Monday, February 21, 2011
Three Strikes: Miguel and Albert edition
By Jayson Stark
STRIKE ONE --PERENNIAL MVP DEPT.
After a week in which Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera sometimes seemed as if they were the ONLY topics in the spring training conversation, it's a good time to remind you that they aren't just linked by off-the-field issues.
I've often said that what separates Pujols from everyone else in the game is that he's the only player in baseball who could have won an MVP award in every season of his career. But I forgot somebody else who has elevated himself into nearly the same orbit:
As ESPN Stats & Info guru John Fisher points out, there are only two active players who have been in the big leagues at least five years and have received MVP votes in every season of their careers.
One is Albert, obviously (10-for-10).
The other? Cabrera (8-for-8).
Now in some ways, I'll admit, that's slightly misleading. Pujols has placed in the top 10 of all 10 of those MVP races, while Cabrera has had four finishes outside the top 10. But quite a bit of that has to do with their surrounding casts.
Cabrera has been a member of just one team that made the postseason -- the 2003 Marlins. But he didn't join that team until midseason, at age 20 -- and still got some MVP love.
Pujols, on the other hand, has made it to the postseason six times, and only once has he played for a team that had a losing record. So never forget that MVP credentials are always evaluated in the context of team performance. If the Tigers had been a bigger factor in the AL Central race last season, it says here that Miguel Cabrera would have been the MVP. Period. So if Cabrera hasn't matched Pujols' MVP finishes, that hasn't all been his fault.
I've voted long enough to understand that you can make too much of award voting. But what that voting does do is give us a window into how players were regarded in the era in which they played. And obviously, if these two guys are getting MVP votes EVERY year, that tells us plenty.
Near-misses? Ichiro has collected MVP votes in nine of his 10 seasons, but missed in 2005 (when the Mariners were busy losing 93 times and finishing 26 games out in the AL West). And if we look at players who have been around for fewer than five seasons, John Fisher finds three other men who have gotten MVP votes in every season of their careers:
Ryan Braun (four for four)
Evan Longoria (three for three)
Jason Heyward (one for one)
Good group. But if they're still on this list in 2015, only then can we start stacking them up against Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera.
STRIKE TWO -- IN STABLE CONDITION DEPT.
Loyal reader Jason Berman did some tremendous research after reading the column last week in which I compared Pujols with the great Stan Musial.
In that column, I ruminated on (and asked Tony La Russa) how likely it would have been for Musial to have played his whole career in St. Louis if he'd been a player of THIS generation. Take a look. It's safe to say that neither of us had the answer.
But as Berman points out, when we look back on the great players of yesteryear, one of the biggest myths of modern times is that once upon a time, teams almost always hung onto their stars forever.
Berman took a look at the top 25 vote-getters in the first Hall of Fame class in 1936. He found that only FOUR never changed teams (or franchises) in their careers: Walter Johnson, Lou Gehrig, Pie Traynor and Honus Wagner (assuming you count the Louisville Colonels and the Pittsburgh Pirates as one franchise).
That group was so accomplished that 24 of those 25 players eventually made the Hall of Fame. But here's a breakdown of how many teams they played for:
• Two teams: Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Mickey Cochrane, Ed Walsh, Frankie Frisch, Lefty Grove.
• Three teams: Babe Ruth, Nap Lajoie, George Sisler, Eddie Collins, Pete Alexander, Ed Delahanty.
• Four teams: Tris Speaker, Cy Young, Jimmy Collins, Wee Willie Keeler, Jimmie Foxx.
• Five teams: Rogers Hornsby, Roger Bresnahan, Rube Waddell, Hal Chase.
So as this list clearly shows, it wasn't so much that great players didn't change teams back then. It's that they couldn't -- unless their team decided it was time to wave sayonara. If a player stayed with a team through his entire career, that wasn't about loyalty. It was about control.
Back then, the player held no cards. But in nine months, Albert Pujols will hold all 52 in the deck. Even Stan Musial would acknowledge that's a bigggg difference.
STRIKE THREE -- PETTITTE'S LEGACY DEPT.
In the last edition of this blog, we took a look at Andy Pettitte's legacy -- as one of the few pitchers who ever lived who never had a losing season. Check it out. But we never did settle on exactly how many other pitchers were in that group.
Now, with the help of ESPN's Mark Simon and the Elias Sports Bureau, we have a definitive list of all pitchers in history who pitched at least 10 years and never had a sub-.500 season. Six great names: