Friday, December 27, 2013

2013 Breakdown of the Ted Musial Award

Every year, the BBA (Baseball Bloggers Alliance) selects noteworthy individuals in the game to win end of the year awards.  There are a number of different awards given away by the BBA.  You can find a list of the awards and my picks for each on my ballot here.  This post is a breakdown explaining my choices for the Ted Musial Award, which compares to the MVP.

Well I bucked the trend here.  I can tell you that this is the only award I selected where neither my AL nor my NL choice aligned with the rest of the BBA community.  In addition, one of my choices was not the same as both the BBA or MLB.  So I’m not afraid to go out on a limb.  However I think a lot of that has to do with my issues with the MVP voting, and the inherent ambiguity that is not only prevalent, but almost celebrated in the voting process.

In the NL, I went with Paul Goldschmidt, who neither baseball nor the BBA agreed with.  The reason I selected Paul was pretty straightforward.  I went with the player I thought had the best statistical year.  Some say that’s the wrong way to do things, but I’ll cover that in the breakdown of my AL choice.  Goldschmidt hit 302 with a league leading 36 HR (tied with Pedro Alvarez) and 125 RBI.  He also added 103 R and 15 SB to those totals while getting on base at a better than 400 clip, slugging over 550 and notching an OPS of 952.  And his defense as first was great.  I don’t know that any single player compared to him across the board in offensive categories, but maybe some came close.  In addition, he was easily the most valuable player on a good Diamondbacks team that didn’t make the playoffs, but finished right at 500 and in second in the NL West. 

The winner of both the BBA and MLB award was Andew McCutchen, who was masterful for the Pittsburgh Pirates in their first winning season in about 2 decades.  McCutchen hit 317 with 21 HR, 84 RBI, 97 R and 27 SB.  He had a 404 OBP, 2 points better than Paul but only a 508 slugging percentage, almost 50 points less than Mr. Goldschmidt.  His 911 OPS was great, but nowhere near what the Diamondbacks first baseman produced.  It’s easy to look at McCutchen, the leader of a young team that had an emotional season culminating in a playoff appearance and a win over the Reds in the Wildcard round (before being bounced in 6 games by the Cards in the NLDS).  The Pirates were a great story and McCutchen was their leader.  But he was not the best player in the league.  And while that may not necessarily be what the MVP was intended to be, it’s what it has become.  McCutchen plays a much tougher position than Paul Goldschmidt.  And he plays it well.  But Goldschmidt plays his position about as well as you can play it.  McCutchen is a better base runner, but Paul is very good with the most steals at his position.  And while McCutchen had a slightly better AVG, Goldschmidt was close to as good and blew McCutchen away in every other category, including R, where you would think McCutchen had the advantage.  McCutchen also had a better team around him.  Russel Martin was hot entering the post season and cracked 15 HR on the season.  Pedro Alvarez was tied for the league lead with 36 HR.  Francisco Liriano turned into an ace and Jason Grilli was masterful in the bullpen.  For the Diamondbacks, it was Paul and a bunch of nobodys as Aaron Hill was hurt, Adam Eaton was hurt, Miguel Montero was hurt, Jason Kubel was ordinary and the pitching was a mess outside of Patrick Corbin.  I never consider that one team made the playoffs when looking at MVPs, as individual players have little to do with a team winning.  McCutchen played well on a team that played well that played in a tough division, taking home a wildcard place at second in their division.  Paul Goldschmidt played well on a team that played in a less tough division and didn’t make the playoffs.  That had nothing to do with Goldschmidt.  He was a force despite being the only bat in the lineup that anyone feared.  That’s not easy to do.  McCutchen had some protection and put up good numbers.  Goldschimdt had no protection and put up better numbers.  So for me, Goldschmidt was far and away my winner.

And now let’s start the breakdown on my AL Winner, Miguel Cabrera.  Last year’s Triple Crown and MVP winner had another strong season.  And while last year I mistakenly selected him as my Ted Musial winner (more on that here) this year I’m more comfortable with my decision.  Cabrera led baseball with a 348 ERA.  That’s his second straight batting title (though I never count past achievements in what is supposed to be a yearly award).  And 348 is a phenomenal average, not like those years when someone hitting 320 steals the title in a weak year.  Cabrera was second with 137 RBI and 44 HR, trailing only Chris Davis in both categories.  He had the best on base percentage in baseball (442), the best slugging percentage (636) and the best OPS (1.078).  In addition his 193 Hits was second only to Adrian Beltre in the AL and he scored 103 R. He had a good year.  He was still not good defensively; in fact he was not even average.  His base running was similar to his defense.  And yet, I still chose to give him the award.

I considered 3 other players for the award.  Obviously Chris Davis led the league in HR and RBI.  That’s great.  But he only hit 286, impressive to be sure, but nowhere near what Cabrera did.  In addition, Davis is blessed neither with an impressive glove nor superior speed on the base paths and playing first is easier than playing third, even if you don’t play third well.  Adrian Beltre led the league in hits and is a phenomenal defensive third baseman.  I gave him a quick look also, but the rest of his numbers (302/30/92/88), while impressive, were not in the Cabrera or even Davis stratosphere. 

However there is one other player who I really seriously considered giving the award to.  And that was Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  He had another great year.  He hit 323 with 27 HR, 97 RBI, a league leading 109 R and 33 SB.  He did this while playing center field for the majority of the year, with some left sprinkled in.  Center field is arguably the hardest position to play defensively.  In addition, Trout is a phenomenal base runner who took 33 bases in 40 attempts.  Metrics put him at creating an additional 124 runs for his team, both at the plate and with what he is able to do on the bases.  He is a complete player.  I think he is the best all around offensive player in the game.  He is superior to Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis, Ryan Braun and Hanley Ramirez.  There are few who can do what he does in all areas of the game.  If I were starting a team, he would be the first guy I would take.  He is, hands down, the best overall player in the game (in my humble opinion).

So, why does the best player not win MVP?  Well, because I don’t think that’s what the MVP is looking for.  At least not anymore.  If you talked to me last year before the MVP was awarded, I would have said the MVP recognizes and awards the best player in baseball.  However, after last year’s Mike Trout vs. Miguel Cabrera argument, I no longer am sure.  The original rules for MVP balloting are still used and are somewhat vague.  I’ve listed the original rules for MVP voting below:

The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931:
1.  Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.
2.  Number of games played.
3.  General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.
4.  Former winners are eligible.
5.  Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.
You are also urged to give serious consideration to all your selections, from 1 to 10. A 10th-place vote can influence the outcome of an election. You must fill in all 10 places on your ballot. Only regular-season performances are to be taken into consideration.
Keep in mind that all players are eligible for MVP, including pitchers and designated hitters.

The rules tell you to consider not just the offensive production of a player, but also the defense of a player.  Also, to be fair to those who thought Mike Trout didn’t play a full season, which is why he was not the winner last year, the rules tell you to consider the number of games played for an individual player.  However Cabrera missed some games due to injury this year, and ran away with the award.  And Trout had comparable numbers to Cabrera last year, despite playing fewer games.  Doesn’t that make Trout’s overall performance more impressive?

But I don’t want to fall back into last year’s argument.  The point is this; the “valuable” part of the MVP is still unclear.  Does the value denote how important a specific player is to his individual team?  Does it refer to overall performance?  Number 1 seems to say both.  Yet that can be mutually exclusive.  The most obvious reading of the rules, specifically number 1, seems to say that a player’s import to his team is to be chiefly considered, in the strength of his offense and defense (with base running being considered a facet of offense).  So in that case, Trout was by far the most important offensive player on his team, carrying them to their mediocre record.  Without him they would be lost completely, as we saw last season when they were abysmal without him for the first month.  By comparison, Cabrera played on a team where Torri Hunter and Austin Jackson received MVP votes in the last two years and Prince Fielder was backing him up (though this year was a down year for Prince).  In addition, Victor Martinez and Omar Infante had strong offensive seasons.  And his team featured 2 pitchers who got Cy Young votes (as well as one who won an MVP in the last 3 years).  Trout was the only All Star on his team last year.  So in value to his team, Trout seems to blow Cabrera out of the water.  He did last year and this year, though last year his offensive stats were much better, and closer to the lofty stats put up by Cabrera.  In addition, you could argue Chris Davis and Adrian Beltre were more important to their teams than Cabrera was to his.  Or Robinson Cano.  Or Josh Donaldson.  So the “value” portion of the MVP award is dreadfully vague, and probably is the most in need of being cleared up.   In addition, Cabrera was on a playoff team and Trout was not.  I can tell you with a certainty that that affected the voting.  But I don’t think it should.  As I mentioned in the NL breakdown, individual players help teams to be sure, but have very little overall impact on a team making the playoffs.  In the AL, the West was much tougher than the Central.  I don’t count that against Trout nor have it help Cabrera.  So while that’s a common criterion used in voting for MVP candidates, it has no basis and I think is the most over-used and inaccurate measurement for those being considered for MVP.

History has shown us that generally the MVP is given to the best player statistically in a season.  However, knowing that offense and defense matter, it can be anyone, including a pitcher that takes home the honors, as we saw a few years ago with Justin Verlander.  For that reason, I think it impresses upon voters the need to vote for someone who excels in all parts of the game, as offense is only a portion of what is counted.  If offense counted for more than defense, than HOW COULD A PITCHER HAVE EVER WON THE AWARD???  So, last year with the offensive stat categories of Trout and Cabrera being so close, I think Trout’s vastly superior game on the bases and in the field should have given him the nod over Cabrera.  This year, I think Cabrera was far enough removed from Trout and everyone else offensively that he could take home the award based on his offense alone.  This in no way means I think he was the best player in the AL this year.  That was still Mike Trout.  He is a far better player than Cabrera, because he comes close to equaling his offensive production and vastly surpasses Miguel on defensive and base running fronts.  Again, it’s not that Trout is just better than Cabrera in those two facets of the game.  It’s that he’s one of the best in the game in both of those facets, and Cabrera is among the worst at his position defensively and no better than average (and that’s generous with his size) on the bases.  So while Cabrera was my MVP, I made the decision based entirely on his offensive achievements being far and away the best in the AL, enough to make up for any defensive or base running deficiencies.  I in no way think he was the most valuable to his team, as Torri Hunter and Victor Martinez also had strong offensive seasons on the Tigers and they had a pitching staff with the Cy Young Winner and another Cy Young candidate.  If I had to choose a player that had the most value to his team, I might go with Josh Donaldson.  And while both Cabrera and Donaldson were on playoff teams, I still believe the best player in the game was Mike Trout, on an Angels team that missed the playoffs for the second straight year.

The BBA actually selected Trout as their Stan Musial Award winner for the second straight year, whereas baseball selected Miggy as the MVP for the second straight year.  In the NL, McCutchen took home the award easily, but I think that was way off.  However until we clear up some of the MVP vagueness, we will have the same style of player win every season, even when others are clearly superior.  It will be the leader of a playoff team that had a good offensive season.  Sometimes he will be the best player overall.  Sometimes he will have had the best season.  Sometimes he won’t be close to either category, but will be valuable to his team.  And sometimes, he’s just the leader of one of the most exciting teams in the game.  All are noteworthy distinctions to be sure.  But all do not singularly nor collectively equate an MVP.  I’m okay with the choices, as all the players had good years.  But if we always want the winner to be from a playoff team, then we should specify that.  If we want to focus on value to a team as the overall most important stat, we should specify that as well.  Or if it’s just overall talent or the best season, we should specify that.  But until we do, we will continue to have these debates and question our winners.

Okay, so that’s it for the awards.  Let me know your thoughts.  Reach out to me on Facebook or tell me your thoughts on Twitter (@payoffpitch86).

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Breakdown of the 2013 Walter Johnson Award

Every year, the BBA (Baseball Bloggers Alliance) selects noteworthy individuals in the game to win end of the year awards.  There are a number of different awards given away by the BBA.  You can find a list of the awards and my picks for each on my ballot here.  This post is a breakdown explaining my choices for the Walter Johnson Award, which is comparable to the Cy Young Award.

“But wait….I went to your site and looked at your Ballot.  There was no Walter Johnson Award listed at all!”

Thank you dedicated reader.  How accurate your assessment is.  It seems that I completely forgot to list the Walter Johnson Award on my site.  And, as my blog post counts as my ballot, it seems that I did not vote for anyone to win the Walter Johnson Award.  My bad.

The good news is I do have an opinion as to who should have won those awards. Furthermore, I know who won the BBA awards, as well as the actual Cy Young.  And I’m going to tell you all about that now.

In the National League, I would have gone with Clayton Kershaw.  Kershaw was tied for third in the NL with 16 Wins (tied with Jorge de la Rosa and trailing Adam Wainwright and Jordan Zimmerman, who both had 19 Wins).  However Kershaw was by far the most dominant.  He led the league with 232 Ks and a 1.83 ERA.  He had a minuscule 0.97 WHIP and 198 BAA.  He gave up only 164 hits in 236 IP, which was the second most innings pitched in the league.  And his 3 CGs and 2 shutouts were the best in the NL.  He was, quite simply, masterful.  Most believe he has taken over the mantle of best pitcher in the major leagues.  And while others had more wins, he was by far the single most dominant ace across the board.

I also considered Adam Wainwright and Jordan Zimmerman with their league leading 19 Wins.  Wainwright was probably second on my list with 219 Ks, third in the league.  And Jose Fernandez was up there for me with a 2.19 ERA, the second best in baseball, behind only Clayton Kershaw.  However no single pitcher stacked up to the Los Angeles Dodgers ace in total stat dominance.  Clayton Kershaw is among the best in baseball, and was easily my NL winner of the Walter Johnson Award…..had I remembered to choose one.

The American League award was possibly even easier to give.  Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers would have won it…again…assuming I don’t forget this one.  Scherzer led all of MLB with 21 Wins.  He was also second in baseball with 240 Ks in only 214 IP, which is extremely impressive.  He also turned in a 2.90 ERA which means more in the AL than it would have in the NL.  His 0.97 WHIP and 194 BAA show that he was great in all phases of the game and he only walked 56 batters through the year.  Similar to Kershaw in the NL, there were individual pitchers that matched him in some categories, but no one was as dominant across the board as Scherzer.

Yu Darvish was really the only other pitcher who I seriously considered for this award because he had a fantastic year.  It started with a near no hitter in his first start of the year and he was dominant in just about every subsequent start.  He went 13-9 with 32 starts with a 2.83 ERA, a lower ERA than Max Scherzer.  He also had more Ks than Scherzer and everyone else as his 277 Ks led the major leagues.  He did that in 209 IP while turning in a 1.07 WHIP and 194 BAA.  He was great.  But Scherzer was vastly superior in the Wins category, while staying very close in Ks and ERA and presenting a better WHIP and BAA.  Not to mention far less walks.  The AL ERA leader was actually Scherzer’s teammate, Anibal Sanchez, who had a noteworthy year, winning the AL ERA title. His 2.57 mark was the best in the junior circuit and was paired with 202 Ks in 187 IP and a 14-8 record.  He also only made 29 starts but was phenomenal in those starts.  He deserves some recognition, but this was a one-man show for me, and Scherzer was the best pitcher in the AL this year by a decent margin.

The BBA and Major League baseball had the same assessment that I would have had, had I indeed picked Walter Johnson Award winners.  However, similar to the Rookie of the Year/Willie Mays Award winners, whenever large groups agree and vote for the same people across the board, you can assume that the individuals being recognized were very good.  This was the case for Kershaw and Scherzer. 

The last award breakdown (which I actually selected) is coming your way soon.  Stay tuned!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Breakdown of the 2013 Willie Mays Award

Every year, the BBA (Baseball Bloggers Alliance) selects noteworthy individuals in the game to win end of the year awards.  There are a number of different awards given away by the BBA.  You can find a list of the awards and my picks for each on my ballot here.  This post is a breakdown explaining my choices for the Willie Mays award, which is comparable to the Rookie of the Year.

My American League winner was Wil Myers of the Tampa Bay Rays.  He hit 293 with 13 HR and 53 RBI in 88 games.  That’s about half a season of worth.  In a full season, that’s about 25 HR and 100 RBI if he keeps that pace (of course we never know if that would be the case).  In addition, he was good in right field defensively and locked down the number 2 spot in a Tampa Bay lineup that made it to the playoffs and won the wildcard round on the road.  Those numbers were fantastic for anyone, not just a rookie.

The only other player I really considered was Chris Archer, another Tampa Bay Ray.  I generally weigh pitching accomplishments more than hitting when it comes to rookies.  It’s not at all uncommon for a rookie’s first season to be one of his best.  Pitchers aren’t familiar with you and you just have to make a play on the balls thrown to you.  Not an easy thing to be sure, but there is some ability to protect you.  Managers can protect hitters by dropping them in the lineup and protecting them with other hitters.  And, if things go poorly for a hitter, he makes an out.  That happens about 75% of the time anyway.

For a pitcher, you are out there for everyone.  You don’t get to decide whom you face.  Especially if you are a starter.  You will face the best hitters on other teams.  If you make a mistake, you can lose the game for your team.  You give up runs, and that’s all another team needs to win.  Pitching mistakes are far more devastating to a team than offensive mistakes which is why,  in my opinion, it’s harder for rookies to come in as pitchers than as hitters.  And Archer had a strong season, going 9-7 with a 3.22 ERA.  He threw 128 IP after a June 1st call-up.  He had an outstanding month of July with an ERA below 1.   However, hitters began to adjust to him after that, and his ERA was north of 4 as the team went into their playoff push.   He didn’t play poorly at the end of the year, but he didn’t seem to step up when his team needed it the most.  Myers, on the other hand, was solid or better for the entire season.  And while a defensive lapse in the playoffs against the Red Sox is unfortunately one of his most recognizable moments, Myers is a better defender than people realize and was a very good hitter all year.  He’s my vote for the Willie Mays Award due to his excellence at the plate in a difficult division throughout the whole season, including the teams’ push to the playoffs.

In the National League, I went with Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins.  Fernandez wasn’t just one of the best pitchers among rookies, he was among the best pitchers in baseball.  He had the second best ERA overall in the senior circuit.  He went 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA in 172.2 IP.  He was with the team from the beginning of the season and quickly became their ace.  He made the All Star team.  He struck out 187 in 172 IP.  His WHIP was under 1 and his BAA was under 200.  He got votes for Cy Young, not just Rookie of the Year.  So this wasn’t even close for me.  As I mentioned earlier, I think it’s tougher to be a rookie pitcher than a rookie hitter.  And as one of the best pitchers in the game, this was probably the easiest of all my end of the year awards to give.

I considered others, briefly, for this award.  Yasiel Puig was probably second on my list, though it was close between him and 2 pitchers for the St. Louis Cardinals.  Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha both were great for a team that went to the World Series.  That means something.  And pitching is tough.  Wacha was unstoppable in the playoffs, but playoff performances aren’t to be considered as these awards were turned in before the playoffs took off.  And Puig was incredibly exciting and noteworthy.  However he was a hitter, made all kinds of fielding and base-running mistakes, and had protection playing on a good team, although when he arrived he was the best offensive piece the Dodgers had.  But in the end, pitching trumps hitting and the Marlins didn’t come anywhere close to having the support staff that the Cards did, so Fernandez was the NL Willie Mays Award winner for me in a landslide.

In this instance, my awards matched the actual winners for the Rookies of the year as voted by the BBWAA, which doesn’t always happen.  It also matched up with what the rest of the BBA thought, and you can read about their award breakdowns here.  It’s not the most important thing for all of us to agree, but it does help make clear how strong a season these particular players had.  That’s why I like to wait for the BBA and Major League Baseball to announce their awards before I start my breakdowns.  But they are out, and the rest of my breakdowns will follow soon.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

2013 Goose Gossage Award

Every year, the BBA (Baseball Bloggers Alliance) selects noteworthy individuals in the game to win end of the year awards.  There are a number of different awards given away by the BBA.  You can find a list of the awards and my picks for each on my ballot here.  This post is a breakdown explaining my choices for the Goose Gossage Award, which compares to the Reliever of the Year.

As an entire award, this one was the easiest to choose.  We had two pitchers were fairly dominant, and while others were good, no one approached the numbers of my two winners.  In the American League, I went with Greg Holland, the closer for the Kansas City Royals.  Holland was second in the American League with 47 Saves in 50 Save opportunities.  Jim Johnson was first in the AL with 50 Saves, but that’s the only stat that Johnson edged Holland out in.  Holland did have 3 blown saves, but a 2-1 record overall, so the team did okay.  He also added a Hold to the stats, as he didn’t take over as the full time closer until later in the season.  In 67 IP, he had 103 Ks (more than Craig Kimbrel btw) and a 1.21 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and 170 BAA.  He was literally un-hittable.  He gave up a mere 40 hits in 67 IP and only 18 BBs.  That’s dominance.

I considered few others, but I’ll tell you who else was noteworthy.  Jim Johnson of course led the AL with 50 Saves and was tied for the MLB lead (with my NL Winner).  However he was not the shutdown stopper that Holland was.  He blew 9 Saves in that time and was imminently more hittable with a 273 BAA.  His WHIP was a little above average at 1.25 and a 2.94 ERA isn’t bad, but pales in comparison to what Holland was able to do.  He also gave up many more hits (72 in 70 IP) and had far fewer Ks (56).  Mariano Rivera was strong in his final year but logged fewer Saves and Ks, not to mention having more Blown Saves (than Holland…he was better than Johnson in that category and the ones I’m about to mention) and a higher WHIP, BAA and ERA.  Really Joe Nathan was the only guy who was anywhere near Holland’s production in my book with 43 Saves in 46 Save opportunities, a 1.39 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 162 BAA and 73 Ks in 64 IP.  He was officially second on my list, but it was pretty easy to award the 2013 AL Goose Gossage Award to Greg Holland.

In the National League, I went with Craig Kimbrel, the closer for the Atlanta Braves.  Kimbrel led the NL with 50 Saves and was tied with Jim Johnson for the MLB lead.  And his numbers were nearly identical to Holland’s in terms of dominance.  Kimbrel had 4 Blown Saves (1 more than Holland).  He matched Holland with 67 IP, but had slightly fewer Ks with 98 (which is still incredible…and by far the best in the NL among relievers).  He gave up one fewer hit than Holland (39…again in 67 IP) and had 2 more walks with 20 total.  His WHIP was one one hundredth of a point higher (0.88) and his BAA was four points lower (166).  Comparisons aside, Kimbrel was incredibly dominant, and continues to keep his name at the top of the best closers in baseball list.  In my book he’s the best, and has been for at least the last 2 years if not the last 3.  And while Holland was comparable to him, this season in the AL, nobody in his own league was….well….in his league.  Rafael Soriano was second in the league with 43 Saves, but with an ERA north of 3 and only 51 Ks in 66 IP, was nowhere near as dominant.  Aroldis Chapman had the most Ks among relievers, but his ERA was over a full point higher.  Edward Mujica had a strong first half, but faded down the stretch.  This award was Kimbrel’s from the beginning of the year to the end, and he was easily my NL Goose Gossage Award winner for the second year in a row.

The BBA agreed with me in naming Craig Kimbrel the NL Winner of the Goose Gossage Award for the third straight year (I gave it to him 2 straight years as last season was my first year in the BBA).  However Koji Uehara edged out Holland with 52% of the BBA vote compared to Greg’s 35%.  (Now’s probably a good time to mention that in my original ballot post, I mis-typed Holland’s first name as GREY instead of GREG….my bad).  Uehara was great with 21 Saves and a phenomenal post season, but I viewed this as a regular season award, and in the regular season, nobody was better than Holland.  And Uehara didn’t even make my list.  While I tried not to consider post season achievement, it seems that most others used that as the lynchpin in giving their award.  If you want to read the official BBA awards breakdown, you can check it out here.

MLB has not released their Rolaids Relief Man of the Year Awards for this year yet, but it is the only award that is given based on statistics, with each Save worth 3 points, wins worth 2 and blown Saves and Losses worth -2 each.  They also consider “Tough Saves” as worth an additional point, and those are defined as Saves earned when a pitcher enters the game with the tying run already on base and still converts.  As I don’t have those stats in front of me, I can’t run the numbers to tell you who won, but it’ll almost certainly be Kimbrel in the NL and either Holland or Johnson in the AL.  However I think Holland and Kimbrel were easily the overall winners for me this season.

More breakdowns to come.  Stay tuned!