Since the Baseball Writers’ Association of America started voting for Most Valuable Player awards in 1931, Cubs players have won eight times and White Sox players four. That includes two for Ernie Banks on the North Side and two for Frank Thomas on the South Side.
The Cubs’ Kris Bryant is a strong candidate to add to that total with a case underscored by wins above replacement at Baseball-Reference.com (6.3 bWAR) and Fangraphs.com (7.8 fWAR).
WAR is an influential metric in modern voting, but what if the metrics had been available and accepted for the last 85 years? What other Cubs and Sox could have won MVPs with a by-the-numbers approach?
A quick check finds league bWAR leaders among Cubs and Sox who didn’t win the MVP.
1992: MVP, Pirates’ Barry Bonds; bWAR leader, Cubs’ Greg Maddux.
Bonds led the Pirates to a 96-66 record and the National League East title. With a .311 batting average, 1.080 OPS, 34 home runs and 103 RBI, Bonds had a 9.0 bWAR that’s in normal MVP territory.
Maddux was 20-11 with a 2.18 ERA and won the NL Cy Young Award for a 78-84 Cubs team. His 9.2 bWAR was even higher than Bonds’, but he finished 12th in MVP voting.
1977: MVP, Reds’ George Foster; bWAR leader, Cubs’ Rick Reuschel.
Foster became the first major-leaguer to hit 50 or more homers in a season since Willie Mays in 1965. No one was going to deny Foster the MVP with his league-leading 52 homers and 149 RBI to go with a .320 batting average and 1.013 OPS.
By bWAR, though, the NL’s best position player was the Phillies’ Mike Schmidt at 8.8 to Foster’s 8.4. Still, Reuschel topped them both at 9.4 with a 20-10 record and 2.79 ERA.
1971: MVP, Athletics’ Vida Blue; bWAR leader, White Sox’ Wilbur Wood.
Position players win the MVP much more often than pitchers, but in 1971 there was no stopping Blue, who was 24-8 with a 1.82 ERA. The Sox leaned hard on Wood, who was 22-13 with a 1.91 ERA in 334 innings for a 79-83 team.
By bWAR, Wood was the American League leader at 11.5, well ahead of runner-up Blue at 9.0. Wood, who finished ninth in MVP voting, was third behind Blue and the Tigers’ Mickey Lolich for the AL Cy Young.
1967: MVP, Cardinals’ Orlando Cepeda; bWAR leader, Cubs’ Ron Santo.
Cepeda led the NL with 111 RBI, hit .325 with a .923 OPS and was highly touted as the spark behind the Cardinals’ World Series championship. But bWAR sees Santo as the best player in the NL that season, with his 9.8 outranking the Pirates’ Roberto Clemente (8.9) and the Braves’ Hank Aaron (8.5). All were well ahead of Cepeda (6.5).
The Cardinals’ pennant vs. the Cubs’ third-place standing was a factor. But some of Santo’s assets (NL-leading 96 walks, defensive WAR of 2.7 that was second in
the NL) are less undervalued in the days of WAR than they were in 1967.
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