I was getting tired of listening to the sports news talking heads mention for the umpeenth time about Ryan Braun taking away the MVP trophy from Matt Kemp, and I thought I would try to take a look at the MVP voting in an objective manner for the past 30 years to see whether any controversy was really warranted.
So what I did first was to make a set of rules that combined a number of voting philosophies, and combined them into a matrix that would provide a consistent criteria. Any difference between the actual winner and the matrix winner then would be a level of variation worthy of debate. I used the following rules and rankings:
Rule 1: You must have received MVP votes to be considered. I'm not going to go hunting for the possibility of a fringe player who was potentially competitive for the award even though he received no votes. If you didn't get any votes at all I'm considering you unelectable, and there's probably a good reason you were omitted.
Rule 2: You must have had enough plate appearances to be eligible for the batting title. This award is for hitters. The Cy Young award is for pitchers. Take a hike Justin Verlander, Roger Clemens, etc.
Philosophy: Winning Is Everything - The performance of the team by winning percentage is ranked from top to bottom. If your team had the best record in the league you got a 1, if you were the second-best 2, and so on. This theory supports the voters who believe that the deserving MVP will be the most valuable player on the most successful team.
Philosophy: This Means WAR - The best way to determine the overall value of a player is to use WAR, which will not only account for their offensive performance, but do it in a way that compares you to your peers at your position, and includes defensive prowess. Eligible players are ranked from top to bottom by WAR, with the top player getting a 1, 2nd getting a 2, and so on.
Philosophy: OPS Is Tops - This is an offensive award, and the most valuable player in the league will be the most offensive player (offensive like A-Rod, not like John Rocker). Eligible players are ranked from top to bottom by OPS, with the top player getting a 1, 2nd getting a 2, and so on.
So with the eligibility rules each year I ranked all the players from 1 to X in the three voting philosophies, and added the totals. I didn't want to necessarily come up with a list of players who should have won, but the best candidate that could be argued to have won. If I couldn't come up with an alternative, then I figure it's not worth discussing, and within any reasonable doubt the actual winner was legit.
Here are the actual winners from each league for each year, the categorical leaders, and the matrix leader - the best alternative candidate for each year (I'm not providing the entire matrix for each year, it would take too much space).
|Vote||Winning is Ev.||This Means WAR||OPS is Tops
|2011||Ryan Braun||Shane Victorino||Matt Kemp||Ryan Braun||Ryan Braun|
|2010||Joey Votto||Jayson Werth||Albert Pujols||Joey Votto||Joey Votto|
|2009||Albert Pujols||Matt Kemp||Albert Pujols||Albert Pujols||Albert Pujols|
|2008||Albert Pujols||Geovany Soto||Albert Pujols||Manny Ramirez||Albert Pujols|
|2007||Jimmy Rollins||Eric Byrnes||Albert Pujols||Chipper Jones||C.Utley/C.Jones|
|2006||Ryan Howard||Carlos Beltran||Albert Pujols||Albert Pujols||Albert Pujols|
|2005||Albert Pujols||Albert Pujols||Albert Pujols||Derrek Lee||Albert Pujols|
|2004||Barry Bonds||Albert Pujols||Barry Bonds||Barry Bonds||Barry Bonds|
|2003||Barry Bonds||Gary Sheffield||Barry Bonds||Barry Bonds||Barry Bonds|
|2002||Barry Bonds||Chipper Jones||Barry Bonds||Barry Bonds||Barry Bonds|
|2001||Barry Bonds||Lance Berkman||Barry Bonds||Barry Bonds||Barry Bonds|
|2000||Jeff Kent||Jeff Kent||Todd Helton||Todd Helton||Barry Bonds|
|1999||Chipper Jones||Chipper Jones||Jeff Bagwell||Larry Walker||Chipper Jones|
|1998||Sammy Sosa||Andres Gallaraga||Barry Bonds||Mark McGwire||Barry Bonds|
|1997||Larry Walker||Chipper Jones||Larry Walker||Larry Walker||Larry Walker|
|1996||Ken Caminiti||Chipper Jones||Barry Bonds||Gary Sheffield||K.Caminiti/E.Burks|
|1995||Barry Larkin||Fred McGriff||Barry Bonds||Barry Bonds||Reggie Sanders|
|1994||Jeff Bagwell||Moises Alou||Jeff Bagwell||Jeff Bagwell||Jeff Bagwell|
|1993||Barry Bonds||David Justice||Barry Bonds||Barry Bonds||Barry Bonds|
|1992||Barry Bonds||Terry Pendleton||Barry Bonds||Barry Bonds||Barry Bonds|
|1991||Terry Pendleton||Barry Bonds||Barry Bonds||Barry Bonds||Barry Bonds|
|1990||Barry Bonds||Barry Bonds||Barry Bonds||Barry Bonds||Barry Bonds|
|1989||Kevin Mitchell||Ryne Sandberg||Lonnie Smith||Kevin Mitchell||W.Clark/K.Mitchell|
|1988||Kirk Gibson||Darryl Strawberry||Brett Butler||Darryl Strawberry||K.Gibson/D.Strawberry|
|1987||Andre Dawson||Ozzie Smith||Tony Gwynn||Jack Clark||E.Davis/J.Clark|
|1986||Mike Schmidt||Keith Hernandez||Tony Gwynn||Mike Schmidt||Mike Schmidt|
|1985||Willie McGee||Willie McGee||Willie McGee||Pedro Guerrero||Pedro Guerrero|
|1984||Ryne Sandberg||Ryne Sandberg||Ryne Sandberg||Mike Schmidt||Ryne Sandberg|
|1983||Dale Murphy||Pedro Guerrero||Dickie Thon||Dale Murphy||Dale Murphy|
|1982||Dale Murphy||Lonnie Smith||Gary Carter||Mike Schmidt||Mike Schmidt|
|1981||Mike Schmidt||George Foster||Mike Schmidt||Mike Schmidt||Mike Schmidt|
|1980||Mike Schmidt||Jose Cruz||Mike Schmidt||Mike Schmidt||Mike Schmidt|
|Actual||Winning is Ev.
||This Means WAR||OPS is Tops||Matrix|
|2011||Justin Verlander||Curtis Granderson||Ben Zobrist||Jose Bautista||Miguel Cabrera|
|2010||Josh Hamilton||Evan Longoria||Josh Hamilton||Josh Hamilton||Josh Hamilton|
|2009||Joe Mauer||Mark Tiexiera||Ben Zobrist||Joe Mauer||Joe Mauer|
|2008||Dustin Pedroia||Vladimir Guerrero||Dustin Pedroia||Milton Bradley||Alex Rodriguez|
|2007||Alex Rodriguez||Victor Martinez||Alex Rodriguez||Alex Rodriguez||Alex Rodriguez|
|2006||Justin Morneau||Derek Jeter||Grady Sizemore||Travis Hafner||J.Mauer/T.Hafner|
|2005||Alex Rodriguez||Paul Konerko||Alex Rodriguez||Alex Rodriguez||Alex Rodriguez|
|2004||Vladimir Guerrero||Gary Sheffield||Ichiro Suzuki||Manny Ramirez||Vladimir Guerrero|
|2003||Alex Rodriguez||Jorge Posada||Alex Rodriguez||Carlos Delgado||Carlos Delgado|
|2002||Miguel Tejada||Jason Giambi||Alex Rodriguez||Jim Thome||Jason Giambi|
|2001||Ichiro Suzuki||Ichiro Suzuki||Jason Giambi||Jason Giambi||Jason Giambi|
|2000||Jason Giambi||Frank Thomas||Alex Rodriguez||Manny Ramirez||Jason Giambi|
|1999||Ivan Rodriguez||Derek Jeter||Derek Jeter||Manny Ramirez||D.Jeter/M.Ramirez|
|1998||Juan Gonzalez||Bernie Williams||Alex Rodriguez||Albert Belle||Albert Belle|
|1997||Ken Griffey, Jr.||Rafael Palmiero||Ken Griffey, Jr.||Frank Thomas||Ken Griffey, Jr.|
|1996||Juan Gonzalez||Albert Belle||Ken Griffey, Jr.||Mark McGwire||Jim Thome|
|1995||Mo Vaughn||Albert Belle||John Valentin||Mark McGwire||Albert Belle|
|1994||Frank Thomas||Paul O'Neill||Kenny Lofton||Frank Thomas||Frank Thomas|
|1993||Frank Thomas||John Olerud||Ken Griffey, Jr.||John Olerud||John Olerud|
|1992||Dennis Eckersley||Mark McGwire||Kirby Puckett||Frank Thomas||Mark McGwire|
|1991||Cal Ripken||Kirby Puckett||Cal RIpken||Frank Thomas||Frank Thomas|
|1990||Rickey Henderson||Rickey Henderson||Rickey Henderson||Rickey Henderson||Rickey Henderson|
|1989||Robin Yount||Carney Lansford||Rickey Henderson||Fred McGriff||Fred McGriff|
|1988||Jose Canseco||Jose Canseco||Wade Boggs||Wade Boggs||Wade Boggs|
|1987||George Bell||Alan Trammell||Wade Boggs||Wade Boggs||Paul Molitor|
|1986||Roger Clemens||Jim Rice||Wade Boggs||Don Mattingly||Wade Boggs|
|1985||Don Mattingly||Jesse Barfield||Rickey Henderson||George Brett||Rickey Henderson|
|1984||Willie Hernandez||Kirk Gibson||Cal Ripken||Dwight Evans||Eddie Murray|
|1983||Cal Ripken||Carlton Fisk||Cal Ripken||Wade Boggs||Cal Ripken|
|1982||Robin Yount||Robin Yount||Robin Yount||Robin Yount||Robin Yount|
|1981||Rollie Fingers||Rickey Henderson||D.Evans/R.Henderson||Dwight Evans||Dwight Evans|
|1980||George Brett||Reggie Jackson||George Brett||George Brett||George Brett|
The matrix holds up better for the National League than it does the American League, and I think in part it is because of the Designated Hitter. The American League has more guys who put up great offensive numbers but have a lower WAR, which splits the votes up a bit, and because there is an extra spot in the lineup for a bat, there are more opportunities for people to put up great numbers but not play for a great team. In the National League if you can field your position efficiently and hit well it probably has a larger impact on your team's chances to win, and/or get lured away by free agency to one of the perennial winning teams who can afford you.
In any case, given the historical perspective, I don't see that the 2011 NL voting is within the margin of speculation to consider Braun undeserving or Kemp robbed of his MVP award. Compared to the voting of years past, 2011 was actually a pretty logicaland non-controversial vote.
Also, note that there were only three years - two in the AL, one in the NL - in which every philosophy agreed. Only three times did a player who led in WAR and OPS play for the team with the best record in their league and was awarded the MVP.
The three Undisputed MVP's are Robin Yount (1982), Rickey Henderson (1990), and Barry Bonds (1990).
I'm an amateur with analysis and I make up my own indices for the fun of it. I just ran the numbers to see what they would look like, hopefully the data provides most of discussion points and not the methodology too much.