Everyone's talking about WAR! WAR this, WAR that! This guy's all, "Numbers are awful unless they're counting batting average, home runs, and RBI. Watch a game, nerds!" And then that guy's all, "Oh, yeah, buddy? Well, my number is the one true number, and if you don't pledge fealty, I'm going to sock you one," and then everyone watching is all "Daaamn."
It never gets old. Never.
It would have been neat to have it back in the olden days -- and not just for arguments about who should win, either. There were players who got token MVP votes at the bottom of the ballot during pre-WARtime who might not get them today. Voters might have been more aware of how un-good those seasons were.
Let's take a gander at those un-good seasons. Here are the five worst seasons to get at least one MVP vote, as determined by Baseball Reference's WAR:
5. Granny Hamner, 1957 Phillies
23rd place, three points
-1.4 WAR, .227/.274/.345, 10 HR, 62 RBI
Does WAR take awesome names into account? Sadly, it does not, and this is why it will forever be a junk stat to ignore. Granny Hamner was someone who would keep your ball if you hit it over the fence, and that was worth -1.0 WAR to someone every time because it literally prevented a team from winning. That was a different Granny Hamner, though. This one was a second baseman, and he had a couple of really nice seasons over his 17-year career. 1957 was not one of those years. If you prefer WAA (wins above average), he finished at -3.2.
He did lead the league by hitting into 23 double plays that year, though. You can't just ignore a league leader!
4. Elston Howard, 1967 Yankees and Red Sox
17th place, seven points
-1.5 WAR, .178/.233/.244, 4 HR, 28 RBI
Well, this is an odd one. Certainly the oddest vote of the lot, if not MVP history. Howard was a nine-time all-star, and he won the MVP in '63. But in 1967, he was a 38-year-old catcher, and he hit like it. He was traded by the Yankees to the Red Sox in August, and he somehow managed to hit worse, going from .196/.247/.271 with the Yankees to .147/.211/.198 with the Red Sox.
But there are extenuating circumstances, of course. The Red Sox in '67 won the pennant a year after a 90-loss season, beating the Tigers and Twins by a single game. Howard's pitcher-whispering over the last two months was one of the reasons, apparently.
Of note: From an article about the trade:
'I wanted to finish my career as a Yankee,' he explained. He is also affiliated with a drug company and a combination travel agency and printing firm.
♪♪I'm at the travel agency/I'm at the printing firm/I'm at the combination travel agency/printing firm♪♪
What an odd thing to put in the article. The '60s, man.
3. Elden Auker, 1941 Browns
27th place, one point
-1.8 WAR, 216 IP, 5.50 ERA, 14-15
The Browns were usually pretty bad, and in 1941, they went 70-84. They had five pitchers who made 20 starts or more, including Bob Muncrief, who was 13-9 with a 3.65 ERA. He did not receive an MVP vote. Auker did, though.
The only thing I can guess is that Auker gave up five hits to Joe DiMaggio during his 56-game hitting streak. Technically, he was participating in an MVP season, so a writer gave him a last-place vote.
2. Joe Carter, 1990 Padres
17th place, seven points
-2.0 WAR, .232/.290/.391, 24 HR, 115 RBI
Carter was something like the tipping point of sabermetric rage. He received MVP votes in seven straight seasons, despite reaching base twice in those seven years. Writers continuing to vote for Carter was like Marie Antoinette trolling the peasants with cake quips; the revolution was nigh!
Look at those shiny RBI! So shiny. The average hitter in baseball would had had 429 runners on base with 697 plate appearances. Thanks to Roberto Alomar and Tony Gwynn, Carter had 542 runners on base. The average hitter would have come up with a runner on third 75 times. Carter came up with a runner on third 114 times.
Other than that, though, I'm sure that RBI is a great metric with which to compare different players on different teams who hit in different spots in the order. Just give it a chance.
1. Ken Wood , 1950 Browns
29th place, 2 points
-2.2 WAR, .225/.299/.396, 13 HR, 62 RBI
Most of the negative-WAR players who got votes fell into one of four categories: defensively brilliant middle infielder, catcher with pitcher-whispering skills, respected veteran at the end of his career, RBI vulture.
Wood was a right fielder. He played in 128 games, which was the most in his brief career and one of two times he played more than 100. 1950 was a hitter-friendly season, with the AL hitting .271/.356/.402. Wood didn't have a stolen base, but he was caught stealing four times. He scored 42 runs. The Browns were 58-96. They played in Sportsman's Park, which was a hitters' park.
Nothing about this vote made sense. And he got two points, which means either two people voted for him, or someone voted him higher than 10th.
There is one explanation, though. From a 1950 Browns preview:
The most notable new face in the St. Louis Browns' spring training camp at Burbank, Cal., next March will not even be a ball player. It will belong to Dr. David Tracy.
Dr. Tracy, a registered doctor of metaphysics, is also a hypnotist. Although he will not attempt to swing a bat or throw a ball, he he (sic) undoubtedly will have the hardest job in camp.
There were hypnotists around. Svengalis, head-shrinkers, and dark practitioners of the mesmeric arts. One of them got to the writers. I think Occam takes this one.