In the relatively brief existence of Sabermetrics, this was the first high-profile vote to pit math vs. traditional metrics. Cabrera, the Tigers’ slugger (right), became the first player in 45 years to win the Triple Crown, leading the AL with a .330 average, 44 home runs and 139 RBI. Trout, the Angels’ breakout rookie, finished second in average (.326) but his 30 HR and 83 RBI failed to crack the top 10. Trout, however, led the league in WAR, runs scored, steals, adjusted OPS, offensive win percentage and WPA. And thus, the debate was on. In the standings, the Tigers made the playoffs while the Angels missed out (despite a better record than Detroit). Ultimately, the MVP went to Cabrera (and it wasn’t all that close) ... but Trout was the unanimous Rookie of the Year, so his cupboard didn’t go bare.
Getty ImagesMark Cunningham
Ivan Rodriguez over Pedro Martinez, AL, 1999
Like Clayton Kershaw vs. the NL in 2014, the crux of this debate was whether a starting pitcher even deserved to be named MVP. Pudge’s numbers were impressive; but in the inflated-statistical late 90s, by no means did they stand out. His .332 average was seventh in the AL, and he only cracked the top five in hits. But he was a catcher and his defensive numbers helped some of his Sabermetrics. But Martinez (right), in the middle of his peak years, was first in WAR (9.7). And the rest of his stats were sick, too: 23 wins, 2.07 ERA, .923 WHIP, .852 winning percentage, 313 strikeouts — all tops in the AL. He also picked up more first-place MVP votes than Rodriguez, too (8 to 7). But two voters completely left Martinez off their ballots because he was a starting pitcher, and Pudge won, 252-239.
Sammy Sosa over Mark McGwire, NL, 1998
A year before Pedro Martinez lost to some questionable balloting, the same could be said of McGwire (right) after the most famous home run chase since Roger Maris in 1961. By early summer of 1998, it was pretty clear both McGwire and Sosa would take it down. The only question was who would get there first. McGwire got to 62 first, on Sept. 8 against Sosa’s Cubs. McGwire finished the season with 70 home runs to Sosa’s 66. But the Cubs made the playoffs, finishing six games ahead of the Cards. When the votes were counted, Sosa easily won the award — but the controversy came when the one-sidedness of the voting was revealed. Sosa picked up 30 first-place votes to McGwire’s two; naturally, Sosa was second on those two ballots. But McGwire received only 20 second-place votes, and finished as low as seventh on one ballot.
AFP/Getty ImagesJOHN ZICH
Juan Gonzalez over Alex Rodriguez, AL, 1996
Yes, hard to imagine, but in 1996 A-Rod (right) actually found himself the sympathetic figure in a controversy. Perhaps it was due to age; perhaps it was teammates splitting votes. Whatever the reason, plenty of people were left scratching their heads when the hardware went to Juan-Gon. A-Rod led the league in average, runs scored, total bases and doubles; his teammate Ken Griffey Jr. led in WAR (overall and defensive). The only statistic in which Gonzalez finished ahead of both Mariners was RBI (his 144 topping Griffey by four). But A-Rod was in his first full season, and voters likely figured he had plenty of MVPs ahead of him. Together, Rodriguez and Griffey got 475 MVP points, but alone Rodriguez’s 287 were three points shy of Gonzalez. Griffey took home four first-place votes; if one of them goes to A-Rod, the shortstop gets MVP.
Andre Dawson over a whole lot of people, NL, 1987
Unlike many of the others, the controversy with this one ignited the instant the winner was revealed. Sure, Dawson (left) led the glory stats (NL-best 49 homers and 137 RBI). And he did so playing for a Cubs team which many felt took advantage of The Hawk in the infamous 'blank check' signing. But the Cubs finished in last place (still the only time an MVP came from a last-place team). Other guys from losing teams had MVP-worthy numbers, but guys like the Cardinals’ Jack Clark (NL leader in OBP, slugging, OBPS, offensive win percentage), the Reds’ Eric Davis (50 steals, three HR shy of a 40-40 season), and the Expos' Tim Raines (top 10 in WAR, average, OBPS, steals and runs — he led the league in the final category) look all the more better considering their teams won more than they lost — Clark’s Cardinals made it to the World Series.
Joe DiMaggio over Ted Williams, AL, repeatedly
In 1941, Williams (right) hit .406; DiMaggio had a 56-game hitting streak. The remaining numbers would suggest Williams had the better season (the Splendid Splinter topped the Yankee Clipper in WAR, OBP, slugging, OBPS, home runs and runs scored; DiMaggio was better in hits, RBI and total bases). But the Yankees won 101 games — 17 more than the Red Sox — and Joe D’s historic mark weighed heavier on voters than did Williams’. 1947 brought the rematch. Williams won the Triple Crown. And again, he lost to a Yankee. This time it was DiMaggio, and the final MVP vote total? 202-201. Yup, one point. Williams would later claim a vindictive Boston writer left him off the ballot altogether, costing him the award. The question of that claim’s accuracy has become baseball lore.