Toronto Blue Jays Sign Russell Martin, Zach Duke Goes to the Chicago White Sox

Toronto Blue Jays Sign Russell Martin, Zach Duke Goes to the Chicago White Sox

For my thoughts on the Jason Heyward trade, click here!

It was recently announced that Russell Martin signed a 5-year, $82 million deal to return to his home country of Canada and play for the Toronto Blue Jays.

I was surprised when I heard about the deal. It was one more year than I thought he’d get, and I didn’t think that the Blue Jays would be interested enough to spend that kind of money. It’s essentially the Brian McCann deal. The big difference is that McCann was signed to be an offensive catcher, while Martin was signed to be a defensive catcher. Coincidentally, they’re both excellent pitch framers.

If the Blue Jays think they’re getting 2014 Martin, then they’re going to be disappointed. Last season, Martin hit .290/.402/.430 with a 140 wRC+, albeit in only 111 games. That’s the highest wRC+ of his career and his OBP hasn’t even been above .350 since 2009. It was all the result of an unsustainably high .336 BABIP. If Martin was a true talent .400 OBP player, that combined with his defensive proficiencies would make him worth twice what he’s getting paid. Seriously. Steamer has him projected as a .242/.341/.405 hitter with a 111 wRC+.  An above average offensive catcher with Martin’s excellent defense, which I’m about to get in to, make him well worth the money1, though I doubt he gets that money if he wasn’t coming off a career season.

The bulk of Martin’s value is in his defense at the most valuable position on the field. He’s good at blocking balls in the dirt, and he has used his plus arm combined with an excellent pop time2 to throw out about 40% of the runners trying to steal the past two seasons. Martin is also an elite pitch framer. How much credit a catcher gets for that is up for debate3, but the fact of the matter is that he’s one of the best at it. I’m fascinated to see if he can work his pitch framing magic with knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.

Martin also brings value to the table in more unquantifiable ways. He excels at calling games. On top of that, he also has a great reputation for working with pitchers. The Blue Jays have a great crop of young pitchers in Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Drew Hutchison, and Daniel Norris. I’m sure their development will benefit from working with Martin.

This leaves Dioner Navarro as the odd man out. He’s overqualified to be a back-up, so he now becomes trade bait. Last season, Navarro was a solid, league average catcher with a 98 wRC+ and 2.3 WAR. He’s also projected to stay that way in 2015, according to Steamer. There are a number of teams who would be very interested in an all-around league average catcher making only $5 million next season. The Blue Jays have holes on the field that they need to address, and trading Navarro could be an effective way to address those issues.

The biggest risk with this deal is that it’s signing Martin for his age 32-36 seasons. Obviously, old catchers are high risk, and Martin does have an injury history. If he’s forced to move to another position, he’ll be worth less than half of what he’ll be paid. However, he’s a good enough athlete that I’m cautiously optimistic he won’t break down. As of now, not only is his $16.4 million annual salary fair, one could make the argument that it’s actually cheap for an excellent defensive catcher with an above average bat and elite pitch framing capabilities. Well done by the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Chicago White Sox have signed left-handed relief pitcher Zach Duke to a 3-year, $15 million deal.

Even though it’s a relatively low AAV, I don’t like this deal. It’s incredibly risky to give more than two years to a relief pitcher who isn’t elite. Take a look at Jonathan Broxton and Brandon League as some recent examples.

Last season, Broxton signed a 3-year, $21 million deal with the Cincinnati Reds. He was terrible in 2013, and worth only 0.5 WAR in 2014. The success he had this past season, a 2.30 ERA and 3.37 FIP, were the results of a flukishly low .234 BABIP. Furthermore, his 83 LOB% is likely to be unsustainable given his league average strikeout rate. Broxton also enjoyed a HR/FB of 5.7%, which was 2% below his career rate. Steamer knows all of this, and is projecting regression to the mean. It projects him to have a 3.72 ERA and 3.79 FIP in 2015. That’s replacement level for a reliever. If that holds to be true, the Reds will have paid Broxton $21 million for roughly 0 WAR.

And Brandon League, oh boy, Brandon League. In 2013, League signed a 3-year, $22.5 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodger that includes a $8.5 million vesting option for 2016. For that option to vest, League will have to finish 55 games in 2015, which is something I can’t believe the Dodgers will allow to happen. League lasted barely more than a month as the closer. He finished 2013 with an awful 11.2 K%, 5.30 ERA, 4.93 FIP, and -0.9 WAR. It may look like he bounced back in 2014, but he really didn’t. His 13.9 K% was marginally better. However, his 2.57 ERA and 3.40 FIP, which certainly look good on the surface, were the results of some tremendous luck. League benefitted from a 0% HR/FB, even though he didn’t allow that many less fly balls than the year before. Literally not one fly ball he allowed ended up leaving the yard. His career HR/FB going into 2014 was 13.4%. A 0% HR/FB is an obscene amount of good luck. If we go by xFIP, which corrects for fluky HR/FB rates, League comes in at 4.09. That’s pretty much exactly the same as his 4.07 xFIP in 2013.

League is projected to have a 3.89 ERA, 3.77 FIP, and -0.2 WAR in 2015. If that pans out, the Dodgers will have paid $22.5 million to a sub-replacement level player.

These are just a couple of examples that I pulled just to illustrate the folly of signing a non-elite reliever to more than two years.

Duke can thank a career year for his new contract. This past season, Duke had a 2.45 ERA, a 2.14 FIP, and 1.3 WAR. What’s truly astounding is that he struck out 31.1% of the hitters he faced, which is almost three times his career strikeout rate. On the surface, there are no obvious reasons as to how he achieved such a stratospheric rise in his strikeout rate. I mean really, how on earth did a pitcher with a fringe average fastball and no apparent out pitch accomplish such a feat? I checked out his player page at Brooks Baseball to see if I could find any answers. Nothing much changed with regard to the velocity and movement of his pitches. I did find a change in his pitch usage. Duke started relying more heavily on his curveball and less so on his four-seam fastball. That doesn’t explain his success this past season, though.

What really jumped out at me is when I checked out the table for the vertical movements for his pitches. His sinker (aka two-seamer) developed way more sink to it this season. According to the data, Duke’s sinker has as much vertical movement as Masahiro Tanaka’s splitter! This is from Duke’s Landing Page:

“His sinker generates an extremely high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers’ sinkers, has heavy sinking action, is a real worm killer that generates an extreme number of groundballs compared to other pitchers’ sinkers and has slight armside run.”

It appears that Duke found a new grip or some kind of adjustment in order to greatly improve his sinker. A two-seam fastball with that kind of drop to it would drive hitters crazy. It seems crazy, so I’m somewhat skeptical, but it would go a long way towards explaining Duke’s success in 2014. We’ll see if he can keep up the high strikeout and groundball rates in 2015.

Steamer projects that Duke will regress in 2015, but if his performance last season is indicative of some real changes that he’s made, then those projections are unreliable. I’m very interested in seeing what the outcome will be!

If 2014 represents the new Zach Duke, then this is a good deal for the White Sox. No doubt that their scouts believe that Duke has changed. For now, given the long history of reliever volatility, I’m not optimistic.

  1. Fun fact: Martin actually has the same career WAR as Yadier Molina, despite having played in two less seasons! Surprising, huh? 
  2. Pop time is the time between when you hear the “pop” of the ball hitting the catcher’s glove and the pop of the ball hitting the 2nd baseman’s glove. A good catcher will do this in under 2 seconds. 
  3. I still think it’s weird that we laud catchers for a skill that basically makes fools out of the home plate umpires. I do like that it essentially proves that umpires are just guessing behind the plate. 
Atlanta Braves Trade Jason Heyward to St. Louis Cardinals for Shelby Miller

Atlanta Braves Trade Jason Heyward to St. Louis Cardinals for Shelby Miller

Yesterday, it was announced that the Atlanta Braves traded Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins.

When I first found out about the trade, I had assumed that the Cardinals came out on top because, you know, they’re the Cardinals. After evaluating the trade further, I found that the transaction works out well for both sides.

Obviously, the big name moved was Jason Heyward. My immediate reaction was one of incredulity. Why would the Braves move a player with MVP level potential, especially given their offensive woes last season? Well, the fact of the matter is after five seasons, he has yet to reach that potential. Besides struggling with injuries, part of the reason for his disappointing bat is the lack of a decent hitting coach. Even if the Braves finally were finally able to unlock his true potential next season, it would be just in time for him to hit free agency. Because of former GM Frank Wren burdening the team with multiple long-term deals, especially the disastrous B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla contracts, and the lack of a decent TV deal, the Braves just aren’t in a position to give Heyward a market value contract even if he doesn’t breakthrough. Getting the most value from him in the trade market was the right move for a player they were likely to lose anyway.

Heyward is by no means a scrub at the plate. He just hasn’t been what we thought he’d be. He had an excellent rookie season, hitting .277/.393/.456 with a 134 wRC+, but has gone downhill since then. In the years combined after his rookie season, Heyward has hit .258/.340/.422 with a 112 wRC+. His lack of power is especially disappointing. Last season he only slugged .384. The bright side is that Steamer projects him to bounce back with a .270/.354/.446 line and a 127 wRC+. Of course, that doesn’t factor in any of the tinkering that the Cardinals will do with him.

Despite his offensive shortcomings, Heyward has been able to deliver value as a result of his elite defense in right field. This past season, he turned in his highest WAR at 6.3, thanks largely to his fielding. In his career, he has had a whopping 98 DRS and 73.7 UZR! Going by the eye test, his speed, instincts, and good reads give him incredible range. He also has a plus arm which has thrown out 33 baserunners in his career.

If Heyward can just put it all together at the plate, he’d be an 80 player. As of now, he’s more like a 60, which is still great. I’m still holding out hope that he turns into the right field version of Carlos Gómez.

With Heyward gone, the Braves will be playing Evan Gattis full-time in left field now. It is impossible to adequately describe how much of a defensive downgrade that is. However, it’s best to get him out from behind the plate, not just because he’s a below average catcher, but because Christian Bethancourt needs to play full-time if he’s going to develop. He’s an elite defensive catcher but he just can’t hit. He needs regular playing time if that’s going to change. The good news is that he doesn’t need to hit much since he brings so much defensive value to the table, but .248/.274/.274 isn’t going to cut it.

Heyward’s departure also weakens an already weak offense. This past season, the Braves ranked a lowly 12th in the NL in wOBA. Right now the Braves only have two good sources for OBP: Freddie Freeman and Justin Upton. If they want to compete next season, they’re going to have to make some moves to get more players who can get on base at an above average clip.

With the tragic, untimely death of Oscar Taveras, the Cardinals did a great job filling the need they had in right field. It may only be for one year, but they have every reason to be all in right now.

I’m not high on Shelby Miller right now, but he has potential. Miller just came off a disappointing season. His 3.84 RA9 is fine, but his 4.54 FIP, not so much. He also posted sub-par strikeout and walk rates of 16.6 K% and 9.6 BB%. Fangraphs has him at replacement level this past season and Steamer projects for him to stay that way in 2015. However, he did finish the season strong.

All that being said, in his write-up of the trade evaluation, Keith Law used his scouting eye to give Miller a favorable projection going forward. It would be inappropriate for me to go in to detail, as that content is behind a paywall, suffice it to say that the Braves acquired four cost-controlled years of a potential 2-3 WAR pitcher. Scouting matters! That’s a great return for a reliever and one year of a position player.

I don’t have much to say about the other players in the deal. Jordan Walden is a solid reliever who will probably get better given the Cardinals history of excellent pitcher development. Tyrell Jenkins, a starting pitcher, is a top 100 prospect who just came off of a great performance in the Arizona Fall League. He’s exactly the kind of player that the Braves need to bolster a weak rotation, though he won’t be ready in 2015.

All in all, the trade works out well for both sides. The Cardinals bolster their 2015 roster in order to continue to contend. Even if they don’t intend to keep Heyward, they can still extend him a qualifying offer. The Braves, on the other hand, extracted value from a departing asset and strengthened their starting rotation with cost controlled talent. However, they’re going to have to do more if they want to contend in 2015.

Víctor Martínez Signs 4-year, $70 million Deal with the Detroit Tigers, and Comes 2nd in MVP

After turning in a career year at just the right time, Víctor Martínez has re-upped with the Detroit Tigers. The team, realizing that their window is closing, decided that it was in their best interests to re-sign the aging designated hitter.

Had Martínez not had the best season of his career, he might not have been brought back. This past season, he hit.335/.409/.565 with a 166 wRC+ and 5.3 WAR. His OBP and .411 wOBA were the highest in the AL. He was also the toughest player to strikeout. His 6.6 K% was the lowest in all of baseball. Simply put, he was the best hitter in the majors this year. He outperformed even the 90th percentile projections according to PECOTA, so it’s probably safe to say that he won’t be repeating that performance. Steamer projections have him at .309/.379/.486 with a 139 wRC+ for 2015. That’s still great, even for a DH, and would certainly be worth the $17.5 million he’ll be making.

So besides age, why can we expect V-Mart to take a step backwards? Well, like I said before, he grossly outperformed his projections, so it’s reasonable to expect some regression to the mean. However, the biggest hit he is expected to take is in his power. Martínez is an 80 hitter right now, but despite having hit 32 home runs in 2014, he doesn’t have that kind of power. Those home runs were the result of a flukishly high 16% HR/FB rate. In fact, Tucker Blair at Baseball Prospectus rated him at having only 55 power. He’s just such a good hitter that he makes the most of it.

Going into his age 36 season, V-Mart will probably only be effective for the first two years of the deal, and I bet that the Tigers know that. The thing is, their window is closing fast. They’re already likely to lose Max Scherzer, and David Price only has one more year left on his contract. Justin Verlander is a shadow of his former self and still has $140 million left on his contract. Miguel Cabrera has been fighting some serious injuries for well over a year now and he hasn’t even started his albatross of a $248 million extension. He’s still great, but probably won’t be after 2 or 3 years. Worse still, the Tigers don’t have any cheap talent coming in through the system, as they have one of the worst farm systems in baseball. They’re going to be the current Philadelphia Phillies in a few years, only with a far more competent front office.

Martínez is an elite hitter, but he’s old, has no positional value, and is possibly the worst baserunner in the game. On another team, I might not like this signing. However, given where the Tigers are right now, it’s ok, not great, but ok. Might as well go all in when you can.

Moving on to his runner-up finish in the MVP voting, I was disturbed by how well he did in the voting. As you may be aware, he didn’t even make my 10-man ballot. The argument can be made that me merited some down ballot votes, but 2nd place? The voters finally get the AL MVP award right after getting it wrong for three straight years, but still have shown a lack of understanding of what value is.

V-Mart was the best hitter in baseball this year, but he’s a DH. It’s not that there’s a “penalty” to being a DH. The thing is that it’s a position that literally any player can play. There’s no value in it. José Abreu plays the least valuable position on the field poorly, but he came in 9th on my ballot because there’s still value in fielding a position, even if it isn’t fielded well. As a result, the offensive bar for DH is incredibly high. If Martínez had 50 more points or so of wOBA, then putting him 2nd or 3rd on the ballot would’ve been more reasonable. Fifty more points of wOBA is a lot of offense. To top it all off, he runs like he’s carrying Miguel Cabrera on his back. That’s just way too much positional, defensive, and baserunning value that he leaves on the table.

If you take another look at my fake AL MVP ballot, you’ll find that all the position players on there, with the exception of Abreu, provide plenty of defensive value and are at least league average runners. Abreu himself just barely provided enough positional value to make it on to my ballot. That’s just way too much for V-Mart’s excellent bat to overcome all by itself.

Even though they rightfully gave the award to Mike Trout, and unanimously at that, the voters still have not demonstrated that they’re progressing. Trout likely won for the wrong reasons. The voters likely saw his RBI and HR totals from a center fielder who bats second in the order on a winning team, and voted for him because of that. Bad process, good results. That flawed methodology does not lead me to be optimistic that the BBWAA is learning anything yet. V-Mart’s second place finish shows that the voters are just turning their brains off and voting for the shiny offensive statistics, including the outdated ones. We’ll see how they continue to do in years to come.

My Stupid New York Mets Make Another Stupid Move. I Swear They’re Trying to Kill Me.

My Stupid New York Mets Make Another Stupid Move. I Swear They’re Trying to Kill Me.

For once, I’m going to be less of an analyst and more of a fan for this post.

I am at a loss for words at the asinine, incomprehensible stupidity behind my New York Mets signing Michael Cuddyer to a 2-year, $21 million contract. How on earth do you defend this, Sandy Alderson?

Cuddyer is going into his age 36 season. Besides being old, he can’t run, he can’t field, he’s injury prone, and his offensive numbers from the last couple of seasons are significantly inflated from playing in Coors Field. Believe it or not, I don’t think his .382 BABIP in 2013 and .351 BABIP in 2014 are going to continue in 2015, especially in spacious Citi Field. Dan Szymborski ran Cuddyer through his Zips projection system for the next two seasons and it spit out the following:

The “+” column stand for wRC+ and the WAR is from Fangraphs. He projects to play only half of his games. This upcoming season, Cuddyer projects to be a league average player overall, but roughly replacement level for 2016. Now I’m not a big fan of the WAR/$ models out there because they’re oversimplified, but $21 million for 1.3 WAR is a terrible value.

The Mets have been a notoriously cheap team under the Wilpon ownership, despite playing in arguably the biggest market in the country. It drives me crazy. When you’re operating on a budget, the opportunity cost is too high to allow flushing $21 million down the toilet. That’s money that could’ve gone towards making a move that might’ve actually helped the team. This is the kind of move I expect from Ruben Amaro Jr., not Sandy Alderson.

Some have speculated that the move was made in order to make David Wright happy because he and Cuddyer are good friends. I sincerely hope that the Mets front office isn’t that insane, but they don’t have a good enough track record to convince me otherwise. As somebody who has a mancrush on David Wright and who would go to great lengths to make him happy, I still think that’s an insanely illogical, nonsensical reason to make this move. That’s no way to build a team. I guarantee you that Wright didn’t struggle at the plate last year because he was lonely.

Personally, I think they made this move because Cuddyer has some star power. He did win the batting title in 2013, after all, as if Coors Field and BABIP luck didn’t have everything to do with that. The Wilpons have shown in recent years that they’re more interested in putting butts in seats than they are in doing what is necessary to field a winning team.

All this and I didn’t even get to the worst part. Since the Rockies made a qualifying offer to Cuddyer, the Mets HAVE TO FORFEIT THEIR 15TH OVERALL PICK IN THE DRAFT!!! FOR MICHAEL CUDDYER! AAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! @#$, !@#$, qap983urpnqiw347vhnp8a9pw34 v87apw89 uaioweunptioesut s

f asei apnesi n9i43upc894fh8e4pav9 n485=90qv34ut9rjm[ og vni[tn=34u394tmiesozgn [e9u4[0 tqu[349tu q[349 tuq[34

ase fase 0823yr0b8v10w389unv-a90w3n 8yrncpw3u89n5v p89vn90w4nab[597n[w39 n5[w93jmjm;kdgjnklrjdhmc94un-q6 u34n

Sorry, blood started pouring out my nose and my brain short-circuited. I’m ok, I think. I wish that I had a basement so I could go down there and scream and vent my frustrations. My wife broke the news to me while I was driving and it made me want to drive into a tree.

Forget the $21 million, I wouldn’t give up the 15th overall pick for Michael Cuddyer if he offered to play for free.

This signing is completely indefensible. It demonstrates a catastrophic lack of understanding of how to evaluate players and their value. With the right moves made from our incredible starting pitching depth, the Mets front office could’ve fielded a competitive team for 2015. It’s certainly not too late, but this signing torpedoes any faith I have in the organization to make those right moves.

I’m going to go to bed and hope I wake up tomorrow morning realizing this was all some terrible dream. At least Jacob DeGrom won Rookie of the Year. So there’s that at least.

MLB Announces Gold Glove Winners

MLB Announces Gold Glove Winners

The Gold Glove award winners were recently announced. The results can be found here, along with a discussion by Doug Glanville and the criminally underrated Mark Simon1.

Let me start off by being perfectly clear about the Gold Glove award: It’s the worst award in baseball and they don’t matter. The process behind selecting the award winners has been awful. Coaches and managers vote on it, and though they’re very qualified to assess fielding, they frequently vote based on reputation and, ironically, offensive production. Coaching staffs have too much on their plate in order to give the award the attention it deserves.

It drives me crazy when people cite Gold Gloves won in defense of a player’s fielding2. It’s meaningless. There are countless deserving players who have been snubbed throughout the years as well as countless undeserving winners. Even casual baseball fans should know better by now.

Starting last year, they finally started to improve the process. They introduced analytics into the selection process. Although defensive metrics are far from perfect, especially in single season samples, I’m all for reducing subjectivity. While I have my complaints, this year’s and last year’s winners have been the best crop of winners in as long as I can remember.

Unlike with other awards, I chose not to make selections for the Gold Glove award. In order for me to make picks that I would be proud of, I’d want to watch a fair amount of footage of the candidates fielding their positions. What would make it especially difficult is the fact that TV footage doesn’t show where the player was positioned, or sometimes even the jump they get on the ball. Even if I had the time and energy for such an undertaking, I probably don’t have access to the footage that would allow me to make the best choices. The defensive metrics just aren’t advanced enough to rely on solely. All that being said doesn’t mean I can’t criticize some of the outcomes.

Let me start off with the positive. Like I mentioned before, overall this was a good batch of winners. I was especially pleased with DJ LeMahieu’s selection. Normally, players who can’t hit don’t win the award, which of course is asinine. Believe me, LeMahieu can’t hit, which looks especially bad given that he plays in Coors Field. He has a career .292 wOBA, which doesn’t look too, too bad until you remember where he plays. When you look at his wRC+, which corrects for ballpark effects, he comes in at a miserable 69 wRC+. It’s because of his defense that he’s been able to stay above replacement level. It’s refreshing to see a no-offense, all-glove player win the award. That’s progress.

Speaking of no-offense, all-glove players, Jackie Bradley Jr. got robbed. Like LeMahieu, Bradley can’t hit. He hit for a paltry .243 wOBA and has no power whatsoever. With all due respect to Adam Eaton, Bradley was easily the best defensive center fielder in the American League. Why lack of offense mattered with Bradley but not with LeMahieu is beyond me.

Why am I so sure that offense is what cost Bradley? Because Adam Jones won. The difference between those two defensively is as sizable as the difference between those two offensively. I’ve never understood why Jones wins any Gold Gloves. He has a career -15 DRS and -18 UZR. Out of the 28 qualified center fielders who have logged at least 4000 innings since 2006, Jones’ first year, he ranks 20th in DRS and 21st in UZR. That’s not a Gold Glover. That’s not even average. Going by the eye test, Jones does have a good arm but bad reads on balls significantly affects his range. He also has his fair share of misplays, which factors into his DRS, even though a lot of them don’t get charged as errors.

There are a number of center fielders that I would put above Jones defensively: Bradley, Adam Eaton, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Trout, Colby Rasmus, Leonys Martín, Desmond Jennings, and Michael Bourne. I just don’t get it. Perhaps his athleticism fools people into thinking that he’s better than he really is?

While I would argue that the biggest snub in the AL is Bradley, I think we can all agree that the biggest snub in the NL is Jonathan Lucroy. I love Yadier Molina, and he’s still an excellent catcher, but he won purely by reputation. Right off the bat, Lucroy played 153 games to Molina’s 110. That right there is a big red flag. Although I was hesitant to assess Lucroy’s pitch framing abilities in the context of the MVP, I have no problem comparing those skills to other catchers. Factoring that in along with the extra games played over Molina makes him the easy choice. The voters mailed this one in.

Speaking of missing time, Nolan Arenado was also an odd choice. He only played in 111 games. I wanted to be a homer and say that David Wright was the correct choice, but he also missed some time due to injury. I’d say that Anthony Rendon should’ve won. Perhaps somebody could make the argument that Wright was good enough to overcome the 19 game difference between the two. It’s possible, but perhaps my bias is getting in the way. I love David Wright.

While we’re on the topic of 3rd basemen, Josh Donaldson’s omission was also odd. To be fair, I’ve never taken a good look at Kyle Seager play 3rd base, but I have a hard time believing he’s better than Donaldson. He had 20 DRS to Seager’s 10, and 15.5 UZR to Seager’s 10.6. It’s a shame, because this was Donaldson’s big chance to come away with the award. He’d have more opportunities if he was in the NL, but in the AL he’s going to have to start competing with Brooks Robinson Manny Machado again. Machado is likely to be an autofill at 3rd base for years to come. He had 4.3 dWAR last year! His range is incredible and he complements that with an 80 arm. He arguably has the best arm of any position player in baseball.

Another autofill for years to come is the incomparable Andrelton Simmons. Not only will he be an autofill for the Gold Glove, he’ll also be an autofill for the Platinum Glove, which is awarded to the best overall defender in each league. Listen my fellow Mets fans, I love Juan Lagares as much as you do, but Simmons is better at shortstop than Lagares is at center field. It’s going to be a very long time before somebody comes along that can dethrone Simmons. He will have to have aged enough that his defense is no longer elite. That’s going to take a while because he’s only 25 years old.

Finally, I was disturbed that Miguel Cabrera was a finalist. I was pleasantly surprised that he performed better than I thought he would moving back to 1st base. He really wasn’t that bad, which is a big compliment given the injuries he struggled with this year. But Gold Glove level? C’mon. There are several players I could name just off the top of my head who field the position better than Cabrera in the AL. He clearly didn’t become a finalist based on his reputation, so how did this happen? Those stupid error and fielding percentage stats. Cabrera committed only 5 errors and had the third highest fielding percentage among AL 1st basemen.

The error has been an outdated method for evaluating defense for a good 100 years. Seriously. It evolved during a time when it was common for teams to commit several errors per game. Obviously, that’s not the case anymore. Errors don’t account for for the balls that the player can’t get to, and let’s face it, there’s a lot of subjectivity involved with assigning them. That’s a big reason why I’m going to start using RA9 instead of ERA in the future.

Back to Cabrera, he had only 5 errors this season, half as much as the guy who actually won the award, Eric Hosmer. However, like with Bradley and Jones, the difference between those two defensively is the same as the difference offensively. The Gold Glove process is improving, but they really need to learn to discard the error and fielding percentage stats.

There are a separate set of defensive awards that are not endorsed by MLB called the Fielding Bible, of which Mark Simon participates in. Unlike with the Gold Gloves, they don’t make selections for each league. All of MLB is considered for one player at each position, which also includes a multi-position player. The results are here, and I have to say that they nailed it. How the winners are selected and what goes into the process are all found within that website. Although I would prefer separate NL and AL selections, the Fielding Bible does a much better job than the Gold Gloves.

Again, overall this was a good group of award winners, some objections not withstanding.


  1. Simon was part of the legendary Baseball Today podcast as the guest on Mondays and Fridays. He writes analytical pieces on the Mets for, as well as being a contributor for the site’s Sweetspot blog. I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting him a couple of times. He’s a great, humble, down-to-earth guy. He’s a gem of a writer and ESPN needs to feature him more. 
  2. Deluded Yankee fans like to defend Derek Jeter’s defense by citing his five Gold Gloves. I actually see that as one of the biggest indictments against the award. 
Year-End Awards: MVP

Year-End Awards: MVP

Now for the real MVP picks! I highly recommend reading about my fake MVP picks here, and my explanation for doing so here.

Also, feel free to to check out my picks for relievers and rookies, as well as my Cy Young picks.


My MVP picks are simply the top ten players in each league this season. I assess players solely by what can be objectively proven and evaluated, completely independent of team performance. That’s the only logical, fair way to do it. If you want to throw in narratives, soft factors, and basically anything that’s unprovable, then you can make an argument for literally any player.

Like in my previous awards columns, you can click on the ballot in order to take you to a Fangraphs page with a table of all my selections so you can compare them yourself. Since there are both pitchers and hitters on the ballot, you’ll have to click on the “Batting” and “Pitching” buttons to switch back and forth. WAR values for pitchers will still be from Fangraphs. Position players will be from Baseball Reference. The reason for that being that I prefer Defensive Runs Saved to Ultimate Zone Rating when evaluating defense. I also find it helpful that Baseball Reference offers the offensive and defensive splits for WAR. The defensive component can be a little shaky, so it’s useful to be able to see how it’s gauging the player’s fielding.

NL MVP: Clayton Kershaw

  1. Clayton Kershaw
  2. Andrew McCutchen
  3. Giancarlo Stanton
  4. Jonathan Lucroy
  5. Anthony Rendon
  6. Carlos Gómez
  7. Buster Posey
  8. Yasiel Puig
  9. Anthony Rizzo
  10. Jordan Zimmerman

No, you haven’t accidentally clicked on my Cy Young picks. Clayton Kershaw is not only the world’s greatest pitcher, he was the best overall player in the National League this season.

There are some misguided people out there who believe that pitchers should not be considered for the MVP award since they have their own award. Well, the rules say that they’re eligible, so you have to consider them. You can’t change the rules. On top of all that, value is value anyway.

A popular argument against pitchers is that they only affect 1 out of every 5 games, while a position player affects every game. That argument just doesn’t work. This past season, McCutchen had 648 PA, Stanton 638 PA, and Lucroy 655 PA. The most plate appearances any hitter had this season was Ian Kinsler at 726. Kershaw faced 749 batters. Pitchers may only affect 1 out of every 5 games, but they affect those games far more than a position player does.

Now you may be thinking that this argument omits position player defense and baserunning. You’re right, it does, and that’s part of why it’s difficult to for the best pitcher to be better than the best position player. The last time that a pitcher truly deserved to win the MVP was Pedro Martínez in 1999. Of course he didn’t win because some idiot voter left him off his ballot. Justin Verlander won in 2011, but he didn’t deserve to. Jacoby Ellsbury deserved that award. He probably would’ve won the award had it not been for the Red Sox epic collapse in September, as if that was all Ellsbury’s fault.

Kershaw’s performance this season was so dominant that it overcame the fact that he doesn’t provide any defensive or baserunning value, which is saying a lot considering that McCutchen, Stanton, and Lucroy are all good at fielding their respective positions. The highest WAR on that whole ballot is Lucroy at 6.71. If you include what Kershaw did at bat, he had a 7.7 WAR. Kershaw did enjoy some luck in deserving this award. McCutchen and Stanton missed some time this season, and Troy Tulowitzki was out half the season.

Clayton Kershaw had a 1.91 RA9, 1.81 FIP, 31.9 K%, and 4.1 BB%, all of which was good for 7.7 WAR when factoring in his hitting. Unreal. ESPN’s David Schoenfield ranked Kershaw’s season as the 15th best in the past 50 years. You have to wonder if he would’ve cracked the top ten had he pitched the entire season.

Putting McCutchen over Stanton was easy. McCutchen provided more offense with a 168 wRC+, while Stanton came in a little behind at 159 wRC+. McCutchen is also the better baserunner and plays a more valuable position. He’s clearly the better choice over Stanton. McCutchen may very well win the award since the voters are as progressive as a glacier. It should also be noted that Stanton led the NL with a 14.7 BB%

Lucroy was incredibly difficult to place on the ballot. It all depends how much credit you want to give his incredible pitch framing skills. Rob Neyer and Dave Cameron have written some insightful articles exploring this topic. It all comes down to how much credit you want to give the pitcher for knowing that his catcher can frame his pitches, and having the command to hit those spots. Simply put, catcher framing isn’t all on the catcher. I decided that a 133 wRC+, good defensive catcher is worth putting fourth on my ballot. He may deserve to go higher as a result of his framing skills, but until somebody develops a methodology to evaluate how much of that is attributed to the catcher, I can’t fairly evaluate it. There’s just too much subjectivity involved for now.

Anthony Rendon is such a good baseball player. In his first full season in the majors, Rendon hit .287/.351/.473 with a 130 wRC+ and 6.5 WAR. Seeing as he’s just 24 years old, is his best yet to come? He’s already a very good hitter, baserunner, and an excellent defensive 3rd baseman. I put him below Lucroy since he plays the more valuable position.

The next three selections were incredibly difficult to differentiate. I’m sure that there are perfectly good arguments that can be made to rearrange the 5-7 slots on my ballot.

I put Rendon over Gómez by a hair, and I don’t feel great about it. They had roughly the same wRC+. One could easily make the argument that Gómez should be above Rendon as a result of him being an 80 defender in center field2. I wouldn’t argue against anybody who said that. Center field and 3rd base are of comparable value, and I believe that Rendon provided more defensive value than Gómez did, most likely because he was fortunate enough to have more opportunities to do so. It’s a really tough call. I am more comfortable citing that Rendon was significantly better as a baserunner.

Before I get to Buster Posey, I just want to point out that he didn’t make the All-Star game. I really hope next year when Rob Manfred takes over as commissioner, that he revises the process that selects players to the All-Star game. I’m sure he won’t, but I hope he does. I do have some suggestions of my own.

Posey had a 144 wRC+, which is higher than that of Rendon or Gómez, and at a more valuable position as well. So why did I put Posey below those two? Posey only started at catcher for 109 games and played 1st base for the rest where the offensive standard is much higher.  It’s not uncommon for catchers to start behind the plate for only 2/3 of their games. Posey is only okay defensively, while Rendon and Gómez are outstanding. He has been shown to be a good pitch framer, but as I mentioned before, we don’t have an effective method to evaluate it yet.

Ah, Yasiel Puig, the player who provides lots of false narratives for the media. His power numbers were down from last season and he got on base a little less. That resulted in his 160 wRC+ from last year dipping down to a 145 wRC+. That’s still a great offensive season, and the good news is that the Steamer projection system has him being the same player next year. Although he’s prone to making mistakes, he’s still a very good right fielder with a cannon for an arm. I ranked him where I did because Rendon, Gómez, and Posey had more than enough defensive value to overcome Puig’s offensive edge.

Anthony Rizzo enjoyed a breakout season in 2014. He turned himself from a league average hitter in 2013 to a 153 wRC+ hitter in 2014. Before this season, Rizzo was constantly messing with his swing and his approach at the plate. I’m sure it drove scouts and his coaches crazy. Obviously, he finally settled in on something that works. Some people are anointing him as the new Joey Votto, but I think that’s a little premature. This season his walk rate was 11.9% and he had a .386 OBP. Those are excellent numbers to be sure, but I want to see him something along the line of 17 BB% and >.420 OBP before I’m comfortable making that claim. He is a great player the way he is, however.

Putting Rizzo below the other four players above him came down to him being a first baseman. He was better offensively than those four players, but it wasn’t enough of an offensive edge to overcome the fact that the others played more valuable positions and played them well.

Jordan Zimmermann took the final spot on my ballot because I believe he had a better season then some of the position players left such as Jhonny Peralta and Jason Werth. It’s difficult to compare pitchers to hitters, but this is one of the strengths of WAR. According to Fangraphs, Zimmermann was worth 5.2 WAR. Baseball Reference has Peralta at 5.8 WAR and Werth at 4.0 WAR. Peralta and Zimmermann’s WAR values are roughly the same given the construct’s lack of precision. However, Peralta’s WAR was clearly overrating his defense. Peralta’s defense has always been controversial. You look at a man of his size and think that there’s no way he can be a competent shortstop, but he moves surprisingly well out there. He’s not going to be winning any Gold Gloves, though, and 2.6 dWAR for this season seems way too high. That was more than half of his total career dWAR going into this season! That’s why Zimmermann gets the last slot on my ballot.

Before I get to my AL MVP ballot, in the interest of full disclosure, the ballot below is not the one I submitted for the Baseball Bloggers Alliance awards. I had realized after the fact that I accidentally omitted José Bautista. I have no idea how it happened, but it happened. Since then, I have also changed my mind on Alex Gordon. My original ballot, along with all my awards selections with the exception of relievers, can be found here.

AL MVP: Mike Trout

  1. Mike Trout
  2. Michael Brantley
  3. Corey Kluber
  4. Adrián Beltré
  5. José Bautista
  6. Josh Donaldson
  7. Robinson Canó
  8. Félix Hernández
  9. José Abreu
  10. José Altuve

For the third straight season, Mike Trout is the best player in baseball and he might finally get the recognition he deserves. However, I don’t doubt that some voters will vote for him for the wrong reasons. For example, Trout led the league in both RBIs and Runs scored, and he’s getting extra credit for accomplishing this having batted second all season. I don’t think any of that matters because luck is too big of a factor.

There has been some backlash to Trout’s MVP candidacy due to the fact that he led the league in strikeouts and his .287 batting average was seen as low for an MVP candidate. First of all, stop with the batting average, people. It’s a stat that shows the rate at how a player didn’t make an out in plate appearances when he didn’t walk, sacrifice, or get hit by a pitch. That’s just weird. It’s not a completely useless stat, but it’s not informative without being compared to OBP and slugging.

As for the strikeouts, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that they don’t matter. The Kansas City Royals have demonstrated the value of putting the ball in play. But at the end of the day, outs are outs, and striking out is definitely better than grounding into a double play. Trout clearly changed his approach in order to hit for more power, and it worked as evidenced by his 40 point boost in ISO, but the price was too high. That aggressiveness led to a 3.6% decrease in walk rate and big 45 point decrease in OBP from the previous season. That extra power is just not worth all the extra outs he made. Hopefully we’ll see a return to form next year.

Ironically, the season when Trout will finally win an MVP was his worst full season in his young career. It’s also ironic that the distance between him and runner-up is the smallest it has ever been. This season, Trout led the league in wRC+ by a hair over Víctor Martínez and José Abreu. V-Mart being a DH and Abreu being a poor defensive 1st baseman don’t even come close to touching the value of Trout’s excellent defense at a premium position. With regard to the players who compete more closely in defensive value on my ballot, they fall well short on the offensive side. None of this even takes into account his speed on the base paths. Like we’ve been saying for three seasons now, Trout is the total package3. Although not as easy as the previous seasons, he’s still the easy MVP choice for this season.

Michael Brantley had a career year in 2014. He hit .324/.385/.506 with a 155 wRC+ and a whopping 7.0 WAR. His defense in left field is nothing special, but he did start 40 games in center. Brantley also excelled on the base paths. He stole 23 bases and only got caught once, which contributed to his excellent 7.8 BsR. I believe that his offensive and baserunning edges was more than the defensive value of Beltré and Donaldson could make up.

Speaking of Cleveland Indians who had a career year, we come to Corey Kluber. It’s difficult to compare pitchers to hitters without relying heavily on WAR, and in this instance it failed to separate Kluber from Brantley or Beltré. One could easily put him above Brantley or below Beltré. I relied on oWAR to help, since it’s more accurate and reliable than when defense is factored in. Brantley’s 7.2 oWAR puts him at roughly equal to Kluber, with his defensive and baserunning value breaking the tie. Beltré came in at 5.9 WAR. He has no baserunning value, so his defense enough to bridge the WAR gap between him and Kluber. Beltré is an all-time great defensive 3rd baseman, but he’s not what he used to be, although he’s still very good. For me to be comfortable putting him above Kluber, his defense would have to worth at least 2 dWAR. Baseball Reference says 1.4 dWAR, and even that comes with a large error bar. I just don’t think that the future Hall of Famer4 had enough value to put him above Kluber.

Beltré is fourth on my ballot, though I doubt we see him make the top ten when the results are announced. It’s doubtful that the voters will vote for somebody who was on the worst team in baseball, as if any of that was his fault. He quietly had an excellent season. He hit .324/.388/.492 which was good for a 141 wRC+ and 7.0 WAR. Not too shabby for a 35-year old, huh? While he’s no longer the all-world defender that he used to be a 3rd base, he’s still excellent. His defense is what convinced me to put him above the stronger offensive season of Bautista.

Bautista had a great bounce back season after spending the past few years being plagued by injuries. He was one of only two players in the AL who had an OBP above .400, with the other being Víctor Martínez. That OBP came from being a walk machine. His 15.5 BB% was second in the AL. His 159 wRC+ was fourth in the AL. Defensively, he still has a great arm, but I thought his range had decreased compared to previous seasons. His age and injury history could be the cause of that. His great offense was enough for me to put him above the defensive monster, Josh Donaldson.

Donaldson overall had a great year, but it was a step backwards from last year. He went from a 147 wRC+ last season to a 129 wRC+ this season. The explanation for that is simple: Regression to the mean. Last season, he lucked out with a .333 BABIP, while this season that number dropped all the way down to .278. Steamer projections has 2014 Donaldson as representative of his true talent. It projects him as turning in the roughly the same offensive numbers in 2015. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, though. With his outstanding defense, that’ll still make him a top 10 player next season. However, that defense was not enough for me to put him above Bautista. There was just too much offense for Donaldson to overcome.

The defense of Donaldson was enough for me to put him above Robinson Canó. The 136 wRC+ of Canó was low enough for me to say that Donaldson’s monster defense made the difference. Canó may be a plus defender at a more valuable position, but Donaldson’s defense is just that good. Contrary to popular belief, Canó’s offensive production wasn’t much worse than last season. He had the same OBP but with much less power. That’s mostly explained when you take the ballparks into consideration. There’s a big, big difference between hitting in Yankee Stadium and Safeco Park, especially for a lefty. Remember, wRC+ corrects for ball park effects, and Canó had a 142 wRC+ last season. Obviously that’s not much higher than this season, even though his ISO was 63 points lower. Canó is the same player he always was and is projected to continue to be so in 2015.

Canó’s teammate, King Félix, comes in next. I performed the same exercise for putting Hernández where I did as I did with Kluber. Hernández was worth 6.2 WAR this season, while Canó came in at 6.2 oWAR. They’re already tied, so accounting for Canó’s good defense at a valuable position easily puts him over the top.

I doubt that even the most optimistic scouts thought that José Abreu was going to be this good. His 165 wRC+ was third in the AL. So why was such a dominant offensive player 9th on my ballot? He’s a below average defender at the lowest value position on the field, 1st base. He came in below Hernández because he was worth 6.5 oWAR with negative defensive value.

Finally, we come to little José Altuve. I don’t feel great about putting him 10th, to be honest. He turned in a 135 wRC+ while playing 2nd base. With the caveat that I’ve never taken a good look at him defensively, he appears to be a poor fielding 2nd baseman. Three year samples of the defensively metrics, which is a significant and reliable sample size, has him at -28 DRS and -27.8 UZR. That was enough for me to knock him below Abreu. However, I don’t doubt that there’s a good argument out there to prove me wrong.

Alex Gordon had a great season, but I felt that his defense was too overrated to crack my top ten. If he’s not an 80 defender in left field, he’s pretty close, but it’s still the lower value position of left field. That, coupled with his good but unremarkable 122 wRC+, wasn’t enough for him to make my ballot.

Believe me when I say that leaving Víctor Martínez off my ballot pained me greatly. He was the best hitter in baseball this season. He hit .335/.409/.565 with a 166 wRC+, which was second only to Trout in the AL. However, since he was a DH, that was worth only 5.3 WAR. I’m not penalizing him for being a DH. The fact of the matter is that he’s playing a position that literally any other player can play, and obviously it doesn’t provide any defensive value. There’s value in just taking the field, even if you’re a poor defensive player. As a result, the offensive bar is incredibly high. On top of all of that, Martínez was one of the worst baserunners in baseball. He was tied for 2nd worst in all of baseball by BsR with David Ortiz. I really expected to put him somewhere on my ballot, but I kept finding a reason to put players above him due to the big differences in defensive and baserunning value.

On a side note, it’s interesting to note that V-Mart’s season was offensively equivalent to Cabrera’s 2012, yet he doesn’t seem to be getting any of the same MVP love from the media or fans that Cabrera did in 2012. Funny how that works, huh? I guess the BBWAA got tired of making stuff up to support their pre-chosen pick.

Thoughts? Feel free to share your friendly, respectful comments!

  1. It should be noted that WAR may be underselling him and McCutchen, who himself had a 6.4 WAR. Quantifying catcher defense is far from perfect, and I have a hard time believing that McCutchen was worth -1.0 dWAR when he is a plus defender. 
  2. I think dWAR grossly shorted Gómez. There’s no way he was worth only 0.4 dWAR. It’s tough because defensive metrics are prone to so much variation. 
  3. Trout’s arm is only league average, a 55 on the 20-80 scale at best. However, unless you’re a catcher, range is far more important than arm strength. A player will make a lot more outs with great range, especially in the outfield, than he will with a cannon. 
  4. Fun fact: Beltré’s career 77.8 WAR is higher than Derek Jeter’s 71.8 WAR. It’s especially impressive when you see that he’s played in three less seasons than Jeter. Defense matters, people. And so does hitting for power. 
Year-end Awards: Cy Young

Year-end Awards: Cy Young

Before I begin, I recommend reading my fake MVP picks here, and my explanation for why I did such a thing here.

My picks for managers, relievers, and rookie can be found here.

Like before, I will be naming the winner followed by my full ballot. Win/Loss record was completely ignored in filling out my ballot. This is 2014. Also, all my WAR values will be from Fangraphs. I prefer the FIP-based WAR in Fangraphs because it better evaluates what a pitcher can directly control1. Clicking on the ballot will bring you to a Fangraphs page where you can compare all their stats yourself.

NL Cy Young Award: Clayton Kershaw

  1. Clayton Kershaw
  2. Jordan Zimmermann
  3. Adam Wainwright
  4. Johnny Cueto
  5. Stephen Strasburg

Yeah, big freakin’ surprise. Clayton Kershaw is still the best pitcher on the face of the planet.

When he went down for the first month of the season due to injury, I thought that it would open up the Cy Young race. José Fernández started the season on fire, but then tragically went down with Tommy John surgery, breaking the hearts of baseball fans everywhere. Adam Wainwright was then the new frontrunner. There’s was no way Kershaw could pitch so well as to make up for a month’s worth of missed innings, right?

Well, that’s what I get for underestimating the great Clayton Kershaw! Despite pitching 29 less innings than Wainwright and 35 less innings than Cueto, Kershaw’s dominance was too overpowering to keep him from winning the award. Even though he missed the first month of the season, he still led all NL pitchers with a 7.2 WAR! That’s 2 full wins above the runner-up Jordan Zimmermann! He also turned in a 31.9 K%, 1.77 ERA2, and 1.81 FIP, all of which were the best in the league, as well as a 4.1 BB%, which was fourth best. He didn’t just barely lead the league in those categories either. He had a 4% better strikeout rate than the runner-up, Strasburg. His ERA was half a run better than Wainwright’s! His FIP was almost a full run better than Zimmermann’s!

The highlight of the baseball season for me personally was being fortunate enough to have watched Kershaw’s 15 K, no-hitter. Add in the fact that it was called by the legendary Vin Scully resulted in me enjoying a baseball game that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Personally, it was the greatest pitching performance I have ever seen on live television. I didn’t get to bed until 1:30 AM that night, and I was pretty sleepy at work the following morning. Totally worth it.

I consider myself truly blessed to be able to watch what very well may be an all-time great in his prime.  Baseball fans everywhere, I implore you to not take this for granted!

I was expecting Wainwright to come in second, but was surprised when I convinced myself that Zimmermann had the better year. He was second in the NL with 5.2 WAR. His ERA was a little worse than Wainwright’s, but that was due to some bad BABIP luck. Zimmermann did have a slightly better FIP. He also had a better K% than Wainwright and the best walk rate in the NL at 3.6%, a full 2% lower than Wainwright’s, which is more significant than it sounds. All of that is why I put Zimmermann above Wainwright, despite the 27 IP deficiency.

On the surface, it might seem strange to put Johnny Cueto in fourth place when he had a 2.25 ERA. However, that was the result of some great BABIP luck of .238. His FIP was more than a full run higher at 3.30, which was “only” the tenth best in the league. That was just too far behind Zimmermann and Wainwright for me to put him the top 3.

You may be surprised to see that Strasburg made the ballot. If you look past his win/loss record to stats that actually matter, you’ll see that he quietly had an excellent year. He was actually second in the league in strikeout rate with 27.9 %, and this was while maintaining a great 5.0 BB%. He also had a 2.94 FIP. All of that is better than Cueto except for his 3.14 ERA. There was some bad luck in that with a .315 BABIP, but a 0.9 run difference is too much to overlook. He did have a high 13.1% HR/FB, so I was initially led to put him over Cueto by citing his xFIP, but it turns out he’s always had a high HR/FB. If a pitcher has a career HR/FB that is higher than the league average, then xFIP is overrating him. It was really close, but that’s why I had Cueto over Strasburg. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t argue against anybody who thought it should be the other way around.

So what about Madison Bumgarner? It pained me to leave him off the ballot. His 2.98 ERA, 3.05 FIP, and 3.6 WAR led me to believe that he fell just short of the top five. There are some people, including the great Jonah Keri, who chose to give Bumgarner credit it for his tremendous hitting performance this season (well, for a pitcher anyway). Bumgarner hit .258/.286/.470 with a 115 wRC+! He hit four home runs, and two of them were grand slams! His hitting alone was worth 1.2 WAR! Obviously, since that was accomplished in only 78 PA, it’s a small sample size fluke. He had a career 5 wRC+ coming into this season, so I’m going to go out on a limb and say that his offensive performance this season is unsustainable. It was a lot of fun, though! Anyway, with all due respect to Keri, I don’t believe hitting should be factored into a pitching award. For the MVP award, however, I have no problem with considering a pitcher’s offensive performance.

Jake Arrieta also had an excellent season that would’ve gotten him on the ballot had he had enough innings to qualify.

AL Cy Young Award: Corey Kluber

  1. Corey Kluber
  2. Félix Hernández
  3. Chris Sale
  4. David Price
  5. Jon Lester

I’m not going to lie, I really wanted this to be King Félix. As late as mid-August, I thought he was a shoe-in to win it. That’s what I get for trying to predict baseball.

This race went down to the wire. I was not comfortable making my pick until both Kluber and Hernández had made their last starts. Perhaps I could have drawn a conclusion sooner, but I really wanted all the information to come in first.

Kluber finished a full 1.1 WAR above Hernández. That didn’t make much sense to me at first, as I didn’t think Kluber was that much better, but when you look at all the facts it starts to make sense. Kluber had Hernández beat in FIP and K%, and was only 0.4 % worse in walk rate. The big difference maker, however, is their batted ball luck and home parks. Kluber was slightly unlucky with a .316 BABIP against batters faced, while Hernández had a very lucky .258 BABIP. If we look at the park factors from their respective parks 3, we can see that Hernández pitches in a much friendlier stadium for pitching than Kluber. Being in the AL West, he also gets to pitch in the friendly confines of Angel Stadium and The Al Davis Memorial Dump the Coliseum. Aside from Kluber’s own ballpark, all the other stadiums in the AL Central are hitter friendly or neutral.

I wouldn’t be surprised if King Félix ended up winning the award. Star power fuels narratives. I believe that the facts back Kluber as the clear objective choice. Unfortunately, objective analysis is not the voters’ strong suit.

Had Chris Sale not missed time this season with a DL stint, he might’ve been the deserving Cy Young winner. However, even a Kershaw level of dominance can’t make up for the ~60 IP deficit between him and Kluber and Hernández. As it stands, he still led the league with a 30.4 K%. His ERA and FIP were basically identical to that of Hernández, and in a hitter-park no less, though his walk rate was slightly higher. Quite frankly, the argument can be made that Sale was the best pitcher in baseball this season. Unfortunately for him, he just didn’t have enough innings pitched.

I have to say that it was really hard putting Sale over David Price given the huge 74 IP difference between the two. The advantage in strike out rate combined with Sale’s ERA being 1.1 runs better, in a more difficult ball park for most of the year, is what led me to my decision. That is a big IP difference though, and anybody who thought that Price deserved a higher spot based on that would not get an argument from me.

Price over Jon Lester was a close call. Lester had a 2.46 ERA that was 0.8 runs better than Price. However, they had an identical FIP, and Price had a better strike out rate and an excellent 3.8 BB%, which was third among AL starters. He also pitched about 30 IP more than Lester. All of that led me to put Price above Lester, even though a 0.8 run difference is significant hurdle to overcome.

Max Scherzer barely missed. He had a similar FIP to Price and Lester, with a better strikeout rate to boot, but had relatively high 7.0 BB% compared to the other pitchers on my ballot. To be clear, it’s better to not walk batters than it is to strike them out, which is why I give BB% a little more weight.

It’s also worth noting that Phil Hughes had an outstanding season and has completely turned his career around. His 6.1 WAR was actually equivalent to Price and Lester. His ERA was too high and his strikeout rate was too low to make my ballot, but he had a historically low 1.9 BB%4. Hughes actually broke the all-time record for K/BB with 11.63! To give you an idea of how good that is, the league average for K/BB is 2.67! So far it looks like I was extremely wrong about that Hughes contract.

Agree? Disagree? I more than welcome a friendly discussion on the choices I’ve made. The non-winners on my ballots I think are especially ripe for discussion.

  1. If you disagree and believe that runs allowed should be factored into a pitcher’s WAR, then I recommend staying on Fangraphs and clicking on the “Value” tab to get the RA9-WAR values. That’s pitcher WAR that uses RA9 instead of FIP, like Fangraphs, or ERA, like Baseball Reference. RA9 stands for Runs Allowed per 9 IP and is basically ERA with unearned runs factored in. I believe if you’re going to factor in the runs a pitcher allowed, then you’re best off removing all subjectivity from the equation. I also don’t have a problem with anybody who prefers bWAR or RA9-WAR to fWAR. There are good arguments to use either one. 
  2. I used ERA for all of my evaluations so I’m going to stick with it for this post. However, this may be the last post where I use it. RA9 is a better a stat and it’s about time I started using it. 
  3. Single season park factors do suffer a bit from small sample sizes. If you look at the park factors for Progressive Field and Safeco Field over the past five years or so, you’ll see that this year’s park factors are roughly representative of larger sample sizes with respect to those two fields. 
  4. Yeah yeah, I know I just said that I give extra weight to walk rate. As low as that walk rate was, I don’t believe that it was enough to overcome a 3.52 ERA and 21.8 K%.