Most Valuable Careers in 2012

Every year, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America sits down to deliberate on the most valuable National League and American League players of the season. Each player’s contributions are carefully considered, with all narratives and statistics taken into account, allowing voters to make balanced, unbiased judgments…

Okay, I’ll stop. The voting processes for baseball awards are never without some measure of controversy, but the 2012 MVP nominations held my attention past the whole Cabrera vs. Trout debacle.

Here’s why: In 2012, Ryan Braun received 32 MVP votes, Miguel Cabrera 28, and Albert Pujols 3.

Three votes for Pujols may seem inconsequential, but it makes this trio the only active MLBers with an MVP nomination for every single year of their major league careers to date.*

Side note: I should point out that while Mike Trout has also earned a nomination for every year of his major league career, I prefer to focus on those with careers exceeding one season.

Ryan Braun

MLB career: 6 seasons (2007 – present)
MVP titles: 1 (2011)
Career bWAR: 32.0

After receiving two nominations in his rookie year, Braun placed in the top five three times in his six-season career. As runner-up in 2012, he led the NL in runs (108), home runs (41), OPS (.987), and total bases (356). Notwithstanding a banner year in 2011, Braun’s most successful campaign for NL MVP came in 2012, when the entire committee handed him a vote despite his close brush with PED allegations earlier that year.

Miguel Cabrera

MLB career: 10 years (2003 – present)
MVP titles: 1 (2012)
Career bWAR: 44.4

I promised myself I’d set aside the Cabrera vs. Trout arguments in this post, but there’s no denying Miguel had an incredible year. He led the AL in home runs (44), RBI (139), SLG (.606), OPS (.999), and total bases (377). His batting average (.330) topped MLB leaderboards for the second year in a row, after peaking at .344 in 2011.

Of the three MVPs listed here, Cabrera was the only one snubbed for Rookie of the Year status—that was awarded to Dontrelle Willis in 2003. However, by his third year in the majors, Miguel had already cracked the top five in MVP nominations, earning his spot in back-to-back seasons with 30+ home runs, 100+ RBI, and a team-leading 4.9 bWAR.

Albert Pujols

MLB career: 12 years (2001 – present)
MVP titles: 3 (2005, 2008, 2009)
Career bWAR: 88.5

Sure, Cabrera won the elusive Triple Crown and Braun evaded a 50-game suspension, but it was Pujols who sustained over a decade of MVP nominations, laying claim to 32 votes in at least seven different seasons. Braun received 32 votes twice (2011-12), while Cabrera never garnered more than 28 in a single year (though he did so five times).

In 2009, Pujols put up the best numbers of his career: an NL-leading 124 runs, 47 home runs, .443 OBP, .658 SLG, 1.101 OPS, 189 OPS+, 374 total bases, and 38 intentional walks. His bWAR clocked in at 9.4, a full 5.1 wins above fellow teammate Brendan Ryan. Not only did Pujols manage 32 nominations from the BBWAA—he received 32 first-place votes. Last season, his three votes were the fewest of his career and landed him below the top ten for the first time.

While I’d imagine this is a pretty small category, I haven’t yet gone through the pre-2001 MVP ballots to find out which other MLB-ers gathered MVP votes in every year of their careers—or, for that matter, if any player has topped Barry Bonds‘ 15 consecutive MVP seasons. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.


Most Valuable Careers in 2012 — 42 Comments

  1. “Cabrera never garnered more than 28 in a single year (though he did so five times).” Isn’t that pretty darn likely, considering that Cabrera has played his best years in the AL, where (before this upcoming year) there have only been 28 votes to give? Two come from each city in the League, and since there were only 14 teams in the AL (again, until this upcoming year), it really isn’t Cabrera’s fault he didn’t get more than 28. For all intents and purposes, finishing with 32 votes in the NL and 28 in the AL are the same thing.

  2. Yeah, Hank Aaron’s got Bonds beat. After getting no MVP love for his 4th-place-Rookie-of-the-Year 1954 season, The Hammer rattled off nineteen consecutive appearances on the MVP ballot from 1955-1973, which looks like it might be the longest streak ever.

    Ted Williams got MVP votes in all but one of his 19 years, 1952, where he only played 6 games. He even got a few votes for his 37-game 1953 season.

    Longest streaks with MVP votes I can find:

    1. Aaron – 19 years
    2. Bonds – 15 years
    2. Yogi – 15 years
    4. Mays – 13 years
    4. ARod – 13 years
    6. Pujols – 12 years
    7. Mantle – 11 years

    Stan Musial has 16 straight years of MVP votes and would be second on the list if he didn’t miss a year to the war. I would personally put him on the list.

    I think there might be a few more out there I couldn’t find.

    • 12 for DiMaggio (if you ignore the War).
      11 for Gehrig. Actually, 11 in 14 years, but the three years he didn’t get votes, there WAS no MVP, so that’s not his fault.
      9 for Pete Rose, then a year off, then 5 more, then a year off, and then another.

      Those were the most I could find.

      • Interestingly, after A-Rod’s breakout 1996 he failed to get a single vote 1997… otherwise he would have a consecutive streak of 15 as well.

  3. Ashley, I don’t understand the Brendan Ryan comment. B-R tells me that Ben Zobrist had 8.3 WAR in 2009, while Utley had 8.0 in the NL. Are you saying Ryan was the second most valuable player on the Cardinals?

    • This topic of one player being so much better than all his teammates came up in a recent thread. At that time, several examples were found of a single player on a team having more WAR than the sum total of the rest of his team.

      But, more to than point, if a single player on a team outshines everyone else, does that make him “more” valuable to his team than if there were another comparable player. For example was Babe Ruth more valuable to the pre-Gehrig Yankees with 11 and 12 WAR seasons in 1920-21, than with 11 and 12 WAR seasons with Gehrig in 1926-27?

      In 1920, Yankees finished 3rd with Del Pratt having the next highest WAR with 4.3, and only two other players over 2 WAR. In 1921, Yankees were first with Wally Schang second in WAR at 4.1, but with 4 other players over 2 WAR.

      In 1926 and 1927, Yankees finish first both years. Gehrig is 2nd in WAR both times, at 6.4 and 11.5 (imagine having 11 WAR and not even leading your team). In ’26, there were 3 others above 2 WAR (but none of them at 3 WAR or better), and 5 others higher than 2 WAR in ’27, including Combs (6.7), Lazzeri (5.9) and Meusel (3.8).

      The ’21 team finished 4.5 games up (but clinched only on 2nd last day of season), while the ’27 team was 19 games ahead (clinched 3 weeks before the season ended). So, I can certainly see the case for saying Ruth, with the same 12+ WAR season, was more valuable in 1921 than in 1927. And, it probably wasn’t close – the ’27 Yankees were so good they may very well have won without Babe playing at all.

  4. Something curious about Cabrera’s progression through the minor leagues: Granted, he was extremely young for every level — but they kept moving him up, even though he didn’t really hit until his last half-year on the farm:

    2000, Rookie/low-A: .259 BA, .685 OPS, 2 HRs
    2001, class A: .268/.709, 7 HRs
    2002, high-A: .274/.754, 9 HRs
    2003, AA: .365/1.038

    He also fanned twice as much as he walked in the first 3 years.

    Obviously, they’re smarter than I am. It just seems a little odd.

    Contrast that with Josh Willingham, Cabrera’s minor-league teammate from 2000-02 and a more productive hitter at each level. In ’02 both batted .274, but Willingham’s power and walks gave him a 127-point edge in OPS. Yet Cabrera moved up to AA for ’03, while Willingham spent most of that year repeating high-A.

    In 2004 (AA) and 2005 (AAA), Willingham topped 1.000 OPS. But he didn’t get a real crack at the bigs until 2006, when he was 27. And he’s been productive ever since.

    I guess someone in that organization didn’t care so much about OBP. They were probably trying to teach Willingham not to take so many walks.

    Oh, wait, I forgot — in 2003 they got the brilliant idea to make him a catcher, at the age of 24 and with no prior pro experience there. Funny how that didn’t quite work out, and probably cost him 2 years in the majors.

    • Of course Cabrera’s a lot younger than Willingham. At age 20, Cabrera was already in the majors, putting up a 106 OPS+. Willingham, on the other hand, didn’t even begin his minor league career till age 21. Big difference.

    • I will frequently note Cabrera’s progression through the minors when friends will at times either write a player off, or proclaim he’s the second coming of Henry Aaron based on his minor league stats. In Cabrera’s case, it wasn’t just the Marlins who believed in him, so did pretty much all talent evaluators.

      After Cabrera triple slashed to the tune of .259/.338/.347 in rookie, low-A ball in 2000, Baseball America decided the eighteen-year-old was one of the 100 best prospects in the game, ranking him at #91 heading into 2001. The Marlins moved him up to A-ball that season, where he triple slashed .268/.328/.382. Second year of mediocre numbers meant one thing: Baseball America skyrocketed him up to #38 as the nineteen-year-old headed into 2002. He went to A+ and hit .274/.333/.421, Once again, not exactly earth shattering, so that meant Baseball America had to do what it had to do, which was move Cabrera all the way up to the #12 top prospect in all the minors heading into 2003 at AA. They clearly knew what they were evaluating, because that season Cabrera crushed AA pitching .365/.429/.609 in half a season. The Marlins bypassed AAA and called him straight to the majors at twenty-year-old. No looking back.

      So to someone just looking at the numbers they’d be unimpressed, beyond recognizing he was holding his own at a young age. Scouts, however, saw something very differnt. A great talent.

      • MikeD, all excellent points about the scouting reports on Cabrera.

        A betting man will still come out way ahead trusting minor-league numbers (understood in context) over scouting reports.

        In Cabrera’s case, I probably underemphasized the context of his being 2 to 3 years younger than average at every level.

  5. B-ref has leader boards for career “award shares” for MVP and Cy Young, calculated by totaling the “award share” of the vote each player has received for these awards each year of his career. Award shares are calculated by taking the award points the player received in the voting and dividing that by the maximum number of points a player could have recieved in the voting, i.e., as a unanimous first-place selection. So, for example, in 2012, Cabrera received 22 first place votes and 6 second place votes, for 362 points (the BBWAA currently gives 14 points for a first place vote and 9 points for a second place vote). 362 points is 92% of the 392 points that a player with a unanimous first place vote would have received, so b-ref gives Cabrera a 0.92 MVP award share for 2012. Matt Wieters received one seventh-place vote in the 2012 MVP voting. The BBWAA gives 4 points for a seventh-place vote, so Matt’s award share 2012 is 4/392 which equals .01.

    The top 6 in career MVP award shares:

    Bonds 9.30
    Musial 6.96
    Pujols 6.90
    T. Williams 6.43
    Mays 5.94
    Mantle 5.79

    This leader board obviously under-represents historical players who starrred during eras when formal awards were not given — Babe Ruth is 112th on the MVP awards share leader board.

    Among active players the MVP awards share leader board top 10 looks like this:
    1. Albert Pujols 6.90
    2. Alex Rodriguez 5.23
    3. Miguel Cabrera 3.33
    4. Derek Jeter 2.77
    T5. Ryan Howard and David Ortiz 2.49
    7. Jason Giambi 2.19
    8. Joe Mauer 2.04
    9. Lance Berkman 2.00
    10. Ryan Braun 1.96

    • Assuming he plays out he rest of his contract, Pujols needs 295 2Bs in 9 years, or about 33 a year. That doesn’t sound very unlikely at first glance, as he has exceeeded that all but two years so far.

      However – he’s never missed significant time in a season – never less than 143 G in a year, only three times less than 154 G. He’s probably going to miss big chunks of time in the future. The biggest negative, though, is he might not hit well enough at the end of his career – I wouldn’t be surprised if the last year or two of his contract (ages 40/41) he’s not even a regular anymore.

      I’d say he’s got a good chance, but less than 40%, of breaking Speaker’s 2Bs record.

      • The problem with the Bill James’ predictor is that it only predicts Pujols to play for 5 more years. We know that’s untrue unless he suffers some horrendous injury.

        • Five years can’t be right, can it? If the predictor “gives” him another 205 doubles (710 minus 505) that would mean it’s predicting he will average 41 doubles a year, Only Tris Speaker managed to do that. Even such well known “old” players like Musial, Aaron, Cobb & Wagner didn’t average much over 30.

          • Hartvig – Yes,it’s right. The formula presumes (42-age)/2 seasons remaining. Plug Pujols’ age from last year (32) into the equation and you get 5 years left.

            The formula figures the number of doubles (or other stat) by weighting the most recent year by 3, the year from 2 years ago by 2, and the year from 3 years ago by 1.


            Added together that’s 247/6 which equals 41.2 doubles per year.

          • The problem with this Toy thingie every time it’s used is it doesn’t give us any chance to input how historically great of a hitter Pujols has been. It’s only using current age and his last three seasons as input, so I wouldn’t expect that thing to be very accurate.

            Thru age 32, Pujols is eighth best all-time in RBat, 8th also in OPS+, and most importantly, second only to Joe Medwick in doubles. And his 50-double season last year pretty strongly suggests he’s not done putting up good seasonal doubles totals despite his age.

            To get the best projection of what Pujols might do going forward, I would only consider this type of hitter: obvious Hall of Famers with great doubles totals. Albert’s performance to date demands that we use only this class of hitter to project his total. If not, we’re underselling his chances.

            Five years? Looking at the career leaders in OPS+ thru age 32, we can look at the top 15 guys and since Pujols is right in the middle at 8th, we’ve got seven guys on either side. The average player amongst these 14 played to an age of 38.6 (and that includes Gehrig and Shoeless Joe), so considering Pujols is signed for way past that age, I think it’s safe to say he’s going to play more than five years.

            I think he’ll sail past 700 but may not quite get to Speaker’s total.

      • Looking at Stan Musial- partly because of the St. Louis connection- I think we might have at least one reasonable “projection” for Pujols’ future.

        In the 5 years after Musial turned 33 he hit 41, 30, 33, 38 & 35 doubles- a total of exactly 150. In the 5 years he played after that he hit another 80, with a season high of 22 as a 40 year old.

        Looking at the closest similar batter on Pujols’ page on B-R we have Hank Aaron. He hit 148 doubles in the 5 years starting at age 33 and another and another 64 in the 5 seasons after that.

        Looking at the B-R leader board in doubles after age 32 he have: Pete Rose, Tris Speaker, Sam Rice, Craig Biggio, Cap Anson, Edgar Martinez, Paul Molitor, Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb & Jeff Kent (?!!?) with totals ranging from 397 to 286. Of that bunch, I would guess that Martinez is probably the most realistic comp and he hit 310.

        That gives us a range from where Pujols is now (505) of between 653 and 815 doubles. I know this was hardly scientific but my gut tells me that even if Pujols’ listed age is correct that the 710 total that the milestone predictor gives him is probably a even bit optimistic.

        If we were to do a pool using a 10 figure range from 0 to 9 I’d probably want my money on the 670-679 or 680-689 spot.

        But I guess we’ll have a lot better idea in 5 years and should know for sure in 10 (or less).

      • Pujols hit 50 doubles last year, the most in 8 years, and only one short of his career high. Is there anything in the Angels ballpark, or his batting approach last year, that boosted his doubles total? Because if there is, that should be factored into his future doubles totals.

        I still think (as I stated in #12 above what will determine his career doubles total more than anything else is how long he remains a regular; if he remains a regular till the end of his contract (nine more years!) he’s get a great shot at breaking Speaker’s record, even if he does miss some games.

        BTW, Speaker from age 33-on hit 335 doubles.

        • Lawrence – Pujols hit 22 doubles at home, 28 on the road last year. So it definitely wasn’t the ballpark.

          He also had a career low in home runs last year. My guess is some balls that would have been home runs for him in the past were doubles last year.

          Looking a bit more at his splits, it appears that he’s being affected a bit more by cold weather. In the colder months of April, September and October, Pujols his 23 doubles and only 1 home run! In the warmer months, he hit 27 doubles and 29 home runs.

          • Ed,

            I feel like Homer Simpson (going “D’oh!”); I should’ve checked the Home/Road splits for 2012 first.

            Your theory that past HRs turned into doubles in 2012 did cross my mind. His extra-base hit totals (2bs+3Bs+HRs) are 80 and above most recent years except for 2011, so maybe he’s just losing that extra bit of loft on fly balls that often turns doubles in HRs.

            In general, baseballs travel further in warmer weather, but I’m not sure that explains the warm/cold split for 2Bs/HRs.

        • This is what’s happened in the past by age:

          age # with 50 or more 2b # with 80 or more XBH
          33 8 11 with 85 or more
          34 2 (13 w 43+) 7
          35 3 (13 w 43+) 7
          36 0 (11 w 40+) 5
          37 1 (8 w 40+) 0
          38 2 (7 w 40+) 0 (only 1 with more than 68)
          39 0 (4 with 40+) 0 (only 1 with more than 67}
          40 0 (0 w 40+) 0 (only 1 with more than 54)

          If Pujols is to have any realistic chance of catching Speaker he almost certainly must have a near repeat of last year this season and then at least show up on the leader boards or close to it for the following 3 or 4. Of the 8 seasons with 50 or more doubles age 34 or greater 2 of them are Speaker’s.

          And if anyone hasn’t already guessed, Barry Bonds shows up a LOT on the XBH leader boards at these ages. usually at or near the top.

          • Besides the injury factor that Hartvig mentioned, I think the other issue is that as Pujols ages he’s likely to lose speed and thus hit fewer doubles. Right now, he needs 288 doubles to pass Speaker. Only 8 players have that many doubles post age-32. The 8 are Pete Rose, Tris Speaker, Sam Rice, Craig Biggio, Edgar Martinez, Honus Wagner, Paul Molitor and Ty Cobb. With the exception of Edgar, those are all speed/aggressive baserunner types.

          • But since Pujols is #2 all-time thru age 32, is it completely unreasonable to expect him to be one of the top eight after that? Remember he’s a full 60 doubles ahead of Speaker at this point of their careers.

            Pujols matched Speaker’s age 32 season as they both had 50 doubles at that age. But then Speaker went 52-48-59 from ages 33-35. Even if Albert goes 40-40-40 in the next three, he’s lost 39 of his 60-double lead. It should be interesting.

            And don’t sleep on Miggy Cabrera. He’s lurking 116 doubles and three years behind Pujols. Three 40-double seasons and he’s ahead of Albert’s pace. Cabrera and Pujols are great choices to possibly reach counting stat milestones because they’re such great pure hitters.

        • Purely speculating, I wonder if Pujols isn’t adjusting to slightly slower bat speed. His walk rate has declined sharply over the past two years. His batting average is also down, but not so sharply. Maybe he’s looking to square up earlier in the count and drive something before he’s down to two strikes. Still immensely talented, just older.

          • I have a vague recollection of noticing that his walk rate dropped in ’11 but that significant a difference 2 years in a row would seem to indicate that something has changed. Especially since I remember Bill James writing about how most hitters K/BB rates improve as they get older whereas Pujols’ have regressed in the last 2 years to almost exactly what they were in his first 2 seasons.

            I think you might be on to something with his compensating for a loss in bat speed and IF that turns out to be true his decline could be sooner than we might think.

      • After his age 32 season, Stan Musial was at 468 doubles and had just come off a season of 53, so he could be a decent litmus test. Over the next 5 years he had 177 and 257 over the final 10 years of his career ending at 725. I’d say Pujols has his work cut out for him, but it will be fun to watch.

  6. Warren Spahn received MVP votes in (15) different seasons, including streaks of 8 and 6 years.

    Clemens and Seaver each received votes in (10) different seasons, although Seaver’s longest streak was 5 years and Clemens’s was 3.

    Mariano Rivera, Randy Johnson, and Whitey Ford each received votes in (9) different seasons, with Whitey having streaks of 4 and 3, and Mo and Randy having individual streaks of 4.

    Obviously much more difficult for a pitcher to get MVP votes since the advent of the CYA.

    • OK that 8 year run for Spahn getting MVP votes looks like it might be the longest one. Robin Roberts had 7 straight in the 50s for the Phils and Mr. Koufax finished off his career with 6 straight.

  7. Giancarlo Stanton just hit a line drive homer homer about 430 ft. against the Mets at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter.

    That ball left here in a hurry.

    He should be getting MVP votes for many years to come.

    Sadly, idiot Luria will probably trade him too.

    If I did not have freebies I would not be here.

  8. I could tell by the way the Mets came out of the dugout to congratulate him after his inning that expectations are high.

    The fact that he walked 9 in 12 innings last season during his cup of coffee tells us that command is the issue.

    If he is able to conquer wildness, he will be “familia” to all.

    The 2 best sounds of the day were Familia hitting the glove and Stanton hitting the ball.

    • Because it was more like only a quarter of a season. In the 110 games Pujols played after May 24th he hit .315/.377/.592 with 41 doubles and 26 HRs. His 4.6 WAR for the season wasn’t up to usual standards, but only six other position players who received MVP votes bettered it.

      • Pujols did the same thing in 2011 too, RJ.

        After April and May of 2011, Pujols was at .267/.336/.419/.755
        After that, he went .318/.353/.613/.997

        I’m still burning a candle for Albert the Great to show up again. His talent certainly deserves for us to at least consider the possibility. And he did, as you say RJ, put up a strangely quiet 4.6 WAR season last year. That’s hardly chopped liver. Plus he’s looked like his old self for significant portions of the last two years (including his fantastic 2011 postseason).

        I’ll be rooting for him this year whatever happens.

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