The 10 Greatest Individual MLB Seasons to Be Robbed in MVP Award Voting
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The 2012 American League MVP Award voting was one of the most contentious competitions in baseball history. In a true bout between traditional versus modern baseball minds, the sides pitted Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera against each other in an unparalleled forum of critical discourse.
Stat-centered critics felt that Trout was the superior player to Cabrera, as the Los Angeles Angels outfielder posted a better park-adjusted OPS+ (168), stole a ton of bases (49) and played elite defense (2.1 dWAR). But most importantly, the rookie collected a 10.9 bWAR, which bested Miggy’s by 3.6 points.
The majority of critics were swayed by Cabrera capturing the Triple Crown, however, and handed the AL MVP Award to the Detroit Tigers third baseman.
Given the similar caliber of production by both players in 2013, there will undoubtedly be an equally controversial decision ahead.
Read on to see the 10 greatest individual MLB seasons to be robbed in the MVP Award voting.
Note: The rankings are based on wide, statistical discrepancies (usually bWAR, OPS+ and ERA+), but they take position scarcity into consideration too.
All statistics sourced (through September 25 games) from Baseball-Reference.com.
10. Darryl Strawberry, 1988
Two years after the New York Mets won their second World Series in franchise history, Darryl Strawberry enjoyed one of the finest statistical seasons in the organization's history. The slugger posted a .269 batting average, a 165 park-adjusted OPS+, 39 home runs and 29 stolen bases in 1988.
Despite leading the league in park-adjusted OPS+ (165), slugging percentage (.545), OPS (.911) and home runs (39), though, Strawberry was still somehow bested by Kirk Gibson for the NL MVP Award.
While Gibson did produce at an elite level in 1988, posting a .290 batting average, 148 OPS+, 25 home runs and 31 stolen bases, the 26 year-old Mets outfielder was still far more deserving of the prestigious award.
To Gibson's credit, his bWAR was 1.04 points higher than Strawberry's. But that hasn't stopped Mets fans from lamenting the snub 25 years later.
9. Joe Mauer, 2006
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Justin Morneau and the Minnesota Twins enjoyed a fruitful 2006 season. Morneau, in just his second full season in the major leagues, posted a .321 batting average, a park-adjusted 140 OPS+ and 34 home runs. The first baseman’s production certainly helped the Twins win their fourth division title in five years too.
But Morneau wasn’t even the most valuable player on the Twins in 2006. Both Johan Santana (7.53 bWAR) and Joe Mauer (5.80 bWAR) edged him out (4.33 bWAR) by significant bWAR points. In fact, Morneau ranked 19th in bWAR amongst MVP Award candidates.
The real curious case is how Mauer was snubbed in favor of Morneau. Considering the 23-year-old Mauer posted a .347 batting average, 144 OPS+ and 13 home runs—as a catcher, obviously—he should have been the more obvious MVP Award favorite.
Alas, Mauer would have to wait three years, until 2009, to capture his first (and only, to date) MVP Award.
8. Mike Scott, 1986
Even at age 36, Mike Schmidt still had the goods. In 1986, he captured the National League MVP Award behind a magnificent .290 batting average, a park-adjusted 153 OPS+ and 37 home runs.
But while Schmidt might have been the “best” player in the NL, Houston Astros ace pitcher Mike Scott was certainly the more “valuable” of the two.
Scott hurled an eye-popping 2.22 ERA (versus a 161 ERA+), 0.92 WHIP, 306 strikeouts and 4.25 K/BB. In fact, he led the league in all of those pitching categories. He also trumped Schmidt’s 6.05 bWAR by 2.15 points.
With an otherwise pedestrian lineup, Scott was sorely depended on in Houston and helped the team win its second division title in history (at the time).
7. Barry Bonds, 1991
The Atlanta Braves went from worst in 1990 to first in 1991. Terry Pendleton deserves a lot of credit for the sharp turnaround, as he posted a .319 batting average, 22 home runs and a park-adjusted 139 OPS+ in 1991.
But as vital as Pendleton was to the Braves’ resurgence as an organization, Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Barry Bonds was still the more valuable player.
The 26-year-old Bonds led the league in OBP (.410), OPS (.924) and OPS+ (160) while also collecting 25 home runs and 43 stolen bases. Bonds also boasted a 7.9 bWAR, which was 1.8 bWAR more than Pendleton’s.
6. Pedro Martinez, 1999
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Ivan Rodriguez had a fantastic season in 1999. The 27-year-old catcher hit to the tune of a .332 batting average, a park-adjusted 125 OPS+, 35 home runs and 25 stolen bases.
But as valuable as Pudge’s production was for the Texas Rangers, Pedro Martinez’s 1999 season was historically dominant. Martinez posted a 2.07 ERA (versus a 243 ERA+), 0.92 WHIP, 8.46 K/BB and 313 strikeouts.
Even though Martinez easily captured the Cy Young Award, the fact that his bWAR was 3.3 points higher than Rodriguez's speaks lengths about the snub.
5. Albert Belle, 1995
Albert Belle was the most feared hitter in the American League during the 1995 season. He swatted 50 home runs and 52 doubles, making him the only player in history to collect at least 50 in each category. His park-adjusted 177 OPS+ wasn’t too shabby either.
But as great as Belle was in the batter’s box, he notoriously wasn’t too chummy with the media—the very people who decide the outcome of the MVP Award.
At season’s end, critics snubbed Belle in favor of Mo Vaughn. While Vaughn did enjoy a great season for the Boston Red Sox, posting a .300 batting average, a 144 OPS+ and 39 home runs, his bWAR was 2.64 points below Belle’s.
4. Willie Mays, 1962
Considering the mystique and respect Willie Mays has always received during and after his playing days, even the "Say Hey Kid" has been snubbed.
Despite posting a .304 batting average, a park-adjusted 165 OPS+, 49 home runs and a 10.5 bWAR in 1962, Mays’ production apparently wasn’t elite enough to oust speedster Maury Wills.
Wills captured the National League MVP Award with a mere 99 OPS+. While, granted, the Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop collected 104 stolen bases and 10 triples—leading the league in both categories—Mays was undoubtedly the superior player, edging Wills by 4.39 bWAR points.
3. Ted Williams, 1942
Despite winning the American League Triple Crown in 1942, Ted Williams and his park-adjusted 216 OPS+ still somehow fell short to Joe Gordon.
Gordon, who enjoyed a fine season on the World Series-winning New York Yankees, couldn’t have been less deserving, from a statistical perspective, of winning the MVP Award. The 26-year-old second baseman posted a mere .276 batting average, 117 OPS+ and 24 home runs in 1942.
Gordon’s bWAR was also 2.4 points less than Williams’.
Williams, who led the American League in every offensive category besides stolen bases, was pretty used to being snubbed. In 1941, Williams fell short to Joe DiMaggio, despite boasting a .406 batting average.
2. Mike Trout, 2012
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As the introduction slide suggested, Mike Trout was hosed in 2012.
Even though Miguel Cabrera captured the coveted American League Triple Crown, Mike Trout was still the superior all-around player.
Trout bested Miggy in park-adjusted OPS (168), stolen bases (49), defense (2.1) and bWAR (10.9). Yet that still wasn’t good enough for the voting public (or private, rather).
Cabrera received 22.0 first place votes, which blew Trout’s 6.0 out of the water.
Looking ahead to the 2013 voting, critics will again be under pressure to evaluate the tandem. Considering Trout has posted a 9.1 bWAR to Cabrera’s 7.3 bWAR, the 2013 American League MVP should be an obvious choice (or another incredible snub).
1. Alex Rodriguez, 1996
Back in the late-1990s, Alex Rodriguez was still a wide-eyed and bushy-tailed ball player. But apparently, the lacking media respect even then foreshadowed his present-day tussles.
In 1996, A-Rod lost out in the MVP Award vote to Texas Rangers slugger Juan Gonzalez. Even though Juan Gone posted a .314 batting average, a park-adjusted 145 OPS+ and 47 home runs, the outfielder was horrendous in the field (minus-1.5 dWAR).
By comparison, the 20-year-old Rodriguez, who was still a shortstop, hit to the tune of a .358 batting average, 161 OPS+, 54 doubles, 36 home runs and 15 stolen bases. A-Rod was also extremely nimble up the middle, gloving a Gold Glove-worthy 1.7 dWAR.
Considering Rodriguez’s position scarcity and the fact that his 9.3 bWAR topped Gonzalez’s by 5.52 points, A-Rod should have a fourth MVP Award to his name.