Getting Shut Out of the MVP Voting

You can set your watch to it: Every year after the MVP awards are announced, people complain about who got — or didn’t get — votes. We SABR nerds at Fangraphs are no different. But, of course, we look at things a little differently. With that in mind, here are some SABR-darlings who haven’t gotten a single MVP vote in five years — and why that might not change this year.

First things first, though. We need a metric by which to measure player production. Since this is Fangraphs, we’ll use WAR as the measuring stick. I’m using a five-year range because most MVP voters will have had some exposure to advanced metrics during that time.

So, here are the players who finished in the top 10 WAR rankings at the end of the season, but who didn’t get a single MVP vote (average 2.4 players per season):

SABRE Darling Year League WAR WAR Rank wRC+ Fld+BsR
Brett Gardner 2010 AL 6.1 8 120 29.8
Andres Torres 2010 NL 6.8 4 126 27.3
Rickie Weeks 2010 NL 6.5 6 128 6.1
Kelly Johnson 2010 NL 5.9 10 128 6.1
Franklin Gutierrez 2009 AL 6.3 6 105 32.4
Carl Crawford 2009 AL 5.9 7 125 18.5
Jason Bartlett 2009 AL 5.5 9 140 -0.5
Nick Markakis 2008 AL 6.3 3 137 13.7
Alex Rios 2008 AL 5.6 7 113 23.8
B.J. Upton 2008 AL 5.0 10 118 10.7
Jimmy Rollins 2008 NL 5.6 10 114 15.7
Russell Martin 2007 NL 5.9 9 121 8.0
Adrian Beltre 2006 AL 4.9 10 105 18.4
Scott Rolen 2006 NL 5.6 10 126 13.0
Average = 5.9 7.8 121.9 15.9
Range = 4.9 to 6.8 3 to 10 105 to 140 -0.5 to 32.4

Some generalities can be made about this group:

•  None of the top players was missed. On average, the players who didn’t receive a vote had ~6 WAR and were ranked eighth overall.

•  Generally, the players didn’t hit great that season. They had an average wRC+ of ~122. From 2006 to 2010, the players with the closest wRC+ were Jermaine Dye, Andre Either and Hideki Matsui. All of them are good hitters, but not great ones.

•  This group can field and run. With the lack of trust in fielding metrics, I understand how these players fell. Each of these players got an average boost of 1.6 WAR because of their fielding and base-running abilities.

I took the range of values from above and looked for players might be shut out from votes in 2011. Here are the top 10 position players in WAR in the AL and NL :

Rank Name League Team wRC+ UZR + BsR WAR
1 Jacoby Ellsbury AL Red Sox 150 16.8 9.4
2 Jose Bautista AL Blue Jays 181 -2.1 8.3
3 Dustin Pedroia AL Red Sox 134 17.0 8.0
4 Ian Kinsler AL Rangers 128 20.8 7.7
5 Miguel Cabrera AL Tigers 177 -6.6 7.3
6 Curtis Granderson AL Yankees 146 0.8 7.0
7 Alex Gordon AL Royals 141 14.1 6.9
8 Ben Zobrist AL Rays 131 13.1 6.6
9 Adrian Gonzalez AL Red Sox 153 2.5 6.6
10 Evan Longoria AL Rays 134 11.3 6.1
1 Matt Kemp NL Dodgers 171 -1.7 8.7
2 Ryan Braun NL Brewers 179 -0.5 7.8
3 Joey Votto NL Reds 155 5.0 6.9
4 Justin Upton NL Diamondbacks 140 12.1 6.4
5 Troy Tulowitzki NL Rockies 138 4.5 6.3
6 Jose Reyes NL Mets 149 -1.4 6.2
7 Brandon Phillips NL Reds 119 14.6 6.0
8 Shane Victorino NL Phillies 135 8.6 5.9
9 Andrew McCutchen NL Pirates 129 4.2 5.7
10 Prince Fielder NL Brewers 162 -10.5 5.5

Each of these players was removed from consideration for the following reasons:

Jose Bautista, Ryan Braun, Jacoby Ellsbury and Matt Kemp: Ranked first or second in their respective league in WAR.

Miguel Cabrera, Alex Gordon, Curtis Granderson, Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia and Joey Votto: All six had a WAR above 6.8.

Note: Alex Gordon barely made the WAR cut (by 0.1) and wRC+ cut (by 1). When I initially looked over the lists, Gordon’s name stood out as the player who didn’ get any votes. I’ll have see if my gut or if the numbers are right with him.

Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder and Jose Reyes: Each had a wRC+ greater than 140.

Seven players remained.

Evan Longoria, Troy Tulowitzki, Justin Upton and Ben Zobrist are all at the upper limits of the range of values. They have a chance of being shut out, but those chances are slimmer than the next guys: Andrew McCutchen, Brandon Phillips and Shane Victorino. Both McCutchen and Victorino have low WAR totals, but at least they have some value with wRC+ — which are higher than normal. If they fail to get an MVP vote, I wouldn’t be surprised. Phillips, though, appears to be the No. 1 candidate who could get the MVP-vote goose egg. Almost a quarter of his WAR came from fielding and base running. And he wasn’t that great of a hitter to begin with.

It’s no surprise, then, that players who have had great WAR seasons have been shut out of the MVP voting. Most of the time, though, these players were non-elite hitters who got a considerable amount of value from fielding and base running. And this year, Brandon Phillips fits that mold.

Print This Post

Jeff writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times and Royals Review, as well as his own website, Baseball Heat Maps with his brother Darrell. In tandem with Bill Petti, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

35 Responses to “Getting Shut Out of the MVP Voting”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Josh says:

    I really would not be surprised if Kinsler doesn’t get a single vote

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • colin says:

      Ditto, that was my first thought from that list.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • colin says:

        Hate replying to myself but I cannot edit/add.

        Lowest wRC+ of the top 10 with seemingly little media attention playing for a team with bigger named sluggers who had very good seasons.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Eric says:

      Me either; hell the guy gets ripped by local radio / fans. I can’t believe the number of people with whom I’ve spoken who lament that he starts at 2nd instead of Young. A little piece of me dies every time I hear that…

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Nick says:

        We’ll take him over here in Minnesota!

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Keystone Heavy says:

        As a Rangers fan (named Eric no less!), here is my take on it. Kinsler can be a frustrating player to watch. He often has poor body language, and he tends to argue with umps. And as far as “eye test” production, he seems lackluster during games. No secret, he has a low BA and BABIP (mainly due to how many fly balls he hits). There also seems to be a perception that he makes alot of errors (which isn’t really true). But as frustrating as he can be to watch live, you just sit back and see the range, double plays, power numbers, walk rates, BB:K, and base stealing success rate, and you know that he actually IS a top 3 2B in baseball.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • DCN says:

        Granted, I’ve never watched him live, but watching on TV the impression I get from the eye test is “this guy is really good.” He takes those long at bats, often finds his way on base after being behind in counts, and hits homers, as a middle infielder who doesn’t look like much of a hitter physically. Obviously a good baserunner, and makes some ridiculous defensive play seemingly every game. Not a Rangers fan but it’s evident he’s a very good player.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jacob says:

      Thought the same thing. I’m a Rangers fan and love Kinsler but I’m not expecting much

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Hugh says:

    The removal of Gordon is not going “by the numbers”. Using a strict upper bound (in this case 6.8 WAR) created from a five year sample drastically underestimates the variability of the population you are targeting here (undervalued MVP candidates).

    From a statistical standpoiont, by removing him from possible consideration you’re implying that the probability that he belongs to this population to be very small (in regular statistics, less than 5%). That’s an incredibly strong presumption given such a small sample and that he falls just beyond the outer bound. Sorry to be snippy about this issue, as I really do enjoy posts like these that look at peculiar quirks, but as a statistician I feel unnaturally compelled to call out robust conclusions drawn from minimal data. The rest of the analysis was really interesting!!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Nick44 says:

      Statisticians recognize the arbitrary nature in the use of the 5% cutoff.

      Also, given the data and being Bayesian would make it more likely to see Alex Gordon get a vote.

      But, given that you can update his prior with the information that 1) His name is Alex Gordon and 2) He plays for the Royals – I would call it unlikely he gets a single MVP vote.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Drew says:

    7 of the top 10 AL players are in the AL East. Sounds about right.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. colin says:

    Why not include pitchers here? I mean there are a few who will clearly get votes.

    AL pitchers with over a 6.4 WAR: Verlander, Sabathia, Haren
    NL pitchers with over a 5.5 WAR: Halladay, Kershaw, Lee

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. TK says:

    I’d say four guys are possible and in this order:

    1. Phillips
    2. Zobrist
    3. Gordon
    4. McCutchen

    Victorino has some name recognition and is the highest ranked player on the team with the most wins in the NL. He’ll get top-5 votes. Longoria and Tulo have star power and everyone believes in their defensive ability. Longoria also made playoffs and hit that homer. That’ll get him some votes right there. Tulo is widely considered one of the top 5 players in baseball, even by non-SABR standards. Upton was a candidate for winning the award Sept. 1. He’ll also get top-5 votes.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. vivalajeter says:

    Interesting that Jimmy Rollins got an undeserved MVP in 2007, but was left off the ballot completely the following year despite being top-10 WAR.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. Peco says:

    Yeah. it is pretty much a lock that Kinsler’s much deserved mvp support will go to the undeserving Michael Young.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. pudieron89 says:

    Zobrist almost never gets recognition, don’t expect that to change this year.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. Kyle says:

    Would imagine Alex Gordon could get snubbed too.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Eliot says:

    Not a surprise that defense is really undervalued in the voting.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. tim says:

    The WAR stat is very flawed in my opinion. For one thing, I have no idea how it’s computed. But mainly, the mark of an effective stat for individuals is to measure how the stat does for teams. In terms of team WAR, and team offensive WAR, the Yankees ranked in the middle of pack, when in reality, they were second in the league in runs scored and first in wins. The stat is simply not a good reflection of all-around value, as its supporters claim.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Troll Wrangler says:

      All about WAR:

      Although I don’t think we’re quite on the same page, I also dislike WAR’s overuse. I think it overvalues fielding, particularly since UZR has some serious flaws. UZR for team IF/OF (and IF/OF players) correlates too strongly to batted ball [against] profiles for my liking.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Platypus says:

      The Yankees offensive fWAR was 3rd in all of baseball, only behind Red Sox and Rangers. That sounds plausible. Where are you getting the “middle of the pack” thing from? Or maybe I’m looking at the wrong list, in which case feel free to correct me.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • maguro says:

      How can you be so sure that WAR is “very flawed” if you have no idea how it’s computed?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Eric R says:

      I summed up the WAR for each team for 2001-2010 and did a correlation to team wins. It came out at .893 which is pretty damn solid!

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. Joe says:

    So this post is about people lamenting those who do not get votes but had no shot at winning anyhow? Does it matter if someone places 10th in the MVP voting?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. TK says:

    Does it matter if someone places 1st?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. Paul says:

    A better approach (though maybe not mathematical as the one taken) would be to a qualatitive view, as the quantative view has removed IMO the 2 top AL candidates (Kinsler and Gordon)

    Also taking the top 10 hitters in WAR and looking for a snub is a big disengenious surely? How can there not be one? A voter can only vote for his/her own top 10 – including pitchers and ‘home-town’ votes. Usually there are 1 or 2 SP worth a vote, and Closers tend to pick up some MVP love.

    So out of 14 ‘snubs’ 8 were 8-10 in hitter WAR. It is not unbelievable to leave these guys off a ballot if you want to highlight a pitcher or 2, maybe a local guy, having 10 votes means you can do this (as opposed to the old CYA with a top 3, thankfully now a top 5)

    What do the previous snubs have in common?
    1. WAR values that contain large percentages of UZR/BSR rather than hitting
    2. Good players on loser teams and/or small market teams with low national coverage and/or being the ‘lesser light’ on their respective teams

    In the AL, Kinsler (though I like him as a player) has a crappy AVE, is DEF/BSR value heavy, and is overshadowed in Texas by Young/Beltre/Hamilton/Cruz etc.. Seems a snub candidate to me.

    Gordon plays in KC, better bat, but DEF/BSR heavy, though may have a narrative in his favour as ex-elite prosepect finally coming good. Hard to dish out MVP votes for KC.

    Zobrist (again I’d love him on my club) is seen as a lesser light to Longoria

    In the AL, I would expect Verlander to be on most MVP ballots, and wouldn’t be surprised to see Beltre, Young, Cano, Avila, some SP like CC, Weaver and Shields, or even some closers like Valverde appear an some ballots. While the big guys like Miggy, JoeyBats, Granderson, Sox2/3 likely won’t be missed off many ballots, it means the lower end WAR guys must be.

    A similar squeeze is going to happen in the HoF soon

    Agree that Phillips/Vict/McCutch are very likely to suffer a similar fate in the NL (bear in mind that the Cards3 are not in the Top 10 in WAR, and that the MVP voters will give some votes to Halladay at the very least in pitching, and it would be nice to see McCann and Montero get some votes as premier C)

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Ian R. says:

      Sure, each writer can only vote for his own top 10, and so the guys in the bottom of the top 10 tend to get left off in favor of pitchers and hometown votes. But:

      1) The guys ranked 8-10 have their own hometown voters, right? Surely even Alex Gordon could snag a vote from one of the KC writers. There must be something about certain players that causes them to be overlooked even by their own team’s biggest fans.

      2) Every writer has a different way of ranking his top 10. If every writer were using unique criteria, you’d expect everyone in the actual top 10 (according to WAR) to get at least one vote most years. That a certain type of player tends to get overlooked year after year points to a persistent (and interesting) trend in the voting.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Paul says:

        Point 1:-
        Agree with the point that hometown votes are available to all, but to be honest the ‘hometown’ MVP vote is more likely given to the ‘great team guy/clutch guy/local star’ rather than the ‘underappreciated guy who hit well for his position, played great DEF and had marvellous BSR’

        i.e. Gardner 2009 is less likely to get the NYA vote than Cano/CC/Tex/Mariano etc…

        Point 2:-
        I’d also make the point that guys get more ‘funglible’ the lower down the WAR rankings, so while the top 5/6 are maybe clear and distanced from the rest, 8-10, even in the WAR list may not really be statistically significant from 11-15.

        So a guy tips a vote to No. 11 over No. 8, leading to more 8-10 guys being left off – basically by selecting a small set of players 8-10 from a big sample of basically very similar ‘WAR valued’ players, you will find that in some cases, 8-10 gets lets off in favour of 11-13, and to be hoenst, it may well be intellectually correct, as we might be looking at a 0.1-0.3 differenct in WAR (i.e. no real difference)

        Also WAR is but 1 method used to value player’s contribution. It does a good job for hitters who have underappreciated skills (good bat at hard DEF position, good DEF in itself, good BSR) – but the point is that are underappreciated skills, so less likely to be in the minds of voters.

        The point is that most of these snubs are not really snubs; fWAR top 10 is one way of ranking a top 10 (and I like it for hitters mostly), but how many other ways of ranking a top 10 (ranging from good to bad, but vaguley justifiable based on precedent) are there that leave off the 8-10 guys? Plently I’d say, and that’s the reason its not really a snub

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. SeanP says:

    Nick Markakis, ex-sabr darling.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. Jeff Zimmerman says:

    The numbers nailed it and my gut was wrong.

    Phillips and McCuchen left off.

    Vote -1 Vote +1