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INCONSISTENCIES IN MVP VOTING

INCONSISTENCIES IN MVP VOTING

INCONSISTENCIES IN MVP VOTING

As I point out in my soon-to-be-released book MVP, one of the things that has always baffled me as a baseball fan is the inconsistency displayed through the years by the members of the BBWAA in their annual MVP voting. In some years, the writers seem to pay little attention to statistics in their assessment of the various candidates before casting their ballots. Instead, they give top priority to less tangible qualities such as fielding, baserunning, and leadership skills, and, also, to the final placement in the standings of a particular player's team. However, the voters have placed an inordinate amount of emphasis on statistics in other seasons, as can be evidenced by their selections of Andre Dawson in 1987 and Alex Rodriguez in 2003 – two men who won the award despite playing for last-place teams. There also seems to be no set pattern as to how players with distinctly different styles of play are judged from one year to the next. The evidence for this last fact can be found in the incongruous manner with which outstanding pitchers on pennant-winning teams have been treated when pitted against superb position players on contending clubs. Following are just a few examples of instances in which the writers have demonstrated a considerable amount of inconsistency when making their selections. The Milwaukee Braves won their second consecutive National League pennant in 1958, and Hank Aaron was the team's best player. Aaron hit 30 homers, drove in 95 runs, scored 109 others, and batted .326. Those were fine numbers, but they were not nearly as impressive as the figures posted by Chicago's Ernie Banks. The Cubs slugger led the N.L. with 47 home runs and 129 runs batted in, scored 119 runs, and batted .313. As a result, the writers selected Banks as the league's Most Valuable Player in spite of Chicago's sixth-place finish, 20 games off the pace. The following season, Banks was selected again as the league's MVP, even though the Cubs finished tied for fifth, 13 games behind the pennant-winning Dodgers. Banks had another exceptional year, hitting 45 home runs and leading the league with 143 runs batted in. His numbers far exceeded those of Wally Post, the Dodgers' leading MVP candidate. Post batted .302, but he hit only 19 homers and drove in just 74 runs. Therefore, it is quite clear that the voters placed far more importance on Banks' impressive numbers than they did on his team's mediocre performance. However, the writers were of a completely different mindset in 1960. Milwaukee finished second in the standings, seven games behind pennant-winning Pittsburgh. Braves teammates Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews both had exceptional years. Aaron hit 40 homers, drove in a league-leading 126 runs, scored another 102, and batted .292. Mathews slugged 39 homers, knocked in 124 runs, scored 108 others, and batted .277. Yet, the writers opted instead for Pirates shortstop Dick Groat, who led the league with a .325 batting average, but hit only two home runs, knocked in just 50 runs, and scored only 85 others. The Los Angeles Dodgers won the National League pennant in 1965, finishing just two games ahead of the second-place San Francisco Giants. While several other players contributed greatly to the success that Los Angeles experienced that year, most notably shortstop Maury Wills and pitcher Don Drysdale, the Dodgers' most outstanding performer was unquestionably Sandy Koufax. The lefthander won the pitcher's Triple Crown by dominating all league pitching categories. He finished 26-8, with a 2.04 ERA and 382 strikeouts. There is little doubt that the Dodgers would not even have come close to winning the pennant without him. Yet, Willie Mays also had an exceptional season for the second-place Giants. He led the league with 52 home runs, drove in 112 runs, scored 118 others, and batted .317. Mays helped San Francisco to remain in the pennant race to the very end with his outstanding performance, and he was rewarded for his efforts at season's end by being named National League MVP, outpointing Koufax in the balloting, 224 to 177. This, despite the fact that Koufax's Dodgers won the pennant and Koufax led N.L. pitchers in five major categories, while Mays led league batsmen in just one. The very next year, the Dodgers repeated as N.L. champs, once again edging out the Giants in a very close pennant race, this time by just 1 ½ games. The Pirates finished third, just three games back. In what turned out to be his final season, Koufax had another phenomenal year, winning his second straight Triple Crown. He finished the season with a record of 27-9, an ERA of 1.73, and 317 strikeouts. He also led the league in innings pitched, complete games, and shutouts. Willie Mays had another outstanding season for the Giants, hitting 37 home runs and driving in 103 runs. However, he was not the league's top outfielder that year. Pittsburgh's Roberto Clemente had the most productive season of his career, hitting 29 home runs, driving in 119 runs, scoring 105 others, and batting .317. He was rewarded by being named league MVP, narrowly outpointing Koufax in the voting, 218 to 208. Yet, Koufax's Dodgers finished ahead of Clemente's Pirates, and the Dodger lefthander led the league in six statistical categories while Clemente failed to lead the league in any. The Yankees and Red Sox went right down to the wire in the American League East in 1978, both finishing the regular season with 99 wins. As a result, the two teams were forced to play a one-game playoff in a winner-take-all scenario. New York prevailed and then went on to win the pennant and World Series. None of that would have been possible, though, had it not been for lefthander Ron Guidry, who had an absolutely amazing year. Louisiana Lightning, as he was known, kept the Yankees within striking distance for much of the year as Boston streaked while New York struggled. When the Red Sox finally began to show signs of vulnerability in late July, the Yankees seized the opportunity to gradually make up a 14 ½ game deficit over the season's final two months. However, they wouldn't even have been that close if Guidry had not been able to virtually guarantee them a victory every fifth day. The lefty led the league with 25 victories, against only 3 defeats, and he also topped the circuit with a 1.74 earned run average and nine shutouts. Boston outfielder Jim Rice, though, also had a fabulous year. He led the league with 46 home runs and 139 runs batted in, batted .315, and scored 121 runs. Rice also finished first in hits, triples, slugging average, and total bases. At season's end, he was selected league MVP, outpointing Guidry, 352 to 291. It seemed that the BBWAA clearly set a precedent in these three elections. In each instance, its members opted for an outstanding everyday player on a pennant-contending team over a superb pitcher who played for the pennant-winner. However, that trend was reversed in 1986 when Boston's Roger Clemens was selected A.L. MVP over New York's Don Mattingly. The Red Sox captured the American League East title that year, finishing 5 ½ games in front of the second-place Yankees. Boston's Roger Clemens had a great year, finishing 24-4, to lead the league in wins. He also led the league with a 2.48 earned run average, and he finished among the leaders with 238 strikeouts and 254 innings pitched. Mattingly, though, kept New York in the pennant race for virtually the entire year with arguably his finest all-around season. He hit 31 home runs, drove in 113 runs, batted .352, scored 117 runs, and led the league with 238 hits, 53 doubles, and a .573 slugging percentage. Yet, the writers selected Clemens over Mattingly in the MVP voting, by a margin of 339 to 258. The Pirates finished first in the National League East in 1971, seven games ahead of the second-place Cardinals. Pittsburgh outfielder Willie Stargell had an excellent year, leading the league with 48 home runs, finishing second with 125 runs batted in, scoring 104 runs, and batting .295. But St. Louis third baseman Joe Torre had an even better season, leading the N.L. with 137 runs batted in, a .363 batting average, and 230 hits. In spite of the Pirates' first-place finish, Torre was able to outpoll Stargell in the MVP balloting by almost 100 points. Just two years later, in 1973, Stargell had another superb season, leading the league with 44 home runs, 119 runs batted in, 43 doubles, and a .646 slugging percentage, scoring 106 runs, and batting .299. Pittsburgh finished a close third in the N.L. East, just 2 ½ games behind the first-place Mets. Pete Rose helped lead Cincinnati to the Western Division title that year, leading the league with 230 hits and a .338 batting average, and scoring 115 runs. However, with only five home runs, 64 runs batted in, and a .437 slugging percentage, his overall numbers were dwarfed by Stargell's. Yet, Rose finished first in the MVP balloting, 24 points ahead of runner-up Stargell. The Detroit Tigers finished third in the American League East in 1990, nine games behind first-place Boston. Tiger slugger Cecil Fielder was unquestionably the most imposing hitter in baseball that year, leading the majors with 51 home runs, 132 runs batted in, and a .592 slugging percentage. Yet, he finished a close second in the MVP balloting to Oakland's Rickey Henderson, who led the A's to the Western Division title. While not possessing Fielder's power numbers, Henderson excelled in other areas, batting .325, stealing 65 bases, and leading the A.L. with 119 runs scored and a .441 on-base percentage. In this particular instance, the voters clearly looked more closely at Henderson's overall contributions to the success of a winning team than at Fielder's prodigious power totals. Three years earlier, though, a similar situation presented itself in the National League. The Cardinals finished first in the N.L. East in 1987, just four games ahead of the third-place Expos. Montreal was led by speedy outfielder Tim Raines, who actually had a season quite similar to the one Henderson had for Oakland in 1990. Let's look at Raines' 1987 statistics next to those compiled by Henderson in 1990: PLAYER AB H R 2B 3B HR RBI AVG SB OBP SLG PCT Tim Raines 530 175 123 34 8 18 68 .330 50 . 431 .526 Henderson 489 159 119 33 3 28 61 .325 65 .441 .570 Meanwhile, the Cubs finished last in the N.L. East in 1987, 18 ½ games behind St. Louis. Chicago outfielder Andre Dawson posted numbers similar to those compiled by Fielder for Detroit three years later. Let's take a look: PLAYER AB HITS RUNS 2B 3B HR RBI AVG OBP SLG Andre Dawson 621 178 90 24 2 49 137 .287 .329 .568 Cecil Fielder 573 159 104 25 1 51 132 . 277 . 380 .592 Yet, in spite of his team's last-place finish, Dawson was selected as the league's MVP. Inexplicably, Raines finished seventh in the balloting. True, Henderson's A's won the division title when he was selected league MVP in 1990, while Raines' Expos finished third in 1987. But, when Fielder had his tremendous season, only to finish runner-up in the voting, the Tigers finished third in their division. Dawson's Cubs finished dead last when he was voted MVP. These are only a few examples of the inconsistencies exhibited by the MVP voters throughout the years that have helped to create confusion among those who regularly follow the results of the balloting.

By Bob_Cohen
Tuesday, 3 May 2011

 

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Comments

  • Essential said: The voting will be open. I just hope that the real MVP will be voted in. - Marla Ahlgrimm 4:06AM 05/18/14
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