Roy for ROY

The Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player, and Cy Young Awards all depend on subjective judgments. To be sure, objective criteria weigh heavily in such votes, but controversy occasionally surrounds such voting. Sometimes it’s a close call that could go either way, but then there are votes that defy the statistics.

Oft-cited example: Ted Williams wins the Triple Crown (.344, 32 homers, 114 RBIs) in 1947 but Joe DiMaggio wins the MVP. For good measure, Williams led the league in runs (125), bases on balls (162), on-base percentage (.499), slugging (.634) and total bases (335). Statistics-wise, DiMaggio was way behind, but the Yankees won the pennant while the Red Sox came in third—and the sportswriters who voted for MVP were not fond of Williams.

Inclusion on the Hall of Fame ballot represents another subjective judgment. Here, the ballot is usually more inclusive than necessary, as a number of the players who appear there clearly have no chance of being enshrined. It’s the ineligible ones who remain controversial.

Did Joe Jackson deserve to be among the eight men out or not? After 94 years (ever wonder how the White Sox will handle the Black Sox centennial in 2019?), baseball fans still argue about it. But we can’t argue with the fact that Joe Jackson hit .408 as a rookie (still a record) and had a .356 batting average (third best all-time) when he was banned from major league ball.

Pete Rose can be excluded from the Hall of Fame ballot because of gambling, but they can’t take away his all-time leadership in hits. No matter what you think of him, his name is at the top of the list. Nothing can change that unless another durable, proficient hitter surpasses him. Perhaps one day your son or grandson will ask, “Gee, dad/grandpa, why isn’t Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame?” That is what is known as a teachable moment.

League leadership in any category represents what a player actually accomplished. Postseason (and post-career) awards represent what other people think about what he accomplished. Awards tell you as much about the people who bestow them as the people who receive them. A good season can net you the Cy Young Award or the MVP, even if you didn’t lead the league in any of the major applicable categories.

Only rarely does controversy surround who has led the league in hitting, home runs, wins, saves, etc. You can quibble about a slugger being helped by a friendly home park or a lucky pitcher whose team scores plenty of runs when he starts, but in the last analysis, it’s all there in black and white, and it all comes out in the wash at the end of the season. Unless there’s a tie, one guy has more hits or homers or RBIs or strikeouts or wins or saves or whatever than the other guys, so he wins the crown.

The statistics show what you did or what you didn’t do. What you actually deserve is a matter of opinion. Hence the speculation on who will win ROY, MVP, CYA or be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Plenty of outstanding players did not win Rookie of the Year but won the MVP; a number of ROY winners peaked too early and never came close to an MVP. So far, only 11 players have “touched all the bases,” namely, Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player or Cy Young Award, and the Hall of Fame.

Four ROY winners (Luis Aparicio, Billy Williams, Eddie Murray Carlton Fisk) have managed to reach the Hall of Fame without ever winning an MVP, which goes to prove that longevity and consistency pay off in the long run. It’s kind of like those Lifetime Achievement Awards they give out at the Oscars to honor people who had long, distinguished careers in the movie industry yet somehow never won an Oscar for an individual picture.

One player sure to join the four above-mentioned Hall members is Derek Jeter (1996 AL ROY). Hard to believe, but looking back over the years—despite more than 3,300 hits, a batting average of .313 or so, and an entire career spent with the Yankees—Derek Jeter has never won the MVP award.

Without embarrassing anyone by mentioning names, the Rookie of the Year award includes plenty of players who broke in with a splash but then did a belly-flop. A certain amount of luck is involved in the ROY, as a talented young player on a veteran team simply isn’t going to get much of a chance to play. Or he may be called up in midseason and relinquish his rookie status without playing enough to turn heads. But there is life after the ROY and plenty of players who did not win it went on to outstanding careers, which makes the ROY the least significant award.

By contrast, a player is eligible to win the MVP or Cy Young any year during his career. Of course, as a corollary, a player gets only one shot at winning the ROY and MVP/Cy in the same season. This is definitely a long shot daily double, but both Fred Lynn and Ichiro Suzuki have won the ROY and MVP in the same season. Similarly, Fernando Valenzuela captured both the ROY and Cy Young in 1981.

Of course, potentially every pitcher who wins the Cy Young Award can also win the MVP. It’s rare, but two of the pitchers (Don Newcombe and Justin Verlander) on the chart have done so. It’s conceivable a rookie pitcher could win Rookie of the Year. Most Valuable Player and Cy Young in the same year. The word “phenom” is tossed around a lot, but in a case like that, it would surely apply.

As the chart below makes clear, only 26 players have gone from ROY to either a Cy Young or MVP. The ROY pool consists of 139 award winners dating back to 1940. This includes one winner every year from 1940 through 1948 (six years chosen by the Chicago chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America and two years by national writers of same), followed by one winner in each league (thanks to ties, there were two ROYs in the AL in 1976 and 1979) through 2012.

Since 1940 there have been 104 Cy Young winners (one in in the majors from 1956; one in each league since 1967).

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

With one MVP award per league since 1940, the total number of winners since then is 147 (Keith Hernandez and Willie Stargell tied in 1979 in the NL). So from 1940, the ROY winners who went on to bigger things include:

Rookie of the Year	 MVP                                Hall of Fame                       
                         Cy Young	

Hall of Fame
Lou Boudreau	1940	                                           Yes
Jackie Robinson	194                         	                   Yes
Don Newcombe	1949	1956 (CYA and MVP)	
Willie Mays	1951	1954, 1965                                 Yes
Luis Aparicio	1956                                               Yes
Frank Robinson	1956	1961, 1966	                           Yes
Orlando Cepeda	1958	1967	                                   Yes
Willie McCovey	1959	1969                                       Yes
Billy Williams	1961	                                           Yes
Pete Rose	1963	1973	
Dick Allen	1964	1972	
Rod Carew	1967	1977	                                   Yes
Tom Seaver	1967	1969, 1973, 1975 (CYA)	                   Yes
Johnny Bench	1968	1970, 1972	                           Yes
Carlton Fisk	1972		                                   Yes
Fred Lynn	1975	1975	
Eddie Murray	1977		                                   Yes
Andre Dawson	1977	1987	                                   Yes
Rick Sutcliffe	1979	1984 (CYA)	
F. Valenzuela	1981	1981 (CYA)	
Cal Ripken, Jr.	1982	1983, 1991                                 Yes
Dwight Gooden	1984	1985 (CYA)	
Jose Canseco	1986	1988	
Jeff Bagwell	1991	1994	
Albert Pujols	2001	2005, 2008, 2009                            Active
Ichiro Suzuki	2001	2001	                                    Active
Ryan Howard	2005	2006	                                    Active
J. Verlander	2006	2011 (CYA and MVP)                          Active
Ryan Braun	2007	2011	                                    Active
Buster Posey	2010	2012	                                    Active

Perhaps the most noticeable aberration in the chart is that only six pitchers (out of 29 players) have gone from ROY to a Cy Young. Given the proportion of pitchers on rosters, one would expect a higher total than that.

Of those six pitchers, only Tom Seaver has gone from ROY to Cy (three times) to HOF. That unique achievement correlates with Seaver being named on the highest percentage of ballots ever in the HaLL Of Fame voting. Nothing like making a good first impression and maintaining it throughout a lengthy career.

I think Seaver’s unique status and the relative paucity of pitchers in the chart proves that pitchers are more likely to develop over time rather than break in with a big splash. This becomes especially apparent when one examines the list of pitchers who have won the Cy Young more than once. Of that elite group (Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton, Greg Maddux, Sandy Koufax, Pedro Martinez, Jim Palmer, et al.), Seaver is the only one who won the ROY. It wouldn’t be surprising, however, to see Justin Verlander, the 2006 AL ROY winner, pick up another Cy Young Award and join Seaver in the ROY/multiple Cy ranks.

Four of the retired players on the chart have won the ROY and MVP but are not in the Hall. Don Newcombe, Dick Allen and Fred Lynn all made their mark in baseball history, but enshrinement does not appear to be in their future. Pete Rose is a special case. Perhaps one day there will be a warp in the cosmos and Rose will be swept up to Cooperstown. Maybe posthumously…maybe a twofer with Joe Jackson.

The six players at the bottom of the chart are still active but could end up in Cooperstown. Right now, Pujols and Suzuki appear sure things. Howard has not quite lived up to expectations, but Verlander, Braun and Posey appear to be worthy contenders, though it’s way to early to speculate about Cooperstown. Of course, if any of these guys hangs out with gamblers, then forget about it.

There are a few younger players who have won the ROY award and are bona fide MVP candidates. In fact, last year’s ROY winners, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, could win the MVP as early as this year. Trout came in second in MVP voting last year, so he already has the voters’ attention.

Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria (AL ROY 2008) is a possible MVP. Boston’s Dustin Pedroia (AL ROY 2007) is another possible MVP candidate. Carlos Beltran (AL ROY 1999) is a long shot, as he is now on the backside of his career. Craig Kimbrel (NL ROY 2011) also has a shot, as outstanding relief pitchers do on occasion win the Cy Young. Another good season plus a first-place finish for the Braves would surely garner him plenty of votes.

Every new season brings us another crop of ROY, MVP and CYA winners (unfortunately, the Hall sometimes takes a year off), so the chart is a work in progress.

Before closing, it is worth mentioning the Comeback Player of the Year and Manager of the Year awards, also decided by voting and only indirectly related to statistics. Among the players on the above chart, three (Buster Posey, Willie McCovey and Rick Sutcliffe) have also won Comeback Player of the Year awards. Frank Robinson stands alone as the only one to win the Manager of the Year award.

I don’t know if anyone, other than the award winners, really cares that much about those two awards, but if you ever see CBPY or MOY, at least you’ll know what the letters stand for.

I’m hoping that some day a rookie named Roy will win the ROY award so he can sign his autographs with ROY at both ends. Of course, if they’d had the ROY award during the Depression when Roy Hobbs had his outstanding rookie year with the New York Knights, then we’d already have a Roy with a ROY.

Frank Jackson writes about baseball, film and history, sometimes all at once. He has has visited 54 major league parks, many of which are still in existence.
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Tom B
9 years ago

Let’s not forget that Jeter’s MVP was stolen from him by a random beat writer in St Louis.  Morneau wasn’t even the best player on his own team in 2006 (Mauer was). 

Thank you, Jeter loved your 6th place vote. /sarcasm

9 years ago

You missed Thurman Munson (AL ROY in 1970, MVP in 1976). He could still conceivably make the HOF someday, but it’s unlikely.

Michael Caragliano
9 years ago

Dustin Pedroia has an MVP on the shelf—he copped it in 2008, one year after winnning the ROY.

9 years ago

Joe Mauer has an MVP, as well.  I guess Jeter will just have to find solace in all the nonsensical Gold Glove awards he’s been given.

9 years ago

The mistake would be much more excusable had Pedroia not gotten special mention in the article. I could understand if the author had simply forgotten to include him, but not after bringing him up and labeling him a possible MVP candidate. His MVP was in very recent memory too – shouldn’t even need to look that up.

@Tom B
Living in the past dude. Anyway, Joe Cowley is from Chicago (not Saint Louis). Yes he’s an idiot, but even if he gave Jeter a first place vote instead of sixth, Morneau still would have won. Besides, instead of Jeter, there’s a much stronger argument to be made that Mauer’s MVP was stolen from him by his teammate that year. Same could be said of Santana.

Paul G.
9 years ago

What would be interesting is to find the player that came closest to the ROY/CYA/MVP trifecta.  We have the voting results so it shouldn’t be that hard to figure out.  For a floor, Dwight Gooden in 1984 won the ROY, finished second in CYA, and placed 15th in the MVP voting.  He also made the All-Star team, which is your fourth accomplishment for the trilogy.

Morneau’s MVP is proof, that is regularly reinforced even still, that for many sports writers RBIs are the ultimate shiny object.  Shockingly he didn’t even lead the league in the thing.  Of course the guy who did was a designated hitter which to many writers is like cheating.

John C
9 years ago

Actually, Johan Santana was the best player on the 2006 Twins, not Mauer or Morneau, and better than Jeter too, if you believe WAR.

Jeter’s best season was actually 1999, when he finished sixth in the voting. Go figure. He was the best everyday player in the league.

And Pedroia won the MVP in the very next season after he was ROY. How could you forget that?

9 years ago

@John C

Yeah I mentioned Santana in my post. I don’t wholly trust WAR, but I do think it represents the “V” in “MVP” much better than most conventional metrics.

Speaking of Jeter and WAR, it really depends on who’s calculating it.  There’s no denying that 1999 was by far his best year, but some WAR calculations (e.g. fangraphs) place others ahead of him, and one could still argue for others who are close behind.

Not that anyone asked me, but it’s actually a great example of some of the reasons I distrust WAR. Nomar played the same position as Jeter in 1999 and was better both offensively and defensively.  The gap in WAR is (among some other less significant factors) due to Jeter’s 140+ more plate appearances.  While there is certainly a lot of value in playing more, it is not enough to justify the WAR difference.  It rewards Jeter for his team placing him higher in the lineup, and for playing on a team that accumulates plate appearances, both of which are team-dependent variables that a metric like WAR is supposed to be accounting.  Furthermore it treats those 140-something plate appearances as though a replacement level player were to take them, which is wrong at a conceptual level (because bench players are almost always better than replacement-level players), at a contextual level (since inferior players bat further down in the order, some of the missing “140” would actually be taken by a player closer to the skill level of Jeter/Garciaparra), and at a pretty-much-the-same-thing-I-just-said level (because plate appearances that don’t happen don’t need to be taken by replacement level players, since Nomar played on a team that had less plate appearances and placed him lower in the lineup).

Anyway…all that to say that WAR is imperfect and I hardly blame the voters for 1999 – or any year for the most part – because no one even knows what they’re measuring really.

9 years ago

I have always found it amusing the folks who think that the MVP award in 2006 was ‘stolen’ from Jeter. They usually point to RBI and say that that was the only reason that Morneau won.

Morneau hit .321 that year.

Highest WAR? Give it to Santana.
Highest batting average? Give it to Mauer

Favorite Yankee?  OK, now we’re getting somewhere.

If Jeter wasn’t a Yankee he wouldn’t have finished in the top 10.