Does winning MVP, Cy clear path to Cooperstown?

November 17th, 2020

Winning a Baseball Writers' Association of America Award is an achievement in and of itself, a tangible testament to a well-played season. When a player wins MVP, Cy Young or Rookie of the Year, he’s already added to his resume, which might one day help him become enshrined in Cooperstown.

But not every player to win an MVP, Cy Young or Rookie of the Year Award is in the Hall of Fame. Of the 110 Major League players in the Hall of Fame who retired in 1956 or later -- the first year of the Cy Young Award, the newest of the BBWAA player awards -- 44 never won a BBWAA Award. It’s not a prerequisite, but it definitely helps.

So, where does the distinction lie? What percentage of players to win multiple such awards are in the Hall of Fame?

Rookie of the Year is typically the least predictive of future greatness, simply because we can’t give more weight to players with multiple awards the way we can with MVP or Cy Young, since a player can win only once. Of the 83 Rookie of the Year winners who have already been eligible to be on the Hall of Fame ballot, just 17 are in the Hall of Fame.

However, it is worth noting that of those 83 HOF ballot-eligible Rookie of the Year winners, just 20 won at least one more BBWAA Award in their careers. Of those 20, 11 are in the Hall of Fame. We can’t track players to win multiple Rookies of the Year, but that’s a way to look at multi-award winners that include ROYs.

Here’s a look at how winning an MVP or Cy Young -- or multiple -- correlates with reaching the Hall of Fame. In all cases, the players evaluated were solely those who are already Hall of Fame-eligible (retired for at least five years, played 10 seasons). Each section also includes the relevant not yet HOF-eligible retired and active players to win that many awards, for future consideration. The BBWAA began voting on MVP in 1931, so none prior to that are considered.

MVP Awards

Three or more: HOF-worthy

In HOF (7 players, 88%): Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Mike Schmidt
Not in HOF (1 player): Barry Bonds

Bonds, who won a record seven MVPs, is the lone outlier here -- but not because of a lack of production. His 162.8 career WAR as a position player ranks first all-time, but links to performance-enhancing drugs have clouded the picture of his Hall candidacy. After Bonds received 60.7% support in his eighth voting cycle, it remains to be seen whether enough BBWAA voters will reconsider his case in his final two years on the ballot.

That could be a preview for the reception that awaits three-time winner when he becomes eligible.

The other seven players in this category each won exactly three MVP Awards. Musial, Mantle and Schmidt were first-ballot Hall of Famers, while Berra got in on his second ballot, DiMaggio on his fourth, Campanella on his seventh and Foxx on his eighth.

Not yet HOF-eligible: Rodriguez (2022)
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Two: Likely, but no guarantee

In HOF (12 players, 80%): Ernie Banks, Johnny Bench, Hank Greenberg, Carl Hubbell, Willie Mays, Joe Morgan, Hal Newhouser, Cal Ripken, Frank Robinson, Frank Thomas, Ted Williams, Robin Yount
Not in HOF (3 players): Juan González, Roger Maris, Dale Murphy

Nine of the 12 players to win at least two MVP Awards who are in the Hall of Fame got in on their first year on the ballot. The only three to make it, but after the first ballot, are Hubbell (fourth), Greenberg (10th) and Newhouser (15th).

González won the 1996 and 1998 AL MVP Awards, but fell off the Hall of Fame ballot in 2012 in just his second year in consideration. He hit 434 homers over the course of a 17-year career, accumulating 38.7 WAR, which is tied for 355th among position players all-time.

The other two-time MVP winners not to make the Hall of Fame both appeared on the ballot 15 times. Maris hit 39 homers in his first MVP season, 1960, then followed it up with a record-breaking 61 in ‘61 to clinch his second straight MVP. But outside of those two years, he had just one other 30-homer season, and his career batting average was just .260. Murphy played 2,180 games over an 18-year career, hitting .265 with a .469 slugging percentage and 398 homers.

One: Pretty much a toss-up

In HOF: 42 players (47%)
Not in HOF: 47 players

Plenty of first-ballot Hall of Famers won just one MVP Award in their careers, so it should come as little surprise that this number is almost 50 percent. Seventeen of those Hall of Famers got in on the first ballot, including Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones, Willie McCovey, Jackie Robinson and others.

But there are also players whose MVP seasons were more a flash in the pan, based on that season’s overall climate, or another form of one-hit wonder. Thus, just one MVP Award is not enough to guarantee a plaque in Cooperstown.

Those not in the Hall of Fame include three MVP winners who did not even make the ballot: Jim Konstanty, Al Rosen and Zoilo Versalles. Konstanty was a pitcher who won NL MVP in 1950 when he appeared in 74 games, all in relief, with a 2.66 ERA. He posted just one more season with an ERA below 3.00 after ‘50. Rosen was a four-time All-Star, including in 1953, when he won AL MVP, but none of the other seasons of his career were on the level of his ‘53 campaign. Versalles had 7.2 WAR in 1965, when he won AL MVP, but finished his career with just 12.6 WAR total.

Not yet HOF-eligible: Ryan Howard (2022), Justin Morneau (2022), Jimmy Rollins (2022), Joe Mauer (2024), Ichiro Suzuki (2025)
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Cy Young Awards

Three or more: HOF-worthy

In HOF (7 players, 88%): Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton, Greg Maddux, Sandy Koufax, Pedro Martínez, Jim Palmer, Tom Seaver
Not in HOF (1 player): Roger Clemens

As with MVP, there’s an outlier who won more such awards than anyone else but is not yet in the Hall of Fame. Clemens won a record seven Cy Young Awards and amassed 138.7 career pitching WAR, third-most all-time. But his links to performance-enhancing drugs have made the situation murkier. Clemens received 61.0 percent support in his eighth year on the ballot, and like Bonds, it’s unclear whether that support will grow appreciably in either of his final two years of eligibility.

All seven of the three- to five-time Cy Young winners not only got into the Hall of Fame, but did so on the first ballot. Johnson won five and Carlton and Maddux won four each, while the rest won three Cy Young Awards.

Two: A bit more than a toss-up

In HOF (4 players, 57%): Bob Gibson, Tom Glavine, Roy Halladay, Gaylord Perry
Not in HOF (3 players): Denny McLain, Bret Saberhagen, Johan Santana

It makes sense that winning two Cy Youngs is less predictive of a call to Cooperstown than winning two MVPs, since pitchers often break down at a younger age or have shorter sustained peaks of greatness.

Santana and Saberhagen especially are great examples of this, being brilliant enough to win the award multiple times, but not brilliant for a long enough period to make it into the Hall of Fame. Both Saberhagen and Santana fell off the ballot after one year, while McLain made it three.

The average career WAR of a starting pitcher in the Hall of Fame is 70.0, and the average WAR of those pitchers’ best seven seasons is 50.0. Santana had 51.7 career WAR and 45.0 WAR in his best seven seasons. McLain had 19.3 WAR and 22.2 in his best seven. And Saberhagen had 58.9 overall, with 43.1 in his seven best seasons.

These three cases provide a peek into what Tim Lincecum’s case may look like, as a pitcher who went from back-to-back Cy winner to a 4.94 ERA in the final five seasons of his career, with his nine-start 2016 campaign the only way he reached 10 seasons in the Majors.

Not yet HOF-eligible: Lincecum (2022)
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One: Not much of an indicator

In HOF (10 players, 23%): Don Drysdale, Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Whitey Ford, Catfish Hunter, Ferguson Jenkins, John Smoltz, Warren Spahn, Bruce Sutter and Early Wynn
Not in HOF (34 players)

The one-time Cy Young Award winners are a lot less frequently Hall of Famers compared to the one-time MVP winners, with just 10 of them in the Hall of Fame. Even more so than with the two-time Cy Young Award winners, this makes sense if we consider how prone pitchers are to breaking down or not sustaining success.

Those not in the Hall of Fame include Bob Turley, who accumulated just 13.3 career WAR in his career. He won the award in 1958, when he had a 2.97 ERA and 19 complete games, but also walked a Major League-high 128 batters.

Turley is one of three Cy Young winners to be HOF eligible but never even make it onto the ballot, along with Dean Chance and Mike McCormick.

Not yet HOF-eligible: Barry Zito (2021), Jake Peavy (2022), R.A. Dickey (2023), Bartolo Colón (2024), CC Sabathia (2025)
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