Wednesday, November 18, 2015

American League Most Valuable Players: Right and Wrong

In every one of these cases from the 1931 establishment of the award until 1968, it goes to the Pennant winner. By definition: The most valuable player is the one who did the most to help his team win the Pennant.

From the start of divisional play in 1969, it has to go to a player who was on a Playoff team. After all, only regular-season performance is counted.

1931: Lefty Grove, Philadelphia Athletics. Right: He went 31-4 and the A's won the Pennant.

1932: Jimmie Foxx, A's. Wrong: It should have been Lou Gehrig of the Yankees. They won the Pennant, the A's didn't, and it didn't matter than Foxx hit 58 home runs.

1933: Foxx, A's. Wrong: Joe Cronin, Washington Seanators. Batted .309 and drove in 118 runs for the Pennant winners. Whom he also managed.

1934: Mickey Cochrane, Detroit Tigers. Right team, wrong player: Hank Greenberg. Cochrane had a great season and was also the manager, but Greenberg had a better one.

1935: Greenberg, Tigers. Right.

1936: Gehrig, Yankees. Right.

1937: Charlie Gehringer, Tigers. Wrong: Joe DiMaggio, Yankees. .346, 46 homers, 167 RBIs, and he wasn't yet 23 years old.

1938: Foxx, now with the Boston Red Sox. Wrong: DiMaggio. Another monster year that was better than Foxx' 50-homer season.

1939: DiMaggio, Yankees. Right.


1940: Greenberg, Tigers. Right.

1941: DiMaggio, Yankees. Right. Don't tell me Ted Williams batted .406: It didn't help the Red Sox finish 6th, let alone 1st.

1942: Joe Gordon, Yankees. Right. Don't tell me Williams won the Triple Crown: That and a failure to win the Pennant does not top a Pennant and a 154 OPS+. Don't tell me Williams can't be faulted for faulty teammates: There was plenty of talent on that Red Sox team, and TomYawkey had the money to buy whoever he wanted.

1943: Spurgeon "Spud" Chandler, Yankees. Right: Best year of any AL pitcher since Grove in '31.

1944: Hal Newhouser, Tigers. Wrong: Vern Stephens, St. Louis Browns. Best of a not very impressive bunch on the Pennant winners.

1945: Newhouser, Tigers. Right, on the 2nd try.

1946: Ted Williams, Red Sox. Right, beyond any question.

1947: DiMaggio, Yankees. Right: Again, Ted's Triple Crown doesn't top Joe's title.

1948: Lou Boudreau, Cleveland Indians. Right: Like Cronin in '33, he was a boy manager and shortstop who put his team on his back and led them to the Pennant.

1949: Williams, Red Sox. Wrong: Tommy Henrich, Yankees. Despite injuries and playing out of position (he frequently played 1st base instead of his usual right field), the man known as Ol' Reliable led the team in OPS+ and it won the Pennant.


1950: Phil Rizzuto, Yankees. Right: He didn't have as good a season in terms of power numbers as DiMaggio, or Yogi Berra, or Hank Bauer, but he did bat .324, collect 200 hits, and play sterling defense. If Vic Raschi hadn't paired his 21-8 record with a 4.00 ERA, it might have been him.

1951: Yogi Berra, Yankees. Right.

1952: Bobby Shantz, A's. Wrong: Allie Reynolds, Yankees. Shantz' season was better statistically, and he almost singlehandedly dragged the A's into 4th place, a level they wouldn't reach again until moving to Oakland. But they weren't close to the Pennant. Reynolds also had a season for the ages.

1953: Al Rosen, Indians. Wrong: Berra, Yankees. Rosen nearly won the Triple Crown, but he didn't win the Pennant. Yogi had the best season of any Yankee. It also could have gone to Mickey Mantle or Eddie Lopat, who had a Cy Young Award-worthy season at age 35.

1954: Berra, Yankees. Wrong: Larry Doby, Indians. If the Yankees had won the Pennant, Yogi would have been a good choice, but they didn't. Doby was a close call over his pitching teammates Early Wynn and Bob Lemon.

1955: Berra, Yankees. Right.

1956: Mickey Mantle, Yankees. Right: Not only did Mantle win the World Series, but he led both leagues in the Triple Crown categories, something that hasn't been done since.

1957: Mantle, Yankees. Right.

1958: Jackie Jensen, Red Sox. Wrong: Mantle, Yankees. Jensen had a really good season, but the Sox were nowhere near the Pennant.

1959: Nellie Fox, Chicago White Sox. Right: This was a Rizzuto '50-type season in that you needed to look at more than power numbers to realize how valuable he was.


1960: Roger Maris, Yankees. Right: He was not a one-hit wonder.

1961: Maris, Yankees. Right.

1962: Mantle, Yankees. Right.

1963: Elston Howard, Yankees. Right.

1964: Brooks Robinson, Baltimore Orioles. Wrong: Mantle, Yankees. The Orioles nearly won the Pennant, but nearly isn't enough.

1965: Zoilo Versalles, Minnesota Twins. Wrong: Jim "Mudcat" Grant, Twins. "Zorro" was a pick like Rizzuto '50 and Fox '59, but he wasn't even close to being the most valuable player on his own team.

1966: Frank Robinson, Orioles. Right.

1967: Carl Yastrzemski, Red Sox. Right.

1968: Denny McLain, Tigers. Right.

1969: Harmon Killebrew, Twins. Right, mostly. Now, we get into the Divisional Play Era, where winning your Division is a qualifier, but winning your Pennant is no longer necessary. The fact that Frank Robinson and Boog Powell both had MVP-quality years probably divided the votes for their team, enabling the Killer to win it.


1970: John "Boog" Powell, Orioles. Right, although it could also have gone to his teammate, pitcher Dave McNally.

1971: Vida Blue, Oakland Athletics. Right, although the Orioles' lack of an obvious choice helped.

1972: Dick Allen, Chicago White Sox. Wrong: The ChiSox finished 2nd.

1973: Reggie Jackson, A's. Right.

1974: Jeff Burroughs, Texas Rangers. Wrong: The Rangers finished 2nd.

1975: Fred Lynn, Red Sox. Right: It's probably the only time a rookie has deserved the MVP. Until 2001, it was the only time a player won Rookie of the Year and the MVP. (And Ichiro shouldn't have been considered a "rookie" at that point.)

1976: Thurman Munson, Yankees. Right.

1977: Rod Carew, Twins. Wrong: Al Cowens, Kansas City Royals. The Yankees didn't have a single player that stood out among all the others, although I could have gone with Reggie, or Graig Nettles, or invoked the Rizzuto/Fox/Versalles idea and said Mickey Rivers, or chosen Cy Young Award winner Sparky Lyle. But the Twins finished 17 1/2 games behind the Royals in the AL West, so, flirtation with .400, 100 RBIs and Gold Glove or no, Carew was not the most valuable player. Cowens had the best season of any Royal.

1978: Jim Rice, Red Sox. Wrong: Ron Guidry, Yankees. This was the dumbest decision in the history of MVP choices, far worse than any of the 3 that the Yankees "stole" from Ted Williams in the 1940s. With an ordinary player in left field instead of Rice, the Red Sox wouldn't have gotten close to the Playoffs. With Rice, the Red Sox still didn't make the Playoffs proper. With Ron Guidry, the Yankees won the World Series. With a .500 pitcher in place of Guidry, the Yankees would have finished 11 games out. I don't care how many total bases he had, or what his "WAR" or his "VORP" was that season: Anybody who thinks Jim Rice was more valuable in 1978 than Ron Guidry is an idiot.

1979: Don Baylor, California Angels. Right, although it could have gone to Ken Singleton of the Pennant-winning Orioles, now a Yankee broadcaster.


1980: George Brett, Kansas City Royals. Right.

1981: Rollie Fingers, Milwaukee Brewers. Right: The Brewers did make the Playoffs in that weird split-season setup.

1982: Robin Yount, Brewers. Right.

1983: Cal Ripken, Orioles. Right.

1984: Willie Hernandez, Tigers. Right, although it could have gone to Kirk Gibson. A .237 batting average probably cost Lance Parrish the honor.

1985: Don Mattingly, Yankees. Wrong: Brett, Royals. This might be my most controversial decision, because "Donnie Baseball" is still (unfairly) an unimpeachable icon among Yankee Fans. But Brett had nearly as good a season with the bat, and actually reached the Playoffs.

1986: Roger Clemens, Red Sox. Right.

1987: George Bell, Toronto Blue Jays. Wrong: Kirby Puckett, Twins. The Jays blew the AL Eastern Division title in the last week.

1988: Jose Canseco, A's. Right, based on what we knew at the time. What we know about steroids now, we may not have known at the times of these decisions.

1989: Robin Yount, Brewers. Wrong: Dave Stewart, A's. A .231 batting average may have cost Mark McGwire the MVP. Batting .269 may have taken Fred McGriff out of the running, too.


1990: Rickey Henderson, A's. Right.

1991: Cal Ripken, Orioles. Wrong: The O's were nowhere near the Playoffs.

1992: Dennis Eckersley, A's. Right: The A's did win the AL West.

1993: Frank Thomas, White Sox. Right.

1994: Thomas, White Sox. Right: The ChiSox were leading the AL Central Division when the strike hit.

1995: Mo Vaughn, Red Sox. Right: The BoSox did win the AL East, and, again, we're going by what we knew at the time.

1996: Juan Gonzalez, Rangers. Wrong: Bernie Williams, Yankees. The Rangers did win the AL West and give the Yankees a scare in the 1st 2 games of the AL Division Series, but Bernie ultimately did more for his team. At the time, it looked like he, not Rookie of the Year Jeter, was going to be the defining Yankee of that generation.

1997: Ken Griffey Jr., Seattle Mariners. Right: The M's did win the AL West.

1998: Juan Gonzalez, Rangers. Wrong: Paul O'Neill, Yankees.

1999: Ivan Rodriguez, Rangers. Wrong: Derek Jeter, Yankees. Red Sox fans say Ted Williams was robbed of 3 MVPs. Jeter may have been, and this was the 1st.


2000: Jason Giambi, Oakland Athletics. Right: Again, we may have suspected that he was on steroids, but we didn't know.

2001: Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners. Wrong: Roger Clemens, Yankees. The guy won 20 of his 1st 21 decisions. If his ERA+ and WHIP don't excite you, you can go with Tino Martinez.

2002: Miguel Tejada, A's. Right, but it was close. Jason Giambi, whom the Yankees let Tino go to get, had a better season, and also won his Division but got no closer.

2003: Alex Rodriguez, Rangers. Wrong: Mariano Rivera, Yankees. A guy who can't get his team out of last place is no MVP>

2004: Vladimir Guerrero, Anaheim Angels. Right: The Angels did win the AL West, and we're not including the postseason, so David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Curt Schilling -- all arguable MVPs for the Red Sox -- kind of split their vote.

2005: A-Rod, Yankees. Right, although this is a little dubious until you remember that the postseason doesn't count in this decision.

2006: Justin Morneau, Twins. Wrong: Jeter, Yankees. Morneau had a superb season and did win the AL Central, but Jeter's was better from a pure hitting standpoint, was close in terms of power (an OPS+ of 132 compared to Morneau's 140), and played better at a harder position (Morneau is a 1st baseman). Morneau wasn't even selected for the All-Star Team, despite a fine season.

2007: A-Rod, Yankees. Right, though it ended pathetically in the Playoffs.

2008: Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox. Right.

2009: Joe Mauer, Twins. Wrong: Jeter. Again, the Twins player selected had a wonderful season, statistically, and made the Playoffs. But Sports Illustrated got it right when it made Jeter the 1st Yankee ever to be named their Sportsman of the Year.

2010: Josh Hamilton, Rangers. Right: A miserable human being, but it's hard to argue against a Pennant winner with a 170 OPS+.

2011: Justin Verlander, Tigers. Right.

2012: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers. Right: The 1st Triple Crown since Yaz in '67, and the Tigers won the Pennant.

2013: Cabrera, Tigers. Right.

2014: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Right.

Right 56, Wrong 28. In other words, the voters get the decision right 2 out of every 3 times.


So who should it be? Let's look at the teams that made the Playoffs:

* AL Wild Card New York Yankees: An MVP vote taken at Labor Day should have chosen between Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. But the former went into his usual late-season tank job, and the latter got hurt and missed the stretch run, possibly costing the Yanks the AL East. (Greg Bird's performance while stepping into 1st base gave the Yankees some run production, but he wasn't usually put in Teix' spot in the order.)

* AL Central (and World) Champion Kansas City Royals: They had 5 players with OPS+'s in the 120s: Kendrys Morales, Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon. Such balance is good for winning a title. It's not so good for getting one of your guys picked for the MVP.

* AL West Champion Texas Rangers: No real standout. They had 4 players with at least a 110 OPS+ and 2 with at least a 125, but no one above 126.

* AL East (and ALDS) Champion Toronto Blue Jays: They have the opposite problem from the Rangers: 3 real standouts in Jose Bautista (OPS+ of 149), Edwin Encarnacion (153) and Josh Donaldson (155). And yet, their most valuable player may have been trade deadline acquisition Troy Tulowitzki.

* AL Wild Card Houston Astros; Carlos Correa, already selected Rookie of the Year, is a possibility. But Dallas Keuchel, sure to win the Cy Young Award, is a better one.

My choice for the 2015 American League Most Valuable Player is Dallas Keuchel, pitcher for the Houston Astros. If you really can't select a pitcher for the MVP, I understand. In that case, your best choice is probably Josh Donaldson, 3rd baseman for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Why not Mike Trout, center fielder for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, whose OPS+ was a League-leading 176? Or Cabrera, whose OPS+ was 170? Because they didn't make the postseason, that's why.

Besides, if you've got 41 home runs and a 176 OPS+, as Trout did, you should have a lot more than 90 RBIs, as Trout did.

After all, it's not Most Outstanding Player. It's Most Valuable Player. We laughed and cursed at Stephen Drew all season long, but, in the end, his team made the Playoffs, Trout's team did not. Therefore, by definition, Stephen Drew was a more valuable player in 2015 than Mike Trout.

You might think that's ridiculous. But without Trout's contributions, the Angels would be exactly where they ended up: On the outside looking in. Surely, with Rob Refsnyder at 2nd base instead of Drew, the Yankees would have done better. But he did make a contribution to getting the team into the Playoffs.

Dallas Keuchel was the most valuable player in the American League in 2015.

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