As MLB Monday moves toward the end of the 1950s, it gets tougher and tougher every year to sort through the options of amazing players in the analyses for the awards we are reviewing. Since we focus on value, too, a lot of great players may never win these awards since their teams had bad seasons. That’s rough, but a lot of having a great sports career does come down to luck: in health, in teammates, etc. Those are the waters …
Read on for another edition of the most fun MLB awards analysis/review on the Internet!
1958 AL MVP: Jackie Jensen (original), Mickey Mantle (revised)
This is one of those mystifying votes, as the writers picked Boston Red Sox right fielder Jackie Jensen (4.9 WAR) over a slew of better MVP candidates—including New York Yankees center fielder Mickey Mantle, who topped the league in WAR (8.7) by 2.2 wins over Detroit Tigers right fielder Al Kaline (6.5). With the Yankees winning the pennant by 10 games, and the Red Sox finishing 13 games back, this makes no sense. Jensen topped the AL in RBI (122), and that number may have just “wowed” voters.
Strangely, Boston second baseman Pete Runnels (5.5 WAR) was better than Jensen on the Red Sox roster, so it was just a misguided selection, of course. With Detroit finishing in fifth place, 22.5 games behind N.Y., it’s easy to give a fourth-consecutive MVP Award to the Mick: He led the league in runs (127), home runs (42), walks (129), and total bases (307) while hitting .304 with a 1.035 OPS. That last number was over 100 points higher than Jensen’s mark (.931), by the way.
1958 NL MVP: Ernie Banks (original), Willie Mays (revised)
The Chicago Cubs finished 72-82, a whopping 20 games out of first place, but the voters picked shortstop Ernie Banks as the MVP, anyway, as he topped the NL in HR (47) and RBI (129)—the counting stats of the day that people prized. Banks also hit .313, however, and finished with the second-best WAR (9.3) in the league. Is that good enough for the MVP Award? Well, let’s see: San Francisco Giants center fielder Willie Mays topped the NL (10.2 WAR), in the team’s first season on the Best Coast, and the Giants finished 8 games ahead of the Cubs.
Meanwhile, Milwaukee Braves right fielder Hank Aaron—the 1957 NL MVP—led his team to another pennant while posting 7.3 WAR. The Braves won the pennant by 8 games over the Pittsburgh Pirates, who finished 4 games ahead of San Francisco. This puts us in the position of recognizing Mays’ incredible season as good enough to win the MVP based on his team’s finish in the standings. The gap between Mays and Aaron is just too much to overlook with the quality of the Braves’ roster overall, as Milwaukee probably wins the pennant without Aaron, anyway.
Banks also loses out here, just because his team was so bad. We hope there will be an MVP shot for him in the future, but you never know. In the meantime, Mays’ numbers that earned him his second MVP nod from us: 121 runs, 31 steals, and a 1.002 OPS all led the NL, while he added 29 HRs, 96 RBI, and a .347 batting average, too.
1958 AL Cy Young: Bob Turley (original), Frank Lary (revised)
Yankees pitcher Bob Turley won the MLB Cy Young vote, based on 21 wins that led the league. But he also topped the AL in walks (128), and his WAR (3.6) was pedestrian. There’s no way he wins this award from us. In fact, the only pitcher in the junior circuit to post a WAR mark higher than 4.8 was Tigers mound master Frank Lary (6.7), who was the best among his peers for complete games (19) and innings pitched (260 1/3) while posting a 16-15 record and a 2.90 ERA for a .500 Detroit squad.
It’s not a great season for Lary, but it’s a “good enough” one in the sense that no other pitcher in the AL was good enough to top him in value—even though he pitched for a middling team. Sometimes, this kind of thing happens, as we have seen in the past, and we can’t justify giving the Cy Young to guys who couldn’t top 5.0 WAR in a season.
1958 NL Cy Young: Sam Jones
We have the same problem in the NL, as only two guys—both of whom pitched for losing teams—topped 4.9 WAR for the season, and they were Philadelphia Phillies legend Robin Roberts and St. Louis Cardinals workhorse Sam Jones. Both posted 6.3 WAR marks, as the Phillies finished last in the league with 69 victories, while the Cards only won 72 games. But it is what it is.
Jones had the better season, however, leading the NL in strikeouts (225), fewest hits allowed per 9 IP (7.3), and most Ks per 9 IP (8.1). Roberts, who has won this award from us 4 times previously, didn’t top the league in any categories. Jones also had the superior ERA (2.88 to 3.24). That means more value in a season where few pitchers demonstrated significant value.
1958 AL ROTY: Albie Pearson (original), Gary Bell (revised)
Washington Senators center fielder Albie Pearson won this award, somehow, despite the team’s 61-win, last-place season—and Pearson’s mediocre output. He hit .275 with a .712 OPS and a -1.9 dWAR, while getting caught stealing (8) more times than he was successful (7). He did walk 64 times, but Pearson hit just 3 HRs and drove in just 33 runs. This vote seriously just makes no sense on any level whatsoever, considering Pearson’s 0.8 WAR effort.
Meanwhile, Cleveland pitcher Gary Bell posted 2.9 WAR on the season for a team that finished above .500 overall in fourth place. His numbers: 12-10, 3.31 ERA, 182 IP, 1.176 WHIP. Not the most amazing of rookie seasons, but it was easily the best of the bunch for 1958 in the American League.
1958 NL ROTY: Orlando Cepeda (original, confirmed)
This vote was unanimous at the time, and we agree with it: Giants first baseman Orlando Cepeda (3.0 WAR) was the best rookie in the National League. Not only did he lead the senior circuit in doubles (38) and sacrifice flies (9), he also hit .312 with an .854 OPS while stroking 25 HRs and driving in 96 runs. This was the only award vote we confirmed this season, as well.