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Four points of award voting


When I was a kid, I loved the annual awards column that would run in the local newspaper. It does not really matter WHICH local paper I’m talking about now because some version of that column ran in every newspaper in the United States. The columns always picked the writers’ baseball award winners and, along the way, made more or less same four basic points:

1. “Most valuable “means something other than “best.”
2. The best pitchers win the most games.
3. The best managers had lousy teams last year.
4. Always remember this about good players on bad teams: “We could have finished last without ya.”

Let me say up front: I firmly and vehemently disagree with all four points. But, I will admit, over the years hundreds of columns with those points had a sort of numbing effect on the senses. And they are still kicking around in the brain, begging to be heard. Hey, what about Max Scherzer’s won-loss record? Hey, you know Andrew McCutchen’s Pirates made the playoffs while Carlos Gomez’s Brewers did not, right? Um, don’t forget that Clayton Kershaw only won 16 games. And so on.

This year, I have an actual American League MVP vote and the Baseball Writers’ Association of America asks us not to reveal our vote before the announcement in November. So, I’ll skip over that one while going through those four points of award voting.

Point 1 I disagree with: “Most valuable” means something other than “best.”
No, actually, I think “most valuable” and “best” are just about perfect baseball synonyms. The most valuable player is the best player. The best player is the most valuable one. Sure, I have read countless times about “valuable” being a magical word imbued with intangibles and leadership qualities and heart and grit and all sorts of other things that “best” simply does not cover. I believed them too. Heck, in my early days as a columnist, I probably even wrote some of those columns. I don’t buy it now.

Funny thing, even four or five years ago, I got into a mild argument with Bill James about what “valuable” really means. Bill had used a poker analogy — his point was that in basic Texas hold ‘em poker the ace of spades is ALWAYS more valuable than the seven of diamonds. Always. The seven never wins when matched up with the ace. Two sevens loses to two aces. An ace-high straight or flush always beats a seven-high straight or flush. If you and someone else have the same two pair, a fifth card ace beats a fifth-card seven every single time.

Bill was making the point that we know — absolutely know — that an ace is more valuable than a seven. And yet sometimes, because of the arrangement of the cards, a seven of diamonds may SEEM more valuable than an ace of spades. Let’s say the seven of diamonds comes in as the last card and it completes a winning straight or finishes a victorious flush. That’s a huge moment. The winner celebrates. The loser complains to bored spectators for the rest of his or her life. And you would think the seven was the most valuable card in the deck.

But Bill’s point was that the ace of spades is still more valuable than the seven. It just happened to be in a losing hand.

Well, back then I mostly agreed with Bill, but a small part of me could not escape the hypnotic powers of ALL THOSE COLUMNS telling me that valuable was something other than best. I said, OK, the overall point is true, but could you not argue that for THAT ONE HAND the seven of diamonds is more valuable than the ace? After all, the ace would not have finished the straight or the flush. So the seven, in that one hand, is more valuable.

And he responded with something that still makes sense to me: If the seven completes a straight or a flush then it is no more valuable than any other card in that hand. It’s only an illusion of timing — the seven of diamonds coming as the last card — that makes it seem more valuable. And no matter how you dress it up or how many good cards you put around it, the seven of diamonds still ain’t an ace of spades.

Point 2 I disagree with: The best pitchers win the most games.

With pal Brian Kenny walking the country like Johnny Killdawin, I don’t really need to get into this one much. But I’ve been looking for a good analogy to describe how silly it is to judge pitchers by their win-loss record. James had a pretty good one — he said it was like watching the first 30 minutes of a movie and then writing your review about it. I heard an even better one the other day — I”m not even sure where I heard it.

Judging a pitcher by his win-loss record is like appraising a person’s net worth by counting how much money they happen to have on them at the time.

I like that. How much money a person happens to be carrying at any time is not exactly meaningless when trying to determine their value. But it always tells an incomplete story, sometimes tells a false story, and it really doesn’t make a lot of sense.

In my mind, Clayton Kershaw, pretty clearly, was the best pitcher in the National League again this year. He once again led the league in strikeouts and ERA. He led the league in WHIP for the third straight season. The league hit .195 against him. He pitches half his games in a pitcher’s paradise, and sure, he had a 1.54 ERA at Dodger Stadium along with a 128-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio. But his 2.14 road ERA was plenty good too. He was the best pitcher in the NL.

It’s also true that Matt Harvey got hurt — if Harvey had stayed healthy and pitched the same way for the rest of the season, the Cy Young would have been a very hard call.

I can’t help but feel a bit of disappointment for St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright. Again, this comes back to my inability to let go of what people said again and again in my childhood. Adam Wainwright led the league in wins again this year, second time. He’s won 20 another time. But he can’t get a Cy Young Award, and I’m pretty sure he won’t get it over Kershaw this year. That’s kind of a bummer for him. Wrong time. If he had pitched like this in the 1970s, he’d have two or three Cy Young Awards by now. And he’s a great guy, he has a terrific comeback story — I wouldn’t vote him Cy Young, but I do feel he’s worth a paragraph here.*

*For those looking for a sabermetric reason to vote for Wainwright, xFIP could be your friend. xFIP can be a little bit tough to explain. FIP, you might know, stands for Fielding Independent Ptiching, and it measures a pitcher based on the three things we KNOW a pitcher can control: Strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed.

But xFIP goes one step further. Some believe that even home runs are at least somewhat out of a pitcher’s control — that there’s luck involved and so on. So, xFIP estimates, based on a pitcher’s quality, how many home runs he SHOULD have allowed. Like I say, it’s controversial … I’ve heard some people complete dismiss it and others embrace it. Anyway, Wainwright did have a better xFIP than Kershaw.

In the American League, I expect Max Scherzer will win because of his 21-3 record. I would vote for Scherzer too, though not because of the record. I think, in a very close race, he was the best pitcher. He led the league in WHIP, was third in FIP, second in HIP (hits per inning pitched), second in SIP (strikeouts per inning pitched), he took no lip, he left a good tip, all those good ip things. He also was fifth in the league in ERA, and a strong case could be made for those ahead of him, particularly Seattle’s Hisashi Iwakuma.

But when you throw everything in there — Scherzer struck out more batters and gave up fewer home runs than Iwakuma — I’d give Max the nod. He would make the third straight Tigers’ pitcher I would have voted for — I actually did vote for Justin Verlander in 2011 and 2012.

* * *

Point 3 I disagree with: The best managers had lousy teams last year.

Look, I get it: if you’re going to have a Manager of the Year Award, you need SOME criteria. And picking the manager whose team most clearly over-performs our expectations is as good as any, I suppose. Still, the BBWAA has been giving out manager of the year awards since 1983 and any look at that list makes you shake your head. Here are two charts that demonstrate it pretty well.

Here are your American League managers of the year from 1999-2007:
1999: Jimy Williams, Boston
2000: Jerry Manuel, White Sox
2001: Lou Piniella, Mariners
2002: Mike Scioscia, Angels
2003: Tony Pena, Royals
2004: Buck Showalter, Rangers
2005: Ozzie Guillen, White Sox
2006: Jim Leyland, Tigers
2007: Eric Wedge, Indians

OK, here’s an abridged list of American League managers who DID NOT win the award from 1999-2007:
— Joe Torre, Yankees
— Terry Francona, Red Sox

So … there it is. It’s funny that Terry Francona will probably win the Manager of the Year Award for the first time, and it will be for the Cleveland Indians. I’m guessing Clint Hurdle will win it for Pittsburgh in the National League. I’m sure Boston’s John Farrell and Los Angeles’ Don Mattingly will get some support too. Even Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who guided the Yankees to their worst record in 21 years despite having a $236 million payroll, will get some votes. It’s a weird award.

Who would I vote for? Like I say, I don’t know that I have a better idea. I tend to think Joe Maddon is the best manager in baseball. People don’t go to their games, there isn’t much money to go around, they play in a dismal park, their talent shifts quite a bit … and they’ve won 90 games five of the last six years and 86 games the other season. I think he knows how to manage talent, how to run a bullpen, how to keep players focused and interested throughout a season, how to come out of bad spells, how to stay grounded through good ones. I’d like to play for that guy.

* * *

Point 4 I disagree with: “We could have finished last without ya.”

That is one of the most famous baseball quotes — it is supposedly what Branch Rickey told Ralph Kiner after the 1950 season, when Kiner went in for his contract discussion. Kiner had led the National League in homers for the fifth straight season with 47. He had scored 112 runs, driven in 118, posted a .408 on-base percentage and slugged .590. He even finished fifth in the MVP balloting.

The quote is both colorful and, in its own limited way, true. The Pirates did finish last. And you can’t finish lower than last. Trouble is, when you dig just a little bit deeper into the quote, you realize just how absurd and infuriating it is. At that negotiating table, which of the two men was MORE responsible for the Pirates finishing last, Ralph Kiner who led the league in homers, or Branch Rickey who put together that obscenely bad team? I think Kiner’s response should have been: “We could have finished FIRST without YOU!”

When looking at the National League MVP race, I think the best two everyday players were Andrew McCutchen and Carlos Gomez. There are others — Paul Goldschmidt, Matt Carpenter, Joey Votto, Yadi Molina — who had terrific, MVP type seasons. But let’s focus on the two: McCutchen and Gomez. The first played for a winning Pirates team. The second played for the 88-loss Brewers’ team. That might prove decisive in the voting.

But, I think that’s ridiculous. Andrew McCutchen played on a Pirates team that was third in the NL in ERA. Carlos Gomez played on a Brewers team that was ninth in the NL in ERA. That’s beyond the scope of either player — heck, if anything, Gomez played better defense. Gomez is a defensive genius. Using their team performances isn’t just unfair, it’s unreasonable.

In the end, my MVP is McCutchen, but it has nothing to do with the team’s records. The comparison with Gomez is surprisingly close. Gomez has more triples, homers, stolen bases, almost exactly the same slugging percentage and is a phenomenal center fielder. McCutchen has more singles, doubles, walks and is a very good center fielder. The key for me is on-base percentage. McCutchen has a fantastic .404 OBP; Gomes’s OBP of .338 is only 20 or so points above league average. The combination of McCutchen’s plate discipline and higher batting average, for me, puts him just over the top for me.

Report: Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen could return to the Dodgers in 2017

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  Justin Turner #10 of the Los Angeles Dodgers warms up prior to game six of the National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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With their 2016 season and 11-game playoff run in the books, the Dodgers are refocusing their attention on the upcoming 2017 season. Two outstanding performers, third baseman Justin Turner and right-handed closer Kenley Jansen, are on the cusp of free agency heading into the offseason. According to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, the Dodgers intend to make qualifying offers to both Turner and Jansen, but may not be prepared to go the distance to keep both of them on the 2017 roster.

Turner finished his third season in Los Angeles with a .275/.339/.493 batting line and a career-best 27 home runs, riding a hot streak that made him one of the most productive players on the Dodgers’ squad this October. He started in all 11 games of the NLDS and NLCS, engineering a .286 average and two home runs — one of which was the difference-maker in a 4-3 win during Game 1 of the NLDS. His glove has become a much-needed asset within the Dodgers’ organization as well, as he currently ranks sixth among qualified third basemen with seven Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and second with a 14.1 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) in 2016.

While Turner’s production rate suggests that he’s made a full recovery from the microfracture procedure he underwent in 2015, the Dodgers appear to have reservations about the 31-year-old’s age. Heyman indicated that the veteran infielder prefers to stay in Los Angeles, but the chances of the Dodgers jumping into a fierce bidding war appear to be low for the time being.

Jansen, on the other hand, is expected to incur more interest from the club. The right-hander commanded a 1.83 ERA and 9.45 K/BB rate through 68 2/3 innings in the regular season and was instrumental in closing the door on five wins during the postseason. His 3.2 fWAR performance in 2016 made him the most valuable reliever in the major leagues, eclipsing fellow standouts like the Indians’ Andrew Miller and the Cubs’ Aroldis Chapman. Assuming the Dodgers are as serious about retaining Jansen as they were about pursuing Chapman during the 2015 offseason, the 29-year-old closer should stand a decent chance of returning to Los Angeles for another season.

Should the Dodgers fail to match an offer levied to either Turner or Jansen, they’ll receive compensation in the form of unprotected draft picks.

The Cubs’ NLCS finish was one for the history books

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  Chicago Cubs fans hold a sign after the Chicago Cubs defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 in game six of the National League Championship Series to advance to the World Series against the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The Cubs obliterated the Dodgers in Game 6 of the NLCS, riding nine shutout innings to their first pennant win since 1945. Here’s what you should know about their historic finish:

  • By virtue of the Cubs’ 71-year World Series drought, Jon Lester and Javier Baez became the club’s first and only postseason MVPs in franchise history. The World Series MVP award was first distributed in 1955, while the NLCS MVP awards have been issued since 1977.
  • Lester and Baez are also the first co-MVPs of the Championship Series since the 1990 Reds celebrated left-hander Randy Myers and right-hander Rob “Nasty Boy” Dibble following the team’s ninth pennant win (per’s Jenifer Langosch).
  • Anthony Rizzo’s fifth inning solo shot in Game 6 tied him with Miguel Cabrera, Alex Gonzalez, and Kyle Schwarber for the most postseason homers hit at Wrigley Field, with three (per Comcast SportsNet’s Christopher Kamka).
  • Rizzo and Willson Contreras’ home runs were the first Clayton Kershaw had given up in the playoffs since Game 4 of the 2015 NLDS. The twin blasts also accounted for a fifth of the total home runs Kershaw had given up in 2016.
  • Clayton Kershaw’s Game Score of 33 was not only the lowest the left-hander had put up since the start of the 2015 season, but the lowest the Cubs had seen from an opposing pitcher in the postseason since 1989. During Game 4 of the 1989 NLCS, Giants’ right-hander Scott Garrelts pitched 4 2/3 innings with eight hits, four runs, and two homers en route to a 6-4 loss and a 33 Game Score.
  • By contrast, Kyle Hendricks’ Game Score of 86 was the third-highest among Cubs’ postseason starters, ranking just below Jake Arrieta’s 11-strikeout complete game during the 2015 wild card tiebreaker and Orval Overall’s three-hitter in Game 5 of the 1908 World Series.
  • The last major league season to feature an ERA leader on the Cubs’ roster was 1945, also the last season in which the Cubs rode to the World Series. In 2016, the MLB ERA leader is Game 6 winner Kyle Hendricks (2.13 ERA); in ‘45, it was left-hander Ray Prim (2.40 ERA), who capped a dominant year with a loss against the Tigers in Game 4 of the World Series and blown save in Game 6.
  • Not to be overlooked in the lefty’s gem on Saturday night: Hendricks and Aroldis Chapman combined to face the minimum number of batters, at 27. According to MLB Stat of the Day, only the 1956 Yankees had also faced the minimum batters in a postseason game, though they did it with just a bit more panache.
  • With Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Albert Almora Jr., Javier Baez, and Addison Russell penciled into the lineup, the Cubs became the first MLB team to utilize five starters under 25 years old to clinch the NLCS (also via MLB Stat of the Day).
  • If you want to talk postseason drought, the Cubs-Indians World Series will set a precedent for combined championship-less streaks, at 174 years between the two clubs (per ESPN Stats & Info).
  • Speaking of unpleasant streaks, there’s this: with the Dodgers’ loss in the NLCS, they’ve now gone to the postseason four consecutive times without participating in a World Series showdown. According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, that’s a first in major league history.