On MLB Monday, we have reached a new decade, one that would see the integration of MLB once again and the introduction of the Rookie of the Year awards for both the American and National leagues.
But for now, it’s just the 1940 season below—and a special one where we had repeat winners in every award category. Enjoy!
1940 American League MVP: Hank Greenberg (original), Joe DiMaggio (revised)
Five teams finished within 8 games of each other in an exciting pennant race that saw the Detroit Tigers emerge victorious with the flag by one game over Cleveland and two games over New York. Both Boston and Chicago finished 6 games behind the Yankees, for the record.
The top-four position players were New York center fielder Joe DiMaggio (7.3 WAR), Tigers first baseman Hank Greenberg (6.8), Boston left fielder Ted Williams (6.5), and Yankees second baseman Joe Cronin (6.1).
DiMaggio outpaces Cronin, in terms of a New York MVP candidate, and Greenberg gets the edge on Williams since the Red Sox finished 8 games behind the Tigers. So, this comes down to Joltin’ Joe—our MVP pick in 1937 and 1939—and Greenberg, who we stripped of the award in 1935.
Look at the two seasons next to each other:
- DiMaggio: 31 home runs, 133 RBI, .358 batting average, 1.051 OPS
- Greenberg: 41 HRs, 150 RBI, .340 average, 1.103 OPS
Seems like Hammerin’ Hank has the edge, but then again, DiMaggio was slightly above average on defense (0.3 dWAR), while Greenberg was a negative defender (-0.8 dWAR). The positions they play matter in this sense, too, of course.
We see why the voters chose Greenberg to win the award, but we see DiMaggio as having more value here overall, sabermetrically, and the two-game difference in the standings would have been wider if Joe wasn’t playing so well.
1940 National League MVP: Frank McCormick (original), Lonny Frey (revised)
Cincinnati ran away with the pennant by 12 games over the Brooklyn Dodgers. Voters gave the MVP nod to Reds first baseman Frank McCormick. He led the NL in hits (191), doubles (44), and double plays grounded in to (23)—while hitting .309 and driving in 127 runs.
With 5.4 WAR, however, McCormick was the second-most valuable position player on his own team, trailing our 1939 MVP pick Lonny Frey (6.8). So he is not going to be our MVP choice, clearly.
St. Louis first baseman Johnny Mize topped all MLB position players in WAR (7.7), but the Cardinals finished 16 games behind the Reds. Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Arky Vaughan—our MVP pick in 1935 and 1938—was second in the NL here (6.9), but the Pirates came in 6.5 games behind St. Louis in the standings.
This leaves us with Frey again, in truth: His offensive output was much less than it was in 1939, although he did lead the league in steals (22). But with just a .732 OPS, a lot of his value came on defense. Frey led all MLB position players with 3.3 dWAR, proving his worth at second base in the field.
The Reds’ edge in the standings is overwhelming, and overall WAR is what it is, regardless of offensive output. Mize’s bat was impressive—he led the NL in HRs (43), RBI (137), and OPS (1.039)—but he was also a negative defender (-1.0 dWAR) for a team that finished way out of first place.
All in all, we go with Frey again—probably the most unlikely of the multiple MVP winners in our analyses so far. Most readers probably never even have heard of him!
1940 AL Cy Young: Bob Feller
At 9.9 WAR, Cleveland ace Bob Feller topped all MLB pitchers by 2.5 wins. His team finished one game behind the Tigers, so the award is easily his to claim here. This was the only year of his illustrious career that Rapid Robert won the pitching Triple Crown, in fact.
His stats: 27 victories, 2.61 ERA, 31 complete games, 4 shutouts, 320 1/3 innings pitched, 261 strikeouts, and 1.133 WHIP. All those marks led the AL, and Feller also notched four saves to boot.
1940 NL Cy Young: Bucky Walters
Chicago’s Claude Passeau topped the NL in pitching WAR (6.9), but Reds star Bucky Walters was not far behind (6.5). With Cincy’s dominant NL pennant capture, it makes it easy to award this prize to Walters again.
His stats weren’t as good as his Triple Crown season in 1939, but here they are, all league-leading numbers still: 22 wins, 2.48 ERA, 39 CGs, 305 IP, and 1.092 WHIP.
For the record, Passeau won 20 games with a 2.53 ERA for the Cubs. However, Walters’ season was better for the better team, as well.