MLB Mid-Season Awards Part One
July begins tomorrow, meaning the all-star game approaches, and we are more than halfway through the season. We have a large enough sample to make some effort in determining who should win various awards so far based on performance throughout the season. Things can and will obviously change from here until season’s end, so these are just for fun.
American League Most Valuable Player: Outfielder Mike Trout (Angels)
Trout continues to be not only the best player in baseball, but continues a trend that puts him in elite company. Trout, age twenty-two, is now the all-time leader in fWAR among MLB players in history through their age twenty-two season. He currently leads Ty Cobb by 0.7 fWAR with a good portion of the season remaining. As of right now, Trout is a once-in-a-lifetime-type player. In 344 plate appearances this season, Mike Trout has an OPS of 1.017, a career-high in an already impressive career. His weighted on base average, or wOBA, is second in all of baseball only to Troy Tulowitzki, at .432. Tulowitzki has a pretty stark home/away difference in terms of batting and power, giving Trout the edge as the best player in baseball. This is not as stark with Trout, who has a home OPS of 1.025 and an away OPS of 1.009. That kind of consistency is what makes Trout a better hitter. Beyond the bat, Trout is as close to perfect as you will see today. His baserunning is arguably the best in baseball, with good speed, especially for someone with his size. Some may say he has developed an 80 power tool, hitting a home run that was unofficially measured at 489 feet, but regardless of where you rate the power, it is there, as he has hit eighteen thus far and is likely to reach a career-high by year’s end. Trout has been good-to-very good defensively, spending the entire season in center field. I can understand the argument behind Tulowitzki if you want to try it, but I think the home/away split and baserunning separates him by quite a bit.
National League Most Valuable Player: Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (Rockies)
At Coors, Tulowitzki is Superman, putting up a ridiculous OPS of 1.309. His home wOBA is scale-breaking at .553. Tulowitzki OPS away from Coors has been .831, which is a massive split. His away wOBA is .362, which is still very good, but not the Superman-type stuff we have been seeing at Coors. Despite this huge split, Tulowitzki is my choice for National League MVP. I am not going to hand wave away numbers because they were at Coors. Would he be less productive if he were on say the Pirates? Yes, but we are not talking in theoretical here. Not only is Tulowitzki one of the game’s best offensive players, but he plays good defense at one of the most valuable positions in baseball, if not the most valuable, at shortstop. I am not much of defensive metrics in producing usable objective numbers, especially at a position like shortstop, but that is another long discussion. Some might argue Giancarlo Stanton, who does not have a big split like Troy Tulowitzki, or Jonathan Lucroy because you think pitch framing is the most valuable asset in baseball (wait for my upcoming series on pitch framing), and I think as the season progresses Stanton might make a good run. Stanton has an OPS of .999 and a wOBA of .422 currently and plays right field, which is also a very valuable position. I really think there is a fifty/fifty shot at Stanton being named the MVP at year’s end.
American League Cy Young Award: Starting Pitcher Felix Hernandez (Mariners)
This is probably the toughest race of all award races, but I am going to go with Felix Hernandez by a hair over Masahiro Tanaka. They are close in nearly all categories, with Tanaka leading in strikeouts per nine innings and walks per nine innings, but Felix clobbers him in home runs per nine innings, giving up 0.28 per nine innings as opposed to Tanaka’s 1.01 per nine innings. The first argument against this is that Felix pitches in a more pitcher-friendly park, which is true, but like the Tulowitzki argument, I do not like normalizing park factors, especially with pitchers because they actually play their games in these stadiums. If we were talking who is theoretically the better pitcher, then that HR/9 rate might mean less, but we are talking in reality. Hernandez also edges him in my favorite pitching statistic, SIERA, with a SIERA of 2.42 to Tanaka’s 2.52. Someone is going to take this as I do not like Masahiro Tanaka or I am magically biased to the Seattle Mariners or something, but that is not that case. I really would not be opposed to flipping a coin at this point because things are so close between the two.
National League Cy Young Award: Starting Pitcher Johnny Cueto (Reds)
In a somwhat easier race, the NL Cy Young belongs to Johnny Cueto thus far. Cueto has been a killer on the mound, giving up only 5.4 hits per nine innings, which plays a part in his league-leading ERA of 1.88. After 124.1 innings pitched, Cueto’s ERA+ sits at 195, which has the average pitcher at 100, which can give you an idea how great Cueto has been for the Cincinnati Reds this season. Although he only strikes out 8.83 per nine innings, he does walk a low 2.10 batters per nine innings and only manages to give up 0.65 home runs per nine innings. Adam Wainwright is a close second, but it is not hairsplitting, like the AL Cy Young race, as he gives up one entire hit more than Cueto per nine innings, despite having a good edge in walks per nine innings, only walking 1.7 per nine innings to Cueto’s 2.1 per nine innings. This is also a close race and there is a decent shot that Wainwright will earn the award by year’s end, but for now Cueto is the man.
American League Rookie of the Year: Starting Pitcher Masahiro Tanaka (Yankees)
I outlined the case for Tanaka for the Cy Young earlier, so it should be no surprise that he will take the spot for AL RotY. The only other contender is Chicago White Sox power slugger Jose Abreu. Abreu is having a fantastic year, putting up an OPS of .953 and a wOBA of .401. With 25 home runs, Abreu would be the American League Rookie of the Year in most years, just not this year with Masahiro Tanaka’s domination. Tanaka has an ERA of 2.10, a K/9 of 9.88, a BB/9 of 1.40, and a HR/9 of 1.01. Like mentioned, those are strong Cy Young award contender numbers, let alone Rookie of the Year numbers. One point beyond the numbers is Jose Abreu’s lack of ability to make solid contact with anything that is not pitched straight/flat into the strikezone. If you pitch to him slightly out of the strike zone, or even around the edges, you have a good chance of him not making contact and swinging at the pitch. I do not think Abreu can make changes quick enough in the second half of the season to correct this, but in the future it is possible. As for this year, Tanaka has shown little, if any, weaknesses.
National League Rookie of the Year: Shortstop Chris Owings (Diamondbacks)
Owings is essentially NL Rookie of the Year by default, as there has not been anyone to really emerge from the pack of rookies in the National League as we have seen with the American League. Cincinnati Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton is a close second, with 34 stolen bases. It comes down to how much you value shortstop over center field, which you should, shortstop is the more difficult position. Not only does Owings play the tougher position, but he has the better OPS at .771, wOBA at .336, and wRC+ of 109 compared to Hamilton’s OPS of .717, a wOBA of .315, and a wRC+ of 98. You can go with Hamilton’s 2.9 fWAR over Owings’ 1.8 fWAR, but I just do not see Hamilton’s speed value in addition to his bat beating Owings’ bat. At this point we still have contenders to emerge because this is such a shallow field, like Kevin Siegrist and Andrew Heaney. There has been so little in the NL rookie field, that I honestly considered leaving this vacant, but decided to go with someone, regardless of the strength of the candidates, as someone is going to win this award.