Pitchers for MVP?

Below is a list of all pitchers to have won the MVP award. First it should be noted that 14 of the 23 winners occurred before the advent of the Cy Young Award.  In an era in which no major award was set aside solely for pitchers, ptichers were very competitive in the balloting.  The Hank Aaron Award has not yet served a similar function for hitters, as it really has not become a major award.

Second, the next drop-off comes with the introduction of the designated hitter. 5 of the 9 MVPs won since the Cy Young began to be awarded were given in 17 years between 1956 and 1973. This is tougher to explain. Note the pitchers who win in the pre-DH decade and a half. They were not getting bonus points for their hitting. In fact, Koufax in particular was renowned as one of the worst hitters ever to play the game. Nevertheless, the DH rule devalues the importance of pitchers to a successful baseball team. (DH’s suffer the same backlash in reverse, as Don Baylor in 1979 is the only DH to win an MVP.) MVP voters put some weight on the claim that a player contributes to more areas of a team’s success, i.e. that the player is involved in daily hitting and in daily fielding. Pitchers, by contrast only pitch every five days. This might explain the relative success of relievers in MVP voting as three of the four pitching MVP awards went to relievers. (In 1981, Fingers pitched in 47 games, out 109 games in the strike-shortened season.  Hernandez appeared in a league-leading 80 games in 1984.  Eckersley pitched a career high 69 games in 1992. Clemens only pitched 33 games in 1986, though he pitched substantially more innings than either closer.)

What does this mean for this year’s MVP voting? Don’t hold out hope for Zach Greinke, Chris Carpenter, Tim Lincecum, or Adam Wainwright? Similarly, don’t be surprised if Mariano Rivera does better than expected.

1913, 24 – Walter Johnson
1924 – Dazzy Vance
1931 – Lefty Grove
1933, 36 – Carl Hubbell
1934 – Dizzy Dean
1939 – Bucky Walter
1942 – Mort Cooper
1943 – Spud Chandler
1944, 45 – Hal Newhouser
1950 – Jim Konstanty
1952 – Bobby Shantz
1956 – Don Newcombe (Also won the first Cy Young Award)
1963 – Sandy Koufax
1968 – Bob Gibson
1968 – Denny McLain
1971 – Vida Blue
1981 – Rollie Fingers
1984 – Willie Hernandez
1986 – Roger Clemens
1992 – Dennis Eckersley

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2 Comments on “Pitchers for MVP?”

  1. verdun Says:

    Interesting that Clemens is the only starter since the advent of the DH to win an MVP. ’86 was his coming out year and everyone agreed he was the major factor in getting the BoSox to the World Series. The only other time I can recall a starter being considered primarily responsible for a team getting to the World Series since the advent of the DH was in ’88 with Hershiser (and his teammate won the MVP that year).

  2. Baseballbriefs.com tracking back Pitchers for MVP?…

    Baseballbriefs.com tracking back Pitchers for MVP?…

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