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Four points of award voting

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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: Sunday’s scores and highlights

ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 28: Derek Holland #45 of the Texas Rangers points out a pop fly against the Cleveland Indians in the first inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington on August 28, 2016 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)
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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Rangers 2, Indians 1: Derek Holland was solid, allowing one run over six innings and Ian Desmond and Jonathan Lucroy each had an RBI single. The Rangers take three of four in what could be an ALCS preview. Although, given that no teams have been eliminated yet, any game between AL teams could be an ALCS preview if you think about it hard enough. Open your mind, man.

Dodgers 1, Cubs 0: All goose eggs until the eighth when the Dodgers cobbled together a run out of a hit-by-pitch, a two-base throwing error by Trevor Cahill and a fielder’s choice. Then all goose eggs after that. Brock Stewart and four relievers combined on a four-hit shutout for the Dodgers. This could be an NLCS preview, by the way. I won’t finish the joke here. I already told it.

Orioles 5, Yankees 0: Kevin Gausman had no trouble with the somehow resurgent Yankees, shutting them out for seven innings and fanning nine. I rarely say “fanning” for striking out and I don’t hear at all that often anymore. Back in the 80s it seemed like there was a lot more “fanning” going on. Steve Pearce drove in three. Earlier this season, while he was still with the Rays, I mistakenly identified some Orioles player in a photo as Steve Pearce. I’m glad he’s back where he belongs.

Blue Jays 9, Twins 6: Josh Donaldson hit three homers, including the go-ahead dong, continuing a year that, by the numbers, is better than his MVP year last season, even if people aren’t talking about it as much. On his third homer Jays fans tossed hats out onto the field. Get it? Yeah. Anyway, Minnesota had a 5-2 lead in the middle of the game but blowing moderate leads with lots of time to go is one of the primary traits of teams that suck.

Angels 5, Tigers 0: Jefry Marte hit a two-run homer and drove in a third run on a sac fly. Marte’s performance would really serve as a great “bet you miss me NOW, huh?!” game for him if anyone remembered that he played for the Tigers last year.

Phillies 5, Mets 1: A.J. Ellis hit a two-run double to break a 1-1 tie in the seventh inning. Somewhere Clayton Kershaw shed a single tear, Iron Eyes Cody-style.

Padres 3, Marlins 1: Luis Perdomo tossed a complete game while allowing only one run and requiring only 99 pitches. Having six double plays get turned behind you certainly helps the old pitch count.

Rockies 5, Nationals 3: Nolan Arenado went 4-for-4 with a homer and a triple as the Rockies take two of three from the Nats. Lucas Giolito ran into trouble in the third when Arenado hit that dinger. Dusty Baker after the game: “It’s that one bad inning that does you in. That was the one bad inning.”

One Bad Day

So what I’m saying is, yes, Lucas Giolito is now either The Joker or Batman. That’s how this works.

White Sox 4, Mariners 1: Carlos Rodon allowed a run and five hits while pitching into the seventh. After a pretty disappointing season he’s turning things around lately, going 3-0 with a 1.47 ERA in his last five starts.

Pirates 3, Brewers 1: The Sweep. John JasoGregory Polanco and Starling Marte all homered. Ivan Nova pitched well but left with a wonky hamstring. Which, given that Gerrit Cole is hurt, does not bode well for a team that needs everything to go right for the next month and change if they don’t want to go home in a month and change.

Athletics 7, Cardinals 4: The A’s have won four of five. Khris Davis hit a two-run shot and Steven Vogt hit a three-run homer. A’s starter Andrew Triggs got his first win. He’s from Nashville and said that a bunch of his friends and family drove to St. Louis from there to see him pitch. Can’t think of a road trip I’d rather do less in the August heat than Nashville-to-St. Louis, but you crank up the AC and do it for your friends and family I suppose.

Rays 10, Astros 4: Chris Archer allowed three runs on four hits in seven innings and struck out ten. Astros pitchers allowed ten runs on 15 hits and only struck out four. The order of things matters, man. Corey Dickerson his a three-run homer.

Giants 13, Braves 4: Four homers from the Giants — two from Joe Panik — to back a less-than-perfectly-sharp-but-good-enough-against-a-team-like-the-Braves Madison Bumgarner. The Giants took two of three from Atlanta to remain two back of the Dodgers. It was only the second series they have won since the All-Star break.

Diamondbacks 11, Reds 2: A.J. Pollock went 3-for-5 and stole two bases, showing Diamondbacks fans what they missed with him gone all year. Welington Castillo drove in four in this laugher of a game.

Royals 10, Red Sox 4: Down 4-2 in the sixth and the Royals put up an 8-run inning. Raul Mondesi‘s bases-loaded triple and Eric Hosmer‘s two-run single were the big blows. The Royals have won 17 of 21 and have moved to 5.5 back in the AL Central and three back in the wild card. They’re tied with Houston and are a game back of Detroit in that race. Maybe the defending champs were only mostly dead.

Orioles signed Tommy Hunter to a major league contract

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 12:  Pitcher Tommy Hunter #48 of the Cleveland Indians pitches in the ninth inning during the MLB game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 12, 2016 in Anaheim, California. The Indians defeated the Angels 8-3. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
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The Orioles announced, prior to Sunday’s game against the Yankees, that the club signed pitcher Tommy Hunter to a major league contract. In related roster moves, the club recalled pitcher Oliver Drake from Triple-A Norfolk and designated pitcher T.J. McFarland and outfielder Julio Borbon for assignment.

The Indians released Hunter on Thursday after he struggled in a rehab assignment with Triple-A Columbus. Hunter was recovering from a non-displaced fracture in his lower back. The right-hander put up a respectable 3.74 ERA with a 17/5 K/BB ratio in 21 2/3 innings for the Indians.

This will be Hunter’s second stint with the Orioles. The O’s had acquired him along with first baseman Chris Davis at the trade deadline from the Rangers in 2011 in the Koji Uehara trade.

The Orioles are only responsible for paying Hunter the prorated major league minimum.