While the MVP award announcements are normally used as an opportunity to make snide comments and question the intelligence of writers, I prefer to think of them a different way. We know that we’ll never be able to convert everyone to sabermetrics, and there are always going to be one or two people that make questionable decisions on their ballots. Instead of focusing our attention on them, why not move that focus back to where it’s supposed to be: the players.
The MVP award (and the subsequent conversation surrounding it) is a chance for us to recognize players for having impressive, noteworthy years. Twenty-three players received a vote during this year’s AL MVP voting, but there were still more out there that had seasons worth remembering. These players aren’t necessarily “snubs”, since each player in the MVP voting also deserved recognition for their seasons; it’s simply there are sometimes more players doing exceptional things than can be highlighted.
So even if the BBWAA missed these players, let’s give a few of them the spotlight they deserve.
Dan Haren — 3.17 ERA, 2.98 FIP, 6.4 WAR
Only four pitchers received votes for the AL MVP award: Justin Verlander, C.C. Sabathia, James Shields, and David Robertson. Verlander and Sabathia were the top two pitchers in the league in WAR, and James Shields impressed the voting crew with his 11 complete games and 2.82 ERA. Robertson…well, I’m not entirely sure why he got on a ballot.
If you compare Haren with Verlander and Sabathia, though, he’s oh-so-close behind them. His peripheral stats (FIP, SIERA) are identical or just slightly worse than what they produced, and he pitched an impressive 238 innings. Sadly, though, pitchers don’t receive as much attention on MVP ballots, and Haren was not close enough to garner any votes. It was arguably the best or second-best season of his career — he put up 6.5 WAR in 2008, and 6.1 WAR in 2009 — and he was one of the main reasons the Angels finished with 86 wins. He gets overshadowed on his own team by Jered Weaver, but he’s one of the best pitchers in the game.
Mike Napoli – 30 HR, .444 wOBA, 5.6 WAR
Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre, and Josh Hamilton all received votes for the AL MVP, but Mike Napoli didn’t receive a single one despite having a better batting line than all of them (.320/.414/.631) and more WAR than two of them. Sure, he only collected 430 plate appearances, but if a player mashes that much in limited time, shouldn’t they still receive credit?
Without a doubt, this past season was the best of Napoli’s career. He’d shown power potential with the Angels, but his .312 ISO in 2011 was the best in the majors out of all players with more than 400 at bats. It seems unlikely that he’ll have another season like this, but he will only be 30 years old next season so you never know.
Howie Kendrick – .349 wOBA, 17 UZR, 5.8 WAR
It’s not surprising that Kendrick didn’t get any votes for MVP, as he derived a large part of his value this season from playing exception defense at second base. And before you start giving me crap about citing UZR, it wasn’t just UZR that thought Kendrick was excellent in the field this season; Defensive Runs Saved also had him as a +15 defender at second.
Even if you are doubtful about Kendrick’s defense, though, he was quite valuable on offense for the Angels. He was the best hitter on their team, coming in 20% above average on offense; Peter Bourjos was the second best on the team at 11% above average. Kendrick had been an average to above average player every season in the majors, but he finally broke out in 2011.
Chalk these two guys under the “You’re not an MVP, but I can’t believe you had such an amazing year” category. Saberists are quick to find those players that they love to make fun of for being so bad — Kotchman and Francoeur two are prime examples — so it only seems fair to give these players props when they perform. Kudos to them both.
Anyone else you think deserves a hat tip for their performance this year? Give them a shout out in the comments.