This is Week 8 of our historical look at the past award winners in Major League Baseball, and we hope you’re enjoying this as much as we are. Hindsight is always 20/20, except when it’s not—and we have some fierce debates this week for the 1918 season, an interesting one in history due to World War I.
1918 American League MVP: Tris Speaker
This was a down year for offense in the AL, as the highest WAR mark (6.8) was posted by St. Browns first baseman George Sisler. Three-time MVP winner and Detroit Tigers outfield legend Ty Cobb was second at 6.5 WAR, while Philadelphia Athletics utility man George Burns—our 1914 NL MVP—was third (5.9), and another three-time MVP, Boston center fielder Tris Speaker, was fourth (5.5). That’s a loaded field.
Boston won the AL pennant by 2.5 games over Cleveland and 4 games over Washington, which gives Speaker a little boost, although he had offensive help from Babe Ruth (4.7 WAR). But in truth, Sisler, Cobb, and Burns all played on teams that finished under .500 for the year.
How valuable could those players have been, really, despite their standout seasons? Philly finished 24 games out; Detroit was 20 games behind Boston; and St. Louis managed to end up a mere 15 games out of first place.
Meanwhile, Speaker led the AL in doubles (33), while hitting .318 and managing to add 0.7 dWAR on top of his hitting achievements. Ruth, strangely enough, led the junior circuit in home runs (11), slugging percentage (.555), and OPS (.966), despite playing in just 95 games offensively—Speaker played in 127 games.
We can’t throw in Ruth’s 2.3 WAR earned on the mound in 19 starts, because he basically was a part-time hitter and a part-time pitcher during the 1918 season for the Red Sox. For the record, the only category Sisler led the AL in was stolen bases (45), while Cobb led the league in triples (14), batting average (.382), and on-base percentage (.440).
Overall, Cobb probably had the “best” season, and we’d call Ruth the true MVP of the Red Sox, although we can’t give him either the AL MVP or the AL Cy Young for 1918. That makes Speaker a weak MVP pick, but he’s also the logical one under the circumstances.
1918 National League MVP: Charlie Hollocher
In the senior circuit, St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Rogers Hornsby led the league in WAR (5.4), but his season was just an all-around average one as he hit a mere .281 and posted a downright mediocre .764 OPS. Chicago Cubs rookie shortstop Charlie Hollocher led the NL in hits and total bases, while Hornsby led the league in nothing at all (except WAR). Hollocher was second in WAR (5.0), by the way.
Cincinnati Reds third baseman Heinie Groh led the NL in runs, doubles, and on-base percentage, while finishing third in WAR (4.7). No other position player was really worth considering for this award, and Hornsby had the highest dWAR of this trio under consideration.
So whose team was the best? The Cubs won the pennant by 10.5 games, and the Reds finished above .500, too, but they were in third place, 15.5 games behind Chicago. Meanwhile, St. Louis was dead last in the NL, 33 games out of first place. That means Hornsby’s season had no team value at all.
We will go with Hollocher, someone few fans outside of Chicago have probably ever heard of in the annals of baseball history, since his team won the pennant over Groh’s team, pretty readily, although the Cubs pitching had a lot to do with it, too.
1918 AL Cy Young: Walter Johnson
This is a two-horse race between two pitchers that led their teams to near-miss finishes in the AL pennant chase, Washington Senators ace Walter Johnson and Cleveland Indians star Stan Coveleski. The Big Train led the league in pitching WAR (10.4), while Coveleski wasn’t far behind (9.9). As noted above, both teams finished behind the Red Sox, with the Cleveland club edging Washington by 1.5 games.
That’s not significant to us, at all, in this discussion. But as good as Coveleski’s season was, he didn’t lead the AL in any significant category. Meanwhile, Johnson led the league in wins (23), ERA (1.27), shutouts (8), strikeouts, and WHIP (0.954). Case closed, as Johnson wins his fifth Cy Young.
Yeah, they should have named the award after him instead.
1918 NL Cy Young: Hippo Vaughn
This is a tough one, as we have two pitchers from the Cubs atop the NL pitching WAR charts: Hippo Vaughn (7.7) and Lefty Tyler (6.9). No one else in the senior circuit was within 2.5 WAR of this duo, meaning we have to analyze them both a bit closer in comparison.
And it’s not much of a comparison as Vaughn led the NL in wins (22), ERA (1.74), starts (33), shutouts (8), innings pitched (290 1/3), strikeouts, and WHIP (1.006). Strangely, Tyler didn’t top the league in anything. That makes it easy to choose Vaughn, who becomes our first NL Cy Young winner not named Christy Mathewson or Pete Alexander.