Voting for MVP, Cy Young Award, Rookie of the Year, and Manager of the Year will be the big story in baseball once the postseason’s over. However, a lot of fans don’t know that the voting takes place a month earlier. Two members of the Baseball Writers Association of America in each team’s market–that’s 30 voters per league–vote on the awards. Since the awards don’t include postseason play, ballots are due before the postseason starts. So in keeping with the deadline, here are one non-BBWAA member’s (and only mine) picks.
Who should win: Mike Trout, Los Angeles. Trout is clearly the best player in baseball. Pick your favorite offensive stat: He’s first in Baseball-Reference’s OPS+, first in Baseball Prospectus’s TAv, first in FanGraphs’ wRC+. Pick your favorite value stat: He’s first in Baseball-Reference’s WAR (bWAR), second (to the Cubs’ Kris Bryant) in Baseball Prospectus’s WARP, first in FanGraphs’ WAR (fWAR). You can make a pretty good case that this should be his fifth MVP award in a row.
Who will win: Mookie Betts, Boston. Betts had a great season, finishing second in the league to Trout in bWAR, WARP, and fWAR. But the standard here is Trout, who gets penalized solely because he played for a lousy team. It really is ridiculous. At some point, people are going to look back at this decade, when one of the best players ever was doing amazing things every year, and wonder how he got only one MVP.
Who should win: Kris Bryant, Chicago. Bryant’s case is pretty strong. He was fourth in the National League in slugging and OPS, tenth in OBP and, if you prefer, fourth in OPS+ and wRC+ and third in TAv. Plus, he started games at all four corner positions, providing defensive versatility that boosted his overall value: first in the league in bWAR, WARP, and fWAR.
Who will win: Bryant. Add the rational arguments above to the irrational played-for-a-team-that-made-the-postseason requirement, and Bryant should win easily.
AL CY YOUNG
Who should win: Chris Sale. The contenders are, alphabetically, Baltimore’s Zach Britton, Texas’ Cole Hamels, Cleveland’s Corey Kluber, Boston’s Rick Porcello, Chicago’s Sale, and Detroit’s Justin Verlander. Here are their respective ERA / FIP / DRA:
Britton: 0.54 / 1.90 / 2.23
Hamels: 3.32 / 3.94 / 2.65
Kluber: 3.14 / 3.22 / 2.94
Porcello: 3.15 / 3.36 / 3.47
Sale: 3.34 /3.42 / 2.64
Verlander: 3.04 / 3.45 / 2.79
Britton’s numbers are obviously better, but the guy pitched only 65 1/3 innings, less than a third as much as the others. Of the valuation measures, bWAR is based on runs allowed, WARP on DRA, fWAR on FIP. So it sort of follows that by bWAR, the ranking is Kluber-Verlander-Sale-Porcello-Hamels, WARP has Sale-Verlander-Hamels-Kluber-Porcello, fWAR says Sale-Porcello-Kluber-Verlander-Hamels. My pick’s Sale, who was a fantastic pitcher despite a mediocre supporting cast, but I wouldn’t be upset with Verlander or Kluber. The others seem a notch behind, Britton a notch further.
Who will win: Porcello. Consider two pitchers, A and B. A beat B handily in ERA, 3.15-3.99, but they were much closer in FIP, 3.36-3.56, and B was better in the most advanced metric, DRA, 2.89-3.47. On top of that, B struck out more batters (24% of batters faced vs. 21% for A), walked just a few more (5% vs. 4%), induced more ground balls (44% of balls in play vs. 43%), and got batters to chase more pitches outside the zone (32% vs. 31%). The big difference between the two? A got way more run support, a full run per 27 outs during which he was in the game, 6.8 to 5.8. So wouldn’t you conclude that A was maybe a little bit better, but also luckier? Sure you would.
A is Rick Porcello, celebrated Red Sox pitcher whose 22-4 record will likely give him the Cy Young Award. And the nearly-as-good-but-unlucky B is his teammate, David Price, widely viewed as a disappointment.
This isn’t to say that Porcello wasn’t good this year. But it does show how far a lot of run support can take you in generating a gaudy won-lost record.
NL CY YOUNG
Who should win: Jose Fernandez, Miami. No, this is not some maudlin in-memory-of award. Fernandez was the best pitcher in the league last year. He was seventh in ERA, second in FIP, and first in DRA. He led the league in strikeout rate, was fourth in K/BB, and had the third-lowest home run rate. Among the valuation metrics, he was only 12th in bWAR but first in WARP and third in fWAR.
Who will win: Kyle Hendricks, Chicago. Let’s do the same analysis as with the AL. The contenders are Fernandez, Hendricks, Los Angeles’ Clayton Kershaw, Chicago’s Jon Lester, and Washington’s Max Scherzer. ERA/FIP/DRA:
Fernandez: 2.86 / 2.33 / 2.21
Hendricks: 2.14 / 3.23 / 3.39
Kershaw: 1.69 / 1.83 / 2.04
Lester: 2.33 / 3.44 / 3.09
Scherzer: 2.96 / 3.27 / 3.01
The problem with Lester and Hendricks is that they play in front of the best defense in baseball (by far), which shows up in their ERAs but not their FIP, and not as much in their DRA. They were excellent pitchers this year, but their excellence wasn’t just a product of their arms. The seven guys playing behind them were a big help. But their ERAs, and the attendant win totals, are shiny toys. Kershaw had an amazing season, perhaps the greatest ever, but pitched only 149 innings, so doesn’t appear among the leaders for ERA qualifiers, as he was 13 innings short of that standard.
I was hoping that there’d a be a groundswell of support for Fernandez, but if there has been, I missed it, and the ballots are due. Hendricks had the league’s lowest non-Kershaw ERA and a nifty won-lost, 16-8. If he and Lester split a Cubs vote, though, the award will go to Scherzer, who had a niftier won-lost, 20-7, and led the majors with 284 strikeouts, 30 more than any other pitcher.
AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Who should win: Michael Fulmer, Tigers. This is a two-man race, and it’s a question of whose negatives sway the voters. (Sounds familiar?) Fulmer had a 3.06 ERA, which would’ve been third in the league, but he fell three innings short of qualifying, so there’s that. He also had a FIP (3.72) and DRA (3.51) that aren’t nearly as good as that ERA, and he faded down the stretch (3.94 second half ERA, 4.76 in September). The Yankees’ Gary Sanchez put together a ridiculous .299/.376/.657 line and was tied for the rookie lead in homers, with 20. He, too, slowed down in September (.225/.314/.520, not that an .834 OPS is bad). More importantly, he played in only 53 games and accumulated only 229 plate appearances, less than half the amount needed to qualify for the batting title.
Who will win: Fulmer. There is a belief that New York players, particularly Yankees, get the upper hand in award voting. That’s just not true; see Derek Jeter, 1999 and 2006. The theory holds some water with Hall of Fame voting, since a large number of BBWAA voters are in the Northeast, but the Yankees don’t have a systematic advantage for MVP, Cy Young, or, I’m guessing, the 2016 Rookie of the Year Award.
NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Who should win: Corey Seager, Dodgers. He was clearly the best hitter on a division-winning club. He was fifth in the league in runs scored, seventh in batting average and doubles, tenth in slugging percentage, and eighteenth on on base percentage and home runs. And he played the most difficult infield position, shortstop.
Who will win: Seager. If it’s not unanimous, something’s wrong.
AL MANAGER OF THE YEAR
Who should win: Terry Francona, Cleveland. I contend that we can’t really know how managers do, because we’re not privy to their motivation/communication/leadership skills, which seem to me to be more important that in-game strategy (assuming a minimum level of competence). With that enormous caveat, Francona had to overcome the loss of his best position player, Michael Brantley, for all but eleven ineffective games, and injuries to two of his three best pitchers, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, down the stretch, yet the team wound up with the second-best record in the league.
Who will win: Francona, probably, though Boston’s John Farrell will get support, and Baltimore’s Buck Showalter ought to. How he keeps leading teams without a bona fide starting rotation to the postseason every year is a wonder.
NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR
Who should win: Dave Roberts, Los Angeles. Was there a tougher job in baseball this year than taking over the highest payroll team in baseball in the post-The Best Team Money Can Buy era, after the ugly departure of former manager Don Mattingly, in a season in which the team’s (and the universe’s) best pitcher was hurt, its most dynamic player hit .263/.323/.416 and earned a trip to the minors, and only one pitcher was healthy enough to qualify for the ERA title? I don’t think so.
Who will win: Dusty Baker, Nationals. In contrast to Roberts, taking over the talented Nationals after Matt Williams’ 2015 meltdown seemed to be a guarantee of success. And, to his credit, Baker kept his players from one another’s throats (literally). Joe Maddon will get support for the Cubs’ best record since World War II, but to a large extent, his best-in-the-majors team only met expectations.“Pitch” Log: Episode 2 – Expanding the Repertoire
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