A History of Bad MVP Voting: Part One

Since the BBWAA released its year-end awards nearly two months ago, this post is already horribly dated. I, however, refuse to wait another ten months to write about awful MVP voting from the past. My goal was simple: find the single most egregious voting mistake in MVP history. In this case, history began in 1970. Voting before then was really strange and, to be honest, not as interesting to me. That cut-off also saved me a lot of time. Now, by voting mistake, I don’t mean some idiot filling out his ballot with presidents. I mean voters banding together to either give a player many undeserving votes, or neglecting him completely.

I’m going to split these up into two categories: Deadbeats and Snubs. Deadbeats are pretty simple – guys who had terrible years, yet still managed to get on an MVP ballot. Extra credit for players who got multiple votes, or managed to receive first place votes despite their best efforts. We’ll call that the Michael Young Rule. By Snubs I don’t mean guys who were left off completely – in fact, after researching all of them, it occurred to me that I only looked at players that got at least one vote. I’m a horrible researcher. Anyway, I just mean guys who should have been much, much higher on the ballot, but only got a small number of votes. In case you were wondering, Deadbeats are much more common than Snubs. I would bet that most of the Deadbeats were for things like “clubhouse presence” or “veteran leadership.” Ya know, the stuff voters know nothing about. Also: playoffs. Because nothing tells you more about a player’s value than the skill levels of his teammates! Note: I understand the sentiment that pitchers have their own award and therefore shouldn’t win MVP, but…come on. You’ll see.

Having said all that, I realize that the advent of sabermetrics has made the evaluation of players much easier for us now than it was in the 70s. Back then, all that really mattered was HR, RBI, AVG, ERA, saves, and wins. We now have much better methods of evaluating everything – baserunning, defense, hitting, and pitching. While I’ll point at WAR a lot, it isn’t the sole determining factor – I just think most of them are self-explanatory. I decided to include each player’s traditional stats rather than newer ones like wRC+ or xFIP because that’s most likely what the voters looked at, but I generally don’t give two shits about them. Some of these votes are just downright ridiculous, and even a quick glance at a player’s slash line would tell you that. I really wish I could get voters’ explanations for some of these. Anyway, let’s start off with the guys that got jobbed, in no particular order. SPOILER ALERT: pitchers!

The Snubs

Ben Zobrist, 2011 AL – T-16th, 7 Vote Points – Winner: Justin Verlander, 8.2 bWAR

8.5 bWAR, 6.6 fWAR     .269/.353/.469/.822     20 HR, 91 RBI, 99 R, 19 SB

The AL in 2011 was goofy in the sense that an uncharacteristically high number of players had legitimate cases for MVP. Ten players were worth more than 7 wins according to BR, yet none were higher than Zobrist’s 8.5. His traditional numbers weren’t exactly eye-popping, but they were a very solid contribution from second base combined with well-above average defense and baserunning. Fangraph’s 6.6 WAR places him 8th on the season, but the point remains: Ben Zobrist had an MVP-caliber season and only managed to get one 5th place and one 10th place vote.

Pedro Martinez, 2000 AL – 5th, 103 Vote Points – Winner: Jason Giambi, 7.4 bWAR

11.4 bWAR, 10.1 fWAR   18-6, 1.74 ERA, 2.17 FIP, 0.74 WHIP   29 GS, 217 IP, 32 BB, 284 K

Pedro Martinez was ridiculous in 2000. I mean, just look at those numbers. His 11.4 bWAR is the fourth-highest for a pitcher since the 1920s, and his 0.737 WHIP is the lowest ever for a starting pitcher. EVER. His 11.78 K/9 ranks 9th all-time among starters. Highest ERA+ (291) ever. That is bonkers. And just to piss on conventional wisdom, he did it right in the heart of the juiced ball era (19 players over 1.000 OPS! Woohoo!). Fittingly, he lost to Jason Giambi’s 43 HR and 1.123 OPS. Unrelated but incredible: this was arguably only Pedro’s second best season. His 1999 campaign was…frightening. Hell, he got robbed in the 1999 MVP voting too, but at least he only lost that one by 13 points.

Roger Clemens, 1997 AL – 10th, 56 Vote Points – Winner: Ken Griffey Jr., 8.9 bWAR

11.8 bWAR, 11.1 fWAR   21-7, 2.05 ERA, 2.25 FIP, 1.03 WHIP   34 GS, 264 IP, 68 BB, 292 K

1997, man. Voting in ’97 was pretty hilarious across the board. Griffey hit 56 home runs and had 147 RBI, so I’m not at all surprised that he swept the voting. Clemens, however, probably deserved a little better than 10th place. Third highest single-season bWAR since the 1920s. Ridiculous traditional stats. Twenty wins! Glorious, glorious wins. Hall of Famer Randy Myers* pitched his way to 45 saves, 3 bWAR, and a 4th place finish in MVP voting. So who won the Cy Young? Clemens, with 25 of 28 1st place votes. Makes sense, I guess?

*May not be in Hall of Fame

Dwight Gooden, 1985 NL – 4th, 162 Vote Points, 1 1st Place Vote – Winner: Willie McGee, 7.9 bWAR

13.0 bWAR, 9.0 fWAR   24-4, 1.53 ERA, 2.13 FIP, 0.97 WHIP   35 GS, 276 IP, 69 BB, 268 K

Fangraphs dings him for the astronomical 2.13 FIP, but according to BR, this was the best single season since Walter Johnson ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO. I agree more with Fangraphs’ in this case, simply because his strand rate was 87% and his BABIP was .259, but either way that is a ridiculous season. Only one guy looked at his ballot and said “Oh hey Dwight had one of the best pitching seasons ever this one’s a no-brainer.” This just blows my mind. Willie McGee had a great season, but come on. Dwight swept the Cy voting, but you’d think that would have translated into more than a single 1st place vote for MVP.

Phil Niekro, 1978 NL – T-17th, 8 Vote Points – Winner: Dave Parker, 6.9 bWAR

10.0 bWAR, 9.4 fWAR   19-18, 2.88 ERA, 2.76 FIP, 1.19 WHIP   42 GS, 334 IP, 102 BB, 248 K

I feel confident in saying that his 18 losses are the sole reason for his lack of MVP votes and 6th place finish in Cy Young voting. Dude threw 334 really damn good innings for an atrocious team that only had ONE GUY throw 150+ innings (him). If he wasn’t on that team, they may have had to use an eight-man rotation, and seven of them would have been terrible. Related: Niekro threw 5404.1 innings in his career, yet only pitched in the postseason twice. This fascinates me. Fuckin’ knuckleballs, man. Knuckleballs.

Steve Carlton, 1972 NL – 5th, 124 Vote Points, 1 1st Place Vote – Winner: Johnny Bench, 8.5 bWAR

12.1 bWAR, 12.2 fWAR   27-10, 1.97 ERA, 2.01 FIP, 0.99 WHIP   41 GS, 346 IP, 87 BB, 310 K

Oh, look! It’s another pitcher with a historic season that nobody seemed to care about! Seriously, this season is just kinda stupid. I know guys chucked innings like crazy back then, but 346 very high-quality innings is just hard to understand. Related: Johnny Bench could hold seven baseballs in one hand.

Mike Trout, 2012 AL – 2nd, 281 Vote Points, 6 1st Place Votes – Winner: Miguel Cabrera, 6.9 bWAR

10.7 bWAR, 10.0 fWAR     .326/.399/.564/.963     30 HR, 83 RBI, 129 R, 49 SB

I wrote a long rant about the Triple Crown, but I deleted it because it’s all been said before. All that matters is that I don’t care about it at all. To wit: ask a Cabrera supporter if they would have still chosen him had Josh Hamilton hit 45 HR (Miggy hit 44), thus taking away his Triple Crown. I’ve had multiple people say they wouldn’t have, which doesn’t make any sense at all. I shouldn’t have to explain why. In fact, that’s one of the stupidest fuckin’ things a person could say. Trout, as a rookie, was phenomenal in every aspect of the game. Like, historically great. Again, it’s all been written about so much at this point that I don’t need to get into it. I was not at all surprised by the voters’ decision, but that doesn’t mean it was anywhere near the right one.

Jose Rijo, 1993 NL – T-21st, 2 Vote Points – Winner: Barry Bonds, 9.7 bWAR

9.8 bWAR, 7.2 fWAR   14-9, 2.48 ERA, 2.93, 1.09 WHIP   36 GS, 257 IP, 62 BB, 227 K

Three closers finished either tied with or higher in voting than Rijo. Those three combined for a very respectable 7.6 bWAR. One of them was Randy Fuckin’ Myers. Voters really loved him and Rod Beck for some reason. It was really weird. Fun fact: Rijo was worth 0.9 bWAR as a hitter/fielder in ’93. That was 0.6 more than Cecil Fielder, who garnered one less vote than Rijo in the AL MVP voting.

Kevin Appier, 1993 AL – T-24th, 1 Vote Point – Winner: Frank Thomas, 5.9 bWAR

9.0 bWAR, 7.4 fWAR   18-8, 2.56 ERA, 2.90 FIP, 1.11 WHIP   34 GS, 238 IP, 81 BB, 186 K

Going to be honest here – these last two were not quite the names I was expecting to put on this list. Maybe the other one. His nickname was “Ape,” so that’s neat, I guess. Neither of these guys even came close to a Cy Young in ’93, even though they were clearly the most deserving.

The list of Deadbeats will run in a day or two. Or later. I don’t know. I have to finish researching/writing it.

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