Friday, November 16, 2007

Awards Wrap-up

BEST NL OFFENSE: Philadelphia Phillies
Even taking into account their friendly ballpark, the Phillies had the best offensive attack in the NL. If they had a third baseman worth a damn, their infield would have been historically great, with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins all having fine years. The outfield wasn't great, but it was solid enough, thanks in large part to a career year by center fielder Aaron Rowand (309/374/515). Other than third base, catcher was the Phillies' biggest problem, but they finally ended up having Carlos Ruiz (259/340/396) as their everyday starter, and he wasn't too bad.
All in all, the Phillies ranked 1st in the NL in Runs Scored (892), first in Equivalent Average (.276), and first in slugging percentage (.458). The 2nd-place team in runs scored was Colorado with 860, and no one else had more than 810. But this exaggerates the Phillies' real level of quality. Looking at EQA, the Phillies were just slightly better than the Mets (.272) and the Marlins (.270), two teams whose park effects dampen their raw offensive totals.

2nd place: New York, 3rd place: Florida

BEST AL OFFENSE: New York Yankees
No surprise here, as the Yankees turned the American League into their own private Romper Room. Not only did they lead the league in runs (968), they did so by a huge margin, with the Tigers second with 887. And this was for real; the Yanks' .280 EQA was nine points better than Detroit's .271. The Yanks also led the league in HR (201) and all three "slash" categories: AVG (.290), OBP (.366), and SLG (.463).
Even though they lacked a true first baseman, the Yankees eventually made up the difference by putting Jason Giambi at first (an ugly sight defensively, but an offensive asset) and shifting Johnny Damon to DH, with good-glove Melky Cabrera playing center. This got nine above-average hitters into the lineup. The Yankees not only had the league MVP in the middle of their lineup, he was surrounded by a lot of quality hitters.
2nd place: Detroit, 3rd place: Boston

This seems like the default answer, since the Padres' ERA (3.70) led the league by a fair amount (Arizona was 2nd at 4.04). But when you take ballparks into account, this actually becomes a close race between three teams: the Padres, Diamondbacks, and (believe it or not) the Cubs.
The Padres' 3.70 ERA was due in large part to Petco Park, the friendliest pitcher's park in baseball. Their ERA+, which takes this into account, was 112. This also casts a shadow on their 119 home runs allowed, the lowest in the league. Even their impressive strikeout:walk ratio -- 1136 strikeouts that rank them 5th in the NL and a league-best 474 walks -- can't be taken at face value.
Even so, the Padres had a genuinely great pitching staff, Petco or not. Jake Peavy was the league's best pitcher, and Chris Young wasn't too far behind. Their rotation was complemented by a good Greg Maddux and a decent young Justin Germano. But what really held them together was the bullpen; not so much closer Trevor Hoffman (2.98 ERA in 57.1 IP), but middle reliever Heath Bell (2.02 ERA and 102 K in 93.2 IP) and several others.

But it must be said that the Diamondbacks weren't far behind. Their team ERA of 4.04 was actually better than the Padres', ballparks considered (Arizona's ERA+ was 114, tops in the NL). The Diamondbacks allowed more homers and more walks, and got fewer strikeouts than the Padres, though. And even though the D-Backs had a fine bullpen and a true ace in Brandon Webb, the back end of their rotation (Doug Davis, Livan Hernandez, Micah Owings) was decent at best.
The Cubs enter the discussion thanks to an ERA+ of 113 that's just a bit worse than Arizona's and just a bit better than San Diego's. They also led the league in strikeouts, with 1,211. So how can we decide between these three?
My vote goes to San Diego. Their adjusted ERA is 3rd in the NL, but it's very close. And their Run Average (which allows for all runs) is the best in the league once again. They didn't lead the league in K's like Chicago, but their K:BB ratio was much the best among all three teams. Quibble if you will, but I'll take the Friars.
Honorable mention goes to the Colorado Rockies, who finished 4th in my rankings. That may not sound impressive, but it's the best pitching staff Colorado's ever had, and they're not too far behind the top 3.
2nd place: Chicago, 3rd place: Arizona

I doubt that anyone who saw the postseason would argue. The Red Sox led the AL in ERA (3.87), Adjusted ERA (118) and Run Average (4.11), which is influenced by their fine defense. The Sox were a close 3rd in the AL in strikeouts (1149, just behind the Devil Rays and Angels) and only four teams allowed fewer walks (482).
the second-best pitching staff, believe it or not, belonged to the Toronto Blue Jays. The Jays were 2nd in the AL in ERA (4.00) and ERA+ (116) and had a K:BB almost as good as Boston. But the Jays weren't quite good enough, nor did they have as much depth as the World Champs.
2nd place: Toronto, 3rd place: Cleveland

123 strikeouts, 14 walks. What else do you need to know?
Other Candidates: Chris Young, Alfonso Soriano, Jeff Francoeur, Khalil Greene

It's amazing that anyone actually voted for this guy as the Rookie of the Year. Don't get me wrong; he's got potential, we just didn't see a lot of it this year. Instead, we saw a guy who hit 288/316/408 with 127 strikeouts and 26 walks. If you play every day and draw 26 walks, you're not going to be a star. Here's hoping that Young, who is very talented, improves his plate discipline, but not everyone I've heard from thinks he'll do much better next year.
Other candidates: Brandon Inge, Alex Gordon, Josh Fields

No AL pitcher was really unlucky this season. But if I had to pick a guy, I'd go with Meche. He actually had a pretty decent season, giving the Royals 156 strikeouts in 216 innings with a career-best 3.67 ERA. His win-loss record? 9-13. This is what happens when you sign with the Royals.

Poor Matt Cain. People should be excited by a 22-year-old pitcher who throws 200 innings 163 strikeouts and a 3.64 ERA. He showed strong improvement over last year's numbers and is one of the Giants' best players. But when all of your offensive support is Barry Bonds, who also happens to be the only quote coming out of San Francisco nowadays, it's bad luck. Even worse is when your team hands you a 7-16 record for your troubles.

I mentioned Bell earlier, but just to recap: 93.2 relief innings, 2.02 ERA, and a 102:30 K:BB ratio. Judging by VORP (39.7), Bell was actually the most valuable relief pitcher in the NL, even including the closers, despite the fact that he only saved 2 games. (In fact, middle-man Carlos Marmol actually finished with more VORP, 34.5, than any team's closer).

The "Hoss" Award is not meant to be a pejorative reference to anyone's particular body size. But none the less, it's about time C.C. won this award, and he took it home with a Cy Young-caliber performance in 241 league-leading innings.

THE EYE-POPPER AWARD (NL): Miguel Olivo's .262 OBP
Boy, you hit 16 homers and coax along some pitchers, and they let you get away with anything . . .

THE EYE-POPPER AWARD (AL): Carlos Pena's 46 HR, .627 SLG
It's not the numbers so much that are eye-popping but rather that the player who put them up was waiver bait just a year ago.

See above.

I know what you're thinking: "how could you not notice David Ortiz -- either in a real or statistical sense?" But most of the season was spent talking about how Ortiz's power numbers were down and how he was all ache-y. Ortiz's home run numbers were down; he hit "just" 35, the least since he hit 31 in 2003, his inaugural season in Boston. And he "only" drove in 117 RBIs, compared to last year's 137.
I say "big schmeal." Ortiz also nearly doubled his doubles total from last year; he smacked a career-high 52 two-baggers this year, compared with just 29 last year. He lowered his strikeout total to 103, his lowest total in a full season of playing time, while still drawing 111 walks (only last year's 119 were better). This, together with a monstrously high .332 batting average (his previous career high was .301 in 2004) gave him the best OBP in the entire league, an incredible .445. He also -- in what was supposed to be a "down" year -- led the entire league in Equivalent Average, at .339 (Alex Rodriguez's EQA was .338). Equivalent Average basically tells us who the best hitter in the league was, adjusted for league, ballpark, and position. In short, David Ortiz was the best hitter -- if not the best player -- in the American League in 2007.
And who would have thought that David Ortiz being the league's top hitter would go unnoticed?

THE OVERRATED AWARD -- the player, not the award itself (NL): Jimmy Rollins
I already discussed this a bit in my MVP section, but if you're going to try that "he ignites the offense" and "he plays every day" crap around me, please bring along a bucket so I can up-chuck. Jimmy Rollins is quite a good player, but it's wishful thinking and mythology to cast him as the league's best player. He's not the MVP; he's the MVS: Most Valuable to Sportswriters, because he's such an interesting player. If you're really into Jimmy Rollins' story and become aroused when you see someone get their uniform dirty, that's fine. Just not around here; I just ate.
(And yes, I have been looking for an excuse to use the term "up-chuck.")

THE OVERRATED AWARD -- the player, not the award itself (AL): Nick Punto
No one in the AL was really that overrated this year, which is good news. So I'll pick on Nick Punto. Punto wasn't overrated in the traditional sense; it's not that he was said to be a good player and wasn't. It's that very little was said about him despite the fact that he was a historically awful player.
Nick Punto had one of the worst full seasons ever by a third baseman. Several other sites have outlined the particulars of Punto's awfuldom, but here it is in a nutshell: 210/291/271 in 472 ABs. 1 HR. 90 strikeouts. 0 FRAA. There is no, no, no, NO, NO excuse for a team to tolerate such execrable production from an offensively important position (or any position, really). Teams usually use a player this awful out of necessity in a pinch or because they haven't yet realized the extent of his awfulness. The Twins have neither excuse; there are always better options than Punto, and it shouldn't take you 472 at-bats to realize that.

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