The playoffs are a crap-shoot, even more so with this one-game mess baseball has instituted. The Braves’ prize for finishing 6 games ahead of the Cardinals in a tougher division was playing them in a one-and-done playoff game, where a few errors and a bad call meant the end of their season. Nice going, MLB.
It’s time to move on to the off-season, and the first order of business is the postseason awards. Below are my picks. I’ve saved the most controversial and discussion-worthy award for last. May spirited discussion and debate distract us from our playoff frustrations.
NL Rookie of the Year: Bryce Harper, Nationals
Harper and Wade Miley, of the Diamondbacks, are the leading candidates. Miley struck out 6.7 batters per 9 innings while walking fewer than 2 per 9 while starting 29 games for Arizona and posting an ERA of 3.33. I give the edge to Harper. At 19 he posted a slash line of .270/.340/.477 in 597 big league plate appearances, stole 18 bases and was only caught 6 times, and got significant playing time at a key position, centerfield.
I wouldn’t argue with anyone who selected either of these guys. Both are deserving. But if in looking for something to separate these two, Harper seems like he had the more impressive season, given his age and the fact that he was an everyday player.
AL Rookie of the Year: Mike Trout, Angels
There is no other candidate. Trout should win this award unanimously. There is not really much to say. He put up an MVP-worthy year in his age 20 season. More on that later.
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
There are a number of solid candidates here. The top two are Kershaw and RA Dickey. I give the slight edge to Kershaw because his baserunners allowed stats were a little more impressive. Kershaw threw slightly fewer innings but he had more strikeouts per 9, finishing just one behind Dickey in strikeout total. It’s hard to argue against anyone who would put Johnny Cueto atop their ballot. He had a very impressive year playing his home games in a hitter-friendly park, posting a 2.78 ERA.
There is plenty of support for Craig Kimbrel (and Fernando Rodney in the American League). They were obviously outstanding and pitched as well as anyone, on a per-inning basis. However, I view the Cy Young in terms of overall pitcher value, so I have a hard time arguing for a guy who threw fewer than 75 innings and a lot fewer than what the top starters threw. Perhaps it’s time Major League Baseball have a separate award for relievers that is taken more seriously than the Rolaids Relief Man.
AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander, Tigers
Verlander probably won’t get much support among the writers because he was fourth in wins with 17 and other very solid candidates won more. But Verlander was the best pitcher in the league, in spite of win total. He finished 2nd in ERA, 2nd in WHIP, led the league in strikeouts and innings and finished 2nd in strikeouts per 9. David Price is your likely winner because he led the league in ERA and wins. Price had a fantastic season but Verlander was better. The stats that indicate what Verlander himself has some control over all point to Verlander as the best pitcher in the league.
NL MVP: Buster Posey, Giants
This is by far the most difficult choice. There are six good candidates: Posey, Andrew McCutchen, Ryan Braun, Kershaw, Yadier Molina and David Wright. One could arrange them however they would like in their top six and I wouldn’t argue. I’m leaning Posey. He finished second to Joey Votto in OBP, fourth in slugging and played a demanding position, catcher.
To nitpick, McCutchen finished slightly behind Posey in OBP and OPS, Braun doesn’t provide all that much defensive value and doesn’t play a demanding position, Kershaw was a pitcher so probably didn’t impact quite as many games, Molina wasn’t the same kind of offensive force, and David Wright just didn’t have quite as impressive a season and thirdbase is a little less demanding than catcher. But let me emphasize that this is nitpicking and I couldn’t build a major case against any of these guys.
AL MVP: Mike Trout, Angels
This is the big one, the one that has caused plenty of controversy in Interweb Land and among the baseball pundit class. Frankly, I don’t think it’s all that close. Trout is the MVP over Miguel Cabrera. At worst Trout was very slightly behind Cabrera in batting value. Some metrics actually have Trout as the better hitter. Trout was the better baserunner and it’s not close. Trout was the better defensive player and it’s not close.
The arguments for Cabrera are essentially a) he won the Triple Crown and Trout did not and b) his team made the playoffs and Trout’s team did not.
The Triple Crown doesn’t do a great job measuring offensive value for the following reasons: batting average ignores walks and treats all hits the same and RBI are dependent on factors that have nothing to do with offensive value. Remember when Jeff Francoeur drove in lots of runs without being a great hitter, in terms of avoiding outs and slugging? RBI are influenced by opportunity more than skill. The fact that Cabrera was so good that he was put in a position to have all those RBI opportunities indicates something. But RBI alone don’t give us any kind of idea of a hitter’s offensive value. The Triple Crown also completely ignores baserunning and defense, factors that should matter in player value.
Trout had a slightly higher OBP than Cabrera and posted a .564 SLG to Cabrera’s .606. Baseball offense is about avoiding outs and gaining bases. OBP measures out avoidance, SLG does a pretty good job of measuring base-advancement. If Cabrera is ahead of Trout in these areas, it’s not by much. You throw in that Trout stole 49 bases and was caught only 5 times and you throw in Trout’s centerfield defense compared to Cabrera’s thirdbase defense and it’s hard to argue against Trout.
As far as which player’s team made the playoffs, the Angels actually won one more game than the Tigers. There is nothing to indicate this difference in win-loss record of the two teams was some sort of fluke. And there is plenty of indication that the AL West was a tougher division. Trout did more to ensure that the Angels made the playoffs. They did not. The fact that they did not has nothing to do with anything Mike Trout did or did not do.
Also, it’s impossible for one player to lead his team to the playoffs. There is just no way that one player can do that. If that were the case, it’s hard to imagine Barry Bonds’ Giants failing to make the playoffs in 2001 and 2004, when he was over 150 percent better offensively than any player in the league in both seasons. Cabrera got help from plenty of his teammates, including the best pitcher in the American League, as did Trout. Their teammates shouldn’t factor in to how valuable they were as individual players.
The MVP is an individual award about a person’s worth as a baseball player. This is what “value” means. The definition is not subjective and it’s not an opinion. That doesn’t mean it’s always clear-cut as to which player was most valuable (see the National League). Trout had more worth as a player than Cabrera. Cabrera will probably win the award but Trout is the clear-cut MVP.