2014 Award Preview

It’s hard to believe we’re a week into September and I haven’t rapped at ya once about who I think should/will win the major awards this season. Let’s take a look, starting with the easy ones:

AL Rookie of the Year
For much of the season, it looked like this award was Masahiro Tanaka’s to lose. Then he went down with an injury and he’ll never be eligible again. Xander Bogaerts emerged as a candidate in June, hitting the cover off the ball and playing a passable shortstop. Then the Red Sox signed Stephen Drew, moved Bogaerts to third, and watched him decompose offensively and defensively.

Now there’s only one rookie standing. Chicago’s Jose Abreu leads the majors in slugging percentage (.598), weighted on base average (.416), and perhaps the best measure of offensive potency, weighted Runs Created+ (167). If he offered any defensive value, he’d be a strong MVP candidate. As it is, he’s a lock for RoY.

Should win- Abreu
Will win- Abreu
Honorable mention- Kevin Keirmaier

NL Rookie of the Year
Last year, the NL was loaded with strong rookies, while the AL was a wasteland. This year, it’s the reverse. Billy Hamilton has been a mixed blessing for the Reds. He’s gotten on base more than expected (.301), though still not enough for a leadoff man. He’s flashed some surprising power (6 home runs). He’s stolen 55 bases, which sounds great until you learn that he’s been caught 21 times.

It’s hard to give Hamilton a major award for this season, but there’s not much competition. Joe Panik has hit well in San Francisco (.309/.354/.381), but only for 55 games. Jacob deGrom has pitched well in New York (2.87 ERA/3.01 FIP), but only for 19 games. Kolten Wong does a little of everything in St. Louis, accumulating 1.8 fWAR.

Should win- Hamilton
Will win- Hamilton
Honorable mention- deGrom

AL Cy Young
One man has stood ahead of the pack in this race all year, but he’s never completely run away with it. Felix Hernandez is 4 innings short of the league lead (206), .09 points out of the ERA lead (2.18) and the FIP lead (2.59), is within .2 fWAR (5.5) of the lead, and leads in fangraphs’ RA9-based WAR (6.9).

Jon Lester is even with Hernandez in fWAR (5.5), striking out a batter per inning and walking less than two men per nine. Corey Kluber leads in fWAR (5.7, with a 2.47 ERA, a 2.59 FIP, and almost 10 K/9) without much fanfare. Max Scherzer leads the league in strikeouts (226, with a 2.83 FIP), David Price leads in innings (219, with a 2.85 FIP), Phil Hughes dominates by never walking anyone (0.72/9, for a 2.64 FIP and the best strikeout/walk ratio in baseball history), and Chris Sale has probably been the league’s best pitcher (2.09 ERA), but in only 155 innings.

Hernandez feels like the right guy at the moment, but let’s try my personal Cy Young formula, where I give pitchers full credit for FIP wins, half credit for LOB wins, and quarter credit for BIP wins, over which pitchers have the least control.

Kluber 5.70
Hernandez 5.53
Lester 5.18
Sale 5.13
Scherzer 4.90
Hughes 4.80
Price 4.25

Kluber is one start ahead of Hernandez, and may finish a tick behind him if they both start 34 games by season’s end.  Either would be a great candidate, as would any of the above, but I still like Felix’s combination of innings, run prevention, and success in fielding-independent outcomes.  We don’t know what will happen over the next three weeks, but I think the voters will too.

Should win- Hernandez
Will win- Hernandez
Honorable mention- Kluber and the other guys above.

NL Cy Young
Nothing to see here, other than one of the greatest seasons in baseball history.

Clayton Kershaw has started 23 games. He’s given up one run or fewer in 16 of them. He’s struck out 9 or more batters in 13 of them. He’s walked as many as three men once. He’s completed at least seven innings in each of his last 15 games, never surrendering more than three runs. His 1.70 ERA leads the NL by more than half a run. His 1.89 FIP leads by even more (.71), and would be just the eighth sub-2 season since 1920.  A leaderboard similar to the one above:

Kershaw 6.35
Cueto 4.50
Wainwright 4.25
Zimmermann 4.23
Hamels 3.98

Should win- Kershaw
Will win- Kershaw
Honorable mention- Cueto, I guess

Those of us who write about baseball and care about objective analysis have been waiting for Mike Trout’s first MVP for a while now. It looks like he’s going to get it, but it’s hard to get all that excited. In 2012, at age 20, Trout was an offensive force, hitting .326 with 30 home runs, but he excelled in other facets of the game as well, swiping 49 bases and robbing four potential home runs in center field. Fangraphs credited him with 10.1 WAR, a ludicrous total for a player his age.

In 2013, Trout was even better at the plate, drawing 110 walks on the way to a Bondsian .432 OBP. The wheels were still there (33 steals), and the glove was still good, though a healthy Peter Bourjos moving him to left field cost him some WAR. Nonetheless, fangraphs graded him even better than the year before (mostly due to 18 extra games played), at 10.5 WAR.

This year, Trout went through at least two of the deepest slumps of his career. He’s struck out in over a quarter of his plate appearances, up from about 20% in his fist two seasons. His slash line numbers (.285/.370/.552) are all career lows, though his isolated power is up, thanks to a career-high 32 dingers. Worst of all, he’s not stealing as many bases (just 14 so far), and fangraphs doesn’t like his centerfield defense (5.4 runs below average). The result is a pedestrian (for Trout) 6.6 WAR so far.

So why are we still talking about Trout? Because, while his first few seasons made us numb to ridiculous stats, the numbers above are still really good (he’s ninth in OBP and fourth in slugging). He leads the majors in position player WAR, half a win ahead of Alex Gordon. While Gordon’s numbers are buoyed by absurd fielding runs (16.7, more than two wins better than Trout), Trout’s case benefits from the voter’s assumption that, given his history, he can’t possibly be as bad defensively as the numbers suggest. Josh Donaldson actually leads the AL in baseball-reference’s WAR (7.0 to 6.9 over Trout), but he’s lifted by even crazier defensive totals. Kyle Seager and Michael Brantley are having great seasons too, but it seems like Trout, at an age when most players are still in the low minors, is about to get a lifetime achievement MVP.

Should win- Trout
Will win- Trout
Honorable mention- Gordon

Here’s the great race. Eight players are within one win of the fWAR lead. They include the defending MVP (Andrew McCutchen), who missed a bunch of time in August and watched his team plummet in the stanndings, an otherworldly slugger (Giancarlo Stanton), whose team will finish more than a dozen games out in its division, a rightfielder (Jason Heyward) whose case is built almost entirely on defense, and two infielders (Anthony Rendon and Jhonny “sic” Peralta) whom you probably didn’t even know were good this year.

Who didn’t I mention above? The surging Hunter Pence, whom I refuse to admit is a decent baseball player. His teammate Buster Posey, who’s a brilliant hitter and a brilliant pitcher on a good team, but hasn’t been the best catcher in the league. And my pick, Jonathan Lucroy.

Lucroy can rake (.299/.366/.478).  He walks (94.% of his PAs) almost as often as he strikes out (11.3%).  He’s not an awful runner (4 steals and a positive Baserunning Runs Above Average).  And most importantly, he does everything behind the plate.  He’s caught about a quarter of would-be basestealers and allowed just four passed balls, and he’s well regarded as one of the best pitch framers in the business.  He’s remarkable durable, having started four more games than any catcher in either league.  And he’s at least partially responsible for the Brewers outperforming expectations all season.

Stanton has 36 home runs.  Pence and Posey are keeping San Francisco afloat longer than Lucroy and Carlos Gomez kept Milwaukee in contention.  McCutchen’s hitting better, at least on a rate basis, than he did in winning the MVP last year.  I’ll reserve my final pick for the guy who separates himself from the pack in September.  But at the moment, I like Lucroy.

Should win- Lucroy
Will win- Stanton
Honorable mention- McCutchen, Pence, and others mentioned above, honorably



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