Welcome to the awards.
If you are a new reader, reference the week one column for category explanations.
Joe Carter Award
Alfonso Soriano’s skills have devolved to a point where he will hit for power, but nothing else he does is useful. He is nobody’s idea of a good defensive outfielder. He isn’t terrible with the glove, but he just doesn’t stand out among left fielders, which in itself is a damning statement. He doesn’t run the bases well. He still strikes out enough to make hitting for average an unlikely event. And he doesn’t draw walks, ever, which combines with his inability to hit for average to make his OBP an albatross. Only Houston drew fewer walks than the Cubs, and Soriano’s 27 in 508 PA was a leading cause.
But despite all of this, Soriano’s power enabled him to drive in 88 runs, the same number as Justin Upton. Upton batted .289/.369/.529. Soriano batted .244/.289/.469. And he still has three years at $18 million each remaining on his contract.
Adam Lind was similarly bad, going .251/.295/.439 but still finding a way to collect 87 RBIs.
Josh Willingham was a perfectly acceptable everyday player, but his season total of 98 RBIs would traditionally be used as some sort of proof that he is some kind of modern titan. But his overall line of .246/.332/.477 and WAR of 2.1 and 1.8 paint him more accurately as better than adequate but nothing special.
Mark Trumbo suffers from Soriano disease. Hitting for power is all he has: 87 RBIs, .254/.291/.477 for the Halos.
Raul Ibañez is most likely finished: 84 RBIs, .245/.289/.419.
Rey Sanchez Award
I mentioned a couple weeks ago how much it hurts to see the once great Vladimir Guerrero reduced to this. He’s a DH without power and while he has never been a patient hitter, the fact that he only amassed 44 extra-base hits in 590 plate appearances did not help the walk rate. .290/.317/.416 isn’t helpful. He was replacement level this year.
Juan Pierre has been alternately useful and useless through his career. That is a large function of his extreme skill set. With no power and no walks (why would ever throw him anything other than straight down the middle when the worst that will happen is the same outcome as if you had walked him?), he is beholden to the whims of BABIP. But as with Vlad, this may be the end of the line for the old speedster. The value of his defense has dwindled to where his ability to run down flies doesn’t entirely make up for his possession of one of the weakest arms in the game. And his speed has left him a net negative on the bases.
The fact that Pierre hit .279 this season could be looked upon as a positive, but given that his line was .279/.329/.327 and he was 27 and 17 stealing bases, it just isn’t really a relevant fact anymore.
Jeff Keppinger went .277/.300/.377. Even given declining run scoring rates, that just isn’t helpful.
Jose Altuve came up and was a cause célèbre, but that was more because he is a tiny human than for his .276/.297/.357 performance. There will be better days ahead for the rookie.
Darwin Barney was another folk hero in 2011, but .276/.313/.353 was part of the problem on the north side, not part of the solution. He’s perfectly fine to have around as a part timer to fill in at multiple positions, but more than 500 at-bats of that? Pass.
Finally, I usually try to limit this category to players who posted batting averages over .275, but for Ichiro Suzuki, I will make an exception if only to point out .272/.310/.335 in 677 at-bats.
Harmon Killebrew Award
Evan Longoria batted .244. Despite the average, he still managed to be a six-win player. He did that by doing practically everything else well. He hit 26 doubles and 31 home runs. He walked 80 times. And he continued to be one of the better defensive third basemen in the game. It also bears mentioning that the very fact Longoria qualifies for this honor is likely a statistical fluke.
Carlos Santana went .239/.351/.457 with 35 doubles, 27 home runs, and 97 walks. Unlike Longoria, Santana’s low batting average/high secondary skill ways this season may be a trend likely to continue in future seasons, though maybe not to this extent.
Steve Balboni Award
Adam Dunn had a multi-tiered problem this season. The first is that while he has always struck out a lot, he set a new career high with whiffs in more than 35 percent of his plate appearances, following a similar increase last year that took him from 26 percent to 30 percent. So he is making much less contact than he was just two years ago. Add to that when he did make contact, he did much less with the contact. His percentage of fly balls that went for home runs cratered, ending at less than half his career rate. His infield fly percentage skyrocketed. And as a result of these things, his BABIP fell a lot as well. So while 177 strikeouts in 496 PA wasn’t his only problem, it contributed to making his .159/.292/.277 possible.
Austin Jackson isn’t awful as his defense in center is good and he has some secondary skills, but the whole package is compromised by his proclivity for strikeouts with the Tigers regular fanning 181 times in 668 PA. .249/.317/.374.
Miguel Olivo was retired on strikes 140 times in 507 PA. Not coincidentally, he ended the season batting .224/.253/.388 for the Mariners. He was an out machine in a lineup that desperately needed base runners.
Three true outcomes
Mark Reynolds finished with 37 home runs, tied with Albert Pujols for sixth in baseball. He walked 75 times, which tied him for 20th. And he struck out 196 times, second to only Drew Stubbs. This is the Mark Reynolds we know and love.
Curtis Granderson went 41-85-169 in 691 PA.
Mike Stanton went 34-70-166 in 601.
Jose Bautista’s 43-132-111 in 655 PA was remarkable. He led the majors in home runs and walks.
Keppinger went 6-12-24 in 400 PA for the Astros and Giants.
Josh Harrison of the Pirates went 1-3-24 in 204 PA.
A.J. Pierzynski went 8-23-33 in exactly 500 PA.
Juan Pierre posted a 2-43-41 in 711 PA.
Every year at the end of the year I recount and compare the records of baseball teams with those of the NBA and NFL. The NFL is a fun comp because they play almost exactly one-tenth of the schedule MLB plays. The NBA plays approximately half a baseball schedule, unless they are in a lockout and play no schedule whatsoever.
The best record in baseball this season belonged to Philly, who went 102-60 while the worst was the Astros, who went 56-106. The Astros actually won a series in September at home against the Phillies, beating Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels and outscoring the Phillies 10-4. They were swept in the other series against Philadelphia but the season’s run differential between the two clubs was 21-25 in favor of Philly. Baseball is the true sport of any given Sunday, or Tuesday, or Wednesday.
This was the equivalent of the best and worst NFL teams going 10-6 and 6-10. I hesitate to think of what chaos that would bring the NFL’s tie-breaking system when it was time to figure out which 12 teams make the playoffs. In the NBA, that would be a spread of 52-30 and 28-54.
In the NFL, the best record belonged to the New England Patriots at 14-2, the equivalent of a major league team going 140-22. Carolina went 2-14, which is a winning percentage worse than that achieved when the Cleveland Spiders were the de facto farm team of the St Louis Perfectos.
The Chicago Bulls boasted the NBA’s best record, equivalent to a 122-40 record in baseball. The hapless Minnesota Timberwolves went the equivalent of 34-128. The two squads played twice with Chicago winning both by a combined score of 221-173.
It also bears mentioning that we had significant upwards and downwards movement within the standings. Going all in provided the Brewers with a starting pitching infusion and a 19 game improvement in their records. The Snakes did them one better by going from 65 wins and the second worst record in the NL to 94 wins and a playoff spot as the NL West champion.
On the other side, we had the Twins going from 94 to 63 wins, from first to worst. The Padres went from 90 wins to 71.
The only team remaining in the hunt this season that has won the World Series recently is the St Louis Cardinals whose crown in 2006 stands as a monument to baseball’s unpredictability. If anybody but the Cards win it all, then we will have had 11 different teams win a championship in the last 12 years with only the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007 as repeaters.
My minimalist review of Moneyball the movie
I saw it. I liked it. My wife asked “So is that what you write about? Do you understand all of it?”
AL: Bautista is my pick. I know that there is a lot of support for Justin Verlander and Jacoby Ellsbury out there and I figure that Miguel Cabrera has a chance to catch some first place votes from the BBWAA. But I still see Bautista as the best player in the league this season and that is all I would feel comfortable basing my vote on.
Among the things that annoys me most in the world of sports coverage is the constant insistence that we can and should try to crawl inside people’s heads to assign value to pressure situations and to grade the amount of stress each player overcomes and judge the players not on what they actually do but on what they do filtered through this silly prism of whether they did it under ideal mental circumstances. I don’t get it. I won’t do it. I think it takes us further from the truth of what happens in real life and simply acts as a vessel for us to put our preconceived opinions in and launder them into a supposedly unbiased opinion. It’s a pile of crap. Jose Bautista’s situation of being on a team that was not in playoff contention for much of the year did not enable him to operate with less pressure than Jacoby Ellsbury. It did not make his job easier. It did not make baseballs easier to hit or field. I don’t know what it was like to live in Bautista’s head this year and neither do you. So lets stop trying.
FanGraphs WAR lists Ellsbury as the best in the AL. Baseball Reference WAR lists Bautista. I don’t have enough of a statistics background to have an honest opinion on which is right. I do tend to put less weight in advanced defensive statistics than FanGraphs WAR seems to. Ellsbury obviously brings SOME kind of defensive value to the table as he is a good defensive center fielder while Bautista is an okay corner outfielder and third baseman. But it takes a lot of defensive value to make a .302/.447/.608 less valuable than a .321/.376/.552. The 39-point WOBA difference is a lot.
I wouldn’t list Verlander in my top 3. His 2011 was very good, but not so good as to be transcendent. It was very, very good. It was Cy Young worthy. But I don’t count it in a category above other recent great pitching seasons like Cliff Lee last season or Zack Greinke in 2009. So I go in order: Bautista, Ellsbury, Miguel Cabrera, Granderson, Pedroia.
NL: I think the NL turned out to be easier than the AL by virtue of Matt Kemp pulling away from the pack late in the year. How awful does the rest of your roster have to be in order to have Kemp, Kershaw, Kuroda, and still struggle as much as the Dodgers did this season. That’s simply a disgrace.
I don’t like the idea of 30-30 and 40-40 being big things that people care about. It is a nice novelty having one player who has that diverse a skill set, but it really doesn’t mean much. This statement is a well-worn path, but one of these numbers is A LOT more important than the other one. I don’t care much about stolen bases outside of fantasy baseball. I certainly care about them less than home runs, which bring in at least one run every time.
Kemp was great this year. I worry that he is in for a big batting average letdown next year given that he struck out at almost exactly his career norm, but bettered his career batting average by 30 points. The power, the patience, I think all of that is real, but if you want to bat .320 every year, you can’t strike out 159 times a season.
This year has been great. Thanks to everybody. The awards will pick back up where we left them in the spring.