Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Awardin' 2013: The National League!

Guess who hasn't written about awards in a couple of months?  As I have written before, I love sports awards.  I think there should be awards for everything.  Best hair.  Best chaw bulge.  Best ejection.  Best everything!  In fact, I'd do a full awards ceremony with athletes, celebrity guests, hijinks, Kevin Hart and ESPN.  I'd call it "The ESPN Sports Awards".  Since no such thing exists, I am forced to devote precious internet space to my own personal choices for the most important baseball awards.

I made preseason predictions: 

I made All Star Break predictions:

Now, it's time to hand out the actual hardware.  Not literally though.  The actual awards are decided by a different blogger.  And yes, I am aware that the season is not over.  That's how confident I am with my awarding.  I am willing to completely ignore the final 3% of the season.  You had the last six months to win me over, Tony Campana!  (Spoiler alert:  Tony Campana is not my NL MVP.)

We'll start with the National League today and the American League on Friday.  SUSPENSE!

NL Breakout Player

Preseason Pick - Wilson Ramos
Midseason Pick - Matt Carpenter
Who should win? - Matt Carpenter
Who will win? - This is not a real award.

Just because I love being right, here is what Ramos has done in just under a half season:  2.4 rWAR, 15 HR, 56 RBI, .278/.312/.473.  Wow.  So, he's breaking out, he just can't stay healthy.  If he plays a full season in 2014, he's going to be a star. 

I was right about Ramos to an extent, but in no way did I see Matt Carpenter coming.  He's in the top ten in the National League in the following categories:  WAR, batting average, OBP, slugging percentage, runs, hits, OPS+, extra base hits, doubles, and walks.  Insane.  Everyone knew the Cardinals would be good this year.  They're basically good every year.  There's simply no way that anyone predicted that the Cardinals would be this good because Matt Carpenter became one of the ten best players in the National League.  He's an MVP candidate. 

NL Rookie of the Year

Preseason Pick - Jedd Gyorko
Midseason Pick - Jose Fernandez
Who should win? - Jose Fernandez
Who will win? - Jose Fernandez

Gyorko had a nice rookie season.  He reached 20 home runs, he's posted an above average OPS+ and he looks like a good overall player.  Most importantly, his name is pronounced Jerk-O, which is just super.  But!  He isn't even in the ROY conversation.  Evan Gattis has shown some great power, but he hasn't offered much else.  A.J. Pollock and Nolan Arenado have rated great defensively, but haven't been great offensively. 

In a lot of ways, it was the year of the rookie NL pitcher.  Hyun-Jin Ryu, Julio Teheran, Shelby Miller and Gerrit Cole have all had really nice debuts.  They all have an ERA just above 3 and each has been very important to a playoff team.  They have all been great and none of the four stand a chance at winning this award. 

Yasiel Puig is a phenomenon.  In just about any given season, he'd be a runaway ROY.  He's exciting, he's talented and he's controversial.  He's in the headlines just about every week and his play merits the press.  On the other hand, he's played just 98 games.  He's been fantastic in those games and he certainly helped in the Dodgers' turnaround.  He's hard to argue against, so instead, I'll argue for the guy who I think has been the rookie of the year.

Jose Fernandez is a ridiculous phenomenon.  He started out as an impressive pitcher for his age and experience level.  He ended the season as one of the five best pitchers in all of baseball.  He had a sparkling 2.19 ERA (all ERAs under 2.5 have to be called "sparkling").  He was exciting to watch as well.  I think that matters when it comes to the more superfluous awards like Rookie of the Year.  Puig was fun to watch, but we got to watch Fernandez more.  I'll take Fernandez, but there were a lot of great rookies in the National League this season and I think they all deserve a tiny ROY award for their efforts.  

NL Cy Young Award

Preseason Pick - Stephen Strasburg
Midseason Pick - Clayton Kershaw
Who should win? - Clayton Kershaw
Who will win? - Clayton Kershaw

Strasburg had a fine season.  His strikeout rate dipped, but his ground ball rate spiked.  This is probably a good trade off for Strasburg in the long-term.  He was good, but he isn't in the Cy Young conversation. 
Fernandez merits consideration, but he only threw 172.2 innings.  Mat Latos and Cliff Lee have had excellent seasons.  Adam Wainwright abolished the walk from his repertoire in the first half and has had a really nice season.  Matt Harvey was amazing until his injury and he might have challenged for the award if he had been able to finish the season. 

All of those guys are great, but Clayton Kershaw is the King right now.  Kershaw won the award in 2011, should have won in 2012 and will win this season.  Right now, Kershaw is first in the National League in pitcher WAR, ERA, WHIP, innings pitched, strikeouts, and WAR.  That's right, as a pitcher, Kershaw leads the National League in WAR (actually tied with Andrew McCutchen, more on that later).  That's not easy to do.  His ERA is under 2.  That's not just sparkling, it's refreshingly sparkling.  Kershaw is the Sprite of Major League Baseball.  Obey your thirst.   


Preseason Pick - Bryce Harper
Midseason Pick - Andrew McCutchen
Who should win? - Clayton Kershaw
Who will win? - Andrew McCutchen

It's so odd.  I predicted that Harper would win AND run into a wall, but I didn't think those two things would actually clash as much as they did.  As it turns out, running face-first into a wall actually hurts your chances of having a spectacular season.  Even so, Harper is nearly slugging .500 as a 20-year-old.  He's going to win an MVP and I'll probably predict it every year until it happens.  It's not happening in 2013.

Matt Carpenter has been outstanding, but I'm not picking him.  Carlos Gomez is suddenly an MVP candidate.  Twins fans are totally cool with this, after watching Gomez seemingly have no clue how to hit a baseball when he was in Minnesota.  Troy Tulowitzki, Yadier Molina and Joey Votto all had great seasons because they are great players.  Paul Goldschmidt looks like a star, but comes up a bit short. 

For me, it comes down to Kershaw and McCutchen.  McCutchen is a dynamic player and I think that he will win the award.  He hits, hits for power, runs, fields, smiles, etc.  He really does it all.  I also think he will get bonus points from voters for being the best player on a Pirates team that made the playoffs for the first time in 20 years.  I love Andrew McCutchen and I won't be upset at all if he wins the MVP.  He deserves it.

Kershaw deserves it too.  Some will not vote for Kershaw because he is a pitcher and they have their own award.  I don't really understand that logic.  All pitchers are players too, right?  Kershaw leads the NL in WAR, which shows the immense value that he has provided.

He is having an all-time season.  Kershaw has 8.0 WAR and a 191 ERA+.  That feat has been accomplished just 15 times in the past 25 seasons.  It's only happened once in the past decade (Zack Greinke in 2009).  By comparison, if you enter McCutchen's WAR (8.0) and OPS+ (159), you get 48 such seasons.  That is still impressive, but not quite as rare as Kershaw's feat.  In fact, at least one position player has posted those numbers in each season dating back to 2000.

When you have two extremely valuable and impressive players, it can be hard to make a selection.  I needed some sort of tie-breaker, so I used what I could find.  Those arbitrary cut-off numbers might not convince you that a pitcher should win the MVP, but for me, Kershaw's level of dominance was not shown by a position player this season, so I go with Kershaw because pitchers are players too.

There you have it.  It's impossible to be as thorough as I was during this process.  I have a spreadsheet and everything.  If you want to see it, just send me an email and I will share it with you.  I'll be back on Friday with the American League award winners.  Please try to dress sharp; tuck in your shirt.

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