Award time: Who deserves the MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards?
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With the baseball regular season over, it's time to present my hypothetical MLB awards ballot. I'll look at the MVP, Cy Young and Rookies of the Year awards, while staying away from Manager of the Year until we can figure out how to accurately evaluate managers.
Notes on criteria: I relied largely on advanced stats -- both Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs WAR, OPS+, wRC+, ERA+, FIP -- but also on some more conventional wisdom. I haven't quite been able to shake the notion that the league's two best hitters might not be among the ten most valuable players, as WAR suggests.
Also, unlike many stat-minded folks, I'm not against giving a little MVP bonus to players on contending teams. Consider that a tie-breaker.
Let's get to it.
1. Mike Trout
2. Michael Brantley
3. Felix Hernandez
4. Corey Kluber
5. Robinson Cano
6. Victor Martinez
7. Jose Abreu
8. Jose Altuve
9. Adrian Beltre
10. Jose Bautista
This should finally be the break-through year for Mike Trout, after second-place finishes each of the past two seasons. Because the centerfielder will be a near-unanimous selection (prediction: one or two people vote against him, sparking a Twitter firestorm), the real drama lies in who finishes second.
Spots two through 10 can be argued all day, with few right answers.
In fact, at least five guys have a case for that second spot. If you're about traditional numbers at power positions, you'll vote for Martinez or Abreu. If you're a strict WAR adherent you might consider Josh Donaldson and his huge defensive metrics. If you like pitchers, Hernandez and Kluber are strong candidates.
But I'm taking none of those guys.
Brantley offers a little bit of everything, with a .327 average, 20 home runs and 23 stolen bases, plus a 154 OPS+ and 155 wRC+ that both rank fifth in the AL. Add it all up and he's tied for third among AL position players in WAR on Baseball-Reference and second in the same category on Fangraphs.
1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Andrew McCutchen
3. Jonathan Lucroy
4. Giancarlo Stanton
5. Buster Posey
6. Adam Wainwright
7. Anthony Rendon
8. Johnny Cueto
9. Russell Martin
10. Troy Tulowitzki
Yeah, an NL starting pitcher hasn't won the MVP award since Bob Gibson in 1968. Yeah, starters play only once every five days. Yeah, Kershaw missed five weeks toward the beginning of the season and finished short of 200 innings pitched. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
It doesn't matter. The best -- and therefore, essentially most valuable -- player in the NL this year wore number 22 for the Dodgers.
Kershaw put up a 1.77 ERA without any batted-ball luck. His FIP of 1.81 is only slightly higher than his ERA, meaning he was not a beneficiary of especially splendid defense or of balls finding gloves. That FIP is actually the third best in the NL since 1920, after the legendary campaigns of Dwight Gooden in 1984 and Bob Gibson in 1968.
Of course Kershaw benefits from Dodger Stadium's dimensions, plus all the factors (widened strike zone, drug testing, defensive shifts) that have created a dramatic low-run climate, but his season has been remarkable regardless. He comfortably leads the NL in WAR on both Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs.
Slots two through four can be arranged any way. I'm partial to McCutchen, who led the league in just about every advanced offensive statistic. The bottom half of the rankings are totally up for grabs. I also considered Yasiel Puig and Josh Harrison for the final spots.
AL CY YOUNG
1. Felix Hernandez
2. Corey Kluber
3. Chris Sale
4. Jon Lester
5. Max Scherzer
Toughest award on the board.
All season, Hernandez was the presumptive winner, but in late September, Kluber came on strong and King Felix began to slip.
In the end, both WAR formulas favor Kluber, but I'm not so sure.
The Mariners ace tops his Indians counterpart in ERA and ERA+, while Kluber leads Hernandez relatively slightly in FIP, in an almost-identical number of innings.
I'm still not sure how I feel about using FIP as a measure of past performance, rather than just a predictor of future performance.
With that in mind, I lean toward Hernandez. Until we know exactly how much of a pitcher's batting average on balls in play he can control I'm hesitant to favor the guy (Kluber) with the substantially inferior ERA and ERA+ because he might have had worse luck.
NL CY YOUNG
1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Adam Wainwright
3. Johnny Cueto
4. Cole Hamels
5. Jordan Zimmermann
This one obviously goes to Kershaw, but I'll spend some time on the toss-up for second place.
Here we see a huge divergence between Baseball-Reference WAR and Fangraphs WAR. Fangraphs loves Zimmermann because his FIP is second in the league and is less high on Cueto because his FIP ranks 11th. Baseball-Reference is lukewarm on Zimmermann because his ERA+ is seventh in the league but his high on Cueto, whose ERA+ ranks second.
As I mentioned, I'm iffy on using FIP as a measure of performance, but I do recognize its merit, so I'm going to split the difference and go with Wainwright, who stands third in both FIP and ERA+.
Cueto slips past Zimmermann and the underrated Hamels for having thrown more more innings than either.
AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
1. Jose Abreu
2. Collin McHugh
3. Dellin Betances
My goodness this is a crowded field.
After the obvious winner, Jose Abreu, everything gets impossibly muddled. Originally, I had Masahiro Tanaka and Yordano Ventura in the second and third spots. I considered Kevin Kiermeier, Matt Shoemaker, Marucs Stroman and Danny Santana.
Eventually I settled on Houston's McHugh, who has been entirely overlooked despite a 2.73 ERA and 143 ERA+ in 154.2 innings, and Betances, who has been probably the second best reliever in the AL, after Wade Davis.
This can be argued many different ways, and really you can't go wrong with any of the above candidates.
NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
1. Jacob deGrom
2. Ender Inciarte
3. Billy Hamilton
Can the NL borrow a few of those AL rookies?
deGrom is a fairly worthy winner, with a 2.69 ERA and 130 ERA+ in 140.1 innings.
After a hot first half at the plate, Hamilton ended the season with a .250 batting average and 83 OPS+. He gets points for speed and defense but so does Inciarte, who has toiled in humid anonymity, out-hitting Hamilton and playing similarly excellent defense for Arizona.
As with many of these awards, a number of ranking permutations for NL Rookie of the Year, perhaps involving Phillies reliever Ken Giles, would be defensible.
Alex Putterman is a junior Journalism major at Northwestern University and sports editor of the Daily Northwestern student newspaper. He has fairly eclectic interests but loves baseball above all. Follow him on Twitter: @AlexPutt02