By the Numbers: Close but no reward for many top players

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

Published:

 

Many, many years ago, when I was a child, there was no such thing as the Internet.

That meant that in order to immerse yourself in the history of baseball, you did things such as memorizing the backs of baseball cards or memorizing the kinds of things that would appear in almanacs.

You know, such as lists of everybody who had 3,000 hits or 500 homers or 300 wins, or everybody who had won an MVP award. This provided a wealth of information, yet it was incomplete. For example, I never considered Mel Ott to be among the all-time greats, because he never won an MVP award. How great could he be?

Which is a roundabout way of getting to this week’s topic: Who are the best players to never win an MVP? Who are the best pitchers to never win a Cy Young? Who are the players who were great year after year, and for whatever reason never were great enough to be singled out?

Thanks to Bill James, we have a way to measure that. James, years ago, came up with something he calls MVP Shares. If a player is a unanimous selection for his league’s MVP award, receiving the maximum number of points in the balloting, he receives 1.00 MVP Shares.

If he wins the MVP award but receives 358 points out of a possible 392 (like Josh Hamilton last year), he gets 0.91 MVP Shares. If he finishes second and receives 262 points out of 392 (like Miguel Cabrera last year), that counts for 0.67 MVP Shares.

Which players have the most MVP Shares without ever winning an MVP? Here are the top 10 on that list:

1, Eddie Murray 3.33

2, Mike Piazza 3.15

3, Manny Ramirez 3.06

4, Al Kaline 2.42

5, Mel Ott 2.75

6, Bill Terry 2.72

7, Derek Jeter 2.58

8, Kirby Puckett 2.56

T9, Bob Feller 2.49

T9, David Ortiz 2.49

The MVP award was first selected in its current format in 1931. Before that, awards were handed out in some years and not in others.

From 1978-85, Murray finished eighth, 11th, sixth, fifth, second, second, fourth, and fifth in the MVP voting. He later added another fifth-place finish, and he ranks as the player who had the most success in the balloting without ever winning.

Piazza finished second twice (he was robbed in 1997) and was in the top 10 on seven occasions. Ramirez never finished higher than third, but was in the top 10 nine times.

Those performances are more impressive than, say, Willie McGee, who was the NL MVP in 1985 but never received a single vote in the balloting in any other season.

As for pitchers, here are the top five in Cy Young Shares without winning the award:

1, Curt Schilling 1.85

2, Dan Quisenberry 1.49

3, Nolan Ryan 1.48

4, Jimmy Key 1.25

5, Dave Stewart 1.22

The Cy Young Award wasn’t handed out until 1956, and for the first 11 years only one award was given for both leagues. So the best pitcher never to win a Cy Young is probably Walter Johnson. Or maybe Lefty Grove. Or maybe Cy Young himself. But Schilling has done the best in the voting without ever winning.

As for Mel Ott? Well, in addition to hitting 511 home runs, he finished third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and 10th in the voting, and received points in 13 different seasons. So maybe he was pretty great after all.

Question or comment for By the Numbers? You can reach Greg Jayne, Sports editor of The Columbian, at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at greg.jayne@columbian.com. To “like” his Facebook page, search for “Greg Jayne - The Columbian.”