Wins Above MVP Level

Wins Above Replacement (WAR) isn't just a raw counting stat. The whole "replacement level" part of it also ensures that any junk numbers recorded that were below replacement level are ignored. Sean Smith recently introduced Wins Above Excellence—a way to add an additional baseline to WAR that removes any seasons with less than 3.0 WAR. The goal is to quantify only those seasons that separated a player from the pack.

I wonder if 3.0 is too low of a baseline, though. I mean, 2.0 WAR is generally considered league average. Shouldn't "excellence" start somewhere around 4.0 wins? I've used both (calling them WAE3 and WAE4) in a series of blog posts. I've also added WAE6 as a way to see how often that player achieved a truly special season. My reasoning was that around 6.0 WAR you're generally starting to talk about MVP-level performances. So, in essence, this was Wins Above MVP Level.

WAMVP? Sure, that rolls off the tongue.

Then I started wondering if 6.0 was the right baseline for WAMVP. Wouldn't the best approach be to gather the WAR for all MVP winners and find the average? So that's what I did. (Data, of course, from Rally's WAR database.)

Wins Above Replacement for MVP Winners
Year NL MVP WAR AL MVP WAR
2009 Albert Pujols 9.2 Joe Mauer 7.9
2008 Albert Pujols
9.6 Dustin Pedroia 5.2
2007 Jimmy Rollins 6.1 Alex Rodriguez 9.9
2006 Ryan Howard 5.8 Justin Morneau 3.8
2005 Albert Pujols 8.2 Alex Rodriguez 8.4
2004 Barry Bonds 12.4 Vladimir Guerrero 7.4
2003 Barry Bonds 10.3 Alex Rodriguez 7.7
2002 Barry Bonds
12.2 Miguel Tejada 5.2
2001 Barry Bonds 12.5 Ichiro Suzuki 7.6
2000 Jeff Kent 7.9 Jason Giambi 8.7
1999 Chipper Jones 7.0 Ivan Rodriguez 6.0
1998 Sammy Sosa 6.5 Juan Gonzalez 5.1
1997 Larry Walker 9.0 Ken Griffey
9.4
1996 Ken Caminiti 7.9 Juan Gonzalez 2.8
1995 Barry Larkin
5.9 Mo Vaughn 4.2
1994 Jeff Bagwell 8.9 Frank Thomas 6.3
1993 Barry Bonds 10.6 Frank Thomas 6.7
1992 Barry Bonds 10.0 Dennis Eckersley * 3.0
1991 Terry Pendleton 6.1 Cal Ripken 11.0
1990 Barry Bonds 9.7 Rickey Henderson 10.0
1989 Kevin Mitchell 7.7 Robin Yount 5.7
1988 Kirk Gibson 7.3 Jose Canseco 7.6
1987 Andre Dawson 2.7 George Bell 5.0
1986 Mike Schmidt 6.6 Roger Clemens * 7.9
1985 Willie McGee 8.5 Don Mattingly 6.4
1984 Ryne Sandberg 8.5 Guillermo Hernandez * 4.8
1983 Dale Murphy 7.2 Cal Ripken 8.3
1982 Dale Murphy 6.3 Robin Yount 11.5
1981 Mike Schmidt 7.6 Rollie Fingers * 4.1
1980 Mike Schmidt 9.1 George Brett 9.6
1979 Keith Hernandez 4.4 Don Baylor 4.4
Willie Stargell 2.3
1978 Dave Parker 7.1 Jim Rice 7.0
1977 George Foster 8.2 Rod Carew 10.9
1976 Joe Morgan 10.0 Thurman Munson 5.1
1975 Joe Morgan 12.0 Fred Lynn 7.1
1974 Steve Garvey 5.1 Jeff Burroughs 3.6
1973 Pete Rose 8.5 Reggie Jackson 8.1
1972 Johnny Bench 9.1 Dick Allen 9.3
1971 Joe Torre 6.8 Vida Blue * 8.8
1970 Johnny Bench 6.5 Boog Powell 5.4
1969 Willie McCovey 8.9 Harmon Killebrew 6.1
1968 Bob Gibson * 11.9 Denny McLain * 5.9
1967 Orlando Cepeda 7.1 Carl Yastrzemski 12.2
1966 Roberto Clemente 7.3 Frank Robinson 8.3
1965 Willie Mays 11.0 Zoilo Versalles 7.6
1964 Ken Boyer 5.6 Brooks Robinson 8.1
1963 Sandy Koufax * 10.8 Elston Howard 5.4
1962 Maury Wills 6.1 Mickey Mantle 7.1
1961 Frank Robinson 7.6 Roger Maris 7.2
1960 Dick Groat 5.7 Roger Maris 7.5
1959 Ernie Banks 10.0 Nellie Fox 6.2
1958 Ernie Banks 9.7 Jackie Jensen 4.6
1957 Hank Aaron 7.5 Mickey Mantle 12.5
1956 Don Newcombe * 4.1 Mickey Mantle 12.9
1955 Roy Campanella 5.5 Yogi Berra 3.8
1954 Willie Mays 10.2 Yogi Berra 6.2
1953 Roy Campanella 7.2 Al Rosen 9.7
1952 Hank Sauer 5.3 Bobby Shantz * 8.2
1951 Roy Campanella 7.0 Yogi Berra 5.1
1950 Jim Konstanty * 4.0 Phil Rizzuto 7.1
1949 Jackie Robinson 10.3 Ted Williams 9.5
1948 Stan Musial 11.5 Lou Boudreau 10.5
1947 Bob Elliott 6.2 Joe DiMaggio
5.6
1946 Stan Musial 9.8 Ted Williams 11.8
1945 Phil Cavarretta 6.6 Hal Newhouser * 8.9
1944 Marty Marion 4.0 Hal Newhouser * 7.1
1943 Stan Musial 8.9 Spud Chandler * 6.0
1942 Mort Cooper * 6.8 Joe Gordon 8.4
1941 Dolph Camilli 6.8 Joe DiMaggio 9.4
1940 Frank McCormick 6.0 Hank Greenberg 6.4
1939 Bucky Walters * 7.7 Joe DiMaggio 8.9
1938 Ernie Lombardi 5.3 immie Foxx 7.5
1937 Joe Medwick 8.9 Charlie Gehringer 7.6
1936 Carl Hubbell * 9.0 Lou Gehrig 9.8
1935 Gabby Hartnett 5.2 Hank Greenberg 8.3
1934 Dizzy Dean * 8.1 Mickey Cochrane 4.3
1933 Carl Hubbell * 8.2 Jimmie Foxx 9.0
1932 Chuck Klein 6.6 Jimmie Foxx 10.7
1931 Frankie Frisch 4.4 Lefty Grove *
9.4
1929 Rogers Hornsby 11.5
1928 Jim Bottomley 5.5 Mickey Cochrane 3.7
1927 Paul Waner 7.1 Lou Gehrig 12.0
1926 Bob O'Farrell 3.4 George Burns 4.5
1925 Rogers Hornsby
10.0 Roger Peckinpaugh 2.4
1924 Dazzy Vance * 9.1 Walter Johnson * 6.2
1923 Babe Ruth 14.7
1922 George Sisler 8.8
1914 Johnny Evers 5.1 Eddie Collins 11.3
1913 Jake Daubert
3.3 Walter Johnson * 12.4
1912 Larry Doyle 5.5 Tris Speaker 11.0
1911 Frank Schulte
5.6 Ty Cobb 11.4

* denotes the player is a pitcher

So, let's take a look at some averages:

Average WAR for MVP Winners, by decade
Years NL AVG WAR AL AVG WAR
All Years 7.62 7.62
2000–2009 9.42 7.18
1990–1999 8.16 6.45
1980–1989 7.15 7.09
1970–1979 7.27 6.97
1960–1969 8.20 7.54
1950–1959 7.05 7.63
1940–1949 7.69 8.36
1930–1939 7.04 8.39
1920–1929 7.77 7.47
1910–1919 4.88 11.53

Wow, so the average WAR for all MVP winners thoughout the history of the National League is 7.62. The average for all MVP winners in American League history also happens to be 7.62. My quick math tells me the average of the two of those is 7.62.

A few notes of interest from this table:

  • The NL was way ahead of the AL this decade. Two main reasons: Albert Pujols (3 MVPs at 8.2, 9.6, and 9.2) and Barry Bonds (4 MVPs at—get this—12.5, 12.2, 10.3, and 12.4). The AL had some low-WAR selections this decade in Justin Morneau (3.8 in 2006), Miguel Tejada (5.2 in 2002) and Dustin Pedroia (5.2 in 2008).
  • The NL has been ahead of the AL in each decade from the 1960s to date. The AL in the 1950s had strong seasons from Mickey Mantle (12.9 and 12.5 in 1956 and 1957) to help push them over the top.
  • The AL was ahead of the NL in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.
  • The 1910s and 1920s (and even 1930s) are incomplete because the award wasn't consistently given until 1931.
  • In the 1910s, the AL only named four MVPs, but each one cleared 11 WAR (Ty Cobb with 11.4, Tris Speaker with 11.0, Walter Johnson with 12.4, and Eddie Collins with 11.3). The top NL MVP by WAR in that decade was Frank Schulte at 5.6.

What MVPs had the highest single season WAR?

  1. Babe Ruth (14.7, 1923)
  2. Mickey Mantle (12.9, 1956)
  3. Barry Bonds (12.5, 2001)
  4. Mickey Mantle (12.5, 1957)
  5. Barry Bonds (12.4, 2004)
  6. Walter Johnson (12.4, 1913)
  7. Barry Bonds (12.2, 2002)
  8. Carl Yastrzemski (12.2, 1967)
  9. Joe Morgan (12.0, 1975)
  10. Lou Gehrig (12.0, 1927)

Note: These are not the ten best seasons in history by WAR. These are just the ten best seasons for players who won the MVP award.

And, of course, the ten (actually eleven, since there's a tie) lowest WAR totals:

  1. Willie Stargell (2.3, 1979)
  2. Roger Peckinpaugh (2.4, 1925)
  3. Andre Dawson (2.7, 1987)
  4. Juan Gonzalez (2.8, 1996)
  5. Dennis Eckersley (3.0, 1992)
  6. Jake Daubert (3.3, 1913)
  7. Bob O'Farrell (3.4, 1926)
  8. Jeff Burroughs (3.6, 1974)
  9. Mickey Cochrane (3.7, 1928)
  10. Justin Morneau (3.8, 2006)
  11. Yogi Berra (3.8, 1955)

As that list shows, there are plenty of MVP winners that don't reach 7.62 WAR. Still, the fact that Willie Stargell won and MVP award with a 2.3 WAR season doesn't mean I should use that as my baseline either. So what baseline should I use for finding MVP-type seasons? I hesitate to use the average because, by definition, that means 50% of the players who did win the MVP award didn't even reach that level.

So, let's go back to my original baseline of 6.0 WAR. Of the 181 players who have won MVP awards in MLB history, 133 of them achieved a WAR of 6.0 or above. That's 73%. That, to me, sounds like a pretty good baseline.

Tell me, what do you think is a good baseline for measuring Wins Above MVP Level?

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