Welcome to 2021, and may it be a better year for you than 2020. We wish that for everyone!
On MLB Monday, we have reached the midpoint of the New York Yankees’ record five-straight World Series titles. Hard to believe that a team could win five league pennants in a row, let alone five straight championships. This is how legends get made, of course.
On to the awards analysis …
1951 AL MVP: Yogi Berra (original), Ted Williams (revised)
New York won the pennant by five games over Cleveland, with only Boston and Chicago also finishing above .500 for the year. That always will reduce our candidate pool, and only three America League position players compiled more than 6.0 WAR on the year, anyway: Red Sox left fielder Ted Williams (7.1), Indians center fielder Larry Doby (6.4), and Philadelphia shortstop Eddie Joost (6.1). Thus, this comes down to Williams or Doby, really, both of them former winners of our award.
For the record, Yankees catcher Yogi Berra won the vote at the time by posting 5.3 WAR, the best on the New York roster. Like last year’s MVP vote, it’s almost as if the voters just collectively decided which Yankees player to give the award to, whether they were truly deserving or not. Berra had a fine season, but it didn’t stand out in any way: Yogi led the AL in no offensive categories, although he was ninth in MLB for dWAR (1.4)—not even the best on his own team.
Joost played for a team that finished 28 games out of first place and 14 games under .500 on the year, so his value is relatively meaningless. He also didn’t lead the league in any offensive categories: His value was fueled by an .870 OPS at his position and a 1.4 dWAR mark. Great players on bad teams get little love here.
Cleveland finished six games ahead of Boston, so the WAR gap between Williams and Doby doesn’t mean much: What about their individual seasons? The Splendid Splinter topped the AL in walks (144), on-base percentage (.464), slugging percentage (.556), OPS (1.019), and total bases (295)—not to mention intentional walks, which tells you a bit about the quality of his team around him. He also hit .318 with 30 home runs and 126 RBI, but overall, that TB total shows you it was a down year for offense in the American League.
Doby didn’t top the circuit in any categories, but his .941 OPS was very good, and he provided positive-value defense (0.4 dWAR) at a key position. He also walked 101 times, although he only hit .295 at the plate. Nothing about his season jumps out at us as being extraordinary: It was just a really good season all around, in a year where no one but Williams really stood out in the AL.
That leaves us with a common dilemma: The Red Sox finished 11 games out of first place with the best player in the league on the roster. Boston actually managed an 11-11 record against the Yankees, while Cleveland won just 7 times in 22 games against New York. Against the pennant winners, Williams posted a 1.053 OPS in 18 games. Meanwhile, Doby put up a mere .707 OPS in 20 games against the Yankees.
That’s damning in this debate: Doby’s value takes a dive, while Williams’ value gets a boost, and that makes the difference for us in 1951. We award the Boston legend his sixth MVP Award in this space.
1951 NL MVP: Roy Campanella (original), Jackie Robinson (revised)
The New York Giants won the pennant by one game over the Brooklyn Dodgers, based on the famous three-game playoff that was decided in the 9th inning of the third game. Only the St. Louis Cardinals also finished above .500 for the season, but they were 15.5 games out first place. So this should be a simple analysis, right? Yes—but not the way you might think.
The five best position players in the NL were Brooklyn second baseman Jackie Robinson (9.7 WAR), St. Louis outfielder Stan Musial (8.8), Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Ralph Kiner (8.0), New York left fielder Monte Irvin (6.9), and the vote winner, Brooklyn catcher Roy Campanella (6.9). Given the standings, it’s easy to relegate Musial and Kiner to second-tier consideration here and focus on the players from the top two teams.
And if that’s the case, there’s no doubt this award belongs to Robinson: Not only did he finish second in MLB for dWAR (a career-best 2.4), but he also hit .338 with a .957 OPS while hitting 19 HRs, stealing 25 bases, and walking 79 times. He struck out just 27 times, and while he didn’t lead the NL in any of these categories, his all-around excellence is still very apparent—except to the voters at the time who placed him sixth.
This is the third straight NL MVP Award from us for Robinson, a feat matched only by Rogers Hornsby (1920-1922). In the AL MVP archives, both Babe Ruth (1926-1928) and Lou Gehrig (1934-1936) have matched the feat. This puts Robinson in very exclusive company.
1951 AL Cy Young: Early Wynn
The top four pitchers in the league were Cleveland’s Early Wynn (5.5 WAR), St. Louis Browns workhorse Ned Garver (5.4), Boston’s Ellis Kinder (5.1), and White Sox hurler Saul Rogovin (5.0). The Browns finished dead last with a 52-102 record, while the other three teams all finished over .500—albeit trailing the Yankees by varying amounts in the standings.
With Cleveland finishing higher than Boston and Chicago, it’s easy enough to give Wynn the award for his season, which included a 20-13 record and a 3.02 ERA. He led the AL in games started (34) and innings pitched (274 1/3), while his 1.217 WHIP was pretty good overall. Wynn notched 21 complete games and 3 shutouts, to go along with one save.
1951 NL Cy Young: Sal Maglie
This is an easier one, as the top three pitchers—by far—were Philadelphia’s Robin Roberts (8.0 WAR), Boston’s Warren Spahn (7.7), and New York’s Sal Maglie (6.6). The Phillies won just 73 games, while the Braves totaled 76 victories on the year. The Giants won the pennant, as you know. Roberts won this award last year, while Spahn won it back in 1947.
Maglie wins this season’s prize based on his NL-best marks in wins (23) and fewest hits allowed per nine innings (7.7). His 2.93 ERA in 298 innings carried a lot of weight for a pennant winner, and his 1.141 WHIP was very good, too, for that much of a workload. Maglie also saved four games for the Giants.
1951 AL ROTY: Gil McDougald (original), Minnie Minoso (revised)
Again, it’s like the voters just picked a Yankee to win this award, and while N.Y. infielder Gil McDougald did have a good season (4.6 WAR), he only played in 131 games for the pennant winners. Meanwhile, White Sox utility man Minnie Minoso played in 146 games and posted a higher WAR mark (5.4).
On a dominant team full of stars, McDougald was a good player who hit .306 with 14 HRs and 14 SBs, while offering a positive glove (0.5 dWAR) at the same time. But the Yankees would have won the pennant without him. Meanwhile, Minoso led the AL in triples (14), stolen bases (31), and HBP (16)—the first of ten times he would do so in that last category! He hit .326 overall, and his OPS was almost 40 points higher.
Yes, the White Sox only won 81 games, but the club would have been under .500 without Minoso’s contributions. There is more straight-up value for Minoso here, and there is more weighted value, too.
1951 NL ROTY: Willie Mays (original, confirmed)
This is easy, as New York Giants center fielder Willie Mays topped NL rookies with 3.9 WAR, and he played for the pennant winners. The next-best rookie—Boston pitcher Chet Nichols—put together just 2.5 WAR. For the record, Mays hit .274 with 20 HRs and 68 RBI in just 121 games, while providing above-average defense (0.7 dWAR) in center for the Giants. His .828 OPS was solid, and he struck out just three more times (60) than he walked (57). The season was not great, but it was the best by a first-year player in the league.