Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Did Santana deserve the MVP Award?

With Justin Verlander being named the 2011 American League Most Valuable Player yesterday, there has been some that have contemplated the thought that other pitchers should have been given more consideration for MVP since the last starter won in 1986. There have been some spectacular seasons by pitchers who were not given the MVP because the BWAA refused to vote for a pitcher when the pitchers have the Cy Young Award to win. Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, and Roger Clemens are all players that have a gripe when it comes to their MVP credentials from previous seasons.

Johan Santana was a dominant pitcher for the Twins during numerous seasons in the 2000's and he was honored with multiple Cy Young Awards during that stretch. There were seasons where Santana was untouchable over the course of the 162 game schedule. But when it came to voting for the AL MVP, he was largely ignored for the top spot on voter's ballots.

Here is a look at Santana's two Cy Young seasons and how they compared to the other candidates for MVP in the American League. The categories in BOLD are one's in which he lead the American League.

2004 Season
Santana's stat line: W-L (20-6), 2.61 ERA, 265 K, 182 ERA+, 0.921 WHIP, 6.2 H/9, 7.4 rWAR, 7.7 fWAR
In Santana's first Cy Young season, there was hardly any doubt that he was the best pitcher in the AL. He was the unanimous selection for the Cy Young Award but those votes did not translate over to the voting for the MVP. There were many good seasons by offensive players in the American League with five players driving in over 120 runs. All of those players finished ahead of Santana in the MVP voting but the argument could be made that Santana was more valuable than the rest of them. He finished first in the American League for FanGraphs version of WAR and he came in second in Baseball Reference's version of WAR. The MVP that season was given to Vladimir Guerrero but he finished behind multiple players when it came to WAR rankings. If the voters went by either version of WAR, the award would have went to Ichiro Suzuki but Santana should have finished at least in second place.

2004 AL MVP Voting (Points - 1st Place Votes)
1. Vladimir Guerrero (354.0 - 21)
2. Gary Sheffield (254.0 - 5)
3. Manny Ramirez (238.0 - 1)
4. David Ortiz (174.0 - 1)
5. Miguel Tejada (123.0)
6. Johan Santana (117.0)
7. Ichiro Suzuki (98.0)

2006 Season
Santana's Stat Line: W-L (19-6), 2.77 ERA, 245 K, 162 ERA+, 0.997 WHIP, 7.0 H/9, 7.0 rWAR, 7.3 fWAR
The 2006 season was Santana's second unanimous Cy Young Award winning season but it marked the only year that he was able to garner a first place vote in the AL MVP race. He still finished in a distant seventh place in the final MVP balloting. Most fans of the Twins probably did not notice since his teammate Justin Morneau ended up winning the award. Santana finished in one of the lowest positions ever for someone receiving a first place vote and maybe it paved the way for the 2011 voting for MVP. In the FanGraphs version of WAR, Santana finished in second place behind Grady Sizemore. For the Baseball Reference version of WAR, Santana finished in third place in close race between himself, Sizemore, and Joe Mauer.

2006 AL MVP Voting (Points - 1st Place Votes)
1. Justin Morneau (320.0 - 15)
2. Derek Jeter (306.0 - 12)
3. David Ortiz (193.0)
4. Frank Thomas (174.0)
5. Jermaine Dye (156.0)
6. Joe Mauer (116.0)
7. Johan Santana (114.0 - 1)

I entered the 2011 MLB award season believing the writers would look at Verlander's season as being very good but not worthy of the MVP. On my ballot for the American League MVP, I voted Verlander as the third best player behind Jacoby Ellsbury and Jose Bautista. There had been some unbelievably dominating pitchers in the last 20+ seasons that were skipped over for the MVP and I thought that trend would continue. But in a season where no position player was dominating, it seems appropriate that a pitcher would win the award. 

Santana may never have won an MVP but fans of the Minnesota Twins know how dominating he was during the mid-2000's. Fans flocked to the Metrodome anytime he was on the mound because there was a good chance to see greatness on display. He had the potential to transform a losing streak into a winning streak every time he stepped on the mound. He was an ace, untouchable, and to most Twins fans...

...a Most Valuable Player.

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