On this edition of MLB Monday, we get to examine the middle season of the Oakland Athletics first dynasty—a team that won 5 straight division titles (1971-1975) and 3 consecutive World Series (1972-1974). The Swingin’ A’s are perhaps one of the most overlooked powerhouses in MLB history, in truth.
Will that be reflected in this week’s awards analyses? Read on to find out!
1973 AL MVP: Reggie Jackson (original), Bobby Grich (revised)
Five position players from the junior circuit posted at least 7.0 WAR during the regular season, including MVP vote winner Reggie Jackson (7.8), the A’s right fielder. But Baltimore Orioles second baseman Bobby Grich (8.3) was the best player in the league, and he was joined on the top shelf by New York Yankees catcher Thurman Munson (7.2)—our 1970 AL ROTY pick—as well as Oakland center fielder Bill North (7.0) and Minnesota Twins 2B Rod Carew (7.0).
The A’s won the AL West by 6 games, making both Jackson and North quite valuable, while the Orioles won the AL East by 8 games. Neither the Yankees or the Twins posted winning records, and with two Oakland teammates here equally valuable, the mantle of MVP really should go to Grich—which is quite surprising, as he finished just 19th in the vote at the time.
Grich was second in MLB overall for dWAR (4.0), and he hit 12 home runs while stealing 17 bases and walking 107 times to provide plenty of offensive positivity at the same time. Jackson had the big numbers (32 HRs, 117 RBI) to lead the league in a few categories, but he also had help from North (53 SBs, 78 BB, 2.9 dWAR), while no other position player on the Orioles posted even 5.0 WAR overall.
1973 NL MVP: Pete Rose (original), Joe Morgan (revised)
The New York Mets won the NL East with 82 victories, with the top five teams in the division finishing within 5 games of each other atop the standings. Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Reds won the NL West by 3.5 games over the Los Angeles Dodgers and 11 games over the San Francisco Giants. This means we could have a lot of viable NL MVP candidates.
Led by last year’s NL MVP pick in this space, second baseman Joe Morgan of the Reds (9.3 WAR), the following group of players topped the senior circuit: Atlanta Braves third baseman Darrell Evans (9.0), Cincy LF Pete Rose (8.3), Giants RF Bobby Bonds (7.8), Houston Astros CF César Cedeño (7.4), and Pittsburgh Pirates LF Willie Stargell (7.2).
Rose won the vote for claiming the batting title (.338), but clearly Morgan was the more valuable player on the Reds, just like last year when Morgan was more important than catcher Johnny Bench. The Braves won just 76 games, while the Astros finished 6 games behind the Giants, and the Pirates finished 2.5 games below the Mets.
This means we are looking at Morgan, Bonds, and maybe Stargell here for the MVP nod. But Pops was a negative defender (-0.4 dWAR), and that hurts his candidacy. And despite topping the NL in runs (131) and total bases (341), Bonds also struck out the most times in the league (148). But it is interesting to note this was the season that Bonds hit 39 HRs and stole 43 bases, coming so very close to being historical in the effort.
Overall, Morgan is going to win this award from us again, poaching the nod from a teammate for the second time. He hit .290 with 26 HRs, 82 RBI, 67 SBs, and 111 walks to post an .899 OPS overall.
1973 AL Cy Young: Jim Palmer (original), John Hiller (revised)
Eight of the Top 10 pitchers in MLB were AL guys in 1973, and Orioles ace Jim Palmer (6.3 WAR) won the Cy vote at the time despite being just fifth best in WAR. We gave him the 1970 AL Cy, of course, but he may not retain this one, depending on how the following guy shake out: Twins youngster Bert Blyleven (9.8), Detroit Tigers closer John Hiller (7.9), Cleveland Indians veteran Gaylord Perry (7.8), California Angels fireballer Nolan Ryan (7.7), and Chicago White Sox knuckleballer Wilbur Wood (7.6).
We know the Twins were also rans, but the Tigers finished third in the AL East with 85 victories. Cleveland won just 71 games, so Perry cannot add to the NL Cy Young we gave him in 1970. The Angels didn’t post a winning record. Wood won this award from us last season, but the White Sox regressed to a sub-.500 season, too.
This means we’re looking at a starter that didn’t dominate enough to even be the difference for the Orioles or a reliever for a team that finished 12 games behind Baltimore. Here is a direct comparison:
- Hiller: 10-5, 1.44 ERA, 38 saves, 125 1/3 innings, 124 strikeouts, 1.021 WHIP
- Palmer: 22-9, 2.40 ERA, 6 shutouts, 296 1/3 innings, 158 strikeouts, 1.141 WHIP
Palmer had a good season, but it wasn’t great: His ERA topped the league for those with at least 162 IP, but nothing else stands out. In fact, Palmer walked 113 batters, which really hurt his WHIP. Cut those walks in half, and his WHIP drops significantly (0.948). Meanwhile, Hiller tossed a lot of meaningful innings for a team that needed him to finish as high as it did, and his overall impact, as reflected in WAR, is more significant.
It’s surprising to see a reliever finally win this award, in truth, but it is what it is, thanks to Palmer’s significant control issues.
1973 NL Cy Young: Tom Seaver (original, confirmed)
There isn’t much to discuss here, as Mets ace Tom Seaver (10.6 WAR) bested every other NL pitcher by almost 4.0 WAR during the season, and New York won its division by just 1.5 games over the St. Louis Cardinals and three others teams that finished within 5 games. Without Seaver, the Mets don’t win the division, period: In fact, they might have finished last. That is value.
Here are his vitals: 19-10, 2.08 ERA, 19 complete games, 251 Ks, and a 0.976 WHIP. The last four numbers topped the senior circuit. Remember, of course, that we took away Seaver’s NL ROTY in 1967 and his NL Cy Young in 1969 before granting him the 1971 NL Cy. Quite an interesting journey that Tom Terrific is taking with us, huh?
1973 AL ROTY: Al Bumbry (original), Rich Coggins (revised)
We have four real candidates for this award, won at the time in a vote by Orioles OF Al Bumbry (4.0 WAR). The other three players were Yankees pitcher Doc Medich (4.8), Baltimore OF Rich Coggins (3.8), and Milwaukee Brewers catcher Darrell Porter (3.6). With both N.Y. and Milwaukee finishing under .500, then it comes down to the two teammates in the Baltimore outfield.
Here’s the deal: Bumbry was a negative defender (-0.6 dWAR), while Coggins was a positive one (0.3 dWAR). Nothing else matters to us, since their respective overall value was so comparable, and the Orioles still would have won the AL East regardless of these two individuals’ collective presence.
For the record, Coggins hit .319 with 7 HRs, 41 RBI, 17 SBs, and more walks (28) than strikeouts (24).
1973 NL ROTY: Gary Matthews (original), Steve Rogers (revised)
We also have four real candidates for this award, won at the time in a vote by Giants LF Gary Matthews (3.4 WAR). The other three players were Montréal Expos starter Steve Rogers (5.0), Dodgers 3B Ron Cey (4.0), and L.A. 2B Davey Lopes (3.5). With the Dodgers finishing 7.5 games ahead of the Giants, it’s clear that Matthews probably won’t win this award from us.
The Expos finished just 3.5 games behind the Mets, so Rogers is going to have just as much—if not more—value than the Dodgers’ duo. In fact, a full season from Rogers may have gotten Montréal into the postseason. Rogers made just 17 starts, but he completed 7 of them while tossing 3 shutouts.
His 10-5 record and 1.54 ERA would have been different if he had made twice as many starts, and his 134 IP fell short of qualifying him for the ERA title. His 1.060 WHIP was very good, of course. Incredible to ask the “what if” questions here, though.