Here’s the all-time best MVP at each position

April 13th, 2020

Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig played in one distinct era, Albert Pujols and Mike Trout in another. Ruth never faced Aroldis Chapman’s 101 mph heat. Gehrig never got a crack at Pedro Martinez’s changeup. We love baseball’s timelessness, but so much has changed over the last 125 years.

So this is how you start an argument. You browse the list of players that have won the Most Valuable Player Award and attempt to come up with an All-MVP Team.

I bring my biases to the table. I do not believe any player was ever better than Pujols in 2009. I also believe that Mike Trout would be among the best of the best regardless of the era in which he played. There’s also no discounting the greatness of Gehrig in 1927 or Bob Gibson in '68 or Carl Yastrzemski in '67.

So ... here’s a crack at an All-Time MVP team. To qualify, you need to have won at least one. Your social media feedback is welcome.

Catcher: Johnny Bench, 1970 Reds
Honorable mention: Roy Campanella, 1953 Dodgers

Bench started behind the plate 130 times and produced arguably the best season any catcher has ever had by being the defensive gold standard for every player who has played the position. He also hit 45 homers and 35 doubles while driving in 148 runs and scoring 97.

First base: Albert Pujols, 2009 Cardinals
Honorable mention: Lou Gehrig, 1927 Yankees

Their numbers are very close, with Lou Gehrig holding a slight lead in almost all of them. However, Pujols gets the edge because he faced better pitching, had less protection in his lineup -- he drew 44 intentional walks -- and was the single player on which every opponent focused.

Second base: Rogers Hornsby, 1925 Cardinals
Honorable mention: Joe Morgan, 1976 Reds

Even my significant generational bias couldn’t get Joe Morgan over the hump here, despite his video game-good numbers: 1.020 OPS, 27 homers, Gold Glove. Problem is, Hornsby was better, and not by just a little: 1.245 OPS, 39 home runs … and he hit a cool .403.

Third base: George Brett, 1980 Royals
Honorable mention: Mike Schmidt, 1980 Phillies

Brett was the American League MVP in 1980, Schmidt the National League winner. Both ended up in the Hall of Fame. Schmidt hit twice as many homers as Brett (48 vs. 24) that season, but Brett had the advantage in most other categories in the season in which he was hitting .400 on Sept. 19 and finished at .390. No third baseman has ever been better.

Shortstop: Ernie Banks, 1958 Cubs
Honorable mention: Cal Ripken Jr., 1991 Orioles

No clear-cut winner between Robin Yount (1989), Ripken and Banks. Banks get the slightest of nods here for the most home runs and total bases, plus the highest OPS. Ripken gets the runner-up nod for having a higher OPS and OPS+ than Yount.

Outfield: Babe Ruth, 1923 Yankees; Barry Bonds, 2001 Giants; Mickey Mantle, 1956 Yankees
Honorable mention: Willie Mays, 1965 Giants

This wasn’t close to Ruth’s best season, but it was his only MVP campaign -- in the 1920s, players could only win their league's MVP Award once. Even if it wasn’t his best season, his numbers were insane: 1.309 OPS, 239 OPS+, 41 homers, 45 doubles, .545 on-base percentage.

Bonds had seven MVP seasons, but 2001 stands out for the record-setting 73 home runs, not to mention a .515 on-base percentage.

Mantle put together back-to-back MVP seasons in 1956 and '57, but 52 homers gives the ’56 campaign an edge.

Designated hitter: Don Baylor, 1979 Angels
Honorable mention: Frank Thomas, 1994 White Sox

This is a difficult position, since the two best designated hitters (Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz) never won an MVP. Baylor gets the nod over Frank Thomas because he had 65 games at DH that season. Thomas became a full-time DH, but was there for only four games during his MVP season.

Starting pitcher: Bob Gibson, 1968 Cardinals
Honorable mention: Walter Johnson, 1913 Senators

We recently ran a poll asking fans to pick the best season ever, and Gibson’s ’68 campaign won it all (1.12 ERA, .853 WHIP). Walter Johnson was playing in the Deadball Era, but his numbers still seem comical (36 wins, 1.14 ERA in 346 innings).

Relief pitcher: Willie Hernandez, 1984 Tigers
Honorable mention: Rollie Fingers, 1981 Brewers

Hernandez is one of just four relievers to win an MVP Award, along with Fingers (1981), Dennis Eckersley ('92) and Jim Konstanty ('50). All had amazing seasons, but what puts Hernandez in a separate category is that he appeared in 80 games and pitched 140 1/3 innings (61 1/3 more than Fingers, 60 1/3 more than Eckersley). In terms of sheer dominance, Fingers had an insane 333 ERA+ in his MVP season.