All Philly sports fans know Mike Schmidt is the greatest Phillie of all-time. But do we truly appreciate just how great he was?
That’s a thought that occurred to me after seeing this tweet last week after Mookie Betts took home AL Most Valuable Player honors.
Mookie Betts is the first American League player ever to win the World Series and earn MVP, Gold Glove, and Silver Slugger Awards in the same season. The only NL player ever to do that is Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt (1980, Phillies).— Red Sox Notes (@SoxNotes) November 15, 2018
That tweet references the first of three seasons in which Schmidt won NL MVP. But if you take a look back at his career and evaluate individual seasons applying criteria that is more common today, it’s not unrealistic to think Schmidt could have easily retired with six MVP awards and a much more robust place in the conversation of the all-time greats.
Let’s look at those seasons when a modern perspective may have changed Schmidt’s fate.
Schmidt finished sixth in NL MVP voting that season without receiving a single first-place vote. For the season, Schmidt slashed .282/.395/.546. He led the NL in slugging and home runs (36) to go with 116 RBI.
His 9.7 WAR (per Baseball Reference) led all of MLB by over a full point. If these circumstances took place in 2018, Schmidt likely wins the MVP despite his team’s 80-82 third-place finish.
Steve Garvey took home the honor after slashing .312/.342/.469 for the first-place Dodgers.
Even through a 2018 lens, Schmidt would not be a clear-cut favorite to win this MVP race. But his production would have garnered more respect than a 13th-place finish.
Schmidt’s .950 OPS fell slightly behind Dave Winfield's (.953) and Dave Kingman’s (.956). Schmidt finished second in the NL in HR, RBI and WAR.
Winfield’s pure numbers probably would carry the day in this era, but his Padres also finished 25 games under .500. So it’s conceivable Schmidt might have taken the award.
Keith Hernandez and Willie Stargell actually split the MVP that season.
After winning the award in 1980 and 1981, Schmidt finished 6th this season.
Dale Murphy won MVP with 36 HR, 109 RBI and a .885 OPS. Schmidt had 35 HR, 87 RBI and a league-best .949 OPS. Schmidt’s 7.4 WAR also outshined Murhpy’s 6.1 WAR. (Gary Carter led the NL with 8.6 WAR.)
Without living through it, this could have been a case of voter fatigue and an acknowledgment of the Braves winning the NL West. But Schmidt would probably have gotten the nod over Murphy if the seasons were moved to 2018.
Schmidt also has an interesting case to be made in 1983 and 1984, but Murphy and Ryne Sandberg would likely still be the winners by today’s standards. Schmidt went on to win the MVP for a final time in 1986.
Schmidt’s place in the game is secure regardless of how many MVP awards ended up on his mantle. Nearly three decades after his retirement, he remains the greatest third baseman in history.
But it’s tantalizing to think how his legacy might have been enhanced when framed by modern analytic tools.
Maybe he’d have two statues outside Citizens Bank Park.
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