‘Value’ Is At The Center of MVP Debate

DENVER—The debate resumed this year.

Miguel Cabrera

Miguel Cabrera (Photo by Andrew Woolley)

Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera claimed the American League MVP for the second year in a row, much to the chagrin of the new-age statistical devotees, who felt Angels outfielder Mike Trout was robbed for the second year in a row.

The debate over how to judge MVP is wide-ranging, but a lot of it centers on the term “valuable," and whether a player on a playoff team, such as Cabrera, is more valuable than a player whose team does not advance, such as Trout.

Technically, the answer is no.

The rules sent out with the ballot to the two Baseball Writers Association of America members in each city who vote for the MVP include the admonition, “The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier."

But of the 165 MVPs elected since the BBWAA began the award in 1931 (discounting 1994, when the postseason was canceled), just 37 played for teams that did not advance to the postseason (22.4 percent).

Since the addition of the wild card in 1995, 35 of the 38 MVPs were on postseason teams, 92.1 percent.

The three exceptions since 1995 were all in the NL: the Cardinals' Albert Pujols in 2008, and the Giants' Barry Bonds in 2001 and '04 (Bonds also did it in 1993).

Ernie Banks did it in back-to-back years with the Cubs (1958-59), two of four seasons when a player won an MVP on a team with a losing record. Andre Dawson also did it with the Cubs in 1987, the only time an MVP came from a last-place team, and Cal Ripken Jr. was the 1991 AL MVP for an Orioles team that went 67-95.

There have been movements over the years to take the MVP vote away from the writers. That won't happen because as opposed to the Hall of Fame, where the BBWAA membership is invited to be the gatekeeper to membership, the MVP award belongs to the BBWAA, which even trademarked the term.

While the BBWAA has been criticized, the Players Association has also selected Cabrera as its AL Outstanding Player over Trout the last two years. Cabrera is also winner of back-to-back AL Hank Aaron awards, which is voted on by a panel of Hall of Famers, including Aaron, and the fans.

  • Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers and Max Scherzer of the Tigers joined Tim Lincecum of the Giants as first-round draft picks from 2006 to claim Cy Young Awards. Five pitchers were drafted ahead of Kershaw, who went No. 7 overall to the Dodgers; Lincecum, who went No. 10 to the Giants; and Scherzer, No. 11 to the Diamondbacks. The Royals made righthander Luke Hochevar the No. 1 pick that year, followed by the Rockies taking Greg Reynolds at No. 2, the Pirates taking Brad Lincoln at No. 4, the Mariners taking Brandon Morrow at No. 5, and the Tigers taking Andrew Miller No. 6.
  • The Pirates had both the NL MVP (Andrew McCutchen) and NL manager of the year (Clint Hurdle, who is also BA's Major League Manager of the Year), and Pirates lefthander Francisco Liriano tied for ninth in the Cy Young voting. It is only the third time in 20 years that a team has had an MVP and manager of the year, and a pitcher who received Cy Young votes. Dusty Baker was NL manager of the year and Jeff Kent NL MVP for the Giants in 2000, when Robb Nen finished fourth in Cy Young voting. Lou Piniella was the AL manager of the year and Ichiro Suzuki the AL MVP for the Mariners in 2001, when Freddy Garcia finished third and Jamie Moyer fourth in Cy Young voting.Since the BBWAA added the manager of the year award in 1983, there have been four times a team had the MVP, Cy Young and manager of the year, and just once in the NL: Terry Pendleton, Tom Glavine and Bobby Cox of the Braves in 1991.
  • In the AL, Frank Thomas, Jack McDowell and Gene Lamont of the White Sox swept the awards in 1993; Dennis Eckersley (who won both Cy Young and MVP) and Tony La Russa did it for the Athletics in 1992; and Willie Hernandez (who also won both Cy Young and MVP) and Sparky Anderson did it for the Tigers in 1984.