Friday, September 27, 2013

Awardin' 2013: The American League!

Welcome back to Award Season!  In my previous installment, I handed out the major NL awards.  If you missed it, click here.  I also lamented the lack of an actual Awards Ceremony for these important honors.  Think of the bowties and suspenders we are missing out on!  Danny Valencia would look great in a suit, but he wouldn't get invited to the ceremony so we're kind of just back where we started, aren't we? 

AL Breakout Player

Preseason Pick - Matt Moore
Midseason Pick - Josh Donaldson
Who should win? - Josh Donaldson
Who will win? - This is not a real award.

One of the easiest ways to totally nail an awards prediction is to make up an award.  In this case, I failed to accurately predict an award that I created.  Matt Moore has been great.  He's won a bunch of games, has a pretty sweet ERA and a winning smile.  He also leads the league with 17 wild pitches.  This is the breakout player award, not the "break stuff with your wild pitches" award, Matt!  Lol.  If I'm going to be real here, he's got a great case for this fake award.  He just wasn't as good as Josh Donaldson. 

Donaldson has been amazing.  Now, some might argue that Donaldson broke out last season, but I'd say that going from 1.5 fWAR to 7.7 fWAR counts as an additional breakout.  Donaldson is a legitimate MVP candidate on one of the best teams in baseball.  He's slugging over .500 and has an OBP approaching .400.  He's been extremely valuable to the Athletics and he has had a superstar season.  I'm really proud of him.

AL Rookie of the Year

Preseason Pick - Wil Myers
Midseason Pick - Aaron Hicks
Who should win? - Wil Myers
Who will win? - Wil Myers

LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL!  I refuse to provide any context for that mid-season Aaron Hicks selection.  I want the record to show that despite Hicks' sub-.200 batting average, despite his extremely poor plate discipline, despite his recent hamstring injury, I STILL thought he would pull out of it and win this award.  Choosing Hicks for AL ROY at the beginning of the year would have been a justifiable, but homer-ish pick.  At the All Star Break?  Stupid homer pick.  Stomer Pick.  Stomer Simpson Pick.  Just hilarious.  I'm so glad I did that.  Scrapbook!!!!

The real winner is likely to come from the Tampa Bay Rays.  There are two reasonable candidates, and a third if you include Royals' outfielder David Lough.  He's lougher on my list though.  OHOOHOHOHOHHH!  Lough has been a good defender, but his offensive stats offend me.  For me, the award comes down to Wil Myers and Chris Archer.

Both guys have played about a half-season.  Both guys have been good, but not great.  When you look at their peripheral stats, Archer has been good, but maybe a bit lucky, while Myers has been just good.  He's slugging close to .500 and showing good plate discipline.  He's got a wRC+ around 130.  Archer has been good as well.  His slightly higher than 3 ERA proves that.  However, his BABIP is .245 and that points toward some luck being involved.  With both guys so close in performance, I'll break the tie by looking at one of the most controversial stats that exists.  There's no way that leads to any sort of discussion or argument.  Myers' WAR is higher.  There.

AL Cy Young Award

Preseason Pick - Justin Verlander
Midseason Pick - Felix Hernandez
Who should win? - Max Scherzer
Who will win? - Max Scherzer

This is a tough one.  Verlander has had a nice season, just nothing special.  Anibal Sanchez has probably been the most impressive overall pitcher, but he won't reach 200 innings, which hurts his chances.  Doug Fister, Hisashi Iwakuma, Jon Lester and James Shields have all been great. 

I'd be more inclined to vote for Bartolo Colon if he went by "Bart Colon" and asked us to call him "Big Bart."  That act would pretty much cinch my vote for the next few decades.  However, I can't get over the lack of strikeouts, the fact that he won't hit 200 innings and the fact that he won't embrace the Big Bart persona.  You gotta start eliminatin' somewhere, Big Bart.  

At the All-Star Break, Felix Hernandez had seized this award in my eyes.  He was pitching as well as he had ever pitched and he was already one of the best pitchers of our generation.  Since the Break, he hasn't been as great and he was injured for a significant time.  He's still tied for second in fWAR for all AL pitchers, but his overall numbers aren't so dominant that he stands out among the rest.  I think you can still make a strong case for Hernandez, but he's part of the conversation instead of leading it. 

Here's the whole conversation:  It comes down to Felix, Chris Sale, Yu Darvish and Max Scherzer.  I think Scherzer wins the actual vote for sure.  His overall numbers are great and the win total will get him a lot of votes.  I think the path to get to Scherzer is a lot more complicated than "21 wins is a lot."   Who do I like?  Here's how I feel:

Darvish is the most dominant of the four.  His K% is 32.7%, by far the highest of the four.  He also issues the most walks of the four, which takes him down a bit in my eyes.  In fact, his BB% is at least 50% greater than the other three.  Darvish has the highest strand rate of the four, at a staggering 83.9%.  Of course, his high strikeout totals will inflate that rate.  Rhyming is cool, but I'm removing Darvish from this conversation, even though he's had a great season.

Hernandez, Sale and Scherzer have been extremely similar pitchers this season.  Just look at this chart:


Ridiculous.  All three have elite strikeout and walk rates.  Each has a good ERA and an xFIP that confirms it.  Scherzer's BABIP is a bit lower, but his LOB% is also lower.  If those two things somewhat cancel each other out, then each has been equal parts good and equal parts lucky.  Well, maybe Scherzer has been a bit "luckier" than Sale and Hernandez.  I like peripheral stats when predicting for the future, but I like traditional stats when it's time to evaluate actual performance.  Maybe that puts be a few years behind the curve, but I like to reward players for what they actually accomplish, not what we think they should have accomplished. 

Ok, we have to start eliminating players, so Hernandez is out due to the slightly lower innings total.  This hurts me as I love King Felix and I think he is the best overall pitcher in the American League.  If I had to predict who would be the best pitcher next year, I'd take Hernandez.  That being said...

Sale v. Scherzer in the finals!  The question is, can you really vote for a guy with an 11-13 record over a guy with a 21-3 record when the two are so similar in every other way?  Sale might have been a slightly better pitcher this year, but can you completely ignore Scherzer's wins?  I can't.  I just can't do it.  I want to, but I can't.  So, for the record:
  • Best AL Pitcher right now:  Felix Hernandez - loses this award because he got injured
  • Best AL Pitcher this season:  Chris Sale - but ever so slightly
  • AL Cy Young Award Winner - Max Scherer - and he deserves it for more than just those 21 wins. 
I don't think pitcher wins are the devil, but I don't look at them first.  Everything needs a line of succession.  If Obama can't fulfill his duties, Biden's in charge.  If Biden can't, we call on Boehner.  If enough guys get debilitating food poisoning that everyone secretly thinks could be malaria, then Doug, your local garbage man takes over.  Meet Pitcher Wins:  The Doug the Garbage Man of pitching stats.  You don't want him running the country, but in the pinchiest of pinches, you'll have to make due. 

This concludes the convoluted metaphor section of our exercise.  Scherzer wins.    


Preseason Pick - Evan Longoria
Midseason Pick - Miguel Cabrera
Who should win? - Mike Trout
Who will win? - Miguel Cabrera

First off, in any other season and under any other circumstances, Josh Donaldson would be right in this conversation.  However, the Trout v. Cabrera Round 2 storyline is just too juicy for writers.  I guarantee Donaldson will get a lot less publicity than he probably deserves.  He's been outstanding and should be just below Cabrera and Trout in this debate.

Deep breath.  We did this last year, and all the arguments are basically the same:
  • The Tigers made the playoffs; the Angels didn't
  • Cabrera is the best hitter in baseball
  • Trout is a better overall player, when you consider defense and fielding
Of course, Trout has actually improved as a hitter this year, significantly boosting his walk rate and significantly cutting his strikeout rate.  His defensive ratings are still good, but not elite this year and he isn't running as much.  Some of that change in running is due to his change from leadoff to third in the lineup, but that does count for something.  Trout is basically having the exact same amazing season he had last year, just with more walks.  If he didn't already command the presence of the saber community, those extra walks sealed his seal deal. 

Cabrera, on the other hand, did not win the Triple Crown this year.  He might lose some votes due to that, which is insane.  He's been a better hitter this year in just about every category - batting average, OBP, slugging, and he's right in the same neighborhood in runs, home runs and RBI.  The only difference?  Chris Davis hit over 50 home runs.  That's it.  Did Chris Davis' power breakout make Cabrera a worse hitter?  Nope, but some will honestly lean on the "no Triple Crown" crutch when they change their vote from Cabrera as MVP in 2012 to Trout as MVP in 2013, when basically nothing else has changed.  It's lunacy. 

I would have voted for Trout last year, for the same reasons why I would vote for him this year.  He's a better overall baseball player.  His offensive contribution is only slightly smaller than Cabrera's, but the value he adds on defense and on the base paths tips the scales toward him.  That's how I felt in 2012, and that's how I feel right now.  Just like last year, I don't think Cabrera is an undeserving winner, I just feel that Trout is better. 

This is Flair-Steamboat back in the 60 minute iron man days.  This is Ali-Frazier, it's Agassi-Sampras, it's Kobe-LeBron, it's really good bowling guy-really good bowling guy.  No one loses in this situation.  We get to watch two of the greatest players of this generation duke it out for one of the most prestigious awards in sports.  Regardless of whether your candidate wins, just remember that these are two outstanding players.  One has to win and the other has to lose, but they both deserve careful consideration and serious props. 

That's a wrap!  Wait, this is a wrap:

I really enjoyed the 2013 MLB season.  There were plenty of award-worthy performances, but just not enough awards to go around.  If I ever find my way to Head of State, I will replace all games with award ceremonies.  That way, we can truly recognize these great athletes.  Even better, I'll just cozy up to Doug and see if I can get him to enact these policies for me.  

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