Home > Aaron Booth, MLB > 2011 MLB Postseason Awards

2011 MLB Postseason Awards

By: Aaron Booth

I like getting through the baseball post season, taking a week off, and after that MLB gives us a slow trickle of season awards. Not every award leads to interesting discussion, but usually the season unfolds in such a way that we get at least one. This year we get two: AL MVP and NL Cy Young. Here are my thoughts on both.

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NL Cy Young

5. Craig Kimbrel, Braves

4. Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks

3. Cliff Lee, Phillies

2. Roy Halladay, Phillies

1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

Lee, Halladay and Kershaw were all very close in their final statistical lines. More often than not Cliff Lee finished 2nd or 3rd, while the other two regularly led the league in the important categories. As I looked at it, I noticed Halladay led most of the sabremetric categories, while Kershaw led most of the traditional categories. While I like sabremetric stats and tools, I am coming to realize they are intended to be predictive, which makes them useful for scouting and building a team (or a fantasy team), but they can also rely heavily on assumptions about expected norms and deviations from league average. The counting stats are, well just that, and the traditional rate stats are simple calculations of the counting stats. But the traditional stats are reflective of what actually did happen. I recognize that some of the counting stats, wins and losses especially, are not that helpful in evaluating a pitcher, but the innings, the strikeouts and walks, the hits, the ERA and WHIP, those things really happened. They don’t have to be normalized. They don’t have to be adjusted according the value of a run in the current run environment. There are a thousand hairs to split here – park effects, defense, quality of division, inter-league draw, but at the end of the day, Kershaw threw more innings, struck out more batters, allowed fewer runs and allowed fewer base runners. That’s good enough for me.

AL MVP

10. Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox

9. CC Sabathia, Yankees

8. Curtis Granderson, Yankees (Granderson had a good season; a surprising season, but he wasn’t really as good as the world believed back in August).

7. Michael Young, Rangers (fantastic season for a guy they wanted to dump back in March)

6. Robinson Cano, Yankees (Quietly the best Yankee – again)

5. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox

4. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers (He’s the new Manny Ramirez: his reputation is just too tarnished to win this award)

3. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays (Fantastic statistical season for a non-contender)

2. Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox

1. Justin Verlander, Tigers

First of all, Verlander really did have a fantastic year. He led the AL in almost every category and he tied Jose Bautista for the AL lead in WAR (Wins Above Replacement) at 8.5. That WAR is the 5th best AL WAR (for pitchers) in the DH era. His 0.92 WHIP is the 2nd lowest in the DH era. He didn’t have the greatest season of all-time, but it was certainly an elite season, even amongst elite seasons.

The two main objections I get on my top three are 1) Jose Bautista actually had the best season of any AL hitter and 2) Pitchers should win MVP because the “have their own award” and they only play every 5th game.

On Bautista – he did have very good season, though he tailed off significantly over the last few weeks. Unfortunately, he played for perpetually .500 Blue Jays. Some of the statistical analysts have started leaning toward the idea that being on a contender shouldn’t matter. In a vacuum, that’s fine, but that model kind of sucks the fun out it. If baseball wants to do that, just make it a statistical contest and call it a day. That way there will be no debate; it will just be a numbers game and we will wait for the results like an election. Personally, I like the discussion and the argument, so I am just fine with the idea that an MVP should come from a contender. That’s not to say a great player from a non-contender can never be MVP. They can, but it should only happen in seasons when there’s not a strong candidate from a contending team.

On Verlander – The Cy Young Award is for pitchers. A hitter cannot win that award. The MVP, however, is not restricted to hitters. If it was the writers association would include a statement to that effect in instructions to the voters. The charge is to identify the most valuable player in the league. The more I have thought about this the more I suspect pitchers have been over looked in this award for a long time (maybe it should be officially defined as a hitter’s award).  Say it out loud: Could the Red Sox have contended without Ellsbury or Pedroia or Gonzalez? Yes. Could the Yankees contend without Robinson Cano? Yes. Could the Tigers have contended without Verlander? Not a chance.

On the surface the idea that a starting pitcher does not contribute to a team as much as an everyday player makes sense. I have swallowed this argument my whole life, but it’s really not as simple as that. When is an everyday player influencing the game? The answer is simple enough: when the player is batting and when the player is fielding. When a batter walks to the plate any number of things can happen, and whether the batter makes an out or reaches base that batter has influenced the game. Likewise, when the player is in the field, if he catches, throws or makes an error the player has influenced the game. So, a crude way to measure a players influence would be to add a players plate appearances (PA) to the total chances in the field (putouts+assists+errors=TC).  Let’s call this number Influential Moments (IM). Here are the IM’s of the hitters on my MVP ballot:

 

Not surprisingly, the first basemen have high TC’s, most of which are putouts on routine infield plays. Jose Bautista’s total was a bit lower, partly because he spent some time at DH, but also because he played a fair amount of third base – a position that produces the fewest TC.

Now that we know the hitter’s IM’s, we can turn our attention to the pitchers. When is the pitcher influencing the game? Again the answer is simple: when he faces a batter and when he fields (and when he bats in the NL). So, for the pitcher we add batters faced (BF) and TC to get their IM. Verlander faced 969 batters and had 237 total chances in the field, which comes to 1,206 IM’s. That’s a few more IM’s than the outfielders and utility types and a bit less than the middle infielders, but the point stands. Measured in IM’s, an elite starting pitcher has a similar number of opportunities to influence a game as a healthy, everyday player. The only difference is that the pitcher gets about 35 IM’s per game, while the position player gets about 7.75. This doesn’t necessarily close the case on whether a position player or a pitcher makes a greater contribution to a team, but it does cast some serious doubt on the assumption that hitters are by default more influential than starting pitchers over the course of a season.

Verlander had a truly special year. He led his team to the ALCS. The idea that pitchers don’t contribute as much as position players isn’t true. So, why shouldn’t Verlander win the AL MVP? He was certainly the most valuable.

Aaron Booth lives in Monroe, LA with his wife a five children. He makes his living in the real estate world, which gives him the opportunity to listen to a lot of audio, including a fair amount of sports radio and podcasts. Aaron loves his i-devices and 24-hour sports media, but also fondly remembers the days when he calculated his fantasy standings from the newspaper. You can follow him on twitter @da_booth.

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