The New York Yankees dynasty building is in full swing this week on MLB Mondays: The Bronx Bombers won their third World Series in a row in 1938, becoming the first team to do so. Several teams prior had won back-to-back titles, but this was the beginning of the Yankees’ true historicity.
On that note, here is our analysis for the season’s awards …
1938 American League MVP: Jimmie Foxx (original, confirmed)
The Yankees won the pennant by “just” 9.5 games over the Boston Red Sox, but the best N.Y. position player was center fielder Joe DiMaggio (5.8 WAR), which was only the fourth-best mark in the league.
Boston first baseman Jimmie Foxx—our 1932 and 1933 AL MVP pick when he was with the Philadelphia Athletics—was the top player in the league at 7.6 WAR, following by Detroit Tigers first baseman Hank Greenberg (6.7) and Red Sox shortstop Joe Cronin (6.1).
The Tigers finished 16 games behind the Yankees, in fourth place, and while Greenberg topped the league in home runs (58), runs (143), and walks (119), the Red Sox star was able to top that: Foxx led the AL in RBI (175), batting average (.349), walks (119), on-base percentage (.462), slugging percentage (.704), OPS (1.166), and total bases (398).
This makes it three MVP designations for Double X, putting him in an elite class of AL players: Tris Speaker, Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Al Simmons, and Lou Gehrig are good company to keep, for sure.
1938 National League MVP: Ernie Lombardi (original), Arky Vaughan (revised)
The Chicago Cubs (89-63) won the NL pennant by two games over the Pittsburgh Pirates and five games over the New York Giants. The Cincinnati Reds finished one game behind the Giants, and Boston Braves were the only other team to finish above .500 on the year.
Pirates shortstop Arky Vaughan (our 1935 NL MVP pick) was the best position player in the majors at 9.0 WAR, while Giants third baseman Mel Ott was not far behind (8.9). Ott, of course, was our pick for the award in both 1934 and 1936.
Ott topped the league in runs (116), HRs (36), and OBP (.442), while Vaughan didn’t top the NL in any offensive categories. However, the Pirates star did post the best dWAR (2.8) in the major leagues, and he also hit .322 with an .876 OPS to balance his contributions nicely.
The vote winner? Cincinnati catcher Ernie Lombardi, who won the NL batting title (.342) while also topping the senior circuit in ground balls hit into double plays (30). He was third on his own team in WAR, as well, and second on the Reds among position players.
Vaughan posted the higher WAR for the higher-finishing team, compared to Ott, and that makes it easy to pick him for his second MVP Award by the slimmest of margins.
1938 AL Cy Young: Red Ruffing
Look at the top-five guys for pitching WAR in the junior circuit: Chicago’s Thornton Lee (5.5); New York’s Red Ruffing (5.3); Cleveland’s Mel Harder (5.2); Cleveland’s Bob Feller (5.1); and Boston’s Lefty Grove (5.1). Yes, there are some big names there.
The White Sox finished 65-83, and Thornton’s season was not stellar (13-12 record, 3.49 ERA)—he basically was a quality innings eater for a bad team. In addition, Cleveland finished 13 games behind the Yankees, which means Harder and Feller fall by the wayside to Ruffing and Grove with such comparable WAR marks.
Between Ruffing and Grove, there is one key separator as neither had a dominant season: Ruffing topped the AL in wins (21) while tossing 247 1/3 innings, and Grove led the league in ERA (3.08) in only 163 2/3 innings pitched. That’s a huge factor, and it works in Ruffing’s favor, easily.
1938 NL Cy Young: Bill Lee
This is an easy one, as Chicago Cubs starter Bill Lee topped all MLB pitchers in WAR (8.0) by a huge margin (2.5). Oh, and his team won the NL pennant, too. It’s an open-and-shut case here.
For the record, Lee topped the league in wins (22), ERA (2.66), and shutouts (9), while throwing a whopping 291 innings for the Cubs. He also recorded two saves for Chicago as well—the same margin as his team’s edge over the second-place Pirates.