|1||2006||Lance Berkman||1b||Astros||20.8||1st||NL-3rd||Ryan Howard||1b||Phillies||14.0||4th|
|2||2002||Barry Bonds||lf||Giants||20.7||1st||NL-1st||Barry Bonds||lf||Giants||20.7||1st|
|3||1996||Albert Belle||lf dh||Indians||20.4||1st||AL-3rd||Juan Gonzalez||rf dh||Rangers||12.2||7th|
|4||1999||Manny Ramirez||rf dh||Indians||19.9||1st||AL-3rd||Ivan Rodriguez||ca||Rangers||14.2||6th|
|5||2007||Alex Rodriguez||3b||Yankees||18.9||1st||AL-1st||Alex Rodriguez||3b||Yankees||18.9||1st|
|6||1996||Mo Vaughn||1b||Red Sox||18.6||2nd||AL-5th||Juan Gonzalez||rf dh||Rangers||12.2||7th|
|7||1997||Larry Walker||rf||Rockies||18.5||1st||NL-1st||Larry Walker||rf||Rockies||18.5||1st|
|8||1996||Ellis Burks||lf cf||Rockies||18.4||1st||NL-3rd||Ken Caminiti||3b||Padres||13.0||6th|
|9||1996||Barry Bonds||lf||Giants||18.2||2nd||NL-5th||Ken Caminiti||3b||Padres||13.0||6th|
|10||2000||Frank Thomas||dh 1b||White Sox||17.9||1st||AL-2nd||Jason Giambi||1b||Athletics||17.0||2nd|
|11||2003||Carlos Delgado||1b||Blue Jays||17.7||1st||AL-2nd||Alex Rodriguez||ss||Rangers||6.7||34th|
|12||1999||Bernie Williams||cf||Yankees||17.2||2nd||AL-11th||Ivan Rodriguez||ca||Rangers||14.2||6th|
|12||2007||Magglio Ordonez||rf||White Sox||17.2||2nd||AL-2nd||Alex Rodriguez||3b||Yankees||18.9||1st|
|14||2001||Todd Helton||1b||Rockies||17.0||1st||NL-9th||Barry Bonds||lf||Giants||15.5||4th|
|14||2002||Jason Giambi||1b dh||Yankees||17.0||1st||AL-5th||Miguel Tejada||ss||Athletics||10.5||10th|
|14||2000||Alex Rodriguez||ss||Mariners||17.0||2nd||AL-3rd||Jason Giambi||1b||Athletics||17.0||2nd|
|14||2000||Jason Giambi||1b||Athletics||17.0||2nd||AL-1st||Jason Giambi||1b||Athletics||17.0||2nd|
|18||2013||Miguel Cabrera||3b||Tigers||16.9||1st||AL-1st||Miguel Cabrera||3b||Tigers||16.9||1st|
Lance Berkman scored highest single-season Box-Toppers point total for a batter in 2006—but did not win MVP
Lance Berkman earned more Box-Toppers points in a single season than any other batter in the 20 years of Box-Toppers record keeping.
However, Berkman, who earned 20.8 Box-Toppers points in 2006, did not win his league’s Most Valuable Player Award that season. Berkman, then with the Astros, finished third in National League MVP voting, behind Ryan Howard of the Phillies (who with 14.0 Box-Toppers points in 2006, was Box-Toppers’ fourth-ranked NL batter).
The chart above shows the top 18 single season Box-Toppers point totals for a batter since 1995 when Box-Toppers record keeping began.
Box-Toppers points are a measure of how much a player provides key contributions to his team’s wins. Specifically, Box-Toppers tracks who most helps their team win the most games. Using standard box score statistics, Box-Toppers uses a simple formula to determine a Player of the Game for each Major League Baseball game played. That player is the person who contributed most to his team’s win. In regular season games, players earn 1.0 Box-Toppers point for being named Player of the Game and can earn bonus points for being Player of the Day or top player or batter in their league for the day.
Only three batters with more than 20 Box-Toppers points in a season
Only three times has a batter earned more than 20 Box-Toppers points in a single season:
• Berkman, with 20.8 in 2006.
• Barry Bonds of the Giants, with 20.7 in 2002. (Bonds won NL Most Valuable Player that year).
• Albert Belle of the Indians, with 20.4 in 1996. (Juan Gonzalez of the Rangers—12.2 Box-Toppers points, seventh among AL batters—won AL MVP. Belle finished third.)
Top 18 batters who won MVPFive players listed in the chart above also won Most Valuable Player in the same year they put up one of the best 18 single-season Box-Toppers points totals for a batter. They are listed in chronological order below.
Box-Toppers batting leaders winning MVP
Leading in Box-Toppers points for a batter doesn’t necessarily translate into winning league MVP. In fact, in the past 20 years, only six of the 40 MVPs have also led their league in Box-Toppers points. (See this post about Box-Toppers season-by-season leaders for 1995-2014.)
Only four of Box-Toppers’ 18 greatest single season performances by a batter (listed above) resulted in a player both leading his league’s batters in Box-Toppers points and winning an MVP award:
• In 2002, Bonds won NL MVP after leading NL batters with 20.7 Box-Toppers points (second-best single season total by a batter).
• In 2007, Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees won AL MVP after leading AL batters with 18.9 Box-Toppers points (fifth-best single season total by a batter).
• In 1997, Larry Walker of the Rockies won NL MVP after leading NL batters with 18.5 Box-Toppers points (seventh-best single season total by a batter).
• In 2013, Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers won AL MVP after leading AL batters with 16.9 Box-Toppers points (18th-best single season total by a batter).
While four of the players listed above won their league’s MVP Award the same year they led their league’s batters in Box-Toppers points, there is one of the other 18 listed players above to win MVP who did not lead his league’s batters in Box-Toppers points.
In 2000, Jason Giambi of the Athletics had 17.0 Box-Toppers points, tied for the 14th-best single season point total for a batter. Giambi also won AL MVP. However, while Giambi’s Box-Toppers point total that season was among the best ever, he did not have the most in the AL that season. Frank Thomas of the White Sox had 17.9 Box-Toppers points to lead AL batters. And in fact, Giambi’s 17.0 Box-Toppers points were tied for second-most among AL batters that season—Alex Rodriguez of the Mariners also had 17.0 points.
Thomas finished second in AL MVP voting that year. Rodriguez finished in third.
The case of Alex Rodriguez in 2003
One of these things is clearly not like the other when looking at the chart.
In 2003, Alex Rodriguez of the Rangers was voted AL MVP. However, Rodriguez only had 6.7 Box-Toppers points that season, ranking 34th among AL batters.
Looking down the column of “BTP rank among league batters” for players voted MVP, A-Rod’s 34th-place ranking that year sticks out like a sore thumb. In 14 of the 18 cases listed above, the player voted MVP finished in the top six in Box-Toppers points among their league’s batters. Other than A-Rod in 2003, no other player finished worse than 10th.
Top AL batters of 2003Alex Rodriguez, then of the Rangers, won the AL MVP Award in 2003, but ranked 34th among all AL batters in Box-Toppers points that year. Rodriguez is shown in 34th place below with the 33 batters ahead of him in Box-Toppers’ AL batting rankings, their Box-Toppers points (BTP) for the season and their ranking, if any, in the MVP vote:
|AL batter||Pos||Team||BTP||MVP rank|
|1||Carlos Delgado||1b||tor al||17.7||2|
|2||Carlos Beltran||cf||kc al||13.9||9|
|3||Aaron Boone||3b||nyy al||12.6|
|4||Carlos Lee||lf||chi al||11.5||18|
|5||Mike Sweeney||1b dh ph||kc al||10.7|
|6||Miguel Tejada||ss||oak al||10.2||11|
|7||Casey Blake||3b||cle al||9.7|
|8||Hideki Matsui||cf lf||nyy al||9.7|
|9||Scott Spiezio||1b 3b||ana al||9.5|
|10||Bret Boone||2b||sea al||9.2||10|
|11||Tony Batista||3b||bal al||9.2|
|12||Travis Lee||1b||tb al||9.0|
|13||Bernie Williams||cf||nyy al||9.0|
|14||Kevin Millar||1b dh ph lf||bos al||9.0|
|15||Jason Varitek||ca||bos al||9.0||24|
|16||Troy Glaus||3b||ana al||8.9|
|17||Jason Giambi||dh 1b||nyy al||8.7||13|
|18||David Ortiz||dh 1b||bos al||8.7||5|
|19||Bill Mueller||3b||bos al||8.7||12|
|20||Garret Anderson||lf||ana al||8.2||14|
|21||Edgar Martinez||dh||sea al||8.2|
|22||Magglio Ordonez||rf||chi al||8.0||18|
|23||Torii Hunter||cf||min al||8.0|
|24||Greg Myers||ca||tor al||8.0|
|25||Michael Tucker||cf lf rf||kc al||8.0|
|26||Hank Blalock||3b||tex al||8.0|
|27||Manny Ramirez||lf||bos al||7.9||6|
|28||Vernon Wells||cf||tor al||7.5||8|
|29||Frank Thomas||dh 1b||chi al||7.5||15|
|30||Frank Catalanotto||lf||tor al||7.5|
|31||Jorge Posada||ca||nyy al||7.0||3|
|32||Mike Cameron||cf||sea al||7.0|
|33||Jay Gibbons||rf||bal al||7.0|
|34||Alex Rodriguez||ss||tex al||6.7||1|
So why did baseball writers see fit to vote A-Rod MVP? True, other than Box-Toppers points, he had great numbers that year—he led the league in home runs (47), slugging percentage (.600) and runs (124) with an average of .298. Looking at contemporary news reports at the time, it was suggested that it was A-Rod’s “time” to win because he finished second twice previously and in the top 10 five times. And it seems to me there was discussion at the time that in the midst of steroid-inflated offensive numbers, A-Rod was considered deserving because he was a good representative of a “clean” player.
We live and learn.
So why was A-Rod’s Box-Toppers point total so low? For one thing, he was on a losing team. The Rangers finished 71-91. A player can only earn Box-Toppers points when his team wins (except in very rare cases), so the opportunities for Rodriguez to score were low. And even in the Rangers’ few wins that season, A-Rod wasn’t even his team’s top player in Box-Toppers points—that honor went to third baseman Hank Blalock, who had 8.0 points.
Box-Toppers looks at the players who helped their team win the most games. Rodriguez may have put up impressive numbers in 2003, but he only was Box-Toppers Player of the Game six times—and one of those times, he was AL Player of the Day.
And it’s not like A-Rod wasn’t deserving to win MVP in other years—he has two of the 18 best single season Box-Toppers point totals for a batter:
• In 2007, he had the fifth-best single-season point total of 18.9 with the Yankees. He led AL batters in Box-Toppers points and won AL MVP.
• In 2000, he had 17.0 Box-Toppers points with the Mariners, tied for the 14th best single-season point total for a batter. He tied for second among AL batters in Box-Toppers points and finished third for AL MVP.
In A-Rod’s prime, from 1996 to 2010, he had 11 seasons with 10 or more Box-Toppers points. The 6.7 points he put up in 2003 represents his fourth-worst season during that stretch.
So who was more deserving for AL MVP that year?
Carlos Delgado of the Blue Jays. He had 17.7 Box-Toppers points to lead AL batters, the 11th-best single-season point total for a batter. Delgado led the AL in RBIs (145), hit 42 homers and batted .302. His team finished 86-76, much better than the Rangers, but still out of the playoffs. He finished a close second in AL MVP voting to A-Rod (242-210, with six first-place ballots going to A-Rod and five going to Delgado).
“Obviously, I was expecting to get the award,” Delgado said in a contemporary report on ESPN.com, “and that wasn’t the case.”
A-Rod’s victory that year seems to be the result of rampant bad judgment by the writers. True, nearly half the writers did the sensible thing by voting for a more deserving candidate. But for the majority, there was a judgment that went beyond the numbers—this is A-Rod’s year, let’s give it to the “clean” player who will be the savior of baseball so tainted by steroids. For these writers, there was a tunnel vision, an ill-considered, follow-the-pack mentality. It is a judgment that was questionable at the time. And in retrospect, given what we know about A-Rod today, it’s kind of an embarrassing result.
I would be as guilty of tunnel vision if I were to say that the Box-Toppers points leader among batters should win MVP every year. I wouldn’t say that. But I would say, in this case, it would have been a useful statistic for voting writers to see—showing how much Delgado significantly contributed to his team’s wins and how little A-Rod helped his team that season.
(NOTE: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated Rodriguez finished 37th among AL batters in Box-Toppers points. It wasn't quite that bad, but it was 34th.)
Players listed more than once
Three players are listed twice among the top 18 single seasons in Box-Toppers points for a batter:
• Barry Bonds (second-best total, 20.7 in 2002; ninth-best total, 18.2 in 1996, both with the Giants).
• Alex Rodriguez (fifth-best total, 18.9 in 2007 with the Yankees; tied for 14th-best total, 17.0 in 2000 with the Mariners).
• Jason Giambi (tied for 14th-best total twice, with 17.0 in both 2002 with the Yankees and 2000 with the Athletics).
Most of top 18 led their league batters
Twelve of the 18 listed above finished first among their league batters in Box-Toppers points. The other six, who finished second in their league:
• Mo Vaughn, 1996, (sixth-best total, 18.6 with the Red Sox) finished behind Albert Belle (third-best total, 20.4 with the Indians).
• Barry Bonds, 1996, (ninth-best total, 18.2 with the Giants) finished behind Ellis Burks (eighth-best total, 18.4 with the Rockies).
• Bernie Williams, 1999, (12th-best total, 17.2 with the Yankees) finished behind Manny Ramirez (fourth-best total, 19.9 with the Indians).
• Magglio Ordonez, 2007, (tied for 12th-best total, 17.2 with the White Sox) finished behind Alex Rodriguez (fifth-best total, 18.9 with the Yankees).
• Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi, 2000, (both tied for 14th-best total, 17.0—Rodriguez with the Mariners and Giambi with the Athletics) finished behind Frank Thomas (10th-best total, 17.9 with the White Sox).
Most high-scoring batting seasons happened from 1996-2000
Of the 18 instances of batters scoring 16.9 Box-Toppers points or more (listed in the chart above), most of them happened in the first six years of Box-Toppers record keeping, from 1995 to 2000.
In fact, 10 of the 18 instances happened between 1996 and 2000:
• In 1996, there were four instances, the most in a single year.
• In 1997, one instance.
• In 1999, two instances.
• And in 2000, three instances.
Since 2000, there has not been a single season in which there have been three instances of 16.9 or more Box-Toppers points. In two seasons—2002 and 2007—that 16.9-point threshold was reached by two batters in a season.
This list was originally supposed to be a list of the 15 best batting seasons in Box-Toppers history, ending with the four players tied for 14th place with 17.0. However, with that list, the last season represented on the list was 2007. That would mean that for the past seven seasons—more than one-third of Box-Toppers record keeping history—no batter would have made the list. So I expanded it to a top 18 list in order to bring in a recent high-scoring batter—Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers, who in 2013 had 16.9 Box-Toppers points.
Still, 17 of the 18 instances of 16.9 or more Box-Toppers points in a season by a batter happened in the first 13 years of record keeping—and only one in the past seven years.