The 5 Worst MVP Seasons

by Chris Moran | Posted on Friday, September 20th, 2013
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Justin Morneau

So this is the third and probably final article I’ve written in this vein. If you’re interested in this kind of thing, you can check out the 5 Worst Seasons with 120+ RBI and the 5 Worst Seasons with 20+ Wins. I went back to 1931, the first year that the BBWAA started voting for the MVP award. I was informed by WAR, but it was not decisive. Debate is welcomed.

Honorable Mention: Dennis Eckersley was excellent out of the pen for the Oakland Athletics in 1992, throwing 80 innings over 65 games with a 10.5 K/9 and a 1.2 BB/9. His ERA and FIP were a miniscule 1.91 and 1.72, respectively. He had 42 shutdowns compared to 5 meltdowns, and had the best Clutch Score of his relief career. Maybe it’s unfair to give Eckersley Honorable Mention because he  pitched very well. But, a reliever’s impact is minimal compared to a starter, and it’s not like there were a shortage of MVP candidates in 1992. Kirby Puckett and Frank Thomas had very strong years, and Roger Clemens was phenomenal.

5. Justin Morneau was very good but not great for the Minnesota Twins in 2006. His OPS+ of 140 was the best full-season mark of his career, as were his 34 homeruns and 130 RBI. His defense and baserunning weren’t too great, and Morneau only totaled 4.3 WAR, which wasn’t even in the top 10 in the AL. Also, his production dropped off in August and September. It was a weaker MVP field, and Morneau’s Win Probability Added and Clutch Scores were very good, and of course, the Twins made the playoffs.

4. Don Baylor led the AL in runs and RBI in 1979 and the California Angels won the AL West. His .530 SLG and 145 OPS+ were career-bests. The 30 year-old’s knees weren’t what they used to be when he stole 52 bases in ’76. Though it’s hard to believe he was 25 runs below average in the outfield, it’s clear he wasn’t very good. He still ran frequently, but his 22 steals were more than offset by the 12 time he was caught. Notwithstanding his poor defense and baserunning, Baylor did not finish within the top 10 in offensive WAR, though he did have his best clutch season. The 1979 version of Fred Lynn was Mike Trout before Trout was born, but the Boston Red Sox finished 2nd in the AL East despite having more wins than the Angels.

3. Frankie Frisch won the inagaural BBWAA NL MVP award in 1931 in what was one of his weakest years. The St. Louis Cardinals second baseman only managed a 101 OPS+, compared to his career average of 110. While Frisch chipped in on the bases and in the field, his 3.7 WAR wasn’t even in the top 10 in the NL, even in a weaker year. Incidentally, Frisch led the NL in WAR in 1923, but the haphazard voting system for the League Award didn’t even have him on their radar.

2. Marty Marion was a light-hitting shortstop who somehow beat out St. Louis Cardinals teammate Stan Musial and a bevy of more deserving candidates for the NL MVP in 1944. Marion finished with a 90 OPS+. Though Total Zone credits him with 33 Defensive Runs Saved, it’s hard to put too much faith into defensive numbers from the 40’s, though by all accounts Marion was an excellent shortstop. Overall, Marion was worth -7 Batting Runs. Maybe the voters loved his bunting.

1. Willie Stargell shared the 1979 NL MVP award with Keith Hernandez. It’s odd that Stargell’s lone MVP award came in ’79 when he had numerous monster years earlier in his career. The 39 year-old Stargell played in just 126 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Stargell had a strong year at the plate, though by his standards it was below average. His 139 OPS+ would have been good for 9th in the league if he had accumulated enough plate appearances to qualify. Not surprisingly, the aging first baseman was none too good in the field. His 2.5 WAR was not within the top 25 for the NL. Stargell hit well in high leverage situations, and the Pirates won the AL East. 

To anyone who’s followed the MVP voting in recent years, it should come as no surprise that the BBWAA does not always give the award to the most deserving player. RBI and hazy subjective criteria such as leadership tend to play a larger role in the equation than they should. While there are usually valid arguments to support a number of players for MVP, it’s pretty clear that these selections are unsupportable by any reasoned criteria.

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Chris Moran
About the Author

Chris Moran is a second-year law student and assistant baseball coach at Washington University in St. Louis. He played baseball at Wheaton College where he donned the tools of ignorance. You can follow Chris on Twitter @hangingslurves.

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