Hey folks! I’m here to do a totally original thing that Jayson Stark has never done for like the last 20 years and pick the mid-season award winners. I’m sure you’re all thrilled. One caveat, though. I’m going to pick two winners for each award.
Why the hell would you do something so, well, egalitarian and Socialist as that, you might ask?
Well, one of the problems I’ve long had with how awards and Hall of Fame voting has been done is the “old guard’s” heavy reliance on antiquated metrics that have erroneously acquired immortal status. Just peruse the thousands of arguments diminishing the value of, say, pitcher wins or ERA. Another is that, in regards to individual awards handed out at the end of the season, voters also have an unhealthy attachment to the players’ team records as a reflection on their candidacy. So, we’ll have a pick that pragmatically recognizes the old guard’s biases and then another that throws that out the window.
Shall we get to it?
National League Rookie of the Year: This is actually a tough one. Kris Bryant and Joc Pederson have almost identical stat lines, except for average (Bryant at .275, Pederson a sludgy .231). They are a single point apart in OPS (.859 to .860) and separated by only six strikeouts, where Joc leads the league with 101. Pederson has five more extra base hits (34 to 29), but has contributed 0.2 less WAR to his club than Bryant.
As it stands right now, the Los Angeles Dodgers lead the NL West by five games, whereas the Chicago Cubs are in third place in the NL Central behind two 50-win teams. With that in mind, I’ll tip my old guard hat to Joc Pederson. On the other hand, while thumbing my nose at the old guard, I’m handing the award to Bryant, who is part of the youth movement that is quickly instilling real hope on the North Side.
American League Rookie of the Year: Oh man, this might be even tougher. No offense to all the guys playing their tails off, who still have rookie status, but the AL class is pretty weak. It’s even weaker, because I can’t just choose Mookie Betts, since he already played too much last year. Man, that sucks. Alright, the conventional pick at this point has to be Devon Travis, since he’s part of that offensive juggernaut for a Toronto Blue Jays team still very much in contention in the AL East. Yes, he missed about a month due to a shoulder injury, but he is hitting .406 in nine games since coming off the DL. Travis has a slash line of .291/.346/.491. If we are leaving convention behind, then my pick for AL RoY would be the Oakland Athletics’ Kendall Graveman.
Sure, the A’s are in last place in the AL West, just one game worse than the Seattle Mariners. Yet, Graveman has been one of the few bright spots on Billy Beane’s terrible Tinker Toy construction of 2015. Graveman is 6-4 with a 3.16 ERA. Granted, a 4.35 FIP betrays that somewhat, but like I said guys, this is one weak class I’m working with here. At least he gives up very few home runs (11% of his fly balls leave the yard) and strands a ton of runners (81.4%).
NL Cy Young: Gerrit Cole has that sterling 12-3 record, which would get the BBWAA all hot and bothered. Max Scherzer has a nearly pedestrian 9-7 record, having taken some tough losses in between some absolutely brilliant stretches. Both guys are pitching for teams likely headed for the playoffs. This might be the easiest pick to make! I’m going with Cole as mid-season NL Cy Young for the old guard pick, because 12 wins are soooo sexy. For those voters not frightened by numbers and metrics that haven’t existed since Walter Johnson was pitching, then hand that trophy to Mad Max. I mean, c’mon, he leads the league in K:BB, FIP, and WHIP (10.21, 2.04, 0.803 resepcetively), which are all indicators he’s out pitching pretty much everybody.
AL Cy Young: This is the one that gets me into trouble with fellow staffer Jeff Snider. I was arguing that Chris Archer would have an edge, because he’s on a team with a better shot at running to the top of their division. His argument was that team records would matter less to voters in the case of the Cy Young, which might further favor Chris Sale. Both pitchers have FIPs lower than their ERAs. Both have struck out 147 batters, with Sale’s amazing run tying him with Archer in just under nine less innings pitched.
This may be the one anomaly, where even some of the stats that have been on the back of baseball cards for 70 years, coupled with advanced metrics, could outweigh Sale’s pitching for an atrocious Chicago White Sox team. Essentially, it’s quite possible that both the SABR haters and the well informed could agree upon Sale here. Yet, to stick with my plan, I’ll go Archer for the old farts who think that ERA+ is in reference to Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation”. Then, I’ll let the analytically illuminated bestow the award upon Sale. Or I could just be a defiant son of a gun and say Felix Hernandez, but he’s really not having the finest half season after all, so I won’t go there.
NL MVP: With Giancarlo Stanton hurt – how do you break your hamate bone swinging too hard?!? – I’ve decided to leave him out of the debate. As my buddy Lee said, “Bryce Harper is having a Ted Williams season.” This is probably Harper’s award to lose at this point, seriously, but for the sake of argument, let’s also look at Paul Goldschmidt. This ends up being a funny little inverse look at the case between these two players. Goldy has actually overtaken Harper for the league lead in walks (68 to 63) and also has 68 RBIs. He’s also just ahead of Harper in batting average, .349 and .343 respectively, but I’m not sure that helps his case when you consider the Arizona Diamondbacks are just a third place, .500 team and the Washington Nationals are leading their division by three games over a New York Mets team that doesn’t look to have enough offense to gain any ground on ‘em.
No matter how you slice it, old farts or young bucks, it would seem that as of right now, Bryce Harper is the NL MVP. He leads the league with a .471 OBP, .709 SLG, 1.181 OPS, 223 OPS+, and has plopped down a very healthy 6.1 WAR. These are all numbers that outpace Goldschmidt, but not always by as far as you might assume. For example, Harper is only 0.3 WAR better. A close race, but impossible to split.
AL MVP: Also from the mouth of my friend Lee, “I’ve got Josh Donaldson in a photo finish over Mike Trout in the AL.” I’m not sure I completely agree (we’re also leaving out Miguel Cabrera due to injury). Let’s see what we can see. If conventional wisdom (wis-dumb?) says the MVP almost certainly plays for a better team, then Mike Trout takes the edge here. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (can they just be the bleepin’ California Angels again so I don’t have to type all of that?!?) are now just 1.5 games back of the Houston Astros. They are currently the third best team – record wise – in the American League.
The Blue Jays are only three and a half back of a scuffling New York Yankees squad, but are merely a .500 bunch. What about the individual performances? Are Donaldson’s 5.0 Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) worth more, at third base, than Trout’s 6.0 in center field? I’m inclined to believe so. Then again, Trout does have a 0.5 lead in WAR (5.4 to 4.9) and leads the league in slugging at .604, while also holding a 36-point edge in on-base percentage. If I could factor in my loathing of the Angels, then I’d hand this over to Donaldson no problem, but it seems again that both sides of the argument – “I’m scared of FanGraphs” and “Let me buy you a new calculator with 400 buttons” – again converge to pick Trout as the MVP. Sorry Lee, I wish there was another way!
And before you start assailing me with horrible things to say about my character, I never said the two winners couldn’t be the same guy. I wanted to inspect how the arguments shake out in these races. In two instances, the opposing sides of baseball congress actually bridged the aisle.
You can thank Obama for that, too!