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Jeff Burroughs: An unlikely MVP winner?

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Jeff Burroughs was voted the American League Most Valuable Player in 1974, beating out guys like Reggie Jackson, Rod Carew, and Gaylord Perry. Did his performance that season warrant a win?

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

One of my favorite pastimes is looking up random facts on the Internet. Sometimes they're about a song or an artist I am listening to or TV shows and movies that I am watching, but they're usually about baseball. A few days ago, while mulling topics, I looked up who won the Most Valuable Player in both leagues the year I was born. That year is 1974 and the winners were Steve Garvey of the Los Angeles Dodgers who won the National League MVP and Jeff Burroughs of Texas Rangers who won the American League MVP.

Wait, Jeff Burroughs? You have to admit that's not a name you'd expect to hear. When you look at the all-time list of Most Valuable Players, Burroughs' name jumps out at you as one that seems out of place, if only for the name recognition factor. Fans of all ages know Mickey Mantle, Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron, and Yogi Berra. Guys like Burroughs and Jim Konstanty, who won the award in 1950 with the Philadelphia Phillies, don't elicit the same reaction.

Now before we dive into Burroughs' 1974 numbers, which were very good, and deserving of an MVP award, let's look at some Most Valuable Player facts.

  • The New York Yankees have the most winners: 22
  • The St. Louis Cardinals are second: 17
  • Teams who have never had an MVP: Arizona Diamondbacks, Miami Marlins, New York Mets, and the Tampa Bay Rays
  • Four players have won the MVP at different positions: Hank Greenberg, Stan Musial, Alex Rodriguez, and Robin Yount
  • Rodriguez is the only player to win the MVP with two different teams at two different positions
  • There has been one tie. It occurred in 1979 on the National League side when Willie Stargell of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Keith Hernandez of the St. Louis Cardinals won the award.

Who is Jeff Burroughs?

Burroughs was a right-handed outfielder who was drafted by the Washington Senators as the first pick in the first round of the 1969 draft. He made his MLB debut at 19 years-old on July 20, 1970 against the Milwaukee Brewers and went 0-3. He played his first full season in 1973 - the Senators were no longer in Washington and were now called the Texas Rangers - and he had a very respectable year. He hit 30 home runs, collected 85 RBI, and batted .279/.355/.487.

So how did Jeff Burroughs win the award in 1974?

Burroughs followed up '73 with another good season in '74. In fact, it was one of the best in his 16-year major league career. He batted .301/.397/.504 with 25 home runs and 118 RBI, which led the American League. He also finished in the top five in home runs, doubles, OBP, slugging percentage, OPS, total bases, and walks. He also finished in the top 10 in batting average, plate appearances, runs scored, hits and strikeouts.

Burroughs only led in one category in '74: RBI (118). The majority of his Top 5 finishes were third place. He finished fourth in home runs behind Dick Allen who led the league with 32, Reggie Jackson who hit 29 for the Oakland Athletics, and Jackson's teammate Gene Tenace who hit 26. And he finished fifth in doubles behind Joe Rudi of Oakland, Hal McRae and George Scott who tied for second, and Ken Henderson of the White Sox.

FanGraphs has Burroughs at a 158 wRC+ and a .402 wOBA in 1974. If he had those numbers today, he would had been sandwiched between Miguel Cabrera and Josh Donaldson, the reigning American League Most Valuable Player, on the MLB wOBA list. If you're looking at wRC+ he would have bumped Donaldson down to seventh and would have tied for sixth with Nelson Cruz across the entire league.

Why did Burroughs win if he only led in one offensive category?

I think the answer to this lies with the writers who voted that year. Maybe they saw Burroughs as having the best all around season and awarded him for it. It also could have just been about RBI. Or maybe the answer lies with the next question: the players he beat.

Who did Burroughs beat in 1974?

Jeff Burroughs finished ahead of three Oakland Athletic teammates: Rudi, Sal Bando, and Jackson. He also finished ahead of his teammate, right hander Fergie Jenkins who won 25 games that season. It's pretty clear that the Oakland three split some votes and that was a big factor in helping Burroughs. Burroughs amassed 248 points and his award share was 74 percent while Rudi, Bando, and Jackson finished with 161, 143, and 119 points and 48, 43, 35 percent respectively.

What's interesting about Burroughs winning the MVP award is that if you arrange the 1974 American League's top vote getters by WAR alone, Burroughs finishes 25th. All of the guys I've already mentioned would finish ahead of him and so would Gaylord Perry, Luis Tiant, Rod Carew, Catfish Hunter and a bunch of other familiar names.

Dick Allen of the White Sox had similar numbers to Burroughs (.301/.375/.563) and led the league in home runs so why didn't he win the award or finish in the top five in voting? It's more than likely because he only played in 128 games vs. Burroughs' 152.

How did the rest of Burroughs' career pan out?

Jeff Burroughs continued playing until 1985. He nearly matched his 1974 numbers in 1978 when he was with the Atlanta Braves. He batted .301/.432/.529 with 23 home runs and 72 RBI which works out to an even higher wOBA and wRC+ (.424/160) than he had four years earlier. 1978 would also be the last year Burroughs would get any MVP votes and appear in an All-Star game. The other year? You guessed it, 1974.

Burroughs finished his career with the Toronto Blue Jays appearing in 86 games and batting .257/.366/.429 with six home runs and 28 RBI. His career numbers were .261/.355/.439 with 240 home runs and 882 in 16 seasons. He made the All-Star team twice and finished in the top 20 in MVP voting in 1977 and 1978.

Burroughs hit the last home run of his career on September 25, 1985. It was a pinch hit, game tying solo shot in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Boston Red Sox that forced extra innings, but the Blue Jays would eventually lose the contest 4-2 in 13 innings. Burroughs made the final plate appearance of his career in Game 7 of the 1985 American League Championship Series. He grounded out in the bottom of the ninth of the Blue Jays' 6-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals on October 16, 1985.

Did Burroughs deserve his MVP Award?

He did. Were there players with better numbers than Jeff Burroughs in 1974? Sure, but writers didn't have access to the same quality of statistics as we do in 2016. He wasn't an outlandish choice for MVP and the baseball writers rewarded him for his strong season.

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Stacey Gotsulias is a contributing writer of Beyond the Box Score. She also contributes to The Hardball Times and writes about the New York Yankees for It's About The Money. You can follow her on Twitter at @StaceGots.