Below are my ballots for the Baseball Bloggers Alliance’s Stan Musial Award, which honors the best player in each league. The BBA does not limit this award to position players, but I do, as I’ve already filled out ballots honoring the league’s best pitchers. Clayton Kershaw certainly has an argument as the National League’s best player (I’d probably put him second), but he’ll be awarded for his excellence by both the BBWAA’s Cy Young voters and the BBA’s Walter Johnson voters. Let’s honor some hitters and fielders.
NL Stan Musial Award
1. Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers
I’ll let Dave Cameron tell you how Jonathan Lucroy adds wins beyond his WAR by framing pitches well. The truth is, Lucroy doesn’t necessarily need that two-win boost to be recognized as the best player in the National League this year. His 6.3 fWAR were within half a win of Andrew McCutchen’s league-leading total, and he did so as a catcher, a position so demanding that playing the 153 games he played is almost superhuman. He made an excellent pitching staff out of Yovani Gallardo, Matt Garza, Kyle Lohse, Wily Peralta, and Mike Fiers, suggesting that there’s some merit to those pitch-framing numbers. No one person should get the credit for the Brewers surpassing expectations, at least for the season’s first five months, but I’m willing to give the lion’s share of the credit to the guy calling the pitches while batting .300, drawing walks, and bopping 13 homers.
2. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
Cutch’s OBP (.410) and slugging percentage (.542) were even better than in his MVP campaign last year. He led the league in fWAR despite ugly fielding numbers and would be a perfectly valid MVP, but narrative is not on his side. Even though the Pirates faded during his brief absence and surged to a playoff spot upon his return, it seems like BBWAA voters view him as a defending MVP having a ho-hum season, rather than the breakout superstar he was in 2013.
3. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
His 37 homers probably would have been 40 had he not been hit in the face with a pitch in mid-September. That might have been enough to win his first MVP. Maybe a Musial too.
4. Buster Posey, Giants
Only Stanton and McCutchen had more Win Probability Added than Posey’s 4.81. It’s hard to make a case that he’s more deserving than Lucroy, but he should get a similar catcher bonus.
5. Anthony Rendon, Nationals
Rendon’s 6.6 fWAR put him in a virtual tie at the top. It seems he could have had the breakout-superstar-on-a-playoff-team narrative from which McCutchen benefitted last year, but he still seems to lurk in the shadows in DC, providing value with talent in every facet of the game, rather than one overwhelming skill.
6. Josh Harrison, Pirates
Teammate Russell Martin may be equally deserving, but this is a nod to Harrison’s flexibility. When Pedro Alvarez went down, Harrison moved from the outfield to third base, opening up right field for megaprospect Gregory Polanco, who played well before hitting his first skid. Harrison, meanwhile, batted .315, stole 18 bases, and played great defense wherever he was stationed.
7. Yasiel Puig, Dodgers
8. Carlos Gomez, Brewers
9. Jhonny Peralta, Cardinals
10. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
AL Stan Musial Award
1. Mike Trout, Angels
I can’t imagine writing this about anyone else, but in the same year Trout will finally win his first MVP award, we finally saw some limits to his talent. Sure, he hit a career-high 36 home runs and drove in a career-high 115 runs, but most of the latter and some of the former can be chalked up to his batting second this season after leading off for most of the last two. He walked far less than last year (11.8% of PAs vs. 15.4%), his OBP plummeting to a career-low .377 after reaching .432 in 2013. He also struck out 45 more times than in either of his first two seasons.
He stole 16 bases in 18 attempts- an impressive ratio, but a modest total compared to the 82 he swiped over his first two full seasons. With added bulk, he seems to have dropped from an elite baserunner to a merely good one (fangraphs tells us his baserunning runs above average have dropped from 12 to 8.1 to 4.8).
The real change in Trout has come on the defensive end. After putting up stunning defensive numbers (13 fielding runs above average), mostly in center field, as a rookie, he came back to earth as a sophomore left fielder (3.3 runs). In 2014, he moved back to center and struggled mightily, compiling 8.4 runs belowaverage. Fielding numbers should not be trusted in small samples, of course, and it’s unlikely that Trout was as bad as his UZR says he was, but the precipitous drop suggests that his 2012 numbers likely overstated his greatness. His four home-run-saving catches that year happened, and he should get credit for that, but how many of those 12 runs saved were based on opportunities that other fielders just don’t get?
If Trout’s true talent is average center field defense, slightly above average baserunning, and a great bat, he’s still an immensely valuable player and might win multiple MVPs over the rest of his career (he’s already won multiple Stan Musial Awards). But that’s the skillset of a 7-to-9-win player, not that of a once-in-a-lifetime 10+-win guy. We shouldn’t be disappointed that Trout is starting to look more like Al Kaline or Carl Yastrzemski than Willie Mays, but that’s how high young Trout pushed the bar.
Hey, at least he’s still far better than any other player in baseball.
2. Michael Brantley, Indians
Brantley very quietly had an MVP-type season, batting .327/.385/.506 with 20 homers and 24 steals.
3. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
4. Josh Donaldson, A’s
5. Alex Gordon, Royals
Gordon and Donaldson have strangely similar profiles. The former third baseman and the current third baseman both played for surprisingly good teams (at least until Oakland’s late-season collapse). They both failed to impress with their newspaper stats (Gordon hit .266 with 19 homers and 74 RBI; Donaldson .255/29/74). But they both walked in more than 10 percent of their plate appearances and played stellar defense (17.9 and 16.7 FRAA, respectively). If we take fangraphs WAR at face value, Gordon was the third-best player in the AL and Donaldson was fourth. There could be some noise in the defensive numbers that buoy their cases, which is why I gave Jose Bautista and his sometimes-lethal defense a slight boost, but these are two excellent all-around players who made decent teams a little better.
6. Jose Abreu, White Sox
7. Adrian Beltre, Rangers
A rookie who broke into the American League with perhaps its best bat and the second-greatest active player in the league, putting up his standard excellent season.
8. Kyle Seager, Mariners
Robinson Cano may get the MVP votes, but Seager is probably the team’s best player. 25 homers and great third-base defense helped as much as anyone in making the Mariners relevant for the first time in over a decade.
9. Victor Martinez, Tigers
Great bat, no glove, horrible baserunning. He might finish second in the MVP voting. He might not be one of the 25 best players in the AL. I’ll take the middle ground.
10. Jose Altuve, Astros
He can’t walk and the numbers don’t like his defense, but he hit .341 and stole 56 bases. One of the reasons the Astros are only a few years from contending.