Willie Mays
1979 AL Don Baylor over Fred Lynn
1995 AL Mo Vaughn over Albert Belle
2006 AL Justin Morneau over Travis Hafner