This is a very special year on MLB Monday: Not only is it the final season of the turbulent 1960s, but Major League Baseball moved to a divisional-play format in 1969, meaning we now have four division/pennant races to examine when determining value for MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year award winners. That could complicate a lot of things and overturn a lot of votes!
Woo-hoo! Let the fun begin …
1969 AL MVP: Harmon Killebrew (original), Rico Petrocelli (revised)
The Baltimore Orioles won the AL East by 19 games, while the Minnesota Twins won the AL West by 9 games—so there were no real division dramas. Twins third baseman Harmon Killebrew won the MVP vote by hitting a league-best 49 home runs and driving in an AL-high 140 runs, while posting 6.2 WAR (including -2.0 dWAR). Even if he had played with an average glove, this award probably would be his to keep.
But we have more deserving candidates: Boston Red Sox third baseman Rico Petrocelli (10.0 WAR); Oakland Athletics right fielder Reggie Jackson (9.2); A’s 3B Sal Bando (8.3); 1966 AL MVP Baltimore RF Frank Robinson (7.5); and Orioles center fielder Paul Blair (7.1). Usually, we’d cancel out teammates here, and Boston finished 22 games behind Baltimore. Oakland finished in second place behind Minnesota, incidentally.
Petrocelli’s season is an elite one with that WAR mark: His .992 OPS was stellar, as was his 2.7 dWAR—sixth best in the majors. The Red Sox would have finished well under .500 without him. Meanwhile, Jackson and Killebrew tied for the league high in strikeouts (142), so it’s hard for us to accept Reggie as an MVP candidate with that many whiffs. What about Bando? His .885 OPS wasn’t as good as Petrocelli’s mark, and his 0.6 dWAR obviously pales in comparison as well.
Even without both Robinson and Blair, the Orioles still win the AL East, too. Thus, in the absence of what we define as a “traditional” MVP, we are inclined to award this nod to Petrocelli for cracking double digits in WAR, something that just doesn’t happen that often. We can’t ignore that, even if the Red Sox won just 87 games.
1969 NL MVP: Willie McCovey (original), Hank Aaron (revised)
The New York Mets won the NL East by 8 games over the Chicago Cubs, while the Atlanta Braves won the NL West by 3 games over the San Francisco Giants and 4 games over the Cincinnati Reds. The Los Angeles Dodgers finished 8 games back out west. So, this provides us with a myriad of MVP candidates, although Giants first baseman Willie McCovey—our pick for the 1968 NL MVP—won the vote at the time.
McCovey and Braves RF Hank Aaron tied for the NL high in WAR (8.1), although McCovey was more dominant at the plate, leading the league in HRs (45), RBI (126), on-base percentage (.453), slugging percentage (.656), OPS (1.108), and intentional walks (45!), while Aaron only topped the senior circuit in total bases (332). Clearly, McCovey was carrying San Francisco with all those IBBs. Defensively, though, McCovey’s dWAR (-1.7) was killing the Giants, while the Hammer was a barely-plus defender (0.1 dWAR).
Are there any other candidates? Yes! The Pittsburgh Pirates finished 12 games behind the Mets, and their star RF, Roberto Clemente, hit .345 while topping the league in triples (12). His overall WAR (7.5) was third in the NL, followed closely by Houston Astros CF Jim Wynn (7.1) and New York left fielder Cleon Jones (7.0). Houston finished fifth in the NL West with 81 victories, incidentally.
In the end, however, Aaron meets our overall criteria here for a true MVP: His team won the division, while he topped the league in WAR while being a plus defender (barely). McCovey’s glove was just too brutal to overlook in this case. This is Aaron’s third NL MVP (1957, 1960), and it’s key to remember he was 35 years old in 1969—and Aaron still hit .300 with 44 HRs, 97 RBI, and 87 walks.
1969 AL Cy Young: Mike Cuellar & Denny McLain (original), McLain (revised)
There was a rare tie in the vote this season for the AL Cy, split between Orioles workhorse Mike Cuellar (3.9 WAR) and last year’s Cy winner from Detroit, Denny McLain (8.1 WAR). While Cuellar’s 23-11 record and 2.38 ERA wowed voters, that WAR doesn’t impress us at all, of course. The Tigers finished with 90 wins in defense of their World Series championship, and McLain—league best in wins (24), shutouts (9), and innings (325)—was a force.
The only other pitcher to consider here is Cleveland Indians fireballer Sam McDowell (6.6 WAR)—the 1965 AL Cy winner in this space. But his team finished in last place with just 62 victories, despite Sudden Sam’s AL-high 279 strikeouts and 2.94 ERA in 285 innings pitched. So we confirm McLain’s vote win, while removing Cuellar’s nod.
1969 NL Cy Young: Tom Seaver (original), Juan Marichal (revised)
Eight NL pitchers finished with at least 6.5 WAR, making this a clusterfuck of an analysis. Let’s break it down, in order: St. Louis Cardinals ace Bob Gibson (10.4); Astros workhorse Larry Dierker (8.6); Cubs journeyman Bill Hands (8.4); Giants star Juan Marichal (7.8); Mets vote winner Tom Seaver (7.2); Chicago stud Ferguson Jenkins (7.2); Cards phenom Steve Carlton (6.9); and S.F. veteran Gaylord Perry (6.5).
Seaver is the only one who played for a division winner, while Gibson was by far the best pitcher with that double-digit WAR mark. His team won 87 games to finish 13 games out of first, however, and he did get help from Carlton in helping the Cards staff. This is nearly impossible to shred, with two Cubs and two Giants on this list as well. Again, normally we’d toss the teammate duos, leaving us with Seaver—which is where the voters ended up, too.
His season: a league-best 25 wins and a league-low 6.7 hits allowed per 9 innings pitched. He may have been the difference between a division title for the Mets and a second-place finish. Gibson’s season—20-13, 2.18 ERA—was built on an NL-best 28 complete games and 314 IP for an also-ran team. But this definitely wasn’t his 1968 campaign.
Dierker didn’t top the NL in any categories (20-13, 2.33, 305 1/3 IP), and neither did Hands (20-14, 2.49, 300 IP). Meanwhile, Marichal—our 1964 and 1965 pick for this award—did lead the NL in ERA (2.10), shutouts (8), and WHIP (0.994) while winning 21 times. We like his season more than Seaver’s season, in truth. As for Jenkins (273 Ks to top the NL) and Perry (325 1/3 IP to lead the league), they were one-trick ponies of sorts.
To us, this comes down to Marichal or Seaver—removing either of them from their respective teams leaves the Mets still in the hunt, but it buries San Francisco is serious also-ran status. So we’re going to give the nod to Marichal in this case, as it’s hard to to ignore the ERA and WHIP marks over 299 2/3 IP—and those are better marks than Gibson’s output, with his WAR fueled by innings eating on an average team.
1969 AL ROTY: Lou Piniella (original), Ken Tatum (revised)
Kansas City Royals left fielder Lou Piniella (2.1 WAR) won the vote despite his team’s 69 wins—and the fact that Boston rookie starter Mike Nagy (3.0) and California Angels closer Ken Tatum (4.8) topped him in WAR. The Red Sox were above .500, of course, while the Angels outpaced the Royals by 2 games in the AL West standings.
Piniella’s .741 OPS and 0.0 dWAR make him the definition of average, however, and Nagy actually walked more batters (106) than he struck out (84), despite his 12-2 record and 3.11 ERA in 196 2/3 IP. That leaves us with Tatum and his 7-2 record, 1.36 ERA, 22 saves, and 86 1/3 IP as the winner of our award this time out. That’s a top rook!
1969 NL ROTY: Ted Sizemore (original, confirmed)
Dodgers second baseman Ted Sizemore easily outdistanced all other NL first-year players in WAR (4.2), as his defense (1.2 dWAR) fueled his contributions to an 85-win team. The next guys on the rookie list were Montréal Expos third baseman Coco Laboy (2.5 WAR), Pirates utility man Al Oliver (2.1), and Philadelphia Phillies CF Larry Hisle (2.1). The Expos won 52 games, while the Phils won just 63 times.
Oliver posted -0.3 dWAR at first, left field, and right field, making him a defensive liability, and even though Sizemore only managed a .670 OPS, getting 46 RBI and 45 walks from a second baseman—as well as the stellar defense—was very valuable to the L.A. finish in the NL West standings.