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!

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