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Always the Bridesmaid: The best players to never win MVP

Constructing a lineup of the best players to never win MVP while diving into how close they came to the hardware

Image: @Orioles/Twitter

As each season comes to a close, fans, analysts, and writers alike all bicker and argue about awards for weeks leading up to their reveal. While only one person gets to take home the hardware when all is said and done, many get votes each year. While merely getting votes is not often cause for celebration and may even be forgotten about, it is still something we can track and measure. This is the purpose of MVP shares, a statistic that measures the portion of possible MVP votes a player receives. Looking at career MVP shares can give us an idea of how well a given player performed in voting throughout their career, properly giving credit for high finishes, as opposed to simply looking at award wins. A leaderboard for this, as well as the career Cy Young shares, can be found here, on Baseball-Reference.

This exercise builds a starting offensive lineup (8 players in the field plus a DH) of players to never win the MVP award, hence they have been “always the bridesmaid, never the bride”, except the groom is the MVP trophy. Career MVP shares served as a guiding light in building this team but were not the only factor considered. A player’s overall career production, as well as whether or not a player was ever “robbed” of the award also played roles.

C: Mike Piazza

Highest finish: 2nd (Twice: 1996 (Ken Caminiti), 1997 (Larry Walker))
Honorable Mentions: Gary Carter, Bill Dickey

Given that it’s exceedingly rare for catchers to win MVP (only 11 unique MVP catchers since 1931), it should be no surprise here that some of the very best to ever do it behind on the dish are still on the board. While Carter’s 70.1 career bWAR is second among all catchers, the nod for the starting backstop went to Piazza, who more wholly encapsulates the spirit of the bridesmaid team. Piazza’s 3.16 career MVP shares ranks him second among the bridesmaids and 31st overall, ahead of over a dozen 2-time winners and even ahead of three-time winner and fellow catcher Roy Campanella.

Neither of Piazza’s second-place finishes were robbery by any means. Both Caminiti and Walker had Piazza beat by a healthy margin in bWAR. His best chance for hardware likely came in 1995. Despite finishing fourth, Piazza had the winner, Barry Larkin, beat in several key statistics, including OPS, home runs, and WAR. The second and third-place finishers, Dante Bichette and Greg Maddux, each had their own baggage that could have led to Piazza taking home the hardware. Dante Bichette’s park and era-adjusted stats fall flat compared to his terrific traditional statistics. Greg Maddux, on the other hand, has baggage simply by being a pitcher. In some alternate timeline, these factors all lineup for Mike Piazza to take home the hardware.

1B: Eddie Murray

Highest Finish: 2nd (Twice: 1982 (Robin Yount), 1983 (Cal Ripken Jr))
Honorable Mentions: Johnny Mize, Bill Terry, Paul Goldschmidt, Mark McGwire

We found our second-biggest shareholder behind the dish, and his sole superior is found here at first base. Murray racked up over three awards worth of votes (3.33 shares) throughout his career without ever being named the winner. This is good enough for 24th all-time, ahead of figures such as Reggie Jackson and Ken Griffey Jr. While Mize, Terry, Goldschmidt, and McGwire all had fascinating careers in their own right, the leader of the bridesmaids was always going to have a spot in the starting lineup.

Much like Piazza, it’s difficult to be upset about either of Murray’s runner-up performances. Robin Yount more than doubled Eddie’s WAR total in 1982, a clear runaway. In 1983, Ripken and Murray finished very close in voting, but Ripken’s defensive value ultimately made up for his slightly worse performance offensively Perhaps Murray’s best chance at winning came in 1984, when he placed fourth in the voting. The three to top his total (Ripken, Dave Stieb, and Lloyd Moseby) all failed to receive more than 1% of the vote. Instead, Murray was overshadowed by two relievers (Dan Quisenberry and Willie Hernandez) and Minnesota’s Kent Hrbek. With a modern group of voters, this would never have happened, although that same group most certainly wouldn’t have let Cal Ripken’s 10 WAR season receive just a single down-ballot vote.

2B: Robinson Cano

Highest Finish: 3rd (2010 (Josh Hamilton))
HM: Billy Herman

Second base is the thinnest spot we have on this roster, but there’s still plenty of talent. Cano would likely be destined for enshrinement in Cooperstown sometime in the next decade if not for his positive drug test and suspension. His 2.14 career MVP shares are good enough for 89th overall and 20th among bridesmaids.

There are not really any seasons to point to as Cano’s best chance. It might be his 3rd place finish, but it’s difficult to imagine voters ignoring Hamilton’s monstrous .359/.411/.633 slash line, which bested each leg of Cano’s. He again had terrific seasons in 2012 and 2013 but was up against some tough competition. 2012 saw Miguel Cabrera win a triple crown while Mike Trout put up 10.5 bWAR as a rookie. Hardly any room for anyone else to win the award. 2013 had the same duo out ahead, albeit by a lesser margin, but nobody else was catching either of them.

3B: Adrian Beltre

Highest Finish: 2nd (2004 (Barry Bonds))
HM: Jose Ramirez, Pie Traynor, Nolan Arenado

Adrian Beltre is set to hit the Hall of Fame ballot in 2024 and should be inducted that July. The 3000 hit club member is one of the greatest to ever do it, and his inclusion here was an easy choice. His 2.27 career shares rank him 81st all time, just below the great Sandy Koufax, and 17th among bridesmaids.

Adrian Beltre had a season that would win MVP almost every single season. He accumulated 9.6 bWAR while slugging 48 home runs and slashing .334/.388/.629. Unfortunately, he ran into the human buzzsaw that is 2004 Barry Bonds, who was busy putting together arguably the greatest offensive season in baseball history. As amazing as his season was, he never had a chance. His only other top-5 finish came in 2012 when he finished 3rd. Once again Beltre was beaten by historically great seasons, this time falling victim to the aforementioned Triple Crown and 10 WAR seasons produced by Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout, respectively.

SS: Derek Jeter

Highest Finish: 2nd (2006 (Justin Morneau))
HM: Rabbit Maranville, Vern Stephens, Luke Appling, Joe Cronin

Jeter’s resume is long enough that it’s difficult to believe that an MVP award isn’t on there, but the Captain never took home that particular hardware. His 2.77 shares crack the top 50, as he is tied at 47th all-time with 2-time MVP winner Johnny Bench. This is also good enough for 7th among bridesmaids.

Jeter’s career was one of consistency rather than many peaks and valleys. As a result, he doesn’t have any season that sticks out as his best chance to win MVP. While Jeter may have been more deserving than Morneau in ‘06, Jeter ranked just 9th in WAR in the American League. Instead, I’d look to 1999, when Ivan Rodriguez narrowly beat out Pedro Martinez for the award, while Jeter placed sixth. This was the best campaign of Jeter’s career by WAR at 8.0, which was only beaten by Pedro that season. Given this set of voters’ clear aversion to voting for a pitcher, this could have been Jeter’s best shot.

LF: Manny Ramirez

Highest Finish: 3rd (Twice- 1999 (Ivan Rodriguez), 2004 (Vladimir Guerrero))
Honorable Mentions: Al Simmons, Albert Belle, Lance Berkman

Manny Ramirez may not ever get a plaque in Cooperstown, but he’s got a home in left field on this team. The slugger is the bronze medalist of the bridesmaids, as his 3.06 career shares put him behind only Murray and Piazza, the only three to eclipse 3.00 shares.

Manny had a similar opportunity to win in 1999 as Jeter did, although with the caveat of trailing Jeter in WAR (8.0 to 7.3). The 2004 voters favored Guerrero’s superior batting average (.337 to .308), despite Ramirez having the edge in OBP and Slugging. However, a more modern group of voters likely doesn’t vote for either, as neither cracked the top 5 in WAR in the American League.

CF - Kirby Puckett

Highest Finish: 2nd (1992 (Dennis Eckersley))
Honorable Mention: Duke Snider

While Snider likely had a better overall career than Puckett, Kirby gets the nod here due to a healthy lead in MVP shares. Puckett’s 2.56 shares rank him 54th overall, and 9th among bridesmaids. Duke Snider’s 1.97 shares would have been the lowest on the team by a considerable margin.

Puckett managed to rack up those shares in just 12 seasons by earning votes in nine of them. This includes a second-place finish, two third-place finishes, and four more finishes in the top 10. Puckett’s best chance to win was clearly in 1992. Losing to a reliever, as he did, must be one of the tougher pills to swallow in regards to awards voting. As great as Eckersley’s season may have been, his 80 innings pitched could hardly have the impact of Puckett’s 160 games played. Puckett’s 7.1 WAR led position players but did trail starters Roger Clemens (8.7) and Mike Mussina (8.2).

RF: Mel Ott

Highest Finish: 3rd (1942 (Mort Cooper))
Honorable Mentions: Al Kaline, Gary Sheffield, Dave Winfield, Enos Slaughter, Tony Gwynn

This was easily the toughest group to choose from on this team. This group of six includes 5 Hall of Famers, 3 members of the 3000-hit club, and 2 members of the 500 home run club. Ott ultimately gets the nod as his slight deficit to Kaline in shares (2.87 and 2.93, respectively) is more than made up for by his lead of nearly 20 WAR over the next best of this group.

Ott earned votes in 13 seasons, finishing in the top 10 six times. It seems that the voters got it right with Ott’s closest finish in 1942. Cooper dominated in St. Louis’s rotation, to the tune of 1a 1.78 ERA with nearly 280 innings. His 8.3 WAR was the only mark to trump Ott’s 7.1. A decade earlier, Ott finished a distant 10th place in voting but was quite arguably robbed. Ott posted 8.3 WAR, 38 home runs, 100 walks, a .424 OBP, and a 174 OPS+, all of which led the league. Unfortunately for Ott, Philadelphia’s Chuck Klein matched Ott’s home run total while leading him in runs, hits, RBI, steals, average, slugging, and OPS. While the vote could have justly gone to either one of them, Ott’s finish in 10th place is one of the more eyebrow-raising MVP results discussed here.

DH: David Ortiz

Highest Finish: 2nd (2005 (Alex Rodriguez))

In case Hall of Fame induction wasn’t a big enough honor for David Ortiz, now he’s properly recognized on this list as well. The slugger had a phenomenal run from 2003 through 2007 which featured five consecutive top-5 finishes. That stretch allowed Ortiz to rack up 2.95 career shares, 39th overall and 4th amongst bridesmaids, just behind his longtime teammate Manny Ramirez.

Given Ortiz’s role as a DH, it’s difficult to argue that he was robbed in any given season. In 2005, Rodriguez led Ortiz in home runs, WAR, average, OBP, and slugging. Ortiz’s best chance to win clearly came in 2006. He led the entire league in home runs, RBI, and walks, while also leading the winner (Justin Morneau) in OBP and slugging. If not for the Red Sox missing the playoffs while Morneau’s Twins won their division, this award likely goes to Ortiz, knocking him out of eligibility for this list.

Matt O’Halloran is a junior mathematics major at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. He works in analytics with the school’s baseball program. He is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and an editor at Diamond Digest. He can be found on Twitter @matto20.