This is our final trip to the Senior Circuit, so my fellow NL fans and I will have to be happy with this one. The year was 2000. It was the first of a new millenium, or the last of an old one, or perhaps the only year of the Willenium (which was technically released in 1999, but it was too good of a joke to pass up). The point is, that was an actual debate that people would have. I was enjoying the summer between 6th and 7th grade, all awkward and growing my first couple of facial hairs, small and blonde though they were.
But more germane to our discussion was what was happening in the NL in 2000, because that’s where we’re headed this week in re-voting MVPs. The NL in 2000 was a confusing place. For starters, Sammy Sosa led the league in HR, which sounds good for him. Except that, for his failure to hit 60 of them, as he had in back-to-back years (he managed “only” 50 – but don’t feel bad, as he’d hit 60+ again in 2001), he was rewarded with a 9th-place MVP finish. In other oddities, for the first time since 1990, a season had been played to completion and the team with the league’s best record was not the Atlanta Braves (incidentally, just how good were those ’90s Braves teams? Ridiculous, right?) Four teams won 90+ games: the wild card Mets (94) who came from the same division as the ever-ready Braves (95), the upstart Cardinals (95) who made the playoffs for only the second time since the Whitey Herzog days, and the top team in the league with 97 wins, Dusty Baker’s Giants.
San Francisco had been below .500 three times since 1993, the year of the Giant debuts of both Dusty Baker and Barry Bonds. But, since 2000 represented the team’s best year since that season, It should, therefore, be no surprise that it was two Giants who were the talk of the 2000 MVP race. We’ll go through the top eight finishers in the order in which they finished, and then throw in a couple of pitchers, as I always do.
The winner wound up being Giant second sacker Jeff Kent. Kent led the league in a whole fat lotta nothin’, in spite of which, he put up a superb .334/.424/.596 line (5th/6th/10th) for the 10th-best OPS in the NL. Kent was also fourth in the league with 125 RBI, and scored a none-too-shabby 114 runs (8th). His 41 2B tied for 8th in the league, and he added 34 HR. Even in a year when guys like Jose Vidro and Geoff Jenkins were managing 300 TB, Kent’s 350 of them (7th) stands out.
Kent’s teammate, Barry Bonds, is a man who needs no introduction. By 2000, Bonds had already been a 3-time MVP, though his last one was way back in his 1993 Giant debut (heck, the rookie Bonds, who was only called up mid-season, even received a vote in our re-vote of the 1986 NL!). While he hadn’t made much noise lately, in 2000, Bonds roared back into the discussion. He wasn’t flashy enough to lead the NL in any category other than walks (117) but ranked 3rd in R (129), 2nd in HR (49), and managed a .306/.440/.688 line, good for a second-place 1.127 OPS, the same ranking as the last two of those slash components. He added 106 RBI to round out an MVP-type season, despite finishing second to teammate Kent.
Mike Piazza of the Mets, formerly a perennial MVP-candidate with the Dodgers (you’ll recall his strong finish from our last NL post), continued that trajectory, though with a 3rd place MVP finish in the Big Apple. Piazza had finished 9th, 6th, 4th, 2nd, 2nd, 14th, and 7th in the MVP voting in the first seven seasons of his career; now in his eighth year, Piazza was looking to seal the deal. He put up a gaudy .324/.398/.614 line giving him the 10th best average, 9th best SLG, and 11th-best OPS in the NL, all while serving as the primary catcher for a pitching staff that allowed the league’s 3rd-fewest runs. While his counting numbers suffered from his limited games played as catcher, Piazza still banged out 38 HR, good for 10th in the NL, while scoring 90 and driving in 113.
The Cardinals, missing the home run bat of Mark McGwire who was limited by injury to just 89 games, came up with a new hero and MVP candidate: Jim Edmonds. Known as a defensive specialist with his spectacular catches in CF, the off-season acquisition from the Angels was also no stranger to hitting the ball hard. That said, Edmonds’ .295/.411/.583 line was a little bit better (to put it mildly) than anyone in St. Louis was expecting. Like Bonds, Edmonds was also in the triple-hundred club, with more than 100 R (129, 3rd), RBI (108), and walks (103, 4th), while his 42 HR ranked 8th.
Mr. Rockie himself, Todd Helton, finished 5th in MVP voting. If you thought some of the others put up gaudy numbers in 2000, wait until you see Helton’s totals. The Rockies in 2000 played in the highest run environment since the Baker Bowl in 1930, and it led to some truly ridiculous numbers. Voters, obviously, discounted Helton’s production to some extent, as his raw numbers and reputation as the league’s best defensive first baseman would have otherwise made him the shoe-in candidate. Sure, after all of that discussion of excellence, 7th place in HR with 42 doesn’t sound too impressive. Slightly better was his 2nd-place ranking in R (138). However, Helton then went on to lead the NL in… well… basically everything else: H (216), 2B (59, a number unseen since 1936), RBI (147), average (.372), OBP (.463), SLG (.698), and (obviously) OPS. He also totaled 405 total bases, the 4th-best in a half-century. It was a truly eye-popping season – but how much was ballpark and how much was Helton was a challenge for the voters to figure out (and the same task lies before us).
A still-up-and-coming 25-year-old, Vladimir Guerrero was making a splash in the Great White North of Montreal. Sure, he’d been basically the same player since his first full season in 1998, but 2000 saw a dramatic increase in his value in the minds of the MVP voters. Perhaps it was his third place finishes in both batting average (.345) and slugging (.664) to go with a nice .410 OBP for a fourth best 1.075 OPS (the Expo/Nat franchise record until surpassed by Bryce Harper in 2015). Or, maybe it was the 101 R, 44 HR (4th) or 123 RBI (5th) that sold the voters. I don’t know. But, what I do know is that players in the top-5 in all three Triple Crown stats tend to do pretty well in the MVP voting, and that’s exactly where Vlad found himself. Add in his incredible throws from right field and you have a player with unmistakable MVP-caliber credentials.
Jeff Bagwell, at this point ALSO somewhat of a perennial candidate following his MVP title of the strike-shortened 1994 season, had an interesting year in 2000. His .310/.424/.615 line (6th in OBP and OPS, 8th in SLG) is beyond solid, and that alone makes him a creditable candidate. Except that voters apparently noted that Bagwell, playing in Houston’s new bandbox ballpark, failed to improve on arguably better numbers posted the year before in the pitcher-friendly Astrodome, marks that earned him a runner-up MVP finish that season. Still, 42 HR (7th) and 132 RBI (3rd) look an awful lot like an MVP. But what REALLY makes Bags’s season stand out is the 152 runs he scored. Not only did it lead the NL – it was (and remains) the most runs scored by a player in MLB since 1936, when Lou Gehrig scored 167.
The Braves Andruw Jones, once a wunderkind World Series hero at age 19, had now matured into one of the best players in baseball, and perhaps the most electrifying centerfielder of all-time. His diving catches put other players, even the great Jim Edmonds, to shame. While coming to bat more than anyone else in the NL, Jones hit .303/.366/.541, scored 122 (5th) and banged out 199 H (3rd). While not necessarily near the top of the leaderboards in many other categories, he also homered 36 times and stole 21 bases (5th) to go with 355 TB for a team that finished with the league’s second-best record..
Finally, since I need to give you one pitching candidate, I’m going to go with the man who was making a play for the record books: Randy Johnson. Johnson led the NL in almost everything in 1998. His 19-7 record led the NL in winning percentage (.731) and placed 3rd in wins. But, that’s the worst he finished in any category, and the D-Backs weren’t yet the World Series winners they would become the following season. Johnson’s 8 complete games and 3 shutouts led the NL and his 248.2 IP placed second, just 2.1 behind leader Jon Lieber. Johnson was also second in ERA, just .06 behind Kevin Brown‘s leading mark posted in the pitcher-friendly confines of Dodger Stadium. What’s most impressive, though, are the strikeouts. Johnson managed 347 of them – actually fewer than he had the previous year, but his rate was 12.6 per nine. That was just a hair (.02) below Kerry Wood (1998) for the all-time NL lead (Pedro Martinez‘s 13.2 rate for the ’99 Red Sox is the best mark in either league). But while the strikeout rate was great, Johnson led in strikeouts by a whopping 130, the NL’s second-largest winning margin, behind only the 143 gap that Johnson himself posted the season before (Dazzy Vance, Sandy Koufax and J.R. Richard are the only other modern era pitchers to lead the senior circuit by 100+ strikeouts, each doing so just once). Basically, it’s check the stat and Johnson will rank in the NL’s top 3.
Our final candidate actually finished last (22nd) in the MVP vote: Antonio Alfonseca. However, Alfonseca led the league in saves (45) for the only time of his career, but continued to lead the league (as he had for three years and would for seven more) in fingers (12 – and yes, I stole that joke from America’s Finest News Source).
DIRECTIONS: Please list 5-10 players on your MVP ballot (ballots with fewer than 5 candidates will be thrown out). Ballots will be scored as per BBWAA scoring (14-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1). Strategic voting is discouraged, though unenforceable, so please just don’t do it, as the goal here is to (somewhat) mimic the BBWAA process. The post will be live for about a week; please discuss and vote whenever you’d like, but there will be no vote changes, so don’t vote until you’re sure you’re ready!