Welcome to the midseason update.
All stats are for the season through Sunday, July 16th. Please see the week one column for award definitions and explanations.
As this week’s regular action was abbreviated by the All-Star break, as is customary around here, today’s column updates the fight for the leadership of each award.
This week’s proof that assigning wins and losses to a pitcher is an arcane practice that must stop
Good luck division
Clay Buchholz has won the lottery this season. Despite pitching terribly, he has an 8-3 record. A 5.53 ERA is not going to get you many accolades. Exactly how lucky has he been? Well, he has wins where he has given up six runs in six and two thirds, five runs in five and a third, five runs in six innings, five runs in seven innings, and four runs in six and a third. He also has a no-decision where he gave up five runs in five and a third and another where he gave up five in three and two thirds.
Ivan Nova is 10-4 with a 4.18 ERA for the Yankees. He has wins in games where he has given up four runs in six innings and five runs in six and two thirds respectively. He has no-decisions in games where he has given up six runs in five and a third and five runs in five and a third. In a year where offense is down again, the Yankees have scored fewer than three runs in games he has started only twice in 18 chances and have yet to score fewer than three. As long as he doesn’t implode, he has a very solid chance to get the win.
Buchholz’s teammate Felix Doubront has a 4.41 ERA and a 9-4 record. Three of his nine wins have come in games where he has yielded at least four runs. He also has a no decision where he allowed four. Meanwhile, the closest thing all season he has to a tough luck loss is one where he went six frames and was charged with two runs or his third start of the season where he got a no decision after going six innings, giving up one. The Red Sox have reached double digits in the runs column in four of his nine wins and scored nine in his most recent start, which he won despite giving up four runs in six and a third.
Bad luck division
The thing about pitching for the Padres is that often you will not be rewarded with the win, even when you pitch well. Edinson Volquez has a 3.69 ERA but a 5-7 record. He has five starts where he has lasted at least six innings and given up two or fewer runs and not received the win. Amongst those were a start where he shut out the Brewers for seven innings and two more where he threw seven frames and allowed only one run. Every single win he has are from games where he allowed two or fewer runs. He has zero lucky wins.
Johnny Cueto pitches for a team you would think would give him some run support. But despite a 10-5 record, you can still call him unlucky. He has five quality starts where he did not get the win, including three losses. Yes, more than half of his losses have come when he posted a quality start.
Much has been made of Cliff Lee waiting until Independence Day to record his first win. And those out there saying that he has not been a particularly good pitcher for much of the year are correct. He has been pedestrian. But he still has been much more unlucky than you would expect. Most of his bad luck emanates from a stretch in April and May during which he had three consecutive no-decisions including the toughest no-decision of the season. That one start was the one where he threw 10 shutout innings and still walked away with no win.
Wes Littleton Award
If the Marlins keep him in the rotation for the rest of the season, Heath Bell will almost certainly save 30 games. The fact that the Marlins are publically saying that they will have him share the closer’s role tells us that the idea that raw save totals are not indicative of the quality of a pitcher’s work will tend to sink in when pitchers have been as undeniably bad as Bell has been this season. According to WPA, he has cost Miami almost four wins this year all by himself. He has 10 appearances this season where he has allowed multiple runs.
Please hold the applause
Antonio Bastardo has 16 holds, but like Heath Bell, a negative win probability added. Telling you that he has given up a run in five of the 16 games where he recorded a hold tells you a lot about how somebody can be tied in for eighth in baseball in a positive sounding statistic and still be considered a drag on his team’s chances of winning baseball games.
Any sufficiently advanced defense is indistinguishable from pitching
Ryan Dempster leads all National League qualified pitchers with a .242 BABIP. This explains a lot about how his 1.86 ERA is almost two full runs lower than his xFIP. His strikeout rate is 7.34 per nine innings pitched, but he currently leads all pitchers in ERA and sports a 1.02 WHIP for those fantasy players who are reading this.
Ryan Vogelsong is another leading NL pitcher who has a huge gap between his ERA (2.36) and his xFIP (4.47). They are numbers one and two in the NL in BABIP against and also in percentage of base runners left on base.
The American League’s leader in BABIP against is Jered Weaver, with a .233 BABIP against. He also has a 2.26 ERA and a 3.95 xFIP.
Joe Carter Award
Kyle Seager has 54 RBI. He is on pace for just under 100 while playing in a lineup that has scored the 25th most runs in all of baseball. That in itself is a bit of an achievement. But the thing is that he is batting a mere .245/.310/.416 in his 310 at bats. That isn’t terrible, but it isn’t what you expect from the fellow that tied for 21st in baseball in ribbies. It’s more than Curtis Granderson has driven in while smashing 25 home runs and slugging .521 for the Yankees. Seager is currently ranked 13th in wOBA among qualified third basemen.
Ike Davis has 50 RBI with a .204/.278/.398 in 279 at bats for the Mets. Davis has somehow driven in more runs than Joey Votto or Buster Posey despite those two batters being fantastic this season. Davis has been below replacement level, but he has the seventh most RBI amongst all first basemen.
Mike Aviles was strong in April and has been good in July, but May and June were terrible, with OBP’s of .254 and .284 respectively. In the aggregate, his .266/.290/.423 line betrays what Aviles is. He is a hacker who makes good contact and can hit for more power than you would expect from a middle infielder, but he walks about once a week and makes enough soft contact to ensure that he probably isn’t going to hit for a really high average for any extended stretch of time. He also smokes left-handed pitchers, batting .316/.353/.526 against them this season and .303/.346/.481 in his career.
Now if he could come anywhere within two area codes of that against righties, we wouldn’t be here talking about him this way. We would be discussing how great he was and how he was a cornerstone player for the Royals. But he’s a career .275/.298/.393 hitter against northpaws and is a stopgap player for the Red Sox until they get somebody better. Aviles has 46 RBI this season, more than fellow former Royal and currently.353/.391/.514 hitting Melky Cabrera and superior middle infielder Neil Walker (.293/.359/.424).
Willie Bloomquist currently has 78 hits in 283 plate appearances, which is good. A .289 batting average is good, especially in this run-scoring era. What is less good is the fact that only 22 of those 78 hits have gone for extra bases, none of them home runs. He has also walked just 12 times and was unsuccessful in eight of his 14 stolen base attempts. .289/.318/.389 is not terrible, but it is so much less than just about anybody else who has that kind of a batting average in a decent number of plate appearances this season.
Adrian Gonzalez is batting .286, which is fine. But you have likely noticed that he has been a shadow of his former self with a .331 OBP and a .417 SLG. He is 16th in wOBA among qualified first basemen, 18 points behind the much-maligned Albert Pujols annus horribilis.
Harmon Killebrew Award
You knew that Adam Dunn was going to be here before you clicked on the link to read this column. There was no way it would be anybody else. The current God of the Three True Outcomes has 65 hits. 28 of those hits are home runs. He also adds in 72 walks. .215/.365/.528 is a staggering triple-slash line. I don’t even know what to do with it. Dunn is really testing the boundaries of what you can do with only home runs, walks, and strikeouts. He knows his lane and he stays in it.
Mike Napoli’s 2012 has been a crushing disappointment in the wake of his .320/.414/.631 breakout in 2011. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that this is still a guy who is hitting .225/.339/.414 while playing more than half of his games at catcher.
Jose Bautista barely makes the cut because his batting average is getting close to being too good for Killebrew duty. In 326 at bats, he has 27 home runs and 57 walks. This is driving most of the value in his .245/.361/.537 line.
Steve Balboni Award
The two leaders in baseball in strikeout rate as a percentage of plate appearances are Adam Dunn and Pedro Alvarez. We’ve talked about Dunn already. Alvarez is having a bizarre year where he is hitting home runs and striking out and walking a little bit, but not enough to make his OBP appropriate in mixed company. However, he has enough value to make him a reasonable but deeply flawed player. Third is Carlos Pena, who has struck out in 30 percent of his plate appearances. 116 in 381 PA is his highest figure since 2005 with Detroit. He also has his lowest walk since 2006 with Boston and just flat-out the lowest rate of extra base hits he’s ever had. Everything is worse than it needs to be for him to be a productive player, which is why we are looking at a .199/.333/.364 batter.
It isn’t working for Rickie Weeks either. The disappointing second baseman has fanned 104 times in 307 at bats. His walk rate is acceptable with 48 of them. But the strikeouts and a decline in his power have him batting .199/.317/.345.
Jordan Schafer does not have the secondary skills to support a strikeout rate of 29 percent of PA. He only has three home runs, nine doubles, and 26 walks in 300 PA. He does have 20 steals, but in 26 attempts. .231/.306/.314 is not moving the Astros in the right direction.
B.J. Upton is doing poorly as well. He has struck out 88 times in 319 PA for a percentage of 27.6. .242/.300/.375.
Three true outcomes
Dunn is the no-brainer here with 28 home runs, 72 walks, and 138 strikeouts. He leads baseball in all three categories. He is actually leading strikeouts by 22 over Pena.
Granderson has 25 home runs, 52 walks, and 102 strikeouts in 395 PA. He is in the top five in home runs and strikeouts and in the top 10 in walks.
Placido Polanco has two home runs on the year. He has 15 walks and 24 strikeouts in 292 PA.
Carlos Lee has an astonishing five home runs, 23 walks, and 22 strikeouts in 305 PA.
Ryan Theriot has no homers, 13 walks, and 25 strikeouts in 238 PA.
Ichiro Suzuki has four home runs, 16 walks, and 35 strikeouts in 388 PA.
Ben Revere has zero, 10, and 18 in 241 PA.
This season’s MVP so far
AL: Mike Trout really is a fantastic baseball player. He leads the AL in wOBA, WAR, bWAR, and OPS+. Even if you didn’t have the defensive value and 30 steals in 33 attempts, you would still have a batter who has a .349/.403/.574 line. I give no credence to arguments that say that this happened before a player arrived and this happened since he arrived and that is why a guy is good or bad or indifferent. You don’t need that to make a claim that he is the best player in the American League at the age of 20.
Runners up: Josh Hamilton, who is batting .301/.374/.618 for the Rangers, David Ortiz, who is having a vintage David Ortiz season at .315/.413/.612. Robinson Cano, who is at .318/.378/.583. And finally Edwin Encarnacion, who is having the breakout I thought he would have in 2008.
NL: As good as Trout is, Andrew McCutchen is better. .371/.423/651 is awesome. He leads all of baseball in OPS, wOBA, WAR, SLG, Total Bases, and OPS+. He doesn’t have quite the base-stealing prowess that Trout has at this point in his career, but with 14 in 18 attempts, he still gets around okay and his defense is fine.
Runners up: Joey Votto isn’t far behind McCutchen in OPS with a .342/.465/.604 with 66 walks against only 65 strikeouts. Ryan Braun is hitting .312/.399/.615 and is what you picture when you close your eyes and try to think of an in-his-prime power hitting corner outfielder. Carlos Ruiz is having a fluky, but insanely valuable season for the disappointing Phillies at .353/.412/.595. Altitude or no, Carlos Gonzalez is scary when he’s hitting .332/.391/.582. And David Wright is having a very good season at .345/.438/.553.