Tuesday, July 11, 2006

First Half Awards: American League
By Ben Valentine

With the All Star Break upon us, it’s time to look back and reflect on the first half of the baseball season. What surprised, what disappointed? Who’s been enjoying a breakout season and who’s gone into the toilet?

Along those lines, people love to give out awards for the halves of the season. Everyone has their own criteria for such honors; some give it to the best players on the best team. Other give hand them out based on surprise. For example, someone somewhere, will write “Bronson Arroyo, First half Cy Young.” Of course I tend to take issue with many writers and their picks, which are often based on trivial things like won/loss record, home runs and a team's record. But rather than rag on someone else's picks, I'll make my own.

I have a set a criteria for each award. So you will see my basic definition of that by the award’s name, followed by the candidates, what they’ve done and finally who I think deserves it. To begin we head to the MVP race. (Candidates listed alphabetically)

MVP- The player who is the most valuable to his team with OPS being the most important stat but defense taken into consideration. A team’s record is not, unless needed to break a tie between two equal candidates.

Candidates: Travis Hafner- 1B Cleveland Indians, Joe Mauer- C Minnesota Twins, Manny Ramirez- LF Boston Red Sox

Contrary to popular belief, Manny Ramirez has been the most valuable Red Sox hitter this year, not David Ortiz. After not getting his OPS over 1.000 last season, Manny’s back being Manny again, with a mark of 1.049 this season. That’s third in the AL, behind Travis Hafner and Jim Thome. Ortiz is even not the most feared DH in the league; that title belongs to Hafner. His OPS stands over 100 points higher than Big Papi despite playing in a pitcher’s park. It’s a joke he was subbed from the All Star game. Rounding out the top three is Joe Mauer, who’s .378 average has led him to a .981 OPS. There are better hitters in the AL, but Mauer is a catcher, which makes that mark especially valuable.

Winner- Mauer: In fact, it makes him the MVP. The closest catcher in baseball, Victor Martinez, this year has an OPS over 110 points lower. And unlike most catchers who are either poor hitters or hitters who happen to catch (see Martinez), Mauer is excellent defensively. He ranks fourth in all of baseball in caught stealing percentage, is second in range factor and has allowed just three passed balls all year. Considering a defensive catcher is so valuable that Yadier Molina and his .599 OPS are allowed to start in the league, Mauer’s .981 OPS and stellar defense make him the most valuable player in the AL. It might just make him the best all around player in baseball too.

Cy Young- The pitcher who’s peripherals suggest he’s been the best, balanced out by his contribution in innings pitched. ERA does play a factor but is third in importance. Wins play no factor whatsoever.

Candidates: Jeremy Bonderman- Detroit Tigers, Roy Halladay- Toronto Blue Jays, Francisco Liriano- Minnesota Twins

There were many a worthy candidates who did not make the top three and this set is so close it’s hard to pick a winner. Bonderman’s ERA of 3.46 has him flying under the radar but he’s been up there with Liriano and Halladay. In fact, he’s second to Liriano in FIP (Fielding independent pitching) and XFIP (FIP with homer rates normalized). His K/9 is a stellar 8.35 and his K/BB is 3.70, while he induces 2.09 times more ground ball outs than fly ball ones. Halladay’s K rate is down at 5.01, but he’s not walking anyone and has a K/BB of 4.50. Meanwhile he continues to be a solid ground ball pitcher, with a 2.25 ratio. Liriano has been off the charts; a K/9 of 10.39, a K/BB of 4.44 and a GB/FB of 2.13. It’d be him in a heart beat if it wasn’t for the fact he’s only thrown 88.1 innings. Bonderman’s thrown 31.1 innings more and Halladay 41 more.

Winner- Bonderman: If Liriano continues this for a full season, he deserves MVP consideration. But here the innings hurt him in the short term. Bonderman takes it in the closest race yet.

AL Rookie of the Year: The rookie who has dominated the most. In ties, a dominant pitcher gets the nod over a dominant hitter, since top flight pitchers are rarer. Team record is no factor.

Candidates: Kenji Jojima- C Seattle Mariners, Liriano- Twins, Justin Verlander- SP Detroit Tigers

Verlander’s been good, at least ERA wise. But Liriano has been at least twice as good in every single pitching peripheral category. Jojima’s been very solid offensively for a catcher, and has been equally good behind the plate. But he’s not Liriano.

Winner- Liriano: Without question, the easiest pick for any award so far.

Manager of the Year: Judged by team performance balanced out by expectations.

Candidates: John Gibbons- Toronto Blue Jays, Mike Hardgrove- Seattle Mariners, Jim Leyland- Detroit Tigers

If Zach weren’t on vacation, he’d rip the hell out of me for putting Hardgrove up here. But considering most Mariners fans didn’t think their team would be anything this season, the manager deserves some credit. Even if he makes some odd decisions, he is getting the most out of a team that currently has Gil Meche as its second starter! They have a better run differential than the A’s right now. Gibbons meanwhile has the Blue Jays playing excellent ball, even though he has just one starter, Roy Halladay, that’s been any good this year. Their expected win total is just two behind the Yankees and Red Sox despite this. Of course, Jim Leyland’s Tigers have the best record in baseball.

Winner: Leyland: I’m leery of this team’s pitching, since while starters like Kenny Rogers, Justin Verlander, Bonderman and when healthy, Mike Maroth’s ERA’s have been great, only Bonderman’s peripherals back up this start. Still the Tigers have exceeded expectations to this point, lead the league in wins, Ex Win total and Leyland gets the credit.

So that’s the AL. Next up the NL, which should be just as fun, as we get some hotly contested races, especially for first half MVP. And will I be the guy who says Bronson Arroyo deserves the first half Cy Young? Check back here tomorrow to find out.


Blogger Bryan Koch said...


Hafner: 55.8
Mauer: 44.2


Hafner: 1.176
Mauer: 1.065

There's certainly an argument to be made for Mauer, but both of these stats do account for position. I've got to give the slight edge to Hafner.

7:11 AM  
Blogger Bryan Koch said...

Oops, WSP accounts for position; not VORP. Point remains.

7:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

a) it's "hargrove", no d

b) he's the reason the team isn't better than its current record. most serious m's fans actually predicted the team would be near .500 if everything broke well. there's no question the pitching staff is a mess (you should have cited pineiro), but it's also no coincidence that this will be the third year in a row the team will be below it's pythagorean prediction.

hargrove has an appalling ability to encourage the team to run itself out of innings on the basepaths and play the worst players in the worst situations. please look back at his double-switches a few weeks ago which took out our two hottest players early in what turned into an extra-inning game. before that are the games he cost us in minnesota by having our best player repeatedly bunt.

if nothing else sways you, hargrove is one of the primary reasons the m's wasted money on signing carl everett. there have to be better candidates for managing available.

1:29 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

Bryan- does WSP take into account the fact that there are almost no catchers in baseball who would put up numbers like Mauer?

My argument for Mauer's MVP is sort of supply and demand. As good as Hafner is, he's a DH. He's just a hitter. I can find lots of hitters who are comparable even if they aren't as good. But right now, Mauer is a plus defender and great offensive player at a position where normally you're either one or the other.

The drop off from Mauer to the next catcher is huge, much bigger than the drop off between Hafner and Thome. That has to add to his value, just because he's so rare. So I go with Mauer.

Thanks for the correction on the name. I didn't see the M's pre season expected win total, but I predicted they'd be .500. On the other hand, I have a difficult time seeing how they should be much better than they are now. While Felix Hernandez has been horribly unlucky with his HR rate, they've gotten far more than anyone could have hoped for out of Meche and even Pineiro at the start of the season. Jose Lopez has been a nice find for them, and Beltre's hit of late, but Richie Sexson has been horrible.

Still, I realize that since there is no real statistic that shows a manager's ability, relying on sight might be the best way to go. I know I would never give Willie Randolph manager of the year because of the way he's abused his bullpen pitchers and kept his lineup. I still have a tough time believing the M's would be much better under some one else, but I won't disagree with you that Hargrove has done some idiotic things to cost his team games.

2:00 PM  
Blogger Bryan Koch said...

Ben, like I said, WSP does account for the the player's position. A lot of people would actually argue that it unfairly favors catchers, and Hafner still comes out fairly ahead.

3:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to follow up, Lopez has been a nice find (and he was the one always forced to bunt Ichiro over) but Hargrove deserves some blame there, too. As a 20yo rookie last year, Hargrove yanked him back-and-forth between Tacoma and Seattle. During spring training, Hargrove threatened to give 2b to either Fernando Vina or Willie Bloomquist.

If Lopez hadn't gotten off to a hot start (and he still split time with Bloomquist over the first couple of weeks), he'd have been platooned ala Jeremy Reed. I'm not saying Reed is as good as Lopez, but it's further proof that Hargrove has no patience with younger players. He will always choose to put the "proven veteran" in the lineup despite said veteran's (looking at you again, Carl Everett) horrid numbers.

Heck, Yuniesky Betancourt (also much improved at the plate & a defensive wizard) would never have had the chance if Pokey Reese hadn't gotten hurt in spring training. If you thought the M's were bad last year, imagine a full season with Pokey added to the lineup. They have a good young core who have developed despite their manager's ineptitude.


1:09 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

Bryan, as I said before I think "value" can be influenced by a dominance over a position. It's the same way SS in baseball didn't have to put up 1B like numbers to be Hall worthy, until A-Rod came along.

The next closest catchers in OPS are 120 points behind. Those two, Victor Martinez and Jorge Posada, are awful defensively, with the former possibly being worse than even Mike Piazza. Catchers in Mauer's league defenisively post OPS in the .600s. He's up near 1.000. That's extremely valuable.

As good as Hafner's been, it's an offensive only position he's playing. Jim Thome has been almost as good, Manny Ramirez, Jermaine Dye and Jason Giambi are all in the ball park. Any of them could DH too.

Finding a quality DH isn't hard. But finding a catcher of Mauer's ability is rare. Thus, he's the most valuable, because there is nobody else like him.

Anonymous- Again fair points with Hargrove, though he's more of the prevailing trend rather than exception when it comes to young players. Unless someone is forced to, ala Joe Girardi in Florida, managers will play vets over kids. Willie Randolph and Joe Torre do it here, Ryan Howard was batting behind Aaron Roward for much of this year in Philly. Heck, Buddy Bell plays Doug Mienkietwicz over Justin Huber!

What you're complaining of isn't just with the M's skipper, but endemic around baseball. It's actually a really distressing sign and probably means there needs to be a paradigm shift with managing, akin to what there has been with player personnel.

4:11 PM  
Blogger Bryan Koch said...

Ben, I agree with your argument, but your entire system of logic is encompassed by the WSP statistic, which still spits out Hafner as the more valuable player.

12:39 AM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

The WSP stat also says the two most valuable players in the AL this year are Jim Thome and Francisco Liriano. Okay, I can see that. But then it also says that Jonathan Papelbon and BJ Ryan are more valuable than Mauer. So... take it at what you will.

If I were starting a team tomorrow for the second half only and were given the choice of Mauer and Hafner, I'm taking Mauer for the reasons I've listed above.

3:34 AM  

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