The Neglected: The Best Non-MVP AL Players

While the MVP award announcements are normally used as an opportunity to make snide comments and question the intelligence of writers, I prefer to think of them a different way. We know that we’ll never be able to convert everyone to sabermetrics, and there are always going to be one or two people that make questionable decisions on their ballots. Instead of focusing our attention on them, why not move that focus back to where it’s supposed to be: the players.

The MVP award (and the subsequent conversation surrounding it) is a chance for us to recognize players for having impressive, noteworthy years. Twenty-three players received a vote during this year’s AL MVP voting, but there were still more out there that had seasons worth remembering. These players aren’t necessarily “snubs”, since each player in the MVP voting also deserved recognition for their seasons; it’s simply there are sometimes more players doing exceptional things than can be highlighted.

So even if the BBWAA missed these players, let’s give a few of them the spotlight they deserve.

Dan Haren — 3.17 ERA, 2.98 FIP, 6.4 WAR

Only four pitchers received votes for the AL MVP award: Justin Verlander, C.C. Sabathia, James Shields, and David Robertson. Verlander and Sabathia were the top two pitchers in the league in WAR, and James Shields impressed the voting crew with his 11 complete games and 2.82 ERA. Robertson…well, I’m not entirely sure why he got on a ballot.

If you compare Haren with Verlander and Sabathia, though, he’s oh-so-close behind them. His peripheral stats (FIP, SIERA) are identical or just slightly worse than what they produced, and he pitched an impressive 238 innings. Sadly, though, pitchers don’t receive as much attention on MVP ballots, and Haren was not close enough to garner any votes. It was arguably the best or second-best season of his career — he put up 6.5 WAR in 2008, and 6.1 WAR in 2009 — and he was one of the main reasons the Angels finished with 86 wins. He gets overshadowed on his own team by Jered Weaver, but he’s one of the best pitchers in the game.

Mike Napoli – 30 HR, .444 wOBA, 5.6 WAR

Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre, and Josh Hamilton all received votes for the AL MVP, but Mike Napoli didn’t receive a single one despite having a better batting line than all of them (.320/.414/.631) and more WAR than two of them. Sure, he only collected 430 plate appearances, but if a player mashes that much in limited time, shouldn’t they still receive credit?

Without a doubt, this past season was the best of Napoli’s career. He’d shown power potential with the Angels, but his .312 ISO in 2011 was the best in the majors out of all players with more than 400 at bats. It seems unlikely that he’ll have another season like this, but he will only be 30 years old next season so you never know.

Howie Kendrick – .349 wOBA, 17 UZR, 5.8 WAR

It’s not surprising that Kendrick didn’t get any votes for MVP, as he derived a large part of his value this season from playing exception defense at second base. And before you start giving me crap about citing UZR, it wasn’t just UZR that thought Kendrick was excellent in the field this season; Defensive Runs Saved also had him as a +15 defender at second.

Even if you are doubtful about Kendrick’s defense, though, he was quite valuable on offense for the Angels. He was the best hitter on their team, coming in 20% above average on offense; Peter Bourjos was the second best on the team at 11% above average. Kendrick had been an average to above average player every season in the majors, but he finally broke out in 2011.

Casey Kotchman (2.8 WAR) & Jeff Francoeur (2.9 WAR)

Chalk these two guys under the “You’re not an MVP, but I can’t believe you had such an amazing year” category. Saberists are quick to find those players that they love to make fun of for being so bad — Kotchman and Francoeur two are prime examples — so it only seems fair to give these players props when they perform. Kudos to them both.

Anyone else you think deserves a hat tip for their performance this year? Give them a shout out in the comments.




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Steve is the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library. You can follow him on Twitter at @steveslow.

44 Responses to “The Neglected: The Best Non-MVP AL Players”

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  1. Stephen says:

    Alex Gordon – candidate for “Comeback Player of the Year Award” even if he was coming back from not panning out until this year?

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  2. peachesnnuts says:

    I went to Cot’s today to check Robertson’s contract for incentives based on MVP or Cy Young votes. Unfortunately they weren’t there. Would have been awesome if he and some voter went halvsies on a $10,000 bonus.

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    • Justin Bailey says:

      I’m looking at Michael Young’s stats trying to figure out what might theoretically justify a first-place vote. Could it be that he led in hits? Maybe a combination of that, the batting average (T-2) and topping 100 RBI? I’m really not sure what that voter’s explanation would be.

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      • Justin Bailey says:

        That was not meant to be a reply to that comment.

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      • Chozo Ruins says:

        It was a Texas writer, of course.

        He said, “My eyes told me Michael Young meant more to the Texas Rangers and their success than any player in the American League.”

        The guy’s name is Evan Grant.

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      • Colin says:

        Evan Grant you say….

        Get your pitch forks ready!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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      • Colin says:

        Also, I love how he found a way to include the statement, “my eyes told me”

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      • dannyrangers32 says:

        i think its justifiable. Maybe not too agreeable but you can make a case for michael young. i know i know from my name im obviously a rangers fan…but still this guy is a total face of the franchise, he played in EVERY infield position (yes, he did have some, uh, minor fielding issues). but still if it werent for michael young, really i dont think the rangers would have won 90 games. Because of his presense (just ask any ranger) i think you can argue he provided 10 wins for the rangers.
        and oh yeah mike napoli and ian kinsler were the best rangers by far, but their presense and leadership still werent equal to that of michael young

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  3. stumanji says:

    Doesn’t really relate to the regular season MVP due to the time of the voting, but I think it’s at least worth noting Napoli was probably one strike away from being the World Series MVP. More people may actually take notice of his great 2011 regular season because of his strong showing in the WS.

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  4. Anon says:

    Robertson got 1 point. Some writers give the tenth place on their ballot to people just to give them some attention (just like you did at the end of this article).

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  5. Preston says:

    I laughed when I saw DRob get that vote for MVP. People were critical enough when he got a vote for the Cy young.

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  6. Bryan says:

    Mike Napoli didn’t even get a 10th place vote, while Michael Young, the reason Napoli didn’t get more plate appearances, got a first place vote. That’s beyond absurd.

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  7. Hurtlocker says:

    Michael Young got a first place vote and finished 8th???? That is crazy.

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  8. deadpool says:

    It isn’t the worst MVP vote in recent memory. At the very least the writers have started looking at this season as opposed to operating a season behind while they make up for a mistake the previous year.

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  9. B N says:

    Not quite sure why Napoli couldn’t have another season like this. He’s always hit very well in Arlington, even in prior years. I’m not saying it will necessarily be next year, but I would expect one of the next 3 years to be 25+ HR and an average of 0.300+. With that said, as a part time player I don’t think the ceiling goes too much higher either.

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    • John says:

      He can’t have another season like this because few people ever have another season like this, let alone a single season like this. How many first basemen do you know that hit a 1.000+ OPS every season? And now how many catchers. Never been done.

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      • kick me in the GO NATS says:

        Mike Piazza got darn close to three in a row 1995, 1996, and 1997
        ops: 1.006, .985, 1.069. he did average over 1.000 ops for the three years.

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    • Avielth says:

      He could and likely will put up impressive seasons with the bat in the future, but I’d be surprised if he hit .300+ multiple times. He doesn’t have the track record of hitting for that kind of average, but he doesn’t really need the BA to remain a very valuable contributor.

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  10. grandbranyan says:

    Of course Haren didn’t get any votes, his fast ball is too slow and he gives up too many home runs. Just a glorified Joe Blanton.

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  11. Keystone Heavy says:

    As a Rangers fan, I nearly punched my laptop when I saw the voting results. I think you can argue MY vs Kinsler, but Beltre and napoli were the 2 best players on the team. C’mooooon maaaaan!!!!!

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  12. Spunky says:

    Steve, as someone who will use this MVP ballot as a chance to make snide remarks about the voters, allow me to say: thank you. You’re right–I should be focusing on the players who did well, not the writers who didn’t.

    That being said, let’s see if I can give a shout-out or two….

    Elvis Andrus: Best BsR and 4.5 WAR made for the best season of his career.
    Alexi Ramirez: Not quite as good a BsR or batting line, but his lightly better fielding contributed to a 4.9 WAR this year.
    Derek Jeter: Just kidding.
    And…in a very different light (and as a Yankees fan), Jesus Montero. Small sample size and .400 BABIP aside, he still had above a 10% BB% and a .6 WAR in only 18 games. I’m excited to see what he does next year.

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  13. Bill says:

    Let’s see if we can expose the following voters who deserve to have their vote revoked:

    Michael Young 1st(Evan Grant, he revealed this himself), Michael Young 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 5th
    Jacoby Ellsbury 10th
    David Robertson 10th
    Jose Bautista 7th, 8th, 9th
    Curtis Granderson 1st(3 offenders)
    Anyone who put Verlander 1st but left Sabathia completely off the ballot(Since only 2 had Sabathia on there, we have 11 offenders)

    Yikes, not many writers who should escape the axe

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    • Jason says:

      Your list is exactly why they ask multiple people to vote, rather than just having one person vote many times.

      Many of the things you think unthinkable seem perfectly reasonable to me. Curtis Granderson first? Why not? Some might see him as the best player on the team with the best record in the league (and a team considered to be an underdog going into the season).

      Sabathia left off the ballot? Many voters reasonable don’t like to vote for pitchers. Especially pitchers who aren’t even clearly the most valuable player on their own team, let alone the league.

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      • Bill says:

        Why not Granderson 1st? A .262 hitter who ranked 10th in the AL with a 24.5 K% and whose strongest offensive attribute, his HR power, was greatly inflated by the most home run-friendly ballpark for a left handed hitter in baseball. Did I mention the below average defense?

        “Sabathia left off the ballot? Many voters reasonble don’t like to vote for pitchers.”

        That is exactly why I said that any voter who put Verlander first AND left Sabathia off the ballot should have their vote revoked. If a voter is giving a pitcher full consideration, it’s utterly unjustifiable to have Verlander first and Sabathia nowhere to be found in the top 10

        “Especially pitchers who aren’t even clearly the most valuable player on their own team, let alone the league.”

        Sabathia isn’t the most valuable pitcher on his own team? Are you out of your mind? He was 1st in the AL in WAR. He was a full 4 WAR above any other Yankees pitcher. I can tell I’m not dealing with the normal high-intellectual capacity fangraphs reader. Please go back to espn.com

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      • Zeke says:

        Bill’s point (and it was a fair one) is that a voter CAN make a logically consistent case for excluding pitchers, but there’s NO way you can reasonably vote for Verlander (esp. first overall) but then exclude Sabathia when their seasons were so similar.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        Greatly inflated? His ISO was .020 higher at home, hardly “greatly inflated,” especially when we consider that players typically perform better at home. His wOBA and wRC+ were identical at home and on the road, and both were 6th in the AL overall. There are legitimate questions about how accurately his 2011 UZR reflects his defense. I wouldn’t have voted him first, but it’s not horrifically indefensible to do so, and the fact that you used batting average to claim it was makes me wonder how exactly you were evaluating candidates.

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      • IvanGrushenko says:

        The rules state that you cannot categorically exclude pitchers and that you have to consider everyone. If you do that you should not be allowed to vote for MVP

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      • Jason says:

        Bill,

        Despite your typical fangraphs high intellectual capacity, you seem to have missed my point. The point was that reasonable people might disagree. The reason we take polls is to find a consensus from the diversity of opinion. Yours isn’t the only valid opinion. Disagreement with you is not evidence that someone should have their voting rights revoked.

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      • Jason says:

        Ivan,

        I don’t think the rules state anything about excluding anyone. I think the rules stipulate that all players regardless of position can be considered. However, if a voter prefers not to vote for pitchers, that is their right.

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      • Jason says:

        Zeke,

        I don’t think it necessarily logically incongruent to vote for Verlander but not Sabathia. This can happen if a voter does not vote for pitchers except under extreme circumstances. Suppose a voter sees Verlander’s performance as one for the ages, while CC’s performance was just a typical good year for a starting pitcher. A voter who thinks this way may have no problem casting a vote for an alltime performance while ignoring run of the mill performances from other good pitchers. I suspect this is what happened.

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  14. Kyle says:

    Brian Matusz deserves recognition for helping the Orioles live down to their expectations once again. What a year, Brian, what a year

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  15. GWizzle says:

    Evan Longoria!

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  16. Fish Monster says:

    Daric Barton.

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  17. jim says:

    dan johnson

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  18. pssguy says:

    “”Especially pitchers who aren’t even clearly the most valuable PLAYER on their own team, let alone the league.””

    “Sabathia isn’t the most valuable PITCHER on his own team”

    Before you slate somebody, at least have the courtesy to read what they wrote.

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  19. Yirmiyahu says:

    Russell Martin: most valuable catcher in the league, after being non-tendered.
    Alejandro De Aza: 2.8 WAR in a 54-game callup.
    And you should add Melky Cabrera to the Kotchman/Francoeur category.

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  20. Casey Kotchman says:

    Man, I totally screwed the Mariners. Too bad I couldn’t see that I was doing it.

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  21. Matt C says:

    How bout Jhonny Peralta? I don’t think he got a vote despite a 5.2 win season which led all AL shortstops.

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