Justin Verlander’s deserved MVP nod on Monday ended an 18-year drought in which only position players had been awarded the game’s ultimate single-season honor. No pitcher had won an MVP award since A’s closer Dennis Eckersley in 1992. No starter had won since Boston’s Roger Clemens in 1986.
Now that the BBWAA is again showing a willingness to vote for pitchers — at least if no position player on a first-place team truly stands out — let’s correct a couple of wrongs from the last 20 years.
– Roger Clemens – 1997 Blue Jays
Clemens went 21-7, led the AL in ERA at 2.05, strikeouts with 292, innings pitched with 264 and complete games with nine, yet he finished a mere 10th in the MVP balloting. Randy Myers, who pitched 59 2/3 innings with a WHIP worse than Clemens’, came in fourth. At least the voters did pick the right position player this year, as Ken Griffey Jr. got the nod.
– Pedro Martinez – 1999 Red Sox
After finishing 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA and 313 strikeouts, Martinez got eight first-place votes, but he was also left off a couple of ballots and finished second in the balloting to Ivan Rodriguez, who was probably the league’s fourth or fifth best position player. Martinez was even better the following year in 2000, when he went 18-6 with a 1.74 ERA, but he came in fifth that year.
– Greg Maddux – 1995 Braves
In the 144-game strike-shortened season, Maddux was a remarkable 19-2 with a 1.63 ERA and a 0.81 WHIP in 209 2/3 innings. All of those marks led the NL, of course, and Maddux was pretty obviously the league’s most valuable player. Still, he finished third behind Barry Larkin and Coors Field-aided Dante Bichette in the balloting.
– Johan Santana – 2004 Twins
The American League in 2004 had five guys drive in at least 120 runs. Not coincidentally, those five guys finished first-through-fifth in the MVP voting. Santana was sixth after going 20-6 with a 2.61 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP. There was a case for actual winner Vladimir Guerrero over him, but Santana should have finished second at worst.