And you thought today’s MVP voters were bad!

Last night before I went to bed I took a look at Lou Gehrig’s stats on Baseball Reference. That’s the kind of guy I am. I’ve been obsessed with baseball history since I was about 5. Every now and then I like to take a look at some of the old-time greats, mostly to see how dominant they were. In Gehrig’s case, last night I saw something that would have made Ken Tremendous explode if the internet and FireJoeMorgan existed in 1934.

Baseball Reference highlights a player’s stat from a given year if that player led his league, or both, in the statistics. 1934 jumped out at me because Gehrig led all of baseball in BA, OBP and Slugging, with a .363/.465/.706 line, good for an OPS+ of 208. (Before I go any further I feel I should mention that I’ll turn into a puddle of warm goo if any one of the 2010 Yankees puts up an OPS+ of 208.) The reason this jumped out at me, aside from the fact that Lou was an absolute beast, is also because he came in 5th in the MVP voting in 1934.

Anyone who followed the MVP hunt this year knows how hard it is to lead baseball in all three batting slash stats. Harder still is leading baseball in those stats and not winning the MVP, or coming in some place in the voting that says you weren’t even on writers minds, like, say, 5th, which is exactly what happened to Gehrig in 1934. Needless to say I took a closer look at his stats.

Please recall that I did this at about 1am, so I didn’t notice two other stats from that season that Baseball Reference had highlighted: home runs and RBI. Gehrig led all of baseball in both in 1934 with 49 home runs and 165 RBI. I don’t know how closely you’re reading this post, but late last night my mind made the following calculation: “BA, home runs, + RBI … Wait, the dude won the triple crown!”

And therein lies the hilarity. In 1934 Gehrig didn’t walk, but stomped his way to the triple crown, leading all of baseball in home runs, RBI, BA, OBP and Slugging, and came in 5th in the MVP voting. If that happened this year a mob of angry bloggers would move from home to home tarring and feathering bad sports writers, whether they’d voted for Gehrig or not.

1. Mickey Cochrane, Tigers – C – .320/.428/.412, 2 HR, 76 RBI, 437 AB
2. Charlie Gehringer, Tigers – 2B – .356/.450/.517, 11 HR, 127 RBI, 601 AB
3. Lefty Gomez, Yankees – P – 26 W, 5 L, 2.33 ERA, 1.133 WHIP
4. Schoolboy Rowe, Tigers – P – 24 W, 8 L, 3.45 ERA, 1.278 WHIP
5. Lou Gehrig, Yankees – 1B – .363/.465/.706, 49 HR, 165 RBI, 579 AB
6. Hank Greenberg, Tigers -1B – .339/.404/.600, 26 HR, 139 RBI, 593 AB

Guess who came in first and second place in the AL that year? Correct! The Indians followed by the Athletics! No, seriously it was the Tigers then the Yankees. Numbers 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 on this list are all in the Hall of Fame. But none of this, and I mean none of it, justifies Gehrig coming in 5th. Here’s how the voting should have looked:

1. Gehrig – All of the votes minus one
2. Greenberg – 1 vote (I love that the 2nd best player on the list came in 6th, by the way.)

I’m sure that I needed to have been alive in 1934 to appreciate just how much the defensively important Cochrane and Gehringer meant to that pennant winning Tigers squad. Without their intangibles, and Cochrane’s hefty .412 slugging, Detroit may not have finished in 1st. Gehrig only led the Yankees to 94 wins in a 154 win season. Although his tangibles won him the triple crown and led baseball in OBP and Slugging along the way, he was lucky to have finished in 5th (FIFTH!) in the MVP voting because his poor baserunning that year (9 SB, 5 CS) easily cost the Yankees 11 wins.

Nap Lajoie
Ty Cobb
Jimmie Foxx
Lou Gehrig
Ted Williams (twice; number of times he won MVP those seasons: zero. You can’t make this stuff up.)
Mickey Mantle
Frank Robinson
Carl Yastrzemski

Hugh Duffy
Rogers Hornsby
Chuck Klein
Joe Medwick

Absent notables: Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, … you get the idea.

9 thoughts on “And you thought today’s MVP voters were bad!

  1. Lou Gehrig was pretty good at baseball.Aaargh I forgot Jimmy Rollins has an MVP, so silly. I felt really bad for David Wright that year. I'm under the impression that he lost the MVP because his team choked so badly down the stretch, but that was mostly due to the awful bullpen and starting pitching that got worse as the year wore on (ERA by month: April 2.96, May 3.69, June 4.20, July 4.50, August 4.93, September 5.11). Sure as hell wasn't his fault. He hit .394/.516/.657/1.172 in August and .352/.432/.602/1.034 in September, with 12 HR and 41 RBI (yeah yeah, RBI are bullshit) in those two months. That was rambly.

  2. I think I knew that. They all would have been better choices than Rollins, probably, though Holliday likely wasn't helped by being in Coors and Fielder because he was a 1B. I think the voters were all seduced by the Phillies' comeback and Rollins' 30-30 season.HOLY CRAP Ted Williams' CAREER OPS+ is 191. Babe Ruth's was *207*. Oh, and Babe didn't even get votes for the MVP in 1920-1922 and 1924-1930. Go look at his stats for those years (in his "down year," 1925, he had ONLY a 137 OPS+). Holy crap.

  3. But honestly – you can't just look at OPS to determine the MVP (not that I think you were particularly doing that). Justin Morneau had a higher OPS than Derek Jeter in 2006, as well as more than twice as many home runs. I don't think too many (non-BBWAA, apparently) people would argue that Justin Morneau was a better choice than Derek Jeter for MVP…

  4. I'll give them a pass on Lefty, as he led the league in wins, ERA, WHIP, strikeouts, and innings pitched–this was pre-Cy Young, so they didn't have their own award either

  5. I would have no objection to where the pitchers placed on that ballot, had Gehrig and Greenberg come in 1st and 2nd. What blows my mind is that in just a few quick searches I found three instances of the player who won the triple crown not winning the MVP. The award should just be abolished at that point. With respect to OPS, I don't feel that it is the be-all end-all, but it is incredibly difficult for a player to post a 1.000 OPS and have a low OBP. The equal weighting given to OBP and Slugging is the criticism of OPS, but once a player breaks 1.000 his OBP will usually be close to .400.

  6. Guide to voting for the MVP:Step 1: see who was the best team in the leagueStep 2: pick a guy on that team who had lots of RBIs or wins or was the team's spark plugIt's a shame how many people still follow that simple formula.If a player breaks a 1.000 OPS, odds are his OBP is well over .400. The lowest I found was Sammy Sosa's .367 in 1999 and there are more .450+ OBPs than sub-.380s in that set

  7. Again, I'm bored so I did the legwork.You're right about the OPS/OBP thing. Players who have a 1.000+ OPS with a below .400 OBP since 2000:Mike Piazza, 2000 (.398)Richard Hidalgo, 2000 (.391)Alex Rodriguez, 2001 (.399)Alex Rodriguez, 2002 (.392)Javy Lopez, 2003 (.378)Jim Edmonds, 2003 (.385)Manny Ramirez, 2004 (.397)Adrian Beltre, 2004 (.388)David Ortiz, 2005 (.397)Jermaine Dye, 2006 (.385)Prince Fielder, 2007 (.395)Ryan Braun, 2007 (.370)There are a decent number of them, especially more recently as opposed to say, 2000, when there was a good chance I could have OPSed 1.000, but those that do exist are generally pretty darn close. And there are definitely more guys who OPS 1.000+ with an over .400 OBP than not.

  8. You know who sports writers liked? Ty Cobb. I can't imagine how he won the 1911 AL MVP. Maybe after the 1909 triple crown, he threatened the writers with a spike to the throat or bat to the head or something. Jack Coombs comes in 12th with 28 wins… Ira Thomas is ahead of him because WHY? Yeah, I have no idea how the writers select the MVP, in this or any other century. its best not to think about it!