The most valuable player race in the MLB has not been super dramatic the past few seasons. In 2013, Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera battled in a great race with the Triple Crown winner finishing on top. In my opinion, the last year where the best player did not win was in 2017, when Altuve took the award over the likes of Aaron Judge, who had a better year based off many different statistics. However, the 1999 MLB MVP race may have been the greatest of all time. In the National League, Chipper Jones easily took it home. However, the American League race featured six players that have legitimate arguments to win the award.
Derek Jeter, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Manny Ramirez, and Pedro Martinez all trailed Ivan ‘Pudge’ Rodriguez in the 1999 MLB MVP voting. Despite a great year from the catcher, he was not the player most deserving of the award. In fact, there is as much of an argument for him winning the award as there is for him being last of the six. Let’s look at the six players’ seasons, and let’s rank them on how the award voting should have gone.
6th Place: Ivan Rodriguez
Actual 6th Place: Derek Jeter
The 1999 MLB MVP in the American League realistically should have finished sixth place in voting. Pudge was the worst hitter among the 5 hitters in the top six, based off OPS+ and oWAR. The reason Ivan Rodriguez was so valuable though, was because he was a catcher, baseball’s most demanding position. The Hall-of-Famer was baseball’s best defender based on dWAR, and he also threw out over half of runners that attempted to run on him, which is ridiculous. In fact, his caught stealing percentage of 54% has only been bested five times since then. His defensive season was off the charts, but his offensive season wasn’t even the best by a catcher in 1999, as Mike Piazza tore up the National League.
The MVP award is often given to the best hitter, but the absolute blend of hitting and elite defense gave Pudge a superb case at the MVP award, and it eventually brought him the trophy. However, Texas’ pitching staff was not exactly great, and although the Rangers won their division, every other player in voting’s team had a better record. (Other than Palmeiro, who also played for Texas) In reference to the others, Pudge hit poorly, and even his defense made kept him from being the most valuable. For those seasons, the 1999 MVP should have finished sixth in voting.
5th Place: Rafael Palmeiro
Actual 5th Place: Rafael Palmeiro
Rafael Palmeiro was the definition of power in the 1999 season. He finished fourth in the Majors in homers, behind the always juiced McGwire and Sosa, and then the exciting Ken Griffey Jr. Palmeiro not only hit home runs at an elite rate, but he also batted .324. Apart from Manny Ramirez, Palmeiro was the most complete hitter in the American League. Unfortunately, Palmeiro’s only value came with the bat.
Rafael Palmeiro only played 28 games in the field in 1999, resulting in a –1.1 dWAR. Yet somehow, some way, the designated hitter won a gold glove at first base. Palmeiro was very valuable with his bat, and was an explosive hitters, but he wasn’t even the best hitter in the league in 1999. The 1999 MLB MVP cannot be a designated hitter if it isn’t the best hitter in the league. Palmeiro did an excellent job leading the Rangers to the playoffs, but his efforts were not complete enough. The voters got this one right, Palmeiro had a great year, but not 1st place.
4th Place: Roberto Alomar
Actual 4th Place: Roberto Alomar (Tied for 3rd)
Roberto Alomar’s 1999 MVP pitch is like Ivan Rodriguez’s. His all-around abilities made him very valuable for the division winning Indians team. Alomar was a better hitter than Ivan Rodriguez, boasting a 140 OPS+ and .323 average. Alomar wasn’t just a contact guy in 1999 either though, as he hit a career-high 24 home runs. Alomar’s MVP case, like Pudge’s, comes from the stuff he does without the bat in his hand, though. Alomar nabbed the gold glove award at second base, finishing with the highest fielding percentage at the position. Although fielding percentage isn’t everything, advanced metrics would back up the 10x gold glover’s greatness with his glove. Alomar was also a great base runner. He finished with 37 steals, good enough for 10th in the majors, while only being caught 6 times.
His all-around success was clear, but it wasn’t enough to push him to the top 3.
3rd Place: Derek Jeter
Actual 3rd Place: Manny Ramirez (Tied for 3rd)
Alomar was clearly a better defender and base runner than the Captain, but Jeter’s bat is just too much to ignore. He hit .349 with a .438 OBP, finishing third in the batting title race. Not only that, but like Alomar, he hit a career-high 24 home runs. This ridiculous average mixed with power gave Jeter the third highest OPS and OPS+, behind the power guys Manny Ramirez and Palmeiro. Jeter also led the league in hits. Many fans point to Jeter’s poor defense as a reason for his low result in voting. However, Jeter was about replacement level in dWAR, finishing at –0.1. His poor range was clear in advanced metrics, but it did not affect his overall defensive value. Speaking of, let’s talk about Jeter’s value.
Mr. November led all hitters in overall WAR (Wins above Replacement), WAA (Wins above Average), and runs created. Many understand these stats, but for those who do not, Jeter was the most valuable hitter in baseball based off all advanced metrics. Playing shortstop helped Jeter’s numbers for sure, but his value was distinct. Jeter also led the American League’s best team to a 98-64 record. Despite his average defense, his above average baserunning and career-year at the plate should have pushed him easily into the top 5, and realistically, into the top 3.
2nd Place: Manny Ramirez
Actual 2nd Place: Pedro Martinez
Jeter’s advanced value may have been better than Manny’s, but Ramirez had an all-time great season. In 1999, Manny’s stat was RBI’s. The 12x all-star had 165 runs batted in, which was the most since 1938. Manny led the American League in slugging, OPS, and OPS+. He was a hitter, through and through. Manny led the candidates in adjusted batting wins, which says that Manny’s bat created more wins than any other player in voting conversation. The 0x gold glover was not horrible defensively, but he definitely was not great. His strong suit was with the bat. The eye test of standard numbers confirm the world series MVP’s greatness. Although based on strictly advanced value stats Jeter was better, Manny was just by far the best hitter in the American League. However, he was not the best player in the American League.
1st Place: Pedro Martinez
Actual 1st Place: Ivan Rodriguez
Pedro’s 1999 makes an argument for the best pitching season ever. Unfortunately, his 2000 season may have bested it, but at the time his 1999 campaign was superb. For more information on this unreal peak, check out the video below by Foolish Baseball.
A lot of my information about this great season comes from this video, and Foolish Baseball is overall a great channel. Let’s look at the standard counting stats first. 23-4, with a 2.07 ERA and 313 strikeouts. He won the American League Pitching triple crown without a ton of contest. At the time, he also posted the highest K/9 of any qualified player ever, with 13.2. He was doing historic things, all while allowing a miniscule 0.4 HR/9 in the hitter-friendly Fenway Park.
Jeter may have led all hitters in WAR, but Pedro led all of baseball. His 9.8 WAR was over a full point better than anyone else in the league. His ERA+ at the time (243) was also the second highest ever, behind Bob Gibson’s year of the pitcher. Pedro had just tossed the best season since Bob Gibson, who the MLB had to change the rules for. If you look at in that context, it’s a crime he didn’t win the MVP award. His FIP , which is ERA but taking away the fielding aspect, was also record breaking. His 1.39 FIP is the best of any player in the live-ball era (since 1920), and it’s not close. This number was not even bested by his 2000 season, which was better in many ways. Pedro was the best player in baseball, and deserved the 1999 MLB MVP award.
Voting in 1999
It is no secret that advanced metrics were not as used in 1999 as they are today. Stats such as OPS+ and ERA+ were not even in the voters’ heads until more recent years, and so they were going based solely off standard stats. I believe this is why Pudge won the award. His defense was clearly off the charts, and standard stats backed that up. He was also doing things with the bat that were unusual for catchers not named Mike Piazza. WAR was more known, but even that was not really a factor in voting. Despite this, Pedro deserved the win. He received more first place votes, but Pudge gathered more total votes. Either way, the 1999 MLB MVP Race was a legendary one, but the winner was still incorrect.
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