Thursday, July 18, 2013

Miguel Cabrera and Buster Posey: Back-to-Back MVP's Back-to-Back?

The great Jonah Keri handed out his A.L. and N.L. midseason awards over the past two days and I noticed he gave his MVP's to the two guys who are currently holding the hardware, Miguel Cabrera and Buster Posey.

Even though we still have 40 percent of the season left to play, I think it's safe to say that the A.L. award is Miggy's to lose. Posey is in the middle of a much tighter and much more crowded race. At the end of the season we could end up with not only the 13th and 14th times a player has won back-to-back MVP's, but the first time ever that both reigning MVP's won it again.

Here are the 12 back-to-back MVP winners:

1932-33 Jimmie Foxx
1944-45 Hal Newhouser
1954-55 Yogi Berra
1956-57 Mickey Mantle
1958-59 Ernie Banks
1960-61 Roger Maris
1975-76 Joe Morgan
1980-81 Mike Schmidt
1982-83 Dale Murphy
1992-93 Barry Bonds
1993-94 Frank Thomas
2001-04 Barry Bonds
2008-09 Albert Pujols

In all 12 cases, the other league had different players win the corresponding MVP. In half of those years however, one of those MVP's finished in the top five in the year that they didn't win it. When was the closest we've come to having both MVP's win the award again? Let's see:


Jimmie Foxx's 1932 and 1933 seasons were absurd. He posted a .364/.469/.749/1.218 BA/OBP/SLG/OPS slash line in 1932 and followed that up with a .356/.449/.703/1.153 line. He led the league in homers and RBI's in both seasons (58 and 169, 48 and 163). He is one of only four players to rack up 400 total bases in consecutive seasons (438 and 403). The others are Chuck Klein (405 in 1929 and 445 in 1930), Lou Gehrig (419 in 1930 and 410 in 1931) and Todd Helton (405 in 2000 and 402 in 2001). He totaled 19.6 Wins Above Replacement for the two seasons and was named A.L. MVP twice.

Chuck Klein led the N.L. in homers, SLG, OPS, steals, runs and hits to earn the MVP in 1932. He followed that up in 1933 by winning the Triple Crown to go along with leading the league in OBP, SLG, OPS+, hits and WAR (among position players). The problem for Klein was that Carl Hubbell went 23-9, with a 1.66 ERA, 8.9 WAR and 0.98 WHIP in 308.2 innings (all league-leading totals). The icing on the cake was Hubbell's Giants winning the pennant (91-61) while Klein's Phillies finished 60-92. Hubbell won the MVP vote 77-48 over Klein. It is one of two instances on our list of the reigning MVP finishing second in the voting.


A funny thing about the Yankees' run of dominance under Casey Stengel is that their best season wasn't even a pennant winner. New York won 103 games in 1954, but the Cleveland Indians set an A.L. record with 111 victories to win the crown. Tribe stars Larry Doby, Bobby Avila, Bob Lemon and Early Wynn all split the vote and finished in the top six while Yogi Berra took home the hardware. WAR leader Minnie Minoso finished fourth.

Berra got the nod again in 1955 and although he had a solid line of .272/.349/.470 with 27 homers and 108 RBI's, he was outplayed even by several others, including a teammate. Mickey Mantle hit .306/.431/.611 with 37 homers and 9.5 WAR, but he finished fifth in the voting. Al Kaline equaled Berra's 27 dingers, but with a better .340/.421/.576 slash line and 8.2 WAR, only to finish second.  Ted Williams hit 28 homers with 6.8 WAR and a .356/.496/.703 line in only 98 games and finished fourth. Nevertheless, Yogi had himself back-to-back MVP's.

Willie Mays had a marvelous MVP season in 1954 (.345/.411/.667, 41 homers, 10.6 WAR) for the champion Giants. He cranked 51 homers and drove in 127 runs in 1955, but his batting average dipped to .319 and the Dodgers won the pennant, pushing Mays down to fourth in the MVP vote. But that's where the intrigue begins. Here are two Dodgers greats side-by-side and let's see who should be MVP:

Duke Snider: 42 HR, 136 RBI, 126 R, 104 BB, .309/.418/.628 slash line, 8.6 WAR
Roy Campanella: 32 HR, 107 RBI, 81 R, 56 BB,  .318/.395/.583 slash line, 5.3 WAR

Unless you give an overwhelming amount of extra credit to Campy for being behind the plate, I don't see how he tops Snider. Well Campanella won 226-221 in one of the tighest votes ever. But was there a missing vote for Snider that went uncounted and cost him the award? Who knows, but Joe Posnanski explored the controversy in depth in 2011 and it's worth a read.

Either way, Mays finished short of back-to-back MVP's while his A.L. counterpart Berra did.


Mickey Mantle won the Triple Crown in 1956, leading the Junior Circuit in batting (.353), homers (52) and RBI's (130). He also led in slugging (.705), runs (132), total bases (376), OPS+ (210) and WAR (11.3) as he led the Yanks to another title and was named MVP unanimously.

He won a close race with Ted Williams for the honor in 1957. At 38, Williams led the league in all three slash categories (.388/.526/.731) and posted 9.7 WAR, but Mantle was no slouch with a .365/.512/.665 line and 11.3 WAR to claim another MVP.

Don Newcombe won the 1956 N.L. MVP, but did not receive a vote in his bid to repeat. That year's winner, Hank Aaron, finished third in 1956 to make this list. Newk went 27-7 with a 3.06 ERA and 0.99 WHIP for the pennant-winning Dodgers, but Aaron hit .328/.365/.558 with 26 homers and out-WAR-ed Newcombe 7.1 to 5.4. The 1957 N.L. race was much like the A.L. one, with the well-rounded superstar edging an aging slugging legend. Aaron beat Stan Musial 239-230, despite The Man's .351/.422/.612 line. Aaron outhomered Musial 44-29 and was about two wins better by WAR. Willie Mays, like most years, had a good claim for it too, topping Aaron in BA, OBP, SLG and WAR. But at least Aaron helped the Braves win the pennant, hitting a walk-off homer to clinch it.


Barry Bonds won N.L. MVP in 1992 with the Pirates and in 1993 after signing with the Giants. But this entry deals with the year that he lost his bid for three straight MVP's. Frank Thomas was a unanimous choice for A.L. MVP in 1993 and received 24 of 28 first-place votes in 1994 to repeat. Bonds could not do the same in '94, however, finishing fourth behind an awesome Jeff Bagwell season. 

Bagwell won unanimously in the strike-shortened season. The Astros only played 115 games, but here are his numbers drawn out over a 162-game pace:

.368 BA, .451 OBP, .750 SLG, 1.201 OPS, 55 HR, 163 RBI, 147 R, 21 SB, 11.5 WAR

Holy moly. What we could have seen in 1994...historic seasons from Bagwell and Thomas, those two joining Ken Griffey and Matt Williams in their chase of Roger Maris, Tony Gwynn's run for .400, Chuck Knoblauch's bid for the doubles record, a possible Expos title, the list goes on.


In the middle of Barry Bonds' ridiculous 2001-2004 run, Alex Rodriguez came close to an MVP double-dip as well.

Here's another side-by-side, this time comparing the 2002 totals of A-Rod and Miguel Tejada:

Alex Rodriguez: 57 HR, 142 RBI, 187 H, 125 R, 87 BB, .300/.392/.623 slash line, 8.8 WAR
Miguel Tejada: 34 HR, 131 RBI, 204 H, 108 R, 38 BB, .308/.354/.508 slash line, 5.6 WAR

Looks A-Rod had a much better year. But the big story of that summer was the run by the "Moneyball" A's and their incredible 20-game winning streak. Rodriguez's Rangers finished in the A.L. West cellar at 72-90, 31 games behind Oakland. Tejada received 21 of 28 first-place votes. Rodriguez had five and finished in second place.

Despite another last-place finish by Texas in 2003, Rodriguez took home MVP honors. He put up 8.3 WAR with 47 homers and 118 RBI's to top a relatively lackluster group. Another player that missed the playoffs, Carlos Delgado, finished second after a 42-homer campaign.


Albert Pujols racked up 18.9 WAR over the course of back-to-back N.L. MVP seasons. Joe Mauer finished fourth in the 2008 A.L. vote behind Dustin Pedroia, who hit .326 for the postseason-bound Red Sox.

Mauer brought it home in 2009 though, registering a .365/.444/.587 line with 28 homers and 7.8 WAR, all as the premier catcher in the game and leading the Twins to a Game 163 win to reach the postseason.


So there are six cases of close-but-no-cigar, with two second-place finishes, one third-place and three fourth-places. I think we'll have another this year. My guess is that Cabrera rakes in the second half and wins another MVP, while Posey finishes in the top five but falls short of guys like Yadier Molina, Joey Votto or Paul Goldschmidt.

If Cabrera does win it again, it would be the third straight year a Detroit Tiger won the A.L. award, with Justin Verlander taking it in 2011. That would mark the ninth time that one team won three straight MVP's. Here are the first eight:

1931-33 Athletics: Lefty Grove -Foxx -Foxx
1938-40 Reds: Ernie Lombardi -Bucky Walters -Frank McCormick
1941-43 Yankees: Joe DiMaggio - Joe Gordon - Spud Chandler
1942-44 Cardinals: Mort Cooper - Stan Musial- Marty Marion
1954-57 Yankees: Berra - Berra - Mantle - Mantle
1960-63 Yankees: Roger Maris -Maris - Mantle - Elston Howard
1975-77 Reds: Joe Morgan - Morgan - George Foster
2000-04 Giants Jeff Kent - Bonds - Bonds - Bonds - Bonds

The 1938-40 Reds, 1941-43 Yankees and 1942-44 Cardinals are the three teams to do it with three different players. The two later Yankees squads were the first to have four straight MVP's and the Giants were the first to win five in a row.

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