Monday, April 20, 2009

How Good are Postseason Awards at Finding Hall of Famers?

I know that it's the start of the season and that postseason awards are pretty far from most people's minds, but bear with me. A thought occurred to me last night, and I just had to look into it: has there ever been a season where the six major award winners were all Hall of Famers?

When the three major postseason awards - MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year - are handed out every year, the goal is, ostensibly, to reward the player with the best year. It's understandable, then, that, from year-to-year, there are non-HOF players whose career years are rewarded with a major award. Maybe it's Willie McGee's MVP season in 1985, or David Cone's Cy Young season in 1994, or Fernando Valenzuela's Rookie of the Year/Cy Young season in 1981, but there is no doubt that these seasons happen and deserve to be rewarded. Still, you would think that, with decades of awards being handed out, there would be at least one or two years where the six award-winning performances were swept by future Hall of Famers. After all, if these players are all Hall-worthy, then it's not too far-fetched to think that they would be able to put up worthy seasons at the same time.

It's surprising to me then to find out that, in fact, there are no such seasons. The closest I can find is 1959. That year, HOFers Nellie Fox and Ernie Banks won the two MVP awards, HOFer Early Wynn won the one-and-only Cy Young award, and HOFer Willie McCovey won one of the two Rookie of the Year awards (the illustrious Bob Allison won the other ROY award). That's 4 of 5 awards going to eventual Hall of Famers. There are two other seasons that have 4 Hall of Famers, but they all occurred in the six-award era (ie, two award-winners for each of the three awards per year).
Seasons with 4 or more Hall-of-Famers Receiving MVP, Cy Young, or Rookie of the Year Awards
1959* (4): MVP - Nellie Fox, Ernie Banks. Cy Young - Early Wynn. ROY - Willie McCovey.
1967 (4): MVP - Carl Yastrzemski, Orlando Cepeda. ROY - Rod Carew, Tom Seaver.
1972 (4): MVP - Johnny Bench. Cy Young - Gaylord Perry, Steve Carlton. ROY - Carlton Fisk.
* Only 1 Cy Young Awarded
1967 was clearly a good year for rookies.

After looking at the results, I thought that maybe the unreliability of the Rookie of the Year award might be what was keeping us from finding a HOFer clean-sweep. With so many players like Gregg Olson or Marty Cordova winning the Rookie of the Year award, it seemed reasonable that those less-than-successful winners might be dragging down the results. I decided to remove the ROY award from the search and see if I could find any years where the MVP and Cy Young awards were swept by Hall of Famers. There are, in fact, three such seasons, but all before 1967, when the Cy Young was expanded to award pitchers in each league.
Seasons with 3 or more Hall-of-Famers Receiving MVP or Cy Young Awards
1957* (3):
MVP - Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle. Cy Young - Warren Spahn.
1959* (3):
MVP - Nellie Fox, Ernie Banks. Cy Young - Early Wynn.
1966* (3):
MVP - Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson. Cy Young - Sandy Koufax.
1969 (3):
MVP - Willie McCovey, Harmon Killebrew. Cy Young - Tom Seaver.
1972 (3):
MVP - Johnny Bench. Cy Young - Gaylord Perry, Steve Carlton.
1973 (3):
MVP - Reggie Jackson. Cy Young - Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer.
1975 (3):
MVP - Joe Morgan. Cy Young - Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer.
1980 (3):
MVP - Mike Schmidt, George Brett. Cy Young - Steve Carlton.
1981 (3):
MVP - Rollie Fingers, Mike Schmidt. Cy Young - Rollie Fingers.
*Only 1 Cy Young Awarded
Now that 1957 season is what I'm looking for... Aaron, Mantle, Spahn. That's a good list.

But what about recent seasons? There are plenty of award-winners from the last 20 or so years who are either not yet eligible for the Hall or who are still on the ballot. Taking a look at the winners from those years and using my best judgment - is Barry Larkin a likely HOFer? Yes. Juan Gonzalez? Not so much. - I came up with a list of seasons where 4 or more of the major award winners are likely to be in the Hall of Fame.

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens provided a little bit of a challenge, since it's hard to know how the writers are actually going to vote on those two. But, beyond steroids allegations, I don't think anyone really believes that these two shouldn't be in the Hall, so I decided to count them. With Bonds, Clemens, Maddux, and Johnson winning so many awards in the last 20 years, the list becomes pretty full. They even help produce what might be the first clean-sweep of the six major awards by Hall of Famers.

In 2001, Barry Bonds won his fourth MVP award and Roger Clemens won his sixth Cy Young award. Randy Johnson also won his second Cy Young award that year. The rookies that year were Ichiro, who became only the second player to win MVP and ROY in the same season, and Albert Pujols. If Ichiro and Pujols continue their stellar careers (and, after 8 years, it's unlikely that they won't), they should be shoo-ins for the Hall, making 2001 the first year in which all six major awards were won by Hall of Famers. It's amazing to me that it's taken so long.
Recent Seasons that will Likely Provide 4 or more Hall-of-Famers Receiving MVP, Cy Young, or Rookie of the Year Awards
2001 (6): MVP - Barry Bonds, Ichiro. Cy Young - Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens. ROY - Ichiro, Albert Pujols.
1999 (5): MVP - Chipper Jones, Ivan Rodriguez. Cy Young - Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson. ROY - Carlos Beltran(?).
1991 (4): MVP - Cal Ripken. Cy Young - Tom Glavine, Roger Clemens. ROY - Jeff Bagwell.
1992 (4): MVP - Barry Bonds, Dennis Eckersley. Cy Young - Greg Maddux, Dennis Eckersely.
1993 (4): MVP - Barry Bonds, Frank Thomas. Cy Young - Greg Maddux. ROY - Mike Piazza.
1997 (4): MVP - Larry Walker(?), Ken Griffey. Cy Young - Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens.
The 1999 season sticks out as well. If Beltran continues his strong career, it'll become the only season to have 5 Hall of Fame award winners. There are also a few more seasons in the last five years or so that could also be on this list, but it's a little too early to tell. Roy Halladay and Johan Santana both look like pretty solid HOF contenders, but so much can happen to a pitcher so quickly that it's still too early to say.

So why do so many seasons from the last 20 years make the list? Well, first, the four guys mentioned above (Bonds, Clemens, Maddux, Johnson) make a up a good portion of the list, which is only understandable since they won a total of 23 MVP and Cy Young awards among them. But second, many of the players on the list are either still playing or are too soon removed from their careers that a proper perspective is difficult. If someone had done this list 15 years ago, they may have felt that Andre Dawson or Jose Canseco were too likely Hall of Famers. Even so, I think the list above is pretty accurate.

That doesn't explain why it's taken so long for Hall of Famers to sweep the postseason awards, though. In the forty years since there have been two awards of each type, it seems that it should have happened at least once, if only by chance. But 2001 is looking pretty good, at least...


Ron Rollins said...

Good stuff. I like this one. Very informative.

The Common Man said...

I have a response up over at my site, Lar.