Today, the BBWAA announced that Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer was voted American League MVP. While his victory was unsurprising, he just posted a .438 wOBA as an above-average defensive catcher and he received 27 of 28 first-place votes, there were numerous other surprises to keep us entertained. Let's dig into the ones I saw:
Bobby Abreu: 2 fifth-place votes, 9 votes overall, 23 points
Listen, I get that Abreu's patient approach supposedly transformed the Angels' slap-happy, energetic offense into a pitch-taking, on-base machine, but how is a below-average defensive right fielder with a .365 wOBA (which takes SB/CS into account) one of the five most valuable players in the league?
Carl Crawford, who posted an identical wOBA while playing elite defense and stealing 60 bases, didn't even receive ONE vote on a single ballot, but Abreu gets votes on nine different ballots? Yeah, Abreu gets bonus points for being on a playoff team and the whole "nice story" thing, but how is Abreu remotely as valuable as Crawford?
The guy with the 13th-best wOBA among everyday AL outfielders while posting a -11.0 UZR was really an MVP candidate?
Aaron Hill: 1 fourth-place vote, 8 votes overall, 23 points
Just like with Abreu, I get how a well-regarded defensive second baseman who hits .286 with 36 home runs, 37 doubles and 108 RBI might garner some MVP votes. But at the same time, how do you ignore the numerous flaws in his candidacy?
Hill's 5.8% walk rate was the worst of his career and led to a very mediocre .330 OBP, which combined with his lack of value in terms of stolen bases, adds up to a .357 wOBA. While that's certainly an impressive mark, it's still only fifth among everyday AL second baseman, behind Ben Zobrist, Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler and Robinson Cano.
And while UZR certainly has its flaws, especially in a sample size of only 156 games, it's certainly worth acknowledging his -2.3 UZR from this season, and the possibility that his defense won't quite return to the level that it was at before the major injuries of last season.
Hill is a great player, but unless you're only using traditional manners of evaluation (BA, HR, RBI, Runs, etc.), he just hasn't been one of the 10 most valuable players in the AL.
Placido Polanco: 1 ninth-place vote
Essentially every player that got an MVP vote is a great player, it's just that some great players had more valuable seasons than others, obviously. With Placido Polanco, I just don't get what's going on.
How does a second baseman with a .285/.331/.396 line garner even one MVP vote? Even if he's pretty good defensively, Polanco is not much more than a solid everyday player, and it's not even like his team made the playoffs this season.
I would just really love to know the explanation behind that one, because I'm sure that it must be exceptionally warped.
And finally: Where's the lack of love for Zack Greinke?
I know, I know, pitchers generally aren't considered in MVP voting, even though they're allowed to be, and how could Greinke be so valuable if the Royals were so awful?
Well, according to WAR, Greinke was easily the most valuable player IN THE GAME, his 9.4 WAR, Rays 2B Ben Zobrist finished second with a 8.6 WAR and Albert Pujols was third with an 8.4 WAR. Mauer certainly would have finished with a better mark than his 8.2 WAR if UZR actually rated defense for catchers, because Mauer is regarded as above-average and UZR, and WAR as a function of that, assumes that all catchers are league average defensively.
I know that WAR has numerous flaws, but wouldn't it seem that the guy that posted the highest WAR in baseball in 2009 would deserve more than one fifth-place vote, one sixth-place vote, one ninth-place vote and one tenth-place vote?
Luckily, the voters got the biggest part of the voting process right, and that was that they recognized that Joe Mauer was the most valuable player in the AL.