This is a landmark season for MLB Monday, as we have our first PED disqualification of an award winner to discuss below. Consider the PED Era officially open for business, sadly, as professional baseball in America takes a downturn into the darkness that still envelops it today.
We guess that means we’re rounding third base right now and headed for home, eh?
1988 AL MVP: Jose Canseco (original), x (revised)
The top four position players in baseball roamed the junior circuit this season, led by Boston Red Sox third baseman Wade Boggs (8.3), Minnesota Twins center fielder Kirby Puckett (7.8), Red Sox left fielder Mike Greenwell (7.5), and Oakland Athletics right fielder José Canseco (7.3). Canseco won the vote for the first 40-40 season in MLB history, although the A’s won the AL West by 13 games over the Twins, and he posted a -0.9 dWAR.
Even if Canseco hadn’t admitted to using steroids during this season, we still would strip him of the award for lack of true value and being a defensive liability. Oakland would have won the division without him. And Puckett’s team was a non-contending one, and that leaves us with two Red Sox players—who would normally cancel each other out.
But with no other viable candidates, we must look to Boston: Both players were slightly positive defenders, and the Red Sox won the AL East by 1 game over the Detroit Tigers. Boggs was the better player, although both had obvious value. The Chicken Man topped the league in runs (128), doubles (45), walks (125), batting average (.366), OBP (.476), and OPS (.965), while Greenwell merely tied Boggs for the league lead in intentional walks (18).
That seals it for us, and this is the second time we’ve given Boggs an AL MVP he wasn’t afforded in real life. He was a 12-time All Star, but two MVP awards would have been a nice feather in his cap, for sure. Let the historical record reflect the poor choices by the voters in 1986 and 1988.
1988 NL MVP: Kirk Gibson (original), Barry Larkin (revised)
The rest of the MLB Top 10 for position players were from the senior circuit: Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin (7.0), San Francisco Giants center fielder Brett Butler (6.8), Giants first baseman Will Clark (6.7), St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith (6.6), Los Angeles Dodgers left fielder Kirk Gibson (6.5), and Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andy Van Slyke (6.4). This could get complicated.
Smith won this award from us last year, while Gibson won the vote for his leadership, mostly. The Dodgers won the NL West by 7 games over the Reds, and Gibson posted 0.0 dWAR. One could argue L.A. won the division in spite of him, in truth. The Giants finished 11.5 games behind the Dodgers, so both those players are out, despite having great seasons.
In the NL East, the New York Mets won out by 15 games over the Pirates, and the Cards won just 76 times after losing the World Series twice in the last three years. Smith and Van Slyke, therefore, are not MVP candidates. This comes down to Larkin and Gibson, in essence: L.A. didn’t need Gibson, and Cincy needed Larkin to remain in contention above the fray in the NL West.
Larkin also posted 2.3 dWAR, to finish sixth overall in MLB. His offensive season—12 HRs, 56 RBI, 40 SBs, and a .296 average—was very good, while Gibson—25 HRs, 76 RBI, 31 SBs, and a .290 average—was better, as befitting his positional expectations. But the defense sticks out to us, and the fact L.A. had a bigger-than-his-WAR edge in the division matter to us. We’re giving this MVP to Larkin, and feel free to disagree with us.
1988 AL Cy Young: Frank Viola (original), Roger Clemens (revised)
Minnesota Twins southpaw Frank Viola (7.7 WAR) won the Cy Young, one year after we granted it to him in retrospect. Eight of the Top 10 MLB pitchers this season were in the AL, too, so it’s a complicated list. Here’s the deal, though: We know the Twins finished 13 games out, and Viola’s rotation mate— lefty junker Allan Anderson (5.5)—was also in the Top 10, so they cancel each other out on a team that did not really contend.
Who else is left? Kansas City Royals workhorse Mark Gubicza (7.8) topped the AL in WAR, but his team finished 19.5 games behind Oakland in the AL West. Milwaukee Brewers star Teddy Higuera (7.4) deserves consideration, as his team ended up just 2 games out of first place in the AL East. However, he gets superseded by Boston’s Roger Clemens (7.1), as the Red Sox did win the division in a very close race. He made the difference, one could argue.
Two Cleveland starters—southpaw Greg Swindell (5.9) and knuckleballer Tom Candiotti (5.7)—cancel each other out on a team that finished under .500, and Seattle Mariners star Mark Langston (5.6) also pitched for a losing team. Clemens will win this by default, one year after we stripped him of the AL Cy. His numbers—18-12, 2.93 ERA, 14 CG, 8 SOs, 291 Ks, and a 1.097 WHIP over 264 IP really powered Boston to the division crown.
1988 NL Cy Young: Orel Hershiser (original, confirmed)
One year after a very randomly hard search for a worthy NL Cy winner, we have one of the easiest confirmations to make this season. Dodgers ace Orel Hershiser (7.2 WAR) easily outdistanced the next-best pitcher in the league, Mets phenom David Cone (5.5). Both players threw for division winners, but Hershiser’s season was better and more valuable as well.
Hershiser posted a 23-8 record with a 2.26 ERA, 15 CGs, 8 SOs, 267 IP, and a 1.052 WHIP. He also finished the regular season on that famous scoreless-inning streak, having not given up a run over his final 5 starts, all complete-game shutouts. In fact, his final 8 starts were all complete games, and he only gave up four runs total in those 56 IP as the Dodgers won the NL West Division. Tell us he didn’t deserve this award, and we laugh at you.
1988 AL ROTY: Walt Weiss (original), Jody Reed (revised)
A’s shortstop Walt Weiss (2.8 WAR) won the AL ROTY vote, although it was mostly his glove (2.4 dWAR), as his .633 OPS was terrible. The better choice for the hardware would have been Red Sox second baseman Jody Reed (3.4). His game was more balanced (1.7 dWAR) as his .756 OPS reveals. Also, Oakland would have won the AL West with you who are reading this at shortstop, while the same cannot be said for Boston and its need for Reed.
This represents a clean sweep for the Red Sox this season for all the AL awards here. For the record, other notable rookies included Brewers starter Don August (3.2)—our second choice for this award—California Angels closer Bryan Harvey (2.5), and Chicago White Sox outfielder Dave Gallagher (2.5).
1988 NL ROTY: Chris Sabo (original, confirmed)
Reds third baseman Chris Sabo (5.1 WAR) had an outstanding rookie season, although San Diego Padres second baseman Roberto Alomar (4.4) was not too far behind. Dodgers starter Tim Belcher (2.7) and Atlanta Braves second baseman Ron Gant (2.1) also had seasons of note. San Diego finished behind Cincinnati in the standings, and Atlanta won just 54 games. Sabo gets to keep his vote-upon hardware.
His traditionals: 11 HRs, 44 RBI, 46 SBs, 2.4 dWAR, and a .271 batting average for a team that finished second. This is no knock against Alomar (9 HRs, 41 RBI, 24 SBs, 1.4 dWAR, and a .266 average), of course, as we know which player ended up in the Hall of Fame.