The 11th edition of MLB Mondays finds us in the first season that there was a Subway Series, so to speak, as the New York Giants faced off against the New York Yankees in the World Series—kicking off a decade of dominance for the City that Never Sleeps.
Our four awards today were relatively easy to assign; read on, and you will see why …
1921 American League MVP: Babe Ruth
For the third season in a row, New York Yankees outfielder Babe Ruth walks away with the MVP award in the junior circuit, as he posted 12.8 WAR in what was arguably his best season ever: Ruth led the AL in runs (177), home runs (59), RBI (168), walks (145), on-base percentage (.512), slugging percentage (.846), OPS (1.359), and total bases (457), while hitting a mere .378 to boot.
The next-best players in the league, Detroit Tigers outfielders Ty Cobb and Harry Heilmann, both posted 6.8 WAR marks. Somehow, though, the Tigers still finished in sixth place, 27 games out of first. Ouch!
1921 National League MVP: Rogers Hornsby
The St. Louis Cardinals finished seven games behind the Giants, and that’s good enough for their second baseman, Rogers Hornsby, to grab his third MVP award (along with 1917 and 1920). With 10.8 WAR, he finished 3.4 WAR ahead of New York shortstop Dave Bancroft (7.4) and even more ahead of N.Y. third baseman Frankie Frisch (6.8).
Hornsby led the NL in everything, it seems, except HRs and steals: 131 runs, 235 hits, 44 doubles, 18 triples, 126 RBI, .397 batting average, .458 OBP, .639 SLG, 1.097 OPS, and 378 TB. He also spent time at every other infield position and left field as well, compiling 1.3 dWAR in the process. That’s pretty incredible.
1921 AL Cy Young: Red Faber
The Chicago White Sox, decimated by the lifetime suspensions of half their stars, struggling to a 62-92 finish. But starting pitcher Red Faber outdid all other AL pitchers by 3.6 WAR in 1921. Faber, at 11.4 WAR, led the league in ERA (2.48), complete games (32), and WHIP (1.149). The next-best pitcher, Urban Shocker of the St. Louis Browns, compiled his 7.8 WAR by winning an AL-best 27 games.
But the Browns finished 17.5 games out of first place, albeit 19 games ahead of the White Sox. Neither pitcher was really a factor in the pennant race, and the best pitcher to toss the ball for a contending team—last year’s winner, Stan Coveleski—finished 4.1 WAR behind Faber. That’s too much of a quality gap to overlook, so Faber gets the nod.
1921 NL Cy Young: Burleigh Grimes
Similar to the AL award, we have a player that led his league by a mile in WAR while pitching for an also-ran contender: Brooklyn Robins star Burleigh Grimes compiled 7.8 WAR, which was 2.7 WAR better than both Pittsburgh’s Whitey Glazner and Cincinnati’s Eppa Rixley.
The Robins did finish 77-75, but they were 16.5 games out of first place. Meanwhile, the Pirates trailed the Giants by just four games at the end—with the Reds trailing the Robins by 7.5 games. Grimes topped the NL in wins, complete games, and strikeouts, while Glazner led the league in winning percentage and fewest hits allowed per nine innings.
Ol’ Stubblebeard also threw 68 1/3 more frames for Brooklyn than the Pittsburgh ace did for the Pirates, so that makes his contributions to a winning team more meaningful than Glazner’s efforts for a contending team, really, when you consider the huge gap in WAR.