This time out on MLB Monday, we are in the middle of the 1990s as some sense of normalcy returned to professional baseball in North America, although the storm was coming in the form of enabled PED usage. This will make a lot of our choices more sticky in the next 6 months as we close in on the end of this miniseries. We’re only 25 years behind the present day, after all.
That being said, we do our best for you … always. Oh, and the New York Yankees won their first World Series since 1978, kicking off a dominant stretch where they won five AL pennants over a six-season span, taking the championship four times in that stretch, too. Quite impressive, actually, even if some of the postseason wins were extremely tainted.
1996 AL MVP: Juan González (original), Ken Griffey, Jr. (revised)
Despite posting a mere 3.8 WAR, which included -1.5 dWAR, Texas Rangers right fielder Juan González won the AL MVP vote. Regardless of suspected PED use, it doesn’t matter, because he would never win this award from us, anyway—not with that brutal glove. The real candidates are Seattle Mariners center fielder Ken Griffey, Jr. (9.7 WAR); Mariners shortstop Álex Rodríguez (9.4), Minnesota Twins second baseman Chuck Knoblauch (8.7), and Cleveland Indians third baseman Jim Thome (7.5).
A-Rod is an interesting case, since MLB made an example of him later for PEDs (while never touching Barry Bonds … go figure this out in dollars, since the Yankees will always make money—while the San Francisco Giants could not, without Barroid/PEDs). We have to assume he was always using, like we did with Manny Ramírez. Coming from Westminster Christian School in Miami, we can only assume Rodríguez got the same principles instilled that Tom Brady and Bonds did at their alma mater.
So that leaves us with The Kid, Knoblauch, and Thome. The Twins finished under .500; the Mariners missed a postseason berth by 2.5 games; and the Indians won the AL Central Division by 14.5 games. Griffey falls short of our historic-season threshold, but with a 2.2-WAR edge on Thome, it’s hard not to give him the award. Plus, Junior posted an MLB-high 3.4 dWAR, leading all players regardless of position. With Cleveland running away with its division, Thome’s value had less oomph behind it.
Griffey’s numbers: 49 HRs, 140 RBI, 16 SBs, .303 batting average, 78 BBs, 1.020 OPS, and 342 TBs. He didn’t lead the AL in any offensive categories, but that stat line is a nice complement to his MLB-best glove work at a key position in the field.
1996 NL MVP: Ken Caminiti (original), Ellis Burks (revised)
Six different hitters in the league finished in the MLB Top 10 overall for WAR, in this order: Giants LF Bonds (9.7); New York Mets LF Bernard Gilkey (8.1); Colorado Rockies OF Ellis Burks (7.9); San Diego Padres 3B Ken Caminiti (7.6); Houston Astros 1B Jeff Bagwell (7.5); and Cincinnati Reds SS Barry Larkin (7.2). Caminiti won the vote this time; Bagwell won this award in 1994, and we stripped Larkin of his MVP vote win in 1995. What a mess …
Caminiti was using PEDs, while being managed by Bruce Bochy, so he’s out. The Giants won 68 games, so pre-PED Bonds is out, too, despite a near-historic season. The Mets won just 71 games themselves, so Gilkey is out. The Rox finished 8 games out of first place, behind the Padres. The Astros came in second place, 6 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Reds? They finished 1 game behind Houston at 81-81 overall.
Where do we go here? Let’s look at glove work: Bagwell posted -0.9 dWAR, so he’s out. That leaves us with Burks and Larkin, and neither is a great choice here considering their teams’ respective performances. But Colorado won two more games, and Burks had the higher WAR, so that’s our interesting choice here. His statistics (142 runs, 40 HRs, 128 RBI, 32 SBs, .344 average, .639 SLG, 1.047 OPS, and 392 TBs) were probably inflated by playing in Coors Field, but value is value (and 0.7 dWAR helped).
Truthfully, we suspect Burks was using PEDs later in his career (see that .971 OPS with the Giants from ages 33-35), but combined with his final peak season (age 31 here) and the Coors Effect, we feel this season is still legitimate based on his health and performance leading up to this season. We may be wrong, and in general, we don’t like this shit at all. But oh well …
1996 AL Cy Young: Pat Hentgen (original), Ken Hill (revised)
We have six strong candidates for this award: Toronto Blue Jays ace Pat Hentgen (8.6); Boston Red Sox legend Roger Clemens (7.7); Blue Jays veteran Juan Guzmán (6.7); Texas Rangers journeyman Ken Hill (6.6); Cleveland workhorse Charles Nagy (6.6); and Chicago White Sox stud Alex Fernandez (6.4). Hentgen won the vote, but with two Toronto SPs on this list, they cancel each other out—plus, the team won just 74 games, anyway.
Clemens, in what was probably either his first year on PEDs or his last honest season, carried Boston to within 3 games of the wild-card spot, while the Rangers won the AL West by 4.5 games over the Mariners. We know Cleveland ran away with the AL Central, and the White Sox finished 14.5 games behind the Indians to come in second place there. Regardless of Clemens’ status, this award should go to Hill for the following line: 16-10, 3.63 ERA, 3 SOs, 250 2/3 IP, 170 Ks, and a 1.376 WHIP.
He did lead the AL in shutouts, including this one we were lucky enough to attend in person at the time. Hill finished sixth in the Cy voting at the time, and even though his numbers are not dominant, the Rangers would not have made the playoffs without his efforts. That has to be good enough for us, even if the ERA and WHIP do not impress anyone at all. But the ERA+ was 145, which is pretty impressive, so the adjustments for that bandbox Texas played in at the time have to count for something.
1996 NL Cy Young: John Smoltz (original), Kevin Brown (revised)
This is a fun situation here, as three Atlanta Braves pitchers finished among the four-best pitchers in the senior circuit: John Smoltz (7.4 WAR), Greg Maddux (7.2), and midseason acquisition Denny Neagle (6.0). Smoltz won the vote, as he posted 24 wins and led the NL in Ks, too. But all three cancel each other, as Atlanta won the NL East by 8 games—rendering none of them individually valuable enough. Those are the waters, as Maddux’s streak of four Cy Youngs in a row comes to an end.
The top NL hurler was actually Florida Marlins journeyman Kevin Brown (7.9): His 1.89 ERA and 0.944 WHIP led the league, and so did his 3 shutouts. He posted a 17-11 record and also topped his peers in fewest HRs allowed per 9 IP (0.3). The only issue, of course, was the Marlins’ 80-82 finish. But it’s close enough to .500 that we will give him the award, anyway, for both circumstantial and legitimate reasons.
Brown was a late bloomer, and this was his age-31 season, right at the tail end of his prime years. This was the first of six seasons in a row where his highest ERA was 3.00 exactly, so he may be back to collect more hardware, even though he never won a real Cy in his career. What a shame …
1996 AL ROTY: Derek Jeter (original, confirmed)
Perhaps the most overrated player of modern times, New York Yankees SS Derek Jeter (3.3 WAR) won the AL ROTY vote unanimously, and perhaps deservedly so. His team won the AL East by 4 games over the Baltimore Orioles, so maybe he also was the difference maker in that category. But guess what? Jeter was a negative defender (-0.1 dWAR), although not by much. He was always an overrated defender, finishing his career with -9.4 dWAR overall. Yes, you read that very correctly: He was brutal.
So, is there anyone else to consider for this award? Just two players: Kansas City Royals southpaw Jose Rosado (3.4) and White Sox stallion James Baldwin (2.5). Neither player carried the kind of value Jeter did, though, even with the negative glove. The Royals finished 24 games out of first place, and we know the White Sox were mostly out of it all season. Considering Jeter was barely below average with the glove, we’re fine confirming this award for him, in truth. Surprised? Don’t be. We’re very honest.
He’s lucky, for sure, but that defines Jeter’s whole career, actually. His batting line—10 HRs, 78 RBI, 14 SBs, .314 average, and .800 OPS—aren’t special, really, except for the batting average. His OPS+ was just 101, so he wasn’t even elite among players at his position. And we know his glove prowess was a joke for most of his career. Oh well; shit happens.
1996 NL ROTY: Todd Hollandsworth (original), F.P. Santangelo (revised)
We have had more overrated NL ROTY winners from the Dodgers than other time, we think. This time, it was OF Todd Hollandsworth (1.1 WAR) taking the vote over much more deserving players like Montréal Expos utility player F.P. Santangelo (3.3), Marlins SS Edgar Rentería (3.2), and Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Jason Kendall (1.6). The Expos finished just 2 games out of a postseason spot, so we’re inclined to just reward Santangelo right off.
We know where the Marlins finished, and the Pirates finished last in the NL Central. Meanwhile, Santangelo played six different positions (!) for Montréal, posting a 1.4 dWAR in the process, and he hit .277 with a .776 OPS in the process. Certainly, he wasn’t a stellar hitter, but he did drive in 56 runs and walk 49 times while filling in at any defensive position he was needed.