The Worst MVP Seasons Ever
The American League and National League Most Valuable Player Awards were announced on Monday and Tuesday. I wholeheartedly endorse the selections. In early October, I picked Alex Rodriguez as the MVP in the A.L. and Barry Bonds as the MVP in the N.L. Both players maintained their reputations as the best player in their respective league although A-Rod's MVP was only the first of his career, while Bonds' MVP was his sixth--a major league baseball record. Barry's MVP also proved to be an unprecedented third in a row.
With the Most Valuable Player balloting behind us, I thought it would be interesting to research the worst MVP seasons ever. It was not my intention to uncover the worst players to win the award. Rather, my objective was to find the worst seasons by players who won the award.
I found two players who won the MVP award with seasons that cannot be justified by any statistical measure whatsoever. The worst MVP season in American League history belongs to Roger Peckinpaugh in 1925. The worst MVP in National League history belongs to Marty Marion in 1944. The common thread was the fact that both players were shortstops on pennant-winning teams. Peckinpaugh was with the Washington Senators (96-55) and Marion was with the St. Louis Cardinals (105-49).
Interestingly, Marion is the only player in the history of baseball who was voted the MVP despite having batting, on base, and slugging averages below the league mean (excluding pitchers).
AVG OBP SLG OPS
Marion .267 .324 .362 .686
N.L. Average .270 .338 .380 .718
Marion's OPS that year was .032 below the league average and his OPS+ was 91, indicating his productivity was 9% below par on a park adjusted basis. Marion's Runs Created Above Average (RCAA) was minus
four, which also suggests he was a subpar player offensively. In fact, Marion was such a mediocre hitter at best that he batted seventh in all six World Series games that year.
To Marion's credit, he compared favorably to his peers at shortstop that year by creating 18 runs above his position average (RCAP). From a purely offensive standpoint, Marion's year was similar to Orlando Cabrera's season in 2003 in terms of BA, OBP, SLG, OPS, and OPS+ relative to the league and position, as well as RCAA and RCAP.
In fairness, it should also be pointed out that Marion was the premier defensive shortstop of his day. However, it is my firm belief that no matter which fielding measure one uses, it would be impossible to conclude that his defensive prowess overcame his offensive shortcomings to such a degree that he was more valuable than any other player in the league that year. Baseball Prospectus rates his defensive play at 123 for 1944, meaning he saved 23 more runs per 100 games than the average fielder. According to BP, Marion's defense saved the Cardinals 32 runs for the entire season.
On a combined basis, Marion's contributions were worth about seven to nine wins according to BP's Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP). Marion also had 20 Win Shares in 1944, which equates to approximately six to seven wins. Based on these measures, let's give Marion credit for seven wins that year. How does that compare to others? Well, for one, Marion ranked sixth on his own team in Win Shares with just over half of the team (and league) leader, Stan Musial (who had 38). Musial's totals work out to 13 wins, which is validated by BP's various WARP totals ranging from 11-13 wins.
Taking a look at more traditional stats, let's see how Marion fared vs. Musial:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO AVG OBP SLG
Marion 144 506 50 135 26 2 6 63 1 43 50 .267 .324 .362
Musial 146 568 112 197 51 14 12 94 7 90 28 .347 .440 .549
Am I missing something here? I recognize Marion was a shortstop and Musial a right fielder and center fielder that year, but there is no way that Marion can overcome his offensive deficiencies to justify his selection over Musial. Stan the Man tallied 84 RCAA and 70 RCAP vs. -4 and 18, respectively, for Marion. To put those numbers in perspective, Musial ranked first in RCAP and Marion, 17th. Musial also happened to lead the league in OBP, SLG, OPS, and OPS+ that year and was number one in hits, doubles, extra base hits, and total bases as well. The only stat in which Marion finished in the top ten was the almighty category of sacrifice hits (5th with 16).
Although not of the defensive importance of Marion (by position or quality), it should be noted that Musial was an above-average OF (with a BP rating of 109 in RF and 108 in CF). Overall, Musial's defense was worth about 15 runs or 17 fewer than Marion. On the other hand, Musial created 77 more runs offensively than Marion using Baseball-Reference.com's definition or an additional 88 runs above average using Lee Sinins' Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia's methodology.
All in all, I believe an objective analysis would conclude that Musial was worth 60-70 more runs than Marion in 1944 and was a much more deserving choice for MVP honors. Working against Musial was the fact that he had won the award the previous year, and it is my belief that voters generally tend to favor new names over previous winners. It may seem like Bonds is the exception, but he actually could have won another two or three MVPs earlier in his career had voters taken a more objective viewpoint when casting their ballots.
I won't go into as much detail with respect to Peckinpaugh, but suffice it to say that his numbers are no better than Marion's when compared to the league average.
AVG OBP SLG OPS
Peckinpaugh .294 .367 .379 .746
A.L. Average .297 .367 .416 .783
Like Marion, Peckinpaugh's OPS+ was 91. And, almost identical to Marion, Peckinpaugh had a RCAA of minus
four and a RCAP of 17. Peckinpaugh also finished 17th in RCAP, exactly the same as Marion.
Ol' Rog must have been one helluva shortstop, right? Well, not actually, at least according to BP's analysis. Peckinpaugh's fielding rating was 101, and he saved his team a total of two runs above an average player for the entire season.
Peckinpaugh must have made up for his lack of rate stats and defensive wizardry with big-time raw numbers, no? What would you say if I told you that Peckinpaugh had a grand total of 124 hits? No, he wasn't a slugger. To wit, he only had 24 extra base hits, including just four home runs. Well, he must have walked a ton, right? Nope. He had 49 bases on balls. Stolen bases, you ask? A whopping 13. In fact, Peckinpaugh did not place in the top ten in any department.
Peckinpaugh had 15 Win Shares in 1925, meaning that he was responsible for five wins. (The 15 Win Shares, I believe, are the lowest ever accorded an MVP.) BP's WARP gives "Peck" credit for about four-and-a-half wins that year. Call it five wins, whether it be by Win Shares or WARP. Amazingly, Peckinpaugh tied for tenth in Win Shares on his own team and there were three players in the A.L. (Al Simmons, 34; Goose Goslin, 31; and Harry Heilmann, 30) who had more than twice his total. If the voters were looking for a player on the first place team, why not pick Goslin? If they were looking for a shortstop, why not Joe Sewell (who had 24 Win Shares)?. Goslin, believe it or not, failed to place in the top ten because writers were limited to voting for only one player per team back then.
The only award that Peckinpaugh should have earned that year was in the World Series when he deserved to be named the MVP for the Pirates. Peckinpaugh made a record eight errors, several in key spots, as the Senators allowed the Pirates to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the World Series. Of note, the Senators made only one other error the entire series.
A final and almost unbelievable common thread for Marion and Peckinpaugh:
Marion had the 15th worst OPS in the N.L. in 1944, while Peckinpaugh had the 10th worst OPS in the A.L. in 1925 among players who qualified. There may have been greater injustices served in the MVP voting over the years, but it's safe to say there have never been worst seasons by the award winners than the ones that Marion and Peckinpaugh forged nearly 60 and 80 years ago.