Welcome to the awards.
We are doing this differently this week. Given the slate of three games for each team, we are reviewing the season’s leaders in each category at the kind-of, sort-of halfway point. My intention is to run next week’s article as a one-week edition that actually counts as a mega-week with all games starting at the end of the All-Star break getting combined into a 10-day period. That depends on how well I do in trying to fit the extra work into my schedule.
Please see the week one column for category explanations.
This week’s proof that assigning wins and losses to a pitcher is an archaic practice that must stop
Lance Lynn is 11-5 with a 4.13 ERA. He has taken the loss in only one of his quality starts, and he has one quality start that resulted in a no-decision. The rest all have been wins for Lynn. Three of his four no-decisions came in games in which he allowed four runs, including his season opener during which he went only four frames. Meanwhile, Lynn has wins in a game in which he allowed four runs in five innings and another game during which he allowed seven in five innings.
Jeremy Hellickson’s candidacy is based almost solely on his results from May. He went 1-0 in a six-start stretch during which he posted a 6.69 ERA. His one win came when he was shelled for eight runs. That was followed by a strange game in which Hellickson took a no-decision after eight innings despite allowing only two runs.
None of the other starts was a quality start. One resulted in his allowing six runs, another five, another four, and another three. Overall, Hellickson is 9-3 with batters hitting .257/.301/.437 against him.
Chris Tillman has a 12-3 record in 20 starts with a WAR under 1.0. His ERA is 3.84, but his xFIP is 30 points higher. Most importantly for this section, he has been a little lucky in his decisions. He has only two quality starts that haven’t resulted in wins.
While he has no execrable starts that have resulted in wins, he has no-decisions in which he has allowed six runs and five runs, and he has two starts during which has gone five innings, allowed three runs and taken the win. It isn’t appalling, but it turns a 9-6 record into one that makes him look like a top-10 starter by way of victories.
Chris Sale is 6-8 with a 2.02 ERA. Now, ERA is kind of a lousy way to judge a pitcher in its own way, but it does effectively convey the extent to which Sale has been betrayed by his run support. He has losses in four games during which he went at least seven innings and allowed three or fewer runs. He has another three fitting that description for which he received a no-decision. Sale endured a seven-start stretch in June and July during which he went 0-6 with a 3.10 ERA and opponents batted .215/.271/.296 against him.
Stephen Strasburg has a 2.97 ERA and a 5-7 record. He has four starts during which he has lasted at least seven innings and allowed two runs or fewer yet walked away with no-decisions. Two of those starts have been in July.
James Shields is 4-7 with a 3.24 ERA. The Royals have scored given him three runs or fewer of support in 12 of his 21 starts. He started the year with a six-inning effort in which he allowed one run and took the loss. For the most part, it has been a continuation of that all season.
Shields had a nine-inning, three-run start that resulted in a loss. He had a four-start stretch in May during which lost three of four games despite a 1.74 ERA and a batting line against of .193/.241/.330. He went eight innings in three of the four and seven innings in the other. He allowed zero, two, two, and three runs, respectively. It hasn’t stopped, either. Shields’ most recent start was one where he took the loss in a seven-inning appearance in which he allowed three runs.
Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet at this particular moment, yet he is 9-6. He has five no-decisions during which he went at least seven innings, allowing one, two, three, one, and one runs, respectively. Half of his losses have been quality starts, and in two of the three quality starts he has lost, he has gone seven innings, allowing three runs.
Andrew Bailey has wins in two games in which he blew the save. He has another relief win in a game when he allowed a run. Keep that in mind when I tell you that he has only three wins on the year. That’s right, all three of his wins have been in games where he blew the save and/or allowed a run.
Wes Littleton Award
We have had several terrible closers this season who collected a good number of saves before they were finally relieved of duty. Heath Bell is the obvious one, having saved 15 games for a competitive team. He is terrible. Batters are hitting .288/.333/.516 against him. Bell actually went through a stretch from May 7 through June 27 over which he was successful in converting 13 of 15 save opportunities as closer despite an overall .297/.358/.595 line against him in 17.1 innings pitched.
Brandon League is another classic example, as he has 14 saves and a .314/.368/.467 line against.
And Jose Valverde was a complete train wreck, but he still can say that he converted nine of his 12 save chances in 2013. Batters slugged .487 against him.
Please hold the applause
Drew Storen has the label of a former closer, and he has 14 holds this season for the Nats. Batters are also batting .284/.331/.457 against him.
Any sufficiently advanced defense is indistinguishable from pitching
Jeff Locke has the best BABIP in baseball at .223. He also leads baseball in the percentage of runners left on base at 83 percent. Something tells me that 2.11 ERA might be nosing upwards. Batters are hitting .196/.289/.293 against him despite the fact that he is striking out only 17.3 percent of the batters he is facing.
On the other side of the BABIP divide, Justin Verlander’s strikeout rate has fallen from 25.0 percent to 22.7. That is a decline, but it isn’t a huge difference, or at least not enough to account for almost an extra run allowed per nine innings pitched. His BABIP has risen from .275 to .323.
Joe Carter Award
Brandon Phillips is tied with Paul Goldschmidt for the National League lead with 78 RBI. Goldschmidt is batting .309/.392/.550 in 419 plate appearances. Phillips is batting .266/.318/.410 in 400 trips to the plate. When thumbing through the list of RBI leaders for National and American League batters, you have to go down to Victor Martinez at 45th in baseball with a wRC+ of 90 to find somebody with a lower wRC+ than Phillips’ 97.
It comes as no surprise when I tell you that Phillips has had a lot of opportunities to drive in runs. He is fourth in baseball in plate appearances with runners on base with 219. And he is batting well in those positions, going .330/.390/.874 with runners on base and .408/.465/.573 with runners in scoring position.
Following Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo, who are first and second in the National League in on-base percentage at .435 and .426, respectively, has advantages. Ensuring that you can slug .410 and still have more RBI than guys that are slugging 198 points higher than you (Carlos Gonzalez) is the primary advantage, other than winning a lot of games.
Elsewhere, Pedro Alvarez is good at hitting for power. Unfortunately, it is almost the only thing he is better than league average at doing. Alvarez has 62 ribbies, tied with Jason Kipnis and Mike Napoli for 16th in the majors, but he is batting .240/.300/.495.
Adam Dunn hasn’t reverted to his ridiculously bad 2011 levels, but a very poor May has his line at .211/.313/.465 in 368 plate appearances. He has driven in 61 runs, though.
And lets not forget how ordinary Albert Pujols is looking these days despite his 58 RBI. A .252/.325/.434 line is not befitting a first baseman, even in this run-scoring environment.
Ben Revere has 96 hits in 336 plate appearances. But he hasn’t been as valuable as you would expect given that hit rate. His complete lack of power and the resulting reluctance by pitchers to do anything other than throw him fastballs down the middle of the plate has led to a thoroughly mediocre .305/.338/.352 line.
His value on the basepaths and on defense is less than you would expect, too, given that he has been caught stealing eight times, which is just one off his career high for a season, and his defensive metrics have been below-average in center field all season.
The problems afflicting the Phillies run much deeper than the mild disappointment they carry in center field and in the leadoff spot, but it hasn’t helped.
Alexei Ramirez is batting .287 but has been a disaster on offense thanks to his lack of secondary skills. His isolated power has been in decline since 2010, and it seems like a long time since he was hitting double-digit home runs for the White Sox. His glove is still great, but .287/.313/.360 isn’t getting it done.
Erick Aybar has posted a very empty batting average with a .285/.305/.385 line in 309 plate appearances.
Jose Altuve is fun, but he too has had problems, going .281/.314/.356 in 402 trips to the dish.
Thought it’s cliché on the internet to reference “meh”, Nick Markakis and his .280/.332/.389 nicely encapsulate the word and all it evokes.
Harmon Killebrew Award
While playing his home games in a park that is hostile to hitters, Giancarlo Stanton is carrying a .236/.346/.433 line for the Fish.
Lucas Duda probably shouldn’t be playing a defensive position, but .235/.353/.438 is perfectly acceptable for somebody with no glove.
Chris Carter has problems making contact, but he has a good eye. And when he does make contact, the ball goes a long way. That’s the roundabout way of saying he’s hitting .228/.330/.463 in 348 plate appearances.
Chris Iannetta’s slugging percentage is down since his Coors Field days, as one would expect. But he is still adept at getting on base, going .215/.355/.346, which is enough to counteract the negative influence of his glove work on his overall value.
Steve Balboni Award
Among batters with at least 150 PA, Tyler Flowers is sixth in strikeout percentage, going down on strikes 32.4 percent of the time. None of the batters above him is doing great, with notables being Alvarez and Carter. But they are doing enough with power and/or patience to salvage a 100 wRC+. Flowers is sitting at 61 wRC+, as his .203/.252/.412 line is terrible, even for a catcher. He doesn’t have the power or patience to get away with striking out a third of the time.
Mark Reynolds, the guy who has the all-time single-season record for strikeouts in a season and three of the top five strikeout seasons in history, is currently tied for fifth in the majors with his former teammate Chris Davis. But while Davis is hitting for enough power to slug .705, Reynolds has an isolated slugging percentage that is down to .165, resulting in a .213/.303/.378 line.
It has all collapsed for Ike Davis, with strikeouts in 30.6 percent of his plate appearances and a .171/.261/.253 line.
It has also fallen apart for Danny Espinosa, who is below replacement level for the season, striking out 28 percent of the time. Among batters with at least 150 plate appearances, only Luis Cruz has a lower wRC+ at 23. Espinoza has a 27 OPS+ on the “strength” of a .158/.193/.272 triple-slash line.
A lot of batters post high strikeout rates because they run deep counts. Thus far in J.P. Arencibia’s career, he has struck out at alarming rates because he’s a hacker. A 30-percent strikeout rate coupled with a walk rate that is blow four percent gives one an unacceptable .218/.253/.421 line.
Another catcher, Alex Avila, has struck out 69 times in 237 plate appearances and is scuffling to a .185/.284/.302 line.
Three true outcomes
Chris Carter leads the way with 18 home runs, 44 walks, and 127 strikeouts in 348 plate appearances. He leads baseball in strikeout rate and is highly ranked in walk rate and HR/FB ratio.
Dan Uggla has 19 homers, 52 walks, and 120 strikeouts in 371 plate appearances.
Adam Dunn is at 24-36-110 in 368 plate appearances.
Carter’s teammate Carlos Pena is a tradition in this category. He’s still the same guy, going eight-43-89 in 325 plate appearances.
Napoli is tied with Carter in total strikeouts and is doing well in the other two categories at 13-39-127 in 377 plate appearances.
Votto is sitting at 15-75-85 in 441 plate appearances. That is a lot of walks.
Jose Bautista has posted a 22-52-71 TTO line in 405 plate appearances.
Miguel Cabrera is second in baseball in home runs and third in walks. He’s at 31-61-65 in 440 plate appearances.
Chris Davis has a 37-39-115 line in 407 plate appearances.
Goldschmidt is at 21-51-84 in 419 plate appearances.
Aybar’s Sanchez mention was made possible by the fact that he makes a lot of soft contact. He doesn’t homer, walk, or strike out. To that end, he has a four-nine-29 TTO line in 309 plate appearances.
Jeff Keppinger is at two-12-28 in 315 plate appearances.
Norichika Aoki has a four-32-21 in 411 plate appearances.
J.B. Shuck has a line of zero-13-20 in 230 plate appearances.
This category will feel empty whenever Juan Pierre decides to hang it up. The aged outfielder, who is two years younger than your author, is at one-13-24 in 288 plate appearances.
This week’s MVP
AL: I was in the Mike Trout camp last year, and I regret nothing. Trout was the best player in baseball last year and Miguel Cabrera was the second-best player in baseball.
With apologies to Chris Davis, they’re probably still the top two again this season, though it seems Trout will have difficulties cracking the top five in MVP voting as long as the same structural problems work against him this year (inability to recognize and properly value contributions on defense and in base running as well as in offensive statistics that aren’t counted in the Triple Crown) and the other Angels veer from disappointing to awful.
It’s one thing to be the kind of great-at-everything player that gets underrated by traditional media. It’s another to be that and be on a bad team.
With a .359/.452/.668 line in 440 plate appearances, Cabrera has been significantly better than he was last year, already six wins above replacement. He ended 2012 just below seven.
Trout is batting .321/.400/.566 with 21 steals in 25 attempts. He’s the same exact player he was last season. He, too, is six wins above replacement.
I put both of them a notch above Davis, who is sitting at .312/.388/.705, but if I were a betting man, I would toss some money on him winning the official MVP. If the Orioles continue on as competitors, he will have the narrative pushing his candidacy and the home run and RBI totals backing that narrative.
Writers get tired of voting for the same guy that won the year before. A 50-home run behemoth who takes the league by storm and carries a team to a surprising finish is like catnip to old-school writers.
NL: David Wright recently passed Carlos Gomez for the fWAR lead, though Gomez still leads in bWAR. Carlos Gonzalez and Andrew McCutchen are in the picture at both sites. As usual, you also have to give thought to Buster Posey and Yadier Molina. Then there’s Goldschmidt and Votto.
And how weird is it that Matt Carpenter is leading the Cardinals in WAR? It’s a big mess. And I wouldn’t argue too much if you made a case for any of them or just threw your hands up and went with Kershaw.
The one player I’m not really sold on in this group is Gomez. He is having a very nice season with a power spike, and his glove and base running always have been strengths, but I’m not sure how much I trust the one-year defensive numbers that have him on a record pace. Given the on-base percentage disparity between him and the rest of the group, I’m tossing him out.
Gonzalez has the best raw numbers, resting heavily on the power numbers such as his league-leading homer total. I still discount him a bit for the Coors effect even with the better numbers on the road. If you play half your games in a great hitters’ park, it doesn’t mean you don’t get help from that park when you have a performance spike in road games.
My personal favorite is McCutchen, who has the Trout 2012 effect going on where he is very, very good at everything and doesn’t do one thing so well that it brings him the level of attention consistent with his value. But I can’t really defend any statement saying that he’s clearly better than Wright—who also historically has received less attention from award voters than he probably deserved—Posey, Molina, and company. So I will cop out and say it’s too close to call at this point.