Posted by: Mike Cornelius | September 10, 2017

Metrics And Opinions As MLB’s Awards Season Approaches

With the passing of Labor Day the longest season has moved into its final weeks. As the schedule winds down, this is the time of year when attention normally focuses on the pennant races in each of the Great Game’s six divisions. Only this year most of those are races in name only, much like Secretariat’s 31 length victory in the 1973 Belmont Stakes was technically a horse race. As this is written three of the six division leaders have double-digit advantages over their closest pursuer.

Even the Dodgers, a team that once appeared destined to set a record for regular season wins, remain nine games in front of the Diamondbacks despite a recent tailspin that has seen L.A. drop ten in a row and fifteen out of sixteen. Although it’s highly unlikely that Arizona will capture the NL West, the Diamondbacks have all but secured the first of the National League’s two Wild Card tickets to the postseason.

So while the chase for the remaining Wild Card spots and the longshot chances of the Yankees catching the Red Sox and either the Brewers or Cardinals overtaking the Cubs will provide a bit of drama, the roster of playoff teams for this season looks to be coming into focus earlier than usual. What is less settled though are some of the individual awards that will be voted on by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Once this year’s final regular season game has been played, designated members of the BBWAA will cast their ballots for each league’s MVP, Rookie and Manager of the Year, and Cy Young Award winner.

Speculating on the winners of those awards has long been a favorite parlor game for fans and pundits alike, and this year it’s more entertaining than say the “battle” for the NL East crown, which ended this weekend when the Nationals clinched, just ten days into September. Of course fans tend not to be the most objective observers. Here in New England Red Sox loyalists will be outraged and indignant if Chris Sale’s first season in a Boston uniform is not rewarded with the AL Cy Young.

But after he notched his 15th victory of the year on Wednesday night, Cleveland’s Corey Kluber now leads the majors in the popular Wins Above Replacement metric with a 6.8. ESPN maintains a Cy Young predictor table that uses a formula developed by sabermetrics guru Bill James and the sports network’s Rob Neyer. That formula has Sale and Kluber in a virtual tie, which may be an indication of how close the AL vote will be. In the National League, the formula rates Dodgers reliever Kenley Jansen above both Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer, the two pitchers generally thought to be the most likely candidates for the NL award. But formulas aside, many of the BBWAA’s voters look askance at voting for a relief pitcher.

Back before the All-Star break, Yankee fans dreamt of right fielder Aaron Judge sweeping both the MVP and Rookie of the Year awards in the junior circuit. But after winning the Home Run Derby Judge’s bat went ice cold until this weekend, when he had a two-homer game in Texas. While he’s still the strong favorite for top rookie honors, voters are likely to look elsewhere for MVP candidates. Perennial contender Mike Trout is putting up his usual stellar numbers, but may have missed too much time with a thumb injury. At the Bleacher Report website, the writers like Houston’s dynamic second baseman Jose Altuve, who appears headed for his third batting title.

The NL MVP race may be the closest of them all. A case can be made for Scherzer, although just as some voters won’t consider a reliever for the Cy Young, there are those who contend that pitchers “have their own award” and so shouldn’t be in the running for the MVP. Among position players Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado’s Nolan Arenado, and L.A.’s Cody Bellinger, who is the likely NL Rookie of the Year, are all candidates. The analysts at My Top Sportsbooks  put Arenado in the lead, and just the other night he smacked a three-run 1st inning home run off Kershaw that helped power the Rockies to a blowout win over the Dodgers. But Goldschmidt’s Diamondbacks are the hottest team in the National League right now, and their late season surge may be what voters remember.

For while these awards honor individual achievement, top performances tend to stand out a little more when they are in the service of a winning team. Consider the case of Giancarlo Stanton. The Marlins outfielder has been blasting the cover off the ball. His 54 homers are 15 more than any other slugger, and his OPS is fourth best in the majors. At his current home run frequency, Stanton still has a chance to beat what many consider to be the “true” single-season homer mark, the 61 that Roger Maris hit in ’61. But Miami is seven games below .500 and playing out the string despite Stanton’s heroics, and outside of Marlins Park no one is touting him as an MVP candidate. In the end the Great Game is a team sport, and the one prize that’s most cherished is still a World Series title.

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