Welcome to the awards.
For award definitions and background on the column itself, please consult the Primer.
All weekly stats are for the period of Monday, May 4 though Sunday, May 10. All season stats are through Sunday.
This week’s proof that assigning wins and losses to a pitcher is an idiotic practice that must stop
Good Luck Division:
Gavin Floyd and Hiram Davies were shelled for 12 runs in nine innings on 14 hits, four of which were home runs. They struck out four and walked five. They got no decisions in a game that went into extra innings.
Bad Luck Division
I am only including one of the examples of this category from this week because it is the perfect microcosm of how the win/loss system breaks down completely at the margins and becomes practically useless. For some reason Zack Greinke gets punished for the ineptitude of David DeJesus, Mike Aviles, and the rest of the Royals offense at the hands of Joe Saunders. It is unconscionable that this would be a reasonable way to track a pitcher’s performance on a start by start basis.
Vulture alert! Vulture alert!
LaTroy Hawkins blew the save for the Astros, but was saved by his offense and Cla Meredeth. Ryan Franklin was let off the hook by the Cards lineup after getting pummeled by the Reds. And Brian Wilson let the lead slip in extra innings due to a Casey Blake homer, but got the win anyway when Randy Winn singled in a pair of runs. Finally, Esmerling Vasquez, a rookie who just broke my spell check, joined the club against the Nationals.
The Wes Littleton Award
We have a sighting of the rare three-inning save in a blowout. This time it was Lance Cormier throwing three and two thirds in a game with a final score of 14-5. Cormier inherited a nine-run lead and bravely held on to that advantage.
With a three-run lead in the ninth inning, Brian Fuentes came in and mowed down Bobby Crosby, Travis Buck and Gregorio Petit, three batters who as of this writing average a .623 OPS. To fail, he would have had to allow three runs when Oakland was bringing up that collection of tepid hitters. That was only slightly less impressive than former A’s closer Huston Street, who cleaned up with a three run lead against Kevin Kouzmanoff, Henry Blanco and Luis Rodriguez, who average a .676. And before you ask, it was in Petco Park rather than in the friendly atmosphere of Denver.
Please hold the applause
The Indians bullpen has been an active impediment to Cleveland’s hopes of competing for the AL Central crown. And Rafael Perez has been one of the main culprits in the bullpen undercutting the team. He certainly did not help the cause much against the Blue Jays when he got one of the four batters he faced out and allowed a run. Yet he still received credit for a hold. Then the very next day he allowed two runs on two hits in a third of an inning and got yet another hold, though some of the credit should go to Vinnie Chulk, who allowed both of the runners charged to Perez to score and then took the loss in the game.
Any sufficiently advanced defense is indistinguishable from pitching
Jon Garland and a pair of relievers struck out three in nine innings and allowed five hits and had held the Padres scoreless until the final frame. In the same game, Jake Peavy struck out 12 in seven innings to take the loss as the Diamondbacks scraped out two runs against the San Diego ace.
I meant to say something at the time about the Tim Lincecum vs Chris Young matchup a month ago, but I neglected to. It has to be one of the strangest pitching matchups in recent memory. In one corner we have a 6-foot-10, 250-pound mountain of a man who came out throwing fastballs in the mid- to upper-80’s and a change-up going up against a kid almost a foot shorter and nearly 100 pounds lighter blowing mid-90s smoke and dropping a hammer curve. It really is a weird game and there really is more than one way to get the job done.
The Joe Carter Award
I present you with a trio of hitters who collected seven RBI this week. Matt Kemp, Jorge Cantu and Chris Duncan ended the week tied with more than a half dozen other players, such as Jay Bruce, who slugged four home runs and drew as many walks. And there was Carlos Lee, who batted .538 with four walks and four doubles. That isn’t even mentioning Hanley Ramirez, whom I will talk about later on the column.
Kemp hit an empty .233/.233/.367 in 30 at bats. Cantu hit for more power, but was unable to avoid being an out machine at .185/.207/.407. And Duncan hit .222/.241/.370.
The Rey Sanchez Batting Average Is All I’ve Got Award
One could work up some sympathy for Miguel Olivo after he got robbed by Torii Hunter on Mother’s Day. It would have made a dent in his .294/.294/.294 week. But considering his seven strikeouts in 17 at bats, he traded off some bad luck in the home run department for some good luck in racking up five singles. It bears mentioning that Olivo has a 27/1 strikeout to walk ratio in 70 at-bats.
The Harmon Killebrew Batting Average Is For Wussies Award
Albert Pujols hit a very unAlbert-like .240. But of his six hits, three went over the wall on his way to a nice .240/.355/.600 week.
Elsewhere, Jason Giambi hit .190/.393/.476 and Ryan Theriot did a lot in 21 at bats, with four walks, a double, a homer and two steals without a single caught stealing. But his two singles limited his batting average to .190.
The Steve Balboni Award
Nick Swisher hit a homer and a double, drew five walks, but struck out 12 times in 23 at bats and ended up with a meek .130/.276/.304 line.
Three True Outcomes alert!!!
Two players that caught my eye when surfing the TTO leaderboard this week. Carlos Pena has been a dominant TTO force all season. This week was fully in the spirit of that trend with two bombs, five walks and 13 strikeouts in 23 at bats. The other player I wanted to mention was Adam Dunn, who has been remarkably quiet on this front in aught nine. This week he turned it on old school Dunn style with four home runs, four walks and 12 strikeouts in 29 at bats for the Nats.
A different kind of All-Star
I am going to do something a little different this week. I am going to build the 2009 All Contact All the Time All-Stars.
Catcher: Kurt Suzuki has struck out eight times in 110 at bats. A.J. Pierzynski has struck out fewer times (five), but in fewer at bats (89). Suzuki is striking out in 6.8 percent of his plate appearances, which is very low. It is also well below his career rate of 12.2 of plate appearances and his career minor league rate of 12.7 percent of PA.
First base: James Loney has never been particularly prolific at striking out, but thus far he has struck out only 10 times all season, 7.2 percent of PA. Two things come out of this. First his .264 batting average is comically low, stemming from his .286 BABIP. And two, there might be something really behind the fact that he has not hit a home run all season.
Second base: Alberto Callaspo is really the raison d’être of this special feature. He has struck out in 6.1 percent of his PA this season, 7.4 percent of his PA in his major league career. His minor league career was absurd, with a strikeout rate of 4.9 percent. As a professional baseball player, he has averaged just over a strikeout per week.
Third base: Jeff Keppinger has had only 47 at-bats this season, but has struck out in only 3.6 percent of them. His career average is 5.0.
Shortstop: Orlando Cabrera gives Oakland a pair on the team. His 7.4 percent of PA is low, but within reason considering his 8.6 percent career rate.
Left field: Daniel Murphy has whiffed only eight times in 108 PA.
Center field: There is no shortage of candidates among center fielders, as the waterbug slap-hitters tend to gravitate here. So it may surprise you that the honoree has a .192 Isolated Slugging Percentage. Shane Victorino isn’t exactly a power hitter, but while he is conventionally depicted as scrappy he isn’t exactly David Eckstein either. His 10 punchouts in 125 at bats is certainly lower than you would expect
Right field: For my final surprise, Carlos Lee has the same number of strikeouts as Ichiro Suzuki in 16 fewer plate appearances.
Designated hitter: I think that Juan Rivera’s seven strikeouts in 94 at bats is a bit of a sample size fluke, since he is striking out at two-thirds the rate that he has throughout his career.
This week’s MVP
AL: Johnny Damon was incredible this week with nine extra base hits, five being home runs, in 31 at bats.
Season: The top three hitters in the AL have all been either Rays or Red Sox, even with Kevin Youkilis not playing in a week because of a pulled oblique. You have undoubtedly heard about Evan Longoria and his 200-plus RBI pace. And Longoria has been spectacular with his .748 slugging percentage and his .358 average and his defense. But I’ve come here to talk about Jason Bay, who is hitting .324/.468/.667. He is on a 172-RBI pace himself to go with 28 walks so far, good for second in baseball. He is also leading the AL in Runs Created and WPA.
NL: Hanley Ramirez collected 16 hits this week, which is as many as Jim Thome or Josh Hamilton has all season. It is more than Chris Iannetta, Melvin Mora or Geovany Soto. If his 30 total bases were all that he had produced this season, he would have as many as Khalil Greene or Chad Tracy and more than Delmon Young, Hamilton or Mike Aviles. Long story short, he hit .533/.576/1.000.
Season: Pardon me if I drift off while telling you about Albert Pujols’ .696 slugging percentage or the fact that he has double the number of walks than strikeouts. His excellence is becoming a real drag to talk about because I always feel like I am repeating myself endlessly. And I feel like I am endlessly repeating myself about how I feel like I have to wake myself and my audience up while recounting his feats of strength and hand-eye coordination. We all pretty much acknowledge that he is much better at hitting a baseball than anybody else on the planet.
Small sample size warning
We have entered that weird realm of the season where numbers start to mean something, but we still have a hard time reconciling the outliers. Marco Scutaro leads baseball with 29 walks. Coco Crisp is in the top 10. These things mean something. But almost certainly not all of it is real. Some of it will be given back through regression.
We can also look at some performances like Longoria’s and see the batting average coming back down from its current .358. We’re also pretty sure that Damon is not going to slug .610. But he is already more than halfway to last year’s total of 17 home runs, so he will probably surpass that even if he goes back to his career averages. And we can probably all agree that Robinson Cano’s 125 point drop in OPS was the outlier and he will in fact persevere as a pretty good hitter. But we also know that there are a lot of small sample size flukes that are bouncing around and have little or no basis in reality. Grady Sizemore is worlds better than .233/.318/.429 and his .264 BABIP will improve by 30 or 40 points.