Sunday, June 8, 2014

Bob Gibson - A Saber-metric Revelation You Probably Didn't Know

Practically everyone knows St Louis Cardinals' pitcher Bob Gibson had one of the most dominant seasons ever - in 1968 - featuring that legendary 1.12 ERA which made him a unanimous pick for the National League Cy Young Award.  He was not only the best pitcher in the game that season - he was also the best all-around player in the game that season - not only winning the league's Most Valuable Player Award, he also had the highest WAR in the game:  11.9.

The next highest WAR did not belong to AL CYA & MVP Award winner, Denny McClain - 7.3.  In fact, McClain didn't even have the highest WAR among AL pitchers.  Luis Tiant came in at 7.8.  Among position players, Carl Yastrzemski was tops in the AL:  10.5 - so yeah, he should have won back-to-back MVP Awards.  Brooks Robinson came in second among position players:  8.4.

If this makes no sense to you, or you don't adhere to any of this saber-metric mumbo-jumbo, you may not agree with the revelation I happened to discover, just the other day:

Gibson was not only the best all-around player in major league baseball in 1968 - he was also the best all-around player in '69 and '70, as well.

The fact that Gibson didn't win either the NL Cy Young Award, nor the league's Most Valuable Player Award in '69 means nothing.  Tom Seaver was a natural choice in '69 for the CYA - pitching for the team that made the postseason for the very first time, and of course, he had a wonderful record (25-7 - 2.21 ERA).

Likewise, Willie McCovey was a natural choice for the NL MVP Award in '69.  He led the league in home runs (45), RBI (126) and slugging percentage (.656), and his team - the San Francisco Giants - finished a close second to the Atlanta Braves in the newly-formed NL West division.

As we have seen over the years, voting for Most Valuable Player Awards is generally weighted heavily in favor of players putting together "big numbers" on teams that either reach the postseason, or teams that played well above nearly everyone's (so-called baseball experts) expectations.  Generally, position players tend to get more support than pitchers, for two reasons:  (1) Pitchers have their "own" award, so let them have that instead of this, and (2) pitchers generally only pitch once every five days, so there's no way they can help their team win more than guys who play every day.  Which of course, is total nonsense.

In 1969, McCovey had an MVP-caliber 8.1 WAR - Seaver had a CYA-caliber 7.2 WAR.  However, Gibson's was 11.3 - surprisingly, nearly as high as the 11.9 he posted the previous season - when he won both awards.

In 1970, when Gibson won his second NL CYA, he still had the highest WAR in major league baseball:  10.1 - although strictly as a pitcher it was 8.9.  The reason his overall WAR was higher is quite simple - Gibson had a great year as a hitter (.303/.347/.404) with two home runs and 19 RBI.  Also, defensive metrics come into play - getting a boost from the fact that he was a Gold Glove Award winning pitcher, year in and year out.

Those three years - 1968 - '69 - '70 - were Gibson's saber-metric peak, when he was the best all-around player in the game.  Now you know.

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