Pouliot’s postseason award picks: American League


Evan Longoria made his case for moving up the MVP ballot with his big game Monday, but while it’s safe to say the Rays wouldn’t have reached the postseason without him, he was still no better than the AL’s third best third baseman. It was, in fact, the year of the third baseman in the AL MVP balloting, with five cracking my top 10.


1. Mike Trout
2. Miguel Cabrera
3. Chris Davis
4. Josh Donaldson
5. Robinson Cano
6. Evan Longoria
7. Jason Kipnis
8. Adrian Beltre
9. Manny Machado
10. Carlos Santana

Five months into the season, one didn’t necessarily need to rely on the postseason argument to pick Cabrera over Trout. And then September happened: a banged up Cabrera hit .278/.395/.333 with one homer and seven RBI in 72 at-bats. Trout was pretty much his usual self, hitting .281/.455/.494 with four homers and 15 RBI in 89 at-bats.

Of course, the Tigers didn’t need Cabrera in September (though home-field advantage would have been nice). And Trout’s team was an also-ran all season long. So, the MVP discussion again comes down to how one wants to define value, a subject that lost my interest years ago. Trout was the better player, so he’s the MVP as far as I’m concerned. YMMV.

After those two, I flip-flopped on Davis and Donaldson a couple of times. WAR prefers Donaldson, but Davis led the circuit in WPA, with Cabrera second, Donaldson third and Trout fourth. WPA (Win Probably Added) can be a pretty sketchy stat, but there’s no denying that Davis came up big in a number of situations this year. He ended up hitting .318/.392/.694 with runners on and .343/.433/.759 with RISP.

After the big four — and it will be a crime if Donaldson finishes lower than fourth — the rest is a jumble. Cano looks like the fifth best player; he never seems to fall any lower than that. It’s odd not having any Red Sox in the top 10 after they finished with the league’s best record, but their two best players — Shane Victorino and Jacoby Ellsbury — played in 122 and 134 games, respectively. They would dominate the 11-20 range on the ballot with those two, David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia.

AL Cy Young

I still need to work this one out. In my mind, there are seven possibilities for the five spots on the ballot: Bartolo Colon, Yu Darvish, Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Chris Sale, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer. Nicely enough, those happen to be our seven ERA leaders as well. Here’s how they rank according to several stats.

ERA: Sanchez, Colon, Iwakuma, Darvish, Scherzer, Hernandez, Sale
Innings: Iwakuma, Sale/Scherzer, Darvish, Hernandez, Colon, Sanchez
rWAR: Iwakuma, Sale, Scherzer, Sanchez, Darvish, Hernandez, Colon
fWAR: Scherzer, Sanchez, Hernandez, Sale, Darvish, Iwakuma, Colon
K/9 IP: Darvish, Scherzer, Sanchez, Hernandez, Sale, Iwakuma, Colon
SOS: Hernandez, Iwakuma, Colon, Darvish/Sale, Scherzer, Sanchez

Strength of schedule being the OPS of opponents faced. That penalizes Sale a bit, since a lot of good lefties sat against him.

So, let’s try adding up all six categories; seven points for the top spot, down to one point for the bottom.

Colon: 16
Darvish: 24.5
Hernandez: 23
Iwakuma: 29
Sale: 23
Sanchez: 24
Scherzer: 28.5

Is that anything close to a perfect method? Of course not. But I don’t think there’s any one method that’s going to convince me one of these guys was clearly better than the rest.

A month ago, I thought Hernandez had been the league’s best pitcher. And he still might have been, but those three missed starts in September weigh heavily here. In the end, his own teammate, Iwakuma, pitched 15 more innings with an ERA about two-fifths of a run better. FIP still argues for Hernandez — only Sanchez in his 182 innings had a better FIP — but the fact is that Iwakuma pitched in front of the same defense as Hernandez and allowed five fewer runs while making two additional starts.

Sale was terrific and, unlike Scherzer and Sanchez, he actually had to face the Tigrrs, going 3-1 with a 1.83 ERA in five starts against them. But then he made only 30 starts altogether, and he gave up more earned runs and unearned runs than anyone else here.

Darvish should probably get bonus points for leading the league in strikeouts by a whopping 37 over Scherzer. But he also issued the most walks and gave up the most homers of the group.

Sanchez had the quality, but not the quantity.

Colon finished second in ERA and tied for the league lead with three shutouts, but he was helped by pitching in Oakland and he got to make five of his 30 starts against the Astros.

It seems like it really is Iwakuma and Scherzer WARring it out for the top spot. Iwakuma had the tougher assignment of the two, getting the more difficult schedule and pitching for a poor team. Scherzer definitely had run support on his side.

But Scherzer does have 55 strikeouts on Iwakuma, and while there was plenty of luck involved in his 21-3 record, there wasn’t any in his 2.90 ERA. FIP puts him at 2.74, compared to 3.44 for Iwakuma. If I had to pick either to start a game for my team, I’d take Scherzer and his strikeouts. I’m still not certain he’s been the better pitcher, but I haven’t found a good reason to rank anyone over him.

1. Max Scherzer
2. Hisashi Iwakuma
3. Yu Darvish
4. Felix Hernandez
5. Chris Sale

AL Rookie of the Year

1. Jose Iglesias
2. Wil Myers
3. Chris Archer
4. Martin Perez
5. David Lough

Iglesias versus Myers comes down to how one rates Iglesias’ glove. The defensive numbers at both Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs weren’t overly charitable. I view him as an elite defender, and that propels him over Myers in my picks. Obviously, he was a nice surprise offensively as well, finishing up at .303/.349/.386 in 350 at-bats. Myers hit .293/.354/.478 in his 335 at-bats.

NL picks

2018 Preview: Texas Rangers

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2018 season. Next up: The Texas Rangers.

The Texas Rangers had been, more or less, the class of the AL West for several years, but that came to an end last year. Injuries, a bad bullpen and underachievement doomed them early and before all the leaves were on the trees the Astros had all but locked up the division. There were some bright spots — Adrian Beltre notched his 3,000th hit and Joey Gallo emerged as the 40-homer threat many have long thought he might be — but otherwise it was a bad year for the Rangers.

Will it be another bad year? Hard to say no, though there is a lot more upside with this club than with a lot of other sub-80 win teams from 2017. For that upside to pay off, however, the Rangers are going to have to win a lot of bets.

The outfield is a good place to begin looking for that upside. Nomar Mazara has not yet put it together over the course of a whole season, but he has shown some promise and could be poised for a breakout. Delino DeShields may not be what many thought he might be a few years back, but he’s got wheels and can get on base. Left field is being kept warm for top prospect Willie Calhoun who came over in the Yu Darvish trade and is having his service time manipulated, but he’ll be up soon. He’s expected to rake. Whether he can hold the position or, rather, will have to take at-bats away from Shin-Soo Choo at DH is an open question.

The infield needs a couple of fairly attainable things to happen for the lineup to really be a plus. First, it needs Adrian Beltre to be healthy and to show that he has at least some gas left in the tank. I have learned over the past 20 years to not bet against Adrian Beltre, ever, so Father Time will have to prove me wrong. It also needs Rougned Odor to snap back into shape after a lost-in-the-woods 2017. I hate the phrase “he’s better than that,” but he really is better than that. Elvis Andrus is Elvis Andrus and that’s fine. If Gallo can cut down on the K’s even a little bit and mix in a couple of more base hits to go with all of that power he could be an MVP candidate. In order of likelihood, I put it (1) Beltre being Beltre; (b) Odor bouncing back; and (c) Gallo cutting down on strikeouts, but if just two of those things happen the Rangers lineup will be in good shape.

There are a lot of question marks with the starting pitching and a couple of lottery tickets. Yu Darvish is long gone, but Cole Hamels remains at the top of the rotation. The problem is that Hamels had his worst full season in several years last year and it may be that all of the miles on his odometer are catching up with him. The biggest offseason pickup for Texas was Mike Minor, who had a monster comeback season with the Royals after multiple years lost due to arm injuries. That monster year came out of the bullpen, though, so it remains to be seen if he can move back to the rotation and remain both impressive and durable. He’s one of the lottery tickets, although one with much better odds than, say, the Powerball. He’s like a scratch-off with some risk but a decent shot at some winnings.

A longer shot is Matt “Mega Millions” Moore. The one time top prospect of the Tampa Bay Rays is still somehow just 28, but he’s coming off a lousy year in San Francisco, in which he led the NL in both losses and earned runs while plying his trade in a pitcher’s park. I guess you can be a silver-lining guy and say he’s durable again or you could do that thing where people look at a one-time phenom and imagine that he has at least one full-promise year in him, but it’s not super likely either. Martin Perez and Doug Fister round things out. You basically know what you’re getting out of those two at this point: competence, but not necessarily any shot at greatness. Bartolo Colon is knocking around and he’ll likely get some starts at some point. He always gets starts.

The bullpen was a mess last year. It’s not clear that it’ll be better this year, but it’ll certainly be more interesting, as Jon Daniels went out and signed Tim Lincecum and gave him a big league deal from which to launch his comeback. He may challenge for the closer role, though Alex Claudio has it for now. Matt Bush will look to recapture 2016 form as a setup guy. Jake Diekman should be back to full strength after a mostly lost 2017 due to colon surgery. Not a great group, truth be told, even if they will be fun to watch at times.

Overall, I think the Rangers are better than bad but the pitching is a big problem and they need too many things to go their way to count on being good. If everyone stays healthy and more than half of the guys who struggled last year return to form or fulfill potential, hey, it’s a pretty interesting group of players. A group which, while not good enough to challenge Houston, could be in the mix with the Angels and the Mariners to be a Wild Card representative.

If most of those bets don’t pay off, though, it’s gonna be a long year. I’m a risk averse gambler, so I’m going to hope to be pleasantly surprised, but I predict that the upside will remain out of reach.

Prediction: Fourth Place, AL West