Monday, December 9, 2013

Non-Obligatory Awards Post

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
My post rate my be dwindling, but nothing can keep me from commenting on the end of season MLB awards. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning waiting for the results to be announced to see what kind of insanity had been unleashed by the BBWAA. In a welcome event started last season, the BBWAA now posts the results of all the voters' ballots, so we here in the blogosphere can eagerly pick apart the voting patterns of the "experts" and further discover why much of baseball writing is in such a poor condition.

To start, I think overall the voters did a fair job this year. Trout was again obviously a more deserving MVP candidate than Miguel Cabrera, but that isn't an argument that is going to be settled any time soon. Other than that, I don't have a problem with any of the other award winners. The real fun comes though when we start looking down the ballots or at individual voters whose wild choices did not end up drastically changing the final results. Let's go through the awards and see what tidbits we can unfurl.

It's hard to get too worked up over the Manager of the Year awards. It's difficult to evaluate a manager's performance as viewers only ever get to witness their in game decisions without seeing any of the behind-the-scenes process which led to the result. This is why Manager of the Year tends to just go to the team that most outperformed preseason expectations. Clint Hurdle and the Pittsburgh Pirates seem to fall into that category in the National League. I find it amusing that Don Mattingly and Fredi Gonzalez finished second and third considering writers were calling for their jobs earlier this year. Their teams made the playoffs though, so I guess that qualifies as good managing. Mattingly also led his team back from being over 10 games down in the division and the timing of that lining up with Puig being promoted and Greinke getting healthy was probably a coincidence.

Over in the American League the top of the ballot seemed to shake out mostly fine. Although I do love the bit of homerism from Todd Wills of ESPN Dallas who gave Ron Washington his only third place vote. Even though the Rangers had an extremely disappointing season, Wills provides an excellent case for Washington's candidacy:
"What I saw on the following road trip to Tampa Bay and Kansas City was a manager that held things together and didn't panic. The Rangers went 3-4 on the trip and lost heart-breakers in St. Petersburg and Kansas City, and still Washington never wavered, setting the club up for that final seven-game homestand.

With the Rangers needing seven wins to have any hope of at least getting into a tiebreaker game -- the way the schedule set up for Cleveland and Tampa Bay, there was no other option -- Ron Washington's club did just that. They won seven straight games when they absolutely had to."
If that doesn't define managerial skill I don't know what else can. Forget the fact that if the Rangers went 4-3 on that trip they wouldn't have had to play a Wild Card play in game. Doesn't matter. Washington didn't waver and his team won when they absolutely had to!

Wil Myers won the American League Rookie of the Year award easily, picking up 23 of 30 first place votes. It wasn't exactly a strong rookie class this year, so it wasn't too surprising to see some third place votes scattered among guys like Cody Allen, Martin Perez, and David Lough. I wouldn't have voted for them, but it isn't outrageous. What is outrageous though is the ballot of Chris Assenheimer of the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram, representing the Indians, who gave Allen one of those third place votes but couldn't find any room on his ballot for Myers. I guess he appreciated Allen a lot having seen him the most, but if he wants to vote on a league-wide award he should also consider watching the rest of the league.

In the National League there were a number of outstanding candidates, but Jose Fernandez won the award deservedly, getting 26 of 30 first place votes. There's some more homerism fun to be had with the National League ballot though. Nolan Arenado's lone third place vote came from Denver writer Jack Etkin. One of Jedd Gyorko's two third place votes came from John Maffei from UT San Diego who was the only voter not to vote for Puig. In all fairness though, he does provide an awful explanation:
"A second baseman hit 23 home runs and played great defense. Maybe Puig's antics were in the back of my mind, but I really think the guy [Gyorko] deserved a third-place vote. I just felt he deserved it, not that Puig didn't."
This line of thinking is so incredibly narrow minded. Look at this player, he played well, forget how he compares to everyone else, just acknowledge that he played well. The Rookie of the Year ballot is a ranking system. Until Maffei understands that he shouldn't be allowed to vote.

Onto the Cy Young awards, where each ballot has five slots, providing two more slots than RoY ballots for insanity. In the American League Max Scherzer went 21-3 so he wins the Cy Young award. He did some other things really well too, but mostly he went 21-3. J.P. Hoornstra of the Los Angeles News Group had an interesting ballot with Chris Sale first, Yu Darvish second, and Max Scherzer third, the lowest vote that Scherzer received. Scherzer was better than Sale by almost any statistic, although Scherzer did get to face the White Sox lineup five times instead of the five times Sale faced the Tigers. That alone could push their performances much closer together which could be justification for voting for Sale, but that would make way too much sense. Hoornstra instead takes the "I'm a baseball writer who doesn't watch baseball" approach:
"Chris Sale got my vote for the Cy Young Award because he was the best American League pitcher I saw this season. I saw Sale twice, on back-to-back starts in May — once in person in Anaheim, and five days later on TV when he was pitching in Chicago."
Hoornstra also voted for Sale over Darvish because Darvish had his dominant stretch in April, not in August or September when the "Rangers really needed an ace and Darvish went five weeks between wins." Because you know, the games in September count for more than the games in April.

Matt Moore picked up two fourth place votes, both times being selected over Darvish, from Scot Gregor in Chicago and Dick Scanlon of the Lakeland Ledger, representing shockingly, the Tampa Bay Rays. Darvish pitched almost 60 more innings than Moore, with an almost half run lower ERA, a 0.224 lead in WHIP, and almost double the total strikeouts, all while pitching in the bandbox the Rangers call a home ballpark. So what did Moore have on Darvish? Well I couldn't find explanations from Gregor or Scanlon, so I'll assume it was the 4 win difference in their pitching records. Dick Scanlon really needs to publish his explanation though because I would love to see the justification that goes into putting Koji Uehara second on his ballot.

In the National League, Clayton Kershaw came one vote shy of unanimously winning the Cy Young award. Mark Schmetzer of Reds Report gave the lone dissenting vote to Adam Wainwright. I haven't been able to find an explanation from him. I probably shouldn't expect one, it's not like he's a writer or anything.

In homerism, Madison Bumgarner got his lone fourth place vote from Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area because "There’s no way I was going to leave Bumgarner off my ballot, and if there’s bias involved, it’s only because I had the benefit of seeing him pitch every fifth day." For what I doubt is the last time, if it's your job to evaluate players from other teams, you should probably consider fairly evaluating players from other teams.

Craig Kimbrel got a lot of love, including four second place votes. Craig Kimbrel also only pitched 67 innings. He was amazing, but Adam Wainwright pitched 3.6 times as many innings. No matter how good Kimbrel was, he can't be good enough in such limited work to merit serious consideration over the top starters each year.

Onto the MVP vote where 10 names on a ballot provides all sorts of room for insanity. Miguel Cabrera captured 23/30 first place votes to win the AL MVP in what was basically a rehashing of the Cabrera vs Trout argument from last season. That's been done though, let's get onto the nonsense.

Bill Ballou of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette (Boston) gave Chris Davis his only first place vote and had Mike Trout ranked seventh. Trout was lucky to even end up that high on his ballot, as Ballou explains:
"I am a strict constructionist re: “valuable”. If the award were Player of the Year, Trout would get my vote. I’m of the school that in order to have “value” you have to help your team be good, at least to the point of contending. The Angels didn’t truly contend. To fully develop that logic, players from non-contenders should not be listed on the  ballot at all, but the BBWAA insists that we fill out all 10 slots, so I did, even though I did not think there were 10 worthy candidates from contending teams."
I'm just going to let that one sit and brew for a while.

Josh Donaldson got one first place vote, from Oakland Tribune writer John Hickey. He falls back on a similar "definition of value" argument:
As good as Trout was, the Angels finished 18 games out. There’s not much value in finishing third. Cabrera’s value was that the Tigers won their division. 

Right. Trout had the better speed and glove tools while Cabrera had the better Scherzer and Sanchez tools. But as if this argument isn't frustrating enough, he completely contradicts himself when he explains why he voted for Donaldson.
 My first place vote went to the A’s Josh Donaldson, even over Cabrera, because Cabrera was surrounded by a much superior lineup than was Donaldson. Such was Donaldson’s value, in my mind, that without him Oakland would have been a middle-of-the-road finisher. Donaldson wasn’t the best player. He was the most valuable.

So the skill of teammates only becomes a consideration if the team has made the playoffs. I can't believe I didn't figure that one out myself. Hickey also gave Adam Jones one of his two votes, a fifth place vote. Combined with the other eighth place vote he got was enough to put Jones in thirteenth place. Just to finish off his homerism streak, he also gave Coco Crisp his only ninth place vote. In more homerism, Salvador Perez got his only tenth place vote from Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star.

Onto the National League MVP where Andrew McCutchen won with 28/30 first place votes. I thought this vote would be a lot closer. Not that McCutchen isn't deserving, but he didn't really seem like a runaway candidate.

First the obvious. Yadier Molina got two first place votes. Both from the St. Louis writers. Rick Hummel's ballot is particularly interesting. He had McCutchen third behind Matt Carpenter, Craig Kimbrel in fourth because he doesn't understand the value of closers, and then some more homerism, giving Allen Craig an eighth place vote (he also received a tenth place vote). I haven't found his ballot explanation yet, but I assume it's filled with phrases like "if you watched the Cardinals as much as I did."

Heading over to the city of the other player to receive MVP votes, Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette showed that you can still submit a suspicious ballot even when voting for the MVP. He had Yadier Molina ninth in what seems like an attempt to separate Molina and McCutchen in the voting, which is a shame because the start of his ballot explanation hits all the checkboxes in what criteria I want voters to consider. I similarly also question why both Miami writers had Molina at either ninth or tenth on their ballots.

I'll be sure to return for similar nonsense after the Hall of Fame ballots are released.