For our first MLB Monday piece of the 2022 calendar year, we have arrived in 2003, and the challenge continues to separate the legitimate performances from the tainted ones. We made the resolution last week to be more cheerful in 2022, so we’re giving it a go. We do love baseball, so …
That all being said, let’s get to it!
2003 AL MVP: Álex Rodríguez (original), Nomar Garciaparra (revised)
Texas Rangers shortstop Álex Rodríguez (8.4) won his first AL MVP vote while leading the league in WAR, but he’s ineligible for our award analysis due to confirmed PED use. His teammate, third baseman Hank Blalock (6.4), was the next-best player in the AL, following by Boston Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra (6.1). With the Rangers winning just 71 times, we have to look at the Red Sox star … again.
It’s really unreal, as Boston won 95 games to edge the Seattle Mariners by 2 games for the AL wild-card spot. That means we’re giving a fifth MVP Award to Garciaparra, all coming in the last six seasons. He never won a real MVP vote in his career, so we look at Nomar as one of the true victims of the PED era here, in addition to simply being one of the most underrated platers in the history of the game.
His statistics this time out: .301 batting average, 37 doubles, 13 triples, 28 HRs, 105 RBI, 19 SBs, .870 OPS, and 1.5 dWAR. At age 29, this was pretty much the last hurrah for Garciaparra, which is why he’s not in the Hall of Fame. Injuries and then age slowed what was left of his career, as through this season, Nomar posted 40.0 WAR—and for the rest of his career? Just 4.3 WAR.
2003 NL MVP: Barry Bonds (original), Albert Pujols (revised)
The senior circuit dominated the MLB Top 10 for position player WAR, with San Francisco Giants left fielder Barry Bonds (9.2) “leading” the way. He was followed by St. Louis Cardinals LF Albert Pujols (8.7); Atlanta Braves second baseman Marcus Giles (7.9); Braves right fielder Gary Sheffield (6.8); Atlanta catcher Javy López (6.8); and Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton (6.1).
This is easy: Bonds was a cheater, and the trio of ATL teammates cancel each other out. The Rox finished with just 74 wins, while the Cardinals won 85 games. It’s not a great finish for St. Louis, but where would the team have been without Pujols? Under .500 and irrelevant, that’s for sure. He will win his second NL MVP from us under these circumstances (in addition to his 2001 nod in this corner).
His traditional numbers were impressive as he led the NL in runs (137), hits (212), doubles (51), batting average (.359), and total bases (394)—while adding 43 HRs and 124 RBI as well to go with his 1.106 OPS. It’s a shame voters couldn’t see through the chemical charade in San Francisco soon enough.
2003 AL Cy Young: Roy Halladay (original); Pedro Martínez (revised)
It was a straight-forward leaderboard for this award, let by vote winner Roy Halladay of the Toronto Blue Jays (8.1 WAR). Right behind him were Boston Red Sox ace Pedro Martínez (8.0), Oakland Athletics mound leader Tim Hudson (7.4), Chicago White Sox journeyman Esteban Loaiza (7.2), and New York Yankees veteran Mike Mussina (6.6). All these teams finished with winning records.
Toronto, however, was 9 games out of a playoff berth, while Chicago was 4 games out of the postseason. That hinders Halladay and Loaiza. Meanwhile, we know Boston made it in to the final slot by just 2 games, while the A’s won the AL West by 3 games. The Yankees topped the Red Sox by 6 games in the AL East standings. Mussina is out as New York would have made the postseason without him.
However, the same cannot be said for either Pedro or Hudson. And with the WAR marks what they are, we will give this award to Martínez: His record was just 14-4, but Pedro led the league in ERA (2.22), WHIP (1.039), fewest hits allowed per 9 IP (7.1), fewest HRs per 9 IP (0.3), and most Ks per 9 IP (9.9). This was his last truly great season, and he ends up with his fourth AL Cy from us (1998, 1999, 2000).
2003 NL Cy Young: Eric Gagne (original); Mark Prior (revised)
Los Angeles Dodgers closer Eric Gagne (3.7 WAR) won the NL Cy vote, but he won’t get the confirmation from us—not with a WAR that low. Instead, we look to this group: Chicago Cubs ace Mark Prior (7.4); Giants workhorse Jason Schmidt (6.7); Montréal Expos journeyman Liván Hernández (6.3); Cubs phenom Kerry Wood (6.1); and Arizona Diamondbacks rookie Brandon Webb (6.1).
Prior and Wood cancel each other out, while the Expos finished 8 games out of the playoff chase. Arizona was 7 games out of a playoff berth, leaving Schmidt as the sole survivor. However, we’re not comfortable with that for multiple reasons (others and ours). The only other guys on the eligible list are Montréal’s Javier Vázquez (6.0), Arizona’s Curt Schilling (6.0), and Chicago’s Carlos Zambrano (5.4).
See the problem? All things being equal then, we’re going to give the award to Prior for posting the top WAR mark in the league, and everything else just has to slide this year as an exception to the rule. Just 22 years old, Prior posted a 18-6 record with a 2.43 ERA and 245 Ks and 1.103 WHIP. His FIP (2.43), adjusted for Wrigley Field, topped the league, too. That’s a damn fine season for a division winner.
2003 AL ROTY: Ángel Berroa (original, confirmed)
There are five good candidates here, even though Kansas City Royals SS Ángel Berroa (2.5 WAR) won the vote. We also want to consider Tampa Bay CF Rocco Baldelli (2.9); Cleveland Indians OF Jody Gerut (2.8); Rangers first baseman Mark Teixeira (2.7); and Yankees OF Hideki Matsui (2.3). But the latter is out as a 10-year veteran of the Japanese leagues. That’s been our rule in multiple sports.
Of the four remaining guys, only Berroa played on a winning team, so we will confirm this award vote, surprisingly. We figured someone had to be better than him out there, but there is not. His stats—17 HRs, 73 RBI, 21 SBs, and a .287 average—were all the best of his short career. Berroa peaked at age 25 and went very downhill from here.
2003 NL ROTY: Dontrelle Willis (original, confirmed)
Florida Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis (4.4 WAR) won this vote at the time, and it’s probable the Marlins do not win the NL wild card without him (let alone the World Series!), since they beat out the Houston Astros by 4 games for the final NL playoff spot. However, Webb (5.9) was the best rookie, even as his team finished 7 games behind Florida in that postseason hunt.
There’s something to be said for the superior WAR here, but again, we have the point about the Marlins and their playoff cushion: That overrules all other things here, since Webb didn’t have a higher WAR or a historic one. With a 14-6 record and 3.30 ERA in 27 appearances—all starts—Willis did enough to keep this hardware in our eyes, even though we do think Webb was the “better” rookie.