Over the past decade, there seems to have been a shift in the MVP voting. While it has traditionally been an awarded given to the best player or a difference maker on a postseason contender, there has been an increasing push to give the award to the best player. Largely, this is the reason why we have seen Mike Trout win the 2016 AL MVP over Mookie Betts despite the Angels being under .500 and in fourth place in the AL West. It was also the reason Giancarlo Stanton won last year.
Trout was hardly unique in winning the MVP despite playing for a second division team. Alex Rodriguez won the 2003 MVP because not only was he by far the best player in the American League, but there was also no real position player who emerged as a legitimate contender for the award. The other classic example was Andre Dawson winning the 1987 NL MVP. He won because by that generation’s standards 49 homers and 137 RBI were far too much to be ignored.
In addition to under players from under .500 teams winning the MVP, we have also seen pitchers win an MVP. In fact, there have been seven starting pitchers and three relievers to win the award. What is interesting is two of the pitchers who have been named MVP have come in the past decade. The first was Justin Verlander, who won the Cy Young and MVP in 2011. The other was Clayton Kershaw, who won both awards in 2014.
Up until this point, we have not seen a starting pitcher from under .500 team win the MVP award. Perhaps with the historic season he has had, it is time Jacob deGrom becomes that pitcher.
Looking at the league leaders right now, deGrom leads the National League with a 10.3 WAR. Despite the epic run Christian Yelich is on to close out the season, deGrom leads him in WAR by 3.3. Even with Yelich having four games left in his season, it is safe to say deGrom is going to beat him in this category by a healthy margin.
Now, if you go through the past decade of MVP award voting, there has only been one player who has amassed a WAR of at least 10.0. That was Bryce Harper who was the unanimous 2015 NL MVP. As an important side note, Zack Greinke, who had a 9.7 WAR and 1.66 ERA finished second. Moreover, the lowest WAR for an MVP award winner was Joey Votto who had a 7.0 WAR in 2010.
Digging a little deeper, no one with a WAR of at least 10.0 has not won the MVP award in the National League since 2001. That year Sammy Sosa and his 10.3 WAR lost to Barry Bonds and his 11.3 WAR. Previous to Sosa losing, the last time a National League player had a WAR of at least 10.0 and did not win the MVP was 1964 when Willie Mays lost to Ken Boyer. To a certain extent, you could make the case a 10.0 WAR is one of those magic thresholds which should merit you the MVP award.
One of the reasons why National Leaguers who have accumulated at least 10.0 WAR have won the MVP is because it is a truly astonishing feat. The National League was founded in 1876. In the 142 year history of the National League, there are just nine position players who have ever amassed a 10.0 WAR: Rogers Hornsby, Barry Bonds, Honus Wagner, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Joe Morgan, Sammy Sosa, Ernie Banks, and Bryce Harper. All nine of these players have at least one MVP award.
This century, there are just two National League pitchers to have at least a 10.0 WAR – Randy Johnson and deGrom. Johnson didn’t win the MVP the years he amassed over a 10.0 WAR partially because Bonds was putting up historic numbers while posting a higher WAR.
In fact, over the last 30 years, that list is just Johnson and deGrom. Over the last 50, that list is Dwight Gooden, Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, Phil Niekro, Johnson, and deGrom. With the exception of Gooden, each of these pitchers were Hall of Famers. With the exception of Niekro, these were first ballot Hall of Famers.
That’s the level of season deGrom just had. It was not just all-time great, it was the type of season a Hall of Famer would have.
With his 24 consecutive quality starts, he broke the record Bob Gibson and Chris Carpenter shared. He has set the Major League record with 29 consecutive starts allowing three earned runs or less. He’s the only pitcher since 1900 to have a season where he has has at least 250 strikeouts, 50 or fewer walks, 10 or fewer home runs allowed, and an ERA under 2.00.
Overall, Jacob deGrom did just have a great season, he just had an all-time great season. In fact, his 2018 season is on the short list for the greatest seasons a pitcher has ever had. Certainly, that’s more than enough for him to win the Cy Young. It should also be enough for him to win the MVP Award.