We started seven weeks ago investigating the sporting past, via our MLB Monday series on MVP and Cy Young analysis in baseball history. The methodology is explained here, and we’re blown away at how good these players were in the 1910s. It makes many modern players look downright mediocre!
Onto the awards, all of which are pretty straightforward this season.
1917 American League MVP: Ty Cobb
This is an open-and-shut discussion, as Ty Cobb and his individual greatness were on major display this season, despite the Detroit Tigers finishing 21.5 games behind the Chicago White Sox for the pennant. Cobb’s Wins-Above-Replacement value (WAR) was 3.5 wins higher than the next-best position player in the league, Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman. The Detroit centerfielder led the AL in hits (225), doubles (44), triples (24), stolen bases (55), batting average (.383), on-base percentage (.444), slugging percentage (.570), and total bases (335)—not to mention OPS (1.014), obviously. His 11.3 WAR easily was the best in the majors, too. The White Sox were led by Joe Jackson and his 5.8 WAR, by the way. This is the third time we’ve given this award to Cobb, which ties him with Tris Speaker in our award analysis.
1917 National League MVP: Rogers Hornsby
He was in just his third year with the St. Louis Cardinals, but at age 21, Rogers Hornsby was already on his way to a stellar career. The young shortstop led the NL in WAR by 2.5 wins over the next-best player, SS Art Fletcher of the New York Giants. Hornsby led the league in triples (17), SLG (.484), OPS (.868), and total bases (253). Yes, the Cards finished 15 games behind the Giants in the pennant race, but Hornsby’s season was dominant enough to overcome that edge for Fletcher in this discussion. The only thing the Giants leader led the league in was number of times being beaned. Case closed.
1917 AL Cy Young: Eddie Cicotte
More famous for other things, of course, Eddie Cicotte was—by far—the best pitcher in the AL during the 1917 season. He was 33 years old, kind of late to be peaking, but the case is clear cut here. The Chicago ace led the AL in wins (28), ERA (1.53), innings pitched (346 2/3), and WHIP (0.912) to post 11.4 WAR, which was 2.9 wins better than the next-best pitcher in the league, Cleveland’s Jim Bagby. By the way, Cicotte also added four saves for good measure as the White Sox ended up winning the World Series.
1917 NL Cy Young: Pete Alexander
It’s getting repetitive, but there’s no way around it: Pete Alexander took over where Christy Mathewson left off in the NL and out did the Giants ace. The Phillies finished in second place behind New York in 1917, and Alexander’s 9.2 WAR was best in the league by 2.1 wins over Pittsburgh’s Wilbur Cooper. Old Pete led the NL in wins (30), ERA (1.84), complete games (34), shutouts (8), innings pitched (388), and strikeouts. You can’t beat that kind of season, Alexander’s last for the Philadelphia franchise. This is his fourth Cy Young, tying him with Walter Johnson in our award analysis.