Pouliot’s postseason award picks: American League

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Evan Longoria made his case for moving up the MVP ballot with his big game Monday, but while it’s safe to say the Rays wouldn’t have reached the postseason without him, he was still no better than the AL’s third best third baseman. It was, in fact, the year of the third baseman in the AL MVP balloting, with five cracking my top 10.

AL MVP

1. Mike Trout
2. Miguel Cabrera
3. Chris Davis
4. Josh Donaldson
5. Robinson Cano
6. Evan Longoria
7. Jason Kipnis
8. Adrian Beltre
9. Manny Machado
10. Carlos Santana

Five months into the season, one didn’t necessarily need to rely on the postseason argument to pick Cabrera over Trout. And then September happened: a banged up Cabrera hit .278/.395/.333 with one homer and seven RBI in 72 at-bats. Trout was pretty much his usual self, hitting .281/.455/.494 with four homers and 15 RBI in 89 at-bats.

Of course, the Tigers didn’t need Cabrera in September (though home-field advantage would have been nice). And Trout’s team was an also-ran all season long. So, the MVP discussion again comes down to how one wants to define value, a subject that lost my interest years ago. Trout was the better player, so he’s the MVP as far as I’m concerned. YMMV.

After those two, I flip-flopped on Davis and Donaldson a couple of times. WAR prefers Donaldson, but Davis led the circuit in WPA, with Cabrera second, Donaldson third and Trout fourth. WPA (Win Probably Added) can be a pretty sketchy stat, but there’s no denying that Davis came up big in a number of situations this year. He ended up hitting .318/.392/.694 with runners on and .343/.433/.759 with RISP.

After the big four — and it will be a crime if Donaldson finishes lower than fourth — the rest is a jumble. Cano looks like the fifth best player; he never seems to fall any lower than that. It’s odd not having any Red Sox in the top 10 after they finished with the league’s best record, but their two best players — Shane Victorino and Jacoby Ellsbury — played in 122 and 134 games, respectively. They would dominate the 11-20 range on the ballot with those two, David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia.

AL Cy Young

I still need to work this one out. In my mind, there are seven possibilities for the five spots on the ballot: Bartolo Colon, Yu Darvish, Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Chris Sale, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer. Nicely enough, those happen to be our seven ERA leaders as well. Here’s how they rank according to several stats.

ERA: Sanchez, Colon, Iwakuma, Darvish, Scherzer, Hernandez, Sale
Innings: Iwakuma, Sale/Scherzer, Darvish, Hernandez, Colon, Sanchez
rWAR: Iwakuma, Sale, Scherzer, Sanchez, Darvish, Hernandez, Colon
fWAR: Scherzer, Sanchez, Hernandez, Sale, Darvish, Iwakuma, Colon
K/9 IP: Darvish, Scherzer, Sanchez, Hernandez, Sale, Iwakuma, Colon
SOS: Hernandez, Iwakuma, Colon, Darvish/Sale, Scherzer, Sanchez

Strength of schedule being the OPS of opponents faced. That penalizes Sale a bit, since a lot of good lefties sat against him.

So, let’s try adding up all six categories; seven points for the top spot, down to one point for the bottom.

Colon: 16
Darvish: 24.5
Hernandez: 23
Iwakuma: 29
Sale: 23
Sanchez: 24
Scherzer: 28.5

Is that anything close to a perfect method? Of course not. But I don’t think there’s any one method that’s going to convince me one of these guys was clearly better than the rest.

A month ago, I thought Hernandez had been the league’s best pitcher. And he still might have been, but those three missed starts in September weigh heavily here. In the end, his own teammate, Iwakuma, pitched 15 more innings with an ERA about two-fifths of a run better. FIP still argues for Hernandez — only Sanchez in his 182 innings had a better FIP — but the fact is that Iwakuma pitched in front of the same defense as Hernandez and allowed five fewer runs while making two additional starts.

Sale was terrific and, unlike Scherzer and Sanchez, he actually had to face the Tigrrs, going 3-1 with a 1.83 ERA in five starts against them. But then he made only 30 starts altogether, and he gave up more earned runs and unearned runs than anyone else here.

Darvish should probably get bonus points for leading the league in strikeouts by a whopping 37 over Scherzer. But he also issued the most walks and gave up the most homers of the group.

Sanchez had the quality, but not the quantity.

Colon finished second in ERA and tied for the league lead with three shutouts, but he was helped by pitching in Oakland and he got to make five of his 30 starts against the Astros.

It seems like it really is Iwakuma and Scherzer WARring it out for the top spot. Iwakuma had the tougher assignment of the two, getting the more difficult schedule and pitching for a poor team. Scherzer definitely had run support on his side.

But Scherzer does have 55 strikeouts on Iwakuma, and while there was plenty of luck involved in his 21-3 record, there wasn’t any in his 2.90 ERA. FIP puts him at 2.74, compared to 3.44 for Iwakuma. If I had to pick either to start a game for my team, I’d take Scherzer and his strikeouts. I’m still not certain he’s been the better pitcher, but I haven’t found a good reason to rank anyone over him.

1. Max Scherzer
2. Hisashi Iwakuma
3. Yu Darvish
4. Felix Hernandez
5. Chris Sale

AL Rookie of the Year

1. Jose Iglesias
2. Wil Myers
3. Chris Archer
4. Martin Perez
5. David Lough

Iglesias versus Myers comes down to how one rates Iglesias’ glove. The defensive numbers at both Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs weren’t overly charitable. I view him as an elite defender, and that propels him over Myers in my picks. Obviously, he was a nice surprise offensively as well, finishing up at .303/.349/.386 in 350 at-bats. Myers hit .293/.354/.478 in his 335 at-bats.

NL picks

Rob Manfred walks back comment about 60-game season

Rob Manfred
Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images
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Yesterday, on The Dan Patrick Show, commissioner Rob Manfred stuck his foot in his mouth concerning negotiations with the MLB Players Association, saying, “We weren’t going to play more than 60 games.” The comment was taken poorly because MLB owners, represented by Manfred, and the MLBPA were engaged in protracted negotiations in May and June over the 2020 season. Ultimately they couldn’t come to terms, so Manfred had to set the season as prescribed by the March agreement. In saying, “We weren’t going to play more than 60 games,” Manfred appeared to be in violation of the March agreement, which said the league must use the “best efforts to play as many games as possible.” It also seemed to indicate the owners were negotiating in bad faith with the players.

Per Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY, Manfred walked back his comment on Thursday. Manfred said, “My point was that no matter what happened with the union, the way things unfolded with the second [coronavirus] spike, we would have ended up with only time for 60 games, anyway. As time went on, it became clearer and clearer that the course of the virus was going to dictate how many games we could play.” Manfred added, “As it turned out, the reality was there was only time to play 60 games. If we had started an 82-game season [beginning July 1], we would have had people in Arizona and Florida the time the second spike hit.”

As mentioned yesterday, it is important to view Manfred’s comments through the lens that he represents the owners. The owners wanted a shorter season with the playoffs beginning on time (they also wanted expanded playoffs) because, without fans, they will be making most of their money this year through playoff television revenue. Some thought the owners’ offers to the union represented stall tactics, designed to drag out negotiations as long as possible. Thus, the season begins later, reducing the possible number of regular season games that could be played. In other words, the owners used the virus to their advantage.

Manfred wants the benefit of the doubt with the way fans and the media interpreted his comment, but I’m not so sure he has earned it. This isn’t the first time Manfred has miscommunicated with regard to negotiations. He told the media last month that he had a deal with the union when, in fact, no such deal existed. The MLBPA had to put out a public statement refuting the claim. Before that, Manfred did a complete 180 on the 2020 season, saying on June 10 that there would “100%” be a season. Five days later, he said he was “not confident” there would be a 2020 season. Some have interpreted Manfred’s past comments as a way to galvanize or entice certain owners, who might not have been on the same page about resuming play. There’s a layer beneath the surface to which fans and, to a large extent, the media are not privy.

The likely scenario is that Manfred veered a bit off-script yesterday, realized he gave the union fodder for a grievance, and rushed out to play damage control.