While looking up Darrell Porter’s career for the recent Royals Hall of Fame post, I came across George Brett again. This happens every so often — George’s career is endlessly fascinating to me. And I realized that George could have won four MVP awards in his career. I’m not saying he SHOULD have won four, but he certainly could have … there’s a strong case to be made for all four. I should tell you that this post, by the end, is not specifically about George Brett … it’s about the best offensive players on World Series teams. But it will take a few paragraphs to get there.
George Brett won his only MVP award in 1980, of course. It’s one of the greatest offensive seasons in baseball history. My first ever book idea was actually to write about Brett’s 1980 season … and how close he really came to hitting .400. I’d love to revisit that someday.
Anyway, the only stunning thing about Brett’s 1980 MVP is that he did not win it unanimously. He actually did not come especially close to winning it unanimously — he had 17 of the 28 first place votes. Reggie Jackson got five first place votes and Goose Gossage got four. Brett’s teammate Willie Wilson got one. It’s true that Brett missed some games with injuries, but it seems to me that hitting .390/.454/.664 should probably get you the unanimous vote. How ANYONE could have thought there was a more valuable player in the American League — and four thought it was a reliever who threw 99 innings — is beyond me.
Anyway, he did win that one. He could have won three others. Brett could have won it in 1976 — the year he led the league in batting average (.333), hits (215) and triples (14). He had the highest WAR for any every day player, and the Royals made the playoffs for the first time, and he was spectacular. Yankees catcher Thurman Munson won that year, and I’m always one to give catchers extra credit, but his .302/.337/.432 line doesn’t exactly jump off the page. Munson did drive in 105 RBIs, largely as a result of having Mickey Rivers and Roy White hitting ahead of him. I think that’s a miss by the voters.
Brett could have won it in 1979. He again led every player in WAR. He again led the league in hits and triples. He finished third in the MVP voting, behind Don Baylor and Ken Singleton. I certainly understand why Baylor won — we all know that many MVP voters have an RBI fetish and Baylor drove in 139 runs for an Angels team that finally broke through and won the division title. I think Brett had the best year.
Then, of course, there’s the famous 1985 MVP vote, which leads to the real point of this post. I have long thought that no player in baseball history singlehandedly carried an offense to a championship the way Brett did in 1985. It is, I admit, kind of a tricky concept. It led me to do a little research, which I think is interesting … I’m not promising any great revelations, but it’s interesting.
First, the 1985 MVP vote. Don Mattingly won the MVP over Brett in ’85. Its not hard to understand why. You look at their basic numbers — and in 1985, few looked beyond the basic numbers — and it’s pretty clear cut:
Mattingly: .345, 35 homers, 145 RBIs, 211 hits.
Brett: .335, 30 homers, 112 RBIs, 184 hits.
If you look beyond those core numbers, though, you will see that Brett had a clearly better year than Mattingly:
Mattingly: .371 OBP, .567 SLG, 107 runs. 6.4 WAR, 32 Win Shares.
Brett .436 OBP, .585 SLG, 108 runs, 8.0 WAR, 37 Win Shares.
The 65 points in on-base percentage is the most decisive of those advantages. That Brett also outslugged Mattingly and played a more demanding position just clinches his better year. Mattingly had a wonderful season, but it seems his 145 RBIs were the biggest reason he won … and the fact that he spent the entire year hitting second or third behind a guy named Rickey Henderson (who scored 146 runs) might have had a whole lot to do with it.
In fact, I think Henderson was probably the most deserving choice for MVP in 1985. But, of course, nobody was looking at OBP or leadoff hitters in 1985 and Mattingly, believe it or not, won the vote more decisively than Brett did in 1980 — he got 23 votes to Brett’s five.
Anyway, that’s been much discussed. The thing that struck me more than anything about George Brett’s 1985 season is JUST HOW BAD the Royals were as an offensive team. The only other player on the team to manage even a .325 on-base percentage was Hal McRae. I’m about to give you the most fun statistic you will hear today … I feel pretty sure about this. In 1985, the entire Royals offense — we’re talking about all 20 players who got at least one plate appearance — put up an 8.9 WAR. OK? That means all the every day player combined were worth 8.9 wins above replacement.
George Brett alone was 8.0 wins above replacement.
It’s OK to gasp.
I felt certain that no World Series team has ever been so dominated by one every day player. But feeling certain of something and having it actually be true are two different things, so here is what I did: I looked at every World Series winner since the end of World War II. And I looked to see how much of the offense their best player contributed. I wanted to make this as easy as possible, so I used Baseball References “Runs Above Replacement” as my guide. The results are kind of fun, I think, so let me give you a couple of quick points about Runs Above Replacement (RAR):
— The average World Series champ since World War II has scored about 248 runs above replacement. The highest was the 1998 Yankees with 410 RAR. The lowest, as you might imagine, was the 1985 Royals with only 91 RAR (the second-lowest was the 1995 Braves with 119 RAR).
— The average RAR for the best player on a World Series champ is about 61. Mickey Mantle in 1956, his Triple Crown year, had 122 RAR. I didn’t go back before 1946, but I suspect the biggest total for World Series winner in all of baseball history belongs to Babe Ruth in 1923, when he had 128 RAR. The lowest RAR leader for a World Series team was Ryan Klesko with the 1995 Braves — he led the team with only 28 RAR.
Now, a look at the list since 1946:
2010 Giants: Aubrey Huff 44 out of 157
2009 Yankees: Derek Jeter 62 out of 364
2008 Phillies: Chase Utley 56 out of 188
2007 Red Sox: David Ortiz 61 out of 254
2006 Cardinals: Albert Pujols 69 out of 196
2005 White Sox: Paul Konerko 35 out of 148
2004 Red Sox: Manny Ramirez 50 out of 273
2003 Marlins: Pudge Rodriguez 41 out of 201
2002 Angels: David Eckstein 45 out of 288
2001 Diamondbacks: Luis Gonzalez 71 out of 156
2000 Yankees: Derek Jeter 70 out of 220
1999 Yankees: Derek Jeter 94 out of 256
1998 Yankees: Derek Jeter 78 out of 410
1997 Marlins: Gary Sheffield 42 out of 192
1996 Yankees: Bernie Williams 50 out of 192
1995 Braves: Ryan Klesko 28 out of 119
1993 Blue Jays: John Olerud, 77 out of 278
1992 Blue Jays: Roberto Alomar 60 out of 244
1991 Twins: Kirby Puckett 37 out of 223
1990 Reds: Barry Larkin 37 out of 168
1989 A’s: Carney Lansford 49 out of 219
1988 Dodgers: Kirk Gibson 59 out of 186
1987 Twins: Kirby Puckett 53 out of 174
1986 Mets: Keith Hernandez 44 out of 309
1985 Royals: George Brett 77 out of 91 Runs Above Replacement
1984 Tigers: Alan Trammell 50 out of 289
1983 Orioles: Cal Ripken 71 out of 241
1982 Cardinals: Lonnie Smith 48 out of 175
1981 Dodgers: Ron Cey 31 out of 160
1980 Phillies: Mike Schmidt 72 out of 229
1979 Pirates: Dave Parker 60 out of 233
1978 Yankees: Graig Nettles and Willie Randolph 45 out of 254
1977 Yankees: Reggie Jackson and Thurman Munson 45 out of 270
1976 Reds: Joe Morgan 91 out of 354
1975 Reds: Joe Morgan 98 out of 322
1974 A’s: Reggie Jackson 63 out of 262
1973 A’s: Sal Bando 76 out of 309
1972 A’s: Reggie Jackson and Joe Rudi 47 out of 238
1971 Pirates: Willie Stargell 69 out of 332
1970 Orioles: Boog Powell 52 out of 273
1969 Mets: Cleon Jones 58 out of 183
1968 Tigers: Bill Freehan 57 out of 255
1967 Cardinals: Orlando Cepeda 59 out of 262
1966 Orioles: Frank Robinson 80 out of 274
1965 Dodgers: Maury Wills 35 out of 214
1964 Cardinals: Ken Boyer 49 out of 225
1963 Dodgers: Jim Gilliam 51 out of 240
1962 Yankees: Mickey Mantle 82 out of 274
1961 Yankees: Mickey Mantle 115 out of 304
1960 Pirates: Don Hoak 45 out of 256
1959 Dodgers: Wally Moon 43 out of 157
1958 Yankees: Mickey Mantle 95 out of 309
1957 Braves: Henry Aaron 68 out of 271
1956 Yankees: Mickey Mantle 122 out of 336
1955 Dodgers: Duke Snider 81 out of 339
1954 Giants: Willie Mays 79 out of 196
1953 Yankees: Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle 48 out of 310
1952 Yankees: Mickey Mantle 61 out of 296
1951 Yankees: Yogi Berra 46 out of 286
1950 Yankees: Phil Rizzuto 62 out of 321
1949 Yankees: Joe DiMaggio and Tommy Henrich 45 out of 272
1948 Indians: Lou Boudreau 85 out of 266
1947 Yankees: Joe DiMaggio 59 out of 308
1946 Cardinals: Stan Musial 90 out of 274
A few thoughts:
— Most of the players who led their offenses to World Series victories are either in the Hall of Fame, will go to the Hall of Fame or merit serious consideration. There are 55 different players who led their World Series teams in RAR. Of the 55, 19 are already in the Hall. Barry Larkin will go in next year so that’s 20. Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols and Pudge Rodriguez are Hall of Fame locks. That makes 23. I suspect Manny Ramirez will get in, so that’s 24. It’s too early to tell about Chase Utley, but I think he certainly has a shot with a few more good years.
After that, I think Alan Trammell deserves serious consideration, so does Gary Sheffield and Ken Boyer. David Ortiz will be an interesting if he has three or four years left in that bat. Many people think Keith Hernandez, Dave Parker, Willie Randolph, Thurman Munson and Bill Freehan have deserved more consideration than they received. Point is most of the players on the list are considered among the best to play the game, which makes it a fun list.
— Yes, it is really true that David Eckstein led the 2002 Angels in RAR. It’s important to note that RAR is a counting stat, meaning that getting the most plate appearances really helps and Eckstein came up 702 times that year. But he also got on base — his .363 OBP was well above average and he led the league in getting hit by pitch — and he is compared to other shortstops rather than players at every position. So he was really quite valuable.
— I’m thoroughly blown away by how overrated AND underrated Derek Jeter has been through his career. I’m not sure there’s another player who has quite that combination of hype and underappreciation. My friend Seth Mnookin tackles the subject in this month’s GQ (in full disclosure, I’m quoted in it). But it’s really staggering both how stunningly over-glorified Jeter is and yet how little respect he has received in the MVP voting.
Jeter was probably the most valuable player in baseball in 1999. I mean, you certainly could make an argument for Pedro Martinez, and it really is hard to compare pitchers and hitters. But among hitters, I don’t think there was anyone in baseball more valuable. Jeter hit .349, scored and drove in 100-plus runs, posted a .438 on-base percentage, all while playing 158 games at shortstop. I mean that is a seriously fabulous year. He was very clearly the best player on the best team, and for the second year in a row. He tied with Manny Ramirez for highest WAR among position players. And he’s Derek Jeter, much admired, much beloved, much respected Derek Jeter …
And he finished SIXTH in the MVP voting. He got one first place vote. I mean, seriously, how the heck does that happen? Bleepin’ Rafael Palmeiro got more first place votes than Jeter, and he was a designated hitter in an insane hitting park. The Jeter conundrum baffles the mind.
Finally we get to the final point … nobody, and I mean nobody, is even close to 1985 George Brett when it comes to carrying an offense. Here are the Top 10 percentages — that is the percentage of RAR by one player:
1. George Brett, 1985 Royals, 84.6%
2. Luis Gonzalez, 2001 Diamondbacks, 45.5%
3. Willie Mays, 1954 Giants, 40.3%
4. Mickey Mantle, 1961 Yankees, 37.8%
5. Derek Jeter, 1999 Yankees, 36.7%
6. Mickey Mantle, 1956 Yankees, 36.3%
7. Albert Pujols, 2006 Cardinals. 35.2%
8. Stan Musial, 1946 Cardinals, 32.8%
9. Lou Boudreau, 1948 Indians, 32.0%
10. Derek Jeter, 2000 Yankees. 31.8%
Nope. Nobody close. This is because Brett was so good and the Royals offense was so bad. Whatever the reason, though, it is I believe a season unique to baseball history.