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|
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.
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
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:
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.