It’s time for MLB Monday as we move forward to the 2006 season. Every season now is a fun adventure of sleuthing, although sometimes the votes were just terrible. We’re still a few years away from the “experts” starting to use sabermetrics more frequently in their thought processes. That makes this more fun and more frustrating—at the same time!
On with the best show about the Show …
2006 AL MVP: Justin Morneau (original), Joe Mauer (revised)
Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau (4.3 WAR) won the AL MVP vote despite posting -0.6 dWAR—and finishing second on his team in value, behind catcher Joe Mauer (5.8). Voters saw Morneau’s big-bat numbers (.321, 34 HRs, 130 RBI) and ignored everything else. We don’t make those same mistakes here, of course.
The best players in the junior circuit were Cleveland Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore (6.7), Toronto Blue Jays CF Vernon Wells (6.2), Detroit Tigers shortstop Carlos Guillén (6.0), and Cleveland designated hitter Travis Hafner (5.9). We can toss Mauer in the fray, too, of course. Sizemore can’t win this again, as Hafner cancels him out, while Toronto finished 8 games out of the postseason chase.
So it’s down to Guillén and Mauer, and the Twins edged the Tigers by 1 game for the AL Central Division title. The next-team in line for the wild-card finished 5 games behind Detroit, so both players might have the difference between the offseason and the postseason. Both guys were positive defenders at key positions on the field, and it really is a coin toss on many levels. We’re not sure how we feel here.
In the end, since Guillén’s WAR edge is minimal—and less than the team edge for Minnesota—we will give the nod to Mauer: His OPS+ was higher, and catcher is a tough(er) position to play well than shortstop. Mauer also won the batting title (.347), while Guillén didn’t top the league in anything significant. Mauer added 13 HRs, 84 RBI, 79 BBs, and a .936 OPS at age 23—which is quite impressive.
2006 NL MVP: Ryan Howard (original), Albert Pujols (revised)
Seven NL hitters finished in the MLB Top 10 for WAR, and MVP vote winner Ryan Howard (5.2), Philadelphia Phillies first baseman, was not one of them. The 5 best guys were St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols (8.5), New York Mets CF Carlos Beltrán (8.2), Phillies second baseman Chase Utley (7.3), Washington Nationals left fielder Alfonso Soriano (6.1), and Houston Astros utility man Lance Berkman (6.0).
St. Louis edged Houston for the NL Central Division crown by 1.5 games, so Berkman is out. Meanwhile, the Mets won the NL East by 12 games over the Phillies, being the only senior-circuit team to win at least 90 games. That eliminates Utley. Despite Soriano’s historic 40-40 season, the Nats finished way under .500, so he’s out. Thus, it’s down to Pujols and Beltrán, and in the end, Pujols has both superior surface value and contextual value.
This is Pujols’ third nod from us (2001, 2003), although we did take away his vote win from last season. However, this award is undeniably his: He also won a Gold Glove for the first time, with a career-best 0.9 dWAR (at that point). Offensively, Pujols led the NL in SLG (.671), OPS (1.102), and OPS+ (178) while adding 49 HRs, 137 RBI, 92 BBs, and a .331 batting average. Pretty impressive, all around.
2006 AL Cy Young: Johan Santana (original, confirmed)
Twins ace Johan Santana won his second AL Cy vote in three seasons while leading MLB in pitching WAR (7.6). Other candidates for this trophy include New York Yankees soft-tosser Chien-Ming Wang (6.0), Boston Red Sox curmudgeon Curt Schilling (5.5), and Blue Jays star Roy Halladay (5.3). We know Minnesota win its division by 1 game, while the Yankees won the AL East by 10 games over Toronto.
Boston finished 1 game behind the Blue Jays, so this is between Santana and Wang, and it’s really not a contest in any which way you choose. The Twins southpaw actually won the Triple Crown (19 wins, 2.77 ERA, 245 Ks) while also leading the AL in starts (34), IP (233 2/3), WHIP (0.997), fewest hits allowed per 9 IP (7.2), and most Ks per 9 IP (9.4).
For the record, this concluded a three-year stretch where Santana topped his peers in each of these categories: Ks, WHIP, H/9, and K/9. Twice he also led them all in ERA. This was his age-27 season, too, so this was a master entering his definitive prime.
2006 NL Cy Young: Brandon Webb (original), Roy Oswalt (revised)
Four pitchers separated themselves from the rest in the senior circuit: Arizona Diamondbacks phenom Brandon Webb (7.0), Cincinnati Reds journeyman Bronson Arroyo (6.8), Atlanta Braves veteran John Smoltz (5.9), and Houston ace Roy Oswalt (5.9). We took away Smoltz’s singular vote win in 1996, and Oswalt won it from us last year under complicated circumstances.
The D’backs won just 76 games, so Webb is not going to keep his award. But the Reds also finished under .500, so we’re digging down deep here. The Braves won only 79 games, as they failed to win the NL East for the first time since 1990. That wasn’t Smoltzie’s fault, of course. The Astros finished 1.5 games behind the Cards in the NL Central, so Oswalt is going to take this again—almost by default.
His statistics: 15-8 record, NL-best 2.98 ERA, 166 Ks, and a league-topping 4.37:1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio as Oswalt gave a free pass to only 38 batters in 220-plus innings. That was just 1.5 BB/9 on the year.
2006 AL ROTY: Justin Verlander (original), Francisco Liriano (revised)
We have a lot of candidates for this award, which was won by Tigers starter Justin Verlander (4.0 WAR). But Boston rookie closer Jonathan Papelbon (5.0), Los Angeles Angels starter Jered Weaver (4.7), and Twins starter Francisco Liriano (4.6) all posted more value than Verlander did. So, we have some analysis to do here. Liriano is going to trump Verlander, at the very least, as explored above.
The Red Sox finished 9 games out of a playoff spot, and the Angels finished 6 games out of the postseason. That means this award rightfully should have gone to Liriano: He only tossed 121 innings, but he was so dominant, it is pretty scary. Before being injured, he posted a 12-3 record, a 2.16 ERA, 144 Ks, and a 1.000 WHIP.
Without him, the Twins do not win the AL Central, and they would have been on the edge of missing the postseason as well, possibly. Verlander did log 186 IP for a postseason team himself, but Liriano had more value for a slightly better team.
2006 NL ROTY: Hanley Ramírez (original), Andre Either (revised)
Of the 11 NL rookies who posted more than 2.0 WAR, a whopping six of them played for the Florida Marlins—who finished with 78 victories. Does that eliminate all of them from consideration here, including vote-winner Hanley Ramírez? The Marlins SS posted 4.9 WAR to easily outdistance his teammate, starting pitcher Josh Johnson (3.6).
The highest-WAR, non-Florida player was Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Takashi Saito (3.2), but he was 36 years old and a 13-year veteran of the Japanese professional leagues. The next non-Marlins rookies on the list are Nationals 3B Ryan Zimmerman (2.9) and Dodgers LF Andre Ethier (2.4). Washington won just 71 games, while L.A. claimed the wild-card slot with a 3-game edge over the Phillies.
This is crazy, but to us, that makes Either our pick here. Ramírez was a great player, but his value just takes a hit for the reasons above. It is what it is, and without Either, maybe L.A. doesn’t make the postseason. His numbers (.308, 11 HRs, 55 RBI, .842 OPS in 126 games) are very good on a playoff roster.