Thursday, November 13, 2008

The 4th Annual Whiz Kid Awards

American League MVP: Cliff Lee
This was the toughest one of all to determine. There are a half-dozen good candidates for AL MVP, but I decided to choose Lee. Although there's a Wild Card in the group that I had some trouble dealing with.
First of all, let's list the top players in the league and see who we can eliminate:
Sizemore: 268/375/502 , 62.7 VORP
Alex Rodriguez: 302/392/573, 65.6 VORP
Joe Mauer: 328/413/451, 55.5 VORP
Dustin Pedroia: 326/376/493, 62.3 VORP
Justin Morneau: 300/374/499, 45.5 VORP
Kevin Youkilis: 312/390/569, 55.8 VORP
Josh Hamilton: 304/371/530, 57.1 VORP

Cliff Lee: 22-3, 2.54 ERA, 223.1 IP, 34:170 BB:K ratio, 75.0 VORP
Francisco Rodriguez: 2-3, 2.24 ERA, 62 SV, 7 BS, 68.1 IP, 34:77 BB:K ratio, 22.3 VORP

Well, we can scratch K-Rod off the list right away. He's about the fifth-best closer in the AL, so he's not winning any awards this year. I think that Lee was the best pitcher in the AL (see below for that debate), so he's the only one we'll consider.
As for the hitters, remember that VORP doesn't take into account defensive ability. Once you admit that, I think you have to eliminate the first basemen (Morneau and Youkilis). Both were very good, but not really any better than the guys playing much more difficult defensive positions. Youkilis gets a good bonus for his glove, but he takes a hit for only managing 538 ABs (compared to 623 for Morneau and 653 for Pedroia).
Josh Hamilton's numbers look a bit better than Sizemore's until you consider the difference in home ballparks and Sizemore's better defensive skills. So Hamilton's out. As for Joe Mauer, he was quite good, but not demonstrably better than his competitors, even considering his defense. Since his playing time was limited (536 ABs) we have to get rid of him as well.
Unfortunately, the same goes for A-Rod. On a per-at bat basis, A-Rod was the best hitter in the league. But he only managed 575 PAs (AB + BB), against 732 for Sizemore and 703 for Pedroia. That's about 3 weeks worth of PAs, which is a sizeable chunk. Given that detriment, I think that A-Rod's superior play can't be called the best in the league.
As for Sizemore and Pedroia, Sizemore has the better overall numbers (if just barely), although Pedroia comes close when you consider defense. It's a very close call, and I wouldn't blame anyone who voted for Pedroia, but I'm going for Grady Sizemore.
So I'm left with just Sizemore .vs. Lee in my MVP discussion. Lee has a clear edge in VORP, but does that best reflect the differences between hitters and pitchers? I think it does. Lee was just better than any of the hitters in 2008. There was no hitter that had a really strong, MVP-level campaign. This helps explain why there are so many MVP candidates; no one had that really hot, MVP-caliber year. And when that happens, the spot opens up for a dominant pitcher, and Lee was, luckily for him, dominant enough.

And what about that wild card I alluded to earlier? It's this guy:
Mark Teixeira: 308/410/552, 66.5 VORP

Teixeira would be, if he'd spent the whole season in the AL, the league's top player. You could really argue then about whether he was better than Lee, and that would cause me a major headache. But it's a moot point, really. The award is the AL MVP award, and most of Teixeira's time came in the NL. Even if we were to combine his stats for the two leagues, we'd have to take into account that the NL is an inferior league with easier competition.
So although my vote goes for Cliff Lee, I have to say that only a technicality prevents me from considering Teixeira.
  1. Cliff Lee, Indians
  2. Grady Sizemore, Indians
  3. Dustin Pedroia, Boston
  4. Roy Halladay, Toronto
  5. Alex Rodriguez, New York
  6. Joe Mauer, Minnesota
  7. Jon Lester, Boston
  8. Justin Morneau, Minnesota
  9. Kevin Youkilis, Boston
  10. Nick Markakis, Baltimore
(Honorable Mention: Milton Bradley, Josh Hamilton, Carlos Quentin, Curtis Granderson, Ervin Santana, John Danks, Daisuke Matsuzaka)
National League MVP: Albert Pujols
This one's a whole lot easier. Pujols wins this one going away. Just to be fair, let's look at the competition:
Pujols: 357/462/653, 96.8 VORP
Lance Berkman: 312/420/567, 72.2 VORP
Chase Utley: 292/380/535, 62.2 VORP
Chipper Jones: 364/470/574 (439 ABs), 75.4 VORP
Hanley Ramirez: 301/400/540, 80.7 VORP
And lest I be accused 0f hating the Rockies, here's another guy who had a good year:
Matt Holliday: 321/409/538, 60.4 VORP

Oh yeah, some people want to give the award to this guy:
Ryan Howard: 251/339/543, 35.3 VORP
If you can make the argument that he's the best first baseman in the NL -- that is, argue him past Prince Fielder, Carlos Delgado, Adrian Gonzalez, Lance Berkman, and Albert Pujols -- then we will talk. But you can't perform an impossible feat such as that without making an illogical leap of faith based on "intangibles" or "RBI." And if you want to give the award to somebody from the World Champions, just give it to Chase Utley -- he's far more deserving.

I don't consider Manny Ramirez, for the same reason I don't consider Teixeira. But even if I did, he wouldn't come in first:
Manny B. Manny: 332/430/601, 83.5 VORP
Plus, there's the whole "threatening to lie down" part of the season, which does affect "value," whether LA fans like it or not.

  1. Albert Pujols, Cardinals
  2. Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
  3. Lance Berkman, Astros
  4. Chipper Jones, Braves
  5. Tim Lincecum, Giants
  6. Johan Santana, Mets
  7. Chase Utley, Phillies
  8. David Wright, Mets
  9. Carlos Beltran, Mets
  10. Jose Reyes, Mets
(Honorable Mention: Brian McCann, Matt Holliday, Ryan Ludwick, Dan Uggla, Ryan Dempster, Cole Hamels)
AL Cy Young Award: Cliff Lee
I've already argued Lee past several players. So who are the challengers for this award?
Cliff Lee: 22-3, 2.54 ERA, 223.1 IP, 34:170 BB:K ratio, 75.0 VORP
Roy Halladay: 20-11, 2.78 ERA, 246 IP, 39:206 BB:K ratio, 71.5 VORP
Jon Lester: 16-6, 3.21 ERA, 210.1 IP, 66:152 BB:K ratio, 58.2 VORP
Daisuke Matsuzaka: 18-3, 2.90, 167.2 IP, 94:154 BB:K ratio, 50.6 VORP
John Danks: 12-9, 3.32 ERA, 195 IP, 57:159 BB:K ratio, 52.8 VORP
Ervin Santana: 16-7, 3.49 ERA, 219 IP, 47:214 BB:K ratio, 50.3 VORP
Mariano Rivera: 6-5, 1.40 ERA, 39 SV, 1 BS, 70.2 IP, 6:77 BB:K ratio, 34.0 VORP
Francisco Rodriguez: 2-3, 2.24 ERA, 62 SV, 7 BS, 68.1 IP, 34:77 BB:K ratio, 22.3 VORP

Give Rivera all the extra save opportunities, and he would have broken the record, too. K-Rod was about the 4th- or 5th-best closer in the AL, so he's not in the discussion for best pitcher. Neither is Rivera, for that matter, as you have to have a great season by a closer to win the Cy Young (not to mention a lot of bad seasons from some starters).
The race is, to me at least, between Lee and Halladay. A lot was made at the end of the season about Halladay having to face all the tough lineups in the AL East, whereas Lee got an easier go of it in the Central. But if you look at the quality of batters faced, it's not as big a deal as you'd expect. Lee not only went 22-3, he led the league in ERA and Fair ERA (ERA that takes into account baserunners left behind). He didn't pitch as many innings as Halladay or get as many strikeouts, but he was more effective when he did pitch, and he's not far behind in either measure. A vote for Roy Halladay wouldn't be out of line, but if I had a vote, it would go to Cliff Lee.
  1. Cliff Lee, Cleveland
  2. Roy Halladay, Toronto
  3. Jon Lester, Boston
  4. Ervin Santana, Los Angeles
  5. John Danks, Chicago
  6. Daisuke Matsuzaka, Boston
  7. Justin Duchscherer, Oakland
  8. Scott Baker, Minnesota
  9. Mike Mussina, New York
  10. Mariano Rivera, New York
NL Cy Young Award: Tim Lincecum
This is another close contest between two guys. I'll let you guess who the two are:
Tim Lincecum: 18-5, 2.62 ERA, 227 IP, 84:265 BB:K ratio, 72.5 VORP
Johan Santana: 16-7, 2.53 ERA, 234.1 IP, 63:206 BB:K ratio, 73.4 VORP
Brandon Webb: 22-7, 3.30 ERA, 226.2 IP, 65:183 BB:K ratio, 50.8 VORP
Cole Hamels: 14-10, 3.09 ERA, 227.1 IP, 53:196 BB:K ratio, 56.3 VORP
Ryan Dempster: 17-6, 2.96 ERA, 206.2 IP, 76:187 BB:K ratio, 57.5 VORP

Brad Lidge: 2-0, 1.95 ERA, 41 SV, 0 BS, 69.1 IP, 35:92 BB:K ratio, 26.7 VORP
Lidge's season has been overrated, though not as much as K-Rod's. We're making the mistake of looking at saves alone instead of the whole picture. And the truth is that while Lidge had a very good season (he was the best reliever in the league), he can't compete with the starters for the Cy Young.
Lincecum and Santana are amazingly close here. I went for Lincecum mainly because of the strikeouts, although there's a good argument to be made for Santana. Ask me again next week, and I might change my mind, but for now I'm going with Lincecum.
Oh, and by the way, I didn't forget this guy. He falls in the same category as Teixeira:
C.C. Sabathia: 17-10, 2.70 ERA, 59:251 BB:K ratio, 76.2 VORP
If Sabathia had spent the entire season in the NL, I'd vote for him as the Cy Young. But he didn't, so I won't. The same goes for Rich Harden, who also would have made my top ten if he had spent the entire season in one league.
  1. Tim Lincecum, San Francisco
  2. Johan Santana, New York
  3. Ryan Dempster, Chicago
  4. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia
  5. Jake Peavy, San Diego
  6. Ben Sheets, Milwaukee
  7. Chad Billingsley, Los Angeles
  8. Brandon Webb, Arizona
  9. Derek Lowe, Los Angeles
  10. Ricky Nolasco, Florida
AL Rookie of the Year: Evan Longoria
NL Rookie of the Year: Geovany Soto
Both of these guys won the awards with a near-unanimous vote, so I'll spare the speeches.
  1. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay
  2. Mike Aviles, Kansas City
  3. Joba Chamberlain, New York
  1. Geovany Soto, Chicago
  2. Joey Votto, Cincinnati
  3. Jair Jurrjens, Atlanta
AL Manager of the Year: Joe Maddon
Maddon also won in a near-unanimous vote. There's good things to be said about several skippers in the AL, but Maddon accomplished the most on-field and, I think, the most off the field as well.

  1. Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay
  2. Terry Francona, Boston
  3. Ron Gardenhire, Minnesota
NL Manager of the Year: Lou Pineilla
Pineilla won the award, as announced today. Charlie Manuel was the more dramatic choice, since his team went to the postseason. But while Charlie did a good job, I think he made more mistakes than Lou did. Lou put together a dominant team (until October) while dealing with the collapse of Kosuke Fukudome, injuries to key players, and the unexpected rise to fame of Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot. He handled it all smoothly, getting the best team on the field most of the time, and eased the Cubs into October for the second straight year.

  1. Lou Pineilla, Chicago
  2. Tony LaRussa, St. Louis
  3. Charlie Manuel, Philadelphia
AL Executive of the Year: Andrew Friedman
(Baseball only gives one of these awards, but I give out one for each league)
Friedman didn't put together a pennant-winning team in just this year, although his moves this year (signing Cliff Floyd, trading for Chad Bradford, etc.) worked out very well. But I'm going to cheat a little and make this an award for the past few years. Friedman has done an excellent job since taking over as GMs. There have been bumps along the way undoubtedly, and while some (small) credit must be given to the previous regime for drafting guys like Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton, the credit goes to the new ownership and new executives who finally turned that potential into reality.

  1. Andrew Friedman, Tampa Bay
  2. Theo Epstein, Boston
  3. Kenny Williams, Chicago
NL Executive of the Year: Neal Huntington
I don't often give out these awards to last-place teams, but Huntington deserves credit for turning around the worst franchise in baseball, or at least starting off the process. Huntington showed a willingness to deal, and a willingness to take quantity over quality, since GMs of bad teams rarely get a choice in the matter. The new ownership is trying to turn around the corporate culture, and Huntington and his team are trying to secure the future while making for a nicer present, acquiring players like Andy LaRoche.

  1. Neal Huntington, Pittsburgh
  2. Jim Hendry, Chicago
  3. Pat Gillick, Philadelphia
Best AL Offense: Texas Rangers
If the Rangers had a pitching staff even moderately worth a damn, they would have been contenders, easily. As it is, they led the league in Runs per Game (5.56) by a longshot over second-place Boston (5.22). The biggest contributors were Milton Bradley, Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, and Michael Young.\

  1. Texas Rangers
  2. Boston Red Sox
  3. Detroit Tigers
Best NL Offense: Chicago Cubs
Amazingly, the Cubs did this without any one player providing star power. Instead, they had a series of stars and a lack of holes in the lineup. They had at least a good player at pretty much every position, with the pick-ups of Reed Johnson and Jim Edmonds effectively patching up the outfield. The Cubs led the NL in Runs per Game (5.31) and it really wasn't even close (New York and Philadelphia tied for 2nd with 4.93).

  1. Chicago Cubs
  2. St. Louis Cardinals
  3. New York Mets
Best AL Pitching Staff: Toronto Blue Jays
This one also wasn't even close. The Jays put together the league's top rotation, headed by Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett, and also sported a strong bullpen. Their 3.49 team ERA was far better than 2nd-place Tampa Bay (3.82), who was the only other team with an ERA under 4.00.

  1. Toronto Blue Jays
  2. Tampa Bay Rays
  3. Boston Red Sox
Best NL Pitching Staff: Los Angeles Dodgers
Top-to-bottom, this was a dynamic roster of pitchers. From the rotation of stars Derek Lowe, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, and Clayton Kershaw down to the bullpen with dual closers Takashi Saito and Jonathan Broxton, supported by great seasons from Hong-Chi Kuo, Cory Wade, and Chan Ho Park.

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers
  2. Chicago Cubs
  3. Philadelphia Phillies
Ozzie Guillen Award (AL): Marcus Thames (DET)
Thames has good power, but that's about it; he hit .241 and managed just a .292 OBP thanks to a batting line that included 95 strikeouts against just 30 walks.
Honorable Mention: Garret Anderson, Kelly Shoppach, Adam Jones, Jose Guillen

Ozzie Guillen Award (NL): Kevin Kouzmanoff (SD)
Kouz was supposed to take over the third base job in San Diego. Instead, he hit 260/299/433 with 23 HR and a 23:139 BB:K ratio. When he wasn't hitting homers, he wasn't hitting, period. The job could have gone to Chase Headley, but he wasn't doing much better: 269/337/420 with a 30:104 BB:K ratio.
Honorable Mention: Mike Jacobs, Brandon Phillips, Corey Hart

Hard-Luck Pitcher Award (AL): Felix Hernandez (SEA)
Felix Hernandez was, by my ranking, the 10th-best starting pitcher in the AL last year. He posted a 3.45 ERA in 200.2 innings, striking out 175 against 80 walks and just 17 homers. Unfortunately, his last-place team helped him to a sorry 9-11 record. You'd never have known he was so good . . .

Hard-Luck Pitcher Award (NL): Matt Cain (SF)
The OTHER young pitcher with the Giants didn't get any Cy Young consideration. And while he wasn't great, he was among the 20 best starters in the league, which is saying something. His 2008 ERA was ust 3.76, and he managed a 91:186 BB:K ratio in 217.2 innings. But my guess is that once voters saw his 8-14 record, they left him off their ballots without a thought.

The Eye-Popper Award (AL): Daisuke's 94 walks in 167.2 IP
Daisuke managed to lead the league in walks despite barely qualifying for the ERA title. He also struck out nearly one batter per inning, 154 overall. This is why it took four hours+ for the Sox to finish his games, and he rarely made it past the 5th inning.

The Eye-Popper Award (NL): C.C. Sabathia's 7 complete games and 3 shutouts
Pitching less than half the season in Milwaukee, Sabathia still managed to lead the league in complete games (teammate Ben Sheets was second with 5) and tie for the league lead in shutouts (3, with Sheets). The Brewers rode their starters hard into the playoffs, that's for sure.

The Greatest Season No One Noticed (AL): Milton Bradley (TEX)
While teammate Josh Hamilton gets MVP consideration and is invited on all of the talk shows, Bradley spends the offseason idle. This despite the fact that he led the league in OBP (.436) and Equivalent Average (.341), meaning he was the best hitter, per at-bat, in the whole AL. He only managed 414 ABs due to injury, but he still deserves more than a participation ribbon for his work in 2008. Maybe he'll get it on the free agent market.

The Greatest Season No One Noticed (NL): Hanley Ramirez (FLA)
Where's the MVP love for Hanley? He hit 301/400/540, improved his defense, and finished with 80.7 VORP, second only to Albert Pujols in the whole NL. Instead, people are throwing parties for the likes of Ryan Howard. Sigh.

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