Bob Smizik: Asking for ‘Ask Bob’ questions

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It’s question-seeking time. The irregular feature 'Ask Bob’ has gained favor with some readers and it will be making a summer run with your cooperation. Questions on all topics are on the table -- except Pittsburgh media. So, please, no one ask about the insanely long commercial breaks at The Fan.

Pose your questions below and, as in the past, I will answer in the weeks ahead.

When I mentioned a week or so ago that I had been a MLB Most Valuable Player voter at one point in my career, Del Scott shot several questions about the process. So for a mini-Ask Bob, here are Del’s questions followed by my answer.

What is the definition that you received from MLB for MVP? Do you recall a specific year/vote that was extremely tight/difficult that you could break down your thought process for us?

Actually, the voting is conducted by the Baseball Writers Association of America, not MLB. MLB has nothing to do with the process. Unfortunately, the BBWAA does not provide much in the way of voting guidelines and makes no attempt to clarify the meaning of ''most valuable.’’ Some have taken this to mean ‘'most outstanding,’’ and I believe that to be most unfortunate.

For example, Cliff Corcoran of SI.com writes about the awards races all season and doesn’t seem to get it. In his most recent piece, in the NL MVP race he had Troy Tulowitzki first, Andrew McCutchen second, Giancarlo Stanton third, Jonathan Lucroy fourth and Paul Goldschmidt fifth. That looks to be more of a Most Outstanding Player ballot. There’s no way Tulowitzki should be considered, although he’s having the best season of any NL player. His team is not in contention and his value is minimized by that. The same with Goldschmidt, as good as he is.

McCutchen clearly belongs in the discussion, as do Lucroy, Matt Adams and Yasiel Puig. But, really, it’s too early to seriously be talking about these races.

I was a Cy Young voter in 1984. I never really thought seriously about these awards until the second half of the season. I remember checking sometime in July and realizing there was nothing approaching a clear-cut leader. I thought it would be a tough vote. I didn’t know Rick Sutcliffe would go from 6-6 in early July to 20-6. A pitcher who was not even under consideration in July, and possibly early August, won unanimously.

Two MVP races stick out in my mind.

Willie Stargell finished second to Joe Torre in 1971, third to Johnny Bench in 1972 (Billy Williams was second), and second to Pete Rose in 1973. I covered the Pirates in 1973 and Stargell's season-long performance was the most heroic I’ve ever seen from an athlete. The Pirates were dragging from the death of Roberto Clemente, but Willie put them on his back. He hit 48 home runs, drove in 119 and had an OPS of 1.038. Rose had an OPS 200 points lower than Willie’s and with about half as many RBIs. More to the point, he was surrounded by players having exceptional years. Stargell was not. Rose, third on his team in OPS, received 274 votes, 24 more than Stargell. A miscarriage of justice.

The other never caught my attention until some four years after it happened. Barry Bonds, of all people, pointed it out to me. Bonds was suggesting there was racial bias involved. I don’t think that was the case, but Bonds had reason to be suspicious.

Kirk Gibson won the 1988 MVP by 36 votes over Darryl Strawberry. Both of their teams finished in first place in their respective divisions. Gibson had 26 home runs, 76 RBIs and a .860 OPS. Not exactly spectacular numbers. Strawberry had 39 home runs, 101 RBIs and a .911 OPS.

What hurt Strawberry was that he had to split the vote with teammate Kevin McReynolds, who finished third and had four first-place votes. Still, Gibson’s numbers would rank among the worst for an MVP. The unfairness of the result might have been overlooked because by the time the voting was announced, Gibson was a World Series hero by virtue of his legendary Game 1 home run off Oakland's Dennis Eckersley.

•••

And if anyone wishes to discuss the following, feel free. National baseball writer Joe Sheehan was a guest on the David Todd Show yesterday on 970 ESPN and lambasted the selection of the Pirates‘‍ Josh Harrison to the All-Star team. He said there were numerous players more deserving -- and there were.

Sheehan’s thinking, and I agree, is that a fringe player enjoying a brief run of success does not belong on the team.

Here’s Harrison’s season in three parts:

March 31 through May 2: 24 ABs -- .208/.240/.375 -- .615

May 3 through June 17: 136 ABs -- .333/.377/.515 -- .891

June 18 through July 13: 89 ABs -- .258/.290/.371 -- .661

Feel free to discuss and don’t forget the questions.


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