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November 16, 2012

The BP Wayback Machine

What Were They Thinking?

by James Click

While looking toward the future with our comprehensive slate of current content, we'd also like to recognize our rich past by drawing upon our extensive (and mostly free) online archive of work dating back to 1997. In an effort to highlight the best of what's gone before, we'll be bringing you a weekly blast from BP's past, introducing or re-introducing you to some of the most informative and entertaining authors who have passed through our virtual halls. If you have fond recollections of a BP piece that you'd like to nominate for re-exposure to a wider audience, send us your suggestion.

On Thursday, the BBWAA announced its selections for AL and NL MVP, and while you may not have agreed with the results, they were from from the most controversial we've ever seen. James Click identified some of the least-defensible first-place MVP votes ever in the piece reprinted below, which was originally published as a "Crooked Numbers" column on November 17, 2005.
 

Earlier this week, the BBWAA handed out the real hardware: the MVP awards. In case you've been too busy watching the newly renamed ESPNTO ("All Terrell Owens, All the Time"), know that Alex Rodriguez edged out David Ortiz in the AL and Albert Pujols squeaked by Andruw Jones in the NL. These races have been covered in detail both here and elsewhere, and we can all agree that, as Keith Woolner put it to the internal BP mailing list, "the anti-DH gene is dominant over the clutch-hitting gene," so instead I want to focus on the bottom of the ballot, to something BP staffer David Haller pointed out.

Down there at the bottom of the NL ballot, we see the names of Scott Eyre and Jose Reyes, indicating that two writers felt that those two players were the 10th most valuable players in the NL last year. Let's put aside Jayson Stark's comments that defense is both intangible and of less value than leadership--the conclusion being that when a player is in the field, saying "Hey batter, hey batter, swing batter" is more important than actually fielding the ball--and instead focus on the fact that Reyes finished the year with a .300 OBP (10th worst in the NL among players with at least 450 PA), but clearly got a vote because of his 60 SBs. Eyre was actually seventh among NL RPs in WXRL, but picked up zero saves on the season. On one hand, we have the classic overrated player and on the other, one who's actually impressively underrated. Neither of them deserves a vote for MVP, but it raises interesting questions about the criteria used by the BBWAA.

Motivations and reasoning aside, the fact of the matter is that Eyre had a 2.5 WARP1 for the season--a thoroughly unremarkable total--and still garnered a vote. Reyes wasn't much better (3.5 WARP1). But were these the worst MVP votes in the history of the game? Hardly.

Going by straight WARP1, only two players have ever garnered MVP votes while performing below replacement level, both way back in 1950: Ken Wood and Sam Dente. Wood, the right fielder for the 58-96 St. Louis Browns, batted .225/.299/.396, was 0-for-4 on stolen base attempts, played the worst defense of his career, and totaled a -0.3 WARP1. The only statistic in which he led his team was GIDP. Dente was the shortstop for the 67-87 Washington Senators with a .239/.286/.299 line on the season that was only hurt more by his -10 FRAA and 1-for-2 record in stolen base attempts. Dente led the Senators in games, ABs, sacrifices, and GIDPs. I have no idea why these two were deemed worthy of MVP votes.

Of course, those were only ninth- and tenth-place votes, so it's possible that local writers had some small motivation and didn't think tossing a tenth-place vote to a terrible local player would hurt anyone. A more egregious offense is to distribute first-place votes to players who were objectively terrible. To determine the worst first-place votes ever cast, let's look at the list of players who ranked lowest in their league in WARP1 and yet still received a first place vote:

                            1st Place                WARP
Year  Player            Lg    Votes    Win   WARP1   Rank
----  ----------------  --  ---------  ---   -----   ----
1992  Joe Carter        AL      4       N     4.3     92
2003  Miguel Tejada     AL      1       N     4.5     91
1956  Pee Wee Reese     NL      3       N     2.6     91
1989  George Bell       AL      4       N     4.9     85
1979  Willie Stargell   NL      4       Y     4.4     82
2003  David Ortiz       AL      4       N     4.9     75
1982  Bruce Sutter      NL      2       N     5.1     70
1996  Juan Gonzalez     AL     11       Y     5.0     68
1989  Dennis Eckersley  AL      3       N     5.2     67
1937  Harry Danning     NL      1       N     3.8     67

As if there wasn't already enough fodder for the "Joe Carter: The Most Overrated Career Ever" campaign, now that group can add "Worst First Place MVP Votes Ever Cast" to their list. Miguel Tejada's 2003 vote is somewhat understandable: he won the award in 2002 and his 2003 campaign, while certainly worse, wasn't a dramatic drop-off. However, 2003 was Tejada's worst year with the glove and while he maintained his walk rate and ISO, the .030 point drop in batting average tanked his WARP numbers.

On this list, of course, are the two worst MVPs ever awarded according to WARP1 rank: Willie Stargell's 1979 and Juan Gonzalez's 1996. Stargell's--a tie with Keith Hernandez, #2 in the NL in WARP1--was largely a result of his storybook year as the captain of "The Family." He was the face of the Pirates as they marched to the World Series Championship, blaring that gawdawful song the entire way. His low WARP1 total was partially due to his limited playing time, but while his .281/.352/.552 line on the season is impressive, it's not quite on par with Hernandez's .344/.417/.513 (11.1 WARP1) or Dave Winfield's .308/.395/.558 (12.1 WARP1), especially when defense is considered.

The 1996 AL MVP race was not unlike this year's contest, as Rodriguez took on a DH in the battle for the hardware. As opposed to 2005, when "clutch" hitting stats were supposedly the reason for considering a DH on equal ground with one of the league's best fielders, the 1996 debacle was a debate about first-place teams and RBI. Gonzalez had a huge season with the bat (.314/.368/.643 with 47 HR and 147 RBI), but AL DHs hit .277/.364/.466 that year. Rodriguez, on the other hand, hit .358/.414/.631 with 36 HR and 123 RBI. His .326 EqA easily trumps Gonzalez's .304, but more importantly, Rodriguez did all this while players like Omar Vizquel were still the norm at shortstop. The average AL SS hit .269/.321/.408 in 1996, a line that Rodriguez destroyed while outperforming every other AL shortstop in the field except for Toronto's Alex Gonzalez.

The 1996 MVP vote is usually cited as one of the worst of all time, and having it validated by Gonzalez's terrible WARP1 ranking only furthers that line of thinking. Is it worse than Stargell's election in 1979? By WARP1 rank, yes, but at least Hernandez was able to split that award. Rodriguez got nothing in 1996 for one of the greatest seasons of all time by a shortstop. At least in 2005, the voters gave the award the most deserving player, even if they tossed a few misplaced tenth-place votes.

Related Content:  MVP,  Bbwaa,  Mvp Award

18 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Ric Size

BP should have a new article discussing the biggest story in MLB yesterday, which was the 2012 AL MVP vote. John Perroto posted a great link to Nate Silver's blog, and Jeff Passan wrote a nice supporting article (before the voting was publicly released) which I will quote below, but it behooves a sabermetric metric website like BP to make the case for itself.

"Like those who ignore the truths of climate science and evolution – of fact – the people who dismiss Nate Silver allow their preconceptions and egos to get in the way of the ultimate goal: the truth. If the best path to that is subjective observation, may our eyes be forever honest. Should we find otherwise, however, may our pride step aside to let the greater authority guide us.

My colleagues in the BBWAA failed to do that, and when Cabrera wins – I'm guessing he gets at least 20 of the 28 first-place votes – it will not be a travesty, a sham, a mockery or a traveshamockery. It will just be wrong. A fight 15 years in the making will continue until not just the electorate but the public beyond accepts that when it comes to appreciating baseball, math is not some scary android trying to take away our game. It's here, more than anything, to help us understand it and love it even more."

Nov 16, 2012 05:55 AM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

I'm not sure what more we have to say--we ran a few articles and podcast episodes about the Trout vs. Cabrera debate at the end of the season, and little has changed since then. The voting went pretty much as expected.

Nov 16, 2012 05:58 AM
 
Ric Size

State your case when everyone is watching and listening. Timing is everything. That's one BP reader's opinion.

Nov 16, 2012 06:33 AM
rating: 1
 
axis95

I sort of agree with RIC. I was expecting an article today after the results were released. It's true that nothing has changed, but it's a big story and as a subscriber would have liked to have seen something even if it was more or less retread. It's almost as if BP made a concerted effort to stay above the non-sense.

Nov 16, 2012 07:10 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

I understand the expectation. We certainly didn't come to any agreement not to talk about it today, but other than rehashing the results, I'm at a loss for what else there is to say. We've written and talked a bunch about it, and people on both sides of the debate have been going back and forth for weeks with little apparent progress toward consensus. At some point, I feel like you just have to accept that the BBWAA awards aren't going to look like the Internet Baseball Awards and move on. No reason to let the dissenting view dominate the discourse indefinitely.

Nov 16, 2012 07:23 AM
 
Ric Size

The point is, we have new data as of yesterday. We know who exactly voted for whom, and many of the voters gave their reasons online via twitter, facebook, blog, etc.. What about those who remain silent? This should be analyzed and critically discussed, because frankly, some of the reasons given for voting for Miguel Cabrera are totally lame.

Mike Trout had a historically great rookie season, and deserved to be recognized as the best player in MLB in 2012. Just because a group of dinosaurs refused to do so, doesn't mean BP should ignore this story because it already knows better. Honestly, it comes of as negligent to a portion of your readership.

Best

Nov 16, 2012 07:25 AM
rating: -2
 
redsox2011
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Trout.."deserved to be recognized as the best player in MLB in 2012."..Maybe he was but, not the most valuable.

Nov 16, 2012 10:31 AM
rating: -4
 
John Carter

In 1991, after contending for the championship since 1983, Pat Gillick and the Blue Jays began searching for the "right chemistry". They found it with guys like Joe Carter who kept his teammates happy and loose and Dave Winfield who challenged the fans to bring some "synergy" to the stadium. It appears to have worked with back-to-back championships. Carter may be overrated as a player on the field, but I'm not convinced his contributions otherwise didn't make up enough to disqualify him as an historically overrated player.

Nov 16, 2012 08:24 AM
rating: -3
 
NYYanks826

Can we discuss how Mark Feinsand of the NY Daily News not only voted Raul Ibanez 10th in the AL MVP voting, but he also voted Jeter fifth, JIM JOHNSON 3rd, and didn't even note for Robinson Cano?

Guessing this guy has a grudge against Robby, maybe because of a locker room conversation or something, but if you're making that kind of vote, you should NOT be allowed to vote for the MVP again.

Nov 16, 2012 08:47 AM
rating: 8
 
Ric Size

Evidently there will be no AL or NL MVP voting discussion here at BP. Is the same thing going to happen for the HoF ballot results in a few weeks?

Nov 16, 2012 12:19 PM
rating: 0
 
BillJohnson

Well said. I find this kind of bad voting to be far more disgusting, and far more concerning, than differences of opinions on the values of traditional vs. advanced metrics and making the playoffs vs. stand-alone performance. There should be no place for personal vendettas, blatant homerism, etc., in BBWAA balloting. Of course, there has been for as long as the awards have been given -- just think back to the Ted Williams outrage of 1947 -- but that doesn't make it acceptable.

Nov 16, 2012 12:34 PM
rating: 3
 
frampton
(870)

Not sure where you're getting his vote -- this post (http://tinyurl.com/feinsand) doesn't list Johnson or Ibanez, has Jeter 3rd. True, no Cano (Soriano is 8th).

Nov 16, 2012 15:26 PM
rating: 1
 
NYYanks826

That was a mistake on my part. John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press voted that way...not that the quality of Mark Feinsand's vote was much better, though.

Nov 16, 2012 15:38 PM
rating: 1
 
Tythelip

Juan Gonzalez played RF in 1996.

Nov 16, 2012 08:54 AM
rating: 2
 
mikebuetow

Right -- 102 games. Am wondering myself why the comparison to the DHs.

Nov 16, 2012 11:31 AM
rating: 0
 
bigdonut

If anyone is wondering about the Eyre vote in 2005, it was Andrew Baggarly (see his explanation for Pagan this year at 10): http://www.csnbayarea.com/baseball-san-francisco-giants/giants-talk/Baggs-NL-MVP-Award-ballot?blockID=802397&feedID=2796

Nov 16, 2012 12:27 PM
rating: 1
 
Ric Size

Good post of a well-thought-out and well-explained MVP ballot. Any fan must respect that.

Here's a link to a few ballots with brief explanations:

http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/mlb-big-league-stew/28-al-mvp-voters-explained-choice-between-cabrera-014852073--mlb.html

Nov 16, 2012 13:06 PM
rating: 0
 
BillJohnson

Bob Dutton's point here -- "I talked to a lot of players (not just Royals) and to other reporters who talked to a lot of players -- and the result was overwhelming [for Cabrera]" -- is an interesting one. Take whatever pot shots at his Cabrera vote you wish, but there was method to his madness, and he did his research. I applaud the idea of seeking the input of other AL players. Those guys may not be professional statisticians, but they are also not the big dumb lunks of stereotypes gone by, and if their own experience (which includes fielding, running the bases, etc.) tells them that Cabrera was their "overwhelming" preference, it's something to listen to, and balanced against other, more analytical inputs.

Evan Grant's statement, however -- "For those carping about the BBWAA awards, a quick reminder: They are OUR awards" -- merely suggests that he is an idiot.

Nov 16, 2012 16:39 PM
rating: 3
 
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