Thursday, November 6, 2014

2014 MLB Award Finalists

With no Miguel Cabrera to beat him, Trout will win AL MVP (ESPN)
The three finalists for each of the BBWAA's awards were announced the other day, with the winners to be announced next week. Here are my thoughts on and rankings of the finalists for each award.

1. Mike Trout
Duh. There's no way he doesn't win this year. Not only was he the major league leader in runs (115), total bases (338), extra base hits (84), and runs created (137) but he also paced the American League in bWAR (7.9), and RBI (111), smashed 36 home runs and stole 16 bases in 18 attempts, all while playing center field for the team with the best record in baseball. He's a lock despite having a "down" year.

2. Michael Brantley
Brantley was positively Trout-ish this year, posting tremendous numbers across the board en route to a seven win season. While he failed to lead the league in any one category, his name was all over the leaderboards. The first-time All-Star batted .327/.385/.506 (154 OPS+) with almost as many walks (52) as strikeouts (56), not to mention 45 doubles, 20 home runs, 97 RBI, and 309 total bases. He also piled up 200 hits, scored 94 runs, and swiped 23 bases against just one caught stealing. Not a great outfielder, but that can be overlooked when you produce that much offense.

3. Victor Martinez
Not sure V-Mart was one of the three most valuable players in the American League given that he was primarily a DH and is a liability on the basepaths, but he did have a fantastic year at the plate. The best pure hitter in baseball last year, Martinez led the majors in OPS at .974, had the American League's highest OBP at .409, and was the most difficult to strike out with a 13.4 AB/K ratio. The 35 year-old former catcher hit like a man ten years younger, batting a robust .335/.409/.565 (168 OPS+) with 32 home runs, 103 RBI, 317 total bases, and 67 percent more walks (70) than strikeouts (42). The batting title runner-up to Jose Altuve also finished second in slugging (to Jose Abreu), runs created (to Trout), and adjusted OPS+ (to Abreu).

1. Clayton Kershaw
Missed a month, but Pedro Martinez-esque production when he pitched makes up for lost time. Led the major leagues in almost every major pitching category and helped pitch his team to a division title with 7.5 bWAR--most in the NL.

2. Andrew McCutchen
McCutchen was a monster this year, and if he'd played the whole season I'd probably give him the nod over Kershaw. But the defending MVP missed time too (16 games), and so his counting numbers are a bit weak for an MVP with 25 homers and fewer than 90 RBI/runs. His rate stats were certainly MVP-caliber though: .314/.410/.542, giving him the best OBP in baseball as well as the league's highest OPS and OPS+. If he was an elite defensive centerfielder or made more of an impact on the bases I'd be tempted to choose him over Kershaw, but as a complete package (6.4 bWAR) he just wasn't as good.

3. Giancarlo Stanton
Pretty much everything I said about McCutchen applies to Stanton. Through no fault of his own, Stanton was drilled in the face and missed the final 17 games of the season. That didn't stop him from pacing the Senior Circuit in home runs (37), slugging percentage (.555) and total bases (299), but it was enough to effectively finish his MVP chances. At least he got the Hank Aaron award.

AL Cy Young
1. Felix Hernandez
By the slimmest of margins, King Felix deserves his second career Cy. The AL leader in ERA (2.14) and WHIP (0.92) was phenomenal in pretty much every way you can measure a pitcher, with 248 strikeouts in 236 innings and a 5.39 K/BB ratio and the lowest hit rate in the league. I've heard arguments made for Kluber because he pitches in a more neutral ballpark with a less talented defense behind him, but I'm swayed by Hernandez because his ERA, ERA+, and WHIP were all considerably better. To me, WHIP and ERA are the two-most important stats for a pitcher, and in those Felix comes out on top.

2. Corey Kluber
When you get down to it, Kluber's case is just as strong as Hernandez's. Kluber led the league in wins (18), FIP (2.35), and pitching bWAR (7.4). Usually that's good enough to win it, but Felix just barely edges him out.

3. Chris Sale
On a per-inning basis, Sale was probably the best pitcher in the American League this year. His 178 ERA+ and 10.8 K/9 rate were tops in the AL, while his 2.17 ERA and 0.97 WHIP were second. He placed third in the league in pitching bWAR with 6.6 despite completing only 174 innings because of a strained flexor muscle in his elbow forcing him to the Disabled List. That he missed more than a month and still ranked so highly among AL hurlers just goes to show how special his season was, but because of his reduced workload he must take a back seat to Hernandez and Kluber.

Kershaw has the NL Cy Young and MVP sewn up (NextImpulseSports)
NL Cy Young
1. Clayton Kershaw
If he's good enough to be MVP, he's definitely good enough to cop the Cy Young.

2. Johnny Cueto
Cueto had the most innings (243 and 2/3) and strikeouts (242) in the National League, not to mention 20 wins, a 2.25 ERA, a 0.96 WHIP, and 6.4 bWAR. Any other year he wins, but not in the year of the Kershaw.

3. Adam Wainwright
Nobody's better at coming close to, but not winning, the Cy Young than Wainwright, who is set to finish second or third for the fourth time in six years. Always amazing, he was a 20 game winner with a 2.38 ERA in 227 innings, good for 6.1 bWAR. Better luck next year, Adam.

AL Rookie
1. Jose Abreu
Should win unanimously.

2. Matt Shoemaker
Most years, Shoemaker walks home with this award no problem. The 27 year-old emerged as the Angels' second-best starter to Garrett Richards and picked up the slack when he went down with a knee injury in late August. Had Shoemaker not been shut down for the last two weeks of the season, his case would likely look even better as he was on an incredible roll at the time with seven straight wins and just seven earned runs allowed in his previous 48 and 2/3 innings. As it were, he still finished with a 16-4 record (good for the best winning percentage in the American League), 3.04 ERA in 136 innings, and a sterling 5.17 K/BB ratio.

3. Dellin Betances
Betances was about as dominant as a reliever can be, striking out 135 men in 90 innings and maintaining a 1.40 ERA across his 70 appearances. Worth 3.7 bWAR, the All-Star setup man also had a 0.78 WHIP, 5.63 K/BB ratio, 277 ERA+ and a 1.64 FIP. Not surprisingly, his record was a perfect 5-0.

NL Rookie
1. Jacob deGrom
In baseball, as in life, timing is everything. If deGrom debuted last year with the likes of Yasiel Puig, Jose Fernandez, and Julio Teheran, nobody would have noticed him. But because the rookie class was so weak this year, and because they have to give the award to someone, deGrom's the guy. He pitched well in his 22 starts, averaging more than a strikeout per inning and keeping his walk and homer rates down. So while his 2.69 ERA (130 ERA+) looks great, it looks even better backed up by a 2.67 FIP.

2. Billy Hamilton
Were it not for the late-season emergence of deGrom, Hamilton would have won the trophy by default. Cincinnati's speedy leadoff man and center fielder played exceptional defense but struggled at the plate, batting just .255/.292/.355 with 117 strikeouts against just 34 walks (more than three K's per free pass). A terror on the basepaths, he did steal 56 bases, second only to Dee Gordon, but was thrown out 23 times--more than anyone else in baseball. All in all he was a servicable regular worth in the neighborhood of three WAR due to his baserunning and plus defense at a premium position. The 24 year-old is not a leadoff hitter, though, and is likely too flawed at the plate to avoid becoming anything other than a rich man's Jackie Bradley, Jr or a homeless man's Jose Reyes.

3. Kolten Wong
That Wong was one of the three best rookies in the National League this year says a lot about how weak that rookie class was. He hit marginally better than Hamilton (.249/.292/.388), but that's not saying much, and was only okay at second base. He ran the bases well, going 20 for 24 in stolen base attempts, and showed a dash of power with 12 home runs in 402 official at-bats. Still just 24, Wong (like Hamilton) has room to improve and will look to build upon a promising but underwhelming rookie year.

AL Manager
1. Buck Showalter
Nobody, and I mean nobody, gave the Orioles a chance to win the AL East. Showalter squeezed the most out of a team that lost Matt Wieters and Manny Machado for much of the season, got next to nothing out of Chris Davis, and received minimal offensive production from its double play combo. That team won 96 games; at full strength they easily win over 100.

2. Mike Scoscia
The Angels had the best record in baseball, but then they also had Trout, Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols, Jered Weaver, and C.J. Wilson. LA overachieved everyone's expectations this year, but they wildly underachieved last year (and the year before that, too). Not quite sure where Scoscia fits into all of this.

3. Ned Yost
(Trying not to laugh...)

NL Manager
1. Bruce Bochy
Led an 86-loss team in 2013 back to the playoffs despite continued ineffectiveness from Tim Lincecum and injuries to Matt Cain and a host of regulars, including Angel Pagan, Brandon Belt, and Mike Morse. That he guided them all the way to the World Series title, while unknown at the time ballots were cast, makes this feat even more impressive.

2. Clint Hurdle
Hurdle led a Pirates team ripe for regression back to the playoffs, which I have to admit I did not see coming. But seeing as how he won last year and his team dropped six games in the standings, there's zero chance he repeats this year.

3. Matt Williams
Inherited a ridiculously talented team that under-performed in 2013. To run away with a weak division all they had to do was play up to their true talent level, and that's exactly what happened. Don't see why a push-button manager like Williams should get much credit for that.

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