9 Biggest MVP Snubs In Baseball History
On Monday and Tuesday, the Baseball Writers Association of America handed out the most prestigious player awards in baseball: the MVP Awards. This year, the American League winner was Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander, while the National League version went to Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun.
Now, sometimes the choices for MVP are so obvious that there is little or no debate—like 2004, when Barry Bonds was about twice as good as anyone else in the game (though, yes, he was probably cheating). This year, however, there is more than enough room for lively debate. In fact, most years there is room for debate.
So on that note, how about we do some debating? Here’s my take on the biggest MVP snubs in the history of the award. What do you think?
9. Ozzie Smith (1987)
This first point is the one that requires the most explanation, so bear with me.
Andre Dawson won the National League MVP award in 1987 because he hit 49 home runs. And while 49 home runs sounds impressive, you really have to look at the context.
For example, usually, when a guy hits a ton of home runs, he has a lot of walks and a high on-base percentage. In 1987, Dawson walked only 32 times, and his OBP was a below average .328, which is just plain weird.
Moreover, by 1987 the formerly speedy outfielder had slowed down tremendously. At the height of his career with the Expos, Dawson was recording over 400 put-outs a year in various outfield positions. In his MVP year, he made only 271. In other words, the Hawk had become a defensive liability.
This last fact probably explains why his WAR (Wins Above Replacement)* was a league-avereage 2.7.
Now, I think Ozzie Smith got snubbed in 1987. He was the best defensive player of his generation (at any position), and 1987 also happens to be his finest offensive year (he batted .302/.392/.383, and scored 104 runs). Smith’s WAR was 7.1, which is obviously much better than Dawson’s 2.7. Yet Smith finished #2 in MVP balloting.
Still, you could also make the case for Cincinnati’s Eric Davis or Atlanta’s Dale Murphy. Davis had a WAR of 8.0 and hit 37 home runs; Murphy had a WAR of 8.0 and smacked 44 long balls.
No offensive to Andre Dawson, how had a great year, but he was not the National League’s most valuable player in 1987.
*This stat more or less adds all of a player’s stats together to figure out how big a contribution the various aspects of his game (defensive and offensive) make to his team. Above 2 is what you expect from a typical MLB starter. Above 5 and the guy is probably an All-Star. When you get to 8 or so, you’re generally an MVP candidate. It’s not a scientifically precise stat; it’s really just a broad indicator. But it works.
8. Don Mattingly (1986) – instead of Roger Clemens
Roger Clemens won the AL MVP in 1986. Until Verlander won on Monday, it was the last time a starting pitcher won the award.
Here’s the problem. Clemens had a good year, but not an historic year. His 2.48 ERA was excellent, but this wasn’t the steroid era yet. Maybe if Clemens had a 1.12 ERA like Gibson did in 1968 when he won the MVP, then that would merit discussion. But he didn’t.
Most importantly, Clemens appeared in 33 games for his team. How can a guy be the most valuable player when he can only affect the outcome of 20% of the games?
Meanwhile, Don Mattingly of the Yankees played in all 162 games (100%) and batted .352/.394/.537 with 31 home runs. That’s a monster year. Mattingly was robbed.
7. Jose Bautista (2011)
All that stuff I just said about Clemens in 1986? Ditto that for Justin Verlander this year. Like Clemens, Verlander appeared in about 20% of his team’s games and had an excellent but hardly historic 2.40 ERA.
What did Jose Bautista do? He led the league in WAR (8.5), OPS (1.056), and home runs (43). He had hall of fame offensive numbers in a year in which pitching and defense dominated. Still, somehow, he finished 3rd in MVP balloting.
Kind of silly.
6. Frank Thomas (1992)
The only thing stupider than a starting pitcher winning the MVP (with excellent but not-historic numbers is a relief pitcher winning the MVP with excellent but not-historic numbers.
Well, welcome to 1992. The beautifully mustachioed Dennis Eckersley had a great year racking up saves for the dominant Oakland A’s that season. He had 51 of them, and was just lights out. But the dude pitched 80 innings. Eight. Zero. In other words, he played in just 5.4% of his team’s games. At least Verlander pitched 251 this year.
Then there was Frank Thomas, one of the greatest hitters of all time. In 1992, he led all position players in WAR with a 7.6, hitting .323/.439/.536 with 24 home runs and 115 runs batted in.
Fortunately, the next year the baseball writers realized their oversight. (Mesmerized by Eckersley’s mustache, probably.) Thomas actually did win the MVP in 1993 and 1994.
5. Dave Winfield (1979)
The NL had co-MVPs in 1979. One was St. Louis’ Keith Hernandez, who had a WAR of 7.2 while batting .344/.417/.513. That was a fantastic year, so I’ve got no beef with that.
The other NL winner, however, was Pittsburgh’s Willie Stargell, who had an embarrassingly low WAR of 2.3 and seems was voted co-MVP simply because of the strange way in which points are awarded on the ballot. Hernandez had 10 1st place votes. Stargell had 4. But Stargell obviously had a lot of 2nd and/or 3rd place votes, which bumped his point total up.
You know who got the shaft? Dave Winfield of the Padres. He had the highest WAR in the league (8.4) thanks to the fact that he hit a whopping .308/.395/.558 with 34 home runs. He had the same number of 1st place votes as Stargell, but finished third. That had to hurt.
4. Mickey Mantle (1955)
Yogi Berra was AL MVP in 1955. Now, he is one of the all-time great Yankees, and it’s definitely hard to quantify the defensive contributions of a catcher. But in 1955, Berra’s teammate Mickey Mantle had a season for ages both in the field and at the plate. He led the league in WAR with a whopping 9.5 thanks to his .306/.431/.611 (that’s a 1.042 OPS) and 37 home runs. Plus, at this point Mantle’s knees (and liver) were still in good shape, which meant he was one of the best outfielders in the league.
Maybe Berra had some special “intangibles,” and maybe he was the heart of the Yankees. But there’s no way Mantle should have been denied the MVP.
3. Lou Gehrig (1934)
So apparently, baseball writers really had a soft spot for the “intangibles” provided by catchers back in the day, because here at #3 we have yet another case of a monster offensive year being thwarted by a decent year behind the plate.
Detroit’s Michey Cochrane hit for average (.320) and got on-base at a great clip (.428) in 1934. But he didn’t hit for power (2 HRs), he didn’t drive in a ton of runs (76), and he didn’t score a ton of runs (74). So I guess his value was kind of magical.
On the other hand, Lou Gehrig was absolutely unreal that season. His WAR was a ridiculous 10.7, which makes Cochrane’s decent 4.3 seem pathetic. Gehrig hit 49 home runs and batted .363/.465/.706.
If you’ve been paying attention, Gehrig’s 1934 numbers are the best ones we’ve seen on this list so far. So, yeah, he probably should have won the MVP that year.
2. Stan Musial (1944)
Like #4, here’s another case of a tremendous player losing the MVP to an inferior teammate.
The St. Louis Cardinals’ Marty Marion won the NL MVP that year despite being a below average player offensively. He batted .267/.324/.362. Obviously, he was known for the glove, but there’s no way your defense can overcome those bad offensive stats to make you the league’s most valuable all-around player.
Marion’s teammate, Stan Musial, on the other hand, was by far the league’s best player in 1944. Everyone knew that. His WAR was 9.1, which was 3 points higher than everyone else who received MVP votes. (Marion’s WAR, by the way, was 4.0.)
All Stan the Man did in 1944 was .347/.440/.549 and play some great defense. Sure, it wasn’t Stan’s best season, but it was definitely better than everyone else that year. And it was especially better than the guy who actually won the MVP.
1. Ted Williams (1941 and 1942)
Ted Williams led the world in everything in 1941. In fact, this was probably one of the top 3 offensive seasons in the history of baseball. His average was .406 (the last time anyone hit above .400 for a season), but he also got on base over 50% of the time (.553) and slugged .735 with 37 home runs. If you’re a fan of baseball, you know those numbers are obscene. That’s why he had a league-leading WAR of 11.3.
You know why he didn’t win the MVP? Because of a not-quite-as-amazing (but still historic) season from the Yankee’s Joe DiMaggio that included an unbeatable 56 game hitting streak.
So, fine, we’ll give baseball writers a pass for 1941. But what about 1942? Ted Williams’ numbers weren’t quite as good as the previous season (how could they be?), but they were still better than anyone else’s. His WAR was a hefty 11.0, and he .356/.499/.648 with another 36 home runs. Yet for some reason a very good (but clearly inferior) Joe Gordon of the Yankees won the MVP.