November 22, 2006


Yesterday afternoon I got an instant message from someone whose job allows them to know such things before everyone else, telling me that Justin Morneau was about to be named the American League MVP in a couple hours. I was certainly very surprised, but after getting over that initial shock and later seeing the official announcement that he'd indeed won the award, my reaction was more or less: "Oh well, that's nice at least."

As I've written here any number of times in any number of ways over the past couple months, I don't think Morneau was even the most valuable player on the Twins in 2006, let alone anything close to the most valuable player in the entire AL. In fact, I think he was the third-most valuable player on the team and, at best, the 10th-most valuable player in the league. I would have voted for Derek Jeter and if given a choice, I personally would have liked Joe Mauer or Johan Santana to win the award.

With that said, I'm certainly not upset that Morneau won. If the voters were going to give the award to someone who clearly wasn't the actual MVP, I'm happy that the pick at least comes from my favorite team. Plus, I came to the conclusion several years ago--somewhere between Miguel Tejada stealing the AL MVP from Alex Rodriguez in 2002 and Bartolo Colon robbing Santana of the AL Cy Young in 2005--that it was pointless to get worked up over the opinions of 28 newspaper beat reporters.

Santana became just the eighth pitcher of all time to win the MLB "triple crown" by leading both leagues in wins, ERA, and strikeouts, yet was totally absent on seven ballots. Similarly, five of the 28 people deemed worthy of determining who receives the league's most important award didn't think the only catcher in baseball history to lead MLB in batting average was among the AL's top 10 players, leaving Mauer completely off their ballot.

The single most ridiculous of those five Mauer-less ballots without question comes from Joe Cowley, who covers the White Sox for the Chicago Sun-Times. Cowley somehow couldn't find a place for the MLB batting champion on his ballot, but did see fit to include a different catcher: Chicago's own A.J. Pierzynski (whom Cowley no doubt relied upon for juicy quotes throughout the season). For those of you wondering, here's how the two catchers compare:

                 G      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS     RUN     RBI
Mauer 140 608 .347 .429 .507 .936 86 84
Pierzynski 140 543 .295 .333 .436 .769 64 65

Mauer beat Pierzynski by 52 points in batting average, 96 points in on-base percentage, and 71 points in slugging percentage, all while coming to the plate 65 more times. Mauer also caught the league's second-best pitching staff and threw out 38 percent of would-be basestealers, while Pierzynski caught a staff that surrendered 111 more runs and threw out just 22 percent of basestealers. Faced with that overwhelming evidence, Cowley gave Pierzynski a 10th-place vote and left Mauer off his ballot.

John Hickey of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer also left Mauer off his ballot, yet found room for Mariners left fielder Raul Ibanez, whose OPS was 67 points lower than Mauer's without even accounting for the massive difference in their defensive value. Joe Roderick, who covers the A's for the Contra Costa Times, left Mauer off his ballot while giving a second-place vote to Oakland's Frank Thomas and a 10th-place vote to Tejada, who won his aforementioned 2002 AL MVP with the A's.

Even Jason Williams, who covered Mauer all season for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, narrowly found room for him on his ballot with a 10th-place vote. Among the nine players Williams deemed more valuable than Mauer were four designated hitters. That's right, one of two Twins beat writers given a vote for AL MVP felt that four guys who didn't even play defense were more valuable than a Gold Glove-caliber catcher who batted .347. For better or worse, these are the people who made Morneau MVP.

It couldn't be any clearer to me that Morneau is far from deserving of the AL MVP, but it's just as clear that a large percentage of the baseball-watching population--including the actual decision-makers in this case--don't see things the same way. That used to upset and frustrate me a great deal--to the point that today's entry once would have focused on laying out the case against Morneau--but these days it just means I don't pay a whole lot of attention to season-ending awards.

I wholeheartedly congratulate Morneau on a tremendous season that Twins fans will remember for a long time, but offer significantly less congratulations for being deemed the most valuable player in the league by 28 people who're paid to report on AL teams for local newspapers. After looking at some of the odd, biased, and downright illogical choices on their ballots, I tend not to trust or even value their reality. In my reality, Morneau took a relatively clear backseat to both Mauer and Santana in 2006.

If that makes me a bad Twins fan and a horrible person, so be it. Of course, I'll still take it.

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