Miguel Cabrera

Pouliot’s midseason award picks: AL MVP

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The reigning MVP has some heavy-hitting competition this year. Let’s see if he can hold them off.

AL OPS leaders:

1.136 – Miguel Cabrera: .368/.458/.678, 26 HR, 85 RBI, 2 SB in 323 AB
1.126 – Chris Davis: .329/.405/.721, 31 HR, 80 RBI, 0 SB in 301 AB
1.102 – David Ortiz: .320/.406/.607, 16 HR, 57 RBI, 2 SB in 244 AB
.927 – Mike Trout: .311/.388/.539, 13 HR, 53 RBI, 20 SB in 334 AB
.920 – Evan Longoria: .301/.371/.549, 17 HR, 47 RBI, 0 SB in 306 AB
.920 – Josh Donaldson: .318/.386/.534, 14 HR, 55 RBI, 2 SB in 305 AB
.913 – Jason Kipnis: .299/.385/.529, 12 HR, 51 RBI, 19 SB in 278 AB
.908 – Robinson Cano: .295/.372/.537, 20 HR, 54 RBI, 5 SB in 315 AB
.887 – Edwin Encarnacion: .270/.350/.537, 23 HR, 66 RBI, 3 SB in 315 AB
.878 – Joe Mauer: .318/.402/.475, 8 HR, 27 RBI, 0 SB in 305 AB

Other notables:

.846 – Dustin Pedroia: .321/.404/.441, 5 HR, 47 RBI, 12 SB in 324 AB
.841 – Howie Kendrick: .323/.367/.475, 9 HR, 38 RBI, 6 SB in 316 AB
.839 – Manny Machado: .321/.352/.488, 6 HR, 42 RBI, 6 SB in 361 AB

Here are the WAR top 10s:

Baseball-reference

5.2 – Manny Machado
4.9 – Miguel Cabrera
4.3 – Chris Sale
4.1 – Chris Davis
4.1 – Dustin Pedroia
4.0 – Clay Buchholz
3.8 – Robinson Cano
3.8 – Josh Donaldson
3.7 – Hisashi Iwakuma
3.7 – Jason Kipnis

Fangraphs

5.4 – Miguel Cabrera
4.6 – Mike Trout
4.6 – Chris Davis
4.5 – Evan Longoria
4.2 – Manny Machado
3.9 – Josh Donaldson
3.5 – Jose Bautista
3.5 – Joe Mauer
3.4 – Derek Holland
3.4 – Max Scherzer
3.4 – Felix Hernandez

Now, I’m all for considering pitchers for MVP awards, but three months into this year, I don’t think any pitcher besides maybe Scherzer is in the mix for even a down ballot vote. B-ref WAR may disagree, but I don’t believe any AL starters have been as valuable as Adam Wainwright and Matt Harvey in the NL.

If the BBWAA held the vote today, I don’t think there’s any doubt that Cabrera would win in a landslide, with Davis finishing second. And that’s justifiable. Cabrera ranks first in the AL in average, second in homers and first in RBI. Davis is second in average, first in homers and second in RBI. They’re one-two in OPS as well, and it’s close there. However, Cabrera’s extra 53 points of OBP are worth a lot more than Davis’s 48 points of slugging.

Defense brings the two only a bit closer together; I think Davis has a bit more value as a decent first baseman than Cabrera does as a poor third baseman. But it’s not a big margin. Cabrera’s ballpark is also a bit tougher than Davis’s, so I think it’s pretty clear that Cabrera comes out ahead of Davis.

That leaves Trout and Machado as the competition. There are two big differences in the Trout vs. Cabrera battle this year. First, the offensive gap is much larger. Last year, Cabrera edged Trout by a mere 36 points of OPS (.999 to .963). This year, it’s a 200-point margin. The other difference is that Trout’s defensive numbers are way down this year. B-ref rates him as below average, while Fangraphs has him right around average. My eyes tell me that Trout truly did struggle defensively in April, but that he’s been much better of late. Regardless, his defense and baserunning aren’t close to making up the offensive gap this year.

That leaves Machado, whose case is built on his remarkable defensive numbers. Fangraphs says he’s been worth a win and a half, making him baseball’s most valuable defensive player so far. B-ref has him at 2 1/2 wins, more than a win ahead of anyone else in the AL.

I’m pretty skeptical of B-ref’s accounting there. Machado is an excellent third baseman. Actually, he’s an excellent shortstop playing a position for which he’s overqualified. But 2 1/2 wins seems excessive. I have a hard time believing that a player who gets three balls hit his way per game can be worth 25 extra runs in half of a season. Fangraphs’ math makes him the AL’s fifth most valuable player, which sounds about right to me. For all of those wonderful doubles, he ranks only 16th in the AL in OPS and 26th in OBP. He’s third in outs made.

After those four, it’s mostly more third basemen and second basemen vying for spots. It shows how down of a year it’s been for AL outfielders; Trout is the only one in the top 10 in OPS.

AL MVP picks

1. Cabrera
2. Davis
3. Trout
4. Machado
5. Pedroia
6. Longoria
7. Donaldson
8. Kipnis
9. Cano
10. Ortiz

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.