Welcome to the awards, back for the sixth season at the Hardball Times.
All stats are through Sunday, April 7. Given that this is the first column of the season, we will reintroduce you to the awards and what it means when I give somebody a Carter, a Littleton, or a Sanchez.
This week’s proof that assigning wins and losses to a pitcher is an archaic practice that must stop
Good luck division
In his first start as a member of the Blue Jays, Mark Buehrle was torched for six runs in five and a third on seven hits and a walk. He allowed solo home runs to Carlos Santana and Mark Reynolds and still escaped without the loss because his teammates made Brett Myers look ridiculous.
*I think last year we decided that it was unfair to call a blown lead for a setup man or middle reliever a blown save and that a blown hold was a fairer way to show that the save wasn’t coming anyway.
Vance Worley and Chris Tillman yielded 10 runs in eight and two thirds on a staggering 17 hits and five walks, striking out six. Neither starter got the big demerit and nobody was sent to his room without dinner.
Julio Teheran was the benefactor when Carlos Marmol blew his first save of the season. Teheran had been shelled by the Cubs lineup for five runs in as many innings. He had allowed three of those runs on home runs hit by Luis Valbuena and Anthony Rizzo.
Bad luck division
Johnny Cueto threw seven frames for the Reds, allowing one run on three hits and a walk, striking out nine. The lone run came on a Chris Iannetta home run. But Cueto took a no-decision as the Reds lineup managed to score only one run off Jered Weaver and the Halos bullpen in 13 innings.
In Monday’s season opener for both teams, James Shields, Aaron Crow, and Kelvin Herrera held the White Sox to one run on eight hits and a walk, striking out nine. But Shields took the loss as Chris Sale and three of his friends shut out the Royals.
Matt Cain shut out the Dodgers for six innings, allowing only four hits and a walk, striking out eight of the 23 batters he faced. He received no decision, as Clayton Kershaw was brilliant, tossing a complete game shutout of the Giants.
Brett Anderson gave Oakland seven innings, holding the Mariners to two runs on four hits and four walks, striking out six but he took the loss as Felix Hernandez was rolling and the White Elephants got shut out.
Fernando Rodney became the season’s first vulture on Wednesday when he allowed a walk and a double in a one-run game. Matt Joyce followed in the next half inning by smacking a walk-off solo home run off Tommy Hunter. Rodney got the win.
Wes Littleton Award
In 2007, Wes Littleton was credited with a save in a game that he entered with a 14-3 lead. The Rangers scored another 16 runs while he was in the game. This award recognizes the ugliest or least deserving saves. A few times every year we also look at who has the highest save total while not actually being a valuable pitcher.
Carlos Marmol’s first successful save of the season was still horrifically ugly as he allowed the first four batters to reach base and yielded two runs before barely escaping the mighty Pirates.
Grant Balfour recorded the save by retiring Justin Maxwell, Jason Castro and J.D. Martinez with a three-run cushion. I have a feeling I will be citing a lot of three run saves against the Astros this season. You can make almost any combination of three hitters in their lineup sound non-threatening, mostly because they are non-threatening.
Please hold the applause
Owing to conventional wisdom that you have to have one guy with a capital “C” closer job title and you always go to that guy at the top of the ninth, Marmol was handed the ball against the Pirates on Monday. After striking out Garrett Jones, he hit Andrew McCutchen with a pitch, allowed McCutchen to steal second and then score on a Pedro Alvarez single before walking Gaby Sanchez and consequently being lifted from the game in favor of James Russell. He turned a three-run lead with nobody on and nobody out into a two-run lead with runners on first and second and one out. Russell and Kyuji Fujikawa cleaned up his mess and Marmol walked away with a hold. He decreased his club’s win probability by 14 percent and he was rewarded with a statistical pat on the back.
Drew Smyly faced 10 batters. He struck out one. He walked three. Three more got a hit. Two of the six he put on base scored. The first of those two runs scored when Smyly put one past Alex Avila for a wild pitch. Despite all of this ineptitude, Smyly was credited with a hold.
Joe Smith tallied his first hold of the season by shutting down Toronto’s seven-eight-nine hitters, Colby Rasmus, Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio. Teammate Vinnie Pestano got a hold too, but he was tasked with retiring Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera and Jose Bautista.
Any sufficiently advanced defense is indistinguishable from pitching
The day after Correia’s game, rotation-mate Mike Pelfrey struck out only one of the 23 batters he faced and managed a win as he allowed only two runs on five hits and two walks in five and a third. It helps that Rick Porcello and Brayan Villarreal each had bad days at the office.
Not only did Jake Westbrook strike out only one Giants batter, but he also walked six of the 32 he faced. He took the loss but allowed only one run on six hits along the way. It could have been much, much worse.
Things John likes
I like that in the season opener the Astros brought in Erik Bedard with a two run lead, two out, and two on in the top of the sixth and kept him in for three and a third to finish out the contest. Following the Giants’ use of Tim Lincecum for multi-inning relief appearances in last year’s playoffs, I hope that this is an indication that teams are willing to try some more traditional usage patterns in the bullpen instead of mindlessly wandering through with one inning per reliever, lefty specialists with less than an inning, a setup man who comes in only at the top of the eighth with a lead of one to three runs, and a closer who comes in only at the top of the ninth with a lead of one to three runs.
There are good relievers out there who could easily give you two frames per appearance. Don’t give me one inning of Aroldis Chapman, Glen Perkins or Trevor Rosenthal. Give me two. These guys can handle it. It wasn’t that long ago that they were starting the game. Why is it that the minute a guy gets shuffled off to the back of the bullpen, he magically loses the ability to go more than one inning?
So using Erik Bedard or Tim Lincecum in a way that actually gets some use out of them instead of trying to shoehorn them into a generic late relief role or marching them out to the mound every fifth day to watch them get shelled is something that I like. It gets my seal of approval.
Joe Carter Award
The Joe Carter Award recognizes the hitter with the largest disparity between his RBI total and his overall value. This isn’t to say that Joe Carter was a terrible player, but he did drive in 102 runs for the Blue Jays in 1997 with a .234/.284/.399 line and a 77 OPS+ and 115 in 1990 while hitting .232/.290/.391 with an 85 OPS+. A few other seasons stand out for their high RBI totals despite pedestrian overall production.
Billy Butler had one day where he was great. He was magnificent on Sunday. Butler drove in seven runs in a game the Royals won 9-8, smashing a grand slam along the way. Going into Sunday’s game, he had a .133/.235/.133 line and one RBI. Even after going two for four with a home run and a walk, he still sits at a modest .211/.318/.368.
Like Butler, Prince Fielder plated eight runs but disappointed in other areas of the game. He walked once and ended the week batting .261/.280/.565.
This recognizes the batters who have the largest disparity between their batting averages and overall value. This was originally named after Rey Sanchez, who retired with a .272/.308/.334 line. Freddy Sanchez has demonstrated his own ability to post empty batting averages, notably his .271/.298/.371 performance in 2008. His .344/.378/.473 in 2006 was remarkable in that while his batting average gave him value, it was still about as bad a line as you can post while winning a “batting title”.
A common complaint of mine last year was that it has become very difficult to correctly spot and attribute this award as batting averages and other rate stats have slumped over recent seasons. One thing you can count on is Placido Polanco to try his hardest to wind up on this list. This week he hit a nearly perfect Sanchez line of .286/.286/.286 in 21 PA.
Professional hacker Jeff Francoeur is off to a Sachezian start with his own .292/.320/.375 in 25 PA.
Martin Prado went .281/.273/.469 in 33 PA. Yes, that is a lower OBP than batting average you see. There was no misprint.
Starling Marte went .261/.292/.261 in 24 PA.
Harmon Killebrew Award
This is the anti-Sanchez, for a player who posts a low batting average (I don’t really look at a hitter for the award if he isn’t at .250 or under) but demonstrates secondary skills that give him an overall positive value, like Killebrew himself.
Joey Votto is still out there doing Joey Votto things, like drawing eight walks in a week to make up for a relative paucity of singles as he ended the week with a .238/.467/.333 line.
Trevor Plouffe collected only four hits in 24 PA. However one of those two hits was a double and another was a home run. He also walked three times, was unbelievably hit by three pitches, and stole a base with no caught stealing. I have a feeling the Twins would love to see him carry something as productive as a .235/.417/.471 line through the season.
Albert Pujols went .211/.429/.579. Three of his four hits went for extra bases and he walked eight times against only three strikeouts.
It seems as though Dan Uggla hasn’t changed much over the six months he’s been gone from our lives. .211/.348/.526 in 23 PA.
A somewhat extreme Killebrew this week belonged to Lucas Duda, who went .176/.417/.412 in 24 PA.
Josh Willingham rode seven walks to a .211/.444/.474 line in 26 PA.
Steve Balboni Award
While you can overcome a propensity to strike out and the low batting average such a tendency brings, there is a breaking point where your secondary skills aren’t sufficient or you’re simply not demonstrating secondary skills because you are too busy hacking at sliders in the dirt to slug home runs or draw walks. Balboni had some nice moments, slugging a team record 36 home runs for the 1985 Royals. But he did not walk a lot, had very little defensive value, and his power was accompanied by a lot of flailing at pitches he shouldn’t be swinging at. In the end, the strikeouts ate his career and he was finished as a regular by the time George Herbert Walker Bush took office.
Brett Wallace struck out in 13 of his 18 PA leading to the inevitable .059/.111/.059.
Wallace’s teammate Chris Carter fanned in 11 of his 23 PA and ended the week with the pathetic line of .091/.130/.182.
Adding a third member to the hopeless, fanning Astros club is Carlos Pena, who struck out seven times in 19 PA and went .158/.158/.158.
Pedro Alvarez was retired on strikes 10 times in 22 PA and ended the week batting .091/.091/.091.
Josh Hamilton struck out 10 times in this opening week and ended up batting .160/.276/.200 in 28 PA.
Aaron Hicks is new here, which kind of explains how he went whiffed 11 times in 28 PA and went .077/.143/.077.
Three true outcomes
Willingham accumulated a home run, seven walks, and 10 strikeouts in 26 PA.
Justin Upton went five-two-11 in TTO categories in 24 PA.
B.J. Upton went one-three-nine in 23 PA.
Ike Davis posted a one-four-nine in 26 PA.
I mentioned Duda above as he went one-six-seven in 24PA.
Michael Morse was a little light in the walks category, but five-one-11 in 30 PA feels worth mentioning.
Uggla posted a two-four-seven in 23 PA.
No batter who accumulated at least 25 PA this week did so without striking out at least once. Of the six who struck out only once, only Adam Jones stands out as he went zero-one-one in 28 PA.
Angel Pagan went zero-one-two in 25 PA.
This week’s MVP
AL: Chris Davis is batting .455/.500/1.136 with three doubles and four home runs in 26 PA. He is my MVP, but here are two players who should also be acknowledged for their work this week.
Davis’ teammate Adam Jones actually outranks him in WPA at 1.13 versus 1.05. They are the only two in the majors who have broken the one win barrier this season. Davis is deservedly getting a lot of attention for tearing the cover off the ball but Jones is doing well too at .538/.556/.692 in 27 PA
The American League leader in times on base is Jed Lowrie. Lowrie is batting .500/.567/1.000 with 13 hits and four walks. If you had offered up a bet in Vegas that the major league leaders in OPS a week into 2013 would be Davis and Lowrie, you likely would have received some pretty insane odds, not that a casino would ever offer up such a ludicrous wager.
NL: Todd Frazier posted a .480/.519/.920 in 27 PA for the Reds.