I know we've all been inundated with Derek Jeter stories, columns, videos and tributes the past few days -- well, all season long -- but as I was watching his final home game, I saw this tweet:
As a parting gift, I hope somebody on the Yankees broke into Morneau's house and stole his 2006 MVP award. #Re2pect
— Rob Abruzzese (@RobAbruzzese) September 26, 2014
Now, Rob is a biased Yankees fan, but it leads to a good question: How come Jeter never won an American League MVP award? He played on winning teams his entire career, one of the primary criteria writers consider, and you'd think the respect everyone in the game has for him would have helped in the voting.
The closest he came to winning an MVP was in 2006, when he finished second to then-Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, 320 points to 306. Morneau received 15 first-place votes and Jeter 12 (Twins pitcher Johan Santana received the other one). Morneau had a good year but was a weak MVP choice. Writers overrate RBI guys, and Morneau knocked in 130 runs, second in the league. He also had the advantage of being a breakout player that year, improving from a .239 average and 22 home runs to .321 and 34. He hit .342 in the second half, and that seemed to factor in as the Twins rallied on the final weekend to edge out the Tigers for the AL Central title.
I'd suggest Jeter had a better season:
Morneau: .321/.375/.559, 34 HR, 130 RBI, 97 R, 3 SB, 4.3 WAR
Jeter: .343/.417/.483, 14 HR, 97 RBI, 118 R, 34 SB, 5.5 WAR
Morneau drove in 33 more runs, but Jeter scored 21 more while playing the more demanding defensive position. In fact, Baseball-Reference.com rated Jeter the most valuable offensive player in the AL in 2006, with 7.1 oWAR (other hitters had better overall numbers, but Jeter combined strong numbers with more than 700 plate appearances).
But did that make Jeter the best player in the league? Not necessarily. His overall WAR was dragged down by poor defensive metrics -- minus-16 Defensive Runs Saved compared to an average shortstop. (Using less advanced stats, Jeter made 4.14 plays per nine innings compared to the MLB average of 4.49; over the 1,292 innings he played at shortstop, that's 50 fewer plays made, so it's hard to deny the metrics.)
Anyway, there wasn't a clear MVP favorite that year. By WAR, it was Santana:
Johan Santana, Twins: 7.6
Carlos Guillen, Tigers: 6.0
Chien-Ming Wang, Yankees: 6.0
Jeter ranked 10th overall, seventh among position players. I remember at the time thinking Joe Mauer -- he edged Jeter for the batting title and was worth 5.8 WAR -- was the best candidate. But Jeter would have been a solid choice, and you wonder if he would have won if he had gotten three more RBIs.
His best season was probably 1999, in which he hit .349/.438/.552 with 24 home runs, 102 RBIs and 134 runs scored. Of course, this was in the middle of the Crazy Offense era. Jeter's 102 RBIs ranked 27th in the AL, but he did rank fifth in OPS. It was a split vote that year, with six different players receiving first-place votes, although Jeter received just one. The voting:
Roberto Alomar, Indians: 226 points (7.4 WAR)
Manny Ramirez, Indians: 226 points (7.3 WAR)
Rafael Palmeiro, Rangers: 193 points (5.2 WAR)
Derek Jeter, Yankees: 177 points (8.0 WAR)
Yep, Jeter led AL position players in WAR. That was the year Pedro went 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA and 313 strikeouts in 213⅓ innings -- in my book, the best pitching season of the past 50 years -- so it's hard to argue against him, although obviously the voters did. The WAR numbers are close enough among Rodriguez, Alomar, Ramirez and Jeter that you could fight any of their cases, but it's surprising Jeter didn't get more support.
Anyway, Jeter also finished third in 1998 (he was second among AL position players in WAR) and third in 2009, when he was sixth among position players in WAR. The voters made the right choice with Mauer in 2009, but Juan Gonzalez (4.9 WAR) was a bad choice in 1998. Nomar Garciaparra (7.1 WAR) finished ahead of Jeter (7.5 WAR) in the voting, and it probably should have gone to one of them or Mariners shortstop Alex Rodriguez, who led with 8.5 WAR. Considering that was the year the Yankees won 114 games, it's kind of surprising in retrospect Jeter received only two first-place votes. (And what was the Juan Gonzalez infatuation all about back then?)
So how come Jeter didn't win an MVP award? Unlike everything else in his career -- including his game-winning hit on Thursday -- the stars just didn't quite align.