The membership of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America has never been accused of being the most forward thinking or progressive set of sportswriters on the planet. They are an antiquated, bloated network of good ol’ boys that refuse to leave the false remembrances of pastoral images from baseball’s heyday in the 1950s and 1960s. In today’s world where 68% of America gets their news from the internet (yeah, I completely made that number up), they have been slow to embrace the new medium because they are too busy clinging to their bylines in the rotting corpse of newspapers.
These men (and let’s not kid ourselves that they aren’t mostly comprised of white men in their sixties) are more concerned with the buffet offerings in the press box than accurate information. If you don’t believe me, this is the same group that voted Edinson Volquez to a fourth-place finish in the 2008 NL Rookie of the Year voting even though the pitcher wasn’t a rookie that year.
Although recent years have seen the voting bloc begin to grudgingly embrace analytics, their past history does not look great in the harsh light of 2015. Using the Sam Miller-defined modern era season of 1988 as a starting point, members of the BBWAA have voted for players in the Most Valuable Player races with negative WARs five separate times. Of those five, I wanted to examine the player who garnered the most points (7) in voting and also happened to have the lowest WAR (-1.8): Joe Carter in his 1990 season with the San Diego Padres.
Carter, the World Series hero for Toronto three years later, posted a pedestrian .232/.290/.391 slash line while playing in all 162 games in his one season with the Padres. So how did Carter manage to finish 17th in the voting for MVP in the National League?
The numbers sportswriters looked at then were fairly showy for the former first round pick out of Wichita State University. Carter hit 24 home runs while stealing 22 bases and driving in 115 runs, trailing the league leader by only seven. There were many scribes then and now who believe it’s impossible to have a bad 100 RBI season, but Carter’s 1990 should be the case study against that thinking. Offensively, Carter barely had a positive season (1.0 WAR) but defensively he cost his team 29 runs while playing 112 games in center field and 51 games in left field.
Yet, it wasn’t just the sportswriters that overestimated Carter’s impact for the Padres. Despite an OPS 50 points below the league average, managers Jack McKeon and Greg Riddoch kept penciling Carter’s name into the lineup day after day, even batting him fourth or fifth in the order 150 times that season.
1990 was also smack dab in the middle of a run that saw Carter finish in the top 20 for league MVP eight of nine straight seasons, including two top five finishes in 1991 and 1992. The BBWAA members are nothing if not consistent in voting for the same players year in and year out whether deserving or not.
Perhaps he was the best player on the best team? Except neither was clearly the case. The Padres finished in fifth place in the National League West with a record of 75-87 and were never a threat for the playoffs. A six-week stretch in June and July that saw them win only eight out of 37 games effectively ended their season early. Carter, though, was the Padre to receive the most MVP votes on the team. All this despite having the lowest WAR on the team out of all 39 players on San Diego’s roster that season. Literally, the worst.
Even twenty-five years later, it’s still mind-numbing that Carter played every day, let alone received any MVP votes.The American League Rookie of the Year: By the Numbers
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