Cody Bellinger hit his first home run of spring training on Thursday, a golf shot against Joakim Soria of the A’s.
What better time to check in on how other Dodgers position player MVP winners fared in the year after they took home the hardware.
Daubert won a batting title in his MVP year, for a Brooklyn team 19 games under .500. He followed that up with another batting title in 1914, though hitting .329 isn’t the same as hitting .350, even if his league-adjusted overall production was better. Several of his stats were eerily similar in both years, including the same number of doubles (17), triples (7), and stolen bases (25). In 1914 he hit six home runs (three over the fence), four more than his MVP year, and scored more runs (89-76). But he finished a distant 16th in NL MVP voting in his follow-up, and never received another MVP vote in his final 10 seasons.
Another first baseman, Camilli was an excellent hitter in five full seasons with Brooklyn, just as they were on the cusp of getting good. His MVP season came in a 100-win season that snapped a 21-year pennant drought, and his follow-up season was very good too, and for a team that won 104 games, but fell short of returning to the World Series. Camilli was a better hitter in his MVP year, and it didn’t hurt that he led the NL in both home runs and RBI. He fell to second in both categories in 1942, and finished eighth in MVP voting, behind teammates Mickey Owen (4th) and Pete Resier (6th).
Robinson was still excellent in 1950, but he was following up an MVP year that is in the discussion of best-ever season in Dodgers history. Nobody knew this at the time, but Robinson finished second in WAR in his follow-up campaign, his lowest ranking in a four-year stretch (1949-52). His 7.5 WAR is the best follow-up season for any Dodgers MVP, and ranks ahead of eight MVP-winning seasons (behind only himself and Bellinger).
He went from winning a batting title and leading the league in steals in 1949, but dropped from 37 to 12 steals the next year, plus a 23-run drop while driving in 43 fewer runs. He finished a distant 15th in MVP voting in 1950, with three teammates ahead of him. The Boys of Summer were stacked, which brings us to ...
Campanella is the only Dodger with multiple MVP awards, winning three times in five years in Brooklyn’s heyday. His MVP years were his three best major league seasons, as the heart and soul of the Boys of Summer behind the plate. In major league history before 1950, there were only four seasons in which a catcher (at least 50% of his games at the position) had 30 home runs and 100 RBI, and here was Campanella doing it three times in five years.
His 1952 season was excellent, though still a drop-off from his first MVP campaign. Then after leading the league in RBI and setting a record for home runs by a catcher (that would stand for 43 years) in his second MVP season, Campanella had his first truly bad year, hampered all of 1954 by a fracture in his hand. He suffered another drop off after winning his final MVP, and did not receive any MVP votes in either 1954 or 1956.
Maury Wills wreaked havoc atop the Dodgers lineup and on the bases in the 1960s. He followed up his MVP award with a better year at the plate on a rate basis, but the sheer drop in counting stats was staggering. Wills played in 31 fewer games, scored 47 fewer runs, and had 49 fewer hits. He led the league in steals again, the fourth of six straight years doing so, but going from a record 104 stolen bases to 40 was jarring, especially when he was caught stealing more often (19-13). Still, Wills finished 17th in MVP votes for the eventual World Series winners in 1963.
Garvey is the only Dodgers position player MVP to have a higher WAR in his follow-up year, thanks to a higher batting average, more hits (210-200), more total bases, and better OPS+. But he drove in 16 fewer runs and the Dodgers went from pennant winners to falling behind the Big Red Machine. Garvey finished a distant 11th in MVP voting in 1975, well behind the winner Joe Morgan. Garvey received MVP votes in eight more seasons after winning, including finishing second in 1978.
Everything broke right for the Dodgers in 1988 — you might have heard about it — but Gibson and the team suffered the next year. Gibson’s final two years in Los Angeles were decimated by injuries, with his 1989-90 combined seasons failing to match 1988 in hits, runs, home runs, and RBI. Gibson played seven more seasons after 1988, but never again received another MVP vote.
Eight of the first nine Dodgers position player MVP awards came from ages 29-34, with Garvey at age 25 the youngest before Bellinger at age 23 last year. Bellinger’s 9 WAR is topped among position players in franchise history only by Robinson (twice), Adrian Beltre, and Duke Snider.
Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register profiled Bellinger’s pursuit of following up an MVP season:
“He set a new benchmark for himself,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “There’s expectations always from the outside – whether it be from a team or individually. But I think that there’s no more expectation a person puts on himself … than themselves.”