Mike Trout

My MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year picks

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Here are my picks for the MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards for each league. Obviously, these are all for fun. I’m not a BBWAA member and do not have ballots for any of these awards.

Feel free to flame away.

AL MVP
1. Mike Trout
2. Miguel Cabrera
3. Robinson Cano
4. Adrian Beltre
5. Justin Verlander
6. Austin Jackson
7. David Price
8. Josh Hamilton
9. Adam Jones
10. Alex Rios

I put down my thoughts on Trout vs. Cabrera earlier this week. Cabrera is going to win the MVP, and I’m OK with that. I think Trout was pretty clearly the better player, but he did play in 22 fewer games after opening the season in the minors.

As for the rest, Cano’s awesome finishing kick thrust him from somewhere in the 7-10 range up to No. 3. That spot appeared likely to come down to Beltre vs. Hamilton a couple of weeks ago, but Hamilton’s disappearing act nearly knocked him off the ballot entirely.

I went for Jones over Matt Wieters as the token Oriole. I really wanted to give the last spot to Edwin Encarnacion, but I couldn’t quite justify it. Joe Mauer and Ben Zobrist were also in the running, but Rios had a pretty terrific season.

AL Cy Young
1. Justin Verlander
2. David Price
3. Felix Hernandez
4. Fernando Rodney
5. Chris Sale

Price had the ERA lead, the wins and the tougher schedule. Strictly on an inning-by-inning basis, I’d give him the edge over Verlander here. Still, I think the difference is pretty small and doesn’t make up for the fact that Verlander made the equivalent of four more starts that Price did. Considering the infield defense behind him, the fact that Verlander finished second in the league in WHIP and batting average allowed is pretty amazing.

AL Rookie of the Year
1. Mike Trout
2. Yu Darvish
3. Yoenis Cespedes
4. Jarrod Parker
5. Tommy Milone

Not only does it have maybe the greatest rookie ever at the top, but the AL class is so very deep. Scott Diamond, Wei-Yin Chen, Will Middlebrooks, Matt Moore, Jose Quintana, Ryan Cook, A.J. Griffin, Manny Machado, Hisashi Iwakuma, Addison Reed, Sean Doolittle and Robbie Ross all made valuable contributions. Jesus Montero still projects very well too, though he was a disappointment this year.

NL MVP
1. Yadier Molina
2. Buster Posey
3. Ryan Braun
4. Andrew McCutchen
5. David Wright
6. Chase Headley
7. Aramis Ramirez
8. Aaron Hill
9. Joey Votto
10. Clayton Kershaw

I’ve flip-flopped a few times here.

Molina is the game’s best defensive catcher, and he started 22 more games behind the plate than Posey did this year. Yeah, he’s the worst hitter of the top six here, but it’s not by all that huge of a margin. He’s 87 points of OPS shy of Posey, 113 points shy of Braun.

One seemingly minor factor that swayed me in the end; Molina somehow hit into just 10 double plays this year. He came in at 21, 27, 19 and 21 the previous four years. It’s really a pretty amazing total given that he’s pretty slow, he hits plenty of grounders and he rarely strikes out. If Molina had made those 10-12 extra outs he usually does on twin-killings, I probably would have gone Posey first.

NL Cy Young
1. Clayton Kershaw
2. R.A. Dickey
3. Johnny Cueto
4. Kris Medlen
5. Matt Cain

I spent pretty much the entire year believing Dickey was the choice here. And he still would have been if Kershaw had succumbed to his hip injury. Kershaw came back and made a couple of more starts, though, and he proved to be the best pitcher. He led in ERA, strikeout ratio and WHIP while pitching just six fewer innings than Dickey. He also faced the tougher schedule. Consider that his opponents OPS was .760, even though quality left-handed hitters often sat out against him. Dickey’s was .750, the lowest mark of the top five pure starters (including Gio Gonzalez, not including Medlen).

As for Medlen, his schedule was the weakest of the bunch. But he was amazing, amassing a 1.57 ERA in 138 innings. I think that’s quite a bit more valuable than what Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman did. I also think it trumps Gio Gonzalez’s performance. Gonzalez gave up 43 additional runs (40 earned) while pitching 61 1/3 innings more innings than Medlen. That’s a 5.87 ERA. In comparison, Medlen allowed 19 more runs (17 earned) in 75 1/3 innings more than Kimbrel pitched. That’s a 2.03 ERA.

NL Rookie of the Year
1. Bryce Harper
2. Wade Miley
3. Norichika Aoki
4. Todd Frazier
5. Wilin Rosario

Miley seemed to have this one in the bag for most of the year, but he went 2-2 with a 5.40 ERA in his final six starts. Harper, meanwhile, hit .330 with seven homers and 27 runs scored in 112 at-bats between September and October. It’s still terribly close, and I’ve gone back and forth on my choice a few times. It’s too bad they can’t tie.

As for Rosario, he was just too sloppy defensively to justify a higher spot. He did lead all major league catchers and rookies in homers, but I think Aoki and Frazier were more valuable this year.

A study showed “grit” isn’t always a great attribute

Washington Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper slides into third with a three RBI triple during the third inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Friday, April 25, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
AP Photo/Nick Wass
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This popped up in my Twitter feed and I felt it had some applicability to baseball. This past October, Olga Khazan of The Atlantic highlighted a study in which researchers from the University of Southern California and Northeastern University performed three separate but related experiments to determine how “gritty” their subjects were.

One experiment had them solve anagrams. The second, a computer game. Finally, the third test had them solve math problems. Those who were deemed “grittier” attempted to solve fewer anagrams, which means they were sticking too long with difficult words rather than skipping and moving onto easier ones. The “grittier” crowd worked harder when losing at the computer game, but worked only as hard as the less-gritty when winning. With the math problems, the subjects when stuck were given a choice to take $1 and quit or keep going for a potential reward of $2 but $0 if they failed. The study showed that the “grittier” people weren’t any more productive but were more willing to risk the $1 for the doubled prize.

“Grit” is also a common colloquialism in baseball circles, used to refer to players who always run out a routine ground ball or pop-up. Other common characteristics include a willingness to dive for fly balls, slide into players to break up double plays, and to stick up for their teammates when there’s a disagreement between members of two teams. Often, those deemed “gritty” are in many other ways subpar players, but their perceived “grit” gives them value.

Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper is a rare superstar player who has earned the “grit” descriptor. There are many examples showing why he has earned it, but the most famous incident occurred on May 13, 2013 at Dodger Stadium. Harper turned his back to the field to chase an A.J. Ellis fly ball but went face-first into the wall, suffering abrasions on his face and a jammed left shoulder. This was during a game the Nationals were comfortably winning 6-0 in the sixth inning. At the time, the Nationals were 95 percent favorites to win the game, according to FanGraphs. Is the risk of suffering an injury — which could keep Harper out only a game or two, or cause him to miss the rest of the season — worth potentially turning a double or triple into an out?

Famously, Philadelphia fans and talking heads got on outfielder Bobby Abreu’s case in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s because he appeared gun-shy when approaching the outfield fence on fly balls. He was under a lot of pressure to sacrifice his body for the supposed good of the team, and developed a reputation as “soft”. As a more recent example, former Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins caught flack from fans when he didn’t run out a routine pop-up against the Mets on August 30, 2012. Then-manager Charlie Manuel benched the veteran. At the time, the Phillies were 62-69 and 17.5 games back of first place in the NL East and 8.5 games behind the second Wild Card. Freak injuries can happen, as Rollins’ teammate Ryan Howard showed when making the final out of the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals. Is that non-zero injury risk worth the tiny chance that the infielder drops the pop-up and Rollins gets a single (or, in rarer cases, a double) in a game that is essentially meaningless?

The aforementioned study shows that maybe Abreu and Rollins had it right after all. Statistically, a freak injury that occurs on a “hustle” play is bound to happen. Maybe that’s what it will take to stop expecting athletes to put their bodies on the line for no realistic gain.

Zach Britton settles with the Orioles for $6.75 million

Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Zach Britton delivers a pitch against the Boston Red Sox in the ninth inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park, Tuesday, June 23, 2015, in Boston. The Orioles won 6-4. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
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The Orioles and closer Zach Britton avoided an arbitration hearing, agreeing to a $6.75 million salary for the 2016 season, Jon Heyman reports. The club has now handled all of its remaining arbitration cases and won’t have to go to a hearing with any players.

Britton, in his second of four years of arbitration eligibility, filed for $7.9 million while the Orioles countered at $5.6 million. $6.75 million is exactly the midpoint between the two submitted figures.

The 28-year-old lefty saved 36 games in 40 chances last season for the O’s while putting up a 1.92 ERA with a 79/14 K/BB ratio over 65 2/3 innings.

The Blue Jays will also try to sign Josh Donaldson to a multi-year deal

Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson gets up after being unable to handle an infield single by Boston Red Sox's Mookie Betts during the fourth inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston Monday, Sept. 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
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Tacking onto Friday’s report that the Blue Jays will attempt to sign Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion to multi-year deals, Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports that the club will try to do the same with third baseman and defending American League Most Valuable Player Josh Donaldson. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports notes that Donaldson’s arbitration hearing is scheduled for February 15, so the two sides will have 10 days to hammer out a contract.

Donaldson, 30, is entering his second of four years of arbitration eligibility. After earning $4.3 million last season, Donaldson filed for $11.8 million and the Blue Jays countered at $11.35 million. The $450,000 difference isn’t much compared to some of the other disparities among arbitration-eligible players and their respective clubs. Jake Arrieta and the Cubs, for example, had a gap of $6.5 million.

This past season, Donaldson let the league in runs scored and RBI with 122 and 123, respectively, while batting .297.371/.568 with 41 home runs and 41 doubles. He earned 23 of 30 first place votes in AL MVP balloting, with runner-up Mike Trout of the Angels grabbing the other seven votes.

Reds prospect Juan Duran suspended 80 games

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Juan Duran, a minor-league outfielder in the Reds’ farm system, has been suspended 80 games following positive tests for the performance-enhancing drugs Drostanolone, Stanozolol, and Nandrolone.

Duran is 6-foot-7 with big-time power, averaging 23 homers per 150 games since 2011, but he also strikes out a ton and struggles to control the strike zone. He spent last season at Double-A, missing a lot of time with injuries and hitting .256 with six homers and a .728 OPS in 59 games as a 23-year-old.

Duran is on the 40-man roster and is considered a quasi-prospect, but he’ll be ineligible to play until July and figures to head back to Double-A once reinstated.