Curtis Granderson's MVP Chances

NJMCorrespondent IIISeptember 17, 2011

SEATTLE - SEPTEMBER 12:  Curtis Granderson #14 of the New York Yankees smiles in the dugout after scoring on a three-run double by Robinson Cano against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on September 12, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

This article comes from the blog 90% is Half Statistical and to read the other posts of this blog go to

To sabermetric buffs, stats like RBIs, saves and wins provide little insight into how good a player performs over the course of a season. Traditional baseball fans scoff at such a notion.

That brings us to the case of Curtis Granderson. To many, Granderson is an MVP candidate this season. The voters for the MVP award will consist of the traditional baseball writers who grew up with BA, HR, R, and RBI as the ultimate measures of player performance, and modern writers who are more inclined toward stats like WAR, WPA, WoBA, and OBP.

While Curtis Granderson is fifth in the AL in FanGraphs WAR (6.6) and is 16th in the AL in Baseball-Reference WAR, he is second in home runs, second in RBIs, and is first in runs among all Major Leaguers. Does that mean that Curtis Granderson is guaranteed to dominate the ballots of traditional writers in the MVP vote?

Well, lets look at how players have fared in MVP voting when they lead the majors in HRs, RBIs and runs.

Alex Rodriguez ’07: 54 HRs, 156 RBIs, 147 R (MVP)

Mickey Mantle ’56: 52 HRs, 130 RBIs, 132 R (MVP)

Johnny Mize ’47: 51 HRs (Tied with Ralph Kiner), 138 RBIs, 137 R (3rd in MVP voting) (MVP—Bob Elliot)

Ted Williams ’42: 36 HRs, 137 RBIs, 141 R (2nd in MVP voting) (MVP—Joe Gordon)

Lou Gehrig ’31: 46 HRs (Tied with Babe Ruth), 184 RBIs, 163 R (2nd in MVP voting) (MVP—Lefty Grove)

Since they started handing out the MVP Award only two out of five have won while leading the majors in HRs, RBIs, and runs. And let’s look even further into the two MVP seasons of Rodriguez and Mantle.

Rodriguez not only led the majors in those three categories, but also led all other players in WAR that season and it was not even close. Baseball-Reference calculated a WAR of 9.9 which had him a full win above Magglio Ordonez and three wins above C.C. Sabathia, who finished second and third in AL WAR respectively.  

Fangraphs had him with a 9.8 WAR and 1.7 wins ahead of Magglio Ordonez and two wins above Granderson, who was third in AL WAR.

Mickey Mantle’s season is one of the great offensive seasons in the history of baseball. In his first of back-to-back MVPs, Mantle won the Triple Crown. He led the league in SLG, OPS+, and was second in OBP to Ted Williams.

Even though WAR did not exist in 1956, look at Mantle’s WAR numbers that year. Baseball-Reference calculated a 12.9 WAR which was 4.4 wins better than AL second-place finisher Early Wynn. FanGraphs calculated a 12.2 WAR which was 5.1 wins better than second-place finishers in Al Kaline and Yogi Berra.

Looking at those who did not win, Johnny Mize lost to Bob Elliot, who did not lead the National League in any statistic but finished 61 points ahead of Mize[1].

Ted Williams won the Triple Crown in 1942 and still lost the MVP by 21 points to Joe Gordon of the Yankees. While Johnny Pesky may have helped to split the vote finishing third, Ted Williams demolished Gordon in almost every meaningful statistical category[2]and there is not a statistical argument one could make for Gordon.

Lou Gehrig lost the inaugural MVP award[3] to Lefty Grove who won 31 games that year and carried 98% of the first place votes.

While initially it looks like Granderson is a contender in the AL MVP race, the stats and the history prove otherwise. Granderson will not receive much support from the sabermetrically-inclined voters and history has shown that leading all of baseball in HRs, RBIs and runs does not sign, seal and deliver him the votes of the traditional baseball writers.

Without a jaw-dropping rest of September, the evidence points towards Granderson not being a contender for the AL MVP award.

  1. Bob Elliot’s numbers for 1947: .317/.410/.517 w/ 22 HR, 113 RBI, and 93 R
  2. Ted Williams: .356/.499/.648 w/ 36 HR, 137 RBI, and 141 R. Joe Gordon: .322/.409/.491 w/ 18 HR, 103 RBI, and 88 R
  3. Before 1931, there were the League Awards which were the MVP Award of baseball from 1922-1929. This award was voted on by a panel of eight baseball writers. It also ruled that player-managers and previous winners were not eligible to win the award in the AL. The latter explains why Babe Ruth never won another after 1923. However, in the National League these restrictions were non-existent and allowed Rogers Hornsby to win the award in 1925 and 1929.

Babe Ruth also led the Majors in HRs, RBIs and runs and did so more than any other player in MLB history. Here are those seasons:

Babe Ruth ’28: 54 HR, 142 RBI (Tied with Lou Gehrig), 163 R (League Award—Mickey Cochrane) Babe Ruth ’26: 47 HR, 146 RBI, 139 R (League Award—George Burns) Babe Ruth ’23: 41 HR (Tied with Cy Williams), 131 RBI, 151 R (League Award) Babe Ruth ’21: 59 HR, 171 RBI, 177 R (No MVP That Year) Babe Ruth ’20: 54 HR, 137 RBI, 158 R (No MVP That Year) Babe Ruth ’19: 29 HR, 114 RBI, 103 R (No MVP That Year)