Starting the week off right with MLB Monday, we go right into the 1912 MLB season to analyze awards for MVP and Cy Young. Our process is defined here, and there’s no time to waste getting on with the show, since COVID-19 has ruined traditional Opening Day.
1912 American League MVP: Tris Speaker (original winner, confirmed)
The best player in the league also played on the best team in the league, as Speaker led the Boston Red Sox to the AL pennant by a whopping 14 games over the second-place Washington Senators. Speaker, playing center field, also led the majors in WAR (10.1), which included 0.9 dWAR. Ty Cobb was second with 9.5 WAR overall (but just 0.2 dWAR). Cobb, also playing center, was slightly better with the bat for a Detroit Tigers squad that finished 36.5 games out of first place. Frank Baker (9.4 WAR) has more of a case than Cobb does, as the Philadelphia Athletics at least were within 16 games of the Red Sox by season’s end, thanks to their third baseman. Even Joe Jackson (9.3 WAR) kept his Cleveland teammates six games ahead of Cobb’s Tigers from his right field spot. Clearly, there were a lot of great AL candidates for MVP in 1912, but Speaker keeps the award after hitting .383 and leading the AL in doubles (53) and home runs (10). He compiled 222 hits overall, including 12 triples, while driving in 90 runs, stealing 52 bases, and walking 82 times. His 189 OPS+ was the best mark of his Hall of Fame career, incidentally, during his age-24 season.
1912 National League MVP: Larry Doyle (original winner), Honus Wagner (revised winner)
Doyle finished fifth in the NL among positions players in WAR (5.0), which means this award had no business being awarded to the second baseman, despite the New York Giants winning the NL pennant by 10 games. Doyle had a great season, and we’re not overlooking that: .330 average, 91 RBI, 36 steals. But he didn’t lead the league in any single category. Aren’t MVPs supposed to be better than that? Pittsburgh and Chicago were the closest contenders, with the Cubs finishing 11.5 games out in third place. Pirates shortstop Honus Wagner led the league in WAR (8.0), while two Cubs—3B Heinie Zimmerman (7.1) and 2B Johnny Evers (6.0)—also posted higher WAR marks than Doyle. If Evers was better than Doyle, while also playing for a contending team, then Doyle wasn’t even the best player at his position in the NL, and it’s hard justifying the awarding of the MVP to a guy that wasn’t even the best at his position. This basically means Wagner was robbed for the second straight season of an MVP award: At age 38, he hit .324, drove in 100 runs, and posted 1.9 dWAR at the toughest spot in the field, all for a contender.
1912 AL Cy Young: Walter Johnson
Three pitchers dominated the AL this year: Washington’s Johnson (14.3 WAR), Chicago’s Ed Walsh (12.1), and Boston’s Smoky Joe Wood (11.4). The White Sox finished 28 games out of first place, but the Senators were Boston’s closest competitor. Johnson’s season was unique historically as he posted a 1.39 ERA, 33 wins, 303 strikeouts, and a 0.908 WHIP. All those numbers except the win total led the AL. Walsh strangely led the league in starts (41) and saves (10), while Wood led the circuit in wins (34), complete games (35), and shutouts (10). In any given year, those efforts could snag a Cy Young for any of these three guys. This year, though, Johnson has to be given the award for winning the three major statistical categories of ERA, Ks, and WHIP while pitching for a contender.
1912 NL Cy Young: Christy Mathewson
This analysis comes down to Brooklyn’s Nap Rucker (8.1 WAR), New York’s Mathewson (7.7), and Philadelphia’s Pete Alexander (6.3). The Dodgers finished so far out of first place (46 games) that Rucker did not get a single MVP vote in 1912, which is surprising, but his season is one that only modern sabermetrics can reveal for greatness. Rucker posted a 2.21 with six shutouts while earning 18 of Brooklyn’s 58 wins, yet we also know it’s easier to pitch well with nothing on the line. Likewise, Alexander led the NL in innings pitched and strikeouts while toiling away for a Phillies team that finished 30.5 games behind the Giants. Meanwhile, Mathewson won 23 games with a 2.12 ERA for the best team in the league. After leading the league in ERA+ for four straight seasons, he did not do it again in 1912, although it didn’t stop him from again being the best pitcher once again.