MVP and Cy Young – Cancellation and Coexistence

Brian Walton looks at the two major awards in terms of selection criteria, likelihood of both being awarded to teammates and talks with an important voter about leading candidates for 2005.

As good fortune would have it, I received a thought-provoking email from reader Jason Cooper about the same time I was planning to write a post-season award story, anyway. As many others have before him and since, Cooper asserted that in 2004, the Cardinals' three Most Valuable Player candidates, Albert Pujols (third place), Scott Rolen (fourth) and Jim Edmonds (fifth) siphoned votes away from each other, paving the road for Barry Bonds to become the clear winner.


What really got my attention was Cooper's query about the possibility of a different variation of this perceived problem in 2005. Specifically, with Pujols again one of the top three contenders for the MVP, will the fact that teammate Chris Carpenter is also a front-runner for Cy Young Award consideration lead to the two Cardinals standouts canceling each other out, even though the two awards are separate?


Interesting questions. While I was seeking out the answers, I also got an in-depth view of one voter's thinking about the 2005 MVP and Cy Young candidates.


On MVP candidates canceling each other out


As noted above, the prevailing logic is that because of their strong seasons, the Cardinals' top three hitters ruined each other's MVP chances in 2004.  In fact, Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz was very clear about the matter as recently as this Sunday:


"Last year, Albert Pujols was denied the National League's Most Valuable Player award, in part because he was penalized by the excellence of teammates Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds."


Let's look at the numbers to see if they can support the claim. Since actually winning the award - getting first place - is all that really matters, we'll start there. If the Cardinals would have been cannibalizing votes from each other, you'd think the aggregate of their first place selections would have at least been close to Bonds, right?


Well, they weren't even in the same area code. The total #1 votes garnered by the Cards "MV3" contingent of Pujols, Rolen and Edmonds was a whopping two. Both those votes came from local writers. On the other hand, Bonds received 24 first place votes. That's right. 24 of the 32, or 75% of the voters selected Bonds, while the MV3 earned 6%.


Adrian Beltre took 21 of the 32 possible second place votes, which is a good reason he ended up where he did, in second. Pujols received just one first place and one second place vote, but 20 third place votes. Guess where he ended up?  Yep – third.


First place votes are worth fourteen points, while second place is only nine points, third place eight points, and so on down to tenth place at one point. In 2004, Bonds came in at 407 total points, while Beltre had 311. Then came Pujols at 246, Rolen at 226 and Edmonds at 160.


Taking into account first place and second place together didn't change matters at all. Even if all 30 voters who selected Bonds or Beltre had voted "MV3" as their #2 choice and both voters who did not take one of the "B's" had voted the combined MV3 #1, MV3 would have only garnered 298 votes, still far behind Bonds. Again, the reason is that premium placed on first-place votes in the scoring.


Later in this story, you'll see that the P-D's Rick Hummel, the dean of the active sportswriters in St. Louis, doesn't think much of this cancellation argument, either.


Can't decide, so vote for someone else entirely


OK, since that one didn't stick, let's try another variation on the argument, then. How about the idea that feelings of ambiguity over the MV3 led the voters to just ignore all three of them, taking their coveted first-place vote elsewhere?


Miklasz rationalized that line of logic in his Sunday column: "How can Pujols be the league MVP when we aren't sure he's the St. Louis MVP? It was easy to single out Barry Bonds and Adrian Beltre, who finished ahead of Pujols in the balloting."


On the surface, such a comment may seem quite reasonable, and as a result, appears to have been accepted by many as fact. Yet, under scrutiny, it seems about as shaky as Jason Marquis' recent mound appearances. 


In re-stating the above example, here is one possible representation of the voters' alleged thought process: "Let's see. Based on what I have seen this season, my top three MVP candidates are Pujols, Edmonds and Rolen. But, I can't decide among the three of them which is best. So, instead I will use my first place vote on the guy who is down the page at #4 or #5 on my list."


Now that seems pretty unlikely, doesn't it?

Simply put, to assume that the 2004 MVP voters took the aforementioned easy way out is patently insulting to them.  By the way, these voters aren't some group of uneducated fans we're talking about here.


You see, those who cast these award ballots are none other than Miklasz and his peers in the ranks of the BBWAA, the Baseball Writers' Association of America. For each of the top four awards in each league, MVP, Cy Young, Manager of the Year and Rookie of the Year, two writers from each league city are selected to complete ballots. For the 16-team National League, that equates to 32 voters for each award, and for the American League, there are 28.


This approach makes a lot of sense, as those selected to participate are typically the beat writers and columnists who see the home team every day and catch all the other league squads in person for at least one or two series during the season.


Specifically, for some time, the core of the MVP and Cy Young voters from the Gateway City have been Hummel, plus Cardinals beat writer Joe Strauss and Miklasz. Frankly, I can't think of better men to carry the responsibility of voting. Seeing them in action in their jobs, I am confident they take the matter most seriously and were able to easily work through any possible confusion or consternation over how to vote.


Yet, does anyone really think that Hummel's and Strauss' and Miklasz' peers in other league cities are any less diligent? To suggest that would seem to imply elitism, a superiority that could only be interpreted as a broadside unfairly leveled at equally-experienced, knowledgeable and qualified baseball writers in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and all around the rest of the League.


Yet, in fairness to this argument, even the two St. Louis voters did not agree on the MVP. Although unless voters in other cities were reading their columns, they did not learn that until after the voting, or more likely not at all.



I am not intending to take anything away from any of the MV3 here. They all had tremendous seasons in 2004. However, Bonds won the MVP, his fourth consecutive award, fair and square and quite decisively. Let's give him his due and leave it at that.


Furthermore, if Albert Pujols is able to garner enough votes to take the 2005 prize, it will be equally well-deserving. Unless Edmonds catches on fire and stays that way for two full months, Pujols will not have in-house competition to contend with this time around.


On Cy Young and MVP canceling each other out and leading 2005 candidates


Now, let's move on to the second part of the question – whether the MVP votes can be influenced by Cy Young votes and vice-versa.


Well, first of all, the MVP voters are different from the Cy Young voters. The same writers do not vote for both awards, said Hummel, also known as "The Commish".


I asked Hummel if he has begun to think about who he'll be voting for this year. "You start thinking about it now. You don't commit now. You are eliminating people as you go along. For the MVP, there are only three guys who have a realistic chance of winning. That is Albert, Derrek Lee and Andruw Jones. I don't see anybody else even close… unless somebody goes on a tear and wins a lot. If Florida came on, you'd have (Miguel) Cabrera, I guess. But they're not winning."


The Commish continued: "For Cy Young, I think it is down to three or four also, with (Roger) Clemens, (Chris) Carpenter, Pedro Martinez and probably (Roy) Oswalt."


Even though the voters are separate, I asked Hummel the question directly. Have you ever seen reluctance or hesitation from voters about selecting players from the same team for both MVP and Cy Young?


His reply was very straightforward. "No, not that I have seen. It hasn't bothered me because one is a team thing (MVP) and the Cy Young is not. You can have a guy from a last-place team. It doesn't make any difference how the team does as far as the Cy Young is concerned. That is for best pitcher. The MVP award is not for best player. It is for the most valuable player who helped that team win. Often, I don't vote for a player on a losing team for MVP."


That comment begged the question about Pujols' situation in the MVP voting in 2003, when his candidacy was negatively impacted by the fact that his team missed the playoffs. I asked The Commish about that.


"Two years ago, I didn't vote for Pujols. I voted for Bonds. And last year, I voted for Rolen, because when they took off with their big lead, he was their most valuable player. He didn't end up having as good of a season as Pujols, but when they jumped from a few games up to 18 to 20 games ahead, Rolen was the more…(he interrupted himself)… It didn't make any difference as neither one of them won."


Revisiting our first topic for a minute, I asked Hummel if he thought the three Cardinals hitters canceled each other out for MVP votes last year.  It doesn't sound like he agrees. "I don't know that they canceled each other out. Edmonds didn't even get any first place votes. It was ok that Bonds won. He was so superior."


Hummel extended that thought to 2005: "Now Derrek Lee - he is not as superior as Bonds. If he doesn't win the Triple Crown, he is not going to win (the MVP). Looking at Albert, unless the Cardinals stumble badly, here is a guy that has finished second three times and third once to Barry Bonds as Most Valuable Player. And, Bonds is not playing. I think the Cardinals are the best team in the league, easily, and he's having the same year he has had for five years."


Finally, I asked The Commish if inconsistency year-to-year would affect his MVP voting criteria for a player like Lee, who is having a career year.


"No. If the Cubs make the playoffs, which would be quite an undertaking now, he (Lee) would deserve strong consideration because he carried them for as long as they have been alive. If he hit .220 or .230 last year and had a breakout season this year, I am alright with that because he was valuable that year."


Cy and MVP on the same team is possible


While not occurring regularly, having both MVP and Cy Young winners on the same team is not unprecedented. For example, over in the American League, Miguel Tejada and Barry Zito of the 2002 Oakland A's took home the hardware. Frank Thomas and Black Jack McDowell of the 1993 White Sox did it. Closer to home, former Cardinal third baseman Terry Pendleton and pitcher Tom Glavine earned the recognition as members of the 1991 Atlanta Braves.


In fact, in another era, a single player could actually earn both. It is highly unlikely that Bob Gibson's and Denny McLain's unbelievable 1968 season, which netted each of them both awards, could ever be repeated. In today's game, it is unlikely another pitcher will be MVP. Dennis Eckersley was the last to do it, back in 1992.


The Commish still sees it as possible when a contending team has a dominant pitcher but no dominating hitters. "In theory, I guess you could bolster Carpenter as a Most Valuable Player, but not ahead of Pujols."


I asked Hummel if he agrees with my perception that Cy Young voters overemphasize wins. He thinks not. In fact, his answer sounds a lot like what I imagine Tony La Russa might say if asked.


"I don't know what an overemphasis is about. That is what the game is about – winning. People talk about the Mets' poor defense limiting Pedro. Well, if that was the case, then his ERA should be very low. There should be a lot of unearned runs."


The Commish also made it clear where Clemens fits in his pecking order, though Pedro would also be lumped into this. "If I had to pick between a guy who pitches seven innings and a guy who pitches nine, like Carpenter, I am going to go with the guy who pitches nine. Let's see what Clemens' record is without (Brad) Lidge. Clemens is certainly a candidate, but Lidge is the best pitcher on that team."


Hummel likes what he sees in Lidge. "We see Lidge a lot here. He is untouchable. Very occasionally, they get a run off him. I think they got one all last year, including the post-season. In fact, I am not sure they got any runs off him last season."


In closing


Maybe, just maybe, Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter will receive National League Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Awards this season. They certainly deserve strong consideration, but it will all depend on where the votes land.  We'll see in mid-November when the results of the balloting are announced.


Between now and then, all we can do is watch and debate. But, that's the fun part, isn't it?


Brian Walton can be reached via email at


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