MLB MVP Award: BBWAA voting converges with WAR

MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 01: Giancarlo Stanton
MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 01: Giancarlo Stanton /
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COOPERSTOWN, NY – JULY 22: Hall of Famer Willie Mays is introduced at Clark Sports Center during the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony on July 22, 2012 in Cooperstown, New York. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

Willie Mays and fWAR

Teddy Williams may have missed out on five MVP Awards, but he isn’t the all-time leader in the category. That would be the great Willie Mays. The Say Hey Kid missed the 1953 season because of military service. He came back in 1954 and won the NL MVP Award for the first time. He would win it again in 1965. In the ten years in between, he led the NL in fWAR seven times but didn’t get the MVP in any of those years. He could have won nine MVP trophies during a 12-year period.

In three of the seven seasons in which he missed out on potential MVP trophies, Mays’ advantage was within 1 fWAR. These are not egregious choices. Hank Aaron in 1957, Ernie Banks in 1958, and Sandy Koufax in 1963 were all close enough in value to Mays to be acceptable winners.

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Atlanta Braves superstar Ronald Acuña Jr. is running his way to an MLB record /

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  • In four other seasons, Mays’ advantage was at least 2.5 fWAR. The first such year was 1955, when Roy Campanella (5.7 fWAR) won the hardware over Mays (9.0 fWAR). Campanella finished ninth that year in fWAR. Mays had almost 150 more plate appearances than Campy and led the league in home runs and slugging percentage.

    Dick Groat won it in 1960, despite having 2.5 fewer wins above replacement than Mays. Groat was 10th in the NL in fWAR but his Pittsburgh Pirates team went from 78 wins to 95 wins and Groat was their best position player. There’s the narrative of the season popping up once again.

    In 1962, Dodgers shortstop Maury Wills broke the single-season stolen base record when he nabbed 104 bases. He led the league in plate appearances, at-bats, triples, and steals and won a close race over Mays for the NL MVP Award (209 points to 202 points). Despite all those steals, Wills was 11th in the NL in fWAR and 5.2 wins behind Mays.

    Next: Judge deserved MVP

    Finally, in 1964, Mays led the NL with 10.5 fWAR. He had a typical Mays-like season when he hit .296/.383/.607 and blasted 47 home runs, leading the league. The MVP went to the Cardinals’ Ken Boyer, who hit .295/.365/.489. Boyer’s Cardinals won the NL pennant in a close race over the Phillies (one game back), Reds (one game back), and Giants (three games back). If Mays’ teammates had been a little better, he likely would have won the trophy.