Thursday, October 27, 2016

If I had a (rocket launcher) BBWAA ballot, it would look something like this...

Part 1: The Mike Trout American League 

First, a word (or two or ten) about some of the advanced (read: nerd) stats I'll be looking at in these selections. Don't worry, there will be some "normal" stats as well, but I find the advanced stats can be really good separators between very good and great player seasons.

First, there are both freely available (thank you Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs) versions of WAR (Wins Above Replacement), which Fangraphs defines as:
"A comprehensive statistic that estimates the number of wins a player has been worth to his team compared to a freely available player such as a minor league free agent."
For position players, the two sites use different offensive and defensive metrics (both versions contain offensive, defensive, and base-running metrics), which can result in some differences. For pitchers, Fangraphs looks at only the things a pitcher can control (BB, K, HR), and estimates a pitcher's run prevention independent of the defense behind them. BB-Ref looks at a pitcher's run prevention and then normalizes for opponents, park factors, the defense that played behind him, and the role he pitched in (starter/reliever), to come up with how many runs an average pitcher would give up in these circumstances.

Obviously these different approaches can also result in different WAR for pitchers between the two sites as well, but I don't see this as a bad thing. It's neat to see competing approaches trying to answer who the best overall players/pitchers were in any given season. Keep in mind that any version of WAR is context neutral. This assumes, for example, that all home runs are created equal (which we know not to be true), so while it's the best measurement we currently have for a player's overall contributions to his team, it should not necessarily be used exclusively when looking at end of season individual awards.

There's also RE24 (Run Expectancy 24 Base Out State), which Fangraphs defines as:
"The total impact a batter's plate appearances/pitcher's batters faced (or SB/CS) have on his team's run expectancy relative to league average."
I like to look at REW (Run Expectancy Wins), which is RE24 converted from runs to wins (roughly 10 runs equals roughly 1 win). There are 24 base/out states in baseball. You can have 0 outs, 1 out, or 2 outs, and no runners on, a runner at first, a runner at second, a runner at third, runners at first and second, runners at first and third, runners at second and third, or bases loaded. Therefore, there are three different out states and eight different base states, which makes for 24 (or 3x8) different base/out states.

For every one of these base/out states, there is a different run expectancy (the amount of runs the average team would be expected to score in each of these base/out states), which can go up or down year over year depending on the run scoring environment of the league the player is playing in. Unlike WAR, both of these stats are context-dependent, meaning a hit for a hitter is more valuable with men on base than without, or an out for a pitcher is more valuable (particularly strikeouts provided there are no wild pitches/passed balls) with men on base than without. While it is context-dependent, it does not take into account the score and inning at the time, so Jose Bautista's three run shot off Tyler Clippard on September 24th in the bottom of the eighth to break up a scoreless tie would be credited the same as his three run shot off Jake Diekman in Game 1 of the ALDS on October 6th to make a 7-0 game a 10-0 laugher in the ninth inning.

One stat that takes into account the score and inning at the time of the offensive/pitching event is WPA (Win Probability Added), which Fangraphs defines as:
"The total impact a batter's plate appearances/pitcher's batters faced (or SB/CS) have on his team's win expectancy relative to league average."
As a baseball game progresses, each individual offensive/pitching event will change each team's probability of winning that game. For example, let's use the Bautista HRs again (just because). On September 24th, Joey Bats came to the plate with 2 outs and EE at first and Dosh at second in the bottom of the eighth in a 0-0 tie. At the start of his AB, the Blue Jays' chance of winning the game was around 59% (as per BB-Ref). A vicious slash and a screaming clothes-line line drive HR later it was around 97%. That difference of 38% would be credited to Jose and debited from Clippard. So Jose's season long WPA would go up by 0.38, while Clippard's would take a hit of 0.38.

Currently, defensive plays do not get credit with this stat or with REW. For a player's defense, we have to look to WAR despite its lack of context (and the relative infancy of defensive metrics). It is all on the pitcher or the hitter, which is a bit of a shortcoming, but then again, there are no perfect stats are there? On October 6th, Mr. Bats came up with no outs and EE at first and Dosh at second. The score was already 7-0 in the top of the ninth inning, so the Jays' Win Probability was as close to 100% (as per BB-Ref) as you can get without the game being over entering the AB. One moonshot later, it was a little bit closer to 100%. That minuscule difference (whatever it was) would be credited to Jose and debited from Diekman. They were similar events (each being three run homers), but they couldn't have been more different when it came to their impact on the outcomes of those two games. That's what WPA tries to measure.

Still with me? Good. (Wake up Wincey!) Without further ado (because there's been too much already) on to my AL ballot...

There are 10 slots on the ballot for the MVP in each league, 5 for the Cy Young Award, and 3 for the Rookie of the Year.


  1. Mike Trout, CF, LAA 
  2. Mookie Betts, CF, BOS 
  3. Josh Donaldson, 3B, TOR 
  4. Jose Altuve, 2B , HOU 
  5. Robinson Cano, 2B, SEA 
  6. David Ortiz, DH, BOS 
  7. Adrian Beltre, 3B, TEX 
  8. Justin Verlander, SP, DET 
  9. Manny Machado, 3B , BAL 
  10. Kyle Seager, 3B, SEA 

Honourable Mentions: Carlos Correa, SS, HOU; Miguel Cabrera, 1B, DET; Dustin Pedroia, 2B, BOS; Brian Dozier, 2B, MIN; Zach Britton, RP, BAL

Mike Trout is really, really, really good at baseball. Can we find another league for him please? Barring that, can we get him off an otherwise awful baseball team? How the hell do you go 74-88 with Trout on your team? Easy. Surround him with stiffs/have tons and tons of injuries/ineffectiveness (Lincecum, Tim...Weaver, Jered) wreck your pitching staff. He led the major leagues of baseball in R (123), BB (116), OBP (.441!), OPS+ (174), both freely available versions of WAR (BB-Ref: 10.6, FG: 9.4), wRC+ (171), WPA (6.96, on a team that went 74-88 and therefore had a negative team WPA!), REW (8.41), and on and on and on.

Yet somehow, the writers are poised to (probably) give Mookie Betts or David Ortiz the hardware because Trout played on a crappy/injured team. What they seem to be forgetting is that his crappy/ injured team played lots of contending teams, which gave him an opportunity to have an impact on all the various pennant races. That has value. Perhaps it didn't benefit the Angels as much as they would've liked, but I don't buy for a second that he didn't give opposing managers, pitchers, players more fits than you would normally expect from a 74 win team due to his awesomeness. I seem to recall our favourite team going 3-4 down the stretch against the Angels because he was (seemed like it anyway) a one man wrecking crew. Pretty sure that didn't help our playoff chances, but I'm also pretty sure Seattle and Houston would've loved to have played the Angels far less than 19 games this year. It's absolutely true that when it comes to MLB, there's Mike Trout, and then there's everyone else.

Cy Young Award 

  1. Justin Verlander, SP, DET 
  2. Zach Britton, RP, BAL 
  3. Corey Kluber, SP, CLE 
  4. Masahiro Tanaka, SP, NYY 
  5. Jose Quintana, SP, CHW 

Honourable Mentions: Chris Sale, CHW; Aaron Sanchez, TOR; Rick Porcello, BOS; Andrew Miller, NYY/CLE; J.A. Happ, TOR

Justin Verlander had an extremely good season under the radar (if that's even possible for a pitcher of his ilk). He led the AL in K (254, against just 57 BB), WHIP (1.001), bWAR (6.6), tied for the lead in fWAR (5.2), led in REW (3.39), and had the best WPA among pitchers who qualified for the ERA title (3.45). Zach Britton was a perfect 47 for 47 in save situations, with a ridiculous 0.54 ERA, and an insane 1.94 FIP. Yes, it was only 67 IP, but he also managed to easily lead all pitchers in WPA (6.14), tied for second in REW (3.09), and had a crazy WHIP of 0.836. He allowed 38 hits, 1 HR, walked 18 and struck out 74. Simply nuts, and definitely worthy of a spot on the ballot. From Kluber to Porcello, it's pretty much a coin flip, but the ballot only has five spots on it, so five it is.

From the direction the narrative was heading in towards the end of the season, Porcello will probably win this award, with Britton also having an outside shot. I don't think Verlander's gonna get it. It would make sense to me if he did, but I think the power of 22 pitching wins (Porcello), or a perfect save percentage (Britton) on two postseason teams will probably carry the day. Porcello would be an OK choice, he just wouldn't be mine. IMHO, it wouldn't be as egregious as Steve Stone (1980), Pete Vuckovich (1982), or Bob Welch (1990), who all won the AL Cy Young in the years in parentheses due to pitcher wins, without much backing from their peripheral stats. At least Porcello belongs somewhere in the conversation, whereas I can't say the same for the others.

Rookie Of The Year 

  1. Michael Fulmer, SP, DET 
  2. Chris Devenski, RP/SP, HOU
  3. Gary Sanchez, C, NYY 

Honourable Mentions: Matt Bush, RP, TEX; Ryan Dull, RP, OAK; Edwin Diaz, RP, SEA; Mychal Givens, RP, BAL; Sean Manaea, SP, OAK

Before I get to the two guys that should make up what is likely a two horse race for this award, let's talk about that number two guy. Who? Ok, his mom knows who he is, but did you? Seriously? Talk about under the radar. Well, all Mr. Devenski did was appear in 48 games, with 5 starts, go 4-4 with 1 save and a 2.16 ERA (2.34 FIP) in 108.1 IP with a 184 ERA+, 0.914 WHIP, 104 K, 20 BB, and just 4 HR allowed. In a word, he was spectacular, but Fulmer was just a little better, thanks to about 50 more IP. Fulmer's rate stats were not as amazing, but given the 50 inning difference, and the fact that he was a starter facing lineups at least 2, sometimes 3 and occasionally 4 times, he gets the nod. Fulmer had an absolutely solid rookie season, and since Corey Seager plays in the National League, that was enough in my book. He went 11-7, with a 3.06 ERA (3.76 FIP), good enough for a 135 ERA+ over 159.0 IP, all as a SP, which is very good for any pitcher, but especially a rookie. He led all AL rookies in bWAR with 4.9. Gary Sanchez was a two month phenomenon of a supernova for the Yankees, but it was two months. He did major damage with a ridiculous .299/.376/ .657/1.032 slash line and 20 HR and 42 RBI, a 168 OPS+, and a 171 wRC+. He definitely warrants a spot on the ballot, but I don't think I can put him ahead of the other two.

Another thing to mention. Where is Tyler Naquin on this list? I'm gonna call his record incomplete because he gets absolutely buried by his Defensive Runs Saved (the defensive component of bWAR), which came out at an abysmal -18 . That's about 2 wins that he cost his team on defense. I find that a bit high, and his defensive component of -5.0 over at Fangraphs seems to bear that out. With defensive metrics, typically it takes about three seasons to shake out the noise, so we'll find out in a couple of seasons whether this is a fair assessment or not.

That's all I got for now (haha! got a wee bit lengthy there). What are your picks? I hope to look at the National League another time if our fearless leader will have me back. As usual, be gentle, first post and all that stuff. ;)