Is Yoenis Cespedes a legitimate MVP candidate?
We should probably discuss the end of year awards. I was lazy and didn’t write up my preseason predictions, which is fine because I would have been wrong for all of them. I was wrong for all of them last year. Who knew that Stephen Strasburg wasn’t ready to take the leap—every Nationals fan, apparently—or whomever I picked for MVP wasn’t really that good. Want to know how bad I am at forecasting seasons? If not for knee surgery, I thought Mat Latos was going to be a solid bet for Cy Young last season. I skipped out on the embarrassment this season. You should probably thank me.
So, yeah, I’m the guy you want in your fantasy league.
That’s in the past, however. We’re all about 2015 and how the year ended. This has been a particularly interesting year for most of the awards with legitimate arguments to be made for both Cy Young awards, the AL MVP, and the ROY in each league. About a month ago we could have had fun with the NL MVP award too, though I think the push for Cespedes was more for the great story that accompanied the Mets rise to first place than any credible threat to the year Bryce Harper had. Anyway, here’s how I would vote if anyone were dumb enough to allow me to vote. Maybe someday someone somewhere will give me that kind of power, but for right now I have this blog and a questionable grasp of grammar.
Chris Sale broke a White Sox single-season strikeout record that had stood since 1908, finishing up with an absurd 11.82 K/9 that was nearly a full strikeout more than everyone not named Clayton Kershaw. David Price pitched pretty well for a Detroit Tigers team that found itself out of the playoff chase, then pitched great for Toronto as they comfortably won the East when everyone thought they were simply another underachieving Blue Jays team. Doesn’t it seem like only yesterday we were all laughing at those silly Blue Jays for trading for Troy Tulowitzki when what they really needed was pitching?
LOL. We’re so dumb.
In 11 starts with Toronto, Price had an ERA+ of 172, had a FIP of 2.22, and struck out 10.5 per nine. Oh, and in the games that mattered most, Price pitched against the Yankees four times and went 3-0 while allowing 22 hits in 26.1 innings with an ERA of 1.71.
My vote would go to Dallas Keuchel, however. He led the American League in wins, hoorah!, which means nothing but winning 20 games is still pretty cool. It reminds me of being a kid and seeing 20 as some magical number representative of ace status. Even though we’re all too smart to believe that 20 means anything I bet the Astros are glad that number isn’t 18 instead. Much has been made about Keuchel’s stinker against Texas where he allowed nine earned runs in 4 2/3 innings, and considering the Astros finished two games back of the Rangers and now have to play the Yankees to earn an official pass to the LDS Keuchel deserves all the criticism we throw at him. He’s a bum. Choke artist. Umm, wait, though. Keuchel bounced back after that start against Texas and allowed four earned runs across his final three starts (pitching against Anaheim and Texas in two of those). He was amazing at home (batters hit a lowly .186 against him), and he was the best pitcher on a team that nobody saw coming. We’re we just discussing how awful it was that the Astros were tanking games to get high draft picks when their fans deserved so much better?
This one is about narrative as much as credentials. These three guys are so close statistically that it comes down to story, and I like that the Astros are the feel good story of the AL right now. If I had to pick one lefty out of this group, I’m going with Keuchel.
This is weird. We’re here discussing an MVP award with Mike Trout involved and we have a real debate on our hands. Trout leads Josh Donaldson in both bWAR and fWAR, so there’s no reason that selecting Trout is the wrong choice here. This decision basically comes down to those big fancy counting stats like RBI and the Blue Jays storming through the East after the trade deadline. That has nothing to do with Donaldson, which is to say he was destroying baseballs prior to the trade deadline, .295/.358/.550 with 25 home runs and 73 RBI, just as well as he did after the deadline: .301/.393/.602 with 16 homers and 50 RBI. Bringing in Price and Tulowitzki didn’t affect Donaldson’s performance one bit.
He was great before, and he was great after. He’s also been great defensively, as he always is, finishing tied for third with Evan Longoria in Fangraphs defense rating for third basemen. The part of me that hates Billy Beane trading Donaldson this offseason wants him to win. I remember that morning and thinking the trade was stupid. I still do. Donaldson for MVP!
This award feels like Trout’s, however. Maybe it’s voter fatigue that makes me want to go with Donaldson, or maybe it’s because the Angels came up just shy of playing their way into the playoffs. Both of those are stupid reasons for going against Trout. That’s no fault of Trout’s. He’s the best player in the major leagues, and the MVP by all rights should be his award. Here is Trout’s season by AL rankings: first in bWAR, fWAR, slugging, OPS, OPS+, and runs created; second in on-base percentage, extra base hits, and total bases (Donaldson leads both extra base hits and total bases); third in runs scored (Donaldson leads with 122 to Trout’s 104), home runs (41 to Donaldson’s 44), walks; and ninth in batting average. It’s not so obvious that Trout runs away with it, and Donaldson makes a strong case.
I’m going with Trout.
Rookie of the Year
According to Fangraphs Francisco Lindor was worth 4.6 wins in 2/3 of a season. That’s crazy for a 21-year old. He hit .313/.353/.482 with 12 home runs and stellar defense. Credible cases can be made for Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers, and Miguel Sano. Everyone knew (or strongly suspected) that Lindor was going to be good, but I don’t know if anyone thought he’d be this good. I could spend a lot of time on this one, but I think Lindor is the smartest choice I’ve made so far.
Manager of the Year
I’m going with Ned Yost. Sure we could argue for the Rangers’ Jeff Banister, the Yankees’ Joe Girardi, or the Astros’ A.J. Hinch. I’m going with Yost because in a year where everyone expected the Royals to take a huge step back from their amazing 2014 World Series run (there was a lot of chatter, if I recall, about the Royals slipping below .500 again before the season started), the Royals won 95 games to lead the AL. I didn’t watch a ton of Royals games to know if Yost is a master at in-game strategy, but whatever he did worked and the Royals ran away with the Central. Of course, in the NL Central, the Royals would be a fourth place team, and we’d be bemoaning the Alex Gordon injury and wonder if Jonny Cueto was imported from the NL with specific instructions from the rival Cardinals to sabotage another playoff run.
Okay, so Cueto played for Cincinnati. If the Royals are suddenly in the NL then maybe Cincinnati and KC swap places. Ever think about that, smart guy?
If you calculate WAR using FIP, as Fangraphs does, then Clayton Kershaw has been worth more than a win more than Jake Arrieta and almost three wins more than Zack Greinke. What? That seems pretty silly to me. By Baseball-reference’s standards, which uses ERA rather than FIP, Greinke was worth less than a win more than Arrieta and nearly two wins more than Kershaw. This also seems silly to me. By conventional stats, Greinke led all three in ERA with a 1.66 ERA, the lowest in the major leagues since Greg Maddux posted an ERA of 1.63 in 1995. Arrieta was only slightly behind that total with an ERA of 1.77 while Kershaw came in at 2.13. They are one-two-three in ERA, WHIP, and H/9 (Greinke/Arrieta/Kershaw, ditto, and Arrieta/Greinke/Kershaw), one-two-four in innings pitched (Kershaw/Arrieta/Greinke), and one-two-six in wins (Arrieta/Greinke/Kershaw). Kershaw blew the other two away with his 301 strikeouts.
Arrieta has allowed two earned runs over his last nine starts, and since the beginning of August has allowed 41 hits in 88.1 innings with an ERA of 0.41. Batters are hitting .136/.182/.172 against him in that span. By sports writer’s outrage/panic level, Arrieta should win this award because everyone is already calling shenanigans on the entire MLB playoff system based on the wild card play-in game because the Pirates have to face Arrieta. Outside of NYC, no one seems to really care about Kershaw and Greinke in the playoffs. Does anyone feel a sense of outrage/despair for the Yankees facing Keuchel?
What I find amazing about Greinke’s season is that out of 32 games started, he had two starts where he allowed more than three earned runs and only four starts where he allowed precisely three runs. So, out of 32 starts, 25 were two or fewer earned runs allowed with 12 of those where he shut the other team out for his time on the mound. You know, wow. He also only had three starts where he allowed more hits than innings pitched. That’s a little crazy, right? I mean, who does that in a season?
I’m so conflicted.
Since neither Fangraphs nor Baseball-Reference can give a clear advanced metric answer/guidance to this award, we’ll have to go with my own personal feelings. As much as I believe in Arrieta, and no matter how good Greinke was this season, I’m going with Kershaw. He’s the best pitcher on the planet and should win this award until someone decisively beats him. Arrieta tried, and so did Greinke, but Kershaw is better and scares me more than the other two. Kershaw tied Sale for the most games with 10+ strikeouts (13), and if not for Max Scherzer striking out 17 Mets and throwing his second no-hitter on the season is the talk of baseball for 300 strikeouts.
Plus, seriously, the guy freezes right-handers with his curveball. I’ve never seen anyone like this guy.
We had fun with this didn’t we? Yoenis Cespedes was an absolute force for the Mets after coming over via trade with the Tigers. His presence helped energize the club, helped turn the Mets into one of the best offensive clubs in the NL, provided attitude to a team desperately seeking some bravado, and showed off an absolute cannon for an arm. He also throws the ball in from the outfield underhand like a softball pitcher. I love this. Combined with the much underappreciated defense of Michael Conforto (not to mention his offensive skills as well) he helped make the Mets outfield defense a relative strength. Juan Lagares wasn’t getting it done this season; Curtis Granderson is good but doesn’t really inspire fear with his sidearm throws; and Michael Cuddyer once threw a ball ten feet straight into the ground. With the Mets, Cespedes hit .287/.337/.604 with 17 home runs and drove in 44 runs. He was great. He’s directly responsible for breaking Drew Storen, forcing the one-time closer to injure his thumb on purpose to quit the Nationals (purely speculation) and the mess the team had become. Cespedes was a force of nature that captured all of our hearts.
Still. Bryce Harper will win this award. We can discuss Andrew McCutchen, Anthony Rizzo, and Paul Goldschmidt. We can make this into a team recognition award and give it to someone else, but years from now, after the emotions have cooled, shouldn’t we look back and be proud of the winner? To me, there’s really no debate here. Harper was ridiculous this season.
He led the NL in OBP, slugging, OPS, and OPS+, was tied for the lead in runs and home runs, was second in batting average, and handled a move to right field by making base runners afraid to run on him. The raw numbers alone are ridiculous: .330/.460/.649 with 42 homers and 99 RBI. He walked 124 times. He did all this at the age of 22, or being about 11 months older than Cleveland’s Lindor.
Harper almost single-handedly carried this team to the playoffs. Think about that. The Nationals were a wasteland of old, brittle veterans that wanted to act like backstabbing teens. There were more tears shed by these babies than at a One Direction concert. Jayson Werth can survive the psychological toll of spending five nights in jail but the unforgivable sin of not being told of a day off sends him over the edge? Yeah, maybe Matt Williams has his faults, but sometimes grown men need to act like grown men. Maybe a guy who’s been in the league 11 years and makes 21 million dollars per could maybe be a clubhouse leader and tell his teammates to man up. No, no, no. It’s Williams fault this team underachieved because he left the starters in a little too long or the bullpen lost Craig Stammen. Forget Williams failings as a manager. Mike Rizzo should fire the training staff for not implementing a yoga or Pilates program to get this team flexible and stop breaking down so much. It’s weird that for a team that advertises Yoga in the Outfield their outfielders are probably the most likely to tear a muscle stretching.
I’ll make my point anecdotally. When Cespedes was hit on the hand in the Philadelphia series, I panicked. I worried about this for hours, even on vacation. I constantly checked Twitter for updates and felt sick that he might be out for the playoffs. I was in Disney World, the happiest place I can think of, and just spent an awesome day at Hollywood Studios, and I couldn’t stop worrying over a guy I’ve never personally met and who’s been with the team for two months. Mets fans were in an uproar. If Cespedes was injured, I’m almost 100% certain the city of Philadelphia would have been razed to the ground. Still. Outside of Mets fans, no one really cared. The team would just chug along. If that was Harper and the Nats were in first, it would have been all over ESPN. The Nats were doomed! What happens now to this snake-bitten team? Did Papelbon secretly pay for Harper to be beaned on the hand to teach the loaf a lesson?
Harper is the winner.
I really thought Noah Syndergaard had a chance with this award. There was a time when Joc Pederson and Kris Bryant both were struggling that Syndergaard was starting to get some buzz for this award. That’s not true. I was the only one that was making a case for him. You have to admit, though, that if you replace that stretch of baseball I like to call August with a more reasonable stat line he’s getting more recognition here. Maybe he’s not winning the award, but a giant of man who throws 98-mph regularly is difficult to ignore. Not convinced? I don’t blame you. You have eyes only for Bryant.
Bryant destroyed the NL field in fWAR, and finished tied for fifth in the NL with 99 RBI and tied for 11th with 26 home runs. His not starting out the season nearly brought sports writers to tears, and his absence made rich men of dentists across the country for all the gnashing of teeth. It also helped Scott Boras to channel his rage for the late-season Matt Harvey/Mets innings-limit circus. I don’t think anything could supplant the bizarre press conference Harvey gave in Miami for season lowlights (but thank you Bartolo Colon for winning that game with a little behind the back magic), but everyone angrily discussing service time and arbitration years like we were contract experts came close. The Cubs are in the playoffs, and Bryant was a huge reason for that. He led all NL third basemen in fWAR, was third in the majors, and with all respect to Matt Duffy who killed the Nationals and helped the Mets in the process, this award is going to Bryant.
The hype was real.
Manager of the Year
Terry Collins feels like an obvious choice for this award. The Mets arrived a season early, defying all expectations to claim the NL East. I thought Sandy Alderson was crazy for saying this team would win 90 games, but here they are, heading to Los Angeles for the NLDS. Collins handled innings limits, non-trades, injuries, an offense that was less potent than the traveling team David Wright played on in high school, and the constant distractions with six-man rotations, Jenrry Mejia steroid use, and a horrid defense. At one point, the only good thing the Mets had going was their starting pitching and even that was a constant source of frustration with Dillon Gee and Jon Niese both hating their respective roles, Raphael Montero getting hurt, Harvey innings limits, and a bullpen that had to rely on Alex Torres to get lefties out. Once Jerry Blevins went down, this team was scrambling for a lefty-specialist, which still plagues them now.
I still can’t help but think that Collins shouldn’t win this award because of the San Diego rain delay debacle. Up 7-1 to the Padres, the Mets lost a game they should have won and Collins contributed to that by leaving Jeurys Familia in to pitch after a 40-minute rain delay.
This still baffles me. I don’t really care what kind of reasoning you offer, that kind of move is silly. Still. I’ve done pants on head type silly things before and have learned from them. Collins was sort of the anti-Williams for the Mets. In the three game sweep of the Nats by the Mets, one in which the Mets came from behind to win all three games, every move Collins made seemed to be pure genius. From pinch-hitting Kirk Nieuwenhuis or swapping out Kelly Johnson for Wilmer Flores against Stephen Strasburg, it was like this guy was minting gold coins out of lead ingots. I’m sure you’ll have an opinion on Clint Hurdle or Mike Matheny. Maybe Joe Maddon is your guy. I watched enough Terry Collins to know that this Mets season could have spiraled out of control—it was threatening to prior to the trade deadline—and the team won the East.
I didn’t expect that. You didn’t expect that. Find one non-homer who actually thought this team had a chance. Collins is my pick.
photo credit: Yoenis Cespedes via photopin (license)