Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Early picks for major awards
By Keith Law
For the first time since I became a BBWAA member in 2008, I'm not voting on any postseason awards this year -- but not through any choice of my own. I was omitted from the list of eligible voters submitted by the Arizona chapter to the organization's secretary, and I didn't find out I wasn't eligible to vote until other writers started mentioning the ballots they'd received and I asked where mine was.
I'm obviously disappointed by this development and am a bit incredulous about how such an error could occur. On the plus side, this will allow me to comment on all six major player awards in advance of the announcement, something I don't do when I am voting on one of them.
Below is my breakdown of those six awards, with my explanation of whom I would vote for as well as my pick for the player I think will end up winning.
American League MVP
Let's not kid anyone -- Miguel Cabrera is going to win this again, in a walk, without being the most valuable player in the league. Mike Trout has been more valuable this year, as he was last year, although in 2013 the difference between his production and Cabrera's isn't as stark. Cabrera's bat is more valuable -- about 18 runs worth of production per Fangraphs, a number that factors in ballpark effects -- but Trout adds more than 18 runs of value over Miggy with his glove and baserunning, as Cabrera again rates among the league's worst defensive players at any position.
The gap could widen if Detroit chooses to rest Cabrera in September to try to get his legs back to 100 percent for the playoffs, which would be in their best interest as a team even if it might marginally hurt his MVP candidacy. Chris Davis and Evan Longoria are fighting for third place here, with Davis likely to do very well in the voting thanks to the big home run total.
My pick: Trout
Who I think will win: Cabrera
National League MVP
Clayton Kershaw is having a season for the ages, leading the NL in Baseball Reference's WAR (rWAR) so far, with an ERA (1.72) that would be the second-lowest for any ERA qualifier in a non-strike season since MLB lowered the mound in 1969, with only Dwight Gooden's 1.53 ERA in 1985 lower than Kershaw's.
His FanGraphs WAR (fWAR), derived from his FIP (fielding independent pitching) of 2.39, might do him a slight disservice, as Kershaw posted BABIPs below league average from 2009 through 2012 -- in the .262 to .275 range -- and that figure is down to .231 this year. If Kershaw is truly capable of keeping his batting average allowed on balls in play around .270 -- as opposed to the league average, which is closer to .300 -- then his FIP this year would be about 2.25, which would be the second-best mark in the NL.
The real debate this fall won't be over Kershaw's FIP or his rWAR, but between Kershaw and Andrew McCutchen, by far the best position player in the NL this year. He's third in the NL in OBP and 10th in slugging (with two of the top three playing in Colorado) while playing above-average defense in center. The Mets' David Wright might have had a chance to challenge McCutchen, but missing four or more weeks to a hamstring strain will create some separation between him and Cutch.
As for Paul Goldschmidt, the leader in the traditional/fantasy categories of AVG-HR-RBI, he's not close to McCutchen's overall value. The two are nearly tied in OBP; Goldschmidt has an extra 40 points of slugging, but plays in a better hitter's park. That small advantage is obliterated by McCutchen's value on the bases and in the field, playing a tougher position and playing it well. Goldschmidt is having a great year, but he's not even the most valuable first baseman -- that would be Joey Votto.
I'd vote McCutchen if the season ended today, but would probably go for Kershaw in the end if he can manage to maintain his current level of performance through the end of the season.
My pick: McCutchen
Who I think will win: McCutchen
AL Cy Young
Max Scherzer has the narrative, thanks to a won-lost record that's as much about the team behind him and the teams he faces than it is about how he has pitched. The AL Central includes three of the five worst run-scoring teams in the AL, and he has faced those clubs in eight of his 26 starts this year.
That's why I'd give the edge to this point to Felix Hernandez, who has been just as good as Scherzer before we consider caliber of competition, posting a lower ERA and FIP in roughly as many innings as Scherzer has thrown. Yu Darvish would be a distant third for me.
My pick: Hernandez
Who I think will win: Scherzer
NL Cy Young
Kershaw wins this in a rout -- he has been the most valuable by rWAR, near the top by fWAR, and didn't get to fatten up on bad NL East offenses all year. Adam Wainwright probably ends up taking second place over Matt Harvey (who is now out for the year), Jose Fernandez and the somewhat unheralded Mat Latos.
But really, if Kershaw finishes with a sub-2.00 ERA, I'll be shocked if he's anything short of unanimous.
My pick: Kershaw
Who I think will win: Kershaw
AL Rookie of the Year
Wil Myers and ... uh ... I mean, Jose Iglesias has been OK ... this is a little awkward ... can I list some NL candidates instead?
(Before anyone asks: Yan Gomes and Leonys Martin are not ROY-eligible this year.)
My pick: Myers
Who I think will win: Myers
NL Rookie of the Year
Puig has the narrative here -- not only has he played extremely well, but the Dodgers started winning right around the time of his arrival. (That their run of success also started when Hanley Ramirez and Zack Greinke came off the DL will be conveniently ignored as it doesn't support the desired story.)
But Fernandez leads Puig comfortably in both flavors of WAR, and while he hasn't been seen as much by a national audience, he has been just as exciting, turning into a bona fide ace as a 20-year-old while playing for a team in his adopted home state. That this wonderful thing is happening to a team owned by Jeffrey Loria is a fact I will conveniently ignore.
Beyond those two, I'd probably follow up my ballot with Shelby Miller and Julio Teheran, giving them the edge over the much older Hyun-Jin Ryu.
My pick: Fernandez
Who I think will win: Puig