Only two previous catchers have led the National League in batting average in a season and one of them, Cincinnati’s Ernie Lombardi, was named the league’s Most Valuable Player in 1938 after hitting .342.
Lombardi also topped the league in 1942 for Boston and catcher Bubbles Hargrave led in batting average with Cincinnati in 1926 but other players were voted MVP in those years.
Now that Buster Posey of San Francisco has become the first catcher in 70 years to win a batting title in the league, he has a chance to become only the fifth man to win the league MVP as a catcher and first to win since Cincinnati’s Johnny Bench garnered his second MVP award in 1972.
Bench won two, Brooklyn’s Roy Campanella won three and Cardinals catcher Bob O’Farrell was the MVP in 1926 when the franchise won its first World Series title, in addition to Lombardi’s winning the MVP in 1938.
So the rarity of Posey winning would be significant, as it would be for the Cardinals’ Yadier Molina, who also is on the list of the five top vote getters in the Baseball Writers’ Association of American balloting, as released on the MLB Network last week.
Never has a catcher won the MVP in the National League with another catcher in the top five, or even top three, although that is very likely to happen when the announcement of the MVP is made Thursday. But despite Molina’s reputation as the top defensive player in his league, Posey’s offensive statistics were better at every turn, with 24 homers, 103 runs batted in and .336 average, compared to 22, 76 and .315 for Molina, who by far had his best offensive year.
The five National League players who were announced as the top MVP contenders were worthy enough but, for perhaps the first time in voting history, three of the five came from teams who weren’t in contention at the end of the season and two of the five came from teams that finished under .500.
Posey’s team won the World Series title but voting was conducted among 10-year, card-carrying members of the BBWAA before the playoffs began so the only team success that mattered was the Giants’ winning the National League Western Division title.
This is not to be dismissed, though, because Posey is the only candidate from a division winner, and he and Molina are the lone candidates from playoff teams.
Since the postseason tournament became a three-round affair in 1995, 10 of the league’s MVP winners have come from a division champion, four from a wild card team and only three from a non-playoff team, with Ryan Howard’s 2006 Philadelphia team boasting the lowest win total, 85, for an MVP winner, in that time.
This season, Ryan Braun’s Milwaukee team was 83-79, Andrew McCutchen’s Pittsburgh club was 79-83 and Chase Headley’s San Diego Padres were 76-86. Posey’s Giants won 94 games and Molina’s Cardinals won 88.
If odds were to be established on Posey winning, they would seem to be almost even money, with the only possible deterrent being Braun.
In a couple of areas, the reigning 2011 MVP had a better year than last year.
Braun hit higher last year, at .332, compared to .319 this season. But in 2012, he had more homers (41-33) and more RBIs at 112-111.
But his team never contended, save for a couple of days’ flirtation with a possible wild-card berth in late September. And some of the voters, two from each city which has a team in the 16-team league, surely were concerned with Braun’s positive test for performance enhancing drugs last year and subsequent 50-game suspension which ultimately was overthrown by an arbitrator when the shipment of Braun’s sample had some issues. Put his odds at 5-1.
Had the Cardinals won their division, or even come close, Molina’s chances would have been much greater. When you talk about players who are most valuable to their team, year in and year out, Molina’s name would be at the top of that list, given the difficulty of the position he plays. Put his odds at 8-1 for winning the MVP.
Had the election been conducted in mid-August, McCutchen would have been the certain winner. After Pittsburgh won a 19-inning game here on Aug. 19, the Pirates had a 67-54 record and were in control of the second wild-card spot. They finished 12-29 as a banged-up McCutchen also finished poorly, batting only .250 from then until the end of the season, dropping from .354 to .a final .327. Put his odds at 20-1.
Headley’s statistics, achieved mostly in the second half of the season, tend to sneak up on people. With little in back of him or in front of him in the lineup, he led the league with 115 RBIs and had 31 homers. But his team never played a meaningful game. Put his odds at 25-1.
One of the ironies of this year’s Most Valuable Player and Cy Young voting is that relief pitchers didn’t get any significant play at all.
In the American League, for instance, Fernando Rodney of Tampa Bay had 48 saves and an 0.60 ERA but didn’t finish in the top three in the Cy Young voting or the top five in the MVP ballot.
In the National League, Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel and Cincinnati’s Aroldis Chapman, both on playoff teams, compiled two of the best relief seasons of all time but also did not make the final cut in either award balloting.
Kimbrel had 42 saves, fanned 116 while walking only 14, had a 1.01 ERA and a ridiculous .126 opponents’ batting average against.
Chapman had 38 saves, fanned 122 while walking 23, posted a 1.51 ERA and had an opponents’ average of .141.
Yes, the relievers have their Rolaids award, but they seem to fall through the cracks in BBWAA balloting, as they aren’t seen as either regular pitchers or everyday players. They mostly pitch just one inning in an appearance, but when they appear, the game is almost always on the line.
Yet, only one pitcher who predominantly was a reliever has won the National League Most Valuable Player award and that was 62 years ago when Jim Konstanty won it for the 1950 Philadelphia “Whiz Kids.”
The last AL reliever to win MVP was former Cardinal Dennis Eckersley with Oakland. That was 20 years ago in 1992.
And, other than Los Angeles’ Eric Gagne in 2003, no reliever even has won the Cy Young Award since Eckersley.
Contact Hummel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 314-340-8196.