The baseball season is into August now, which means that it's time for announcers and writers to begin discussing the awards races. Along with that, they will also begin to argue about exactly who is deserving of winning the MVP or Cy Young, i.e. whether it's right for them to be awarded to a great player on a bad or non-playoff team. By its literal definition, the MVP should be awarded to the player who accumulated the most value in the regular season, regardless of whether or not their team was a contender. However, many of the 'old school' voters don't care how good a player's season is, if he was on a losing team they refuse to award him the MVP. I personally feel that this is stupid, and that the MVP should be awarded to the player who accumulated the most value throughout the season, team record be damned. Previously, in order to determine this, it was required to look at a variety of stats covering all that the player does on the field. Now, however, WAR is able to group it all together to determine the value the player was worth in the season, so MVP should, in theory, go to the player who had the highest WAR.
Looking back, that isn't really always the case, as any number of biases can derail that ideal, whether it's the winning team bias, the positional bias, or the East Coast bias (I'm not saying they intentionally do it, but most of the sportswriters are located in the east, so they see players from the eastern divisions play a lot more and are more easily convinced if they should or shouldn't be MVP). Therefore, I decided to go back and look at the last 5 winners of the MVP and determine whether or not they really were the Most Valuable Player in that season.
2006 had two first-time 1B win the award, and in both cases there were numerous better candidates. Morneau winning, however, was much more atrocious, as that year he ranked only 22nd in the AL in WAR, and second on his team, behind Joe Mauer (who I'll get to later). That year the Twins won the division on the last day, the only time they held sole possession of first place all season long. I'm not entirely sure why he won the MVP, as in most of the stats that were held in value back then he didn't rank that favorably, 12th in HR, 19th in R, and 7th in AVG and SLG. The only statistic he had MVP-like numbers in was RBI, in which he finished second to David Ortiz, 137-130. I believe the main culprit was people getting caught up in the Twins' story as a small-market team beating the odds and continuing to have success.
In the NL, Ryan Howard rated 6th in WAR, but, as was the case above, only second on his team behind Chase Utley. Surprisingly, the Phillies didn't make the playoffs this year, and yet Howard was still awarded it even though there was a more-valuable, 97-win CF who was also a good candidate, in Carlos Beltran. Howard did, however, lead in both HR and RBI, and finished 8th in AVG, so that goes a long way to explaining it, along with the fact that he was 4th in OBP and 2nd in SLG.
Rightful MVPs: AL: Grady Sizemore, 8.0 WAR
NL: Albert Pujols, 8.5 WAR
NL Winner: Jimmy Rollins, SS, Philadelphia Phillies 6.9 WAR
2007 saw a second straight Phillie win the MVP, in spite of being only second-most valuable to Chase Utley, who seems to always be the proverbial bridesmaid and never the bride. While in the AL they actually made the correct choice, if for the wrong reasons, as Rodriguez led the AL in WAR, HR, R, RBI, and SLG, along with playing on a playoff team. Rollins, however, finished just 7th in WAR, but finished with a 30-40 (HR-SB) which I'm sure wooed people with his aggressive speed being supported by power, at a premium position at SS. Also, the Phillies won the East, so that helped him out.
Rightful MVPs: AL: Alex Rodriguez, 9.8 WAR
NL: David Wright, 8.9 WAR
NL Winner: Albert Pujols, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals 9.1 WAR
Seriously, somebody please give Chase Utley an MVP already, as 2008 marked his 3rd consecutive top 3 finish in WAR, though he did finish short of the leader, Pujols, who finished 4th in HR and RBI, 2nd in AVG and OBP, and 1st in SLG Also, it really, really sucks that Grady Sizemore had to get hurt before anyone could truly appreciate his value, as he led the AL in WAR a second time in 2008 but was robbed once again. Though, at least it was by a somewhat deserving candidate, as Pedroia finished second to him and played for the wildcard-winning and World Series-defending Red Sox, which I feel has to be the greatest contributing factor, as none of his popular numbers were very good, except for leading in R and 2nd in AVG to Mauer.
Rightful MVPs: AL: Grady Sizemore, 6.8 WAR
NL: Albert Pujols, 9.1 WAR
2009: AL Winner: Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota Twins, 7.9 WAR
NL Winner: Albert Pujols, 8.9 WAR
Okay, I am officially, on the record, starting a Give Chase Utley an MVP Bandwagon, as in 2009 he again finished 2nd in WAR, to the incomparable Pujols, who put up his usual array of great numbers, including HR, R, OBP, and SLG titles, along with 3rd place finishes in RBI and AVG. On the AL side, however, Mauer was finally able to gain his moment in the sun, in spite of a second-place finish that year in WAR, to Ben Zobrist. Mauer had a ton of good publicity going into 2009 for signing a long-term deal with the Twins, so that didn't hurt, but his near-30 HR 100 RBI campaign in support of his batting title, all from a non-offensive position at C, was what put him over the top. Then, having the Twins win the Central on a one-game playoff was just icing on the cake. Zobrist, whose Rays were only able to muster a 3rd-place finish in the stacked East, never had a chance.
Rightful MVPs: AL: Ben Zobrist, 8.6 WAR
NL: Albert Pujols, 8.9 WAR
In the AL, Josh Hamilton was, if looked at by someone like us who knows what wOBA and RC+ is, was far and away the best candidate for it. However, the voters easily could have and probably would have in years past, chosen Miguel Cabrera, who finished ahead of Hamilton in HR, R, RBI, and OBP, while Hamilton beat Cabrera out in just AVG and SLG, though I'm sure the fact that Hamilton's team, the Rangers, winning their division didn't hurt. The NL is a bit trickier, as obviously I'm biased towards Pujols, who did win the WAR title that year, by .2 over Votto, but whose team, my team, the Cardinals, didn't beat Votto's team, my arch nemesis, the Reds in the Central. Pujols does beat Votto in nearly every popular category, AVG is the only place Votto nips him there. As for advanced stats, Votto beats Pujols in wOBA and RC+. The only difference between the two is created by Pujols' baserunning, as he rates at 1.4 while Votto's at -1.4. If the MVP were as I dreamed, then Pujols would have won, but it's not that way, and some believe the team finish should matter, even though there was little Pujols could have done to make his pitchers pitch better.
Rightful Winners: AL: Josh Hamilton, 8.7 WAR
NL: Albert Pujols, 7.5 WAR
2011: Predicted AL Winner: Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Boston Red Sox, 5.2 WAR
Predicted NL Winner: Matt Kemp? Matt Holliday? 5.3 WAR Ryan Braun? 5.0 WAR
What does this mean for this year? Well, it means that, unless something changes, even though Adrian Gonzalez is third on his team in WAR, behind Jacoby Ellsbury and Pedroia and 5th in the AL in WAR, he'll likely win the MVP going away, while Jose Bautista is left to hope that the Blue Jays' young core can start producing wins while he can still play at an MVP level. On the NL side, it is by far more open, as the highest-ranked candidate who plays for a winning team, Shane Victorino, in at 2nd behind Jose Reyes, isn't really a type of player to be awarded the MVP, just ask Grady Sizemore. Therefore, I like Matt Kemp, who has been given a ton of publicity for both his breakout season and his misfortune of playing for the Dodgers, to somehow pull the MVP out in the NL, although I wouldn't count out Jose Reyes, who does lead the NL in WAR right now, unless the Mets' losing streak continues to epic proportions.
Rightful Winners (If the season ended today): AL: Jose Bautista, 7.0 WAR
NL: Jose Reyes, 5.5 WAR