We kick off July 2021 on MLB Monday with a season that saw the return of the New York Yankees to the top of baseball pyramid, after a 15-year absence. For a franchise used to being feted all the time, this was a serious drought for the Bronx Bombers to endure.
How did the individual players from this organization do in awards time? Read on to find out!
1977 AL MVP: Rod Carew (original), George Brett (revised)
The Yankees won 100 games to win the AL East by 2.5 games over both the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox, while the Kansas City Royals topped the AL West with 102 victories—well ahead of the Texas Rangers (94 wins) and the Chicago White Sox (90 wins). This complicates our MVP analysis, as Minnesota Twins first baseman Rod Carew won the vote while playing for a team that finished 17.5 games out of first place.
Carew (9.7 WAR) was the best player in MLB this year, but the performance in a vacuum (.388 average, 128 runs, 239 hits, 16 triples, .449 OBP, and 1.019 OPS—all league-high marks) leaves the door open a bit for us to consider other candidates. In addition, Carew’s switch to first base yielded just 0.1 dWAR, so he really didn’t do much for the Twins with his glove as they tried to hide his slower reflexes on the infield diamond.
Kansas City Royals third baseman George Brett, who won our AL MVP last year, posted 7.6 WAR for a first-place team that won its division by 8 games. That’s serious value right there. Also, Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk—our 1972 winner for both the AL MVP and ROTY awards—finished at 7.0 WAR for a second-place team. Even though neither player topped the AL in any significant offensive category, they were arguably more valuable than Carew.
Fisk’s 2.4 dWAR is tremendous, while Brett’s 2.1 dWAR is right up there, too. These two players were more valuable in both phases of the game than Carew was for an also-ran team. Yes, Carew had an incredible season, but in this case, Brett’s WAR mark is good enough to earn a second consecutive AL MVP nod from us. His numbers—.312, 22 HRs, 88 RBI, .905 OPS, and 300 TB—are good enough, with that defense, to justify it.
1977 NL MVP: George Foster (original), Mike Schmidt (revised)
The Philadelphia Phillies won the NL East by 5 games over the Pittsburgh Pirates, while the Los Angeles Dodgers topped the Cincinnati Red in the NL West by 10 games. The best players in the league were Phillies 3B Mike Schmidt (8.9 WAR), Reds left fielder George Foster (8.4), Pirates right fielder Dave Parker (7.4), and Dodgers RF Reggie Smith (6.1). Foster won the MVP vote, probably because he hit 52 HRs and drove in 149 runs.
But when you do that for a team that finished 10 games out, it doesn’t mean as much. Plus, Schmidt turned in the better overall season for a division-winning team. This is easy for us to re-assign this MVP Award to Schmitty without hesitation. He had a higher oWAR (by 0.1) than Foster, too, and he also won a Gold Glove, thanks to his 2.6 dWAR.
Schmidt’s traditional numbers: 38 HRs, 101 RBI, 15 SBs, .967 OPS, and 312 TB. He only hit .274 for the year, but in drawing over 100 walks, his .393 OBP was pretty good overall. Schmidt also hit a career-high 11 triples in 1977.
1977 AL Cy Young: Sparky Lyle (original), Jim Palmer (revised)
The three best pitchers in the junior circuit were California Angels ace Frank Tanana (8.3 WAR), his rotation mate Nolan Ryan (7.8), and Orioles star Jim Palmer (7.3). Somehow, Yankees reliever Sparky Lyle (3.7 WAR) won the AL Cy Young vote, however, as the second-best pitcher on his own team, behind starter Ron Guidry (4.8). With the Angels somehow finishing under .500 on the year, this award will go to Palmer, by default.
As you may recall, Palmer has been an interesting figure in this space: He won three Cy votes (1973, 1975, 1976), but we’ve now given him three Cy Young awards in mostly different seasons (1970, 1975, 1977). He’s drawn even with what he won then and what he gets to keep now.
His traditional numbers for a second-place team: league-best marks in wins (20), complete games (22), and innings pitched (319), with a 2.91 ERA, 193 Ks, and a 1.135 WHIP.
1977 NL Cy Young: Steve Carlton (original), John Candelaria (revised)
Philly star Steve Carlton (5.9 WAR) won the NL Cy vote at the time, but six other pitchers in the league bested his sabermetric value: Chicago Cubs veteran Rick Reuschel (9.5), Atlanta Braves old-timer Phil Niekro (8.9), Reds trade acquisition Tom Seaver (7.9), Pirates youngster John Candelaria (7.4), Cubs reliever Bruce Sutter (6.5), and Pittsburgh reliever Goose Gossage (6.0). So we have some work to do here.
The Cubs finished 20 games behind the Phillies, so Reuschel and Sutter didn’t exactly pitch in a lot of high-pressure situations. Big Daddy had a huge season for Chicago, though, so we cannot rule him out yet. The Braves finished with just 61 wins to finish last in the league. With the Pirates finishing just 5 games behind the Phillies, both Candelaria and Gossage have more value than Carlton—especially the Candy Man.
As for Seaver, he split time between the Mets and the Reds, and we know Cincy finished 10 games out. That’s better than Reuschel’s Cubs finishing 20 games out, so Seaver can stay in the fray for the moment. This reduces the field to three starters:
- Seaver: 21-6, 2.58 ERA, 196 K, 1.014 WHIP, 261 1/3 IP
- Candelaria: 20-5, 2.34 ERA, 133 K, 1.071 WHIP, 230 2/3 IP
- Carlton: 23-10, 2.64 ERA, 198 K, 1.124 WHIP, 283 IP
Lefty won the vote because the win total, period. The rest of his numbers were inferior to the other two finalists. Seaver was traded on June 15 to the Reds: Cincy was 32-27 at that point. The Reds posted a 56-47 mark the rest of the way, so he really didn’t have a huge impact on the pennant race for Cincinnati, despite going 14-3 with a 2.34 ERA for the Reds.
What about Candelaria? Yes, Philly doesn’t win the division without Carlton, but the WAR gap between Candy Man and Lefty is kind of significant. Yet so is the IP total: How could Carlton pitch 50-plus extra innings and come up with 1.5 less WAR value?
Because Candelaria’s innings were of much higher quality, in terms of ERA and WHIP—and teammate support (or lack thereof). Seaver was the best NL pitcher, really, but Candelaria probably had the most value. And that’s our sticking point.
1977 AL ROTY: Eddie Murray (original), Bump Wills (revised)
Baltimore first baseman Eddie Murray (3.2 WAR) took home the AL ROTY hardware, despite three other AL first-year players outdoing him significantly in sabermetric value: Oakland Athletics left fielder Mitchell Page (6.1), Detroit Tigers starter Dave Rozema (5.7), and Texas second baseman Bump Wills (5.4). We know the Orioles finished just 2.5 games out first place, but what about these other teams?
The Rangers won 3 fewer games than the Orioles in finishing second among AL West teams, while the Tigers (74 wins) and the A’s (63 wins) were just bad teams. We think Wills’ production had more value to the Rangers than Murray’s had to the Orioles, and in addition, Murray’s glove (-0.9 dWAR) could have cost Baltimore a better shot at catching the Yankees in the standings, while Wills (2.0 dWAR) played great defense at a tougher position.
Bump’s traditionals: 9 HRs, 62 RBI, 28 SBs, 65 BBs, and a .287 average. The rest of his career was all downhill, but he really deserved this ROTY at the time despite finishing third in the vote.
1977 NL ROTY: Andre Dawson (original, confirmed)
The Montréal Expos won just 75 games, but their rookie center fielder Andre Dawson (3.9 WAR) was the best first-year player in the senior circuit. Other ROTY contenders were Mets LF Steve Henderson (2.7) and San Diego Padres LF Gene Richards (2.4). Both the Mets and Padres failed to reach even 70 victories, however.
Dawson won the vote at the time, and we confirm it: He hit .282 with 19 HRs, 65 RBI, 21 SBs, and an .800 OPS. He was also a positive defender (0.7 dWAR) at a tough position for a rookie to play on AstroTurf for most of the season.