October 08, 2012

2012 MLB Awards

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.



3 Responses to “2012 MLB Awards”

  1. 1
    Walker Says:

    The Triple Crown is kind of like hitting for the cycle. Both are rare and impressive but not indicative of the best possible value. I’ll take a game where someone goes 4-4 and hits 2 HR’s and 2 doubles over someone going 4-4 and getting the cycle. The performance with the best value happens most often but doesn’t get same credit. There are plenty better offensive years from players than Yaz or Miggy had.

    There’s a reason the Triple Crown is rare. There’s so much that a player has no control of like his BABIP or how often the people in front of you get on base. Austin Jackson had a great year which helped.

    With that said, I still believe Cabrera will win even though Trout is more deserving. It’s hard for people to question all they’ve learned about the game of baseball all those years growing up. Telling people that RBI’s and WINS aren’t the best way to evaluate players has them in denial.

    Personally, though I still like looking at RBI’s and WINS because they can be fun aesthetically appealing counting stats. But they are horrible evaluative stats.

  2. 2
    Shaun Says:

    Walker, I agree that Cabrera will win. I will be somewhat shocked if he doesn’t. Some voters will be enamored with the Triple Crown and, unfortunately, some will see this as a chance to stick it to sabermetrics and “stat heads,” even though the Triple Crown is all about stats.

  3. 3
    Jo Bu Says:

    …But Allan “Bud” Selig says that fans love the one-game play-in. Now, really, does good ol’ Bud answer to the fans or to the owners? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

    This is the dumbest thing baseball has ever instituted… And not because it didn’t work out in our favor. I hate this thing “because” 94 wins “does” mean something. What were we, the third-winningest team in baseball this year?

    I guess if Bud only pisses off 2 of the 30 teams, he considers that what the fans really want, if he considers what the fans want at all, which most certainly he does not.

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