This is the fifth installment in our MLB Monday series on MVP and Cy Young analysis in baseball history. The methodology is explained here, and we’re diving right into the awards discussion—ignoring the Federal League during these mid-1910s season due to the goofy stats very out of place with MLB equivalents.
1915 American League MVP: Ty Cobb
After giving out MVP awards from 1911 to 1914, suddenly, the process took a break until … 1924. We’re in our own here, without a starting point, which is just fine. We have several candidates to consider in a season where the Boston Red Sox outlasted the Detroit Tigers by 2.5 games for the AL pennant. The Chicago White Sox finished third, a full 7 games behind the Tigers.
Our three best MVP candidates come from these teams, too: Detroit centerfielder Ty Cobb (our 1911 MVP), Chicago second baseman Eddie Collins (our 1913 winner, who was traded in a Philadelphia Athletics/Connie Mack salary dump), and Boston outfielder Tris Speaker, our 1914 AL MVP winner. Their WAR totals correspond to the order above: Cobb (10.0), Collins (9.4), and Speaker (7.2). Cobb and Collins were both below-average defenders in 1915, while Speaker notched positive dWAR. That may not matter.
Cobb’s season is epic, really: He led the AL in runs, hits, stolen bases, batting average (.369), on-base percentage, total bases, and OPS, while drawing 118 walks—which did not lead the league since Collins did with 119 bases on balls, his only AL-best effort. Cobb also drove in 99 runs while hitting just three home runs. Speaker led the league in no category.
Considering the Tigers just missed out on the pennant, and Cobb clearly outperformed Speaker, it’s an easy call here to give the Georgia Peach his second AL MVP award.
1915 National League MVP: Gavvy Cavrath
The Philadelphia Phillies won the pennant by 7 games over the Boston Braves and 10 games ahead of the Brooklyn Robins. Phillies right fielder Gavvy Cavrath is really the logical choice here, without much debate as he led the NL in WAR by over a full point (6.9 to 5.8 for Cincinnati third baseman Heinie Groh). Also our 1913 NL MVP winner, Cavrath led the league in runs, HRs, RBI, walks, OBP, SLG, OPS, and total bases. There really is no other other option—it’s that straightforward here, especially since Groh’s Reds finished 20 games out of first place.
1915 AL Cy Young: Walter Johnson
The three best pitchers in the junior circuit were Washington’s Walter Johnson (no surprise, since he’s won four of these in a row now), Cleveland’s Guy Morton, and Chicago’s Jim Scott. In that order, Johnson (11.5) led Morton (7.0) and Scott (6.1) in WAR. The White Sox had the best finish, although the Senators were just 7.5 games behind Chicago. Meanwhile, Cleveland finished 44.5 games out of first place. That eliminates Morton, and there’s no way for Scott’s team finish to overcome Johnsons massive WAR edge. For the record, the Big Train led the AL in wins (27), starts (39), complete games (35), and shutouts (7). He had league-best marks in innings pitched, strikeouts, and WHIP to go along with his 1.55 ERA. Perhaps they should have named this award after Johnson instead of Cy Young, you know?
1915 NL Cy Young: Pete Alexander
There are only two real candidates in the NL for the award, and in reality, there is probably only one true contender: Philadelphia’s Pete Alexander, again, after he won the award last year. He led the senior circuit in pitching WAR (10.9), and the next best pitcher was Cincinnati’s Fred Toney (8.0). Considering the Phillies won the pennant while the Reds finished 20 games out, this makes it easy to anoint Old Pete for the second season in a row. While Toney gave up a league-best one HR total, Alexander led the NL in just about every category that mattered: wins (31), ERA (1.22), WHIP (0.842), strikeouts, complete games, shutouts, and innings pitched. He was dominant, and his team won the pennant. What else can you ask for in handing out this award?