As we reach the end of the 1980s on MLB Monday, we find our annual awards analyses heating up with more data and more sabermetrics. That’s never a bad thing, even in a time when we still had just 4 playoff teams. Wait until we get to the wild-card era, right?
By the way, despite making the postseason 13 times since this season, the Oakland Athletics have not won a World Series since the Bay Bridge/Earthquake matchup.
1989 AL MVP: Robin Yount (original), Cal Ripken, Jr. (revised)
This was another terrible vote by the writers, as Milwaukee Brewers center fielder Robin Yount (5.8) won the hardware despite his team’s 81-81 finish, eight games back in the AL East. Meanwhile, the two best players in the league were A’s left fielder Rickey Henderson (8.7 WAR) and Boston Red Sox third baseman Wade Boggs (8.4).
(By the way, Yount finished with -1.3 dWAR, putting a strong asterisk next to his designation as the only winner of the award while playing two different positions, etc.)
Henderson only played 85 games with Oakland after being acquired from the New York Yankees, where he accrued 3.6 WAR. With the A’s winning the AL West by 7 games over the Kansas City Royals, Oakland probably would have won the division without picking up Henderson. Meanwhile, the Red Sox finished 6 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays.
Two other players worth noting: Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr. (6.7) and Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Fred McGriff (6.6). Toronto won the AL East by 2 games over Baltimore, meaning the Crime Dog had more value than Henderson or Boggs, despite those players having better, overall seasons. This surprises us, too, as we somewhat assumed Henderson would be a shoo-in for this.
But alas, McGriff was a negative defender (-0.4 dWAR). So now where do we go? Ripken makes more “value” sense over Boggs and Henderson, still, so there you go—a double surprise, in essence. He led the AL in dWAR (3.5) while hitting 21 HRs and driving in 93 runs while walking 57 times; his defense almost won the AL East for the Orioles. This is his third AL MVP in our book (1983, 1984).
1989 NL MVP: Kevin Mitchell (original), Will Clark (revised)
The San Francisco Giants won the NL West behind vote-winner Kevin Mitchell (6.9 WAR), their left fielder. But he was brutal in the field (-1.7 dWAR) as the Giants outlasted the San Diego Padres by just 3 games in the standings. His ghastly defense eliminates him from consideration here.
The remaining best candidates are Atlanta Braves left fielder Lonnie Smith (8.8 WAR), Giants first baseman Will Clark (8.6), Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Barry Bonds (8.0), St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith (7.3), and New York Mets third baseman Howard Johnson (6.9).
Smith’s team won 63 times, so he’s out. Clark was an average defender (0.0 dWAR), literally, so he gets through in picking up S.F. slack for Mitchell. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh won just 74 times, and the Cards finished 7 games behind the Chicago Cubs in the NL East. As for the Mets, they came in second place by 6 games. This looks like Clark’s award, by the skin of his glove, really. One more error, perhaps?
His traditionals: league-high 104 runs, 23 HRs, 111 RBI, .333 batting average, and a .953 OPS. Clark was the real MVP for the Giants, and thus, he gets our nod here as well.
1989 AL Cy Young: Bret Saberhagen (original, confirmed)
The two best pitchers in the league came from the same team, Kansas City: They were Bret Saberhagen (9.7 WAR) and Mark Gubicza (6.3). Saberhagen won the vote, and normally, two teammates atop the charts would eliminate them both. But when you lead your peers by 3.4 WAR and your team finishes second, that’s good enough for us to confirm this trophy.
He bested the AL in wins (23), ERA (2.16), complete games (12), innings pitched (262 1/3), and WHIP (0.961). Saberhagen also posted 193 Ks, as the Royals would not have been division contenders without his right arm.
1989 NL Cy Young: Mark Davis (original), Mark Langston (revised)
Padres closer Mark Davis (4.4 WAR) won the NL Cy vote, but he can’t win ours, for a few reasons. The best pitchers in the league were Los Angeles Dodgers star Orel Hershiser (7.0), Padres southpaw Bruce Hurst (6.5), San Diego journeyman Ed Whitson (6.5), and Montréal Expos mid-season acquisition Mark Langston (6.4). With three Padres here, they’re all out, obviously.
But the Dodgers finished under .500, and the Expos finished right at .500 for the year. Neither was truly a contender, but Montréal never would have gotten to .500 and within shouting distance of the Mets without Langston’s 176 2/3 IP and 175 Ks. His 8.9 Ks/9 topped the NL, and he pitched enough innings in the senior circuit to earn this award from us—surprisingly.
1989 AL ROTY: Gregg Olson (original, confirmed)
Four AL rookies stood out above the rest in 1989: Texas Rangers pitcher Kevin Brown (3.6 WAR), Baltimore closer Gregg Olson (3.3), Royals starter Tom Gordon (3.3), and Seattle Mariners center fielder Ken Griffey, Jr. (3.3).
Olson won the vote at the time, and with the Orioles finishing just 2 games out of a postseason berth, we confirm the vote results here. His statistics: 1.69 ERA, 27 saves, 85 IP, 90 Ks, and a 1.212 WHIP. None of the other players appeared on teams that finished as close to the top as Baltimore.
1989 NL ROTY: Jerome Walton (original), Greg Harris (revised)
Cubs CF Jerome Walton (1.9 WAR) won the NL ROTY vote, despite being the second-best rookie on his own team (fellow outfielder Dwight Smith posted 2.3 WAR). But it was Padres pitcher Greg Harris (3.8) that deserved the award, really: His versatility led to a 2.60 ERA in 135 IP, spread out over 8 starts, 6 saves, and 8 victories overall in helping San Diego finish second.