This is an interesting edition of MLB Mondays, as this is the final year (save 1929, which we will explain later) where MLB did not award an MVP for both the American and National leagues.
Once again, we only have an AL award to analyze, but never fear, the Cy Young still has awhile to go before MLB started giving those out … Will we keep the AL award where it was first given? We did last year, after all.
1923 American League MVP: Babe Ruth (original, confirmed)
Want a pure definition of “most valuable”? The New York Yankees won the AL pennant by 16 games, and the right fielder, Babe Ruth, posted 14.1 WAR. Think about where the Yanks would have been without him, and that’s the definition of valuable. Ruth led all MLB players by 4.8 WAR during the 1923 season, making this an easy MVP pick to confirm.
For the record, the Babe led the AL in runs (151), home runs (41), RBI (130), walks (170), on-base percentage (.545), slugging percentage (.764), OPS (1.309), and total bases (399) while hitting a mere .393 at the plate as well. That base on balls total, by the way, is still the AL record—and it took the PED cheating of Barroid Bonds to top it in 2001.
1923 National League MVP: Frankie Frisch
The New York Giants won the NL pennant by 4.5 games, while the St. Louis Cardinals finished 16 games behind them. That makes the difference in this award debate, as Giants second baseman Frankie Frisch (7.0 WAR) and Cards second sacker Rogers Hornsby (6.7) were the two best players in the league, by far.
Frisch led the NL in hits (223) and total bases (311), while producing a .348 average at the plate for pennant-winning N.Y. club. He also added 1.3 dWAR, which was more than Hornsby’s effort in the field during this particular season. The Rajah did win his fourth consecutive batting title (of six straight) with a .384 effort, but it wasn’t enough overall.
1923 AL Cy Young: George Uhle
Five junior-circuit pitchers finished with 0.3 WAR of each other atop the league: St. Louis Browns starter Urban Shocker (6.2), Yankees hurler Herb Pennock (6.1), Boston Red Sox star Howard Ehmke (6.1), Cleveland mound whiz George Uhle (6.0), and Browns sideshow Elam Vangilder (5.9).
How do we separate them all? This is an analysis of attrition, really, as Vangilder only “led” the league in walks, and Ehmke merely “led” the league in hit batsmen. They’re both out, because those are negative categories.
Uhle may have had the best season, topping the AL in wins (26), complete games (30), and innings pitched (357 2/3), but Cleveland did finish 16.5 games out of first place. Meanwhile, St. Louis posted a losing record, 24 games worse than the Yankees, making Shocker’s season kind of irrelevant, of course.
Pennock didn’t do anything special for New York, either, just leading the AL in winning percentage. Heck, with Ruth swinging the bat, all Yankees pitchers had to be was average in 1923 for the team to win, so that’s an even shallower category to top the league in during this particular season.
A closer look at the standings shows us that the Pythagorean projection for New York and Cleveland was merely 6.5 games apart, meaning Uhle’s value has more depth to it, really, than Pennock’s value. And that’s our attrition tiebreaker for 1923, really, as no one really stood out, and the guy with a lot of quantity beats everyone else out.
1923 NL Cy Young: Dolf Luque
Cincinnati Reds pitcher Dolf Luque dominated the senior circuit, leading his peers in WAR (10.7), wins (27), ERA (1.93), shutouts (6), fewest hits allowed per nine innings (7.8), and fewest HRs allowed per nine innings (0.1). The Reds finished just 4.5 games behind the Giants for the NL pennant, too.
The “next-best” pitcher in the league, Philadelphia Phillies hurler Jimmy Ring (8.1 WAR), didn’t do anything significant for the last-place club that finished with a 50-104 mark. The fact he wasn’t terrible for a terrible team has a lot to do with Ring’s high WAR mark, so it makes this an easy award to hand to Luque, a pitcher of Cuban descent who set a high standard of excellence in 1923.