Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Dubious History of the Hank Aaron Award

Yesterday's post about Giancarlo Stanton and Mike Trout winning this year's Hank Aaron awards got me thinking about past award winners and whether or not they were deserving. I was surprised to find that in many years the winner was not truly the most outstanding offensive performer, as voters were oftentimes seduced by big home run and RBI totals. See for yourself:

(It's worth noting that the voting procedure for this award has changed constantly since its inception in 1999. See a detailed history here).

1999 NL Sammy Sosa over everyone else
Slammin' Sammy's 397 total bases and 89 extra base hits led all of baseball, but with 5.0 oWAR he was barely one of the NL's ten best offensive performers. Larry Walker, winner of baseball's sabermetric Triple Crown, would have made a better choice, as would have Mark McGwire, the major league leader in home runs (65) and OPS+ (176). NL MVP Chipper Jones would have been a good one as well with his league-leading 7.9 oWAR and 165 runs created. Sabermetricians would have preferred Jeff Bagwell, the NL-leader in walks, runs, and times on base. I'm torn between Bags and Big Mac, but in either case it's clear Sosa should not have won.

2001 AL Alex Rodriguez over Jason Giambi
With his league-leading 52 home runs, 393 total bases, 87 extra base hits, and 9.2 oWAR, Rodriguez was absolutely worthy. But to me, at least, it's pretty clear that Giambi was more deserving. Giambi was right behind him in oWAR with 8.7, had just as many extra base hits, and was third in total bases. But that's just the tip of the iceberg, because Giambi paced the AL in many categories. He was first in OBP (.477) and slugging (.660), resulting in a whopping 199 OPS+ and 1.137 OPS that was almost 100 points higher than the next-closest American Leaguer (Jim Thome). Giambi was also tops in doubles with 47, walks with 129, runs created with 171, and times on base with 320. The counting stats favor Rodriguez slightly, but the rate stats say Giambi was way better, especially after taking into account their home ballparks (A-Rod in Texas and Giambi in Oakland).

2002 AL Alex Rodriguez over Jim Thome
Rodriguez once again posted monster numbers with Texas, leading the major leagues with 57 home runs, 142 RBI, and 389 total bases. But as in 2001, there was a slugger with similar counting stats and far better rate stats who deserved the award. This time, it was Jim Thome, the American League leader in slugging (.677), OPS (1.122--more than 100 points higher than A-Rod's), OPS+ (197), walks (122), and runs created (155). The advanced stats say Thome was better, and I'm inclined to agree with them.

2003 AL Alex Rodriguez over Carlos Delgado
For the third year in a row, Rodriguez enjoyed a tremendous offensive season but was not the best in his league. This time he was outdone by Delgado, who won the award in 2000. Delgado, then with the Toronto Blue Jays, posted the league's second-highest OBP (.426), slugging (.593), oWAR score (6.5), home run total (42), and walk total (109), plus topped the Junior Circuit in OPS (1.019), OPS+ (161), RBI (145), runs created (152), and times on base (300). Very close here, as Rodriguez did lead in runs, homers, slugging, oWAR, and AB/HR, but Delgado had the better year from an offensive standpoint.

2003 NL Albert Pujols over Barry Bonds
With all apologies to Prince Albert, who had a hell of a season, this award should have gone to the man who batted .341/.529/.749 (a 1.278 OPS!) with 45 home runs, 148 walks, and 8.6 oWAR, even if he was taking performance enhancing substances.

2005 AL David Ortiz over Alex Rodriguez
One look at the leaderboards this year tells you all you need to know. Ortiz led the league in RBI (148), extra base hits (88), and a trio of advanced metrics (WPA, RE24, and REW). A-Rod led in just about everthing else. For starters, his league-leading 9.4 oWAR dwarf's Ortiz's, which didn't even crack the top 10. Rodriguez also topped the Circuit in slugging (.610), OPS (1.031), OPS+ (173), runs (124), homers (48), runs created (163), and times on base (301) while finishing second in a bunch of other categories (AB/HR, Power-Speed, total bases, batting average, and OBP). A-Rod beat out Big Papi in the league MVP voting, and he should have done the same here.

2005 NL Andruw Jones over Derrek Lee
Jones had the flashier power numbers with a league-leading 128 RBI and ML-best 51 big flies, but with a .263 batting average and .347 OBP was hardly worthy of the honor. He didn't even finish in the league's top 10 in runs created, OPS, or oWAR. Lee's 46 homers and 107 RBI weren't quite as splashy, but his overall body of work was much stronger that year. He was undoubtedly the best hitter in baseball, topping the bigs in doubles (50), batting average (.335), slugging (.662), OPS (1.080), OPS+ (174), total bases (393), extra base hits (99) and runs created (167). He also led the National League in hits (199) and oWAR (7.2).

2006 AL Derek Jeter over David Ortiz
Jeter led the league in oWAR and times on base, with 7.1 and 295, respectively, but his season was nowhere near as dominant as Big Papi's. Ortiz led the league in a host of categories, winning two-thirds of the Triple Crown with 54 dingers and 137 RBI while batting .287/.413/.636, giving him the league's second-best slugging percentage, seventh-best OBP, and third-best OPS. He also led the league in walks with 119, total bases with 355, runs created with 152, and AB/HR with 10.3. He also placed second to Jeter in times on base and second to Grady Sizemore in extra base hits. Seeing as how this was the year Justin Morneau walked away with MVP honors, it was a tough season awards-wise.

2007 NL Prince Fielder over Matt Holliday
In a redux of the 2005 vote, Fielder won on the strength of his huge power numbers (including a league-best 50 homers) even though Holliday had the superior all-around numbers. Cecil Fielder's son only led the NL in one other category--WPA--while Holliday placed first in several, such as batting average (.340), hits (216), doubles (50), total bases (386), RBI (137), extra base hits (92), and runs created (151). Fielder was better than Jones in '05 and Holliday wasn't quite as good as Lee, but even after dinging Holliday for Coors Field he still comes out ahead.

2008 AL Kevin Youkilis over Alex Rodriguez
Not sure what happened here, as Youkilis did not lead the American League in a single offensive statistic. Rodriguez, meanwhile, was tops in oWAR (6.5) and slugging (.573) while placing second in OPS (.965) and OPS+ (150) as well as power-speed, adjusted batting runs and wins, and offensive win percentage. A-Rod wasn't the clear favorite, as one could make a case for Josh Hamilton, Milton Bradley, and Joe Mauer as well, but he was definitely better than Youk.

2008 NL Aramis Ramirez over Albert Pujols
This has to be one of the most questionable selections in the history of the award. Ramirez had a fine season, batting .289/.380/.519 with 27 home runs and 111 RBI, but failed to lead the league in any significant statistic. Pujols, the National League MVP, had perhaps his best offensive season. All the Machine did was bat .357/.462/.653 and lead the major leagues in slugging, OPS (1.114), OPS+ (192), total bases (342), oWAR (7.4), runs created (160), and times on base (296). Pujols should have been a no-brainer, and the fact that he didn't win that year blows my mind.

2009 AL Derek Jeter over Joe Mauer
Jeter was magnificent in 2009, batting .334/.406/.465 with 212 hits and 30 steals, but he was not the best offensive performer in the American League that year. Not by a long shot. Jeter didn't lead the league in anything besides times on base (289), and wasn't even the best hitter on his own team (Mark Teixeira, the MVP runner-up, was). League MVP Joe Mauer should have been an easy choice after he won the Junior Circuit's sabermetric Triple Crown with his .365/.444/.587 line, making him the only American Leaguer with a four-point OPS. Mauer also paced the league in oWAR (7.6), OPS+ (171), and runs created (138), too name a few. This is just another example of Jeter being overrated. Mauer Power was robbed.

2010 AL Jose Bautista over Miguel Cabrera
Joey Bats was not the American League's top offensive performer in spite of his major league-leading 54 big flies and 351 total bases. Cabrera didn't hit as many bombs but still had the superior offensive season, with his 1.042 OPS (just two points shy of Hamilton for the league lead) clocking in at nearly 50 points higher than Bautista's .995 mark. Furthermore, Miggy led the league with his 126 RBI, 420 OBP, 178 OPS+, 141 runs created, and 272 times on base. He was also second in extra base hits, total bases, runs scored, slugging, and batting average.

2012 NL Buster Posey over Ryan Braun
I was all in on Posey for MVP that year, but I don't think he was the league's top offensive performer despite leading the majors in batting average (.336) and OPS+ (171). I believe Braun, who topped the Circuit in runs (108), homers (41), OPS (.987), total bases (356), extra base hits (80), runs created (142), and power-speed #, was.

That's 14 of the 32 selections to date--not a very good success rate. As you can see the awards have been more accurate over the past five or so years, which hopefully means the iffy years of the award's early history are behind us. One thing's for certain; at least Derek Jeter will never steal another one of these awards from a more deserving player ever again.

No comments:

Post a Comment