Voting Gone Wrong: 1996 AL MVP

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Voting Gone Wrong is based on major awards being wrongly voted to the wrong person based on performance.
*Suspected PED use will not affect voting.
*The Baseball Writers’ Association of America has no specific requirements for MVP voting.

The 1996 American League MVP was one of the closest votes in the history of the award. Juan Gonzalez squeezed by a 20 year old star shortstop, Alex Rodriguez, by three points and just one more first place vote. Gonzalez took home the award with 290 total points and 11 first place votes. Rodriguez had 287 total points and 10 first place votes, while Ken Griffey Jr. had four first place votes — though he finished in fourth place — Albert Belle had two first place votes, and Ivan Rodriguez had the last first place vote in tenth place.

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Gonzalez hit .314/.368/.643 with 47 home runs, 144 RBI, 89 runs, a 1.011 OPS and a 3.8 WAR (according to baseball reference’s WAR) in 134 games played. The main advantage for Gonzalez was his team’s record. Texas finished the season 4.5 games in front of Griffey and A-Rod’s Seattle Mariners with a 90-72 record, to win the AL West. Belle’s Cleveland Indians also won the AL Central with a league-best 99-62 record.

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Advanced offensive and defensive statistics were rarely used in the ’90’s. Typically, evaluators would use the straight slash line (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage) along with power numbers of home runs and RBIs. When looking at more advanced stats and taking away team records, the award really came down to a pre-steroid and pre pre-Madonna Rodriguez and Griffey. The two Seattle stars dominated the league.

Rodriguez:
Games Played: 146
Runs: 141 (league leader)
Hits: 215
2B: 54 (league leader)
HR: 36
RBI: 123
SB: 15
BB: 59
BA: .358 (league leader)
OBP: .414
SLG: .631
OPS: 1.045
OPS+: 161
TB: 379 (league leader)

Advanced Stats
WAR: 9.3
RAR: 101
oWAR: 8.4
dWAR: 1.7
waaWL%: .547

A-Rod’s 1996 campaign is one the most impressive seasons in baseball history. Many believe that this is the year that he got robbed of his first MVP season. At only 20 years old, Rodriguez played a premium position of shortstop, led the league in stats across the board and had a 9.3 WAR, making advanced statisticians go crazy. The old-school stats and advanced stats are beyond impressive. In the advanced column, Rodriguez was 101 runs better than a replacement player, he accounted for 8.4 offensive wins above replacement, and 1.7 defensive runs above replacement. All of this was in Rodriguez true first season as an everyday player. He was an All-Star and won the Silver Slugger.

Griffey Jr.:
Games Played: 140
Runs: 125
Hits: 165
2B: 26
HR: 49
RBI: 140
SB: 16
BB: 78
BA: .303
OBP: .392
SLG: .628
OPS: 1.020
OPS+: 154
TB: 342

Advanced Stats
WAR: 9.6 (AL leader)
RAR: 103
oWAR: 6.5
dWAR: 3.4
waaWL%: .552

Ken Griffey Jr. also played a premium position in center field, while batting third in the Mariners lineup. That season, Rodriguez batted second, Griffey Jr. third, and Edgar Martinez fourth. Griffey was an RBI machine, knocking in 140 runners, and many times one of the runners was Rodriguez, which helped him lead the league in runs. In Seattle’s lineup, Griffey was also the most feared hitter, as he was walked 19 more times than Rodriguez and was intentionally walked 13 times compared to A-Rod’s one.

The advanced statistics show how greatly Griffey dominated both offensively and defensively. Griffey’s 9.6 WAR was a career high and the highest in the AL (Barry Bonds had a 9.7 in the NL). His 103 RAR was a career high, .552 waaWL% was a career high, and ’96 was his greatest defensive season with a whopping 3.4 dWAR. The smooth center fielder’s second best defensive year came in his ’97 MVP campaign year with a 1.8 dWAR. That season, Griffey was an All-Star, won the Silver Slugger, and also one of his 10 Gold Glove awards.

While many see this as the year that Rodriguez was overlooked, it was another Mariner that deserved to win the ’96 AL MVP, though he wrongly finished fourth in voting. Through both classic and advanced stats, Ken Griffey Jr. was the best overall player in the AL. He should have took home his first MVP in ’96, but luckily a year later he had another huge season and won his only MVP award.

*All stats were through Baseball Reference.

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