Jeter is the real AL MVP

The writers missed the mark this year
11/22/2006 9:43 AM ET
By Steven Goldman / Special to
You're going to be reading about this everywhere, so let's keep this brief. Not only did the writers vote for the wrong player, they voted for the wrong Twin. That sounds like an episode of the Patty Duke Show, so let's be more specific: Derek Jeter was the Most Valuable Player in the American League. Joe Mauer, the first catcher in the history of the American League to win a batting title, was the most valuable Twin.

Think about which player on the Twins was more replaceable. Your DH-like first baseman hit quite well, but there are a lot of first basemen who hit quite well. Maybe you can't get one who hits as well on short notice, but you can get 80 percent of it. The Yankees and the Tigers went to the postseason without good production from their first basemen at all — in part because they received off-setting production from their shortstops. Now, if you want to find a catcher who's 80 percent as good as Joe Mauer, good luck. There aren't many of those guys.

In defending their votes, writers will often try to pass off an argument based on the player's negation. "Where would the Twins have been without Justin Morneau?" This formulation is about as logical as Casey Stengel saying that you need a catcher because without one you'll have lots of passed balls. Without Morneau, the Twins would have had some other first baseman. That hypothetical hitter probably wouldn't have hit as well, but Morneau's season was run of the mill, as very good seasons go, neither historic nor unique, so it's possible that the Twins could have gotten something close. The average major league first baseman hit about .282/.358/.482 this year. Morneau hit .321/.375/.559. He was above average, but not spectacularly so.

Mauer's season was historic and unique. No American League catcher was within a country mile of him. Jorge Posada had an excellent season and was perhaps 30 or 40 percent less productive. Overall, major league catchers batted .268/.328/.413. Mauer hit 347/.429/.507.

Jeter's season is also in the historic ballpark. Few shortstops, including Jeter himself, have hit as well as he did in 2006. The only other year in his inventory that's as good was 1999. Major league shortstops batted .274/.330/.408 to Jeter's .343/.417/.483. Big difference. Jeter's offensive 1999 was probably in the top 10 shortstop seasons ever. The writers missed it. His 2006 wasn't nearly as good — it merely ranks in the top 30 or 40. That's where Mauer's season ranks in the history of catching as well. Without being rigidly scientific about it, Morneau's 2006 offensive season is probably about the 200th best in the history of first basemen.

The shocking thing here isn't that Jeter lost — the writers make mistakes almost every year. It's that the guy they selected wasn't even the best player on his own team. That takes a special degree of ignorance.

Some might speculate that Jeter's failure to win the award relates to his abandonment of Alex Rodriguez, but the answer is far simpler than the deep-thinking members of our press corps ruminating on the Captain's putting self before team. What determined the award is what has always determined it: RBIs. Jeter had 97. Morneau had 130. Nothing else matters.

Of 65 American League position player MVPs since 1932 (the AL voters admitted the possibility of repeat winners at this time, meaning they voted for the player they perceived to be best, as opposed to the best that hadn't yet won), 27 have led the league in RBIs. Another 11 have finished second. Here's an easier way to look at it:

1st 27 Jimmie Foxx (x3), Hank Greenberg (x2), Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Al Rosen, Mickey Mantle, Jackie Jensen, Roger Maris (x2), Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Carl Yastrzemski, Harmon Killebrew, Dick Allen, Reggie Jackson, Jeff Burroughs, Jim Rice, Don Baylor, Don Mattingly, George Bell, Jose Canseco, Mo Vaughn, Ken Griffey Jr., Juan Gonzalez
2nd 11 Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Yogi Berra (x2), Thurman Munson, George Brett, Juan Gonzalez, Frank Thomas, Alex Rodriguez, Justin Morneau
3rd 6 Joe DiMaggio, Boog Powell, Fred Lynn, Frank Thomas, Miguel Tejada, Alex Rodriguez
4th 5 Joe Gordon, Robin Yount, Cal Ripken, Jason Giambi, Vladimir Guerrero
6th 1 Mickey Mantle
7th 1 Robin Yount
8th 3 Lou Boudreu, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard
9th 1 Cal Ripken
12th 1 Rod Carew
14th 2 Zoilo Versalles, Ivan Rodriguez
15th 1 Mickey Mantle
16th 1 Charlie Gehringer
22nd 1 Nellie Fox
26th 1 Mickey Cochrane
31th 1 Phil Rizzuto
45th 1 Rickey Henderson
48th 1 Ichiro Suzuki

We'll take the National Leaguers separately, since they've had a discrete group of voters. Of 69 NL MVPs since 1929, when Rogers Hornsby became the first repeat winner:

1st 27 Chuck Klein, Joe Medwick, Dolph Camilli, Stan Musial, Hank Sauer, Roy Campanella, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks (x2), Ken Boyer, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, Johnny Bench (x2), Joe Torre, George Foster, Mike Schmidt (x3), Dale Murphy (x2), Andre Dawson, Kevin Mitchell, Barry Bonds, Jeff Bagwell, Sammy Sosa, Ryan Howard
2nd 7 Frank McCormick, Jackie Robinson, Frank Robinson , Roberto Clemente, Joe Morgan, Dave Parker, Albert Pujols
3rd 7 Rogers Hornsby, Stan Musial, Roy Campanella (x2), Willie Mays, Steve Garvey, Ken Caminit, Larry Walker
4th 5 Bob Elliot, Barry Bonds (x3), Jeff Kent
5th 2 Stan Musial, Keith Hernandez
6th 2 Willie Mays, Barry Bonds
7th 1 Ernie Lombardi
8th 2 Phil Cavaretta, Roy Campanella
9th 1 Gabby Hartnett
11th 1 Joe Morgan
13th 1 Frankie Frisch
15th 1 Ryne Sandberg
16th 2 Willie McGee, Kirk Gibson
17th 4 Willie Stargell, Terry Pendleton, Chipper Jones, Barry Bonds
24th 1 Barry Bonds
28th 1 Marty Marion
33rd 1 Dick Groat
36th 1 Pete Rose
37th 1 Barry Larkin
52nd 1 Maury Wills


Whenever the writers are in doubt, they reach for the ol' RBI leaders. Mourneau was No. 2 and Jeter was No. 22. Mauer was No. 35, so he didn't get any consideration at all. That's all that mattered.

The big exceptions are if a leadoff man has an extraordinarily great year with lots of stolen bases and is perceived to be a "catalyst," or if the dominant offensive player is a big, slow, defensively challenged slugger like Harmon Killebrew or Cecil Fielder. In that case the award often goes to a pitcher. In all, there are no hard and fast rules. For each voter, the MVP seems to need to tell a story about what that player's season accomplished.

Most often, RBIs serve as the ideal props for that story, but sometimes other narratives trump them. Arguably, every player to win an MVP while finishing out of the top 10 in RBIs represents a triumph of storytelling. Nellie Fox's defense, Maury Wills' speed, or Pete Rose's grit said more to the voters than did Jackie Jensen's, Tommy Davis's, or Willie Stargell's RBIs.

Joe Cowley (not the ex-Yank, thanks) of the Chicago Sun Times, listed Jeter sixth behind Morneau, Jermaine Dye, Johan Santana, Frank Thomas, and David Ortiz. He also left Mauer off his ballot and threw a 10th-place vote at A.J. Pierzynski. Special guy. Danny Knobler, representing the Booth Newspapers of Detroit, listed Jeter fourth behind Morneau, Thomas, and Joe Mauer.

Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle and Joe Roderick of the Contra Costa Times listed Jeter first and Thomas second. Thomas had a great season, but he doesn't play defense and he's the slowest player in the bigs not named Molina. You need a home run to score him from any base. Jason Giambi could lap him. The new "Bill James Handbook" has a section on baserunning. Know how many times Frank Thomas went from first to third on a single last year? Try never. He had 23 chances. Giambi made it four times in as many chances.

Sorry, but a statue can't be an MVP candidate unless he hits like Babe Ruth. Thomas didn't even hit like Thomas.

For once it's not the Yankees making a drunken kamikaze splash into free agent waters. Dave Collins. Gary Ward. Andy Hawkins. Tony Womack. Carl Pavano. Jaret Wright. This year it's the other teams making multi-millionaires of mediocrities and locking up middle-aged players until they're senior citizens. The Yankees are showing restraint while everyone else is throwing dollars around as if they were confetti. Truly the world has been turned upside down.

Over the last several days a number of free-agent deals have been consummated (with the market rapidly emptying, is it possible the general managers will have naught to do in Orlando but make trades and ride Splash Mountain?), many of them lacking in restraint. The Reds under Wayne Krivsky made some outlandish deals last year and continue to make them, locking up Mike Stanton for birthdays 40 and 41 (hey, maybe the fans will come out to see him break the games pitched record) and the punchless Alex González (.246/.299/.392 career), apparently a necessity after giving away Felipe López. The Dodgers' five-year deal with Juan Pierre will cripple them for the next half-decade; Pierre doesn't actually do a whole lot that's valuable at any batting average under .330. Alfonso Soriano's eight-year deal will have better results for the Cubs — for a while.

It's encouraging that the Yankees did not sign Soriano just to sign him — having no place to put a player hasn't stopped them in the past — and that in a thin market they're keeping their wallets holstered. The Yankees apparently won't have a Thanksgiving surprise this year and it's a good thing.

The big signings may yet be coming, with multiple insurance policies on the starting rotation. Still, this looks to be a transitional year, with some of the youngsters getting a chance at the fifth and perhaps fourth spot in the rotation. Coming from this team, that's a Thanksgiving surprise in and of itself.

Steven Goldman's Pinstriped Bible appears weekly on "Forging Genius," Steve's biography of Casey Stengel is available at and a bookstore near you, as is "Mind Game," about the intellectual conflict between the Yankees and the Red Sox. Steve's Pinstriped Blog is available weekdays on, and more Steve can be found at Baseball Prospectus Web site. Your questions, comments, suggestions welcomed at The opinions stated above are solely those of the author and should not be attributed to anyone connected in an official capacity with the YES Network. comments