1978 and 1979 MVP Awards: When RBIs Ruled

In 1978 and 1979, the Royals might of had arguably the best hitter each year, but didn't win an MVP award either season. Each season's winner was the league leader in RBIs. Here is a quick look at each voting and how the Royals may have done better if the voting was done today.

1978 AL MVP Voting Retrospective

Here is how the voting went down in 1978:

Rank Name Team Vote Pts 1st Place HR RBI BA OBP SLG W ERA SO
1 Jim Rice BOS 352 20 46 139 0.315 0.370 0.600


2 Ron Guidry NYY 291 8 0 0


25 1.74 248
3 Larry Hisle MIL 201 0 34 115 0.290 0.374 0.533


4 Amos Otis KCR 90 0 22 96 0.298 0.380 0.525


5 Rusty Staub DET 88 0 24 121 0.273 0.347 0.435


6 Graig Nettles NYY 86 0 27 93 0.276 0.343 0.460


7 Don Baylor CAL 51 0 34 99 0.255 0.332 0.472


8 Eddie Murray BAL 50 0 27 95 0.285 0.356 0.480


9 Carlton Fisk BOS 49 0 20 88 0.284 0.366 0.475


10 Darrell Porter KCR 48 0 18 78 0.265 0.358 0.444


It was a 2 player race in the voting, with Jim Rice and his league leading 46 HRs and 139 RBIs beating out Ron Guidry and his league leading 25 wins and 1.74 ERA. Amos Otis came in a distant 4th and could have easily ended up 6th as he barely beat out Rusty Staub and Graig Nettles. Darrell Porter ended up 10th in the voting.

Since 1978, there has been two main changes in the MVP voting. First, pitchers are getting less and less support. Justin Verlander's AL MVP in 2011 was the first for a pitcher since 1992 when Dennis Eckersley won the award in the NL. The second change is that players are being more and more valued on their total contribution: offense, position and defense. WAR (Wins above Replacement) attempts to take all these factors into account when measuring a player's value. While WAR may not be 100% perfect yet, it does give a general idea of a player's overall contribution in a season. Here is a look at how the above 10 players are ranked according to their rWAR (r stands for WAR from baseball-reference.com). Also, I included are the 5 players with the highest rWAR totals not included in the top 10 in voting.

WAR Name Tm Rank HR RBI W ERA
8.5 Ron Guidry NYY 2 0 0 25 1.74
7.5 Amos Otis KCR 4 22 96

7.5 Mike Caldwell MIL 12

22 2.36
7.0 Jim Rice BOS 1 46 139

6.4 Dennis Eckersley BOS 31

20 2.99
6.1 Carlton Fisk BOS 9 20 88

5.9 Graig Nettles NYY 6 27 93

5.8 Willie Randolph NYY 29 3 42

5.1 Larry Hisle MIL 3 34 115

5.1 George Brett KCR 19 9 62

4.9 Jim Sundberg TEX 15 6 58

4.8 Andre Thornton CLE 20 33 105

4.5 Darrell Porter KCR 10 18 78

4.1 Eddie Murray BAL 8 27 95

2.1 Don Baylor CAL 7 34 99

1.2 Rusty Staub DET 5 24 121

1978 was definitely the year of the pitcher, with 3 of them in the top 5 spots. Amos Otis was the top rated position player. He may not have won if the vote was taken today, but I would expect him to do better. It may have tough even by today's voting standards to keep Guidry from winning the award.

The love for RBIs can be seen by Rusty Staub's 5th place finish fueled by 121 RBIs. He only generated 1.2 WAR during the season. Also, Larry Hisle rode 115 RBIs to a 3rd place finish.

1979 AL MVP Voting Retrospective

In 1979, the bias towards RBI is even move obvious. Here are the top ten vote getters

Rank Name Team BA HR RBI W ERA SO Vote Pts
1 Don Baylor CAL 0.296 36 139


347
2 Ken Singleton BAL 0.295 35 111


241
3 George Brett KCR 0.329 23 107


226
4 Fred Lynn BOS 0.333 39 122


160
5 Jim Rice BOS 0.325 39 130


124
6 Mike Flanagan BAL


23 3.08 190 100
7 Gorman Thomas MIL 0.244 45 123


87
8 Bobby Grich CAL 0.294 30 101


58
9 Darrell Porter KCR 0.291 20 112


52
10 Buddy Bell TEX 0.299 18 101


48

Don Baylor led the league in RBIs and not surprisingly ended up 1st in the voting. George Brett was the Royal with the most votes and was 3rd in the voting. Darrell Porter was again in the top 10, this time he moved up one spot and finished 9th.

Here is a look at the how the top 10 vote getters and the other top 5 WAR generaters compare:

WAR Name Team Rank HR RBI W ERA SO
8.7 George Brett KCR 3 23 107


8.4 Fred Lynn BOS 4 39 122


8.4 Darrell Porter KCR 9 20 112


6.9 Buddy Bell TEX 10 18 101


6.3 Willie Wilson KCR 17 6 49


6.1 Brian Downing CAL 14 12 75


6.0 Bobby Grich CAL 8 30 101


6.0 Ron Guidry NYY 26

18 2.78 201
5.7 Jim Rice BOS 5 39 130


5.3 Ken Singleton BAL 2 35 111


5.2 Sixto Lezcano MIL 15 28 101


5.2 Tommy John NYY 22

21 2.96 111
4.4 Don Baylor CAL 1 36 139


4.3 Gorman Thomas MIL 7 45 123


3.6 Mike Flanagan BAL 6

23 3.08 190

The rankings have 3 players bunched up at the top: Brett, Lynn and Porter. Porter may not have seemed to have the greatest of the stats in 1979, but he was 2nd in the league in OBP behind Lynn. Porter also led the league in walks.

If the vote would have happened today, it might be very close between the top 3. The Red Sox or the Royals did not make the playoffs in 1979, so there were no bonus points for helping a team to the post season. I could see Lynn winning with Porter and Brett splitting some of the 1st place votes from Midwest voters.

I could almost guarantee that Don Baylor would not have won if the vote had happened today. His WAR was 27th among only hitters in the AL in 1979. Thirteen pitchers also had higher WAR totals. He would have gotten a few votes if it was done by today's standards, but I bet that he would not have ended up in the top 10, yet alone won it.

Over 30 years ago, RBIs determined who was the league MVP. It stayed that way for many years. Just in the last few years, MVP voters have begun to look past RBIs and measure all the traits a player contributes. Too bad for the Royals it took so long. They may have had a better chance of a player winning an MVP award in 1978 and 1979.

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