Author: Craig Calcaterra

Clayton Kershaw

Who should win the Cy Young Awards? And who will?


With the regular season ending on Sunday and almost all of the playoff spots locked up, there’s really only one big thing left to argue about: postseason awards. Today and tomorrow we will spend some time looking at who should win each of the four major awards and who will win them. Which are often totally different things. Next up: the Cy Young Awards

Who should win the AL Cy Young Award?

I used to like these sorts of posts more when there were actual clear-cut answers. But apart from NL MVP this year, there aren’t. Really, it’s madness how close these things are this year and it’s quite possible AL Cy Young is the closest.

Like the AL MVP, it’s hard to see how there are more than two top candidates: Dallas Keuchel and David Price. Their numbers are close to identical. Here are their lines without their names:

  • 19–8, 213/49 K/BB ratio in 226 IP, 2.47 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 164 ERA+
  • 18–5, 225/47 K/BB ratio in 220.1 IP, 2.45 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 161 ERA+

If you haven’t paid all that close attention you’d be forgiven for being unable to tell them apart. But I’ll tell you: the first is Keuchel, the second Price. Price’s won’t change because his regular season is over. Keuchel has one more start Friday evening against the Dbacks.

Keuchel, therefore, could get to the magic 20 wins but who cares about win totals? Maybe the separator will be that he will have a few more innings and, if they’re excellent innings, the Astros will win the game and that’s a big deal for a team in their position right now. Of course he could also get blown the hell up. It may come down to that start, to be honest.

Soft factors: Price spent over half the year with the Tigers which could hurt. Or it could help as people may argue that he came in and helped save the Jays’ season. Worked for Rick Sutcliffe back in 1984. Didn’t work for Randy Johnson in 1998. Could cut either way here. Keuchel has that crazy 15-0 home record which could help if voters look at that as some sort of weird “protecting our house!!!” narrative. Or it could hurt if they say “jeez, why did you wilt on the road, Dallas?”

I have no idea. I think if Keuchel pitches well tomorrow, in a big game, it’s his. Not because of “big game” dynamics by itself, but because it will also give him a greater innings and, in all likelihood, rate-stats advantage over Price than he currently has. Not big in an absolute sense, but bigger.

So I guess it’s a provisional vote for Keuchel, with the same caveat applying here that applies to the AL MVP: if you go the other way it’s hard for me or anyone else to call you crazy.

Who will win the AL Cy Young Award?

I figure Keuchel will unless he has a meltdown on Friday night. He and Price are close enough to where I think the one start will matter for a whole lot of voters for the reasons mentioned above. Big Game Dallas.


Who should win the NL Cy Young Award?

The “Pitchers Triple Crown” is not as noted or rare a feat as the batting Triple Crown, but it’s a thing people talk about. Its elements: wins, ERA and strikeouts. Like the batting Triple Crown, not all three of these stats are created equal, of course. They’re just thrown together because of a long history of the stats being considered the most important. In reality they are weighted in actual value:

  • Think of Wins being like RBI: a stat which suggests more about how one’s teammates performed than how the actual player performed. The worst of the three in terms of telling you anything about the player in question;
  • Think of ERA like batting average: more useful than the previous stats mentioned but flawed and potentially misleading. It’s simultaneously overly-broad and too narrow in that is has a lot to do with the fielders behind a pitcher which can exaggerate a pitchers’ effectiveness or prevent us from seeing some flaws in his game. Like batting average it says something, but not as much as some people like to think.
  • Strikeouts are like home runs I guess. Each one is an absolute good thing which measures an instance of the player doing something by himself and minimizing margin for error. Maybe a K is not quite as definitive a thing as a HR is — there is no outcome in any at bat better than a dinger while, in some cases, it may be better to induce a grounder than it is to strike a guy out — but it’s the same general idea.

At the moment we have three different pitchers leading in the three different pitcher Triple Crown categories in the NL: Jake Arrieta has the market cornered on wins, Zack Greinke leads in ERA and Clayton Kershaw leads in strikeouts. All three of them, of course, are having fantastic seasons, and not just because of those old Triple Crown stats. Rest assured all three are among the leaders in just about all of the more esoteric pitching metrics, though a good number of them favor Kershaw because of how strikeouts tend to get weighted.

I am partial to that kind of weighting. I think that when you strike a dude out, you’re eliminating so many bad things that can happen. Crash Davis may call strikeouts fascist, but I think they’re just smart. At least if those strikeouts don’t needlessly tire a pitcher out. They haven’t tired Clayton Kershaw out. He leads the NL in strikeouts by a considerable margin and leads the league in innings as well. His slow start to the season is why he has fewer wins and a higher ERA than his teammate Greinke and his counterpart Arrieta and his home run rate is higher, but I think that if you take a step back he’s simply been the best pitcher in the game this year.

Kershaw would have my vote.

Who will win the NL Cy Young Award?

Thinking Arrieta will get it. A lot of it is because of how great he’s been down the stretch. Arrieta had a big start against the Pirates last week that will serve as a narrative-builder in the runup to the Wild Card game. Not that that it was any kind of one-off. He has allowed an earned run in just three of his last 11 starts and his ERA is getting so low that Greinke is looking like less of an outlier, undermining Greinke’s “ERA Freak” case. Arrieta looks more like a horse than Greinke has looked and has a shinier win total and ERA than Kershaw and, no matter how flawed those Triple Crown stats are, I think winning one, coming pretty darn close on a second and not being the reigning Cy Young winner like Kershaw is — voters like new blood – will give Arreita the edge.

Which, like just about every other award, won’t be a travesty, even if it’s not my particular choice.

Who should win the MVP Awards? And who will?

Josh Donaldson

With the regular season ending on Sunday and almost all of the playoff spots locked up, there’s really only one big thing left to argue about: postseason awards. Today and tomorrow we will spend some time looking at who should win each of the four major awards and who will win them. Which are often totally different things. First up: the MVP

Who should win the AL MVP Award

This is a two horse race between Josh Donaldson and Mike Trout. You can’t find anyone who knows a lick about baseball who seriously thinks anyone else is in the mix for actually winning the award, even if there are a handful of “[so-and-so] should be in the conversation” deadenders. Screw “the conversation.” I don’t care who should be given downballot consideration. If you’re a voter and your 1-2 isn’t Donaldson or Trout in either order your criteria is sorta wacky. Whether you’re a “the MVP should be the best player” person or whether you’re one of those people who like to parse the meaning of the world “valuable,” it’s hard to make a case for anyone but these two.

And it’s a close damn case. As of this moment Donaldson is hitting .300/.375/.577, with 41 HR, 123 RBI and an OPS+ of 158. Trout is hitting .299/.402/.589 with 41 HR, 89 RBI and an OPS+ of 176. Trout hits in a much tougher park and has almost no one worth a tinker’s damn surrounding him in the lineup, thus explaining the advantage in OPS+ and the low RBI totals. Donaldson is on the best offensive team since steroids went out of style and has had a lot of chances to knock in guys.

However, this is not one of those classic (and frankly tired) old arguments between a SABR-friendly candidate with low RBI totals in Trout and some lucky RBI-gobbler in Donaldson. Donaldson is no Juan Gonzalez here, people. Sure he’s had more opportunities do do damage, but when you dig down into other meaningful stats he closes the gap with Trout a good deal. Trout is a gold glove center fielder but Donaldson is a fantastic third baseman and some defensive metrics (i.e. UZR and Defensive Runs Saved) favor his overall contributions. He’s been a great baserunner this year too. Probably better than Trout actually in terms of efficiency, and that’s saying something.

As for softer factors? Josh Donaldson has hit a bunch of walkoffs. Trout has made some highlight reel catches, robbing homers. Donaldson is on the best player on the best team and many will claim — not altogether inaccurately — that he brought fire and drive and all of that stuff to a perpetually underperforming Jays team. Many will say — almost certainly accurately — that Trout has almost singlehandedly carried a pretty flawed Angels team to the doorstep of the playoffs. You can argue this stuff around and around.

All of which is to say that either guy is a good pick. We’ve had co-MVPs in the past before and this would be a great year to get them again. If I had to vote I’d probably say Trout — I trust the offensive metrics more than the defensive ones and he does have an edge there — but I’d feel really bad choosing one over the other. Thing is, there isn’t a bad choice or a clear choice here and if you come across people arguing on TV or radio shows or on the Internet that there is one and anyone who thinks otherwise is stupid, you’ve encountered either a homer or a hot take artist and that person should not be taken seriously. Flip a damn coin: heads you win, tails you win.

Who will win the AL MVP Award

I feel like Donaldson will win it for a few reasons. None of them fantastic reasons but, because he is deserving on the merits anyway, it won’t be a tragedy. Toronto is a better story this year than Anaheim. Trout is old news who won it last year. There are still some people who will look at the RBI totals as a conversation-ender. There are still some people who like the “best player on the best team” stuff and they’ll be especially emboldened if the Angels fall short of the Wild Card. And I still think there are people angry about past Trout-Cabrera MVP arguments that were really referenda on sabermetrics and they’ll take some satisfaction in picking a candidate other than Trout.

Who should win the NL MVP Award

Bryce Harper.

Who will win the NL MVP Award

Bryce Harper.

Sorry if that’s rather curt, but really, no one is even in the conversation. Harper is hitting .331/.463/.649 with 41 HR 96 RBI and an OPS+ of 196. He’s tied for the lead league in batting. He’s tied for the league lead in OBP. He has nearly 100 points of slugging on everyone else.

Those are stupid numbers to which no one else compares be they on a good team or a bad team. And the two who come closest to him in sheer offensive numbers — Joey Votto and Paul Goldschmidt, and they aren’t terribly close in some categories — play on bad teams, nullifying any of that “what does ‘valuable’ really mean?” claptrap. The best position players on contenders — Anthony Rizzo and Andrew McCutchen — are really far off Harper’s pace. Like, 200 points of OPS off his pace. That’s an awful lot.

We give the MVP to Bryce Harper for the same reason that we used to give to Barry Bonds even if the Giants missed the playoffs: he’s just way better than anyone else and, even if you think the guy is a jerk for some reason, it’s not worth spraining your brain to make the argument to the contrary.

Yasiel Puig is running at 100%

Los Angeles Dodgers v San Francisco Giants
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Dylan Hernandez of the L.A. Times reports that Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig began running at 100 percent effort today.

This could be pretty big for the Dodgers in that it could give them Puig for the postseason. Previously it was assumed that his troublesome hamstring, which has sent him to the DL twice this year, would make him a non-factor.

And it’s still unclear what kind of a factor he can be, what with his unsteady legs. And if you add an outfielder with a potent bat but useless legs to a flawed Dodgers team that is built mostly on the strength of its top starting pitchers, what do you really have?

Kirk Gibson Dodgers home run

Of course if Puig did that and he fist-pumped like Gibby he’d get lectured about showing up the opposition and not playing the game the right way.