It’s an iconic year for MLB Monday, as everyone remembers this moment. Watching the replays 35 years later, we still cannot believe that happened. But alas, that has nothing to do with the regular season, and that is our focus for this initial miniseries in this space. We have some interesting analyses below … including our first experiences into the land of PED abuse. Heaven help us.
Hold on to your hats, folks!
1986 AL MVP: Roger Clemens (original), Wade Boggs (revised)
Boston Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens won the AL MVP vote, so we have to look elsewhere for our award winner. With 8 of the Top 10 position players coming from the junior circuit, this seems to be a tough call on the surface, but with the Red Sox winning the AL East by 5.5 games over the New York Yankees, it’s easy to put Boston third baseman Wade Boggs (8.0 WAR) at the top of our list since he led MLB in WAR.
For the record, Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jesse Barfield (7.6) and Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly (7.2) were close behind, but Boggs will walk away with this one. The irony is that Donnie Baseball was much better than he was the prior year when he won the AL MVP vote (to be stripped of it by us, of course). Those are the breaks.
The Chicken Man put up the following numbers: 1.1 dWAR, 47 doubles, 8 HRs, 71 RBI, 105 BBs, .357 batting average, .453 OBP, and a .939 OPS. The walks, batting average, and OBP topped the AL, and Boggs’ defense at the hot corner was clearly pretty good as well. We’re not sure how many of these he will win, but he was an under-appreciated player in his time.
1986 NL MVP: Mike Schmidt (original, confirmed)
The only two NL players to crack the MLB Top 10 in WAR were Philadelphia Phillies 3B Mike Schmidt (6.2 WAR)—our winner here four times previously—and San Diego Padres right fielder Tony Gwynn (6.7). The former won the vote at the time, but both the Phillies and the Padres finished over 20 games out of first place.
The best players on division-winning teams were New York Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez (5.5) and Houston Astros RF Kevin Bass (5.3). But New York won the NL East by 21.5 games over the Phillies, and the Astros topped the NL West by 10 games over the Reds. Neither player really had true MVP numbers in those scenarios. Thus, Schmidt gets to keep his award, somewhat by default.
He wasn’t the best player, and perhaps his value is dubious when his team finished so far out of it with an 86-75 record, but sometimes this happens. Schmidt’s traditionals were good, though: 37 HRs, 119 RBI, .547 SLG, .937 OPS, and 25 IBBs. All those numbers led the senior circuit, and Schmitty added 89 walks, a .290 BA, and 302 TBs. As we noted last week with George Brett, he joins a select group of players with 5 MVP awards.
1986 AL Cy Young: Roger Clemens (original, confirmed)
One of the bigger surprises of all time comes here, as Milwaukee Brewers southpaw Teddy Higuera actually led MLB in pitching WAR (9.4), while Clemens was second (8.8). We’ve been so conditioned by the hype to think the Rocket Man was so dominant, yet Higuera actually had the “higher-valued” season:
- Higuera: 20-11, 2.79 ERA, 15 CGs, 4 SOs, 248 1/3 IP, 207 Ks, 1.208 WHIP
- Clemens: 24-4, 2.48 ERA, 10 CGs, 1 SO, 254 IP, 238 Ks, 0.969 WHIP
Of course, the Brew Crew finished 18 games out of first place, so Higuera’s effort gets weighted a bit too much in light of his team’s overall suckitude. Plus, Clemens also led the league in wins, ERA, WHIP, and fewest hits allowed per 9 IP (6.3). He obviously wasn’t taking PEDs yet (or so we deduce?), so he’s still eligible here to keep his Cy.
1986 NL Cy Young: Mike Scott (original, confirmed)
Only three pitchers in the senior circuit are eligible here, including vote winner Mike Scott (8.4), Houston’s ace in its charge to the NL West Division title. The two other NL pitchers worth considering this time around are Pittsburgh Pirates veteran Rick Rhoden (6.6) and Los Angeles Dodgers legend Fernando Valenzuela (5.4).
It’s weird the voters gave Clemens the AL MVP but did not give Scott the NL MVP, all things considered (see below). Go figure. But we digress: Pittsburgh finished dead last in the NL East, while the Dodgers won just 73 games, so it’s easy to confirm Scott’s hardware.
His traditionals: 18-10, 2.22 ERA, 5 SOs, 275 1/3 IP, 306 Ks, and a 0.923 WHIP. The ERA, SOs, IP, and Ks led the league, as did his 5.9 hits allowed per 9 IP and his 10.0 Ks per 9 IP. Seriously, Scott had a much better season than Clemens did, and there were no obvious positions players warranting a clear MVP vote. So why Clemens instead of Scott? Doesn’t really matter here, but it’s an interesting piece of evidence for the Least Coast media bias.
1986 AL ROTY: José Canseco (original), Mark Eichhorn (revised)
Oakland Athletics outfielder José Canseco (3.1 WAR) won the AL ROTY vote at the time, but we’re inclined to ignore this for three reasons: First, there’s strong evidence to suggest he was always using PEDs, and second, the A’s finished under .500 with just 76 wins, which was 16 games behind the California Angels in the AL West. Therefore, Canseco had little value in that regard. Third, he was a negative defender (-0.7 dWAR).
Our best real candidates are Toronto reliever Mark Eichhorn (7.3 WAR) and Angels first baseman Wally Joyner (3.2). With California winning the AL West by 5 games over the Texas Rangers, though, it’s clear Joyner’s value wasn’t special. Yet the Blue Jays finished 9.5 games behind Boston in the AL East. Overall, Eichhorn’s value edge is doubling up the nearest competitor … and then some.
Canseco won the vote for his 33 HRs and 117 RBI, but Joyner contributed a .290 average, 22 HRs, and 100 RBI for a division winner. It’s surprising the voters ignored those facts on their ballots. Either way, Eichhorn—14-6 record, 1.72 ERA, 10 saves, 157 IP, 166 Ks, and 0.955 WHIP—deserves this award for a truly impressive rookie season.
1986 NL ROTY: Todd Worrell (original), Robby Thompson (revised)
With just 2.6 WAR, St. Louis Cardinals closer Todd Worrell won the NL ROTY vote, despite the fact he pitched in 24 games at the end of the 1985 regular season and in the 1985 postseason, combined. He also lost 10 games as a reliever in 1986 and was just fourth in NL rookie WAR for a team that finished under .500 and 28.5 games out of first place. What were the voters thinking? Was this a sympathy vote for his meltdown in the 1985 World Series?!
Either way, the best rookies in the league were Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Barry Bonds (3.5), San Francisco Giants second baseman Robby Thompson (3.4), and Phillies starter Bruce Ruffin (3.2). We will even toss in Mets utility man Kevin Mitchell (2.5) as a fourth option, as we cannot deduce he was on PEDs yet, either (although we highly suspect he was by 1989—which we will deal with later this month).
The Mets didn’t need Mitchell to win the NL East by 21.5 games, and we know the Pirates stunk (and Bonds didn’t start juicing until 1999, anyway). The Giants finished just 13 games behind the Astros in the NL West, putting Thompson ahead of Ruffin in our pecking order. So that’s where we end up, randomly.
Thompson did lead the league in sacrifice hits (18), and his defense (0.9 dWAR) was pretty good, too, for a rookie infielder. His bat (.698 OPS) was less than mediocre but only to the tune of a 97 OPS+ … so he wasn’t that bad, in reality, for the era. He’s an underwhelming choice, for sure, but sometimes that happens.