It’s the last MLB Monday of August 2020, and we continue to move forward in the 1930s. A lot of Triple Crowns to look at this season, too, which makes our analyses all the more fun, right?
1934 American League MVP: Mickey Cochrane (original), Lou Gehrig (revised)
Sadly, we stripped catcher Mickey Cochrane of the 1928 AL MVP when he was with the Philadelphia Athletics, and we do it this season, too, as he won the MVP vote at the time for helping the Detroit Tigers to 101 victories and the pennant. His .840 OPS did not help him to a high-enough WAR mark.
In fact, Cochrane only had the sixth-best WAR total (4.5) on his team in 1934, making this one of the worst MVP selections ever. The top five WAR marks in the league actually included two of his teammates (see below).
The Yankees finished 7 games behind the Tigers, and N.Y. first baseman Lou Gehrig topped all MLB position players with 10.2 WAR in the process. Tigers second baseman Charlie Gehringer was next at 8.9 WAR, followed by two-time defending MVP Jimmie Foxx (8.6), the A’s first baseman. But Philadelphia dropped to a 68-win season after one of those roster fire sales.
The only other player on a contending team in WAR range was Detroit first baseman Hank Greenberg (6.3), but he’s not really an option here since he’s so far behind Gehringer on his own team. This makes this a debate between Gehrig and Gehringer, in essence.
The clincher here is that the Iron Horse won the Triple Crown while playing in every game (obviously), while Gehringer led the AL in runs (135) and hits (214) while hitting .356 with a .967 OPS. That is a very good season, of course, but it’s hard to ignore Gehrig’s accomplishments on a team that finished second by single-digit games.
For the record, the Yankees legend topped the league in home runs (49), RBI (166), batting (.363), on-base percentage (.465), slugging percentage (.706), OPS (1.172), and total bases (409). He finished fifth in the MVP voting at the time … which is laughable. Gehringer did finish second, however.
1934 National League MVP: Dizzy Dean (original), Mel Ott (revised)
Five position players posted at least 6.0 WAR during the regular season, as we won’t give the MVP to a pitcher. The St. Louis Cardinals (95-58) won the pennant, and the New York Giants finished 2 games behind. The Chicago Cubs also contended, finishing with 86 wins. Only the Boston Braves additionally finished with a winning record.
Our MVP contenders, therefore, are Giants outfielder Mel Ott (7.4 WAR), Cardinals first baseman Ripper Collins (6.3 WAR), and N.Y. first baseman Bill Terry (6.1 WAR). We should eliminate Terry right away, as while he hit .354 on the season, he did not lead the league in a single category.
Collins topped the NL in HRs (35), SLG (.615), OPS (1.008), and TB (369) while hitting .333 overall. That’s a great season, for sure, and we love the idea of giving the MVP to a guy named Ripper. It’s perfect!
However, Ott did lead the senior circuit in a few categories on his own: HRs (35) and RBI (135). He hit .326 to trail Collins there, so on the surface, it does appear that Ripper had the better season while playing for a better team. Ott’s WAR ends up higher, due to lesser teammates around him, which can be used as an argument for better value, obviously.
Ott finished fifth in the voting at the time, while Collins finished sixth. What is odd to us is that two other Giants finished ahead of Ott at the time, telling us something about contemporary perceptions: We think the voters took Ott’s greatness for granted at this point, even though he was only 25 years old.
Where does this leave us? We’re stumped. But in the end, we will stick with the sabermetrics: Ott had higher value for a team that finished just 2 games behind Collins’ team, even though Collins had the better surface stats.
1934 AL Cy Young: Lefty Gomez
Yes, another “Lefty” wins this award for the AL, but shockingly it’s not Lefty Grove this time after six straight Cy awards for the A’s ace: It’s Yankees star Lefty Gomez, who won the Triple Crown (26 wins, 2.33 ERA, 158 Ks) while also leading the league in pitching WAR (8.4), complete games (25), shutouts (6), innings pitched (281 2/3), and WHIP (1.133).
That’s as good as it gets. Cleveland ace Mel Harder finished with 8.0 WAR for a team that ended up 16 games out of first place, so this was an easy choice.
1934 NL Cy Young: Dizzy Dean
The Cardinals ace Dizzy Dean won the MVP Award, and he did top the NL in pitching WAR (8.9), although the margin of superiority wasn’t much over Philadelphia Phillies rookie Curt Davis (8.6). However, Davis pitched for a 56-win team, so his 19 victories in 274 1/3 innings have that artificially inflated value, as he led the league in no categories.
The only other real contender here is Giants ace Carl Hubbell (7.3 WAR), who won this award last year from us. So our debate again comes down to a New Yorker and a Missourian.
Dean led the NL in wins (30), shutouts (7), and strikeouts (195) with a 2.66 ERA in 311 2/3 innings, while Hubbell topped his peers in ERA (2.30), complete games (25), saves (8), and WHIP (1.032) in 313 innings. It’s a pretty close comparison.
Hubbell’s interesting accomplishment of leading the NL in both complete games and saves is intriguing, but the margin between the two pitchers in WAR is roughly the same as the gap between their teams. Hubbell may have had slightly better value, but that margin is really minimal.
Dean’s K total is what stands out, as Hubbell had just 118 strikeouts on the season. That means Dean had a lot more direct impact on team success than Hubbell did, as three of the top nine MLB position players in dWAR played behind the Giants ace: second baseman Hughie Critz (2.7 dWAR); shortstop Travis Jackson (2.1 dWAR); and third baseman Blondy Ryan (1.3 dWAR).
No Cardinals defensive players were in the Top 10 defensively, so we give the nod to Dean for his overall prowess and that ability to control the batters on his own without as much help from his defense.