Welcome to the grooviest decade ever on MLB Monday: the 1970s! We’re into divisional play, and we’ve got stars at the plate and on the mound, getting closer to modern-day baseball every week now. At this rate, it will still be another year until we get to the 2021 season, of course, but we love doing this. It’s called passion, folks!
Play that funky baseball, boys … and here are the awards winners for 1970 in the process.
1970 AL MVP: Boog Powell (original), Tony Oliva (revised)
Well, we have another laughable MVP vote winner in Baltimore Orioles first baseman Boog Powell (5.1 WAR). His team won the AL East Division by 15 games, but Boog was second on his team among position players for WAR, trailing center fielder Paul Blair (5.9). Clearly, the Orioles could have replaced both those guys with average players and still won the division, easily.
The Minnesota Twins won the AL West Division by 9 games, but their best player—right fielder Tony Oliva (7.0 WAR)—finished just fourth in the league in value. He was our 1964 AL ROTY pick, by the way. He trailed Boston Red Sox left fielder Carl Yastrzemski (9.5), California Angels shortstop Jim Fregosi (7.7), and Milwaukee Brewers utility man Tommy Harper (7.4).
Powell won the award by hitting .297 with 35 home runs and 114 RBI, but his glove (-1.3 dWAR) was brutal. Meanwhile, the Red Sox won 87 times to finish 21 games behind the Orioles, and the Angels posted 86 victories, which put them 12 games behind the Twins. Milwaukee won just 65 games, which eliminates Harper from this discussion.
Yaz is in a similar situation to last year’s pick in this space, Rico Petrocelli—he had a semi-historic season, but his team was an also-ran squad. Fregosi’s season (fueled by 2.4 dWAR and an .812 OPS at a weak offensive position) isn’t as significant, so this debate comes down to Yaz or Oliva, and with the Twins’ victory margin, we don’t see Oliva’s season—with its league-leading totals for hits (204) and doubles (36)—as standing out tremendously.
Yet his game was balanced: a 1.5 dWAR mark is a nice compliment to his .325 average and .878 OPS. What about Yaz, you ask? Well … He topped the AL in runs (125), on-base percentage (.452), slugging percentage (.592), OPS (1.044), and total bases (335) while hitting .329 with 40 HRs. But his defense was below average (-0.3 dWAR), and you know how we feel about that here.
So, Oliva then gets the nod for his overall game, which included 23 HRs and 107 RBI, and its value. For the record, he did finish second in the vote at the time, with Yaz coming in fourth among the vote getters.
1970 NL MVP: Johnny Bench (original, confirmed)
The Pittsburgh Pirates won the NL East with just 89 wins, finishing 5 games ahead of the Chicago Cubs and 6 games in front of the New York Mets. Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Reds won 102 times to win the NL West by 14.5 games over the Los Angeles Dodgers and 16 games over the San Francisco Giants. Four different position players set themselves apart in the league, too.
MVP vote winner Johnny Bench, the catcher for the Reds who won our 1968 NL ROTY nod, led the senior circuit in WAR (7.4), just a smidge better than his teammate, third baseman Tony Pérez (7.2). San Francisco Giants first baseman Willie McCovey (6.6) and Cubs left fielder Billy Williams (6.6) also stood out among their peers in the league. Stretch won our 1959 NL ROTY nod as well as our 1968 NL MVP honors, but we did strip him of his voted MVP last year.
Normally, we’d drop both Reds from consideration, since neither could be the MVP with the other one being so good on the side. With both players so close in individual value and the team dominating the division, it’s plausible to argue that average replacements for both guys still means a division title for Cincinnati.
That leaves us will Williams and McCovey, although we lean toward Williams with the Cubs’ superior finish relative to the top of division: But again, Stretch was a negative defender (-1.0 dWAR). That cost him last year, and it hurts him again this year in a close analysis. Williams, however, was also a negative defender! His -0.6 dWAR isn’t as bad, but come on: Can’t anyone here play defense?
That takes us back to Bench and Pérez: The Little General posted 1.8 dWAR behind the plate, which is huge value, in addition to his 45 HR, 148 RBI, and .932 OPS. Meanwhile, Big Dog’s 0.2 dWAR was barely above average, and while his .990 OPS was superior to Bench’s mark, the balance is more pronounced for the vote winner. Thus, we will confirm Bench’s MVP award, confidently.
1970 AL Cy Young: Jim Perry (original), Jim Palmer (revised)
It wasn’t a stellar year for pitchers, as Twins starter Jim Perry won the Cy Young vote with just 4.5 WAR under his belt. That’s not good enough for us, as we have stated repeatedly here. The top-three pitchers in the junior circuit were Cleveland Indians ace Sam McDowell (8.3), Baltimore stud Jim Palmer (6.4), and Chicago White Sox veteran Tommy John (5.5). The latter posted a losing record for a losing team, so he’s out of the conversation.
The Tribe also finished under .500 for the year, so this award goes to Palmer by default, really. At age 24, he tossed an AL-high 305 innings, while posting a 20-10 record with a 2.71 ERA and a league-best 5 shutouts. That’s definitely good enough to win this award in most seasons. Perry still has his 1959 AL ROTY Award, of course.
1970 NL Cy Young: Bob Gibson (original), Gaylord Perry (revised)
Five pitchers were pretty good in the NL: vote winner and St. Louis Cardinals legend Bob Gibson (8.9 WAR); Giants workhorse Gaylord Perry (7.6); Cubs stud Ferguson Jenkins (7.3); his rotation mate on the North Side, Ken Holtzman (6.4); and Mets ace Tom Seaver (5.8). Our primary issue here is that, like McDowell above, Gibson pitched for a losing team, and his season isn’t quite amazing enough to overcome that with the others below him.
We know the Giants finished 16 games out of first, though, so Perry’s value is somewhat uninspiring. The Cubs did well, but with two guys on this list, that creates a problem, and Seaver had the lowest WAR among all of them. So … where does that leave us? We don’t like this scenario at all! Gibson won this award from us in 1968, while we have taken away two awards from Seaver already (1967 NL ROTY, 1969 NL Cy).
Gibson won the award by winning 23 games for a losing team, although his other numbers weren’t notable (3.12 ERA, 1.190 WHIP). Perry also won 23 games (with a 3.20 ERA), and he topped the NL in shutouts (5). Jenkins posted a 3.39 ERA despite giving up the most earned runs in the league, and Holtzman was relatively unspectacular all around (17 wins, 3.38 ERA, 1.269 WHIP). Seaver? He posted the lowest ERA in the league (2.82) while striking out the most batters (283). He went 18-12 for a third-place team in the process.
That 3-plus WAR gap between Gibson and Seaver is pretty large, however. Perry has a better argument against Seaver than Gibson does, as San Francisco actually won more games (86) than the Cubs (84) and the Mets did (83). In the end, we’re going to go with Perry for that reason: He did more to get his team to a higher win total than any other candidate here did. We are not as confident in this choice as we’d like to be, however, we admit.
1970 AL ROTY: Thurman Munson (original, confirmed)
This is not much of a debate, because despite the New York Yankees finishing 15 games behind the Orioles, their rookie catcher Thurman Munson posted 5.5 WAR, including 1.7 dWAR and an .801 OPS. He hit .302 and walked more times (57) than he struck out (56). He won the vote at the time, and it was well deserved. Case closed.
1970 NL ROTY: Carl Morton (original), Bernie Carbo (revised)
The Montréal Expos won just 73 games to finish last in the NL East, but their rookie pitcher Carl Morton won the ROTY vote for posting an 18-11 record with a 3.60 ERA over 284 2/3 innings. However, his league-high 125 walks also led to a 1.426 WHIP, and his WAR (4.2) was built around those innings on a bad team.
Meanwhile, the Reds benefitted from left fielder Bernie Carbo and his 4.5 WAR a lot more: a .310 average, a 1.004 OPS, 21 HRs, 63 RBI, 10 steals, and 97 walks in just 125 games. His defense was mediocre (-0.3 dWAR), but that matters less in this debate than it would in an MVP discussion. Carbo was the true Rookie of the Year here.