THT Awards Season Recap Part One

Welcome to the awards. This week we recap the season for the hitting awards. Next week we will take a look at the pitchers.

Thanks for taking a moment out of your weekend to join us. Whether you spent your week participating in the most public job interview in the world, wandering around the streets of an Asian city-state, or watching your team play (and win) its first postseason game in its history, we all deserve the weekend.

For award definitions and background on the column itself, please consult the Primer. Also reference last year’s season recap.

Any Given Tuesday

Parody watch: Last year I cited the abnormally small gap between the best record in baseball (96-66) and the worst (66-96) and compared that to the NFL and NBA. Well, this year we do have a 100-win team in the Angels and a pair of 100-loss teams in the Mariners and Nationals. This is the equivalent of having one single 10-win team and two 10-loss teams in the NFL. As we all know, that was a long way from being the case. It will likely never happen there. The gravitational forces pulling teams towards .500 in a 162-game season are entirely different than those in a 16-game season.

In other parody news, we can congratulate the Tampa Bay Rays and Milwaukee Brewers for getting off the schneid. Meanwhile, the city and state of New York is shut out. The teams that made it into the playoffs come from Neilson market numbers 2 (both teams), 3 (both teams), 4, 7, 13, and 34.

The Joe Carter Award

Jose Guillen drove in 97 runs in his 598 at-bats this season. However, only having walked 23 times, he had a meager .264/.300/.438 line.

Others worthy of mention: Corey Hart was similar to, but slightly superior to Guillen, having better defensive and base running skills. His .268/.300/.459 line with 94 RBI is a great match. He also tallied 45 doubles and 20 home runs (Guillen: 42 and 20 respectively) in his 612 at-bats. He gets extra credit for being much more valuable in fantasy than in real life* courtesy of his 20/20 status, with 23 steals.

* Provided you aren’t in a league that counts walks as a category, such as the one where I had Hart and Matt Kemp.

Good news for both Guillen and Hart is that provided they can maintain their current strikeout rate, they’re probably in line for a bump in batting average, which will boost all of the offending rate stats.

Ryan Garko drove in 90 with a punchless .273/.346/.404 as a primary first baseman.

Garrett Atkins was pretty mediocre himself, with a .286/.328/.452 line and 99 ribbies.

Catching up with Last Season’s Winner: Jeff Francoeur took the honor last season by hitting .293/.338/.444 while driving in 105. Well, he could only dream of those rate stats this season, as he scuffled to a .239/.294/.359 line. He was a significant factor in the demise of this year’s Atlanta squad. However, he still managed to drive in 71 in his 595 at-bats.

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

Darin Erstad hit .276, but like he has every season since his ridiculously flukey 2000 season, he was fundamentally incapable of generating walks or extra-base hits, collecting only 14 free passes and four home runs in 322 at-bats for a .276/.309/.363 FAILure of a campaign. In spite of the evidence of his shortcomings, he was rewarded with a contract for 2009 by the Astros.

Others receiving votes:
Garret Anderson .293/.325/.433
Erick Aybar .277/.314/.384
Casey Kotchman .272/.328/.410
Juan Pierre .283/.327/.328
Delmon Young .290/.336/.405

Catching up with Last Season’s Winner: Delmon Young captured last year’s crown by going .288/.316/.408. I said back then that I thought he would quickly pick up some more power, but his walk rate would be likely to stagnate. I went 0 for 2 on that as he didn’t add on any kind of thunder. And while it didn’t take him into the area where one would consider his walk rate acceptable, he did show a small uptick in his plate discipline, drawing nine extra walks in 58 fewer plate appearances.

The Harmon Killebrew Batting Average is for Wussies Award

Adam Dunn wins going away with a .236/.386/.513 season. His K rate has decreased a bit since he vaulted into the 190-plus range during 2004 and 2006, but it is still very high as he fanned 164 times in 517 at-bats. But secondary skills matter, especially when you have power and patience like Dunn. The big guy walked 122 times and launched 40 bombs.

Runners-up:
Carlos Pena and Jason Giambi had similar-looking seasons, but due to baggage and defensive abilities, their seasons were perceived very differently. Giambi drew 76 walks and hit 32 homers while Pena locked in for 96 and 31 respectively. Their .247/.386/.513 and .247/.377/.494 lines also looked very similar.

Jim Edmonds had an odd season, looking very washed up in San Diego before taking off with the Cubs. He ended the season at .231/.343/.479.

And Jack Cust hit .231/.375/.476 in his poor man’s Adam Dunn kind of way.

Last year, Cust carried the banner narrowly over Pat Burrell. Cust hit .256/.408/.504 and I worried that he would be able to maintain a solid enough performance to make a return trip to the list. I stand corrected for now.

The Steve Balboni Award

The contract the Dodgers gave to Andruw Jones has been a total disaster thus far as he struck out 76 times in 209 at-bats on his way to a .158/.256/.249 grease fire of a season. If he doesn’t pull out of the tailspin he has been in over the last two seasons, he will have had one of the strangest career arcs of the last twenty years. If there’s any kind of player you would expect to age well, it is a guy with good speed and power with a history of drawing walks. With an OPS+ of 32, Andruw looked pretty much finished.

Also ran:
Angels catcher and former hot prospect Jeff Mathis struck out 90 times in 283 at-bats for a .194/.275/.318 line.

Ryan Howard’s all-time record of 199 strikeouts did not last long, falling the year after he broke it. Mark Reynolds struck out a staggering 204 times, contributing to a mediocre .239/.320/.458 line.

Chris B. Young 165 K, 625 AB, .248/.315/.443
Bill Hall: 124 K, 404 AB, .225/.293/.396
Brandon Boggs: 93 K, 283 AB, .226/.333/.399

In 2007, I gave the Balboni to Jonny Gomes, who struck out 126 times in 346 at-bats for a .244/.322/.460 season. Gomes only got 154 at-bats for the Rays this year, spending some time in Durham after struggling to the tune of .182/.282/.383 with 46 strikeouts in 154 at-bats. In 107 International League at-bats, he struck out 32 times and hit .252/.341/.411.

On the Subject of Strikeouts

One question that often comes from people who are outside of the realm of sabermetrics or new to the field is how it is possible that strikeout rates can be one of if not the most important factors when looking at the future success of a pitcher while not being a primary factor when looking at a hitter. I don’t have any grand wisdom that would be a better way to explain it than what you already have available or a different way of looking at the relationships at hand. There are a half dozen people on the site that can make a case like that better than I could ever be able to do. But I did find the following data set to be interesting.

This year on offense, the five teams with the most strikeouts were Florida, Arizona, San Diego, Oakland, and Tampa. They ranked 14, 20, 30, 27, and 13 in runs scored. The teams that struck out the least were the Angels, St Louis, Minnesota, Toronto, and Seattle. Those teams ranked 15, 12, 4, 21, and 26. I’m not a statistician, but that seems to indicate that there’s some correlation there. Teams that didn’t strike out as much had a vague tendency to score more runs, but there was a lot of variation, especially with the low strikeout clubs, which is a list that makes one think that you just took every fifth team.

On the pitching side of the ledger, the Cubs, San Francisco, Arizona, Cincinnati, and the Dodgers led the game in strikeouts. They ranked 4, 16, 9, 22, 2 in runs allowed. The bottom five had Baltimore, St Louis, Pittsburgh, Texas, and Cleveland. Those squads rated 28, 11, 29, 30, and 17. It’s a much cleaner set of samples.

As I said, it’s not something that would ever be confused with conclusive evidence.

Three True Outcomes Alert!!!

Ryan Howard is really a hard man to beat here as he excels at all of the categories, leading baseball with 48 home runs, coming a close second in strikeouts with 199, and breaking the top 25 in walks with 81.

Others worth mentioning:

Adam Dunn 651 PA, 40 HR, 122 BB, 164 K
Jack Cust 598 PA, 33 HR, 111 BB, 197 K
Dan Uggla 619, 32, 77, 171
Carlos Pena 607, 31, 96, 166
Mark Reynolds 613, 28, 64, 204
Chris Snyder 404, 16, 56, 101
Mike Napoli 274, 20, 35, 70

Cust won it last season and was not very far from it this year either.

MVP

AL: I am very, very torn. It has been said by people better at this analysis thing than I that there are a number of answers that are correct in the AL this year. And as long as the writers don’t go too far afield and reward Francisco Rodriguez for having the Angels hand him a ridiculous number of save opportunities or forget to notice that Justin Morneau’s RBI totals are a direct result of Joe Mauer’s on base skills, they’ll do fine. I have five position players on my board along with one pitcher. The pitcher is Cliff Lee and while I can see an argument for him being the choice as he did turn the average AL batter into a .253/.285/.348 pathetic mass of protoplasm, he is not my choice. So I’ll move on.

Moving through process of elimination, I love Kevin Youkilis as a player, having gone .312/.390/.569 with 43 doubles and 29 home runs to go with his 62 walks. He adds outstanding defense at first base and chips in at third base when needed. But there are more deserving up the middle players out there.

Alex Rodriguez led the AL in VORP at 65.6 and hit .302/.392/.573 with 33 doubles, 35 home runs, 65 walks, and 18 stolen bases with a great 86 percent success rate. But again, he’s competing with comparable up the middle players.

That leaves me with Dustin Pedroia, Joe Mauer, and Grady Sizemore. Sizemore was my favorite for most of the year with his extremely broad range of contributions. He hits for power with 33 home runs and 39 doubles. He drew 98 walks. And when he was on base, he stole a lot of bases (38) and was efficient in doing so (88 percent). He has a good, not great glove in center. I see nothing not to like here.

Pedroia has a pretty broad range of skills as well. The most valuable of those skills is the ability to make lots of hard contact with the ball, having struck out only 52 times in 653 at-bats while hitting .326 with 73 extra-base hits. And this is out of a second baseman with a good glove and a 20 of 21 stolen base success rate. I was dismissive at first when the calls started coming for Pedroia to win the award a little over a month ago. Let me say on the record. Those calls were not fundamentally wrong.

That leaves Mauer, who is a Gold Glove-caliber catcher who gets on base more than 40 percent of the time. He is one of the more unique players out there today. You don’t get OBP machine Gold Glove catchers. He does not hit a lot of home runs, but when you hit .328 and draw 84 walks, it is not 100 percent necessary to be a Mike Piazza-style long ball factory. I’m giving my vote and this award to Joseph Patrick Mauer.

NL: The senior circuit is a lot less complicated because they have the best hitter in the game. Albert Pujols is simply ridiculous. He has no reasonably close competition as he hit .357/.462/.653.

The closest one comes to his brilliance is Hanley Ramirez, who hit .301/.400/.540 with 33 home runs. He fills every category, stealing bases, drawing walks, hitting for average and power.

Chase Utley would have been higher had he not gotten injured and lost 100 points of slugging from the first half to the second half. Still, .292/.380/.535 is outstanding and people keep trying to hand hardware to his teammates without noticing him.

Most Valuable Rookie

AL: Evan Longoria’s .272/.343/.531 wins over Mike Aviles’ .325/.354/.480, but it is pretty close. On the outside, you have Joba Chamberlain and the overlooked horse in this race, Denard Span, who hit .294/.387/.432 and played incredibly well in right field, picking up for the disappointing Michael Cuddyer.

NL: Geovany Soto is to NL rookies as Albert Pujols is to the rest of the NL. He simply dominated. When a catcher hits .285/.364/.504, it’s a huge advantage over the field. Trailing him is Joey Votto, who had hitting stats that look a lot like Soto’s only from a first baseman, and Jair Jurrjens, who limited opposing batters to .260/.327/.384.

We will return next week for final column of the season. Until then, thanks for reading.

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