We have arrived in 1928 on MLB Mondays, and this means just about the same thing as it did in last week’s edition of our special series: the New York Yankees are in the discussion, of course. Who will win the big awards this time?
For what it’s worth, prior to this season, 1915 was the only other year when we had four repeat winners. As always, what you seek awaits you below …
1928 American League MVP: Mickey Cochrane (original), Babe Ruth (revised)
Now remember that players weren’t able to win these old-time MVP awards twice, so the Philadelphia Athletics catcher Mickey Cochrane won the AL MVP Award for 1928 with just 3.3 WAR. That was not even close to the top of the list for the season overall.
The A’s (98-55) did finish just 2.5 games behind the Yankees (101-53) for the pennant, which was really impressive. The St. Louis Browns (82-72) were the only other AL team to finish above .500, because the Yanks and the A’s were so good.
Five AL players finished in the MLB Top 10 for WAR, including three from these contending teams: New York right fielder Babe Ruth (10.2), New York first baseman Lou Gehrig (9.4), and St. Louis left fielder Heinie Manush (7.3). No other player really deserves consideration here.
Manush’s season wasn’t historic enough to overcome the WAR gap with the two Yankees legends, though: The Browns star did lead the league in hits (241) and doubles (47) while hitting .378 overall, but the Bronx Bombers duo outdid that effort readily while finishing 19 games ahead in the standings as well.
Let’s do a side-by-side comparison for Ruth and Gehrig:
- Ruth: Led league in runs (163), home runs (54), walks (137), slugging percentage (.709), OPS (1.172), and total bases (380).
- Gehrig: Led league in doubles (47), RBI (147), and on-base percentage (.467).
Both were positive defenders (Ruth, 0.3 dWAR; Gehrig, 0.4 dWAR). So that isn’t going to lift Gehrig above the Babe here. Once again, it’s undeniable that George Herman was the best and most valuable player in the AL.
This is his third MVP in a row—tying Rogers Hornsby for our record—and his eighth MVP overall, which is unreal. That’s how good Ruth was in comparison to his peers, and a lot of his peers were studs, too, clearly.
1928 National League MVP: Jim Bottomley (original), Paul Waner (revised)
The St. Louis Cardinals survived a close NL pennant race, beating the New York Giants by two games and the Chicago Cubs by four games. Overall, though, six of the eight teams in the league finished over .500 as the Boston Braves (50-103) and the Philadelphia Phillies (43-109) were terrible.
The top NL players in WAR included Braves second baseman Hornsby (9.0), Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Paul Waner (6.7), Giants third baseman Freddie Lindstrom (5.9), Cardinals first baseman Jim Bottomley (5.5), and New York shortstop Travis Jackson (5.4).
Obviously, Hornsby was the best player in his one season in Boston, leading the NL in walks (107), batting average (.387), OBP (.498), SLG (.632), and OPS (1.130). But the Braves finished 44.5 games out of first place. Again, how much value is there?
As for Waner, the Pirates finished nine games out of first, and he led the league in runs (142) and doubles (50) while hitting .370 overall. One can argue firmly Waner had more value on a team that finished 85-67 than Hornsby did on a team that finished 50-103.
Bottomley won the MVP vote for leading the NL in triples (20), HRs (31), RBI (136), and total bases (362). Was Bottomley more valuable than Waner? Probably, at least at the plate, as leading the league in triples, HRs, and total bases is impressive on a pennant-winning squad.
Lindstrom hit .358 for the Giants, topping the circuit in hits (241), while Jackson’s main contribution came on defense with an MLB-best 3.5 dWAR. Neither of these players really had a dominant-enough season, and Jackson hit just .270 at the plate.
So this comes down to Waner and Bottomley, with the caveat that Hornsby’s season occurred in a vacuum and wasn’t historic enough to overlook his team’s suckitude. One thing we do not like about the Cardinals first baseman is the negative defensive value (-1.0 dWAR), while Waner was on the positive side of the glove ledger (0.4 dWAR).
In the end, it’s important an MVP not detract from his team’s success with the glove, and that’s why we’re going to give this award, in a tough decision, to Waner—his second overall in our process.
1928 AL Cy Young: Lefty Grove
So, which pitchers on the Yankees, the A’s, or the Browns were the best ones? It’s a short list here: Philadelphia’s Lefty Grove (7.1 WAR) and New York’s Herb Pennock (5.9 WAR)—both former winners of this award (Grove in 1926 and Pennock in 1924).
Here’s the head-to-head comparison:
- Grove: AL-best marks in wins (24) and strikeouts (183), with a 2.58 ERA.
- Pennock: AL-best marks in shutouts (5) and HRs allowed (2), with a 2.56 ERA.
Pennock posted a 17-6 record in 211 innings, while Grove logged 261 2/3 innings. Each man added three saves for his team as well, but the A’s ace also posted the lower WHIP (1.116 to 1.209). All this adds up to a second Cy for Lefty.
1928 NL Cy Young: Dazzy Vance
The Brooklyn Robins finished 77-76, in sixth place, so will that be good enough for Dazzy Vance (10.1 WAR) to collect his second Cy Young? He finished as the best in the league for ERA (2.09), shutouts (4), strikeouts (200), WHIP (1.063), and fewest hits allowed per 9 innings pitched (7.3). But his team finished 17.5 games out of first.
But no one else in the NL on a contending team came within 3.0 WAR of Vance: Giants ace Larry Benton (7.0) topped his peers in wins (25) and complete games (28), while Pittsburgh’s Burleigh Grimes (5.8) was the next-best pitcher in the league.
Grimes’ team finished 9 games out, so it comes down to Vance or Benton. The quality of Vance’s 280 1/3 innings are obviously much higher than Benton’s 310 1/3 innings, but Benton’s team finished 15.5 games higher in the standings.
We did not have any MVP candidates from the Robins, while the Giants had two top-5 WAR producers in the positional ranks. Clearly, Benton was playing on a better team than Vance, and Vance did a lot of heavy lifting to get his team above .500 on the year.
But is it value? This is a tough dilemma: That 3.1-WAR gap is huge, but Vance’s team didn’t really contend. Benton’s WAR is higher than some prior Cy winners in our analyses, and he logged a lot of innings for a team that almost won the pennant.
The issue is that Benton just wasn’t dominant enough to overcome Vance’s overall brilliance of leading the NL in ERA, strikeouts, and WHIP. Benton’s ERA (2.73) was more than a half run higher than Vance’s, and his win total was clearly inflated by the quality of his teammates around him. His IP total also has a lot to do with the WAR mark, as we have seen that kind of artificial inflation before now, too.
This is tough, but we’re going to go with Vance because he was head and shoulders above the rest, and his value lies not so much in a pennant-contending team but in his ability to single-handedly keep Brooklyn above .500 for the season. With a lack of viable candidates from pennant-contending teams, Vance gets the nod.