Tuesday, September 27, 2011

MLB Awards

Wednesday is the end of the regular season in baseball and it's once again time to give out some regular season awards. As it's been the case for most years, the vote in various categories should be contentious. And that's just the battle for AL MVP, as tough a vote as I can remember. As a matter of fact, I'd say there's only award that has a no-brainer answer (I'm pretty sure you can guess, but I'll make you sweat a little before revealing). Without further adu...

AL Manager of the Year: Joe Girardi and Jim Leyland both have compelling cases. Tigers are back in the playoffs for the first time in 5 years, while Girardi has the Yankees with the best record despite only one good starter (same issue with Leyland). Before Yanks fans give me hell for writing that, the stats show that a lot of Freddy Garcia's and Ivan Nova's success this year is due to luck (low BABIP, high FIP). You also can make a case for Mike Scioscia for having the Angels alive until last night despite a pedestrian offense. However, if you look at the Tampa Bay Rays, you ask yourself why they are tied for the wildcard. Their pitching is good, but no ones been outstanding. They haven't had anyone in the lineup to carry them, just someone new everyday (they probably are better this year had they brought up Desmond Jennings earlier in the season). Seems to me that the answer is clearly Joe Maddon. And that's before mentioning how the Rays lost Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Matt Garza, Joakim Benoit and Rafael Soriano last year.

NL Manager of the Year: Tony La Russa will get votes for having the Cards alive into these last two days. The Milwaukee Brewers are back in the postseason, and Ron Roenicke will also get attention for that. However, both teams were expected to contend this year. The Arizona Diamondbacks weren't. Maybe I was wrong, I think there are two awards that are easy to figure out and Kirk Gibson for NL MOTY is the other one. Only fringe MVP and Cy contenders (even though I do love Justin Upton) and a marked turnaround seems like the recipe.

AL Rookie of the Year: There's something to nitpick about each candidate. Nova's win totals are inflated. Jeremy Hellickson has been very lucky according to his BABIP. Jordan Walden's been good, but I happen to have a bias against voting closers in postseason awards, unless it's a no-brainer. Mark Trumbo's .290 OBP is horrible for a major award candidate. Eric Hosmer hasn't played well defensively, according to defensive metrics, knocking down his WAR to 1.6 on Fangraphs, 1.5 on Baseball Reference. And then I look at Michael Pineda. He has a 9.11 K/9, leads all rookie starters in FIP and xFIP and is tied for first with Alexi Ogando in Fangraphs WAR with 3.4. I don't see a flaw, so Pineda's my guy (though I wish Jennings and Brett Lawrie were up for a full year, then we'd have a race like the NL last year).

NL Rookie of the Year: Clearly not as strong as a year ago. Freddie Freeman probably would be the winner if he could field. Only Lucas Duda was a worse fielder among rookies. It seems to me that it all goes back to Craig Kimbrel. Yes, I know I just said I have a bias against closers, but I just don't see a better rookie than Kimbrel. His K/9 ratio is 14.86, only beaten by Kenley Jansen of the Dodgers. Even for a closer, his FIP and xFIP is very low. Add the 46 saves on a playoff contender and I forgive the fact that Fredi Gonzalez has overused him (and the rest of the bullpen) down the stretch for the Braves.

AL Cy Young: This should be a closer race. CC Sabathia had in my mind his best season as a Yankee and Fangraphs WAR has him tied for 1st. Jered Weaver has a 2.41 ERA, just one point behind 1st. James Shields should get some credit for completing 11 games, something I thought pitchers don't do unless their last name is Halladay (Comeback Player of the Year for him). But the fact is, Justin Verlander is a nominee for MVP. Pitching wins might finally no longer decide awards after King Felix a year ago, but 24 wins is hard to ignore, not to mention that he's going to win the pitching Triple Crown (provided Weaver doesn't beat him out for ERA on Wednesday). Plus, Verlander doesn't have a flaw (not going to hold his low BABIP against him). He's the Cy Young and there really is no doubt.

NL Cy Young: Here's a better race. Ian Kennedy will get votes for finishing 21-4 and has a nice 2.88 ERA, but he's really not a contender. The race seems to be down to Roy Halladay, Clayton Kershaw and Cliff Lee. Here's where the divide between Fangraphs and Baseball Reference WAR shows up. Halladay has an 8.2 WAR on Fangraphs, up 1.3 on Kershaw. Baseball Reference, however, has Doc at 7.1, up 0.2 over both Kershaw and Lee. The ERA is close between all three, with Kershaw ahead. Roy has the better FIP, while Lee has the better xFIP. Kershaw has the better K/9 innings, though Zack Greinke leads. Really, down the line, all three are so similar except one thing. Halladay and Lee are on the same team, that's the advantage Clayton Kershaw has. So I think Kershaw will win the Cy Young because of the split, and I'll go with that because I have to pick someone. Couldn't we take away Eric Gagne's and Brandon Webb's Cy Youngs and hand them to Halladay and Lee. It's only fair.

AL MVP: If you thought the NL Cy Young was a tight race, may I present you the MVP of the American League. Every baseball fan has been bombarded ad nausem on this race for MVP. It's a race that even after I write this, I might change my mind another 2-3 times. So who wins the award? Let's start by those who won't win. Michael Young is the dark horse because of all he does for the Rangers (despite them taking him for granted every offseason, like the Yankees did at the end of Bernie Williams career). Yesterday, Jacoby Ellsbury was back on the forefront of the MVP race, today no so much. It's not fair, because Ellsbury has been a better version of Curtis Granderson this year, as Granderson is clearly better in HR, runs and RBI, but gets trumped in WAR by Ellsbury on both Fangraphs and BR. Miguel Cabrera gets taken for granted by baseball people for having the same awesome numbers every year. Probably should of been the guy who the Tigers focused on trying to get MVP. Instead we're down to Jose Bautista and Verlander. An interesting case, a pitcher vs a slugger for a non-playoff team. I give the nod to Verlander for two reasons. First, because Bautisa had a worse second half than his first, though he still has a 1.061 OPS. And also because Verlander was carrying the Tigers back when they were struggling with the Indians and White Sox. Let's not penalize him for Tigers running away with the division once September hit.

NL MVP: As good a year Justin Upton has had and as good a close to the year Albert Pujols has given the Cardinals, it's really a three man race between Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and Matt Kemp. The same problem as the Cy race, two of the three are on the same team and they will split votes. The difference; I think it's much clearer that Matt Kemp is the NL MVP. Braun beats Kemp in OPS, but by only 16 points. Kemp looks like he'll finish third in batting, aside from finishing first in HR and RBI. He wins both Fangraphs and BR WAR (BR has him ahead by over 2 wins). Eric Seidman had a great article on Fangraphs about how both Kershaw and Kemp could make history if both win their respective awards. It would be deserved, both men are the reason the Dodgers, despite all the turmoil with ownership, will finish over .500 and can legitimately be contenders next year with the right moves.

Many thanks to Fangraphs and Baseball Reference for providing all the numbers used in this post.

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