<
>

Josh Hamilton had a sensational season

11/23/2010

Now that we're out of major awards to second-guess, it's officially safe to turn our attention to the soon-to-be overstuffed Transactions column. But first, let's take a long look at Tuesday's American League MVP results -- and many other revealing tidbits from another mesmerizing baseball awards season:

Strike One -- Just Joshing Dept.

The right guy won the AL MVP trophy Tuesday. I've thought about this a lot, and Josh Hamilton was the right pick. Here's why:

Josh Hamilton

Josh Hamilton

#32 Outfielder
Texas Rangers

2010 STATS

  • GM133
  • HR32

  • RBI100

  • R95

  • OBP.411

  • AVG.359

There isn't even a question that this man was the MVP in the five months of the season he actually played. The only question was how much to penalize him for missing essentially the entire month of September. In the end, the voters correctly decided the answer was: Not so much. But here's some historical perspective to help us weigh along at home with their question:

• The case against him: Before Hamilton, no position player had ever won an MVP award in a non-strike season without playing at least 10 games from Sept. 1 on. (The only previous MVP to play fewer than 15 games after August was Dick Groat -- 50 years ago.) But Hamilton only played in five games -- and three of them came in the last weekend of the season, after the Rangers had already clinched. So there's no other way to describe his September than: Non-factor.

• But the case for Hamilton can be summed up in two words: Joe Mauer. Everybody recall who won the AL MVP hardware exactly one year ago? That would be Mauer -- who won that award unanimously, I might add. And how many months of the season did Mauer play? That would also be five out of six. Just nobody held his missed month against him because he missed the first month of the season, not the last month. And just as the Twins, for all intents and purposes, won the AL Central in -- and because of -- the five months Mauer played, the Rangers won the AL West in -- and because of -- the five months Hamilton played. The day he got hurt, Texas had an eight-game lead in the AL West, and that race was over. Finished. Done. So the only impact Josh Hamilton's lost September had was on his numbers, not his value.

• Here's more ammunition: Hamilton wound up playing 133 games this season -- five fewer than Mauer played in 2009. But believe it or not, four MVP position players in the 162-game-schedule era played in even fewer games than that and still won: George Brett (117 in 1980), Mickey Mantle (123 in 1962), Willie Stargell (126 in 1979) and Barry Bonds (130 in 2003). So again, just getting hurt in September clearly should not be enough to disqualify Josh Hamilton from winning this award.

• Oh, and before we change the subject, somebody ought to mention in here someplace that Josh Hamilton had a sensational year: .359 average, .633 slugging percentage, 32 homers and 40 doubles, just to name a few of his spectacular numbers. So how many MVPs in history ever matched or beat those numbers in their MVP seasons? Exactly two -- Stan Musial in 1948 and Larry Walker in 1997. And that's it, folks.

Strike Two -- Sir Albert Dept.

I also think the NL MVP voters got it right, with Joey Votto. But it's the runner-up in that race who continues to rack up the most insane MVP voting record in the history of this sport.

That would be Albert Pujols, of course. And it's time again to remind you that we should not just measure this man by the three MVP awards he's won.

Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols

#5 First baseman
St. Louis Cardinals

2010 STATS

  • GM159
  • HR42

  • RBI118

  • R115

  • OBP.414

  • AVG.312

We should measure this man's greatness by all the awards he's ALMOST won. Here's why:

• Sir Albert has only been around for 10 big-league seasons. But he's now up to an amazing seven top-two finishes in the MVP voting. Only one player who ever lived had more top-twos than that. And that was Barry Bonds, who had nine (seven firsts, two seconds). But it took Barry 17 seasons to get to seven top-twos. And his nine altogether were accumulated over 22 seasons. Have I mentioned in the last three sentences that it only took Pujols 10 years?

• So who's the only other player in history with seven top-two MVP finishes? There's an excellent chance that people in St. Louis have heard of him. That would be maybe the most underrated player of all time, Stan Musial (also with three firsts and four seconds).

• OK, let's keep going. This was also Pujols' eighth finish in the top three. So he moves into second place all alone in the top-three standings. Only Bonds (with nine) is ahead of him. The three no-names Pujols used to be tied with before this year? Musial, Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle. Whoever they are.

• And what happened in those two years when Sir Albert didn't finish in the top three? He came in fourth in one of them and ninth in the other. So he's never had a year in which he didn't show up in the top 10 in the MVP voting. Never. Not one. Musial and Willie Mays also had 10 top-10 finishes in a row once upon a time -- but not in their first 10 seasons. So it's safe to say that Albert Pujols is, officially, the only player in history who had a chance to win the MVP award in every year of his career. What an astounding career.

Strike Three -- Award-Winning Hodgepodge Dept.

In other award-winning developments ...

• Back to Pujols: How rare is it for any player to win back-to-back MVP awards and then finish second the next year? If you don't count Bonds' four trophies in a row, only two other players have ever gone first-first-second in the voting -- Yogi Berra in 1954-55-56 and Hal Newhouser in 1944-45-46.

• It's always fascinating to see how people vote on these awards. Ryan Howard got one second-place vote -- but was left off 24 of the other 31 ballots. Brian Wilson got a third-place vote -- but was also left off 24 ballots. And then there was Ubaldo Jimenez. He got one fourth-place vote -- but appeared on zero of the other 31 ballots cast.

Adam Dunn

Dunn

Ryan Zimmerman

Zimmerman

• And how 'bout those Nationals? They may have lost 93 games, but they had two players -- Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn -- who appeared on five MVP ballots or more. The Padres won 90 games -- but only had one player who showed up on at least five ballots (Adrian Gonzalez).

• But no last-place team in nearly half a century attracted MVP votes like the Mariners. This team may have lost 101 games, but it had two players (Ichiro and Felix Hernandez) who showed up on somebody's MVP ballot. The Red Sox won 89 games and only had one (Adrian Beltre). But here's where the Mariners get historic on us. They're the first team to lose that many games while employing two players who got MVP votes since the 1967 Mets -- who had Tom Seaver and Tommy Davis worm their way into the voting during a 101-loss season.

• Over in Cy Young Land, that AL Cy Young election had to be the first award vote in history in which the voters got more attention than the winner. But the dramatic shift in tide to de-emphasize the once-almighty Win column was a huge story. For instance, CC Sabathia has now led the AL in wins two straight years -- and won zero Cy Youngs in that time. SI.com's Joe Posnanski beat me to this note, but the only other pitcher in the Cy Young era to lead his league in wins in back-to-back seasons and not win a Cy in either season was Wilbur Wood in 1972-73.

• But it wasn't just CC. He's won 19 and 21 games back-to-back without winning a Cy Young. And Adam Wainwright can relate to that. He's won 19 and 20 back-to-back himself without winning a Cy. And in the 44 seasons that the Cy Young has been awarded in both leagues, Wainwright is just the fifth pitcher -- and first in 35 years -- to win at least 19 games and have an ERA under 2.75 in two straight years without getting a Cy Young out of it in at least one of them. The others: Juan Marichal in 1968-69, Jim Palmer in 1970-71-72, Wood in 1971-72 and Andy Messersmith in 1974-75.

Felix Hernandez

Hernandez

• Felix Hernandez finished second in the AL Cy Young voting last year, then won a Cy this year. And just five other Cy Young runners-up came back to win the award the next year: Mike Marshall in 1973-74, Randy Jones in 1975-76, Dwight Gooden in 1984-85, Roger Clemens in 1990-91 and Pedro Martinez in 1998-99. But only one other pitcher in that group jumped from second to first even though his win total went down the next year. That was Clemens, who went from 21 wins in 1990 to 18 in '91.

• Finally, here's a stunner: Only two teams in the whole sport somehow got through the entire major awards season without having a single player (or manager) get a vote for any award. The first was the Diamondbacks, who lost 97 games. But I bet you can't guess the other. Would you believe it was the Dodgers? Last time no Dodgers got a vote for any of the four major awards? That would be 1998. Who knew?