Back in the day, baseball writers who voted for the MVP award used their eyes but not very much statistical analysis. This same stubbornness exists with baseball fans of the 1950’s & 60’s when you talk to them about advanced metrics determining the value of a player. They still cling to the stats on the back of baseball cards and have a hard time with OPB (On-Base Percentage), OPS (On-Base + Slugging) WHIP (Walks + Hits divided by Innings Pitched) and especially WAR (Wins Above Replacement).
In an effort to somewhat convert a few of these old-school fans, let’s look at WAR in the era from 1954 (when most major stars of the time had become major leaguers) to 1968 (the year prior to the mound being lowered and divisional play being added). “Wins Above Replacement” is an attempt by the Sabermetric baseball community to summarize a player’s total contribution to their team in one statistic. It asks the question, “If this player got injured and had to be replaced by a minor leaguer or bench player, how much value would the team be losing?” The value is expressed in a wins format, so we could determine that player “A” is worth 5 wins to the team over the course of the season. WAR stats are available at two websites: FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference and their results are only slightly different. For this exercise, we’ll use the top five WAR players from the latter site for each applicable year.
> 1954 – Willie Mays 10.6, Robin Roberts 8.7, Duke Snider 8.4, Minnie Minoso 8.2 & Ted Kluszewski 7.9
Mays lead the league with a .345 BA, hit 41 HR’s and won the MVP…Roberts won 23 games and pitched 336 innings…Snider hit .341 with 40 HR’s & 130 RBI’s…Minoso hit .320 and led the AL in Triples & Total Bases…”Klu” led the NL with 49 HR’s & 141 RBI’s while finishing 2nd to Mays in the MVP voting. Yogi Berra won the AL MVP but wasn’t even in the top ten in WAR.
> 1955 – Mickey Mantle 9.5, Willie Mays 9.0, Duke Snider 8.6, Al Kaline 8.2 & Ernie Banks 8.1
Mantle only finished 5th in the MVP voting but his OBP (.431) & OPS (1.042) were off the charts and he also led the AL with 37 HR’s…Mays hit 51 HR’s and led the NL with a 1.059 OPS but finished 4th on the MVP ballot…Snider was almost as good with a league-leading 136 RBI’s and a 1.046 OPS while coming in 2nd to teammate Roy Campanella in the MVP race…Kaline also finished 2nd in MVP voting (Yogi won again) while leading the AL with a .340 BA…Banks had 44 HR’s & 117 RBI’s. Billy Pierce was he best pitcher, finishing 8th with 6.9.
> 1956 – Mickey Mantle 11.2, Early Wynn 8.3, Duke Snider 7.6, Willie Mays 7.6 & Herb Score 7.5
Mantle’s greatest season as he won the Triple Crown with 52 HR’s, 130 RBI’s, a .353 BA and an OPS of 1.169…Wynn won 20 games with an ERA of 2.72 in 277+ innings…Snider had another underappreciated season where he led the NL with 43 HR’s, a .399 OBP and .598 Slugging Percentage…Mays was just as good with 36 HR’s & a league-leading 40 SB’s…Score followed up his ’55 Rookie of the Year campaign with 20 Wins, a 2.53 ERA and 263 K’s.
> 1957 – Mickey Mantle 11.3, Ted Williams 9.7, Willie Mays 8.3, Hank Aaron 8.0 & Nellie Fox 7.9
Mantle won his second consecutive MVP with .365 BA and a .512 OBP…Williams hit .388 at age 38 with an OBP of .526 and OPS of 1.257…Mays led the NL in Triples and Stolen Bases while winning the Gold Glove…Aaron won the NL MVP by leading the league in HR’s with 44 and RBI’s with 132…Fox hit .317, led the AL with 196 Hits and won the Gold Glove at 2B. Jim Bunning was the top hurler, finishing 7th with a WAR of 7.0.
> 1958 – Willie Mays 10.2, Ernie Banks 9.4, Mickey Mantle 8.7, Hank Aaron 7.3 & Richie Ashburn 7.1
Mays continued his amazing run by leading the NL with 121 Runs, 31 SB’s and a 1.002 OPS…Banks captured his first of two consecutive MVP Awards with 47 HR’s & 129 RBI’s…Mantle led the AL with 127 Runs, 42 HR’s and 129 Walks…Aaron won a Gold Glove and hit 30 HR’s…Ashburn had his best season by topping NL batters with 215 Hits, 97 Walks, a .350 BA and .440 OBP. Tigers Pitcher Frank Lary finished 6th with a 6.7 WAR while Jackie Jensen of the Red Sox won the AL MVP despite a WAR of only 4.9.
> 1959 – Ernie Banks 10.2, Hank Aaron 8.6, Camilo Pasqual 8.6, Eddie Mathews 8.2 & Willie Mays 7.8
Banks had another spectacular year with 45 HR’s & 143 RBI’s…Aaron led the NL in hitting with a .355 BA while powering 39 HR’s…Pascual had one of the most “under the radar” seasons in baseball history with 17 Wins, 17 Complete Games, 6 Shutouts and a 2.64 ERA for the last-place Senators who won only 63 games…Mathews had three 6th place finishes earlier in the decade but his league-leading 46 HR’s got him into the top five…Mays had another boring season with 34 HR’s, 104 RBI’s and a league-leading 31 SB’s. Nellie Fox won the AL MVP as the leader of the pennant-winning White Sox, but his WAR was out of the top ten at 6.0.
1960 – Willie Mays 9.5, Hank Aaron 8.0, Ernie Banks 7.8, Ernie Broglio 7.7 & Roger Maris 7.5
Mays was clearly the best player hitting .319 with 110+ RBI’s but Dick Groat of the pennant-winning Pirates got the MVP even though his WAR was just out of the top ten at 6.0…Aaron had 40 HR’s & 126 RBI’s…Banks had 41 HR’s & 117 RBI’s…Four years before being traded for Lou Brock, Broglio led the NL with 21 Wins…Maris won the AL MVP by hitting 39 HR’s and leading the AL with 112 RBI’s and a .581 Slugging Percentage.
1961 – Mickey Mantle 10.5, Hank Aaron 9.4, Norm Cash 9.2, Willie Mays 8.7 & Al Kaline 8.4
Despite some late-season injuries, Mantle was dominant once again with 54 HR’s, 128 RBI’s and a .317 BA…Aaron hit .327 with 34 HR’s & 120 RBI’s…Cash had a career year for the Tigers and led the AL in BA with .361 and an OBP of .487…Mays had 40 HR’s & 123 RBI’s…Kaline hit .324, led the AL with 41 Doubles and won a Gold Glove. Frank Robinson won the NL MVP with the 7th best WAR of 7.7, while Maris and his 61 HR’s won the AL MVP, but his WAR of 6.9 was just outside the top ten. The best Pitcher was Cy Young Award winner Whitey Ford who won 25 games for the Yankees.
1962 – Willie Mays 10.5, Frank Robinson 8.7, Hank Aaron 8.5, Turk Farrell 7.3 & Bob Purkey 7.1
With the expansion of four teams in ’61 & ’62, you can see the beginning of a trend in player value. The great hitters were feasting on diluted pitching staffs, but pitchers were facing many players who were in AAA a year or two earlier. Six of the top ten WAR figures belonged to Pitchers. Mays was clearly the best player again with 49 HR’s & 141 RBI’s but lost the NL MVP to Maury Wills and his 104 SB’s, Gold Glove defense and 6.1 WAR…Robinson led the NL in Runs, OBP & Slugging Percentage…Aaron had 45 HR’s & 128 RBI’s…Farrell pitched 241+ innings with a 3.02 ERA for an expansion team that won only 64 games…Purkey was 23-5 with a 2.81 ERA for the Reds. Mickey Mantle won the AL MVP despite playing in only 123 games and putting up a WAR of 6.0.
1963 – Willie Mays 10.6, Dick Ellsworth 9.9, Sandy Koufax 9.9, Hank Aaron 9.1 & Juan Marichal 8.1
Mays finished 5th in the MVP voting despite a .314 BA, 38 HR’s, 103 RBI’s and a Gold Glove…Ellsworth had one of the most overlooked seasons for a starting pitcher with 22 Wins and a 2.11 ERA in 290+ innings…Koufax won the Cy Young Award (there was only one at the time) and NL MVP with 25 Wins and a 1.88 ERA in 311 innings with 306 K’s…Aaron led the NL in Runs, HR’s RBI’s and OPS…Marichal won 25 games for the Giants and pitched 321+ innings. Elston Howard won the AL MVP, but his WAR was only 5.1.
1964 – Willie Mays 11.0, Ron Santo 8.9, Dick Allen 8.8, Dean Chance 8.6 & Don Drysdale 8.4
Mays outclassed the field and finished 6th in the NL MVP vote, won by Ken Boyer and his 6.1 WAR…Santo won a Gold Glove and led the NL with a .398 OBP…Allen was Rookie of the Year and led the NL in Runs and Triples…Chance won the singular Cy Young Award with 20 Wins and a 1.65 ERA in 278+ innings…Drysdale had 18 Wins and an ERA of 2.18 in 321+ innings. The AL MVP went to Brooks Robinson and he was the highest rated AL offense player with a WAR of 8.0.
1965 – Willie Mays 11.2, Juan Marichal 10.5, Jim Maloney 9.0, Sandy Koufax 8.6 & Jim Bunning 8.4
It took 11 years for Mays to win his 2nd MVP and all he had to do was hit 52 HR’s, win the Gold Glove and lead the league in OBP & OPS…Marichal had 22 Wins, a 2.13 ERA and 10 Shutouts…Maloney won 20 games with a 2.54 ERA for the Reds…Koufax won another CY Young Award by going 26-8 with a 2.04 ERA and 27 complete games…Bunning was 19-9 with a 2.60 ERA for the Phils. Zoilo Versalles was the best offensive player in the AL with a 7.2 WAR and he won the AL MVP thanks to leading the league in Runs, Doubles, Triples and Total Bases.
1966 – Sandy Koufax 9.8, Juan Marichal 9.8, Willie Mays 9.0, Ron Santo 8.9 & Jim Bunning 8.9
In the final year of his career, Koufax won his 3rd Cy Young Award in four years by going 27-9 with a 1.73 ERA…Marichal was right there with 25-6 and a 2.23 ERA…Mays was once again the best all-around player with 37 HR’s, 103 RBI’s and another Gold Glove…Santo led the NL with a .412 OBP and won the Gold Glove but finished 12th in the MVP voting…Bunning was outstanding again with 19 Wins and a 2.41 ERA. Roberto Clemente was close behind with a WAR of 8.2 and won the NL MVP. Frank Robinson was the highest-rated AL position player at 7.7 WAR and his league-leading 49 HR’s & 122 RBI’s got him the MVP.
1967 – Carl Yastrzemski 12.4, Ron Santo 9.8, Roberto Clemente 8.9, Hank Aaron 8.5 & Jim Bunning 8.0
“Yaz” had one the great seasons in history as he won the AL triple Crown and led the Red Sox to the pennant in a pitching-dominant era with 44 HR’s, 121 RBI’s and a .326 BA…Santo contributed another huge season and had his best MVP showing, finishing 4th…Clemente led the NL with a .357 BA and 209 hits…Aaron kept plugging along, leading the NL in Runs, Home Runs & Total Bases…this was the 3rd straight season that Bunning had a WAR of 8 or better and his 17 Wins and a 2.29 ERA equaled a 2nd place finish in the CY Young voting. The NL Cy Young went to Mike McCormick and his 22 Wins for the Giants, but his WAR was only 4.4. Jim Lonborg of the Red Sox captured the AL Cy Young with 22 Wins for the pennant-winners and his WAR was 4.1. Orlando Cepeda had the 4th best WAR for NL position players at 6.8, but won the MVP.
1968 – Bob Gibson 11.9, Carl Yastrzemski 10.5, Brooks Robinson 8.4, Roberto Clemente 8.1 & Luis Tiant 7.8
Gibson’s magical season included mind-boggling stats like a 1.12 ERA and 13 Shutouts that catapulted him to both the Cy Young & MVP Awards…Yastrzemski led the AL in both BA & OBP but finished 9th in the MVP vote…Robinson won his 9th straight Gold Glove…Clemente won his 8th straight Gold Glove…Tiant won 21 games for the Indians with an ERA of 1.60 and 9 Shutouts. The AL Cy Young & MVP went Denny McClain and his 31 Wins while finishing 6th in overall WAR with 7.3.
Now that you old-timers understand how good (or bad) your favorite player really was, we’ll pick on some younger “Baby Boomers” in a future visit and discover the results of WAR through the 1970’s.