Wednesday, November 18, 2015
National League Most Valuable Players, Right and Wrong
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: Frankie Frisch, St. Louis Cardinals. Right.
1932: Chuck Klein, Philadelphia Phillies. Wrong: Lon Warneke, Chicago Cubs. The Cubs didn't have a hitter who had the kind of season Klein had, but they did win the Pennant, and Warneke's pitching may have been the biggest reason why.
1933: Carl Hubbell, New York Giants. Right.
1934: Dizzy Dean, St. Louis Cardinals. Right.
1935: Gabby Hartnett, Chicago Cubs. Right.
1936: Hubbell, Giants. Right.
1937: Joe Medwick, Cardinals. Wrong: Mel Ott, Giants. Medwick won the Triple Crown that season, and remains the last player to do so in the National League, but he didn't win the Pennant.
1938: Ernie Lombardi, Cincinnati Reds. Wrong: Bill Lee, Cubs. Apparently, no relation to the 1970s Red Sox pitcher of the same name.
1939: Bucky Walters, Reds. Right.
1940: Mike McCormick, Reds. Right.
1941: Dolph Camilli, Brooklyn Dodgers. Right.
1942: Mort Cooper, Cardinals. Right.
1943: Stan Musial, Cardinals. Right.
1944: Marty Marion, Cardinals. Right.
1945: Phil Cavarretta, Cubs. Right.
1946: Musial, Cardinals. Right.
1947: Bob Elliott, Boston Braves. Wrong: Harold "Pee Wee" Reese, Dodgers. Elliott had a fantastic season, but the Braves didn't win the Pennant. Reese captained a Pennant winner, and steered Jackie Robinson through the most difficult, and yet most rewarding, season that any individual player has ever had.
1948: Musial, Cardinals. Wrong: Johnny Sain, Braves. Stan the Man was Stan the Monster this season, but the Braves won the Pennant. Elliott would have been a good choice, too, better than he was the year before when the Braves didn't win it.
1949: Jackie Robinson, Dodgers. Right: The 1st black player of the modern era becomes the 1st black batting champion and the 1st black MVP. It was his best season, and the Dodgers may have had the most talented team in franchise history.
1950: Jim Konstanty, Phillies. Right: It was the 1st time a relief pitcher had ever won the award, and the only time until 1981, but it was a good call. It could also have gone to his teammates Richie Ashburn, Del Ennis or Robin Roberts.
1951: Roy Campanella, Dodgers. Wrong: Monte Irvin, Giants. If the Dodgers had held that 9th inning lead -- and, remember, Campy was injured, so Rube Walker was the catcher in that epic game -- Campy would have been a great choice. But Irvin had a phenomenal season.
1952: Hank Sauer, Cubs. Wrong: Gil Hodges, Dodgers. A tough choice, since he wasn't clearly the best player even on his own team, as Robinson, Campanella and Duke Snider also had great seasons. Of course, Hodges' season was ruined by an A-Rodian postseason performance: 0-for-21, although he did draw 5 walks for an OBP of .192. The Cubs were nowhere near contention. In fact, Sauer was the 1st MVP chosen from a 2nd division team. The 2nd, 3rd and 4th men so honored would also be Cubs: Ernie Banks in '58, Banks again in '59, and Andre Dawson in '87.
1953: Campanella, Dodgers. Right.
1954: Willie Mays, Giants. Right.
1955: Campanella, Dodgers. Wrong: Duke Snider, Dodgers. Campy had a great season (.318, 32, 107, OPS+ of 152) but the Duke had an even better one (.309, 42, 136, 169). This may have been the 1st time in baseball history that a black player was improperly chosen for an award over a white one, instead of the other way around. Besides, Campy already had 2 MVPs. The Duke never won one.
1956: Don Newcombe, Dodgers. Right: Ironically, in the 1st year of the Cy Young Award, created for those who thought pitchers shouldn't win the MVP, Newk was an easy choice for both.
1957: Hank Aaron, Milwaukee Braves. Right.
1958: Ernie Banks, Cubs. Wrong: Aaron, Braves. He didn't quite have the better stats, but he was close, and he did win the Pennant.
1959: Banks, Cubs. Wrong: Snider, Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers weren't exactly Murderers' Row in their 1st era in L.A., but the Duke had the best season of any of their hitters, and none of their pitchers had an outstanding year. And the Dodgers won the Pennant, while the Cubs were, as I said earlier, in the 2nd division.
1960: Dick Groat, Pittsburgh Pirates. Wrong: Vern Law, Pirates. Right team, wrong guy. Law did win the Cy Young. Roberto Clemente? Batted .314 with a 121 OPS+, but his 16 homers and 94 RBIs didn't excite a lot of people. Groat batted .325 with 110. So he wasn't a terrible candidate, just not the best one on his own team. And baseball might not have even been Groat's best sport: He was an All-American basketball player at Duke, when Mike Krzyzewski was still in junior high school.
1961: Frank Robinson, Reds. Right.
1962: Maury Willis, Dodgers. Wrong:
1963: Sandy Koufax, Dodgers. Right.
1964: Ken Boyer, Cardinals. Right.
1965: Willie Mays, San Francisco Giants. Wrong: Sandy Koufax, Dodgers. Mays had an amazing season, but Koufax' season was almost perfect. Indeed, he had a perfect game.
1966: Roberto Clemente, Pirates. Wrong: Koufax. Clemente won the batting title, but Koufax was 27-9 with a 1.73 ERA.
1967: Orlando Cepeda, Cardinals. Right.
1968: Bob Gibson, Cardinals. Right.
1969: Willie McCovey, Giants. Wrong: Tom Seaver, New York Mets. No Met has ever won the MVP, but, as good as McCovey's season was, the Giants didn't make the Playoffs, while the Mets won the whole thing.
1970: Johnny Bench, Reds. Right.
1971: Joe Torre, Cardinals. Wrong: Willie Stargell, Pirates. Yes, Yankee Fans under the age of 40: That Joe Torre. He batted .363 as a righthanded hitter in Busch Memorial Stadium, where you needed Mark McGwire's steroids to be a regular home run hitter. But Stargell didn't need no steroids to hit 48 home runs and generate a 185 OPS+ at Three Rivers Stadium.
1972: Bench, Reds. Right.
1973: Pete Rose, Reds. Right. This is the 1st time it goes to a player whose team won the Division but not the Pennant. But no Met player, not even Seaver, meant as much to his team that season as Rose meant to the Reds.
1974: Steve Garvey, Dodgers. Wrong: Mike Marshall, Dodgers. Another case of right team, wrong guy. Marshall did become the 1st reliever to win the Cy Young, and he set a record that will probably never be topped with 106 pitching appearances in a season. He later set the AL record of 90 while with Minnesota.
1975: Joe Morgan, Reds. Right.
1976: Morgan, Reds. Right.
1977: George Foster, Reds. Wrong: Reggie Smith, Dodgers. Foster hit 52 home runs, a total not beaten by any NL player since 1951 and not topped again until 1998. But the Reds didn't win the Division, let alone the Pennant. Smith had a 168 OPS+. Kind of ironic that Reggie Smith deserved his League's MVP more than Reggie Jackson did his. And Smith nearly had the last word in the World Series. But it was Jackson who would put the exclamation point on the Yankees' win.
1978: Dave Parker, Pirates. Wrong: Smith, Dodgers. This underappreciated slugger had nearly as good a season as he did in '77. Parker did win the batting title, but not his Division.
1979: Tie vote: Stargell, Pirates, and Keith Hernandez, Cardinals. Wrong: Stargell alone. The only tie vote in MVP history, in either League. It should never have been: Batting title or no, Hernandez didn't get his Cards anywhere near the Division title, while "Pops" took his "Family" all the way. Oddly, in the American League, we had the only tie vote ever for a Rookie of the Year, between Alfredo Griffin of Toronto and John Castino of Minnesota.
1980: Mike Schmidt, Phillies. Right.
1981: Schmidt, Phillies. Wrong: Fernando Valenzuela, Dodgers. The Phils did make the Playoffs in the split-season setup, but Fernando was the 1st pitcher to take both the Rookie of the Year and the Cy Young awards, and should have gotten all 3.
1982: Dale Murphy, Braves. Right. The Pennant-winning Cards didn't have a particular player that stood out, but then, since they did win the World Series, you can easily argue that Hernandez deserved the MVP more this season than he did in '79.
1983: Murphy, Braves. Wrong: Schmidt, Phillies. The Braves did not make the Playoffs, as they had the season before.
1984: Ryne Sandberg, Cubs. Right.
1985: Willie McGee, Cardinals. Right.
1986: Schmidt, Phillies. Wrong: Mike Scott, Houston Astros. The Mets' balance meant that none of their players stood out as an MVP candidate. Was Hernandez more valuable than Gary Carter? Than Darryl Strawberry? Their most valuable player might have been Bob Ojeda. Certainly, he was in the World Series. But none of these men, including Schmidt, made as much of a difference to his team that season as did Scott, who nearly derailed the Mets' "inevitable" title, and did win the Cy Young.
1987: Andre Dawson, Cubs. Wrong: Jack Clark, Cardinals. Dawson was a wonderful player having his best season, but the Cubs finished last, while the Cardinals won the Pennant.
1988: Kirk Gibson, Dodgers. Right, as he starred for them all season long, with a 148 OPS+ and the walkoff homer in Game 1 of the World Series. But it's close, as Orel Hershiser had a truly exceptional season, even if you ignore his 59 consecutive scoreless innings to close the season.
1989: Kevin Mitchell, Giants. Right.
1990: Barry Bonds, Pirates. Right. Remember, what we know about players using steroids now isn't what we knew then. Besides, Bonds probably wasn't using them before 1999.
1991: Terry Pendleton, Atlanta Braves. Right.
1992: Bonds, Pirates. Right.
1993: Bonds, Giants. Right.
1994: Jeff Bagwell, Astros. Right: Had the standings at the time of the strike held to the end of the season, the Astros would have won the NL Wild Card.
1995: Barry Larkin, Reds. Right: The Reds did win the NL Central Division, and sweep the Dodgers in the NL Division Series, before getting swept themselves by the Braves in the NL Championship Series.
1996: Ken Caminiti, Astros. Wrong, and not because Caminiti used steroids: The Astros didn't make the Playoffs. John Smoltz, Braves. It's tough to argue against the season Mike Piazza had for the NL West-winning Dodgers, but Smoltz was 24-8 to lead the Braves to the Pennant.
1997: Larry Walker, Colorado Rockies. Wrong: Moises Alou, Florida Marlins. Walker had a stellar season, but the Rox didn't make the Playoffs.
1998: Sammy Sosa, Cubs. Right: Steroids or no, Sosa did help the Cubs win the Wild Card.
1999: Chipper Jones, Braves. Right.
2000: Jeff Kent, Giants. Right. No one Met stood out as an obvious MVP candidate, not even Piazza. And the Giants did win the NL West.
2001: Bonds, Giants. Wrong: Luis Gonzalez, Arizona Diamondbacks. The Giants didn't make the Playoffs, the D-backs went all the way. Of course, if you rule Bonds out for steroid use, you have to rule Gonzo out, too.
2002: Bonds, Giants. Right: The Giants did come within a few outs of winning the whole thing.
2003: Bonds, Giants. Right: The Giants did make the Playoffs.
2004: Bonds, Giants. Wrong: Lance Berkman, Astros. After winning 4 NL Central titles in 5 years with Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Derek Bell, the 'Stros had a new "Killer B's" with Bagwell, Biggio, Berkman and Carlos Beltran, plus they got an MVP-quality season from the much-traveled and already-awarded Kent. But Berkman had the best season of any of them.
2005: Albert Pujols, Cardinals. Right: The Cards did make the Playoffs.
2006: Ryan Howard, Phillies. Wrong: Despite hitting 58 home runs, tying Jimmie Foxx' 1932 record for a Philadelphia player, Howard's Phils didn't make the Playoffs.
2007: Jimmy Rollins, Phillies. Right.
2008: Pujols, Cardinals. Wrong: Brad Lidge, Phillies. It could have been one of his teammates: Howard, Chase Utley, Pat Burrell. But a perfect 41-for-41 in save opportunities is astounding. Even more so when you add the tougher opposition of the postseason, making it 48-for-48.
2009: Pujols, Cardinals. Wrong: Howard, Phillies. The Cards did make the Playoffs, but the Phils won the Pennant, and Howard's season was every bit as good as Pujols'.
2010: Joey Votto, Reds. Right: The Reds won the NL Central.
2011: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers. Right: The Brewers won the NL Central, and we didn't yet know Braun was guilty.
2012: Buster Posey, Giants. Right.
2013: Andrew McCutchen, Pirates. Right: The Bucs did make the Playoffs.
2014: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: Right: Remember, only the regular season counts toward this vote, and while the Giants won the World Series, it's easy to forget that they were a Wild Card entry, while the Dodgers actually won the NL West.
Right 53, Wrong 31. The AL has a better ratio of getting it right than the NL does, despite the AL also having its mistakes, real and imagined, be more controversial.
So, who should be the National League Most Valuable Player for 2015? I've joked that it should be Yoenis Cespedes, even though he was in the NL for only 2 months, because he made the difference between the Mets challenging for the Playoffs and winning the Pennant. So let's look at the Playoff teams, and see who's really most deserving:
* NL East (and NL) Champion New York Mets: Honestly, as in the Met Pennant seasons of 1973, 1986 and 2000, no one guy stands out. Good for winning the Pennant, not so much for the MVP. Cespedes, Curtis Granderson, Lucas Duda, all had very good seasons, but none had a great season. Daniel Murphy? A good regular season, but not as good as those others.
* NL Central Champion St. Louis Cardinals: Another very balanced team. Matt Carpenter comes the closest of any of their players to an MVP season.
* NL West Champion Los Angeles Dodgers: Zack Greinke. 19-3, 1.66 ERA? If he doesn't win the MVP, I'll be surprised. If he doesn't win the Cy Young, I'll be utterly shocked.
* NL Wild Card entry Pittsburgh Pirates: McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and Starling Marte all had good seasons. None had an MVP-type season.
* NL Wild Card entry Chicago Cubs: Kris Bryant fairly won Rookie of the Year, and Jake Arrieta was the only pitcher who could truly challenge Greinke for the Cy. If the Cubs had won the NL Central, both of their candidacies would carry a bit more oomph. (If you don't mind me using a technical term.)
"But, Mike," you might say, "Aren't you forgetting somebody? What about Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals? He had a truly historic WAR." (Wins Above Replacement player.)
WAR. Huh! What is it good for? If you don't make the Playoffs, absolutely nothin'! It's Most Valuable Player, not Most Outstanding Player. If the Nats had hung on to their lead in the NL East, Harper would be an easy choice. At the least, it would come down to Harper and Greinke. But since Harper didn't get his team into the Playoffs. does he really deserve the MVP? As the man himself would say, "That's a clown question, bro."
Therefore, the most valuable player in the National League in 2015 was Zack Greinke of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Both MVPs should go to pitchers. One with awful hair (Greinke), the other with an atrocious beard (Keuchel). But it's not Most Outstanding Grooming, it's Most Valuable Player.
I used to believe that pitchers should be ineligible for the MVP. But it's hard to ignore what Greinke did for the Dodgers or what Dallas Keuchel did for the Astros.