Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Mixed Feelings

Yesterday at around noon, a major surprise was announced in baseball. Well, that is, if you set aside the absurd contracts being given to the likes of Juan Pierre, Alfonso Soriano, and others, Justin Morneau winning the AL MVP award is pretty surprising. At the same time, it's almost an ambiguous feeling I get in considering it.

When me and my fellow blogger, Mr. Nelson, chose our picks for awards weeks ago, we both picked Twins for MVP but neither of us picked Morneau. I chose Joe Mauer. Oddly, I agree with ESPN's Keith Law (yes, its an Insider story. Yes, ESPN's Insider thing is incredibly dumb), whom I find to have an asserted and obvious dislike for the Twins at times. For one, Mauer is a catcher and likely the best catcher in the bigs, as his offense and defense are both spectacular. I don't think I need to recite any of the stats, since everyone has seen them over and over again by now, but Mauer had one of the best seasons for a catcher EVER.

There is no joke in that. Mauer's season falls in there with Piazza, Bench, Berra, Fisk, and the other few great offensive catchers. Mauer is the only catcher to ever win a major league batting title and his .347 average is one of the highest ever for a catcher, falling below only Piazza (.362, 1997). When a player has a historically great season and there isn't a clear MVP candidate, I would think the choice would be clear.

However, the same thing can be said about Johan Santana. Considering the offensive era and year he pitched in, his year was incredible. He was also the first pitcher to win the Major League Pitching Triple Crown since Dwight Gooden in 1985. In our recent post on Santana, we mentioned the other historical great things he has done. I am a believer that a pitcher who has a historically great season with no clear offensive MVP deserves the award. Pedro should have won it in 2000, Roger Clemens did win it in 1986, and Gooden probably should have won it in 1985.

Despite all the potential reasons not to support Morneau for MVP, he did win it and it's awfully hard to be upset about it. He did have a great second half, hitting .362, and his 130 RBI are the second most in Twins history, next to Harmon Killebrew's 140 in 1969's MVP campaign. The core issue is the obsession voters have with slugging first basemen. We saw it with Ryan Howard winning the NL award this year, and there are plenty of past examples: Jason Giambi (for all purposes, a DH) in 2000, Mo Vaughn in 1995 (what an awful choice that was), Ken Caminiti in 1996, and Jeff Bagwell and Frank Thomas in 1994. The Thomas and Bagwell choices were obvious, but many of the others were chosen with better candidates available.

As already mentioned, Pedro should have been the obvious winner over Giambi in 2000. Pujols, another slugging first basemen--albeit one who plays good defense--should have won in the NL this year, but the voters obsession with homers and RBI became quite clear. Voters seem to avoid looking at other stats, like runs created, VORP, numbers with RISP (Pujols hit nearly .400, Howard hit around .260), and game-winning homers (Pujols had a ridiculous 18). In 1995, Vaughn won because Edgar Martinez, who had an incredible year hitting .356 with 52 doubles and a 1.107 OPS, was a designated while Vaughn was a shoddy first baseman who should have been DHing but had more home runs than Martinez.

Is all this to say that I am adamently angry about the results of this year's MVP vote? Yes and no. I'm happy that Morneau won the award. How couldn't I be? He plays for my favorite team and he had a phenomenal year. At the same time, the continued preference of the voters is consistently annoying. When a player has an amazing career, half the time, it is ignored by MVP voters. It's a tough position, but I think it has to be consistently said that the voting process is watered down to the point that it's hard to put much stock in the awards. Nonetheless, I'm happy to see a Twin win it.

The thing is, while all these points are legitimate and the voters make ridiculous decisions practically yearly, there isn't much to do about it and lets face it: too many people spend too much time discussing. The thing is, Morneau really had a great year. His second half is worthy of infinite praise. He had the most two-out RBIs in the AL and hit a ridiculous .593/.511/1.074 with a man on third and less than two outs, collecting 40 RBI and 11 sac flies along the way.

He also, notably, was hitting .235/.295/.444 with 6 HR and 23 RBI on June 8th, just before his breakout 2 HR, 5 RBI game against the Orioles the next day. In the combined months of June and July, he hit .387 with 18 HRs and 52 RBI. That is an incredible two months and, of course, in those months, the Twins went 38-15, including 36-10 after June 8.

It also is a good story. Morneau's 2005 season wasn't downright awful, but it wasn't very good either and some people felt that Morneau might not live up to his expectations. To go from a season that casts so much doubt on a player to a season in which he wins the MVP and helps lead his team to the playoffs is something worth rewarding as well. While Santana and Mauer were certainly worthy, and maybe more so than Justin, it's pointless to scrabble over it when a Twin won it. His teammates were proud to see him win it and thought he deserved it. Although I agree with Law that Mauer and Santana were better candidates, I don't think it was a "laughable pick."

A Twin for MVP, a Twin for Cy Young, a Twin for Executive of the Year, and plenty more votes in other races? Not too shabby for the 2006 Twinkies. Congrats, Justin, and lets hope the voters eventually figure things out.

Justin Morneau - 2006 AL MVP