Every year, the MLB postseason awards bring out the same arguments. How much does it matter whether a player was on a contender? What about his position in the field? How should luck-based measures, such as clutch, or pitcher BABIP, be weighed? How important is defense?
As you’ll see, I tend to ignore the contender argument and disregard luck as much as possible while placing more emphasis on a hitter’s contribution on the other side of the ball. All that said, the actual awards bore me to tears. Not so much because of the poor judgments at the top of the ballot, but the predictable nonsense farther down.
Here are six players who deserve serious consideration—maybe even the trophy—in their respective categories, but aren’t likely to appear on many official ballots.
NL MVP: Hanley Ramirez
Yes, Hanley might be the worst defensive shortstop in the majors. But, call me crazy, I feel about shortstops the way actual MVP voters felt about catchers in the 1950s. Ramirez is my Yogi Berra except that, you know, he’s really, really good. As Jacob Wheatley-Schaller pointed out his handicapping of the MVP races at THT yesterday, Ramirez was as dramatically bad as Matt Holliday was impressive in the field. Fine, but given those numbers with all offensive stats equal, I’ll take the shortstop any day.
And the offensive stats are most certainly not equal. Measured by VORP, Hanley was the second most productive hitter in baseball this year, closer to Alex Rodriguez than any NL hitter was to him. For reference, he outproduced Holliday by about 15 runs, Prince Fielder by 20, Jimmy Rollins by 23, and Ryan Howard by more than 35. I’m not just being contrarian when I say the award should properly be his.
AL MVP: Jorge Posada
Admittedly, this is a bit of a stretch. One of Posada’s teammates had a pretty good year, too. Again relying on VORP, Posada produced more per plate appearance than anyone in baseball except for A-Rod, Magglio Ordonez, and David Ortiz.
Not only did Posada get on base at the third-best clip in the league, he outslugged all of his teammates save A-Rod while catching over 75% of the Yankees innings. It’s a messy business to start valuing players by their real-life replacements (Wil Nieves for part of the season, in this case), but if you doubt Posada’s tremendous value to his team, compare his production to that of the average second or third catcher—or even Javy Lopez last year, a replacement with a notably high price.
NL Cy Young: Takashi Saito
Fine, fine, now things are getting out of hand. The actual balloting will put Jake Peavy and Brandon Webb in the top two spots, and any individual writer who does anything different ought to be permanently assigned to the Beloit Snappers beat for MILB.com.
That said, Saito was the best reliever in the league this year, and if you had swapped him and Jose Valverde at the beginning of the season, we’d probably be looking at 50 saves and some serious hardware talk for the Japanese veteran. One obvious drawback to his case is his low innings total—only 64.1 this season. But by my rough count, he only appeared nine times in “unimportant” situations, that is, non-save situations that weren’t either tied or within a run or two in the other direction. Most of those were four-run quasi-saves.
They don’t give out awards for what might have been, but on a better team, had Saito performed at the same level, he would’ve assembled one of the best relief seasons of the last few years.
AL CY Young: Scott Kazmir
Here are some numbers that BBWAA members can work with: Kazmir pitches for the worst team, in front of the worst defense in baseball, in the most powerful division in baseball. Ten of his 34 starts came against the Red Sox or Yankees, and while he was a modest 2-3 in those outings, his ERA against those teams was well below 2.75.
And, oh yeah, he struck out 239 batters. Pretty good, even against those free-swinging Yankees. By most measures of pitching effectiveness, Kazmir was among the top 10 starters in the AL. That’s not good enough to claim the hardware, of course. But considering his competition and the defense behind him, he’s right up there with the top contenders for the award.
NL Jackie Robinson Award: Micah Owings
Micah who? Everybody’s talking about Ryan Braun and Troy Tulowitzki for the award, but I think we ought to be looking in a different direction. Even apart from his heroics with the bat, Owings put together an impressive rookie season.
I written it so many times that even I’m sick of hearing myself say it, but most fans seriously undervalue decent mid-rotation starters. For reference, Owings’ season on the mound was very similar to Barry Zito‘s. I’m not campaigning for him to get the Cy Young Award by any means, but if Scott Boras had put a guaranteed 27-start, 4.30 ERA season on the market last winter, he would’ve gotten eight figures for it, easy.
And that doesn’t take into account his batting. Offensive VORP isn’t something that comes up often in the context of pitchers, but Owings accumulated 16.5 runs of it. Add in his 20-plus runs of pitching VORP, and that puts him right up there with Tulowitzki and Hunter Pence. Ryan Braun still looms far ahead by that measure, but voters will (and should) penalize him for his defense. Back-rotation starters don’t get Rookie of the Year votes, but this one should.
AL Jackie Robinson Award: Jeremy Guthrie
Take a bit of Kazmir, pitching in the AL East, and mix with Owings (minus bat, of course), and you’ve got Guthrie. Our should-be AL Rookie oftheYear winner posted an ERA of 3.70 in 175 innings, though he was only credited with 12 decisions (seven wins) in his 26 starts. Like Kazmir, he pitched well against the Red Sox, though he suffered in three starts against the Yankees.
Of course, the AL East starter most likely to get Rookie of the Year consideration was formerly with Seibu, not Cleveland. But even without accounting for the difference between facing Boston and facing Baltimore, Daisuke Matsuzaka did not pitch as well as Guthrie did this year. I’d take Dice-K for the future, sure, but he wasn’t even the best rookie pitcher in his division in 2007.