Sometimes September matters. Sometimes it doesn’t.

32 Comments

Jon Heyman prefaces his awards column with an explanation that he does take winning into account when he chooses an MVP. He also says that, if you differ, and if you simply view the MVP award as a “best player award” that’s fine. He just sees it another way.

This, I think, is reasonable. He’s clear and he’s open to alternative approaches even if he’s not likely to adopt them. It’s his ballot and he can do what he wants with it.  As such — and I am being 100% sincere here — the purpose of this post is not to mock Heyman’s choices. He chooses Miguel Cabrera as his MVP as I feel the voters will as well. I’ve said several times that it’s not a bad choice, even if I’d make a different one. Cabrera is probably the best hitter in baseball, especially when he’s healthy, and we’re a long way from the days when Juan Gonzalez was winning this award.

My point is merely to say that, when you choose to make a winning team matter — and when you choose to make finishing strong an important factor — you should probably be consistent with it. Here’s what Heyman wrote in his 2012 awards column:

Cabrera, I believe, won the award with his big finish. He had a 1.032 OPS in September compared to .836 for Trout. Cabrera’s big finish put the Tigers into the playoffs.

Here’s what he wrote today:

[Cabrera] couldn’t do much the last month because he was hurt, costing him a shot at back-to-back Triple Crowns. But he pretty well had the MVP wrapped up by August. His batting percentages are better than anyone else, and way better than anyone on a contender. (Note: the reason his big September last year counted so much is the Tigers needed it, whereas they had things pretty well wrapped up by September this year even if they only wound up winning the division by a game.)

That parenthetical does a lot of work here. It has to given that the Tigers won the division by three games last year and one this year. It has to given that last year Heyman said that Trout’s .836 September OPS cost him while Cabrera’s sub-.800 OPS is brushed aside.

Again, as Heyman explains what he’s doing it’s merely a difference of opinion, and he is entitled to his. But it does illustrate that, the farther you stray from merely picking the best player for the MVP and step into the tall, amorphous weeds of “value,” the harder it is to apply consistent criteria. Sometimes September matters, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes a team that wins by one game had it in the bag all along, sometimes a team that won by three was fighting for its playoff life. Some games are pressure free, some games are pressure packed. It can get a little messy. And I don’t figure any reporter would dare tell Mike Trout, as Heyman says here, that he didn’t play any meaningful games after May, thus had no pressure.

My view: pick the best player and you reduce the number of impossible to quantify variables. You also, you know, reward the best player for something. Which, under the “winning matters” criteria, often won’t happen. And that seems like quite an oversight.

Astros vs. Dodgers is a match made in heaven

Getty Images
8 Comments

A lot of people who work at the league office or who take paychecks from the Fox network probably wanted to see the Yankees and the Cubs in the World Series. They won’t admit it, of course, but I suspect that many did, as the ratings for a Cubs-Yankees Series might’ve broken modern records. If they are at all disappointed by the Astros and Dodgers winning the pennant, however, they should let that go because they’ve been gifted by a wonderful matchup from a purely baseball perspective. Indeed, it’s one of the best on-paper matchups we’ve had in the Fall Classic in many years.

Before the Dodgers went on their late-August, early-September swoon, this was the potential World Series pairing most folks who know a thing or two wanted to see. At least I did, and I don’t think I was alone. It was certainly the matchup which represented the teams with the two best regular season records and storylines at the time. While Cleveland ended up winning more games than Houston did, for the first time since 1970 we have a World Series pitting two 100-win teams against each other.

Like that Orioles-Reds series in 1970, which featured Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson and a host of other All-Stars, the Dodgers-Astros provide us with an embarrassment of big names and future Hall of Famers. Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw and Astros DH/OF Carlos Beltran are destined for induction already. Astros ace Justin Verlander may very well join them, especially if his late 2017 surge is evidence of a second career peak. Houston second baseman Jose Altuve‘s first seven years and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen‘s first eight are the stuff upon which Cooperstown resumes are made as well. People will be arguing Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley‘s Hall of Fame case for years once he retires.

Youth is served as well in this matchup, with each club featuring a handful of the game’s best young players to accompany their big name veteran stars.

The Dodgers will bat their no-doubt N.L. Rookie of the Year first baseman Cody Bellinger second or third in the lineup every game. 2016 Rookie of the Year Corey Seager, who sat out the NLCS with a bad back, is expected to be activated for the Series where he’ll be the Dodgers shortstop. The Astros are actually an old team on paper — Verlander, catcher Brian McCann, starter Charlie Morton, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, outfielder Josh Reddick and DH Evan Gattis are all over 30 while Beltran is 40 — but young players are essential to their attack as well. Shortstop Carlos Correa just turned 23 and he’s one of the game’s brightest stars. Third baseman Alex Bregman, also 23, made the play that may very well have broken the Yankees’ back during Saturday night’s pennant clincher. Age aside, the Astros are the product of a major, multi-year rebuild and many of their players are making their first national splash this postseason.

Beyond just the names and resumes, though, the Dodgers and Astros represent a fantastic strategic matchup. The Dodgers attack this postseason has featured admirable plate discipline, with third baseman Justin Turner, right fielder Yasiel Puig and center fielder Chris Taylor all letting balls out of the zone pass them by while abusing pitches left out over the plate. Astros pitchers not named Justin Verlander, however, have lived by getting the opposition to chase bad balls. Game one starter Dallas Keuchel did this by relying on his very fast sinker. Lance McCullers pitched well starting Game 4 of the ALCS and pitched spectacularly closing out the final four innings of Game 7 mostly by virtue of his curveball, which Yankees pitchers could simply not lay off. Indeed, his final 24 pitches of Game 7 were all curves, many of them low and away. Who will give in first in this series?

On the side of things, Dodgers relievers have made a living by pumping in strikes. Particularly strikes high in the zone from Jansen and Brandon Morrow. There may be no better fastball hitter in all of baseball than Jose Altuve, however, and the team as a whole was one of the best in the bigs in dealing with gas in the zone. This was a big reason why the Astros struck out less than any team in baseball this year while simultaneously boasting the best offense in the game. The Dodgers throw strikes. The Astros make you pay when you throw them strikes. Again, something’s gotta give.

Maybe the suits in New York wanted the Yankees and Cubs. But everyone else is getting exactly what we want: a matchup of the two best teams in the game. A matchup of strength against strength. What is, from a purely baseball perspective, the best World Series we could’ve possibly hoped for.