The next phase of our MLB Monday analyses has begun, as we take on Rookie of the Year awards this week in addition to MVPs and Cy Youngs. Only one ROTY Award was given in 1947 and 1948 before both the American and National leagues started giving out separate awards in 1949.
Enjoy the new feature as this season also represents another significant paradigm shift in MLB …
1947 AL MVP: Joe DiMaggio (original), Ted Williams (revised)
Boston Red Sox left fielder Ted Williams (9.5 WAR) won the Triple Crown again, although he did it for a third-place team that finished 14 games out of first place. However, no one else in the AL came within 2.3 WAR of Williams, and no position player from the two teams above Boston in the standings came within 5.4 WAR of Williams, either.
Case closed, as the MVP vote winner noted above—New York Yankees centerfielder Joe DiMaggio—finished with just 4.6 WAR. Meanwhile, Williams topped the league in runs (125), home runs (32), RBI (114), walks (162), batting average (.343), on-base percentage (.499), slugging percentage (.634), OPS (1.133), total bases (335), and intentional walks (29).
This is Williams’ fourth MVP nod from us, and it keeps DiMaggio stuck on three, as well.
1947 NL MVP: Bob Elliott (original, confirmed)
We have a slew of MVP candidates here as 7 position players cracked the MLB Top 10 in WAR for the year, led by Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Ralph Kiner (8.1). However, Boston Braves third baseman Bob Elliott (6.4) won the vote. For the record, Pittsburgh finished in last place, while the Braves finished 8 games behind the Brooklyn Dodgers in the pennant race.
Playing for second-place St. Louis, Cardinals third baseman Whitey Kurowski (6.0) also had a fine season, and Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese (5.8) did, too. The fourth-place New York Giants featured first baseman Johnny Mize (7.5), who factors into this conversation a little.
This is the conundrum: Mize led the NL in runs, HRs, and RBI, while Elliott topped his peers in no categories at all. Kurowski was the best at getting hit by pitches and grounding into double plays, while Reese posted league-best marks in walks and intentional walks.
We can drop Kurowski from consideration as the GDP “lead” is bad, and he also was a negative defender (-0.3 dWAR). Mize also was a negative defender, and that hurts him in a comparison with Elliott and Reese—both of whom played on higher-finishing squads.
Confirming Elliott’s vote win is our instinct here, as he finished with a higher OPS (.927 to .841), and while Reese was a better glove man, Elliott also was a positive defender at a tough position with the more valuable all-around season overall.
1947 AL Cy Young: Hal Newhouser
Detroit Tigers ace Hal Newhouser wins this award again, almost by default, as he didn’t have the kind of stellar seasons he had in 1945 and 1946. But he did post the highest pitching WAR in the league, and his team finished in second place with no contending teams offering up a better candidate.
His numbers: 17-17, 2.87 ERA, 24 complete games, 285 innings pitched, and 176 strikeouts. His CG total topped the AL, as did his 17 losses—which clearly weren’t his fault often, thanks to a 132 ERA+ mark.
1947 NL Cy Young: Warren Spahn
Two senior-circuit pitchers had amazing seasons: Boston’s Warren Spahn and Cincinnati’s Ewell Blackwell, each posting 9.4 WAR for the year. But the Braves finished 13 games ahead of the Reds, and no other NL hurler finished with more than 6.9 WAR—making this a simple choice.
For the record, Spahn topped the league in ERA (2.33), shutouts (7), innings pitched (289 2/3), and WHIP (1.136), while Blackwell was the best in wins (22), complete games (23), and Ks (193).
1947 AL ROTY: Ferris Fain
The two best AL rookies were Philadelphia Athletics first baseman Ferris Fain (4.2 WAR) and Yankees pitcher Spec Shea (3.1). The latter finished one spot ahead of the former in the MLB-wide vote for this award at the time, probably on the basis of a 14-5 record for the pennant winners.
In reality, Shea walked the same number of batters as he struck out, and that does not scream “value” to us at all. If he’d pitched for the last-place St. Louis Browns instead, his record could have been reversed. Meanwhile, Fain played for a team with a winning record (albeit 19 games out of first), and he posted an .837 OPS with 95 walks and only 34 Ks.
1947 NL ROTY: Jackie Robinson (original), Larry Jansen (revised)
Giants pitcher Larry Jansen (5.0 WAR) and Dodgers first baseman Jackie Robinson (4.0) were the best rookies of the bunch here, and it may surprise everyone to know that Jensen had the higher value. The N.Y. rookie built his WAR upon a 21-5 record and 248 IP for a fourth-place team, while the Brooklyn phenom led the NL in both stolen bases and intentional walks.
Yet Robinson also topped the league in caught stealing, while displaying a terrible glove (-0.9 dWAR). It’s hard to overlook those serious negatives, especially when his value is less than Jansen’s value. We understand the cultural and societal significance of Robinson’s on-field performance during the 1947 season, but Jansen was the better player.
Was he more valuable, though, for a team that finished 13 games back? That’s the question. The Giants posted a .526 winning percentage, and Jansen led the NL with an .808 percentage in his decisions. That’s astronomical.
When you add in that Jansen also posted the lowest walk rate of any pitcher in the NL who qualified for the ERA title, it’s also quite impressive. New York would have been way under .500 without Jansen, while the Dodgers—they won the pennant by 5 games—arguably still would have done so without Robinson on the roster.
This may not be a popular analysis, but it’s the right one.