We are on to a new decade of this MLB Monday series, and it’s time to enter the official modern era, really, where baseball had a commissioner and superstars that took the nation by storm. The game itself would soon explode into what we now know as America’s game, even coming off the 1919 World Series scandal.
One big reason why, of course, right? Read on …
1920 American League MVP: Babe Ruth
Just like the prior season, this is an easy analysis, as outfielder Babe Ruth—now playing for the New York Yankees—led the AL in WAR by two full wins (11.8 to 9.8) over St. Louis Browns first baseman George Sisler. Ruth pitched just four innings for the Yanks, as he led the league in runs (158), home runs (54), RBI (135), walks (150), on-base percentage (.532), slugging percentage (.847), and OPS (1.379).
This was his era, for sure, as he hit .376 and posted career highs in slugging and OPS. New York finished just three games behind the Cleveland club for the AL pennant, which the Chicago White Sox finishing one game above the Yankees.
1920 National League MVP: Rogers Hornsby
As dominant as Ruth was in the other league, St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Rogers Hornsby was even more dominant in the NL, leading all other hitters by 2.7 WAR overall (9.6 to 6.9 for shortstop Dave Bancroft, who split the season between the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Giants). Hornsby previously won this award in 1917.
Hornsby topped the league in hits (218), doubles (44), RBI (94), batting average (.370), on-base percentage (.431), slugging percentage (.559), OPS (.990), and total bases (329). For the record, Bancroft posted 4.0 dWAR, so this was even more of an obvious choice that it appears to be on the surface, despite the Cards finishing 18 games out of first place.
1920 AL Cy Young: Stan Coveleski
We have three-way battle here between Cleveland aces Jim Bagby and Stan Coveleski—in addition Yankees upstart Bob Shawkey. In order, Bagby (9.0), Coveleski (8.7), and Shawkey (8.1) finished 1-2-3 in WAR among AL pitchers, and we know the standings were close. So how can we separate the three, keeping in mind the two teammates had an edge while feeding off each other’s greatness?
Bagby led the AL in wins (31), complete games (30), and innings pitched (339 2/3), and those are huge categories to top your peers. Coveleski came out atop the league in strikeouts (133) and WHIP (1.108). Shawkey led the AL in ERA (2.45) only.
First things first, though: Bagby actually walked more hitters than he struck out, which eliminates him from any conversation of “greatness” right away, even with the highest WAR. How is this even possible? It’s a fluke, for sure, but it’s there—and it’s ugly. How can you give a Cy Young to a guy with that kind of ratio? We cannot.
Coveleski’s ERA was 2.49, and Shawkey struck out 126 batters. So they were close behind each other in category dominance. The latter’s WHIP was 1.237, which is a bit higher than the former’s league-best mark.
Coveleski also tossed almost 50 more innings than Shawkey did, so we think that gives him the edge, because clearly Bagby was riding some sort of fluky season to post his overall WAR, where Coveleski was doing it on grit. The Cleveland ace came close to winning our 1918 award, and now he tops our charts in 1920.
1920 NL Cy Young: Pete Alexander
Even if your team finishes 18 games out in the league, leading all pitchers by 4.8 WAR is enough to clinch this award for you. And that’s the case for Chicago Cubs star Pete Alexander, who wins his fifth Cy Young in our historical analysis. He led the NL in wins (27), ERA (1.91), complete games (33), innings pitched (363 1/3), and strikeouts (173). This was his last great season, at age 33, so it’s fitting he ties Walter Johnson for the most Cy awards in our book.