Mike Trout

A note on awards season


I had some fun with the Ted Williams post this morning, but I would like to make one observation about the upcoming MVP debates and awards season in general:  they matter and they don’t. And that’s not necessarily a contradiction.

Remember that time when the voters got the MVP vote wrong and we all died? God, that sucked.  Oh, wait, that didn’t happen. Because no one is truly harmed if the MVP voters screw up. Amazingly, that even held when Alan Trammell was ripped off in 1987, and I was pretty sure that was going to kill me. In that sense, no, the awards debates don’t truly matter.

At the same time, the opposite reaction — that since it’s just baseball awards these debates are not even worth having — is also dumb.  We’re baseball fans. Arguing about awards is the best possible way to spend one’s time when actual games aren’t on. What the hell else should we do? Pretend there isn’t interesting baseball stuff to consider? Act like we’re above having a time-worn bar argument about which player is better than another? Jeez, that would make us friggin’ communists.

Where to find the balance? I think it’s just like anything else: we should jut be suspicious of extremists. People who think the wrong guy winning is tragedy of some kind are silly. If you’re a Mike Trout guy, the world is not going to end if Miguel Cabrera wins the award and vice-versa.  At the same time, however, people who tell me that it’s not worth even engaging in the exercise are off base too.  Go not have fun someplace else, please.

Anyway, I’ve not sat down and considered any award fully. I’m seriously leaning Mike Trout for the MVP, of course, but I could theoretically have my mind changed. And if that doesn’t happen I’m not gonna consider it an atrocity if Cabrera wins.  It’s just baseball.

But dude, if a bunch of writers try to argue that base running and defense is some sort of esoteric sabermetric invention, I will take up arms and fight until either death or glory is achieved.

Wait … gotta re-read my own post again.  Damn.

2012 midseason awards: NL MVP

Joey Votto

There’s no doubt who has been the National League’s best hitter to date, what with Joey Votto leading the circuit in both on-base percentage and slugging. As for the best player, that’s still a difficult question. Here’s the top 10 in OPS:

1.082 – Joey Votto (1B Cin): .345/.464/.619, 14 HR, 47 RBI, 4 SB in 278 AB
1.015 – Carlos Ruiz (C Phi): .355/.419/.596, 13 HR, 46 RBI, 3 SB in 245 AB
1.014 – David Wright (3B NYM): .354/.443/.570, 11 HR, 59 RBI, 8 SB in 291 AB
1.014 – Andrew McCutchen (CF Pit): .356/.410/.603, 16 HR, 54 RBI, 14 SB in 295 AB
.984 – Ryan Braun (LF Mil): .305/.388/.597, 23 HR, 59 RBI, 13 SB in 295 AB
.983 – Carlos Gonzalez (LF Col): .336/.394/.589, 17 HR, 58 RBI, 10 SB in 304 AB
.957 – Carlos Beltran (RF StL): .306/.394/.563, 20 HR, 65 RBI, 8 SB in 284 AB
.923 – Matt Holliday (LF StL): .318/.397/.526, 14 HR, 56 RBI, 4 SB in 308 AB
.918 – Giancarlo Stanton (RF Mia): .283/.364/.555, 19 HR, 50 RBI, 5 SB in 283 AB
.913 – Melky Cabrera (LF SFG): .356/.395/.518, 7 HR, 42 RBI, 10 SB in 326 AB

Votto has 70 points of OPS on three guys who play tougher positions and who play in worse environments for hitters. Fluke or not, Pittsburgh has played especially pitcher friendly this year.

Here’s Baseball-reference WAR’s top 10:

4.7 – Wright
4.2 – Votto
4.1 – Ruiz
4.0 – McCutchen
3.9 – Michael Bourn (CF Atl)
3.7 – R.A. Dickey (RHP NYM)
3.6 – Holliday
3.5 – Cabrera
3.4 – Darwin Barney (2B CHC)
3.4 – Johnny Cueto (RHP Cin)
3.4 – Jordan Zimmermann (RHP Was)

And Wright takes the lead. That’s the case even though rWAR thinks McCutchen has been the most valuable player of the group offensively. He gets 4.4 WAR for hitting and baserunning, compared to 4.0 for Wright, 3.6 for Votto and 3.4 for Ruiz. However, McCutchen is rated a below average defensive center fielder here. If that holds up, it’ll be the third time in his four seasons that he’s graded out as below average.

Bourn gets rated the ninth most valuable hitter and fourth most valuable defender by rWAR. There’s also a surprise appearance by Darwin Barney. The system rates him as the NL’s most valuable defender so far at 2.5 wins. I’m not quite buying that.

On to Fangraphs WAR:

4.8 – Wright
4.7 – Votto
4.3 – Bourn
4.3 – Ruiz
4.0 – McCutchen
4.0 – Braun
3.7 – Martin Prado (OF Atl)
3.5 – Jason Heyward (OF Atl)
3.5 – Chase Headley (3B SD)
3.5 – Zack Greinke (RHP Mil)
3.3 – Holliday
3.3 – Cabrera

Fangraphs loves it some Braves outfielders, putting all three in the top eight. I can’t say I’m too impressed with their defensive numbers either. According to Fangraphs WAR, Bourn, Heyward and Prado have been the three most valuable defenders in the NL this year, followed by Alfonso Soriano in fourth. So, ahh… yeah.

On offense alone, it rates Votto as the most valuable hitter at 36 runs, followed by Wright and McCutchen at 30, Braun at 27 and Ruiz at 25. Like rWAR, it thinks McCutchen is a below average defensive center fielder.

I’m sold on the idea that it comes down to Votto, Wright, Ruiz and McCutchen here. I would have put Dickey against any of the candidates a couple of weeks ago, but he has allowed five runs in two of his last three starts, dropping him back a bit.

It’s close enough that I do want to look at their clutch stats to see if that might provide any separation:

Votto – .367/.518/.817 in 60 AB with RISP
Wright – .377/.500/.545 in 77 AB with RISP
Ruiz – .338/.400/.515 in 68 AB with RISP
McCutchen – .400/.495/.700 in 70 AB with RISP

Well, that just makes it more confusing. I was leaning Wright, partly because he’s had to face tougher pitching in the NL East than Votto or McCutchen, but the other two have been unbelievable in the bigger situations. It sure is fortunate for the rest of the NL Central that the Reds haven’t had anyone to hit in front of Votto all year.

The biggest determining factor here might be whether one sees McCutchen as a quality defensive center fielder. Scouts seem to think he is and it’s not as though he lacks for speed, but his defensive numbers have always been mediocre. I tend to think of him as an average center fielder, but then, I don’t watch a whole lot of Pirates baseball.

In this case, anyway, average is probably enough. McCutchen has been so valuable offensively that I’d say he slightly eclipses Wright and Votto here. It’s still awfully close, though, and there’s a whole lot of season left to go.

My ballot
1. McCutchen
2. Wright
3. Votto
4. Ruiz
5. Dickey
6. Braun
7. Beltran
8. Cabrera
9. Gonzalez
10. Bourn

2012 midseason awards: AL MVP

Josh Hamilton

Josh Hamilton was far and away the AL’s best player for two months, but he’s definitely come back to the pack after hitting just .223 with four homers in June. He struck out 35 times last month, nearly matching his total of 39 times from April and May combined. That said, he still leads the AL in OPS by a significant margin:

1.032 – Josh Hamilton (CF Tex): .316/.386/.646, 26 HR, 74 RBI, 6 SB in 288 AB
.997 – David Ortiz (DH Bos): .302/.391/.607 22 HR, 55 RBI, 0 SB in 295 AB
.871 – Austin Jackson (CF Det): .332/.412/.559, 9 HR, 37 RBI, 7 SB in 238 AB
.960 – Robinson Cano (2B NYY): .316/.375/.585, 20 HR, 50 RBI, 1 SB in 316 AB
.958 – Mike Trout (CF LAA): .348/.403/.555, 10 HR, 38 RBI, 26 SB in 247 AB
.953 – Mark Trumbo (LF LAA): .306/.355/.597,  20 HR, 55 RBI, 4 SB in 278 AB
.949 – Miguel Cabrera (3B Det): .325/.386/.563, 18 HR, 70 RBI, 3 SB in 332 AB
.948 – Paul Konerko (1B CWS): .332/.408/.540, 14 HR, 42 RBI, 0 SB in 274 AB
.943 – Edwin Encarnacion (DH Tor): .295/.379/.564, 22 HR, 56 RBI, 8 SB in 298 AB
.924 – Josh Willingham (LF Min): .269/.380/.545, 18 HR, 59 RBI, 2 SB in 279 AB

That’s everyone in the league above .900. AL home run leader Jose Bautista is 11th at .897.

No catchers made the list, but Joe Mauer (.330/.418/.458 in 74 games) and A.J. Pierzynski (.287/.335/.524 in 70 games) are having outstanding seasons and may deserve down-ballot votes here.

Here’s Baseball-reference WAR’s AL top 10 to date:

5.0 – Brett Lawrie (3B Tor)
4.5 – Trout
4.3 – Chris Sale (LHP CWS)
4.3 – Justin Verlander (RHP Det)
4.0 – Cano
3.8 – Jake Peavy (RHP CWS)
3.5 – Matt Harrison (LHP Tex)
3.5 – Jackson
3.2 – Jason Kipnis (2B Cle)
3.2 – Hamilton

Obviously, rWAR is just crazy about Lawrie’s defense, giving him credit for 3.6 wins. That seems like a totally unrealistic number to me. It says Lawrie, in handling 249 chances at third base this year and making 11 errors, has been as valuable defensively as any American Leaguer has been offensively. The AL’s next most valuable defensive player is Brendan Ryan at 2.6 wins.

Now Fangraphs’ WAR:

4.7 – Trout
4.2 – Cano
4.0 – Jackson
3.8 – Hamilton
3.8 – Verlander
3.5 – Sale
3.2 – Adam Jones (CF Bal)
3.2 – Cabrera
3.1 – Josh Reddick (RF Oak)
3.1 – Alex Gordon (LF KC)

Fangraphs WAR is also fond of Lawrie’s defense, but that still only gets him to 2.8.  Given that he ranks 39th in the AL in OPS, that seems closer to the truth. Fangraphs really loves Gordon’s D, and he is a great left fielder. Still, he’s not much ahead of Lawrie offensively, and I can’t see him in the top 10 on an MVP ballot.

While the two WAR systems have their differences, both agree that Trout, Cano and Jackson have been among the AL’s four most valuable position players, with Hamilton not far behind.

And that sounds about right to me, but I’d still have a tough time giving the award to someone who has played in only three-quarters of his team’s games. Trout and Jackson are both at 61 games played right now. Hamilton has played in 76, while Cano has played in 81. I think that gets Cano the nod here. If it were season’s end and Trout had played in 140 games to Cano’s 160, I’d probably go with him. At this point, though, those 20 extra games have a lot of value.

As for Hamilton, he’s played just as much left field as center field this year, and the numbers say his defense has fallen off. He’s also playing in a friendlier park for hitters than the other candidates, though he’s hitting better on the road than at home. Those two factors put him third on my ballot.

My ballot
1. Cano
2. Trout
3. Hamilton
4. Jackson
5. Verlander
6. Ortiz
7. Mauer
8. Cabrera
9. Pierzynski
10. Jones

I feel pretty good about five through eight. The last two spots are very debatable. Pierzynski might not even be the most valuable White Sox player to date: Sale, Konerko and even Alex Rios all have cases. Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus were right there, too; I like Andrus’ defense more than either WAR does. And then there are all three Blue Jays: Bautista, Encarnacion and Lawrie. I opted for Jones over Beltre in the end, though with his wrist problems, I’m thinking his production will taper off.

2012 midseason awards: NL Cy Young

R.A. Dickey

It was easy coming up with pitcher snubs from the NL All-Star team because there are a whole bunch of NL pitchers with great numbers right now. One does stand out above the rest, but there’s an excellent field of Cy Young candidates to choose from at the midway point. Here’s the top 15, according to ERA:

R.A. Dickey (NYM): 12-1, 2.15 ERA, 116/25 K/BB in 113 IP
Ryan Vogelsong (SFG): 7-3, 2.26 ERA, 72/34 K/BB in 103 2/3 IP
Johnny Cueto (Cin): 9-5, 2.35 ERA, 86/25 K/BB in 114 2/3 IP
James McDonald (Pit): 8-3, 2.45 ERA, 90/31 K/BB in 103 IP
Matt Cain (SFG): 9-3, 2.53 ERA, 114/23 K/BB in 113 2/3 IP
Chris Capuano (LAD): 9-3, 2.62 ERA, 95/34 K/BB in 106 1/3 IP
Clayton Kershaw (LAD): 6-4, 2.65 ERA, 112/30 K/BB in 115 1/3 IP
Jordan Zimmermann (Was): 5-6, 2.70 ERA,72/20 K/BB in 103 1/3 IP
Johan Santana (NYM): 6-4, 2.76 ERA, 93/33 K/BB in 98 IP
Kyle Lohse (StL): 8-2, 2.80 ERA, 63/19 K/BB in 109 1/3 IP
Stephen Strasburg (Was): 9-3, 2.81 ERA, 122/27 K/BB in 93 IP
Wade Miley (Ari): 9-4, 2.87 ERA, 66/19 K/BB in 94 IP
Gio Gonzalez (Was): 11-3, 3.01 ERA, 112/39 K/BB in 95 2/3 IP
Cole Hamels (Phi): 10-4, 3.08 ERA, 111/28 K/BB in 111 IP
Zack Greinke (Mil): 9-2, 3.08 ERA, 106/24 K/BB in 108 IP

Here’s how Baseball-reference WAR rates them:

Dickey: 3.7
Cueto: 3.6
Zimmermann: 2.8
Greinke: 2.7
Vogelsong: 2.7
Matt Belisle: 2.6
Kershaw: 2.6
Lohse: 2.6
McDonald: 2.6
Capuano: 2.5
Santana: 2.5

After Dickey and Cueto, WAR is really no help. But it is interesting that WAR lifts Cueto so far above the pack. Cincinnati and Milwaukee have both played as big hitter’s parks thus far, which explains part of why Cueto and Greinke rate so well.

I’m not going to include the opponent’s OPS here like I did for the American Leaguers, simply because there just isn’t much of a spread for the NL pitchers. Hamels, Strasburg and Kershaw have faced somewhat weaker hitters than the rest of the group, but not to the point that I’d give it much weight. Dickey, for what it’s worth, is right in the middle of the pack.

And Dickey is my choice for the Cy. I don’t think it’s as tough of a call as WAR suggests. He’s first in ERA. He has an incredible 0.88 WHIP. Cain owns the league’s next best mark at 0.95, while Cueto is 15th at 1.13.

After that, there just isn’t much separating these guys. Cain looks the strongest to me with his outstanding WHIP and strikeout rate. Dickey, Cain and Santana are the only NL starters with two shutouts this season.

On a pitch-by-pitch basis, one could put Strasburg with Cain, but the fact remains that he’s thrown 20 fewer innings this season. His Cy Young can wait a year or two.

Cueto’s K/BB ratio and WHIP don’t stand out; much of his success comes from refusing to yield home runs, even in a ballpark that tends to favor them. He’s surrendered just five homers this year. Last year, he allowed eight in 156 innings. History suggests he’ll fade as the year goes on; he’s always been a first-half pitcher anyway and he’s never undertaken this big of a workload. At the moment, though, he’s worthy of the third spot on the ballot.

Unfortunately, that means leaving McDonald off. The Pirates are 11-5 in McDonald’s starts this year. In the five losses, they’ve scored a total of three runs. They’ve actually been shut out in all three of the losses charged to McDonald.

And while I’m not giving any relievers serious consideration here, there are two worth mentioning in Belisle and Craig Kimbrel. Belisle is up to 44 1/3 innings already, the last 12 2/3 of them scoreless, and he’s been invaluable with the rest of the Rockies staff falling apart. Kimbrel, the 2011 NL Rookie of the Year, is pitching even better this season, with 23 saves in 24 chances and a 1.50 ERA.

My ballot
1. Dickey
2. Cain
3. Cueto

2012 midseason awards: AL Cy Young

Chris Sale

The AL Cy Young balloting turned into a rout last year, as Justin Verlander lapped the field on his way to taking league MVP honors. At the midway point, this year’s Cy is still very much in doubt.

Here’s the league top 10 in ERA:

Jered Weaver (LAA): 9-1, 2.13 ERA, 68/21 K/BB in 88 2/3 IP
Chris Sale (CWS): 10-2, 2.19 ERA, 98/25 K/BB in 102 2/3 IP
C.J. Wilson (LAA): 9-4, 2.33 ERA, 84/46 K/BB in 104 1/3 IP
Justin Verlander (Det): 9-5, 2.58 ERA, 128/30 K/BB in 132 2/3 IP
David Price (TB): 11-4, 2.82 ERA, 105/37 K/BB in 111 2/3 IP
Jake Peavy (CWS): 6-5, 2.96 ERA, 101/24 K/BB in 112 2/3 IP
Matt Harrison (Tex): 11-3, 3.16 ERA, 65/25 K/BB in 105 1/3 IP
Hiroki Kuroda (NYY): 8-7, 3.17 ERA, 80/31 K/BB in 102 1/3 IP
Felix Hernandez (Sea): 6-5, 3.26 ERA, 122/32 K/BB in 116 IP
Jason Hammel (Bal): 8-4, 3.43 ERA, 97/34 K/BB in 99 2/3 IP

Oakland’s Jarrod Parker, at 2.46 in 80 1/3 IP, and Brandon McCarthy, at 2.54 in 78 innings, just miss the cut for qualifying.

Here’s the WAR top 10 from Baseball-reference:

Sale: 4.4
Verlander: 4.4
Peavy: 3.9
Harrison: 3.3
Kuroda: 2.9
Price: 2.7
Parker: 2.6
Weaver: 2.6
Hammel: 2.4
Wilson: 2.4

That’s nine of the top 10 from the ERA list, plus Parker. The lone omission is King Felix, who comes in at 1.5.

WAR’s top reliever is Jim Johnson at 2.3, followed by Pedro Strop at 1.9 and rookie Ryan Cook and Robbie Ross at 1.7.

I don’t think any of the relievers belong in the mix at this point. Ernesto Frieri might if one included his Padres numbers as well, but he’s thrown just 24 1/3 innings for the Angels.

I want to look at the ERA leaders again, this time at their strength of schedule. Here’s their opponents overall OPS to date:

Weaver: .731
Sale: .727
Wilson: .750
Verlander: .763
Price: .775
Peavy: .757
Harrison: .729
Kuroda: .749
Hernandez: .744
Hammel: .762

I probably weigh this more than most, but there are some big differences there. Price has faced 451 batters this year, and on average, they’ve had about 50 points of OPS on the guys Sale has faced. Price has already made four starts against the Yankees, two against Toronto, two against Boston and one against Texas. Sale, on the other hand, has made a total of two starts against teams in the top 10 in the majors in runs scored (Texas and Milwaukee).

My feeling is that the three spots on the ballot come down to the guys ranked second through sixth in ERA. Here they are again:

Chris Sale (CWS): 10-2, 2.19 ERA, 98/25 K/BB in 102 2/3 IP
C.J. Wilson (LAA): 9-4, 2.33 ERA, 84/46 K/BB in 104 1/3 IP
Justin Verlander (Det): 9-5, 2.58 ERA, 128/30 K/BB in 132 2/3 IP
David Price (TB): 11-4, 2.82 ERA, 105/37 K/BB in 111 2/3 IP
Jake Peavy (CWS): 6-5, 2.96 ERA, 101/24 K/BB in 112 2/3 IP

Weaver’s 15-20 innings behind the pack here, so that takes him out of the running for me. WAR puts both Harrison and Kuroda in the top five, but I don’t see it. They’re a bit behind in ERA, their K/BB ratios and WHIPs don’t stand out and they don’t get bonus points for their schedules.

I think Verlander has to get the edge, thanks in large part to that inning total. I don’t know that he’s been the AL’s best pitcher this year, but I believe he’s been the most valuable because of those extra innings he’s thrown. And it’s not like anyone else really stands out as the best. Sale has the ERA, but he’s faced the weakest competition of the group. Wilson’s stats apart from his ERA are less than stellar, and he’s given up seven unearned runs. I like the fact that Price has faced so many top offenses, but he does have a 1.20 WHIP, compared to the 0.95 marks for both Verlander and Sale. Also, he works in a friendlier ballpark for pitchers.

Peavy can’t be dismissed. He’s faced five top-10 offenses, and the White Sox have scored a total of two runs in his five losses. He’s a strong No. 4 here, but I’m going elsewhere with the top three.

My ballot
1. Verlander
2. Sale
3. Price