This is the year for MLB Monday where the Cy Young Award was finally initiated for MLB pitchers. At first, there was just one award for both leagues (through 1966), so that will be reflected below in “confirmed/revised” statuses indicated. But it’s exciting to know that the sport finally decided to give pitchers their due, and it adds an element of analysis to potential revisions we do here. Woo-hoo!
On with the show …
1956 AL MVP: Mickey Mantle (original, confirmed)
Want to know how dominant New York Yankees center fielder Mickey Mantle was in winning the AL MVP vote? He posted 11.2 WAR, and the second-best player in the league—Detroit Tigers right fielder Al Kaline—put up just 6.6 WAR. The Yankees won the pennant by 9 games over Cleveland, while Detroit finished 15 games out of first place.
The Mick’s numbers: He won the Triple Crown (.353 average, 52 home runs, 130 RBI), in addition to topping the AL in runs (132), slugging percentage (.705), OPS (1.169), and total bases (376). He also walked 112 times and stole 10 bases for good measure. His glove added 0.5 dWAR to the season’s brilliance as well. This is his second straight MVP nod from us, and we suspect there may be more to come.
1956 NL MVP: Don Newcombe (original), Duke Snider (revised)
This is crazy stuff: The top four position players in the league were Brooklyn Dodgers center fielder Duke Snider (7.6 WAR), New York Giants center fielder Willie Mays (7.6), Milwaukee Braves right fielder Hank Aaron (7.2), and Cincinnati Reds left fielder Frank Robinson (6.6). That’s the most amazing group right there, all playing at the same time—not to mention the three CFs playing in New York City at the same time. Unreal!
But with Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe winning the NL MVP vote at the time, we have to revise that, of course (see below). With Brooklyn winning the pennant by one game over Milwaukee, however, we can see the situation shaping up nicely for Snider. New York had a losing season, while Cincinnati finished two games out. This could mean a close debate between Snider, Aaron, and Robinson, therefore.
- Snider: NL-best marks in HR (43), walks (99), on-base percentage (.399), SLG (.598), OPS (.997), and intentional walks (26)
- Aaron: NL-best totals in hits (200), doubles (34), average (.328), and TB (340)
- Robinson: NL-best numbers in runs (122) and times hit by a pitch (20)
Snider has the WAR edge, but he also played on a team with the voted MVP at the time. Yet that IBB total shows us he was avoided as much as possible and didn’t have a quality bat behind him in the lineup, and Robinson actually was the only one with a negative glove (-0.2 dWAR). That reduces this to Snider and Aaron, and Snider does have a defensive edge playing the tougher position with a higher dWAR mark (1.0 to 0.7).
A quick look at the two teams’ rosters shows us this: The Braves had six players to post at least 4.0 WAR on the season, while the Dodgers only had five such players. That is arbitrary, of course, so let’s look at the top 12 players on each team. Brooklyn’s dozen best produced 45.2 WAR, while Milwaukee countered with 45.1 WAR.
These were two evenly matched teams, as the standings suggest, so we have to give the edge to Snider for his edge in WAR—which may have been the difference in deciding the NL pennant overall. But this was really close, obviously, and we would never argue against Aaron if someone else thought he deserved it, too. For the record, this is Snider’s third MVP nod from us, in addition to 1953 and last year.
1956 AL Cy Young: Herb Score
The top three pitchers in the junior circuit were Cleveland’s Early Wynn (7.8 WAR), his teammate Herb Score (7.3), and Detroit’s Frank Lary (6.3). New York’s Whitey Ford was a distant fourth (5.2), tied with Cleveland’s Bob Lemon (5.2). That’s a lot of pitching for the Indians, who finished in second place, 9 games out. It’s easy to note that all three Cleveland pitchers were equal to or better than the Yankees’ best guy on the mound.
In a situation like this, we tend to lean toward to traditional statistics: Who was the best, since the value is all muddled?
- Wynn: 20-9 record with a 2.72 ERA and a 1.167 WHIP in 277 2/3 innings
- Score: 20-9 with a 2.53 ERA and a 1.167 WHIP in 249 1/3 innings while leading the AL in shutouts (5), strikeouts (263), and fewest hits allowed per 9 innings pitched (5.8)
Score was our AL ROTY last year, and Wynn won our AL Cy nods in 1951 and 1954. For this award, though, we like Score’s combination of dominance and quality innings here for value, although Wynn may have had the better season based on volume (since he didn’t lead the AL in any category).
1956 NL Cy Young: Don Newcombe (original), Warren Spahn (revised)
Here is the deal: No way Newcombe should have either the NL MVP or the MLB Cy Young awards in 1956. The top four pitchers in the league were New York’s Johnny Antonelli (6.4 WAR), Pittsburgh Pirates grinder Bob Friend (5.6), Milwaukee legend Warren Spahn (5.5), and Brooklyn trade acquisition Sal Maglie (5.0). Newcombe finished with pitching 4.5 WAR for the season (adding 0.8 WAR with his bat, as well).
We know the Giants had a bad season (67-87, 26 games out of first place), and the Pirates finished one game worse than New York. Antonelli won the NL Cy from us in 1954, but not this year. This leaves us with Spahn and Maglie (our 1951 NL Cy winner), who pitched 5 innings for Cleveland before being dealt and throwing 191 innings for Brooklyn. Since Spahn tossed 281 1/3 innings for the Braves, it’s easy to assign more value in reality and in sabermetric terms to the Milwaukee star.
Spahn’s numbers in earning his second Cy Young from us (the first one back in 1947): 20-11, 2.78 ERA, and a 1.070 WHIP. He was 35 years old during the year, but this was the first of six-straight 20-win seasons for him nonetheless. Think about that for a moment.
Newcombe may have kept his 1949 NL ROTY Award in our eyes, but this was a huge error by the voters.
1956 AL ROTY: Luis Aparicio (original), Rocky Colavito (revised)
The White Sox finished a surprising third in the standings, and rookie shortstop Luis Aparicio got a lot of the credit, despite posting just 1.5 WAR. He led the AL in steals (21) and sacrifice hits (14), but he hit just .266 with a .653 OPS—although his 1.2 dWAR was very important, of course.
Meanwhile, Cleveland rookie right fielder Rocky Colavito (2.4 WAR) was actually the best first-year player, as he hit 21 HRs with a .903 OPS in just 101 games. He also walked more (49) than he struck out (46). If Colavito had played the full season, perhaps the Indians would have pushed the Yankees a bit more for the pennant. That is more meaningful value than Aparicio brought to the third-place White Sox in 152 games.
1956 NL ROTY: Frank Robinson (original, confirmed)
This is a no-brainer decision as Robinson was an MVP candidate in his first MLB season. Overall, he hit .290 with 38 HRs and a .936 OPS to post 6.6 WAR as a rookie. He won this vote unanimously, and that makes complete sense—which makes us wonder how the NL voters could have whiffed so hard on Newcombe. This also is the first NL ROTY vote winner we have confirmed since 1952.