11. Tied) 2011 NBA MVP (Derrick Rose over LeBron James) & 2012 NFL MVP (Adrian Peterson over Peyton Manning)
1.) 2005 AL Cy Young (Bartolo Colon over Johan Santana)
These two are kind of tied at the hip to me, both examples of great players having great seasons with good narratives beating two established all time greats having great seasons that had their cases denied. I will say this upfront, both Rose and Peterson have cases. Peterson's is more interesting because it brings up the argument of whether a non-QB should ever win the MVP. In the modern NFL, QBs are almost always the most 'valuable' player on their team. Peyton is more valuable than Peterson. There is no doubt about that. But was he 'better' at his position than Peterson was at his? That is arguable, and the answer is probably not, but they created an award with no positional bias just for those cases: the Offensive Player of the Year Award. Ultimately, Peyton won an MVP where he probably wasn't the best candidate (2009 - Brees & Rivers had as good if not better cases) so it evens out that he doesn't win when he arguably did deserve it. The award, taken at the literal value of the Most Valuable Player, should be a QB every year, but then why have the award? If there ever was a case for a RB, it was this (or Faulk in 2000 - who deservedly won it).
LeBron losing to Rose is more debatable. The thing is, LeBron could win every year. He is the best player in the NBA, with the highest usage rate. Maybe other 3's in the NBA could have that many assists if he was asked to control the ball as much, but none are. The NBA could really give LeBron the award every year, but just they could have given one to Jordan every year in the 90's, award voterss don't like doing that. They did pick the one year of the last five where LeBron was something less than an all-time great performer. In 2010-11, he was merely a very, very good player, instead of the clear best. Rose did have a great season for a Bulls team that surprisingly won more games than the Heat (in the first year of the Big 3), so it is hard to say that he wasn't deserving. But he wasn't the best player in the NBA.
10.) 2006 NBA MVP (Steve Nash over Dirk Nowitzki)
The mid 00's was a strange time where each year had a bunch of good candidates (Duncan, Shaq - though those two mainly in the first half of the decade - Nash, Nowitzki, Kobe), and all of them ended up winning the award at least once, but rarely in the year where they had their best season. I'm fine with Nash winning in 2005, though Shaq had basically the same impact to Miami than Nash had in Phoenix. The weird awards were '06 and '07, where Nash won over Dirk and 2006 and the reverse happened in 2007. They could flip the awards and I would be fine, but the bigger injustice was this one. This was Dirk's best season (career high 26.6 PPG, and 9.0 RPG). Nash had a very good season of his own (18.8 PPG, 10.5 APG), but where the edge goes to Dirk is defensively. That was Dirk's best defensive year of his career. Dirk also owned Nash in advanced metrics, with the NBA lead in Win Shares (and twice as many win shares defensively - win shares, by the way, is the loose NBA version of WAR), while Nash hovered around 5th. Finally, for those who love the whole how many games does a team win, the Suns won 54 in a bad division, while the Mavs won 60 in a great one. Dirk deserved this MVP, far more than he deserved it in 2006-07.
9.) 2002 AL Cy Young (Barry Zito over Pedro Martinez)
There's one huge reason to not give the award to Pedro Martinez: he didn't pitch 200 innings. Now, that isn't some requirement to get the award, but no starting pitcher has ever won a Cy Young with less than 200 innings pitched. Problem is, apart from that, everything else points to Pedro. Zito's WAR is higher, but that is mainly due to Pedro's abnormally low BABIP (which he had throughout his career, so it wasn't that abnormal) and the innings difference. Pedro had a far better ERA (2.26 vs 2.75), WHIP (0.923 vs. 1.134), Strikeouts (239 vs. 182 - in 30 less innings), and BBs (40 vs. 78). Every per-nine stat favored Pedro. There is no good argument for Zito over Pedro other than the innings factor, and Zito only had 229 (this is why I had this as the bigger inustice for Pedro than 2003, when Halladay won with worse stats than Zito, but threw 80! more innings). Pedro Martinez was the best pitcher in baseball, and there might have been some voting fatigue, but he deserved it over Zito.
8.) 2003 NL Cy Young (Eric Gagne over Jason Schmidt or Mark Prior)
There is a school of thought that the Cy Young should probably never go to a reliever, that to produce enough value in 1-2 innings a night (and ~80 innings in a season) to make up for the innings difference is basically impossible. I don't totally suscribe to that theory, I think it is possible, but there has to be no really good starting pitcher in that league that year. Problem is for Gagne, there were good alternatives. Gagne did have a (later to be found out chemically altered) ridiculous season (137/20 K/BB in 80 innings, WHIP of .692), but both Jason Schmidt and Mark Prior had great seasons. They both had good W-L records (17-5 and 18-6), both had very good ERAs (2.34 and 2.43), had great K/BB numbers (208/46 and 245/50) and great WHIP numbers (0.953/1.103). They had identical ERA+'s of 180. That is a really good figure, would have led many of the seasons to come in one of the two leagues. Prior's WAR is higher mainly because of ballpark differences, but they are a tossup, both good enough to make it really hard to fathom how a reliever is a better pitcher over them. If there is any possible case for a reliever winning Cy Young, it wasn't Gagne, it is higher up the list.
7.) 2007-08 NBA MVP (Kobe Bryant over Chris Paul or Kevin Garnett)
6.) 2007 NL MVP (Jimmy Rollins over a lot of people, but mainly Matt Holliday)
6.) 2007 NL MVP (Jimmy Rollins over a lot of people, but mainly Matt Holliday)
I'm coupling these two because these are cases when the narratives that most MVP voters love don't work, despite those people having just as good statistical cases. Let's be real, just like Dirk's MVP in 2007, Kobe won his only MVP because people felt like he deserved an MVP. This was the same Kobe who was nearly traded to Chicago early in the season, and who's team only took off when they stole Pau Gasol from Memphis. Garnett and Paul both had awesome years and great narrative cases. Garnett became the centerpiece of the NBA's best team, instilled a defensive mindset that pervaded through that team. He had a great year (#2 in the NBA in win shares, pulling down and 18.8/9.2 shooting .536, playing amazingly well defensively). Paul case was even more easy to back. He lead the NBA in win shares, he had a ridiculous 21.1-11.6-4.0-2.7 season (p-a-r-s). That 21.6-11.6 is all-time good. And he did all of this for a team that miraculously finished #2 in the West (just one game worse than LA, who finished #1), for a team that was playing its first season back in New Orleans. He made the Hornets a draw in New Orleans again, making that a basketball town. That was the perfect MVP resume. Kobe was a great player and had a good season, but let's not kid around, this was absolutely a pity MVP to an all-timer who hadn't won the award before, but who honestly never really deserved it before.
Rollins win over Holliday (and Pujols, Wright, Utley) might have been more confusing, actually. Rollins isn't an all-time beloved player like Kobe. Rollins doesn't have giant home run numbers (the MLB version of Points per Game in terms of their gaudiness affecting voters). Actually, nothing about Jimmy Rollins season was that amazing in any way. He didn't have 100 RBIs. He didn't hit .300, he didn't have an OBP above .350. His OPS was below .900. There really are four candidates that had better seasons. David Wright probably had the best season in the NL (Pujols was close, with a lead in WAR, but playing a less premium position for a worse team). Wright had his best offensive season, playing good defense, added 34 steals and hit a .325/.416/.546 slash season. Of course, his team blew a 7 game lead with 17 to play, and despite the fact that Wright played well in that stretch, it eliminated him. Pujols had another great season, with his best defensive season to date, which made up for his worst offensive season to date (.327/.429/.568 slash, and yes, that is the slash-line from his worst offensive season of his first 7). His relatively low power numbers (32 HRs, 103 RBIs) ended his chance. The two strange ones are Chase Utley, who had a better year than Rollins playing an equally important position was overlooked (Utley had a lead in WAR of 1.7 - had a slash line edge of 36 batting points, 66 in OBP and 35 in slug). Finally, there's Holliday who finished in 2nd in a really close vote (353 to 336). Holliday had a better season offensively, worse defensively. He had an equal WAR, but really, voters didn't care about that. They do care about easy numbers, which Holliday had a major edge (43 more RBIs, leads of 44/59/76 in slash). And of course, Holliday's team had one of the best September's ever, which pushed the Rockies into the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade. How does that not win over a good player having, let's be honest, merely a more than good season?
5.) 2006 AL MVP (Justin Morneau over Everyone)
This might have been the strangest MVP award race in recent memory, with no single position player in the AL with a WAR above 6.0, leading to a bevy of relatively good candidates. It isn't higher up the list because there was no great candidate that got jobbed, but there were definitely enough deserving of it over Morneau, ironically including one of his own teammates that would have seemed more likely to get some narrative-aided support. First let's tackle the Twins MVP, because Mauer was better. He was a better defensive player, slightly better baserunner, and a better hitter. Mauer beat Morneau by 26 points in batting average, 54 points in OBP, and while Morneau slugged higher, their OPS was equal. Morneau wasn't even the most deserving Twin. Go outside the Twins org., and you get a host of players who had a higher WAR than Morneau's 4.3, including David Ortiz (5.7), Travis Hafner (5.8) and, most amazingly, Derek Jeter (5.5). Hafner and Ortiz are explained away by old biases like 'you have to play for a playoff team' which takes away Hafner (who likely was the best positional player), and 'you can't be a DH' which takes away Ortiz (and Ortiz was a stronger candidate in 2006 than he was in the more publicized 2005 race that he lost to A-Rod). But how did Jeter not get it? This was the most public figure in all of baseball, having a year that actually merited serious MVP consideration, losing to a guy from a small-market who while having a good year, may have been the 3rd best MVP candidate on his own team (Mauer and Johan, who actually led the AL in WAR). Jeter was far, far, far more deserving in 2006 than he was in 2010 when people wanted him to win the award over Mauer who correctly ran away with it.
4.) 2012 AL MVP (Miguel Cabrera over Mike Trout)
This MVP award has been debated to death, so I'm not going to spend too much time on it. I will say, the exact same conversation was brought up this past season, but the 2012 MVP was a far bigger injustice than 2013, where Trout had a bad year defensively, and their WAR figures were closer than in 2012. The 2012 MVP was the Great Debate of Old School vs. New School. You had one guy who won the Triple Crown for the first time in decades against a young 20-year old who had the best season of anyone that age ever. You had Trout having a historic WAR season, while Cabrera had the numbers everyone loved. Here's why its an easy answer: defense and baserunning matters. Maybe not as much as some people say, but it does, and Trout was far better in those two than Cabrera (hence, why Trout's WAR was quite a bit higher). Also, Cabrera's triple crown was nice, but it was arguably his worst season of the past three offensively. That isn't a Triple Crown in any other season in recent memory in the AL. The worst were the dumb narratives like "Trout's team didn't make the playoffs," as not only did the 2012 Angels win more games than the 2012 Tigers, but that hasn't stopped voters before (one example of this is still to come). Trout should have won.
3.) 2005 NFL MVP (Shaun Alexander over Peyton Manning or Steve Smith)
I had the 2012 MVP injustice far higher down the list, but this one has many of the same themes, but it is on the whole just a terrible decision. Shaun Alexander had a great year (1,880 yards, a then-record 28 TDs), but he was on a loaded offense (unlike Peterson, who had very little passing support), and was arguably the third or fourth most valuable player on that offense (behind Hasselbeck, Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson). Unlike 2006 MVP Tomlinson (or 2000 MVP Faulk) Alexander provided basically no value in the passing game. There are two good alternatives. Peyton had a great season for the league's best team, with a league high 104.1 passer rating, and led the first team in this recent string to make a real run at 16-0. But the real guy who had a really nice case for the award is Steve Smith. Receivers never win MVP, and they likely are never deserving since rarely does a receiver have an MVP caliber season with his QB not having one as well, but Smith was that rare instance. He led the NFL in catches (103), yards (1,563) and TDs (12). His QB that season was Jake Delhomme, who had a good if unspectacular season. In fact, the rest of the Panthers combined had just 166 catches for 1,922 yards and 13 TDs. Steve Smith was close to 40% of their passing offense, which is outrageous. If the NFL wasn't going to give the award to a QB in 2005 (which Manning, or even Carson Palmer had good cases for), then give it to Smith, by far the best player on his offense that carried that offense, and not Alexander, who ran behind the league's best offensive line with two Hall of Famers.
2.) 2006 NL MVP (Ryan Howard over Albert Pujols)
2006 was not a great year for MVP voting, and this was just a terrible, nonsensical choice. In no way, shape or form did Ryan Howard have a better season than Albert Pujols (or even Carlos Beltran, who did it for the league's best team in 2006). The only thing Howard did better was hit 9 more home runs and drive in 12 more runs, which even in old-timey thinking, is pretty negligible when the other guy does everything better. In Howard's best hitting season, Pujols had a higher batting average (.313 to .331), On-Base (.425 to .431), and slugging (.659 to .671). Yes, these are close differences (though Howard does play in a slightly better hitters park), but Pujols still had Howard in all of them. Pujols also played far better defense, is a far better baserunner back then. Oh yeah, Pujols had those counting numbers after playing 16 fewer games (Pujols was having an all-time start to the season before an injury in May). Here's the ultimate kicker, though it shouldn't matter: Howard's team didn't make the playoffs and Pujols's team did. Those same people who claimed Trout didn't deserve the MVP over Cabrera in 2012 better not have voted or supported Howard here. Pujols had a 3 WAR edge for the advanced folks. You can't even cite voting fatigue, because up to this point, Pujols had won just 1 MVP (though he deserved at least one of the three Bonds won from 2002-2004). This really was a more illogical reversal of the 2012 debate, where the not only didn't the winner make the playoffs, but also he didn't have a better season.
1.) 2005 AL Cy Young (Bartolo Colon over Johan Santana)
Nothing beats this. Nothing really comes close. Four years later, the BBWAA gave Cy Youngs to Tim Lincecum and Zack Greinke, who won 15 and 16 games. In 2010, they gave one to Felix Hernandez who won 13 games. Somewhere around that the voters started to realize that win loss record was a horrible way to judge pitchers. Now, the cynic would say that there were few candidates in those years that had gaudy enough win numbers to beat those guys. I would argue that in 2010 David Price (19-7) and CC Sabathia (21-7) had good numbers and good win totals, but didn't come close to Felix (same with Wainwright in 2009 - though he did come close to beating Lincecum), and I think this trend is based off of what they did in 2005, giving the Cy Young to Bartolo Colon purely because he had 21 wins.
Now, this was Santana's worst season from 2004-06, but he was still so much better than Bartolo Colon in every way. He pitched more innings, gave up fewer hits, had the far better ERA, struck out 80 more guys while walking just two more, and had a WHIP lead 0.971 to 1.159. Of course, Johan went just 16-7 (ironically the same record that Brandon Webb would have just a year later when he won the NL Cy Young - though in 2006 that led the NL), while Colon went 21-8. There is absolutely no argument for Colon other than the win total. None. For basically every other one on this list (except maybe Morneau) there are some arguments. Here there are none except that win figure. Of course, the 2005 Angels were far, far better offensively than the 2005 Twins. I have to think voters were scarred by awarding a guy who had a merely good season the Cy Young. This is the worst season by a Cy Young winning pitcher maybe ever. Really, it is. There is nothing remarkable about Colon's season. Roy Halladay has like 8 seasons better than that one, Roy Oswalt had a handful - and Oswalt never won the Cy Young. Honestly, if Santana didn't exist, this was the best case to give a reliever the award, as Mariano Rivera had an awesome year (not quite as good as Gagne's in 2003), and Colon simply a good one (unlike Schmidt and Prior in 2003). How Colon ever won is beyond me, and the worst part is that the vote wasn't even close, with Colon getting 17 first place votes to Santana's 8. I hope nothing ever beats this because I can't imagine an award injustice this bad.