Four points of award voting

21 Comments

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.

And That Happened: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

Getty Images
2 Comments

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Rockies 18, Padres 4: Nolan Arenado hit an RBI single in the first, another RBI single in the second, a solo homer in the fourth, another solo homer in the fifth and a two-run homer in the sixth. He’s the seventh player this season to hit at least three home runs in a game, joining Yoenis CespedesMatt KempAnthony RendonScooter GennettEddie Rosario, and Corey Seager. And my word we’ve had a lot of big blowouts in the past week or so, have we not?

Mets 7, Cardinals 3: Jacob deGrom allowed one run on seven hits in six and two-thirds innings, winning his seventh straight start. He’s about the only bright spot for the Mets this season, so of course there are rumors that he might be traded.

Giants 5, Indians 4: Buster Posey was supposed to have the day off. And he did until the bottom of the eighth when he came off the bench as a pinch-hitter and smacked a two-out, two-run double as part of a three-run rally that inning. The Indians have lost six of seven. Oh, and Bruce Bochy gave his postgame presser in the “Game of Thrones” throne:

Winter is coming. A lot sooner for the 37-59 Giants than a lot of other teams.

Cubs 8, Braves 2: A few days ago everyone was wondering what the heck was wrong with the Cubs. A few days ago at least a few people were looking at the surprisingly frisky Braves and thinking that they could be a stealth Wild Card contender. What a difference a few days makes, eh? The Cubs win their sixth straight and the Braves drop their third in a row. Mike Montgomery allowed one run on two hits in six innings and hit his first career homer to boot. Javier Baez hit a three-run shot. Kris Bryant left in the first inning after hurting his finger and his replacement, Tommy La Stella, hit a homer. That kind of day for Chicago.

Phillies 10, Marlins 3: Philly woke up early for this early game with their hitting shoes on already. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first and racked up 10 runs on 20 hits before it was all over. Nick Williams tripled twice and drove in two. Daniel Nava had four hits and Tommy Joseph socked a homer. Giancarlo Stanton hit his 30th homer in the loss, tying him for the major league lead with Aaron Judge. But if you were expecting him to be happy about that, think again. Giancarlo: I just finished a cool book about people who fake their own death and start over again someplace else. Not saying you should read it or anything, but I’m not saying you should not read it, ya know?

Twins 6, Yankees 1: The Twins scored six runs in the game. All came in the second inning and all came with two outs, with Miguel Sano‘s three-run homer the big blow. Meanwhile, the Yankees couldn’t get much of anything off of Jose Berrios. The Yankees lose the series. They’ve lost eight of ten series, in fact. The other two were splits. Mercy.

Mariners 4, Astros 1: Ben Gamel hit a two-run homer and James Paxton allowed one run over seven. Paxton has 20 strikeouts in two wins over the Astros this year. The Mariners have won six of seven.

Athletics 7, Rays 2: Sonny Gray is getting hot at the right time: right before the trade deadlines, when many expect him to change addresses. Gray won his third straight start, striking out six while pitching into the seventh. The A’s avoid a sweep.

Orioles 10, Rangers 2Kevin Gausman pitched six innings of four-hit ball, giving up one runs, striking out eight and walking two. Not sure where this good O’s pitching has come from lately but I suppose there are small miracles happening all around us, always. O’s starters in this series have combined to allow three runs over 18 innings in three games and the O’s have outscored Texas 25-4 in that span.

Red Sox 5, Blue Jays 1: Drew Pomeranz pitched three-hit ball into the seventh inning and Dustin Pedroia drove in three. The Red Sox are 9-3 in Pomeranz’s past 12 starts. Pedroia did commit an error, though, breaking his streak of 114 games without a fielding error, stretching back to last August.

Pirates 3, Brewers 2: Rookie Max Moroff entered the game as a pinch runner in the ninth, scoring the tying run to force extras, then he came to the plate in the 10th and hit a walkoff single. The Pirates have won three games in the ninth or in extras since the All-Star break. They have won 10 of 12 overall.

Reds 4, Diamondbacks 3:  Adam Duvall hit a bases-loaded walkoff single in the 11th inning to give the Reds and to end a frustrating night for the Dbacks. Frustrating in that J.D. Martinez, who had just arrived a few hours before and was playing in his first game, was hit on the hand by a pitch forcing him out. X-rays are negative — it’s just a bruise — but that kind of thing has to feel like a sign from Zeus or something.

Dodgers 9, White Sox 1: Chris Taylor led the game off with a homer, Kiké Hernandez homered in the second and fourth and Corey Seager homered in the fourth as well. That’s 11 straight for the Dodgers, who win this mercifully rain-shortened game. Yoan Moncada went 0-for-2 with a walk in his White Sox debut.

Royals 4, Tigers 3: Detroit trailed 2-1 in the ninth when Mike Mahtook hit a two-run homer to give the Tigers the lead. The Royals answered back in the bottom of the ninth, however, when Brandon Moss doubled in Alcides Escobar to tie it and then hustled to third base on the throw home. Then up came Alex Gordon who hit a sac fly to score Moss for the walkoff win. Moss also homered in the third inning. All of that obscured a pretty decent duel between Justin Verlander (7 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 8K) and Jason Hammel (6.1 IP, 4 H, 1 ER).

Angels 7, Nationals 0: Bryce Harper took the night off but Mike Trout didn’t, hitting a two-run homer. That was just gravy, though, as the Angels’ bats had built up a 5-0 lead by then and Alex Meyer allowed only one hit over seven shutout innings, striking out seven.

Nolan Arenado goes 5-for-6 with three homers, seven RBI in rout of Padres

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
4 Comments

The Rockies trounced the Padres 18-4 on Wednesday afternoon, thanks in large part to third baseman Nolan Arenado‘s three home runs and seven RBI. The Rockies scored in every inning except the eighth.

Arenado kicked things off with an RBI single in the first inning. He added another RBI single in the second, then went on a homer binge. He hit a solo shot in the fourth, the first of four homers the Rockies would hit in that inning. He hit another solo dinger in the fifth and tacked on a two-run blast in the sixth.

Here’s the first of his three homers:

Arenado is the seventh player this season to hit at least three home runs in a game, joining Yoenis Cespedes, Matt Kemp, Anthony Rendon, Scooter Gennett, Eddie Rosario, and Corey Seager. Arenado’s seven RBI are more than all but Gennett and Rendon and his five hits matched him with Gennett and trailed only Rendon’s six.

After his productive afternoon, the three-time All-Star is batting .309/.356/.584 with 21 home runs, 80 RBI, and 63 runs scored in 411 plate appearances.