Saturday, November 14, 2015

2015 AL Silver Sluggers Review

Cabrera copped his sixth career Silver Slugger, but did he deserve it? (PanAmerican World)
November is MLB awards season, and last week saw some hardware handed out in the form of Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers. Here is my take on the latter, and whether I thought the winners were truly deserving.

McCann bounced back after posting a career-low .692 OPS in his first year with the Yankees, leading all catchers with 26 home runs and 94 RBI and improving his OPS to .756.

In spite of his impressive power totals, I think McCann was probably the third-best hitting catcher in the American League this year. Stephen Vogt and Russell Martin both had a higher OPS, wOBA, and wRC+ than McCann in about equal playing time. They also played in less favorable parks for hitters but were better in all three rate stats.

Vogt and Martin are almost impossible to separate; Vogt got on base a little more while Martin hit for more power. When two players are so close I like to compare their road splits to help eliminate home field advantages, and by that method Vogt comes out way ahead. His numbers, not surprisingly, were severely hampered by playing in Oakland, as he had 13 homers and an .830 OPS on the road compared to five and a ,740 OPS at home. Martin, on the other hand, got a considerable boost from the Rogers Centre, where he launched 13 of his 23 homers and posted an .808 OPS compared to .768 everywhere else. So while Martin's overall numbers are slightly better, Vogt's are undoubtedly more impressive.

Cabrera had another monster year at the plate, continuing his reign as arguably the best hitter in baseball by leading the bigs in batting (.338) and the AL in OBP (.440). He also posted a .413 wOBA and 165 wRC+, tops among American League first basemen. He missed 43 games, though, so his counting numbers were his worst since his rookie year. He failed to reach 25 homers and 100 RBI for the first time since 2003, and just barely qualified for the batting crown.

His only serious competition in the AL came from Chris Davis, who crushed a major league best 47 homers to go along with 117 RBI and 322 total bases. Davis played all but two games, making up most of the ground between him and Cabrera in their rate stats (Davis hit .262/,361/.562, meaning his OPS was 51 points below Cabrera's despite Camden Yards being a much better park for hitters than Comerica). It's close, but Cabrera was so much better when he did play that I think he's the proper call.

Houston's diminutive second baseman had another big season, leading the loop in hits and steals for the second year in a row while batting .313/.353/.459 (120 wRC+). He also improved in the power department by smacking 15 home runs--more than double his previous career high--and driving in 66 runs--also a personal best. While Jason Kipnis was actually a bit better in terms of rate stats, Altuve's edge in playing time (154 games to 141 for Kipnis) and plate appearances (Altuve accumulated 48 more) is enough to make up the difference.

Altuve won his second straight Silver Slugger, topping 200 hits again (Fox Sports)
Manny Machado had a great year, but none of the third-sackers in baseball could hold a candle to the one Donaldson just had. He led the position in pretty much every meaningful statistic, a dominant showing that will likely earn him AL MVP honors over Mike Trout. Donaldson led the majors in runs (122) and the league in RBI (123), total bases (352), and extra base hits, helping Toronto end its 22-year postseason drought.

Wire-to-wire, Bogaerts was the best-hitting shortstop in the American League this year. The 22 year-old rebounded from a horrendous rookie year to bat .320/.355/.421 with 196 hits, including 35 doubles. Lots of things went wrong in Boston this year, but Bogaerts wasn't one of them.

There were two other shortstops, however--both rookies--who were much better on a per-game and per at-bat basis. Houston's Carlos Correa led all shortstops in home runs with 22 despite not making his major league debut until June 8th. And though he batted 41 points lower than Bogaerts, his OBP was nearly as strong and his slugging was over 90 points higher. So while Bogaerts played 156 games to Correa's 99, Correa nearly doubled his offensive value.

Francisco Lindor, like Correa, was also a more valuable offensive player despite appearing in just 99 games. He had almost the same average and OBP as Bogaerts while slugging 61 points higher--all while playing in a much tougher park for hitters.

I would have voted for Correa, who was clearly the best-hitting shortstop in baseball this year, but I can understand why the huge disadvantage in playing time (Bogaerts played all but six games) cost him.

OF Mike Trout
Another year, another Silver Slugger for Trout, who's won in all four of his full seasons. He was the best hitter in the American League this year, pacing the Junior Circuit in slugging, OPS, OPS+, runs created, wRC+, wOBA, total offense, and times on base. He deserves another MVP, too, but it looks like he'll go home empty-handed.

Cruz was a no-brainer after batting .302/.369/.566 (158 wRC+) with 44 homers--amazing numbers for anyone but even more incredible considering he played half his games at Safeco. Among major league outfielders, only Trout and Bryce Harper had a better wOBA, wRC+, and more offensive value.

Here's another place where I disagree. The third-best hitting outfielder in the American League was Jose Bautista, not Mr. Martinez. Their slugging percentages were within one point of each other, but Bautista's OBP was 33 points higher. Even after accounting for their ballparks, Bautista still holds a sizable edge in wRC+ (147 to 137) and wOBA (.389 to .372) in more plate appearances (666 to 657). There is no argument for Martinez over Bautista.

 Martinez received a silver bat that should have gone to Bautista (iSportsWeb)
Morales proved to be a shrewd offseason pickup for Kansas City, enjoying his best season since his 2009 breakout with 41 doubles, 22 homers, 106 RBI, a 131 wRC+ and .364 wOBA. Morales was instrumental in helping the Royals win it all, pacing the team in pretty much every major offensive category and providing much-needed punch in a small-ball lineup. For his efforts, the 32 year-old was rewarded with his first Silver Slugger following his 10th big league season.

But while he may have been the best hitter on the World Series champion Royals, Morales was nowhere near the best-hitting DH this year. David Ortiz posted an OPS some 66 points higher, supplying 37 doubles, the same number of home runs and 108 RBI. His .379 wOBA and 138 wRC+ were both markedly better than Morales's totals, too. The same held true for Edwin Encarnacion, who was actually the most productive DH this year with 39 homers, 111 RBI, a 150 wRC+, and a .392 wOBA.

Then there were a couple of players who were just as deserving as Morales. One was Alex Rodriguez, who slugged 33 homers while posting a nearly identical wRC+ (129) and wOBA (.361). He was also the more valuable offensive player according to FanGraphs, providing roughly five additional runs thanks to his superior baserunning. There was also Prince Fielder, whose numbers (23 homers, 98 RBI, .305/.378/.463) were nearly identical to those of Morales. Even after accounting for the boost Fielder received from Arlington's hitting-friendly environment, his wRC+ (124) and wOBA (.360) suggest he was about dead even with Morales.

It's clear, at least to me, that Morales won largely because of his team's success. Had he still been playing for Seattle or Minnesota, few would have noticed his fine year. After comparing his numbers to other DHs across the league, there's just no way you can conclude he was the best.

Overall, not a great year for Silver Sluggers. The coaches and managers got the easy calls right, but whiffed on a few of the tougher ones. Then again, I'm sure I looked much more extensively into this than the people who actually voted.

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