MLB: The Evolution of the MVP and ROY Awards

The MVP and ROY awards are treated as a very big deal across MLB, but how have they evolved over the past decades in their value and impact? 

Since the inception of Major League Baseball’s Rookie of the Year award (ROY) in 1947, only 27 players have also won the MLB Most Valuable Player (MVP) award following first-year greatness: Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, Pete Rose, Richie Allen, Rod Carew, Johnny Bench, Thurman Munson, Fred Lynn, Andre Dawson, Cal Ripken Jr., Jose Canseco, Jeff Bagwell, Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki, Ryan Howard, Justin Verlander, Dustin Pedroia, Ryan Braun, Buster Posey, Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Kris Bryant and Cody Bellinger.

The MVP was established in 1931, therefore in 72 years, only 27 players won both. Is the ROY award a good predictor of future MVP’s? It’s good for a .375 success rate, Hall of Fame numbers.

That also means that 62.5% don’t win MVP, like  Derek Jeter. The 1996 American League ROY was a three-time MVP finalist but won five World Series and collected nearly 3,500 career hits in his Hall of Fame career.

Winning one of these awards in isolation tells us one thing about a player – he had a really good season. To win both tells us another – he is a consistently great player. In the case of Jeter, the ROY award shows it’s flaws in terms of predictive power. Not all great players can win the MVP in a league full of the premier players. Just ask Hall of Famers Wade Boggs, Edgar Martinez, and Tony Gwynn.

Last season MLBl witnessed the seventh player since 2006 to win the ROY and MVP, Cody Bellinger. He hit .305 with 47 bombs, 115 RBIs a lead leaguing 21 intentional walk. He also won his first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger.

From 1947-2005 21 players had won both the MVP and ROY. Since 2006 already seven players have won the combo: Justin Verlander, Ryan Braun, Buster Posey, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant, and Bellinger.

What is responsible for this recent phenomenon? Is it teams’ increased medical care protecting their high-value investments? Is it the league’s infatuation with young talent? Is it just better scouting? Whatever the reason may be, one thing holds true and that is that today’s young players are thriving at never before seen rates.

Red Sox outfielder Fred Lynn and Japanese superstar Ichiro Suzuki are the only two players to win both awards in the same season. But Ichiro was no rookie. Before slapping a league-leading 242 hits during his “rookie season” in 2001 he played in Japan with the Orix Blue Wave of the Nippon Professional Baseball League. In nine seasons there Suzuki collected 1,278 hits over 951 games. During his first season as a starter in 1994, he batted .385 with 210 hits. The next most productive player that year, Hirofumi Ogawa, hit .303 with 139 base knocks.

In 2018 the dual-threat Shohei Ohtani beat out Yankees third baseman Miguel Andújar in the MLB ROY ballot. Ohtani came into the league with over 1,000 at-bats and 543 innings pitched in Japan. Yes, the competition may be stronger here as Masahiro Tanaka has shown, but where do we draw the line? Ichiro nearly had an entire career’s worth of games in Japan and Ohtani was a blooming star. Were they rookies in terms of Major League Baseball’s eyes? Yes. But in terms of excellence despite lack of experience, what the award truly stands for, these Japanese phenoms were veterans.

The Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year awards are some of the most exciting parts of MLB history to explore. Who won what year? Did they ever make it big? Who won both? And most importantly, who fell short?

For history’s sake, I’ll leave you with this tidbit: Tony Gwynn finished the 1994-’97 regular seasons batting .394 with a league-leading 165 hits (strike year), .368 with a league-leading 197 hits, .353 and .372 with a league-leading 220 hits, respectively. All four seasons he won the batting title but not once did he finish in the top five for MVP.

Keep your head up, Derek.

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