MLB Monday has hit a season that began an impressive streak of 14 straight playoff appearances for the Atlanta Braves franchise, although the team only ended up winning one World Series (1995) in that stretch, strangely. Either way, that’s pretty amazing for a team to accomplish, especially when the run began before the wild-card playoff era.
How many Braves will win individual awards over the next handful of entries here? Only time will tell!
1991 AL MVP: Cal Ripken, Jr. (original, confirmed)
The junior circuit dominated the season, with 7 of the Top 10 players coming from the American League: Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr. (11.5 WAR); Seattle Mariners centerfielder Ken Griffey, Jr. (7.1); Chicago White Sox first baseman Frank Thomas (7.0); Detroit Tigers second baseman Lou Whitaker (6.8); Boston Red Sox third baseman Wade Boggs (6.4); Toronto Blue Jays CF Devon White (6.3); and Texas Rangers 2B Julio Franco (6.2).
There’s four Hall of Famers in that list, and Whitaker should be in the Hall. Ripken’s season was historic, and he did win the MVP vote at the time despite playing on a 67-win team. The Blue Jays won the AL East by 7 games, so White’s contributions were somewhat valuable. But Ripken meets our double-digit WAR threshold, and we will confirm his MVP nod, readily, especially since no one else was even close.
His traditionals: Ripken led the AL in total bases (368), while hitting .323 with 34 HRs and 114 RBI, adding 46 doubles, a .946 OPS, and 3.5 dWAR at age 30 without missing a single game (obviously). The dWAR mark topped MLB as a whole, too. Pretty amazing season, in truth, one of the best ever. This is his fourth AL MVP win in our books (1983, 1984, 1989).
1991 NL MVP: Terry Pendleton (original, confirmed)
The three best players in the senior circuit were Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Barry Bonds (8.0 WAR), Chicago Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg (7.0), and Braves third baseman Terry Pendleton (6.1). The Pirates won the NL East by 14 games, and Atlanta won the NL West by 1 games. The Cubs finished under .500, and Pendleton won the vote at the time.
Bonds obviously had the better season and was the better player, but Pendleton had more value in the sense his team needed him to reach the postseason; the same cannot be said of Bonds. So, we confirm Pendleton’s award, surprisingly, and we are sure a snub like this contributed to Bonds’ later anger and entitlement that led him to cheat so profoundly by the end of the decade.
But we digress: Pendleton topped the NL in hits (187), batting average (.319), and total bases (303), while adding 22 HRs, 86 RBI, 10 SBs, and 1.1 dWAR as the Braves completed a worst-to-first turnaround to reach the postseason for just the third time since 1958.
1991 AL Cy Young: Roger Clemens (original), Kevin Tapani (revised)
There were five quality pitchers in contention for this award: Boston ace Roger Clemens (7.9 WAR), California Angels southpaw Jim Abbott (7.6), Angel veteran Mark Langston (7.3), Blue Jays mid-season acquisition Tom Candiotti (7.1), and Minnesota Twins youngster Kevin Tapani (6.8). Clemens won the vote at the time, and we don’t remember having so many quality candidates for a Cy Young Award.
Boston finished 7 games behind Toronto in the AL East, while California finished last in the AL West with 81 wins, impressively. But both Angels pitchers are out since they had each other to rely on. The Twins won the AL West by 8 games, rendering Tapani a bit less valuable. As for Candiotti, 3.6 WAR came during his time with Cleveland, so the Blue Jays didn’t really “need” him in the value sense.
Between Clemens and Tapani, the Rocket had the much better season, even though his team finished in second place. This is a tough decision, but since the value difference isn’t that much, we will give this award to Tapani, which surprises us: The Twins had the best record in the AL, thanks to his 16-9 record, his 2.99 ERA, and his 1.086 WHIP. Minnesota also went from worst to first, by the way, thanks to Tapani.
1991 NL Cy Young: Tom Glavine (original, confirmed)
We have an interesting discussion in the NL, as five pitchers stood out: Atlanta southpaw Tom Glavine (8.5 WAR), Montréal Expos veteran Dennis Martínez (5.8), Cincinnati Reds ace José Rijo (5.5), Braves workhorse John Smoltz (5.4), and Atlanta phenom Steve Avery (5.2). Yes, that’s three Braves pitchers in the MLB Top 10, and Glavine won the NL Cy vote as he posted the highest WAR mark in MLB for pitchers.
The Reds finished 20 games behind Atlanta in the NL West, while the Expos finished last in the NL East. And usually, with teammates, the drill is to drop them all, but Glavine’s dominance was so thorough (finishing 2.7 WAR ahead and posting the most value in the majors), we can’t ignore his WAR mark here, even if all three pitchers carried comparable value to the Braves’ 1-game division edge.
His numbers: 20-11, 2.55 ERA, 11 CGs, 246 2/3 innings, 192 Ks, and a 1.095 WHIP. The Ks were a career best, and Glavine topped the NL in wins, complete games, and ERA+. Atlanta would not have won the NL West without any of its three star pitchers, of course, but Glavine was the best of the bunch by far.
1991 AL ROTY: Chuck Knoblauch (original), Juan Guzmán (revised)
Seven rookies in the junior circuit topped 2.0 WAR, and Twins second baseman Chuck Knoblauch (2.9 WAR) won the AL ROTY vote at the time. However, three first-year players bested him in WAR: Detroit CF Milt Cuyler (4.1), Blue Jays starter Juan Guzmán (3.2), and Cleveland starter Charles Nagy (3.1). We know the Twins won the AL West in a walk, while the Blue Jays won the AL East, readily, too.
Therefore, all things being equal there, this award should have gone to Guzmán for his 10-3 record, 2.99 ERA, 1.083 WHIP, and 123 Ks. We’re not sure how Knoblauch got all the love for a .701 OPS and a middling 0.4 dWAR, but it’s hard to ignore Guzmán’s 8.0 K/9 rate in 23 starts.
1991 NL ROTY: Jeff Bagwell (original), Mike Stanton (revised)
Even though the Houston Astros finished in last place, their first baseman—Jeff Bagwell—won the NL ROTY for finishing with 4.8 WAR, the best rookie mark in the league. But two other rookies finished behind him in WAR while also playing for division winners: Pirates first baseman Orlando Merced (2.7) and Braves relief pitcher Mike Stanton (2.6).
With Atlanta winning its division by 1 game, you know what that means. Additionally, Bagwell finished with -0.8 dWAR, and Merced notched a -0.4 dWAR mark. That won’t do, so this award surprisingly goes to Stanton for his 2.88 ERA in 78 innings with 1.064 WHIP and 7 saves. He finished just eighth in the NL ROTY voting at the time, but he clearly brought the most value to the table for a playoff team.