Baseball’s MVP award can be a hotly debated topic for a number of reasons.
While Bryce Harper was on another level in the NL this season, trying to pick between AL stars Josh Donaldson and Mike Trout was a tougher proposition. A number of factors play into the minds of the voters.
Being part of a winning team is important; and while Donaldson led his team to the playoffs, Trout sat at home this fall. But is it is his fault that the front office wasn’t able to go out and trade for David Price and Troy Tulowitzki this past summer?
Another hard-to-evaluate point to consider is the player’s defensive contributions—or lack thereof.
Although all kinds of metrics have impacted the way defense can be measured, they’re not all the same. While Andrelton Simmons won the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year award for best overall defender in the game, he somehow didn’t win his third straight Gold Glove at shortstop.
Finally, there’s the pitcher versus hitter debate. Here, voting can be inconsistent. Several times a starting pitcher has been worthy of the MVP, only to fall short. In other years, a reliever (which is probably overvalued by the voters) has come away with the award.
All that said, here are the five biggest MVP snubs over the past 35 years.
5. 1984: Detroit’s Willie Hernandez Over Baltimore’s Cal Ripken Jr.
With all the new overall metrics to judge a player’s value, this would never happen in modern-day baseball. Ripken’s value in 1984 was worth 10.0 WAR (wins above replacement, according to Baseball-Reference.com), which was more than anyone that season. Unfortunately for him, the Orioles finished fifth in the AL East, while Hernandez’s Tigers won the World Series. For his part, Hernandez compiled 32 saves with a 1.93 ERA, good for a 4.8 WAR.
4. 1992: Oakland’s Dennis Eckersley Over Boston’s Roger Clemens or Minnesota’s Kirby Puckett
Eckersley was great for the A’s with 51 saves and a 1.91 ERA, but he was worth just 2.9 WAR for the season, though Oakland won the pennant. Clemens finished 14th in the MVP voting and third in the Cy Young race though he had the highest WAR (8.9) of anyone in the AL, while posting an 18–11 record with a 2.41 ERA and 208 strikeouts. Puckett finished second in the MVP voting after hitting .329/.374/.490 (average/on-base/slugging) with 19 home runs and 110 RBIs, compiling a WAR of 7.1.
3. 2000: Oakland’s Jason Giambi Over Boston’s Pedro Martínez
Giambi had a great season in 2000, no doubt about it. A batting line of .333/.476/.647 with 43 home runs and 137 RBIs while generating a WAR of 7.7. But Martínez had one of the all-time great seasons by a pitcher, going 18–6 with a 1.74 ERA, with 284 strikeouts and compiling a WAR of 11.7.
Martínez’s performance was good enough to win his third Cy Young and was one of the best seasons by a pitcher in recent history. His adjusted ERA score (a score that takes into account a pitcher’s ballpark and league) of 291 was second only to Tim Keefe’s 293 score, which was achieved all the way back in 1880.
2. 1996: Texas’s Juan González Over Seattle’s Alex Rodriguez or Ken Griffey Jr.
González’s offensive numbers are right there with Seattle’s two star players—47 home runs, 144 RBIs, and a batting line of .314/.368/.643. A-Rod hit .358/.414/.631 with 36 home runs and 123 RBIs while Griffey countered with 49 home runs, 140 RBIs, and a batting line of .303/.392/.628. But González compiled just a 3.8 WAR due to fielding deficiencies, while A-Rod was worth a 9.4 WAR and Griffey was at 9.7.
1. 1985: St. Louis’s Willie McGee Over New York’s Dwight Gooden
Gooden had one of the greatest seasons ever by a pitcher in 1985, going 24–4 with a 1.53 ERA and 268 strikeouts while throwing a whopping eight shutouts to win the Triple Crown of pitching. His 13.2 WAR is one of the highest ever. Yet because his 98-win Mets fell three games short of McGee’s Cardinals in the NL East, Gooden had to settle for a fourth-place MVP finish. McGee had a good season hitting .353 with 56 stolen bases, 216 hits, and 114 runs scored—good for an 8.1 WAR—but it wasn’t nearly as good as Gooden’s.