Yay! MLB Monday can have a legal drink now as we reach its 21st edition. The best thing about 1931 is that, once again, we have voted MVP awards from the season to analyze, and never again in the historical record is there a gap in this area.
That’s super, as it feels like we’ve matured into the modern era a bit. So who won what? Read on!
1931 American League MVP: Lefty Grove (original), Al Simmons (revised)
The Philadelphia Athletics (107-45) won their third straight pennant, this time by 13.5 games over the New York Yankees and 16 games over the Washington Senators. The only other team to finish over .500 was Cleveland (78-76). A’s ace Lefty Grove won the MVP Award, but he’s not eligible for our MVP since we laid out our guidelines way back when.
The four best position players all came from “contending” teams, if we allow the Yankees and the Senators to be considered in that group: Yankees right fielder Babe Ruth (10.5 WAR), New York first baseman Lou Gehrig (8.8), A’s left fielder Al Simmons (7.5), and Senators shortstop Joe Cronin (6.9).
If this comes down to Ruth and Simmons, the 3-WAR gap is significant, and the Yankees weren’t that far behind the A’s. Yet Ruth also had Gehrig to support, while Simmons had Grove (10.4 WAR; see below). That’s a wash on the surface.
Simmons won the batting title, hitting .390, while Ruth did his usual thing, leading the AL in home runs (46), walks (128), on-base percentage (.495), slugging percentage (.700), and OPS (1.195). It helped a lot to have Gehrig hitting behind him, though, and Simmons’ support came from a pitcher—not a guy in the lineup behind him.
We could give Ruth his ninth MVP, but we’re going to give Simmons his third instead—simply because in addition to the .390 average, he also posted a 1.085 OPS as the undisputed leader of the offense on a dominant, pennant-winning team. Ruth was worthy, of course, as always, but even with the significant WAR edge, the needed value Simmons provided a pennant winner was important.
1931 National League MVP: Frankie Frisch (original), Bill Terry (revised)
The St. Louis Cardinals, paced by second baseman Frankie Frisch (our 1923 NL MVP pick), won the pennant by 13 games over the New York Giants, 17 games over the Chicago Cubs, and 21 games over the Brooklyn Robins. No other team finished over .500 on the year.
Frisch’s 4.2 WAR mark didn’t crack the Top 3 for the league, as Giants first baseman Bill Terry (6.5), Boston Braves centerfielder Wally Berger (6.0), and N.Y. centerfielder Mel Ott (6.0) all posted much better value to their teams in 1931. Berger is out, since the Braves ended up 37 games behind the pennant winners.
What did Frisch do to warrant the award vote? He did post 1.4 dWAR, which was sixth best in the NL. On offense, though, his .764 OPS was mediocre, really, rating out to just 101 OPS+ … meaning his bat was barely above average. That’s not an MVP season. In fact, Cards centerfielder Chick Hafey led the team’s position players in WAR (4.5).
Since Frisch may not have been the MVP of his own team, we can’t go there. So, is it Terry (our 1930 pick for NL MVP) or Ott to get the nod? Both were positive defenders, so it comes down to offense. Let’s compare:
- Ott: .292 average, led NL in walks (80) with .937 OPS
- Terry: .349 average, led NL in runs (121) and triples (20) with .926 OPS
It’s clear that Terry deserves a second-straight MVP Award here.
1931 AL Cy Young: Lefty Grove
This is a no brainer, as Grove topped all MLB pitchers in WAR by 4.2 wins. He earned his second-consecutive Triple Crown, as he topped the AL in wins (31), ERA (2.06), complete games (27), shutouts (4), strikeouts (175), and WHIP (1.077). For the record, this is Grove’s fifth Cy in six seasons. It also was the final season of seven straight that he led the AL in Ks. He would never do it again in his career, incidentally.
1931 NL Cy Young: Bill Walker
The best four pitchers in the league were Philadelphia Phillies workhorse Ray Benge (6.2 WAR), Brooklyn star Watty Clark (5.8), Braves grinder Ed Brandt (5.5), and Giants ace Bill Walker (5.4). How many readers have heard of all four guys? Thought so.
Benge and Brandt played for bad teams, so we can’t really consider them. We will note that Brandt posted an 18-11 record for a team that went 64-90, and that is pretty good. But he didn’t lead the league in any statistical categories. The Phillies finished just two games better than the Braves, and Benge also led the NL in nothing.
Clark gave up just 4 HRs on the year to lead the league in fewest HRs allowed per 9 innings pitched (0.2), while Walker topped the circuit in ERA (2.26) and shutouts (6). New York finished 8 games ahead of Brooklyn, and we think that also is enough to clinch this award for Walker.