Catching A Vote

It was inevitable that at least one of the moribund division races would heat up, and the AL Central has stepped up to the plate, with the Twins – despite the loss of Justin Morneau – being carried on the back of Joe Mauer to a 25-12 record in their last 37 games since falling 5 games under .500, including an 11-1 stretch snapped only by Zack Greinke yesterday, to pull within 2 games of the Tigers entering a 4-game set in Detroit starting tonight for all the marbles. Mauer, for his part, has – despite the wear and tear of catching 102 games since returning to action May 1 – batted .399/.475/.622 since August 2, .406/.513/.594 since September 7.
If Mauer manages to pull this team to a division title with multiple holes in its lineup and a wobbly pitching staff, the MVP debate will intensify, as the writers seem primed (as I’ve discussed previously) to give the award to Derek Jeter, despite Mauer being far and away the best hitter in the league – leading the AL in batting by 20 points, OBP by 32, slugging by 34, OPS by 95, and likely to finish around 600 plate appearances while spending 80% of his time as a catcher and despite missing a month of the season.
It occurred to me that it was worth looking back at how other big-hitting catchers have fared in the MVP balloting over the years. Here’s the top 25 seasons by a catcher who qualified for the batting title and spent at least 75% of his games behind the plate, in years that MVP awards were given, ranked by OPS+, along with how they finished in the MVP balloting and who won the award:

# Catcher Year OPS+ PA Vote Winner OPS+ Pos
1 Mike Piazza 1997 185 633 2 Larry Walker 178 RF
2 Joe Mauer 2009 181 567
3 Mike Piazza 1995 172 475 4 Barry Larkin 133 SS
4 Mike Piazza 1996 166 631 2 Ken Caminiti 173 3B
5 Johnny Bench 1972 166 652 1
6 Chris Hoiles 1993 162 503 16 Frank Thomas 177 1B
7 Carlton Fisk 1972 162 514 4 Dick Allen 199 1B
8 Ernie Lombardi 1942 161 347 13 Mort Cooper SP
9 Roy Campanella 1951 159 562 1
10 Gabby Hartnett 1937 158 405 2 Joe Medwick 180 RF
11 Bill Dickey 1936 158 472 5 Lou Gehrig 190 1B
12 Mickey Cochrane 1933 157 542 15 Jimmie Foxx 200 1B
13 Darren Daulton 1992 156 585 6 Barry Bonds 205 LF
14 Joe Torre 1966 156 614 16 Roberto Clemente 146 RF
15 Mike Piazza 2000 155 545 3 Jeff Kent 162 2B
16 Roy Campanella 1953 155 590 1
17 Jorge Posada 2007 154 589 6 Alex Rodriguez 177 3B
18 Roy Campanella 1955 153 522 1
19 Ernie Lombardi 1938 153 529 1
20 Mike Piazza 1998 152 626 14 Sammy Sosa 160 RF
21 Mike Piazza 1993 152 602 9 Barry Bonds 204 LF
22 Dick Dietz 1970 152 612 NA Johnny Bench 141 C
23 Gabby Hartnett 1933 151 461 1
24 Bubbles Hargrave 1926 151 365 6 Bob O’Farrell 112 C
25 Mickey Cochrane 1931 149 521 9 Lefty Grove SP

Jeter’s OPS+, if you are wondering, is 127.
I was surprised by how many guys there were on the list who fared very poorly in the voting. Obviously, the cheif takeaway here is that the voters never respected Mike Piazza. Other cases are justifiable: no shame losing to a Triple Crown winner, or getting beat by Lou Gehrig or Barry Bonds in their primes, and no surprise that guys with less than 400 plate appearances did poorly in the voting. In other cases, somebody else got robbed (Sandy Koufax, 1966). It’s appalling that Dick Dietz didn’t get any MVP support at all, but not so surprising that the winner in 1970 was Johnny Bench, who drove in 148 runs for a pennant-winning team and was Johnny Bench behind the plate. But even so, more of these guys should have been finishing close to the top, if not the top.
We’ll see what the AL voters do this time.

13 thoughts on “Catching A Vote”

  1. Has there ever been a season where all four of the Cy Young and MVP winners are so clear cut – at least in terms of who should win? Pujols is a no-brainer, it will be a crime is Greinke loses, Mauer ought to win, and I now think Lincecum has it locked up. I thought Carpenter might have had a case, but then I looked at the numbers and it’s not even close.

  2. I think you still can make an argument for Halladay, Felix Hernandez, even Sabathia. Halladay has to pitch constantly against the Yanks and Red Sox and in 3 hitter friendly parks- Yankeee Stadium, Fernway Park and Camden Yards. Sabathia has all his home games at Yankee Stadium. What would Sabathia and Halladays number look like if they primarily went against AL Central teams?
    Regarding Jeter- his being a Yankee probably cost him against Morneau. He is batting leadoff this year, would probably have the same number of runs, but a lot more rbis if he was batting 3rd.

  3. I think you still can make an argument for Halladay, Felix Hernandez, even Sabathia
    At this point I don’t think you can. Greinke’s park-independent statistics blow all those guys away. And what would Greinke’s number look like if he was able to pitch 4 or 5 times a year against his own team?
    You can throw all the variables you want out there, but Greinke is having one of the top 10-15 seasons in the history of baseball. He’s one of the few to put together a 200/200/200 season (IP, ERA+, Ks). Hell, based on WAR there’s an argument for him to be MVP, let alone Cy Young, though obviously that’s not going to happen.
    I’m sorry, but if Greinke doesn’t win the Cy, then let’s just end the farce of handing out these awards.

  4. I agree with Paul: Greinke has had an otherworldly year.
    And really, Mauer has as well. He’s far and away the best offensive player in the AL: Crank has put up his OPS dominance, and cumulatively, he’s second in the league in Runs Created (Teixeria is first). But Mauer is a catcher. If Mauer doesn’t win, it will be a travesty.
    I think you can make an argument for Carpenter and Wainwright. Both have more wins. Carpenter’s ERA and WHIP are lower. Wainwright has pitched more innings, but his ERA is higher. But I know wins are mostly meaningless and overall, Lincecum should win. I just don’t he’s as clear cut as the other three awards.

  5. Zummo, if I had a vote, I would probably vote for the four awards as you would. In a couple of my fantasy leagues I was able to draft Halladay and Greinke and snagged Edwin Jackson with my last pick.

  6. Chris Hoiles actually had himself a solid career. No HOFer but you could do worse than he did which was 8 pretty solid years that resulted in .262./.366/.467 and 151 HRs. Generally a 15-20 HR guy and good defense. The one year was exceptional but not many guys win MVPs on the strength of 29 HRs and 82 RBIs especially when their team finishes a distant 3rd in the non-Wild Card era.
    For awhile I was on the “Halladay pitches against better competition” train but Greinke has posted a 7-4 record against teams with winning records and against the three best hitting teams he faced (Texas, Boston, Angels) he was 2-2 but had an ERA of 0.95, a WHIP of 0.84 and a k/9 of 9.00. Halladay had to face Boston, Tampa and NY a total of 14 times and he should get a ton of credit for having to take the hill that often against that sort of competition. If Greinke hadn’t been so terrific I would like to lean his way over Hernandez (who has been aces) and CC (not really close there).
    Saw Greinke pitch live against a depleted Mariners team (no Ichiro, Beltre or Branyon). He retired the side in order in the first, gave up a walk and a bloop single that should have been caught and then retired the next 24 batters with ease. Game lasted 2 hours on the nose. Even though he was facing mostly AAA hitters it was impressive.

  7. If Greinke doesn’t get it, it would be real shame. Wins are overrated, especially, as all of you note, CC has the Yankees offense behind him.
    If Greinke doesn’t win, the entire Royals offense should give him a public apology.

  8. Wainwright will most likely win the NL Cy Young. He’s leading the league in wins and innings, his ERA is close to the other top guys, and he’s pitched a lot more than Carpenter.

  9. Lincecum’s problem is that it’s hard to win twice in a row when you have a worse year, and while he’s pitched even better, he’s fallen off from his 18-5 record. Wainwright’s by no means an undeserving honoree, but Lincecum is clearly the better pitcher.

Comments are closed.