2009 THT Awards Primer

Welcome to another year of the The Hardball Times Awards.

Today we’re here to briefly explain some of the awards that we hand out. I’ll also recap some of last year’s winners and make some predictions for who might be a good candidate to end the season as our winner in selected categories.

This is the third season I have written the weekly awards, first at Beyond the Box Score, now here at THT.

This Week’s Proof That Assigning Wins and Losses to a Pitcher is an Idiotic Practice that Must Stop

Good Luck Division:
Bad Luck Division

Every week there are a number of times where a starter puts up a solid showing only to be betrayed by his bullpen and/or his offense. And by contrast there are also times every week where a starter gets roughed up by the opposing hitters, but is saved from himself by a combination of the other team’s pitching and his own team’s hitting. By now everybody knows the weaknesses of the won/loss system. But we still get Cy Young votes based on them and we still have to endure beat writers praising pitchers who post poor performance after poor performance based on run support enabled win totals. And we still encounter color commentators who hold it against a guy who allows one run in a complete game 1-0 loss. These two categories are a tribute to that.

The archetype for a weekly award winner on the good luck side is the guy who gives up five runs in five innings and ends up with a bright, shiny, new win. For a season, we’re looking at Horacio Ramirez’s 2007, where he went 8-7 with a staggering 7.16 ERA. On the bad luck side, it’s the pitcher who records a complete game one hitter and loses to Roy Halladay in one of his ridiculous complete game shutouts. On a season award, Jake Peavy last year set the bar pretty high, posting a sub .500 record with an ERA under three.

If we were to predict the end of season winners, on the bad luck side, you’re looking for a good starter on a team with a bad offense which is easy enough. Peavy himself qualifies again this season. Roy Ozwalt is a definite possibility, as are Felix Hernandez and Matt Cain. On the opposite side, you would theoretically be looking for a middling starter for a team with a good offense who is durable enough to make a bunch of starts. That would point you towards somebody like Joe Blanton. But one thing I’ve noticed is that there is always some pitcher on a team with a mediocre offense who just gets fluky run support that is much better than any other hurler on staff and that pitcher will probably win it.

Vulture alert! Vulture alert!

This is pretty self-explanatory. For all of the weaknesses of the won/loss rule for pitchers, it at least usually has some kind of tentative link to how the pitcher actually performs. For relievers it has little or no use at all. It is mostly a sign of a usage pattern. And very few things in our traditional baseball scoring system are more perplexing than the spectacle of a reliever blowing a lead, and then miraculously getting a win.

The Wes Littleton Award

All you really need to know about this particular award is that it is named in honor of the guy who got a save in this game.

Please Hold the Applause

Like the save, the motivation for creating the stat known as the hold was a good one. Recognizing middle relievers and setup men who hold the other team’s offense in check is something that is to be encouraged. But like the save, the way it actually works is deeply flawed.

Any Sufficiently Advanced Defense is Indistinguishable from Pitching

For when you go seven innings of scoreless ball despite not striking anybody out. For example, the first couple months of Livan Hernandez’s 2008.

An Idle Question

Am I the only one who has noticed that every time anybody wants to sell anything to sports fans, they depict those sports fans as mentally ill? The Verizon ESPN MVP series is the worst, with characters that are so pathologically narcissistic that they make Dexter look well adjusted by comparison. I will give them some credit though for copying the vapid, cliché-ridden, uninteresting, uninformative, and unnecessary post-game press conference athlete-speak that we see in real life. I really can not remember anything interesting ever coming out of one of those interviews. At best they’re bland. At their worst, they make us all dumber for having watched and listened to them.

Any Given Tuesday

Weird stuff happens. The Rays go from losing 96 games to winning the Pennant.

A Public Service Announcement

I feel compelled to those of you who may not have kept up with newspaper stories from the early part of spring training to catch you up on all that happened. It sounds like more than one could easily handle in a brief note contained in a larger article that in itself isn’t that long. But trust me, we can do this.

Everybody showed up in the best shape of their careers thanks to an improved diet and a lot of work in the gym. Even those who had obviously spent a lot of quality time with double bacon bbq cheeseburgers are in great shape thankyouverymuch.

Every hitter spent the winter in a batting cage working on their approach. Every pitcher worked on commanding a pitch they’ve always had issues with and cleaning up their mechanics.

Injured players worked on rehabbing and feel great, right up until the point where they didn’t and they had to miss a start due to their back or shoulder killing them.

Late February and early March spring training stories are almost 100% wastes of newsprint and electrons.

The Joe Carter Award

This award is given to the hitter whose high RBI total gives the most misleading picture of his actual contributions to the offense. Basically the premise is that any decent ML hitter can at least come close to driving in 100 runs provided he’s durable and has a manager willing to put him in the heart of the order daily.

Last year’s winner was Jose Guillen, who is a pretty reasonable candidate for 2009 as well.

The Rey Sanchez Batting Average is all I’ve Got Award

Rey Sanchez was a lousy hitter, but while he was with the Royals nobody ever seemed willing to admit that he was a lousy hitter courtesy of him having a superficially attractive batting average. There’s always a Rey Sanchez around who puts up a batting average just good enough to make everybody forget about the extra base hits he isn’t collecting and the walks he isn’t drawing. Secondary skills are important.

Darin Erstad won the title last year and again, that seems very reasonable. For the last two years, Delmon Young has been a very strong competitor for the award.

The Harmon Killebrew Batting Average is for Wussies Award

Think of it as the antithesis of the Sanchez and you have the idea. What is required here is an ability to generate power and get on base despite posting poor batting averages. There is more of a “usual suspects” crowd here than you’ll find for any award because it accentuates a certain style of hitter. Adam Dunn, Carlos Pena, Ryan Howard, Jack Cust, and Jason Giambi are all leading competitors. My money is on Pena as he is the lone one in the bunch that carries positive defensive value. But if you want a dark horse, look for Chris B Young of the Snakes. If he adds a few more walks to his stat line, then his defense and power become pretty valuable despite his strikeout rate bringing down his batting average.

The Steve Balboni Award

Balboni is what happens when the positives in a three true outcomes approach don’t do enough to counteract the absence of balls in play. It takes a very extreme set of skills to make up for 150 strikeouts a season. You have to have very high walk totals and very high isolated slugging figures. For players like Cust and Pena, that is there. But if you are missing the power element, or is you don’t draw an ungodly number of walks or if your batting average was just so bad that no theoretically possible number of walks could counter the drain on your OBP, then you land here. Last year, Jeff Mathis was the honoree.

Three True Outcomes Alert!!!

I’ve considered dropping one of the trio of TTO-related categories or merging two of them, but I think I’ll keep them all for now.

We also track the MVP, Most Valuable Pitcher, and Rookie of the Year awards. I have picks here, but I just sent my picks in for the THT staff predictions this week and I will reserve them for that.

This Week’s Comments Question

I’m soliciting your comments on one thing every week this season. This week I’m curious who among you have special opening day rituals. Please leave your comments on the Ballhype

Thanks for joining us for another season. We’ll see you again next week for the first week of awards and commentary.

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