Friday, July 14, 2017

1st Half Awards and All-Stars for the National League

1st Half Awards:

Hey there. I'm back again, ready to take you up to the game thread at 6:00 pm. Yes, there's a Blue Jays game tonight folks. In Motown. According to MLB dot com's probable pitchers thingy, it's supposed to be Aaron Sanchez vs Justin Verlander. Sounds like a great matchup. Hopefully Aaron's troubles are behind him. Anywho, I won't steal anymore thunder from the game thread. Just nice to see Blue Jays' baseball back again after four days off. I'm gonna skip the pre-amble this time. Did enough of that in yesterday's post, which you can probably still scroll down to and check out if you need pre-amble. We'll start with my 10 first half NL MVP selections after the jump.


     1. Max Scherzer, SP, WSN
     2. Joey Votto, 1B, CIN
     3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, ARI
     4. Bryce Harper, RF, WSN
     5. Justin Turner, 3B, LAD
     6. Corey Seager, SS, LAD
     7. Anthony Rendon, 3B, WSN
     8. Clayton Kershaw, SP, LAD
     9. Marcell Ozuna, LF, MIA
   10. Nolan Arenado, 3B, COL

How ridiculously good was Max Scherzer through July 2nd? It's tough to find categories that he didn't lead in at that point, aside from pitcher wins. He has been flat out filthy dominant, and is a treat to watch with the way he stalks all over the mound like a caged beast. His raw numbers?: 17 GS, 10-5, 1.94 ERA, 120.2 IP, 67 H, 32 R, 26 ER, 26 BB, 163 K, 12 HR. And the peripherals?: 0.771 WHIP, 5.00 H/9, 12.16 K/9, 1.94 BB/9, 0.90 HR/9, 6.27 K/BB, 2.60 FIP, 3.13 xFIP. These would be very good numbers for a relief pitcher, but he's a starting pitcher, who had worked 7.10 IP/GS until then. Good god. He also led all NL pitchers up to that point in WPA (3.00), REW (3.00), fWAR (4.2) and bWAR (4.7). These are very good full season numbers, and we're halfway through the season. The question is, can he keep it up? His BABIP at that point was .222 (his career BABIP entering the season was .294, so that's very low for him, meaning it's quite possible he will give up more hits in the second half), and his strand rate was 82.2% (career strand rate of 75.6% entering 2017, so that's a bit high, which could mean more runs against him in the second half, just don't tell him I said so OK?). Probably due for some sort of correction then. Or will he sustain it over the full season? Stay tuned.

If you've only been paying attention to the AL for the past calendar year or so, you might have missed the fact that Joey Votto has re-established himself as (quite possibly) the best hitter in major league baseball. In that time he has played 162 games (so he's extremely durable), and hit a cool .356/.455/.643, good for a .451 wOBA, and a 181 wRC+, with 41 HR, 123 RBI, and 118 R in 706 PA. Only Freddie Freeman has better rate stats in that time with a .458 wOBA, and a 188 wRC+, but he's done that in about 200 fewer PA (through no fault of his own), so given the volume of work, I'd give the edge to Votto in that span. Also over that time: a 15.7% BB% vs just a 10.8% K%. Yeah, that'll play. The "Prince of Process" is once again seeing rewarding outcomes for his intense diligence, and I for one, could not be happier.

It's a pretty stacked top 10, and it should be interesting to see them jockey for position down the stretch as the pennant race heat gets turned up a notch. Corner infield is a particularly strong position in the senior circuit, as we'll see later in the All-Star Selections. You might be surprised at some of the names on the list, or maybe some of the names not on the list. Anthony Rendon sticks out for me. He's criminally underrated. In fact he's the only player in either of my MVP top tens that was not either in the Miami All-Star game, or selected for it. He hit .297/.399/.554, good for a .399 wOBA and 146 wRC+, played above average defense at 3B, was an average baserunner, and walked slightly more than he struck out, which is quite a rarity in the game these days.

Cy Young Award:

     1. Max Scherzer, SP, WSN
     2. Clayton Kershaw, SP, LAD
     3. Gio Gonzalez, SP, WSN
     4. Alex Wood, SP, LAD
     5. Zack Greinke, SP, ARI

Enough said on Max Scherzer in the MVP notes? Yeah, I think so. He's quite a boss, but let's look at the other guys on the list.

Remember that Clayton Kershaw guy? The best pitcher in the game today? Yeah, he's still around, and still doing amazing things. 17 GS, 12-2, 2.32 ERA, 3.24 FIP, and a 2.85 xFIP. Uncharacteristically, he'd given up 17 HR in 116.1 IP at my cutoff point, but the other numbers seem to still be there: 135 K, and just 20 BB. Coming into the year, he had a career .271 BABIP, and a 78.4% strand rate. Those numbers for this year were .250 and 88.8% respectively, which may suggest a correction is coming. Then again, what if he also gets a correction in the number of balls that are flying out of the yard when he pitches? Tough to predict what will happen here, but it's pretty likely that he'll be great, and could give Scherzer all he can handle in the second half.

The other three come with some question marks and caveats. I don't know what to make of Gio Gonzalez. Is he the guy that had pitched to a 2.77 ERA through July 2nd, or is he closer to his 4.18 FIP, and 4.30 xFIP? He's really pressing his luck if he thinks he can continue to walk close to 4.00 per nine innings and allow more than 1.00 HR/9. That, along with the .255 BABIP and 85.4% strand rate make me think he won't still be on this top five at season's end. But there's a guy in our own backyard that pulled this sort of thing off (outperformed his FIP) in 2015 and 2016: Marco Estrada. So, it can happen. I just wouldn't bet the farm on it.  

Alex Wood was tremendous, but it was only 73.2 IP of tremendous so far. 9-0, 1.83 ERA, 2.11 FIP, 2.58 xFIP with 87 K, 20 BB, and a paltry 2 HR allowed. One thing in his favour is his GB% of 65.5%. They tell me that it's very rare that a groundball turns into a HR, and I'm inclined to believe them, but they can turn into singles, and more if they split the gap in the OF. Heading into the year, Wood had a .311 BABIP and a 74.9% strand rate. Through July 2nd, those numbers were at .257 and 79.2% respectively, so while the strand rate could be perfectly in line with his normal rate, I'm not sure the BABIP is. It'll be interesting to watch him in the second half and see if this is the new Alex Wood or just an extended hot streak.

Has Zack Greinke tamed his desert demons of 2016, or will they be back to bite him in the second half? I'm inclined to believe in this version of Greinke, as his BABIP and strand rate are not wildly out of line with his career norms. His HR/FB rate is high for him too, so that could come down. I'm cautiously buying it for now. It's fun to watch him toy with hitters too. Sometimes he looks a bit bored out there, but when he's on, he always seems to be a step ahead of them.

If these guys fall back, guys like Carlos Martinez, Robbie Ray, Ivan Nova, or even Kenley Jansen could claim a spot in my top five. Corey Knebel's in there somewhere too, though I'm cautious given his very high walk rate, and a strand rate of close to 95%, which seems like it could be difficult to maintain.

Jackie Robinson Award:

     1. Cody Bellinger, OF/1B, LAD
     2. Kyle Freeland, SP, COL
     3. Antonio Senzatela, SP, COL

It must be good to be Cody Bellinger these days. By the time you read this, he will have just turned 22 (July 13th). He hasn't been in the big leagues for three months yet, but he's already a force to be reckoned with, and has a swing that everybody's talking about. A violent uppercut that seemingly launches dingers every night. He doesn't hit one every night of course, but man does it ever feel like it. At my cutoff point, he was hitting .260/.332/.624, which was good for a .386 wOBA, and a 143 wRC+ in 271 PA. Not a bad first 64 games. The near 30.0% K% suggests you can get him out on strikes, but you're one lightning quick swing away from craning your neck to watch another one sail into the seats. I'm no pitcher but that would give me the yips. As usual with guys that are just coming into the league, we should probably wait and see what the cat and mouse game of adjustments brings and give him about three years or 1,500ish PA before we try to put a finger on where he's really at, but the early returns of 2017 are off the charts.

Those Colorado Rockies sure have some young starting pitching eh? Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela, Jeff Hoffman, and German Marquez. I'm biased. I admit it. I think Hoffman's the best of the bunch. It's nice to see them succeeding in an area that's been a sore spot (for obvious reasons) for so long now. Freeland almost tossed a no-hitter in his last start before the break, as he made it through 8 and a third before having it broken up on a clean single by Melky Cabrera. Hoffman's only thrown 42.1 IP this year, so that's why he lags a bit in these rankings.

I think the guy I'm rooting for the most though is 30 year old rookie catcher Manny Pina of the Brewers. He had his big league debut in 2011, yet his rookie status is still intact through this year. I've got a soft spot for those late bloomers. The odds are probably stacked against him, but he could make it into my top three by season's end.

OF/2B Ian Happ of the Cubs could also factor into my top three by season's end, along with SP Sean Newcomb of the Braves, and 1B Jesus Aguilar of the Brewers provided he can wrestle playing time away from Eric Thames. This race is definitely Bellinger's to lose though.

Trevor Hoffman Award:

     1. Kenley Jansen, RP, LAD
     2. Corey Knebel, RP, MIL
     3. Felipe Rivero, RP, PIT

Kenley Jansen is to the National League as Craig Kimbrel is to the American League, at least in the first half of the 2017 season. Filthy, sick, wicked, and nasty. How about we start with the fact that he'd walked 1 and struck out 53 over his first 34 IP as of July 2nd? Wha? A 53/1 K/BB ratio? Is that even allowed? Only allowed 1 HR as well, and he's a flyball pitcher. 4-0, 18 SV, 0.79 ERA, 0.58 FIP, 2.04 xFIP. His peripherals translate to 14.03 K/9, 0.26 BB/9, and 0.26 HR/9. 34 IP, 17 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 53 K, 1 HR, 0.529 WHIP. What is this a video game? Sheesh!

Corey Knebel had been outstanding for the Brewers through July 2nd. Not Kenley Jansen outstanding, but damn good. The question is, will he be able to keep it up? Two things are screaming "No!" to my amateur eyes. The 4.99 BB/9 walk rate, and the 94.7% strand rate. You can't walk the house in the 9th inning, even if you strike out 15.43 batters per nine innings. Eventually that has to catch up with you doesn't it? He had an amazing streak of 41 straight appearances with at least one strikeout, which he has since extended to 44 games. The record is 49 straight games (held by Aroldis Chapman) over two seasons, and Knebel's streak has stretched over two seasons as well, as he struck out two in his final appearance of 2016. Safe to say we're all rooting for you Corey. We won't meet you guys again this year, so get out there and make history. At the cutoff point, Knebel had a 1.13 ERA, a 2.11 FIP, and a 2.71 xFIP.

I wonder if the Nationals would like a do over on the 2016 Mark Melancon for lefty smoke thrower Felipe Rivero and minor league lefty Taylor Hearn trade? When you have a chance to win though, you've got to push your chips in don't you? It's just that Rivero's average fastball velocity is up about three ticks this year to a scintillating 98.4 MPH, and man, could they ever use him in that leaky boat bullpen of theirs. He's got a four pitch mix (fastball, slider, curveball, changeup), and I definitely recall seeing him hit 100 MPH this year. He hit the cutoff point with 10.02 K/9, 2.05 BB/9, and 0.41 HR/9. He had a 0.82 ERA, a 2.39 FIP and a 2.94 xFIP. Can he maintain this? The .176 BABIP at the cutoff date screams "No!", but I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Greg Holland of the Rockies and Archie Bradley of the Diamondbacks are definitely within striking distance of this trio. Holland led MLB in saves at the cutoff point and will probably win the real life Trevor Hoffman Award, but I like to see dominance out of the 'pen. Don't get me wrong, Holland's been very good (after all, number 4 or 5 out of the 105-120 relievers in the National League on any given day is very good), but I have these three ahead of him and Bradley.

Any predictions contained in this entire post are (of course) subject to the universal law of baseball, which can be summed up in two words: "Because baseball". Therefore, the author assumes no responsibility for them if they turn out to be complete poppycock. Govern yourselves accordingly.

National League All-Stars:

Starting Pitchers:

     Max Scherzer, WSN
     Clayton Kershaw, LAD* pitched on Sunday
     Gio Gonzalez, WSN
     Alex Wood, LAD
     Zack Greinke, ARI
     Carlos Martinez, STL
     Robbie Ray, ARI
     Ivan Nova, PIT* replaces Kershaw

Relief Pitchers:

     Kenley Jansen, LAD
     Corey Knebel, MIL
     Felipe Rivero, PIT
     Greg Holland, COL
     Brad Hand, SDP

Position Player Starters:

     C: Buster Posey, SFG
   1B: Ryan Zimmerman, WSN
   2B: Daniel Murphy, WSN
   3B: Nolan Arenado, COL
   SS: Zack Cozart, CIN
  OF: Charlie Blackmon, COL
  OF: Bryce Harper, WSN
  OF: Marcell Ozuna, MIA

Position Player Reserves:

     C: Tyler Flowers, ATL
   1B: Joey Votto, CIN
   1B: Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
   1B: Anthony Rizzo, CHC
   2B: Chris Taylor, LAD
   3B: Justin Turner, LAD* selected by fans in final player vote
   3B: Anthony Rendon, WSH
   3B: Jake Lamb, ARI
   SS: Corey Seager, LAD
  OF: Michael Conforto, NYM
  OF: Cody Bellinger, LAD
  OF: Aaron Altherr, PHI

I can think of four snubs on this team. Archie Bradley was replaced by Brad Hand to comply with the one player from each team rule. In the same vein, Jay Bruce was replaced by Aaron Altherr. Freddie Freeman and Travis Shaw are also having great seasons (though Freeman had an extended injury, so it kind of makes sense to leave him off), but you can't go putting five first basemen and five third basemen on a roster without screwing up roster flexibility, even if it is only one game.

Why Chris Taylor? His primary position this year has been 2B, but he has also started games in LF, and CF, and at 3B and SS. He's kind of Marwin Gonzalez-lite, and I think he's a better option than Josh Harrison this year for that flexible multi-position guy (if you're gonna have one on the roster, which is where baseball seems headed these days).

Why Tyler Flowers? Maybe my picks of Avila and Flowers are a reflection of the fact that baseball seems to be moving away from the traditional 130 GS catchers, to making it much more of a shared role. I still think there will be Salvador Perezes and Yadier Molinas in the future, just maybe not as many of them across baseball.

Thanks for reading my scribbles. I hope you were able to get something out of these posts. I know that stats (particularly all these stats with fancy acronyms) are not everyone's cup of tea, but I hope you at least came away with something. It's been a nice break from baseball that at times was tough to watch, but now it's time to get back at it. Go Jays Go!