Analysis: A retrospective review of Mel Ott’s disappointing MVP results

  • icon
  • icon
  • icon
  • icon

The Yankees’ Aaron Judge and Cardinals’ Paul Goldschmidt were announced as the Most Valuable Player in their respective leagues last week. It was the first selection for both players, who won handily in the voting.

There have been over 80 major leaguers from the New Orleans metro area, but none of them have ever won MLB’s Most Valuable Player Award. Not even Mel Ott, the only Hall of Famer from the area.

Yet a retrospective evaluation of Ott’s career suggests he might have had several MVP trophies to his credit if today’s award voting situation existed during his era.

Ott was one of the premier sluggers of his era, spanning from 1926 to 1947. When the 12-time All-Star retired in 1947, he was the National League’s career leader with 511 home runs. He led the National League in home runs in six seasons. He posted nine seasons with 100+ RBIs, including leading the National League in 1934 with 135. The left-handed hitter led the league in On-Base-Percentage (OBP) four times and topped the league in Adjusted On-Base Plus Slugging Percentage (OPS+) five times.

One would think these kinds of performances should have warranted at least one MVP-season. But it didn’t happen. The closest Ott came to winning the prestigious award was in 1942 when he finished third. He also had fourth-, fifth-, sixth- and seventh-place finishes in the 13 seasons in which he received votes.

https://www.mlb.com/video/prime-9-mel-ott” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>MLB VIDEO: Mel Ott debuts at 17, becomes star by age 20

Before we analyze why Ott fell short in receiving this celebrated honor, let’s review the background on the award.

Members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) vote on the award at the end of each regular season. There are no specific criteria for players being considered for the award. The instructions for voters simply say, “the actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense” should be considered.

That essentially leaves it up to individual voters to apply their own criteria. For many years, players who led their respective league in batting average, home runs, or RBIs received the most consideration. But the voters were sometimes guilty of introducing subjective elements such as player likability and whether the player’s team won the pennant.

Furthermore, before the Cy Young Award was instituted in 1956 to recognize the most outstanding pitcher, they were routinely considered for MVP honors. A pitcher’s number of wins was normally the statistic most considered by voters. Pitchers are not excluded in today’s voting, but they typically don’t receive the same regard as position players, because of the Cy Young.

With the wide acceptance of advanced baseball metrics around 12-15 years ago, Wins Above Replacement (WAR), a metric that produces a single number incorporating elements of both offense and defense, has become the most commonly used statistic (despite some of its flaws) to rank relative values of players.

Now, for a deeper analysis of Ott’ MVP rankings in several of his more productive seasons.

Season
MVP Award Winner
Ott’s Ranking
Analysis
1929
Rogers Hornsby
11th
Hornsby was clearly the best player (10.5 WAR). Ott had the third highest WAR (7.2) following Lefty O’Doul (7.4), yet he was only ranked 11th in the voting.
1931
Bill Terry
Zero votes received
Ott’s teammate Bill Terry had the highest WAR (6.6) in the league. Ott had the second-highest WAR (6.1) among non-pitchers yet strangely he didn’t receive any votes.
1932
Chuck Klein
10th
Klein led the league in Runs, Hits, Home Runs and Slugging Percentage. Ott had the highest WAR (8.3) in the league, compared with Klein’s 7.5. He was tied with Klein for Home Runs (38) and led the league in Walks and On-Base Percentage.
1934
Dizzy Dean
5th
Dean led the league with 30 wins. Ott had the highest WAR (7.2) for non-pitchers, yet his teammates Jo-Jo Moore (WAR 3.5) and Travis Jackson (WAR 3.8) finished third and fourth, respectively.
1935
Gabby Hartnett
20th
Hartnett had a 4.9 WAR when his Cubs team won the NL pennant. (Hartnett didn’t lead the league in any batting categories.) Ott had the fourth highest WAR (7.2). His teammates Carl Hubbell, Bill Terry, Hank Leiber and Gus Mancuso (all with WAR values lower than Ott) finished higher than Ott in the voting. Arky Vaughan (9.8 WAR) should have finished first, but Ott should have been in the Top 5.
1936
Carl Hubbell
6th
Giants pitcher Hubbell led the league with a 26-6 record as the Giants won the NL pennant. Ott had the highest WAR (7.8) for non-pitchers.
1937
Joe Medwick
7th
Medwick (8.5 WAR) was clearly the most valuable player as the Triple Crown winner. Ott had the second-highest WAR (6.8).
1938
Ernie Lombardi
4th
Lombardi (4.8 WAR) led the league with .342 batting average; his Reds team won the NL pennant. Ott had the highest WAR (8.9) while leading the league in Home Runs, Runs, and On-Base Percentage. Pitcher Bill Lee (who won 22 games) finished second, and shortstop Arky Vaughan unexplainably finished ahead of Ott because Vaughan didn’t lead the league in any offensive category.
1942
Mort Cooper
3rd
Cardinals pitcher Cooper led the league with 22 wins, while his team won the NL pennant. Ott had the highest WAR (7.1) for non-pitchers while leading the league in Runs, Home Runs, and On-Base Plus Slugging Percentage.

Playing the “what-if” game, if the Cy Young Award had existed (such that pitchers were not generally considered in the MVP voting) and if the WAR metric existed in Ott’s era, it’s conceivable he could have won the MVP Award in 1934, 1936, and 1942. He was arguably the best overall player in 1938, too.

Despite never winning an MVP Award, Ott received the ultimate Major League Baseball honor with his enshrinement in the National Baseball Hall of Fame on his first ballot in 1951. At the end of the day, that’s what really counts in a player’s career.

  • < PREV Video: LSU's Brian Kelly recaps UAB win, previews trip to Texas A&M
  • NEXT > 2022-2023 Louisiana High School Wrestling Power Rankings

Richard Cuicchi

New Orleans baseball historian

Richard Cuicchi, Founder of the Metro New Orleans Area Baseball Player Database and a New Orleans area baseball historian, maintains TheTenthInning.com website. He also authored the book, Family Ties: A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives. He has contributed to numerous SABR-sponsored Bio Project and Games Project books.

Read more >