Ranking the 10 best 25-and-under MVP seasons in MLB history
The regular season has about two months left, and young superstars Bryce Harper and Mike Trout are the odds-on favorites to win the Most Valuable Player awards in their respective leagues. Considering both won’t even be 25 years old by the time next season begins, that’s quite the feat. And you’d be correct in guessing that it’s unprecedented for two players this young to be the best players in the sport.
If Harper (22) and Trout (23, turning 24 on Aug. 7) both won the MVP, they'd become the youngest pair ever to claim the award during the same year. Harper would be the fourth-youngest MVP of all time, and Trout would narrowly miss the top 10 while becoming just the third player to win MVP honors twice before turning 25.
To put the the talent of Harper and Trout in perspective, PointAfter reviewed the 25 MVP campaigns turned in by players younger than 25 years old, then ranked the top 10 in terms of Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement (WAR). It’s a list filled with some of the best players in baseball history, including Willie Mays, Ty Cobb and Mickey Mantle.
Note: The ages listed for each player in this article are based on the last day of the regular season of their MVP campaign.
10. Roger Clemens, Red Sox, 1986
Age: 24-2-1 | WAR: 8.9
A generational talent whose legacy was tainted by steroids, Clemens pulled off the rare feat of winning both the Cy Young award and the MVP during his third season in 1986. “The Rocket” topped the American League leader board for wins (24), ERA (2.48) and WHIP (0.97), announcing his arrival as an ace who would go on to dominate hitters for the better part of 24 seasons.
9. Vida Blue, Athletics, 1971
Age: 22-2-1 | WAR: 9.0
Blue had a promising 1970 campaign as a September call-up for Oakland, recording a 2.09 ERA in six starts (including two shutouts). But nothing could foreshadow his dominant '71 season, when he became the youngest MVP in MLB history (a record that still stands). Blue produced a 1.82 ERA across 39 starts, striking out a whopping 301 hitters in 312 innings for a league-best 8.7 K/9 ratio during an era when high strikeout rates were still somewhat of a rarity. For his historic performance, Blue was rewarded with both the Cy Young and MVP. He would never again reach those heights, but the lefty is still remembered for his memorable breakout year.
8. Stan Musial, Cardinals, 1943
Age: 22-10-12 | WAR: 9.4
Musial won the MVP in just his second full season, pacing the majors in hits (220), doubles (48), triples (20), batting average (.357), on-base percentage (.425) and slugging percentage (.562). He sparked the Cardinals to the National League pennant before St. Louis lost to the Yankees in the World Series in five games.
7. Tris Speaker, Red Sox, 1912
Age: 24-6-1 | WAR: 10.1
Speaker, a member of MLB’s second ever Hall of Fame class, led all players with 53 doubles, 10 homers and a ridiculous .464 on-base percentage during his fourth full season in the bigs. It was the peak of the first half of his career, before he found another gear as the sport moved away from the Dead Ball era and into the roaring 1920s.
6. Jimmie Foxx, Athletics, 1932
Age: 24-11-3 | WAR: 10.5
Foxx, who debuted for the Philadelphia Athletics at age 17, was already in his eighth major league season by 1932. He capitalized on that experience with a monster campaign that saw him mash 58 home runs, score 151 runs and compile 169 RBIs, all league highs. Foxx went on to win a second consecutive MVP the following season and another in '38 before retiring in '45 with 534 homers (18th all-time) and 1,922 RBIs (ninth all-time).
5. Willie Mays, Giants, 1954
Age: 23-4-20 | WAR: 10.6
Winning the MVP is an incredible accomplishment on its own. Doing it after spending a year away from baseball due to military service is nearly unfathomable. But that’s what Willie Mays did in 1954, leading the NL in batting average (.345), triples (13) and slugging percentage (.667) to make the first of 19 consecutive All-Star Games and lead the Giants to a World Series sweep over Cleveland.
4. Ty Cobb, Tigers, 1911
Age: 24-9-20 | WAR: 10.7
The Georgia Peach was one of five players inducted into the Hall of Fame as part of its inaugural class in 1936. He surprisingly only captured one MVP, winning it in his seventh MLB campaign in 1911. That year, he paced the majors in virtually every offensive category—hits (248), doubles (47), triples (24), runs (147), RBIs (127), stolen bases (93), batting average (.420), slugging percentage (.621) and total bases (367), most of which were career bests.
3. Hal Newhouser, Tigers, 1945
Age: 24-4-10 | WAR: 11.2
Newhouser won his second consecutive AL MVP at the tender age of 24 and is still the only pitcher in MLB history to accomplish that feat. It was a well-deserved honor: The lefty led the majors in ERA (1.81), strikeouts (212), innings pitched (313 1/3) and complete games (29).
2. Mickey Mantle, Yankees, 1956
Age: 24-11-10 | WAR: 11.2
Mantle entered his hitting prime during his sixth season in 1956, blasting past his previous career highs with a .353 batting average, .705 slugging percentage and 52 home runs, which helped him capture the first of his three MVPs. “The Mick” finished in the top five of MVP voting in half of his 18 seasons—a mark of the superstar’s remarkable consistency.
1. Lou Gehrig, New York, 1927
Age: 24-3-12 | WAR: 11.8
The 1927 Yankees featured one of baseball’s most imposing lineups ever, and Gehrig was the linchpin. The first baseman who would later be known as the sport’s “Ironman” led baseball with 173 RBIs, 447 total bases and 52 doubles as New York would go on to sweep Pittsburgh in the World Series.
Interestingly enough, 1927 was the only year in MLB history to feature two MVPs under age 25 (Gehrig and Pittsburgh’s Paul Waner). Harper and Trout have a chance to match that achievement and better that pair’s combined 18.7 WAR in 1927—the two young studs are already up to 13.5 total WAR, putting them on pace for about 20.6 (Harper currently has the narrowest of leads from an individual standpoint, 6.8 to 6.7).
If Trout and Harper can stay healthy and maintain the impressive paces they’ve set in 2015, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred can officially claim that baseball is entering an era featuring unprecedented young talent.
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