We have reached a “Year of the Home Run” on MLB Monday, as the 1987 season produced a lot of power anomalies. We know some players were using performance-enhancing drugs already, although we also know many of them were not doing so, either. This makes it a very interesting year to process for our weekly awards show!
Here we go … enjoy the read.
1987 AL MVP: George Bell (original), Alan Trammell (revised)
Because of the power surges, Toronto Blue Jays left fielder George Bell won the AL MVP vote, thanks to 47 HRs, 135 RBI, and not much else (-0.5 dWAR). His overall WAR mark (5.0) paled in comparison to the top three position players in the league: Boston Red Sox third baseman Wade Boggs (8.3), Detroit Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell (8.2), and Milwaukee Brewers utility man Paul Molitor (6.0).
This is an easy award to re-assign to Trammell, as although Boggs won the award from us last year, the Red Sox finished under .500 this season—and the Tigers won the AL East Division by 2 games over the Blue Jays. This is a no-brainer decision, and it’s hard to imagine why the voters at the time missed it … save their silly love and obsession for power numbers.
Trammell’s traditionals: .343 batting average, 28 HRs, 105 RBI, 21 SBs, .402 OBP, .551 SLG, and an .953 OPS. He also turned in a 1.0 dWAR mark, so he was a two-way player for a division champion. Trammell never got more than 41 percent of the Hall of Fame vote before being selected by the Veteran’s Committee.
You have to wonder if him winning this award would have made a difference. See how silly the voters have been?! He’s rated as the 10th-best shortstop in MLB history, and that wasn’t good enough for the Hall of Fame, straight up? The voters can be such sheep at times.
1987 NL MVP: Andre Dawson (original), Ozzie Smith (revised)
The voters were even worse for the NL MVP Award, gifting it to Chicago Cubs Andre Dawson, perhaps as a token of appreciation for all his years of toil in Montréal. Dawson hit 49 HRs and drove in 137 runs for the last-place Cubs, while compiling just a 4.0 WAR mark—including a -0.6 dWAR effort. This was ridiculous, even at the time.
Meanwhile, the top 7 players in the senior circuit were San Diego Padres right fielder Tony Gwynn (8.6), Cincinnati Reds centerfielder Eric Davis (7.9), Atlanta Braves right fielder Dale Murphy (7.7), Expos left fielder Tim Raines (6.8), St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith (6.4), New York Mets right fielder Darryl Strawberry (6.4), and Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt (6.1).
The Padres won just 65 games, while the Reds finished 6 games behind the San Francisco Giants in the NL West. The Braves only won 69 times, as Montréal finished 4 games behind the Cardinals in the NL East. The Mets finished in second place behind St. Louis, by 3 games, and the Phillies posted just 80 victories. This leaves us with the reality that Smith was a difference maker for a division winner, and his overall WAR was clearly good enough.
Davis had his famous “37-50” season, where he fell just 3 HRs short of the first 40-40 season in MLB history. He was truly outstanding, but he couldn’t get his team close enough to San Francisco. Raines was good, obviously, while Strawberry was brutal in the field (-1.5 dWAR). Smith was his usual self on defense (2.4 dWAR), but his offensive game was pretty good, too: .303 average, 75 RBI, 43 SBs, and 89 walks.
It’s quite ironic, of course, that Smith hit zero HRs in this Year of the Home Run. But this is the way we see the sabermetric cookie crumbling, and no one is truly more surprised than us. We knew Dawson wouldn’t keep the trophy, but we never imagined that the Wizard of Oz would walk away with it, either.
1987 AL Cy Young: Roger Clemens (original), Frank Viola (revised)
Boston ace Roger Clemens won his second AL Cy vote in a row, but with his team finishing under .500, his amazing season (9.4 WAR) went to relative waste. Overall, 7 pitchers topped 6.0 WAR in the junior circuit, including Minnesota Twins southpaw Frank Viola (8.1), Kansas City Royals star Bret Saberhagen (8.0), Toronto lefty Jimmy Key (7.4), Tigers midseason acquisition Doyle Alexander (6.5), Brewers wunderkind Teddy Higuera (6.3), and Royals stalwart Charlie Leibrandt (6.0).
The Twins won the AL West by 2 games over the Royals, so that elevates Viola and eliminates both Saberhagen and Leibrandt from the conversation. While Alexander did help the Tigers edge out the Blue Jays by posting a 9-0 record and a 1.53 ERA while in Detroit, a whopping 2.2 WAR in his season came when he was hitting and pitching for the Braves in the NL.
Meanwhile, the Brewers finished 7 games out in the AL East, and Key’s brilliance wasn’t as valuable as Viola’s contributions, in terms of helping a team win the division—and the Minnesota lefty had better value, nonetheless, straight up. Viola posted a 17-10 record, and without him, the Twins don’t win the AL West. His 2.90 ERA in 251 2/3 IP went a long way toward securing Minnesota’s postseason spot.
1987 NL Cy Young: Steve Bedrosian (original), Tim Burke (revised)
This is one of the more difficult awards we’ve ever had to assess, in truth. Phillies closer Steve Bedrosian (2.3) laughably won the NL Cy vote for saving 40 games on a sub-.500 team, but there are a dire lack of qualified candidates here, in truth.
The three best pitchers overall? Los Angeles Dodgers veteran Bob Welch (7.1), his workhorse teammate Orel Hershiser (6.4), and Cubs starter Rick Sutcliffe (6.0), who we stripped of this award once. All three guys took the mound for losing teams, so there’s no way they’re getting this award. Who else is there, however?
The only other two pitchers who meet our usual criteria are Houston Astros rotation buddies Mike Scott (5.9) and Nolan Ryan (5.4). But their team also finished under .500 for the season. So, we posit an exception to our rule: Montréal closer Tim Burke (4.3 WAR). Not only was he better than Bedrock, but his team won 91 games and only finished 4 games out of first place—11 games ahead of the Phillies!
This is just one of those seasons, you know? Burke posted a 7-0 record over 91 IP with a 0.890 WHIP, which is pretty outstanding, actually. He only saved 18 games, but Expos would have had no chance to contend without his arm. Along with Smith above, Burke is definitely an award winner we never saw coming at all.
1987 AL ROTY: Mark McGwire (original), Kevin Seitzer (revised)
Oakland Athletics first baseman Mark McGwire set the all-time rookie HR record with 49 long balls, and he won the vote for the AL ROTY Award. The A’s finished 81-81 and 4 games behind the Twins in the AL West, so there is an argument here for Big Mac (5.1 WAR), as we firmly believe he did not start juicing until 1992—despite what his infamous teammate claims.
However, two other AL West rookies also topped the 5.0-WAR mark: California Angels outfielder Devon White (5.6) and Royals third baseman Kevin Seitzer (5.5). The Angels finished with just 75 victories, so with Kansas City finishing 2 games ahead of the A’s, it makes more sense to reward Seitzer for his first-year brilliance here than it does to reward McGwire. In addition, Seitzer was 1.2 dWAR better than Big Mac, as well.
Seitzer hit .323 overall, with 15 HRs, 83 RBI, 12 SBs, 80 walks, and an .869 OPS as he replaced George Brett at the hot corner—no small task, obviously. That is a lot of pressure for a rookie, and when you throw in a close pennant race, Seitzer definitely earned this hardware.
1987 NL ROTY: Benito Santiago (original), Greg Mathews (revised)
The Padres’ poor finish cost Gwynn the NL MVP here, and it will cost catcher Benito Santiago (3.4 WAR) the NL ROTY as well. When you win just 65 games, the value of your production dissipates quickly. Meanwhile, Cardinals rookie starter Greg Mathews (3.5) helped his team win the NL East.
Mathews won 11 games and tossed 197 2/3 innings for St. Louis, and he also hit .191 at the plate, which is pretty decent for a pitcher. Take him out of the rotation, and the Cards may not win the division; his WAR is just slightly more than the gap in the standings between St. Louis and the Mets.
For the record, this is the first time since 1961 that we have had to revised all voted awards, and since the Cy Young was singular then, this is literally the first season in while we have revised all six awards in this miniseries. Yep, it was that crazy of a season …