It’s a fun season to review on MLB Monday as we look at that famous 1978 season that featured an extra game in the American League East to decide the division championship, followed by yet another October title for the Bronx Bombers. Yes, it’s a memorable one, indeed.
On with the best MLB awards show on the interwebs today!
1978 AL MVP: Jim Rice (original), Amos Otis (revised)
The Boston Red Sox lost that one-game playoff for AL East supremacy, but their star left fielder—Jim Rice—won the MVP vote after finishing atop MLB with 7.6 WAR for the year. In terms of value, he was followed closely by Kansas City Royals center fielder Amos Otis (7.4) and Baltimore Orioles third baseman Doug DeCinces (6.8). The Royals won the AL West by 5 games, while the Orioles finished 9 games behind the New York Yankees in the East.
So this does come down to Rice or Otis, and the issue is defense. Rice posted -0.1 dWAR at a lesser position, while Otis generated 1.8 dWAR at a key position. Imagine if Rice had been a plus defender: He may actually have cost the Red Sox the division with his mediocre defense. Sure, Rice topped the AL in hits (213), triples (15), home runs (46), RBI (139), slugging percentage (.600), OPS (.970), and total bases (406)—but his defense was negative. He hit .315 overall with 58 walks, but his glove was below average.
Meanwhile, Otis batted .298 with 22 HRs, 96 RBI, 32 steals, 66 walks, and a .905 OPS—while playing stellar defense. We know why Rice won the award, but the reality is, again, he may have actually cost his team a playoff spot with his defense. Otis gets another “steal” here in our book, walking away with this award.
1978 NL MVP: Dave Parker (original), Mike Schmidt (revised)
The four top guys in the senior circuit were Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Dave Parker (7.0 WAR), Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt (6.2), San Francisco Giants RF Jack Clark (5.9), and Montréal Expos catcher Gary Carter (5.8). Schmidt won this award from us last year, and Philly topped Pittsburgh by 1.5 games in the NL East. In the other division, the Giants finished in third, by 6 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers.
This award would seem to come down to the vote winner—Parker—and Schmidt, as the Expos finished under .500 on the year in the East Division. And like the AL MVP, this comes down to defense: Parker posted -0.6 dWAR at a weak position, while Schmitty won the Gold Glove at a key spot in the infield (1.8 dWAR). Parker won the award for winning the batting title (.334) while adding 30 HRs, 117 RBI, 20 SBs, a .585 SLG, a .979 OPS, and 340 TBs. The last three numbers topped the league.
Meanwhile, Schmidt had a down year at the plate with just a .798 OPS, but he did steal 19 bases and walk 91 times. He was good enough to post 4.7 oWAR, and when you throw in his defense, Schmidt may have been the reason the Phillies won the division—while Parker’s defense may have cost the Pirates the NL East crown. So, logic dictates Schmidt gets this award, again.
1978 AL Cy Young: Ron Guidry (original, confirmed)
The best three pitchers in the junior circuit were Yankees ace Ron Guidry (9.4 WAR), Milwaukee Brewers veteran Mike Caldwell (8.2), and Red Sox youngster Dennis Eckersley (7.3). With the Brewers finishing 6.5 games behind the Yankees, it’s easy to confirm Guidry’s Cy vote win here without any discussion.
His traditional numbers: 25-3, 1.74 ERA, 9 shutouts, 248 Ks, and a 0.946 WHIP. The wins, ERA, shutouts, and WHIP led the AL, while Guidry also was the best among his peers at denying batters base hits: He coughed up just 187 hits in 273 2/3 innings (6.1 per 9 IP). He also finished second in the MVP voting, for the record.
1978 NL Cy Young: Gaylord Perry (original), Phil Niekro (revised)
The candidates are interesting for this award, won at the time in the vote by San Diego Padres veteran Gaylord Perry (4.3 WAR). He won our 1970 NL Cy, although we later stripped him of his 1972 AL Cy. However, the top hurlers in the league were Atlanta Braves vet Phil Niekro (10.0), Giants youngster Bob Knepper (6.3), S.F. southpaw Vida Blue (5.8), and New York Mets journeyman Craig Swan (5.6).
We know where the Giants finished, and with two of the best pitchers in the league, that’s not impressive. Either way, neither can win this award, since they both contributed pretty equally to the team’s success. The Braves won just 69 games, but any season in double-digit WAR value has to be taken seriously. As for Swan, he topped the league in ERA (2.43) for a team that won just 66 times.
The Padres finished 11 games out, so Perry really can’t win this award. It has to go to Niekro for the following: 19-18, 2.88 ERA, 22 complete games, and a 1.187 WHIP. In throwing 334 1/3 innings, he probably single-handedly keep the Braves from the worst record in the league, but he wins this award due to a little good fortune, in the end. This is his second NL Cy from us, by the way, and it’s a historical season overall with that WAR total.
1978 AL ROTY: Lou Whitaker (original), Rich Gale (revised)
Five rookies posted between 2.6 and 3.8 WAR in the AL, and the top guy—Detroit Tigers second baseman Lou Whitaker (3.8)—won the vote at the time as the Tigers finished 13.5 games out of first in the AL East. Meanwhile, Royals pitcher Rich Gale (2.9 WAR), Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell (2.8), Brewers infielder Paul Molitor (2.7), and California Angels third baseman Carney Lansford (2.6) were not far behind.
That’s some rookie class, with three Hall of Famers and a guy who later won a batting title (Lansford). Gale should get this award, however, as the Royals won their division, thanks to his significant contributions. He started 30 games, tossed 192 1/3 innings, and posted a 3.09 ERA while winning 14 games. All four hitters posted OPS marks less than .750, so this was not a stellar rookie group, despite the later careers.
1978 NL ROTY: Bob Horner (original), Don Robinson (revised)
Braves 3B Bob Horner (2.1 WAR) won the NL ROTY vote despite playing in just 89 games, and we know how bad the Braves were. But he got a lot of press for never playing a game in the minors and then hitting 23 HRs with an .852 OPS in his first MLB season. Yet two other players have to be considered here: Pirates starter Don Robinson (3.7 WAR) and Padres shortstop Ozzie Smith (3.3).
Robinson posted a 14-6 record, a 3.47 ERA, and a 1.139 WHIP over 228 1/3 IP for a team that barely missed out on a division title. Meanwhile, Smith stole 40 bases and posted 1.5 dWAR at the toughest position on the diamond for an 84-win team. Both of them deserved the award over Horner. But it clearly has to go to Robinson for contributions to a contending team instead of Horner’s half season for a bad team.