Catchers and the MVP

Brian McCann was the MVP of the All-Star Game on Tuesday, the first catcher to win the honor since Sandy Alomar Jr. in 1997. (Sandy’s brother Roberto won the award the following year, the only pair of siblings to share the honor.) He’s only the fifth catcher ever to win the award since 1962, the first year it was given out, along with Alomar, Mike Piazza, Terry Steinbach, and two-time winner Gary Carter.

Perhaps because they play the least single position on the diamond which produces the least offense, catchers seem underrepresented on the lists for baseball’s ultimate honors. And the National League has especially suffered.

In the last 50 years, five catchers have won the MVP. In the American League, Joe Mauer (2009), Ivan Rodriguez (1999), and Thurmon Munson (1976) have all won Most Valuable Player Awards since the award last went to a National League backstop, Johnny Bench in 1970 and 1972. The previous catcher MVP was also in the American League, the Yankees’ Elston Howard in 1963.

Six catchers have been named World Series MVP in the last fifty years. The last catcher to be named World Series MVP was an American Leaguer, Pat Borders in 1992. Prior to that, catchers went back-to-back in 1982 and 1983, the Cardinals’ Darrell Porter and the Orioles’ Rick Dempsey. Steve Yeager shared the award with two of his Dodger teammates in 1981 — the only such three-way tie in history — and Johnny Bench won the award by himself in 1976, as did the Athletics’ Gene Tenace in 1972.

The picture is slightly reversed in the League Championship Series, in which four catchers have won the MVP, all from the National League: Ivan Rodriguez in 2003, Benito Santiago in 2002, Eddie Perez in 1999, and Javy Lopez in 1996.

With the exception of the LCS, it seems that the number of catchers given awards has significantly decreased. We often complain that MVP voters focus exclusively on measures like home runs and RBIs, but it’s quite possible that is more true now than ever before. After all, as many catcher MVPs were given out in the 1950s — three apiece to Yogi Berra and Roy Campanella — as have been given out in the fifty years following. By contrast, fourteen of the last eighteen MVPs in both leagues have gone to corner infielders and corner outfielders, the players whom you’d expect to hit a lot.

Obviously, the list of MVP winners is a remarkably — dare I say it — small sample size from which to draw any strong conclusions about the changing nature of baseball analysis. But it’s striking all the same. Brian McCann has a long career ahead of him, and this likely won’t be the last award he receives. However, it looks like he may have to hit like a first baseman if he wants to be named Most Valuable Player once more.

Alex is a writer for The Hardball Times.

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12 years ago

Catchers also play fewer games, which gets counted against them generally.