The season is at its (artificial) midpoint, and you know what that means – it’s time to hand out some imaginary hardware! Eleven of our writers, myself included, cast their ballot yesterday, choosing the AL and NL MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year, as well as the Yankees Offensive Player (meaning the best position player, and not the most abominable) and Pitcher of the Year. This is a change of pace from last season, where we did not distinguish between position players and pitcher, and included an “award” for the least valuable Yankees.
Without further ado:
AL MVP: Mike Trout – .310/.400/.606, 22 HR, 10 SB, 181 wRC+, 5.5 fWAR, 5.5 bWAR
Trout is currently leading the league in on-base percentage, wRC+, OPS+, fWAR, bWAR, total bases, runs created, and extra base hits. He is also in the top-five in home runs, runs, RBI, doubles, triples, and walks. And, by most measures, he is on-pace to post the best overall offensive numbers of his young career – which may be the most telling, considering the sheer ridiculousness of his career to-date. Thankfully, the Angels are performing quite well this season, which should serve to help Trout claim the award that he may well have been robbed of in back-to-back seasons; assuming, of course, that he continues to be the best player on the planet. At this point, that seems like a reasonable assumption.
Also receiving votes – N/A.
NL MVP: Andrew McCutchen – .324/.420/.575, 17 HR, 15 SB, 179 wRC+, 4.6 fWAR, 4.7 bWAR
While Troy Tulowitzki garners praise for his insane season, the still-underrated McCutchen dominates the leaderboards in the National League.The Pirates center-fielder leads the league in hits, walks, OBP, total bases, runs created, oWAR, OPS+, and wRC+; he also places in the top-ten in runs, home runs, RBI, stolen bases (perfect in 15 attempts, to boot), bWAR, and fWAR. And like the aforementioned Trout, McCutchen is likewise having the best offensive season of his brilliant young career. And unlike Tulowitzki, McCutchen does not have the benefit of playing his home games on the moon (Tulowitzki has a 1.246 OPS at home, and an .830 OPS on the road).
Despite the near-unanimity of our vote (only one vote went elsewhere), the American League Cy Young ballot is stacked, with brilliant seasons aplenty. Hernandez leads the league in bWAR, with three other pitcher (Mark Buehrle, Masahiro Tanaka, and Chris Sale) within 0.5 bWAR. Ten starters are striking out better than a batter per inning, and Hernandez is seventh within that group. Six starting pitchers are striking out six or more batters for every walk they issue, and Hernandez is last among them. What ends up setting Hernandez ahead of the pack is the fact that there is not a weakness in his resume, as he racks up strikeouts, limits walks, and keeps the ball on the ground and in the park. And perhaps most surprisingly, he has been better away from Safeco this year.
Also receiving votes – Scott Kazmir.
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw – 96.1 IP, 11.8 K/9, 1.2 BB/9, 1.78 ERA, 3.7 fWAR, 4.2 bWAR
This selection came down to a philosophical choice – do you take Kershaw, and his absolute dominance (as he leads the league in K/9, BB/9, K/BB, ERA, FIP, xFIP, and fWAR – and many of those by huge margins), or do you take Wainwright, and his similar run prevention over an additional 42.1 IP? In this case, Kershaw’s incomparable brilliance swayed seven of the eleven voters. Wainwright’s edge in innings pitched provided him with a considerable advantage in bWAR (5.0 to 4.2), and that quantity is extremely valuable. In many years, if not most, Wainwright would be a unanimous selection. Kershaw, however, is striking out four more batters per nine, walking less, and keeping the ball on the ground at a much better rate, all leading to significantly better defense-independent numbers. And while results do matter more than inputs, it is impossible to overlook how much better Kershaw has been than everyone else since returning from the disabled list.
Also receiving votes – Adam Wainwright.
AL Rookie of the Year: Jose Abreu – .292/.342/.630, 29 HR, 1 SB, 159 wRC+, 3.2 fWAR, 2.8 bWAR
Full disclosure: Tanaka actually won this vote, and deservedly so. I simply felt it would be fun to look into Jose Abreu, as Tanaka will be picking up his imaginary hardware later.
Abreu, as most everyone knows, is leading all of baseball in home runs, despite missing fourteen games with an ankle injury. He’s also leading the Majors in slugging percentage and ISO. And he’s third in the Majors in RBI, sixth in OPS+, and seventh in wRC+. His offensive dominance is so staggering on a baseball-wide scale, that it is all but meaningless to compare him to other rookies – only George Springer comes close, with 19 HR, a 123 wRC+, 1.2 fWAR, and 1.8 bWAR.
Also receiving votes – N/A.
NL Rookie of the Year: Billy Hamilton – .285/.319/.423, 5 HR, 38 SB, 104 wRC+, 3.2 fWAR, 2.6 bWAR
Hamilton was another near-unanimous selection – the insistence of some writers that Springer and the Astros are still in the National League notwithstanding. On April 14, Hamilton was hitting .140/.178/.209 with only two stolen bases, and people were ready to call him a bust. Since then, Hamilton has hit .307/.340/.455 (119 wRC+), stolen 36 bases, and played brilliant defense in center field. He is one of the most exciting players to watch in the field and on the bases and, despite his ho-hum 72% success rate on steals, he has a great deal of value in both areas. By many accounts he is the best defensive center-fielder in the league, and his base-running adds value as he takes the extra base as well as anyone in the game.
Also receiving votes – Jacob deGrom.
Yankees Offensive Player of the Year: Brett Gardner – .279/.353/.424, 9 HR, 15 SB, 116 wRC+, 2.7 fWAR, 2.9 bWAR
Focusing solely on production with the bat, Gardner and Mark Teixeira are a veritable toss-up. Teixeira has slight edges in wRC+ (120 to 116) and OPS+ (122 to 116), and a big edge in power production (.222 ISO to .145). And if you focus on home runs and RBI, it may well be a runaway advantage for Teixeira. However, unlike Teixeira, Gardner is an excellent base-runner, stealing 15 bases in 19 attempts, and adding between 3 and 5 runs on the bases (meaning between 5 and 7 runs more than Teixeira). Gardner has also played in eighteen more games, amassing 86 additional PA – meaning that that similar batting line may well hold more overall value (particularly when factoring in base-running).
And, for whatever it’s worth, I think this would have been a runaway choice it I had named it “Position Player of the Year” instead.
Also receiving votes – Teixeira.
Yankees Pitcher of the Year: Masahiro Tanaka – 129.1 IP, 9.4 K/9, 1.3 BB/9, 2.51 ERA, 3.2 fWAR, 4.1 bWAR
And here we are, having left the Yankees best player and most crushing disappointment for last.
Tanaka was the best story for the Yankees this year, as a young ace that was seemingly worth every penny as he outperformed even the grandest of expectations. By most any measure, Tanaka was one of the five best pitchers in the American League, and one of the ten best in the Majors, showing tremendous control, picking up swings and misses at will, and pitching 7+ innings with gusto. Prior to going down with a partially torn UCL, Tanaka was in the midst of arguably the greatest season for a Yankees starting pitcher in my lifetime. And now, we play the waiting game, hoping against hope that he will be back at season’s end, and ready to go come Spring 2015.
I would be remiss to not mention Dellin Betances, as well. In addition to leading all relievers in fWAR, Betances is in the top-five in the AL in IP, K/9, ERA, FIP, xFIP, K%, and K-BB%. ‘Dominant’ does not seem a strong enough adjective to describe his season thus far.
Also receiving votes – Betances.