So what does it take for a player to be elected MVP? The voters, members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, cast their votes at the end of the regular season. Two writers in each league city list 10 players on their ballot, with 10 points awarded to the first-place player, nine points for the second-place player, etc. So it would be mathematically possible to win the award without getting any first-place votes.
The Gold Glove (sponsored by Rawlings) and Silver Slugger (sponsored by Hillerich and Bradsby) Awards are also voted on after the regular season. The voters are AL and NL managers and coaches, who can pick one player per position in the appropriate league, with the proviso that they cannot vote for players on their own teams.
The BBWAA voters are not connected with the major league managers, and the results are announced after the postseason, so the results of one election cannot affect another. But is there a correlation? The Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards cover almost all of a player’s capabilities, aside from base-running and the intangibles (e.g., leadership, selflessness), so can we say that a player who wins both in the same year is a lock to win the MVP award?
Since the inception of the Silver Slugger awards in 1980 (the Gold Gloves were first awarded in 1957), players can go for the gold and the silver simultaneously. So let’s look at the results.
The following tables list all MVP winners and how they fared in the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards and whether they were in the postseason. I have ignored pitchers for several reasons. For one thing, due to the DH rule in the AL, the only possible overlap is in the NL, and it has happened only once anyway (Mike Hampton, 2003). For another, on the rare occasions when a pitcher has won the MVP (four times in the AL, once in the NL) since 1980, the recognition is based on his moundsmanship, not his ability to field his position or his prowess with the bat.
|Year||Player||Silver Slugger||Gold Glove||Postseason|
|1997||Ken Griffey Jr.||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Year||Player||Silver Slugger||Gold Glove||Postseason|
So what can we learn from the above? For one thing, no MVP winner has ever been a three-way loser (no Silver Slugger, no Gold Glove, no postseason). Three-way winners are the exception, but they are not exactly rare. In the American League, there have been six: Robin Yount 1982, Ken Griffey Jr. 1997, Ivan Rodriguez 1999, Ichiro Suzuki 2001, Dustin Pedroia 2008, and Joe Mauer 2009; in the National League, it has happened 10 times: Mike Schmidt 1980 and 1981, Dale Murphy 1982, Ryne Sandberg 1984, Willie McGee 1985, Barry Bonds 1990 and 1992, Barry Larkin 1995, Ken Caminiti 1996 and Jimmy Rollins 2007.
In the 65 AL and NL seasons (2 X 36 = 72 seasons, but subtracting the five seasons pitchers won the MVP and the 1994 strike season, when there was no postseason, we end up with 65) profiled above, only 15 (or 23 percent of all) MVP winners went fishing after the regular season. So more than three out of four MVP winners have played on teams that reached the postseason, and presumably the voters are recognizing the heroic efforts of the MVP winner in helping his team triumph.
This is hardly breaking news. Of course MVP voters are influenced by the success of the team the candidate plays for. After all, how valuable could a player be to a lousy team? Remember Branch Rickey’s famous putdown of Ralph Kiner, who complained about a salary cut after winning the NL home run title his first seven years in the league: “We can finish last without you.” Since the Pirates had just finished the 1952 season at 42-112, Rickey was as correct as he was tactless.
The MVP voters agreed, as Kiner never won an MVP award even though he had some MVP-caliber seasons (notably 1947, 1949 and 1951). Even so, some players in similar situations had breakthroughs. For example, Alex Rodriguez won the 2003 MVP award after he had won a Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove, but he played on the last-place Rangers. Ditto for Andrew Dawson with the Cubs in 1987. Their seasons were so outstanding that the poor performance of their teams was overlooked. Sometimes a lousy supporting cast can’t drag down a star.
On the other hand, an outstanding season, player-wise and team-wise, doesn’t necessarily result in a postseason. For example, in 1993 Barry Bonds won the MVP in his first season with the Giants, even though they did not appear in the postseason. Their 103-59 record was outstanding, yet it left them in second place, one game behind the Braves, and there was no Wild Card in those days. Can’t hold it against Bonds (.336 with 46 homers and 123 RBI) because the Braves were marginally better than the Giants. No one on the Braves had a comparable offensive season, and their success was largely based on their starting pitchers (Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Steve Avery combined for 75 victories).
Bonds also won a Gold Glove in 1993, but that award, impressive as it might look in a trophy case, doesn’t seem to correlate with MVP voting. Regardless of the record of a player’s team, there are no instances of a Gold Glove winner winning the MVP without also winning the Silver Slugger.
It is possible to win the MVP award without winning either the Silver Slugger or the Gold Glove, so long as the candidate has played a key role on a team headed for the postseason. There have been two such cases in the American League, Jason Giambi of the 2000 Athletics, and Miguel Tejada of the 2002 A’s. In 2000 the Silver Slugger award for AL first baseman was won by Carlos Delgado. It could have gone either way. Giambi hit .333 with 43 homers and 137 RBI and led the league in OBP at .476; Delgado hit .344 with 41 homers and 137 RBI and led the league in total bases with 378. Giambi was with the first-place A’s and Delgado was with the also-ran (83-79) Blue Jays, yet Delgado prevailed. Go figure.
In 2002 the Silver Slugger award for AL shortstops was won by Alex Rodriguez, even though he played for the lowly Rangers (72-90). It was hard to ignore his 57 homers and 142 RBI, even with a “mere” .300 batting average. Miguel Tejada of the A’s had nothing to be ashamed of with 34 homers, 131 RBI and a .308 average, but he couldn’t compete with someone who had set the major league record for home runs by a shortstop. Tejada, however, played on a first-place team which had garnered a lot of attention thanks to a 20-game winning streak from mid-August through early September. He played a key role in that streak and his performance, along with that of his team, nabbed him, not Rodriguez, the MVP.
In the NL, there are three cases of the MVP winning neither the Gold Glove nor the Silver Slugger. They are Terry Pendleton in 1991, Albert Pujols in 2005, and Joey Votto in 2010.
Pendleton hit .319 with 22 homers and 86 RBI. The winner of the Silver Slugger award for third basemen, however, was the Mets’ Howard Johnson, who had 38 homers and 117 RBI, albeit with a .259 batting average. Perhaps the voters were looking for a bit more power production from a third baseman than Pendleton could offer. But Pendleton was the leading hitter on a first-place team, while Johnson was on an also-ran team with a record of 77-84. Voters for the Silver Slugger awards are more likely to ignore the team record of a candidate’s team. The mission is to select the best hitter, not the most “valuable.”
As consistent as Albert Pujols was during his tenure with the Cardinals, sometimes small differences mean a lot. In 2005 he hit .330 with 45 homers and 117 RBI; the following season he hit .331 with 49 homers and 137 RBI. The first year he won the Silver Slugger, the second he did not. For whatever reason, Silver Slugger voters in 2005 selected Derrek Lee, who enjoyed his best season (.335 with 46 homers and 107 RBI). Not much to choose from between Pujols and Lee in 2005, but for whatever reason, voters preferred Lee.
In 2010 Pujols had the upper hand in the Silver Slugger sweepstakes. He hit .312 with 42 homers and 118 RBI. That was not enough, however, to garner him the MVP, which went to Joey Votto, who had a slightly higher average (.324) but slightly lower power stats (37 homers and 113 RBI). The Reds won the NL Central, however, so Votto was more “valuable” than Pujols.
As important as playing on a winning team is, it is not the most important factor in winning the MVP award. Note that a Silver Slugger winner has won the MVP award 61 times.
So next autumn, if one were going to Vegas to place a bet on who was going to win the 2016 MVP, it would be best to check out the Silver Slugger winners as soon as they are announced, then note which players were on winning teams before placing a bet. No guarantees, but most of the time the winner will emerge from that short list.