Friday, October 10, 2014

2014 Internet Baseball Awards Ballot

Just this week, for the fifth year in a row, I voted in the Internet Baseball Awards at Baseball Prospectus.  You can read my old ballots from 2011, 2012, and 2013 on the site (for some reason, I never posted my 2010 results on the blog; I'm not sure why).  Anyone can vote in these, as long as they have a subscription to Baseball Prospectus - including the "free" subscription level, which is what I've been using for four years.  Anyway, the whole thing is a lot of fun, and it's definitely the only thing I do with any regularity on this blog, so I figured I might as well pass along whom I voted for this year:

AL Manager of the Year
1.  Lloyd McClendon, Seattle
2.  Terry Francona, Cleveland
3.  Buck Showalter, Baltimore

As per usual, I just try to think, "Where did I think each team would finish, and then where did they actually finish?"  It's a dumb way to vote for Manager of the Year; I just don't know a better one.  And seriously - did anyone have Seattle with the 6th best record in the AL?  They were competing for a playoff spot in the final week!  The SRS (Simple Rating System) at has them tied as the fourth best team in baseball!  NO ONE (outside some ridiculously optimistic fans in Seattle) saw that coming.  Cleveland was another - I thought they were a year away, and they still might be.  But I thought they were a year away from a winning record; they might be a year away from being serious contenders.  Kudos to Francona.  Likewise, I thought the AL East was terrible and would be a cakewalk for Boston; instead, the AL East was great, and Boston was terrible.  That Baltimore waltzed away with the division title is a credit to their manager.

NL Manager of the Year
1.  Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh
2.  Ron Roenicke, Milwaukee
3.  Mike Matheny, St. Louis

For the second year in a row, I find Clint Hurdle on top in the NL, and Mike Matheny in my top three.  I just keep asking myself, "How are these guys doing it?"  Look at those rosters, and tell me that you see two of the best teams in baseball.  Likewise, it's a clean sweep for the NL Central on my ballot this year.  I saw preseason predictions that the Crew would finish behind the Cubs.  Instead, they spent a GOOD chunk of the year with the NL's best record, they were in first in the division for 150 days, and they were in it until the end (16 games over with 36 to play).  I don't hold the late-season collapse (11-25 in those final 36) against Roenicke - that was the result everyone was expecting.  Instead, I give him credit for staving that off as long as possible.

AL Rookie of the Year
1.  Jose Abreu, Chicago
2.  Daniel Santana, Minnesota
3.  Masahiro Tanaka, New York
4.  Collin McHugh, Houston
5.  Dellin Betances, Seattle

Every year, THIS is the award I feel least prepared for.  As an "NL guy," I know those players better.  Thankfully, Abreu made it easy this year.  Sans injury to Tanaka, it may have actually been a race.  So I give Tanaka a little credit for missed time and put him at #3.  I wanted to give a shout-out to someone on my adopted AL team, and thankfully Danny Santana finally gave me a Twin worth voting for in my years of IBA voting.  (I don't know what I did in 2010; that said, the only other times I've voted for Twins were a #8 for Josh Willingham and #10 for Joe Mauer in the MVP voting in 2012; it hasn't been a good last few years for the Twins.)

NL Rookie of the Year
1.  Ender Inciarte, Arizona
2.  Jacob DeGrom, New York
3.  Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati
4.  Kolten Wong, St. Louis
5.  Kris Negron, Cincinnati

Wow.  This was a preeeeetty uninspiring cast of characters.  Hamilton will likely win the BBWAA award based on name recognition, and it's not a terrible call.  But when we've seen ROY candidates like Mike Trout, Jose Fernandez, Yasiel Puig, Bryce Harper, and Craig Kimbrel in the last three years, this NL class is just... blech.  I have nothing further to say.

AL Pitcher of the Year
1.  Corey Kluber, Cleveland
2.  Felix Hernandez, Seattle
3.  Chris Sale, Chicago
4.  Max Scherzer, Detroit
5.  David Price, Detroit

I had a friend in college, a really good friend, who's and excellent violinist.  As a freshman, he was put in the second chair of the top orchestra.  Well, the next year, they made a senior the second chair.  And the next year, a freshman pseudo-prodigy came in, and took the first chair then next two years.  That, it seems to me, is the story of Felix Hernandez.  I really wanted to vote Felix.  I LOVE Felix Hernandez.  I want him to get to 300 wins.  I want to see him strike out 4000 batters.  I kinda doubt those things will happen, but I WANT to see them.  So I WANT him to win some Cy Youngs.  But I feel like he's kind of always been the thing that Miguel Cabrera was four about four years there - he's always 2nd best.  The guy at the top seems to change every year, but the #2 guy stays the same.  What can you say?  Detroit has two guys in the top 5?  Check; happened for me the last two years, too.  Felix and Chris Sale in the top five?  Check; make that three years in a row for them.  Just throw in a random guy (Kluber this year, who was OUTSTANDING), and you've got a boring, typical, snooze-your-way-through-it AL Pitcher of the Year ballot.

NL Pitcher of the Year
1.  Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles
2.  Adam Wainwright, St. Louis
3.  Cole Hamels, Philadelphia
4.  Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati
5.  Jordan Zimmermann, Washington

More consistent than Felix has been the position of Cliff Lee on my NL Pitcher of the Year ballots.  The last three years, he's been #2 each time, with a different winner each time.  Well, this year, that changes.  Kershaw, who I've had on my ballot each of the last three years, is on top for the second year in a row.  Wainwright is a solid #2.  Hamels had a great year, though his W-L record will fool you.  Cueto looked like a sure-thing winner before Kershaw came back.  But he faded down the stretch, and there were a lot of guys with great years this year.  As for Zim?  Well, he's a Wisconsin guy, and there were about 50 pitchers who could've taken that #5 spot, so I gave it to a local fave and someone who definitely deserved it (full disclosure:  he WAS the #5 player on the ballot, but the difference between 5 and 10 was pretty meaningless).

AL Player of the Year
1.  Mike Trout, Los Angeles
2.  Corey Kluber, Cleveland
3.  Josh Donaldson, Oakland
4.  Michael Brantley, Cleveland
5.  Alex Gordon, Kansas City
6.  Felix Hernandez, Seattle
7.  Adrian Beltre, Texas
8.  Jose Bautista, Toronto
9.  Chris Sale, Chicago
10.  Robinson Cano, Seattle

Talk about boring!  Trout on top, year three in a row.  He's the best player in baseball.  That's it.  I don't even think there's another player in the conversation.  I had Donaldson at #2 last year, and he's "all the way down" to #3 this year, although he IS the second position player listed again.  A comment on the pitchers:  I've never had three in my top-ten before.  They were great, and that's why they're here.  It's actually really unfortunate that Kluber's not going to get more MVP support.  I expect him to finish outside the top ten in the BBWAA vote, and that's absolutely absurd. 
The next guys on the list, Brantley and Gordon, are great.  Gordon's a familiar face.  Brantley REALLY came into his own this year:  first All-Star appearance, 154 OPS+, 20 HR, 45 2B, 200 H, and great defense in LF.  He's my early dark horse candidate for NEXT year's AL MVP... you know, if Trout is tired of winning it (or if the voters just get sick of giving it to him).
The down-ballot guys (Beltre, Bautista, and Cano) are VERY familiar down-ballot faces.  They all had great years - which is to say, what they consider "normal" years.  Some thoughts, old-school-baseball-card-style:  Seeing Joey Bats come back from two injury-plagued years to still be one of the top hitters in MLB has been satisfying...Cano's last five years in OPS+ (talk about consistent) 142, 147, 148, 133, 141...Beltre has 2604 hits (!!!), and should reach 3000 in 2017, his age-38 season.  For those who would look at his age-35 season and suggest that he must be fading, he posted a 147 OPS+ - the SECOND HIGHEST of his career!  Plus, he passed 10000 PAs this year.  Next year, he'll top 80 WAR, and nothing he does will shock me.

NL Player of the Year
1.  Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles
2.  Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee
3.  Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh
4.  Anthony Rendon, Washington
5.  Giancarlo Stanton, Miami
6.  Jason Heyward, Atlanta
7.  Jhonny Peralta, St. Louis
8.  Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee
9.  Buster Posey, San Francisco
10.  Russell Martin, Pittsburgh

I'll start at the bottom:  two catchers, Martin and Posey.  Both were great.  I stuck Gomez next, because I just think that dude deserves more credit than he gets.  Another OUTSTANDING year for him.  Not as many homers robbed as last year, but still great D in center, and a mighty bat to boot.  Peralta... what a find for the Cards!  The would not have made the playoffs without him.  Who was expecting the best season of his career from a guy on the wrong side of 30?  But, it's probably just that thing where guys go to St. Louis, and inexplicably play out of their minds (see:  Walker, Larry; Clark, Will; Berkman, Lance, and ALL THE PITCHERS).  Heyward's here because of his defense.  Honestly, we were spoiled by his age-20 season, with the 131 OPS+ and the .335 BABIP and a number of walks WAY out of line with the rest of his career.  Unfortunately, he'll likely be remembered as a disappointment because he had the audacity to be "too good" his first year.  But that's a LONG time from now.  Heyward has yet to play his age-25 season, and while he's not hitting as many homers, he's better at stealing bases, he's walking more, and his defense just keeps (somehow) getting better.  He's still got a bright future, so don't sleep on him yet!  Stanton... what can you say?  A guy actually YOUNGER than Heyward, and with such prodigious power, Stanton could've been the MVP this year were it not for 17 missed games (he didn't play from 9/12 on).  He still managed to lead the NL in HR and TB (also SLG, but the injury doesn't affect the rate stat so much).  The concern with him is that, in his five seasons, he's played 100, 150, 123, 116, and 145 games.  If he's really going to miss time like that every year, it's a concern moving forward.  Rendon, a first-rounder from 2011 (#6 overall) is young (born June 1990), but already elite.  He led the NL in Runs Scored, and managed a 125 OPS+.  On Bill James's site, Rendon is listed as the top player in all MLB - ahead even of Trout and Kershaw.  Definitely a player to watch in the future.
Finally, we get to the top three.  Third, I have Cutch.  Last year's MVP has an argument for it again this year, and would be expected to win it, were it not for the unusually incredible season by #1.  Led the NL in OBP, OPS, and OPS+.  Expect a third-straight top-3 MVP finish from him.
At #2, I have a Brewer.  That shouldn't be TOO big a surprise, because I've had a Brewer in my top three four years running (Braun at #2 in 2011, when he won, Braun at #1 in 2012, Gomez at #2 last year, and Lucroy this year - makes you wonder what this team could do if they had all put it together the same year).  Luc hit 53 doubles, and did the best catching in baseball.  A .301/.373/.465 slash from ANYONE is impressive; from a catcher who caught 136 games (plus 19 at 1B, plus 1 as a DH), it's downright unbelievable.  I considered giving him the nod as the top player.  It was his (or Cutch's, or Stanton's) for the taking in September, but instead, the nod has to go to...
Kershaw.  What can you say that hasn't been said?  Fourth-straight ERA title.  Third-straight ERA+ title (so you know it wasn't JUST pitching in Chavez Ravine), a 21-3 record (I know, I know... but STILL), and an absolutely ABSURD 7.71 K:BB ratio.  200 Ks for the fifth year running, 6 CG (most in baseball)... and all that while making only 27 starts (previous five years:  31, 32, 33, 33, 33).   He AVERAGED 7-and-a-third per start and led in FIP and WHIP.  What can you say?  This was a better season than Verlander's MVP year, at least on a per-start basis.  I generally try to avoid pitchers since they have their own award, but you can't do much about it when someone's as good as Kershaw was, and none of the batters take up the challenge.

That's it for me.  Anyone wanna debate?

As usual, I started from a base of adding Fangraphs WAR+ Baseball-Reference WAR, and deviated as necessary.  Special thanks to Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference, and The Baseball Gauge - the three best sites on the internet!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The 25 Most Influential People in Baseball History

Graham Womack, who runs the annual "50 Best Players Not in the Hall of Fame" poll over at his site, Baseball Past & Present, is running a new poll.  He's calling it, "The 25 Most Influential People in Baseball History."  This is my ballot, which I ranked in order, although that wasn't necessary for the purposes of the "assignment."
1.  Jackie Robinson - In my opinion, Robinson is the player who has most transcended baseball.  Not the greatest player of all-time, but in the top 50 (higher if you love a good peak).  Definitely brave beyond all reason, and a remarkable historical figure.  I couldn't have put anyone else here.
2.  Babe Ruth - The only other person one could have reasonably put ahead of Robinson, in my estimation.  Again, if "transcends baseball" is the highest compliment a figure can achieve in baseball, Ruth is the only one other than Robinson to do that.  "Ruthian" is an adjective normal, non-baseball-loving people use, for goodness sakes!  Inarguably the greatest hitter of his time, and probably any other.
3.  Cap Anson - The man who made Jackie Robinson necessary.  Yeah, he was a great player.  But his legacy, ultimately, is the color barrier.  And, though it was a terrible, awful, no-good, very bad thing, it had a HUGE impact, costing the rest of us the joy of seeing a bunch of great players play in the same league.
4.  Henry Chadwick - Inventor of the box score, he shaped how we understand the game.  We owe him a debt.
5.  Bill James - He made us re-think how we understand the game.  He's a pompous ass, but a delightful one.  His writing makes me laugh, makes me think, makes me angry, and is a constant delight.  And that's beyond his contributions to baseball statistics, which are unmatched since Chadwick.  My personal favorite.
6.  Curt Flood - There are a lot of people who have opinions of what Curt Flood did.  Popularly, lately, I think you see more and more people saying that Flood took a bad course of action in challenging the reserve clause.  I disagree.  His and Marvin Miller's campaign to make baseball's labor laws fairer are the greatest victory in baseball since Jackie Robinson's first game.  I only regret I felt I couldn't put both Miller and Flood on the list, and I thought Flood deserved the nod.
7.  Bud Selig - Love him, hate him, whatever.  He's done more to shape baseball than any other commissioner, he's overseen the greatest financial growth in the history of the game, and he's brought baseball successfully into the 21st century, in spite of people claiming its death.  Any opinion on Selig is valid, but he's DEFINITELY been influential.
8.  Charlie Comiskey - A fantastically divisive owner, maybe more than Charlie Finley or George Steinbrenner.  I thought I only had room for one, and Comiskey was my choice.
9.  Hank Aaron - The hero who broke Babe Ruth's home run record with grace.  A true American hero, and the man who every Milwaukee boy is brought up to believe was and is the game's greatest ambassador.  Thanks for all you've done, Hank!
10.  Buck O'Neil - The man who made the Negro Leagues live.  He carried on the legacy when others would not; he made the Negro League museum in Kansas City a reality, and a memorial to all the brilliant and wonderful men who deserve to be honored and remembered.  Although he's not remembered in Cooperstown himself, he got a bunch of other men there, too.  There's perhaps been no better person in the history of the Greatest Game.
11.  Joe Jackson - Can you tell the story of baseball without Shoeless Joe?  The 1919 Black Sox represent a crucial moment in baseball history, and Shoeless Joe makes us think about innocence and guilt.  He is perhaps the last American icon who is well-remembered in spite of being illiterate.  Less than a hundred years have passed, but Shoeless Joe represents an America of a different millennium.  A wonderful ballplayer, and a representative of the one of the great stains on baseball's history.
12.  Cal Ripken, Jr. - The man who saved baseball.  Baseball's Iron Man.  An icon in Baltimore.  Legend.  Though he doesn't have the cachet of a Robinson or Ruth, he's perhaps the man next on the list of those who have actually transcended the game and entrenched themselves in the American imagination.
13.  Hank Greenberg - The Jackie Robinson of Jews.  He did it in a climate in which antisemitism was growing in America and abroad, and he carried the weight of a whole group of people with aplomb.  Like Jackie, a true hero.
14.  Roberto Clemente - Perhaps the Jackie Robinson of Latinos.  Though there were certainly great Latin-American players before Clemente, he captured the imagination like no other.  The arm, the clutch hitting, the humanitarianism.  You can't not love Clemente.  Plus, the subject of a great rant in City Slickers, the non-baseball movie with perhaps the most baseball references of any.
15.  Jose Canseco - The man who blew the lid on the "steroid era."  A great player in his own right and baseball's first 40-40 man, Canseco became more famous for his book after his career was over.  Though no one will mistake him for a great human being, the culture of baseball in 2014 owes more to Jose Canseco than nearly anyone else in history.
16.  Pete Rose - Like Joe Jackson, Rose was a man who left baseball in disgrace.  Nonetheless, the story of baseball is impossible to tell without the story of Pete Rose.  Like so many others, a flawed man whose flaws proved to be both his salvation on the field, and his downfall at his retirement.
17.  Satchel Paige - Was Satchel Paige the greatest pitcher to ever play the game?  I'm inclined to think "yes," but the aforementioned Cap Anson prevented me from answering the question with any certainty.  Undoubtedly, Paige was the game's greatest showman, and it's almost certain that no one before or since has pitched nearly as much as he.
18.  Ted Williams - The stories of Williams as a player alone would be enough to get him on this list:  the last .400 hitter, the home run in the final at bat, The Science of Hitting.  Heck - when I even think of watching him in his wheelchair, sitting and talking hitting with Tony Gwynn at the 1999 All-Star Game, I still get chills (seriously - it happened three times while I typed this sentence).  But more than anything else, what gets him to rank this high (and perhaps he should be higher) is that he used his Hall of Fame induction speech not to rip the media that ripped him, not to prop up himself or his accomplishments, but to ensure that there would be Negro League players in the Hallowed Halls of Cooperstown.  A great advocate.
19.  Ty Cobb - Once revered as the game's greatest player (and hitter), Cobb was like none other.  Still the owner of the game's highest-ever average, he also set hits and steals records in his day.  Though the game has changed, and though cultural mores make many of Cobb's views (particularly on race) look wrongheaded, he would've surely been a great ballplayer in any generation.
20.  Cy Young - The only man who truly succeeded in the days of the closer mound, the farther mound, the pre-1900 game and the post-1900 game; and all he got for it was 511 wins and an award named after him.
21.  Lou Gehrig - The Iron Horse.  How many baseball players get a biopic that's beloved 50+ years later?  Just Gehrig, so far.
22.  Yogi Berra - The most quotable of baseball's legends, Berra has remained as significant a figure in his post-playing life as he was as a player - and his playing legacy was only as a 3-time MVP and the lynchpin to the greatest dynasty the game has ever known.
23.  Joe DiMaggio - 56.
24.  Willie Mays - I thought about putting Barry Bonds here, I really did.  But his godfather may deserve it even more.  Was there ever a player better than Mays?  Many don't think so; I can't say they're wrong.
25.  Mike Trout - Yes, this is the controversial choice.  He's of course being picked for what I think he will do, but I'm also picking him for the fact that he's represented, for two years, the "advanced stats" vs. "old-time stats" debate.  And no matter what stats you love, he's the best player in baseball today.  I can't believe I've been spoiled enough to live through Barry Bonds' offensive explosion of the early 2000s, the blissful dominance of Prince Albert, and the rise of young Mike Trout.  I can't wait to see what he has in store for us.

Monday, February 3, 2014

"Most Prolific Offense in NFL History"?????????????

It was a pretty common sight to see the words "Most Prolific Offense in NFL History" (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) in articles references the AFC Champ Broncos in the lead-up to Super Bowl Sunday.  There were reasons for this, of course.  They led the league in offense in the most offense-heavy year of all-time.  They set a record for points scored (and became the first team to ever top 600).  Manning set the passing yardage and TD records.  But, as their 8-point output in the Big Game showed, perhaps their offense wasn't all it seemed.

I think it's only fair to measure a team against its own context.  So I'm going to use a simple measure to check how great the Broncos' offense really was.

This is a REALLY fast study you can do with any team, from any era.

All you do is a quick ratio.  The team's number of points scored, divided by the average number of points a team scored that season.  This tells you, essentially, how many season's worth of points the team scored in the season in question.  Let's look at the 2013 Broncos.

The Broncos scored 606 points in 2013.

All 32 teams scored 11987 points.

Divide the latter by the former (11987/32) and we see that the average team scored 374.59375 points in the season.

Then we do a simple ratio.  606/374.59375=1.618

In other words, Denver scored 1.6 season's worth of points this year.  But is that really the best figure in the 16-game era?

I picked 10 teams which I believe represent the best offenses of the era.  Truth be told, they're probably NOT the 10 best teams.  You could probably find someone better, because some of these may be overrated.  Either way, they're the ones I tried, because I'm interested in getting a quick answer, not necessarily the right answer.  Here is a list of the teams and how many points they scored:

2013 Broncos - 606 points
2007 Patriots - 589 points
2011 Packers - 560 points
1998 Vikings - 556 points
1983 Redskins - 541 points
1999 Rams - 526 points
2004 Colts - 522 points
1994 49ers - 505 points
1991 Redskins - 485 points
1981 Chargers - 478 points

Now here they are, reordered how they rank when we divide their scoring by their scoring context:

2007 Patriots - 1.703
1998 Vikings - 1.637
2013 Broncos - 1.618
1991 Redskins - 1.602
1999 Rams - 1.582
2011 Packers - 1.578
1994 49ers - 1.559
1983 Redskins - 1.549
2004 Colts - 1.518
1981 Chargers - 1.446

Well, the 2013 Broncos, the 2011 Packers, even the 1983 Redskins, and (expecially) the 2004 Colts look quite a bit worse this way; the 1991 Redskins look astonishingly good this way.  The '91 'Skins are also the top-ranked team to have actually won the Super Bowl.  In fact, only three of these teams ('91 Redskins, '94 49ers, and '99 Rams) won the Big One at all.

Adjusting for context is something that people virtually NEVER do with football stats. I don't know why this is.  As someone who's more of a "baseball guy," it's almost laughable, since baseball has been doing this for a LONG time.  But it's fun to goof around and see some things in a new light.  And, like just about every "study" I've ever done, this one spits back to me yet another reason to consider the 2007 Patriots the greatest team in NFL history (at least in something resembling the modern era).  Certainly, I'd have no qualms about saying that they were better at scoring than the 2013 Broncos.  The 17-points more that the Broncos is more than made up for by the context in which each team played, even though they seem to be contemporaries.