Are you aware that each year’s MVP winners receive an award called the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award? As the Baseball Writer’s Association has never really defined “most valuable”, would the results have been different over the years if it was just called the “Landis Plaque” and went to the most outstanding player in each league. In other words, do fans think in terms of most valuable player or player of the year? And, do you agree that the MVP is for position players and the Cy Young Award is for pitchers?
While there have been some examples over the years of MVP winners on losing teams like Ernie Banks of the Cubs in ’58 & ’59, the general consensus is that the award should go to a player on a contending team. Ted Williams won the Triple Crown (HR, RBI’s & Batting Average) in both 1942 & 1947 but didn’t win the MVP Award in either year. In both seasons, he also led the AL in Runs, Walks, On-Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage. The winner in ’42 was Yankee 2B Joe Gordon and in ’47, it was Joe DiMaggio. The Red Sox finished nine games behind the Yanks in 2nd place in ’42 and 14 games behind in 3rd place in ’47. If there were more than just two teams going to the post-season in the 1940’s, maybe the results would have been different.
Now that just about any team at .500 or better still has a chance for the playoffs at the end of August, will the voters expand the list of players considered for MVP? And, if “most valuable” is really the criteria, how is that defined? It seems that there is some logic in value being related to teams winning games, so maybe WAR (Wins Above Replacement) can help us determine the real contenders. After all, being a difference-maker in team wins certainly equates to a player’s true value. As a reminder, WAR represents a statistical analysis of how many wins a player is worth to his team over that of a replacement level player (think AAA or AAAA). As you’ll see in the ratings, WAR isn’t just about hitting stats for position players, it also includes advanced defensive metrics.
“Old School” baseball fans will be disappointed to know that advanced statistics have already had a major impact on how this award is viewed. Over the last decade, every MVP has finished in the top five (5) in WAR. That is about the time that this new-age statistic became somewhat mainstream. As recently as 2006, Justin Morneau won the MVP with a WAR number of 4.3. Not only were there twenty players better than that, he finished third on his own team behind Johan Santana & Joe Mauer. Juan Gonzalez won two MVP’s in the 90’s without being in the top 15 while Don Baylor (1979), Willie Stargell (1979) and Jeff Burroughs (1974) weren’t in the top 20. Those days of writers voting without doing thorough research are gone.
Stats are as of Sunday, September 22nd and the WAR numbers are from famgraphs.com & baseball-reference.com
> Mike Trout (8.4) of the Angels is on the shelf at the end of the season but his numbers say that he’s the best in the game. His 3rd MVP will be well deserved, as he leads the AL with 45 HR’s, .438 OBP, .645 SLG and a 1.083 OPS.
> Right behind is Alex Bregman (7.7) of the Astros who has emerged as a star with 38 HR’s and more Walks than K’s. However, the star-studded Houston roster might keep him from the spotlight.
> Marcus Semien (7.5) of the Athletics is a key piece in the team’s unexpected march to the post-season. Playing a premium position (SS) and contributing great defense, he’s produced 32 HR’s, 90 RBI’s & 10 SB’s. Oh, he’s also played every game this season.
> Mookie Betts (6.4) was the MVP in 2018, leading the Red Sox to the World Series title. A victim of his own success, most fans think he ‘s having an off-year. When you look deeper, his OPS of .910 and a league-leading 132 Runs tell a different story.
> Matt Chapman (6.1) is another major contributor to the Athletics success. Gold Glove caliber defense along with 34 HR’s & 98 Runs make him a budding star at age 26.
> Xander Bogaerts (5.6) is another great young (26) player on the Red Sox. Signed to a six-year extension, he has 32 HR’s, 110 RBI’s, 105 Runs and a league-leading 51 Doubles.
> Cody Bellinger (8.0) of the Dodgers leads a very close race in 2019. 45 HR’s and a 1.031 OPS are very impressive and his defensive versatility might give him the edge.
> The Brewers Christian Yelich (7.5) won the MVP last year and has continued his success at age 27. Limited to 130 games due to injury, he still leads the NL with a .329 BA, .429 OBP, .671 SLG and a 1.100 OPS.
> Ketel Marte (7.0) of the D’Backs has been the breakout star of 2019. Playing all over the diamond, he leads the NL with 187 Hits and has a .981 OPS.
> Anthony Rendon (6.8) has put up another stellar campaign on his way to free agency. With 119 RBI’s and a 1.025 OPS, this guy could get big bucks even if I was his agent.
> If you had a vote, would it be a SoCal ballot with Trout & Bellinger?
Just for the record, in 1942 Ted Williams led all of baseball with a WAR figure of 10.6. MVP winner Gordon had an impressive number of 8.2. In ’47, Teddy Ballgame once again led the majors at 9.9 while DiMaggio wasn’t even close to the top ten at 4.8.
If you ever drop by the Duck Pond, you’re welcome to view the extensive collection of Williams memorabilia….but you probably already figured that out.