Winning the MVP battle, but losing the WAR

With Wins Above Replacement being a relatively new stat in baseball, gaining acceptance only in the past decade, it makes sense many awards historically bear loose correlation with the WAR totals from their respective years. In fact, sometimes it’s been off by a wide margin.

I bring this up because with the San Francisco Giants looking like they could win the World Series, I think there’s a chance the following National League Most Valuable Player scenario occurs: Carlos Gonzalez, Albert Pujols, and Joey Votto cancel one another’s Triple Crown-esque seasons among voters and Aubrey Huff, the best player on a starless Giants team wins MVP. This despite Huff trailing Pujols in WAR 5.9 to 7.2.

Here are some other times an MVP winner didn’t have the best WAR ranking:

Roger Peckinpaugh, 1925 (2.4): Perhaps the worst MVP in baseball history, Peckinpaugh hit .294 with four home runs and 64 RBI in 1925 and was buried on the WAR charts, even strictly among his AL champion Washington Senators. Teammate Goose Goslin had 18 home runs, 113 RBI, .334 and a 6.6 WAR that was just below AL leader Harry Heilmann at 7.1. Goslin even did better in the World Series than Peckinpaugh, hitting .308 with three home runs and six RBI.

Mickey Cochrane, 1934 (4.3): Another MVP vote that, in hindsight, seems insane. Of course, WAR didn’t exist in 1934 to show Lou Gehrig triumphing in WAR with 10.7, but his Triple Crown season amidst Babe Ruth’s decline should have secured him the MVP. And on the AL champion Detroit Tigers, 23-year-old first baseman Hank Greenberg meant more than veteran catcher/manager Cochrane. Greenberg bested Cochrane in WAR at 6.7, batting average (.339 t0 .320), home runs (26 to two) and RBI (139 to 76), among other things.

Joe Gordon, 1942 (8.4): It’s not that Gordon wasn’t outstanding, hitting .322 and posting the second-best WAR in the league for the AL champion New York Yankees. But the man in front of him in WAR at 11.0 and second in MVP voting, Ted Williams, won the Triple Crown with 36 home runs, 137 RBI and a .356 batting average. In fact, Williams wasn’t MVP his other Triple Crown season, 1947 or in 1941 when he hit .406. Williams lost both of those years to Joe DiMaggio but once again led the AL in WAR each season.

Dick Groat, 1960 (5.7): Joe Guzzardi wrote here on Wednesday that Roberto Clemente considered teammate Don Hoak the true NL MVP in 1960. The honor also could have gone to Willie Mays, who overcame a thin Giants team to post an NL-best 9.7 WAR, with 29 home runs and 103 RBI.

Maury Wills, 1962 (6.1): Here’s another year Mays got robbed, which happened routinely in the ’60s. Mays amassed 10.6 WAR, 49 home runs, 141 RBI, a .304 batting average, and a Gold Glove for the NL champion Giants in 1962. He represented the winning run in Game Seven when only a phenomenal catch of a McCovey line drive by Bobby Richardson kept San Francisco from its first championship. Wills broke a longstanding stolen base record.

Ken Boyer, 1964 (5.6): As in 1960, Mays led the NL in WAR, at 10.2 (as well as home runs with 47) but came nowhere close to MVP. While it’s understandable writers would honor a member of the world champion St. Louis Cardinals, they could have tabbed Bob Gibson who posted a higher WAR, at 6.2 and went 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 27 innings in the World Series.

Jeff Burroughs (3.6), Steve Garvey (5.1), 1974: Mike Schmidt had twice as much WAR as Garvey, with an NL-best 10.5, and the NL champion Dodgers also got superior WAR from Ron Cey, Andy Messersmith, and Jimmy Wynn. Burroughs put up good numbers for a Texas Ranger club that made a dramatic jump in the standings, going from 57-105 to 84-76; but in WAR, Burroughs ranked far below AL leader Gaylord Perry at 8.2, Reggie Jackson who posted a 6.7 WAR to go with 29 home runs for the world champion Oakland Athletics, and Rod Carew who had 6.4 WAR and a .364 batting average for the Twins.

Jim Rice, 1978 (7.0): Rice was fourth in WAR, trailing Ron Guidry, who put up an AL-best 8.5 WAR and went 25-3 with 1.74 ERA for the world champion Yankees. I emailed one of my regular readers while writing this post, and he replied, “I think that Rice winning was one of the worse miscarriages of all time. If Guidry has a special season and goes 23-4, there’s no playoff. If he loses the playoff and ends 24-4, they go home. He has an all time historic season and still loses out. Without him, the Yankees don’t win the pennant, let alone the World Series.”

Ken Caminiti, 1996 (7.9): It’s not so much that Caminiti revealed in 2002 that he used steroids during this season– Caminiti rates a mention here because Barry Bonds, the NL leader in 1996 in WAR at 10.8, turned in a 40-40 season that year but finished fifth in MVP voting.

Related: The seven greatest seasons for pitchers since 1950

2 Replies to “Winning the MVP battle, but losing the WAR”

  1. The thing we’ve got to remember is that the terms “most valuable”, or best, are at best highly subjective and take on many different meanings. Is the most valuable player someone who plays on a pennant winner, or the player with the gaudiest numbers? How do we perceive the value of a player to his team?
    When looking at any one statistic, we can’t judge the overall picture or performance. Just because someone has a higher WAR than another, doesn’t necessarily mean that the player with the higher number is better any more than the player who wins the batting title is always the best hitter.

  2. There were several years that Teddy ball-game was snubbed for MVP because the writers didn’t like him. I always thought that Guidry’s 25-3 year in 1978 was better than what Rice put up playing in a little league park. One writer that year said that if Guidry would have led the league in K’s also he would have given Guidry the MVP. Bill James has stated that Joe Morgan should have been N.L. every year from 1973-76 according to his numbers. And I agree that Willie Mays got screwed alot in the 60’s.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *