What Can Be Learned From the AL MVP Voting?

On Monday afternoon, I fully expect Joe Mauer to win his first MVP award after finishing sixth in 2006 and fourth last year. Joe led the AL in batting average while hitting for respectable power (28 HRs) in only 138 games, most of which were as a catcher. He led the Twins into the postseason after they trailed by three games with only four games left, thereby forcing and winning a playoff game with Detroit.

Other than Mauer winning, I expect Mark Teixeria to finish high in the voting after leading the league in HRs and RBIs (categories that have traditionally been important to voters). I also expect Derek Jeter to finish high even though he doesn't have great traditional stats this season (.334 AVG, 18 HR and 107 runs scored).   He did have one of his best years with a 7.4 WAR value, his highest since Fangraphs began keeping track and his third-highest total when compared to Rally's WAR ranking.

Truthfully, I have no problem giving the award to Mauer. He had a great season and helped the Twins to the playoffs. The real question with today's vote, to me anyway, is where do Zack Greinke and Ben Zobrist end up in the rankings?

Using WAR values as a guide, both Zack (9.4 WAR) and Ben (8.6 WAR) had a better season than Joe (8.4 WAR). The problem is that the mainstream media is barely touting if at all Greinke or Zobrist. Going to MLB.com, Zack gets an honorable mention while Ben gets no mention (though four of Ben's teammates got mentioned: Evan Longoria, Jason Bartlett, Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena).  At cbssportsline.com and USAToday.com they have no mention of either Greinke or Zobrist.

Two groups of internet voters have released their results.  SBN, our parent website, had a vote and Zack came in sixth overall, while Ben came in second. When the Internet Baseball Awards released their results, Zack came in fourth and Ben came in sixth. I really don't expect either of these players to finish as that high in the final votes with the BBWAA, even though no two players in the AL did more to help their team win games this last season.

Let's look at how Zack and Ben final voting placement can say something about the makeup and thought process of the BBWAA.

Zack Greinke - Do pitchers even matter in the MVP voting?

Here is a little background on how pitchers have done in the MVP voting:

  • Since 1956, when the Cy Young Award was created, a pitcher has won the MVP Award 8 times or 8% percent of the time. Before the Cy Young was created, pitchers won the award about 1 in 5 times (19%).
  • The last pitcher to win the MVP was Dennis Eckersley in 1992. 
  • Since 1992, the average final position for the top pitcher vote getter is 8.4, with Pedro Martinez about winning the award in 1999 by finishing with only 3% less vote than Ivan Rodriguez.

There is not much precedent for MVP voters voting for pitchers, especially ones with 16-8 records. The average finish of the top pitcher in the MVP voting has been between the 8th and 9th spot, so this makes a good dividing line to see if the writers noticed Zack's great season (despite the horrible defense and run support he had all season). Zack had the 31st highest ranked season ever in ERA+ with 205, which is the highest total since 2003 when Pedro Martinez finished with an ERA+ of 210.

If Zack finishes eighth or higher, hats off to the voters. If ninth or lower, shame on voters.

Ben Zobrist - Do name familiarity and defense matter in the MVP voting?

Before the season, many people were familiar with the final MVP candidates, but few were familiar with Ben, and the few that knew of him didn't expect great production. Offensively, his 2009 season was nothing to laugh about (9th in the AL in Runs Created), but his defense is where he separated himself from the others for the top WAR values for positional players. He had a UZR rating of 26.4 which was good for 2nd best among all position players in the AL.

The question is, "Will any of this production really matter." Even though the Internet voters gave Ben quite a bit of love, I can see the BBWAA giving him a cold shoulder. I would be surprised to see him break the top 10. I really want to see the percentage of voters that put him in their top 5. This will give a nice understanding of the percentage of voters that look at and use WAR (or similar metrics) to compare players. If the percentage of voters that put Ben in the top 5 is above 10%, I will be amazingly surprised.

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The award season for MLB is a nice time to look back at the the players that had a great season. The problem is that sometimes players that should receive recognition don't. 

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