Dr. Doom here, with my final post about re-voting MVPs. I want to begin by thanking you all for participating in these discussions. It’s been a lot of fun to write the posts and to read what everyone’s opinions are on these issues. If/when I have ideas about stuff in the future, I’ll write and see if I can convince Doug to post more stuff. I’ve been on this discussion board since it was the baseball-reference blog (I’m thinking it was sophomore year of college when I started posting a lot – the 2006-07 school year). I may be younger than a lot of the commenters here, but I stretch back as far as just about anyone in terms of being part of this community, and it’s meant a lot to me as it’s moved from bbref to blogspot and finally here. In all that time, I’ve been part of a lot of great discussions in the comments, but it’s been really, really fun to actually contribute some posts.
All of that aside, now the we’ve reached the end of these posts, it’s time to look back. We began this process in 1960. We’ve featured the National League 7 times, and the American League 6. And this week, the Junior Circuit finally pulls even as we have a rather unusual combination: a lazy (and possibly poor) choice for MVP, coupled with a TON of players having great, but perhaps not outstanding, seasons. This is the type of year I was most looking forward to debating, because there seem to be almost unlimited “right” answers. So let’s hop to it!
The four playoff teams in the AL were separated by only four games. As usual, the Yankees were tops in the league, this time with 97 wins, while the worst finisher among playoff teams was Oakland, at 93-69. The interesting stuff in 2006 happened in the AL Central, though. The AL Central always seems to be the most overlooked division in baseball. I don’t know why this is, but it seems like no one ever wants to talk about all those Midwestern manufacturing towns and their baseball teams. But 2006 was different.
For the fourth time in five years, the division belonged to the Twins, but they sure didn’t have an easy road. In late May, the Twins bottomed out, falling 12.5 back in the division. They were 12 back after 89 games – less than half a year to go, and a LOT of ground to make up. They were still trailing by double-digit games (10.5 back) as late as the morning of August 8th. In less than two months – only 51 games – they came roaring back. At the end of the season, though, both the Twinkies and their rival Tigers faltered. One game back with five to play, the Twins won only two of those final five (one on a walkoff). Alas for Detroit, the Tigers lost ALL FIVE of their final five, allowing the Twins to sneak their way to a division title. Of course, the Tigers got the last laugh by making it to the World Series – which isn’t so bad for a franchise that, a mere three years earlier, had gone 43-119.
Unsurprisingly, the best MVP candidates in 2006 came from that hotly-contested Central Division. We begin with the division winner and the man who won the MVP title: Justin Morneau. Morneau had showed promise as a rookie in 2004 with 19 homers in just 74 games but, given the everyday first base job the next year, he and the Twins regressed, with Morneau slashing only .239/.304/.437 with 22 HR in 141 G, and the Twins sliding to 3rd place after three straight division titles. Then, suddenly, he emerged as a 25-year-old in 2006. In a well-rounded season, Morneau batted .321 (7th), with .375 OBP and a .559 SLG (6th). The raw power numbers were there, too, as he legged out 37 doubles and mashed 34 homers. He scored 97 times, but really made his mark by finishing second in RBI, knocking in 130.
The next Twin we’ll look at is Joe Mauer. Mauer won his first batting title in 2006, the first time ever by an AL catcher. His .429 OBP was third, to which he added .507 SLG to make the AL’s 7th best OPS. Being a catcher, Mauer played only 140 G. Yet still he managed 36 2B and 13 HR to go along with his 86 R and 84 RBI. These are certainly more modest numbers than many other candidates, but keep in mind that Mauer was among the league’s best defenders at baseball’s most demanding everyday defensive position.
Given Mauer’s season, there were serious questions as to whether Morneau was even the best player on his team. No one made a fan look harder at that argument than a re-tread from our last AL post: Johan Santana. In the final year of his three-year run as the best pitcher in baseball, Santana led the league in wins with a 19-6 record (just .002 behind first for best W-L%) and added leading totals in ERA (2.77) and K (245) for a triple crown season (only Justin Verlander in 2011 has had one since in the AL) and second Cy Young award (the first coming in 2004, our previous MVP post). Santana’s 0.997 WHIP was best in the league, almost a baserunner better over 9 innings than Roy Halladay in second place. His 233.2 IP were 10 more than anyone else, and his 5.21 K:BB ratio ranked second, behind only perennial leader Curt Schilling. Essentially, Johan Santana was better than every other pitcher in the American League in 2006, by more or less every measure. Baseball-Reference was publishing a number of advanced stats by 2006, and Johan was leading in all of those, too. Feel free to look them up, if you need to. If there was a category to lead in, you can bet on seeing Johan Santana’s name at or very near the top.
But there were many more candidates in the Central than just those on the Twins. Tiger SS Carlos Guillen was one of the biggest reasons Detroit made the quantum leap from historically bad in 2003 to AL champs just three years later. Although he didn’t make the All-Star team, by the end of the season Guillen couldn’t be ignored. Ninth in average and eighth in OBP, Guillen batted .320/.400/.519, scored 100 and drove in 85, with 41 2B (9th), 19 HR and 20 SB.
Staying in the Central, the Indians were flush with candidates as well. Their MVP vote leader was DH Travis Hafner (get used to DHs – you’re going to see a lot of ’em in this post). Hafner had been a serious MVP candidate in 2004 and 2005, but his position and injury issues limited his vote totals. Same story in 2006, but he kept on hitting, and then some. Hafner’s dominating .308/.439/.659 slash yielded the league’s best OPS and SLG, and 2nd best OBP by mere thousandths of a point. He also posted a triple century in R (100), BB (100, 4th) and RBI (117, 6th) to go with 42 HR (3rd). That he managed all that in only 129 G is both astonishing and disappointing, as one projects what those totals might have looked like had he remained healthy over the full season.
Still, like the Twins, there was this nagging thought: was Hafner even the best player on his own team? If not, it was Grady Sizemore. Sizemore had burst onto the scene the year before, but now, as a 23-year-old, he established himself as an elite Major Leaguer. Playing in all 162 games (160 of them as an outstanding CFer), Sizemore led the league in 2B (53) and R (134). stole 22 bags, and legged out 11 triples (2nd). To that speed game Sizemore added plenty of pop, with 28 HR and 76 RBI, both outstanding totals from the leadoff spot. His .290/.375/.533 would be a fine slash for any young CFer, but were dazzling marks for an outstanding defender who would be recognized the next season with the first of two Gold Glove awards.
Also with two candidates were the Chicago White Sox. Former Indian and future Twin, DH Jim Thome smacked 42 HR (3rd), his fifth 40-HR season in six years. His 108 runs (7th) were the second highest total of his career (not bad for a famously lead-footed 35 year-old slugger), while his 109 RBI was another in a long line of stellar run producing totals; no wonder pitchers gave him a wide berth with 107 walks (3rd), as Thome completed the last of his 8 triple century (R, BB and RBI) seasons, the 5th highest total all-time. With those markers, it’s thus no surprise that Thome’s rate stats were equally as impressive, with .416 OBP (4th), .598 SLG (5th) and 1.014 OPS (4th).
But Thome wasn’t Chicago’s leading vote getter. That honor belonged to Jermaine Dye with a fourth place finish in the MVP balloting. Known as a flashy fielder, the Sox RFer posted the league’s 3rd-best SLG, part of a .315/.385/.622 slash. Dye scored 103 (10th), knocked in 120 (5th), and finished second in the AL with 44 HR. His 1.006 OPS was one of five AL marks over 1.000 and, of the five, Dye was easily the fleetest of foot and best defender.
We finally leave the Central, but do so by focusing next on one of the White Sox all-time greats, Frank Thomas. After 16 years in Chi-Town, Thomas became a free agent for just the second time following the 2005 season, and did what many thought unthinkable: he left Chicago and moved on to Oakland where he helped the A’s to a division title after second place finishes the two previous seasons. After injury limited him to just 108 games over his last two years with the Sox, Thomas had a resurgent season, slashing .270/.381/.545 to finish 8th in RBI (114) and 5th in HR (39), and delivering when it counted with a .344/.379/.869 clip and 10 home runs in 15 games to start the month of September.
We now swap coasts and look at our third DH – the man who finished one spot above Thomas in the MVP voting. David Ortiz, who figured in our 2004 discussion (as he would were we to have a 2016 discussion), had a very… David Ortiz-like year in 2006. His career bests in HR (54) and BB (119) were both league-leading totals, as were his 137 RBI. His 115 R ranked third as did his 1.049 OPS, coming from a .287/.413/.636 slash, good for 6th in OBP and 2nd in SLG. Ortiz was the only 1.000 OPS player who managed 150+ games, giving him perhaps a leg up over Hafner (129), Manny Ramirez (130), Thome (143), and Dye (146).
The last of the 12 (!) candidates I’m looking at this go-round is the MVP runner-up and Yankee Captain, Derek Jeter. Jeter placed second in the league in R (118) and third in H (214), and added 97 RBI from the 2-hole, from 39 doubles and 14 HR. At age 32, he stole a career-high 34 bases (7th), and he nearly won his first batting title, falling .004 short of Mauer, part of a .343/.417/.483 slash (4th in OBP) that was good for .900 OPS, still the best by a shortstop since 1941 in a qualified, full-length season with fewer than 15 home runs.
So, that does it for our posts. In this final re-vote of MVPs past, who are you taking? Is it someone from the NL Central, which seemed to be the BBWAA’s preferred division? Or are you more interested in the coasts? Let’s have some lively discussion and a good vote!
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!