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!

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