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My 2019 MLB Awards Predictions

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Is Trout going to get shut out again? Photo Gary Vasquez/US Presswire via espn.com

Is Trout going to get shut out again? Photo Gary Vasquez/US Presswire via espn.com

Hi there.  Its time to write about the “silly season” of baseball.   Its my annual awards predictor piece.

(Important note: despite publishing this after the post-season … like the voters, I write the entirety of this at the end of September.  This is not skewed or influenced by anything that happened in the post-season.  Which is pretty important, because likely NL MVP Cody Bellinger was embarrassed in the NLDS while his competitor Anthony Rendon really out-classed him, both in that series and throughout the post-season.  Same thing with Cole versus Verlander for the NL Cy Young; after the post-season, i’m sure many would want to reconsider their votes).

Side Note: I was listening to a Ringer podcast and Bill Simmons had a very simple, elegant solution the long running debate about what the “Most Valuable Player” means.   His point about the MVP is the same as my point: how can you be the “most valuable”player on a team that only wins 75 games?  You were so valuable that you prevented that team from only winning 65 games?   Instead he thinks we should add an “Most Outstanding Performance” award in each league to identify exactly what it says; the best individual performance irrespective of the player’s impact on the playoff race.  Many times it may very well be the same player.  But a lot of the time it won’t be.  The “MOP” can be heavily driven by WAR totals, perhaps looking at all three iterations of it.

So, would MVP and MOP differ over the past few years?  Lets look.  Here’s a list of MVP winners historically, and then links to b-r’s WAR, fangraphs WAR and BP’s WAR.

  • 2018: MVPs were Christian Yelich and Mookie Betts.  MOP candidates:  Still Betts in the AL, Jacob deGrom in the NL (who won the Cy Young fwiw)
  • 2017: MVPs were Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Altuve.  MOP candidates: Aaron Judge or Corey Kluber in the AL, Max Scherzer in the NL (both pitchers mentioned won the Cy Young)
  • 2016: MVPs were Kris Bryant and Mike Trout.  MOP candidates?  Probably Trout and Bryant still, though Scherzer has a case (and he won the Cy Young here too)
  • 2015: MVPs were Bryce Harper and Josh Donaldson.  MOP candidates: Harper and Trout.  Harper was head and shoulders above anyone this season, as was Trout (who lost b/c his team was bad).
  • 2014: MVPs were Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout: MOP candidates?  Kluber and Kershaw (both were cy Young winners).

So, of the last 10 MVPs, i’d say that half of them were not also the “MOP” that year.  That’s half the MVPs, even given more modern thinking in voting for the award.


anyway, to the predictions:

  • AL MVP:  Alex Bregman
  • NL MVP: Cody Bellinger
  • AL Cy Young: Gerrit Cole
  • NL Cy Young: Jacob deGrom
  • AL Rookie: Yordan Alvarez
  • NL Rookie: Pete Alonso
  • AL Manager: Rocco Baldelli, Minnesota
  • NL Manager: Mike Shildt, St. Louis

Discussion/Reasoning

  • AL MVP: Even though Trout plays for a crummy team, and even though he missed most of Sept with injury, I think he may win.  But Houston’s clean-up hitter Alex Bregman provides a pretty compelling case from a value perspective.  If two players have the same WAR but one plays for a 107 win team and the other’s team didn’t win 70 … i think we know who should win.  I like Betts and Matt Chapman to get votes here too.  Not sure which Yankee gets the “best player on the playoff team” votes for them.  It wouldn’t completely shock me if Trout won in a close vote, but I’ll go Bregman for now.
  • NL MVP: It was probably a neck-and-neck battle between Bellinger and Christian Yelich, who had exploded in the 2nd half to “catch” Bellinger’s monstrous first  half.  But a season-ending knee injury costs Yelich the bulk of September, likely ending his chances.  I think it goes Bellinger 1, Yelich 2, and then maybe the Nats Anthony Rendon getting some down-ballot love.  Also look for Ronald Acuna to get votes, as the “best player on the playoff team” for Atlanta.
  • AL Cy Young: Cole going away, with his teammate Justin Verlander 2nd.  What a late-career arc for Verlander.  I initially thought Verlander might get this with some sympathy votes, but Cole’s narrative was so dominant (as were his stats) and his 2nd  half so incredible that I find it hard to believe he won’t take the prize.
  • NL Cy Young.  This was absolutely Hyung Jin Ryu‘s award to lose for most of the season.  Then it looked like Scherzer’s to lose until he got hurt … which has opened the door for DeGrom to repeat.  I think Strasburg‘s ERA will look too high as compared to deGrom’s despite his career year.
  • AL Rookie: Dating back to perhaps mid last season, when it became clear that Toronto was manipulating his service time, this was Vladimir Guerrero Jr’s award to lose.  And, despite all the hype, he probably has lost it thanks to a pretty medicore first half.  it took him months to get going, eventually heating up in August to post nearly a 1,000 OPS for month.  Might be too little too late to catch Houston’s slugger Alvarez, who has top-of-the-leaderboard wRC figures.
  • NL Rookie: Alonso hit 53 homers; how can you not give him the ROY?  Understood there’s other qualified names, but Alonso’s accomplishments make him pretty famous, and makes him a shoe-in for this award.  No point in mentioning 2nd place here; this should be unanimous.
  • AL Manager: Baldelli wins the award for “most surprising AL team” to get the Mgr.  Everyone knew the Yankees and Astros would be good.  Maybe Oakland’s manager (Bob Melvin) or Tampa’s manager (Kevin Cash) gets votes or wins outright.  Maybe Yankees manager (Aaron Boone) gets some credit for navigating the myriad of injuries he has to face.
  • NL Manager: Shildt wins here out of apathy.  The NL race was mostly decided in the West before the season started, so hard to give it to Dave Roberts.  We knew Atlanta could repeat, so hard to make an argument for Brian Snitker.  the NL race was more about teams flailing that should have been better (Chicago Cubs, Washington Nationals, maybe even Philadelphia too).  Maybe i’m wrong and the press sees the recovery job the Nats did this year and gives it to Martinez.

Finalists announced on  11/5/19;  i didn’t miss any of my top candidates, but was kind of surprised by some of the finalists.


Actual Award Results added as they were awarded (updated post-publishing).  Voting results on baseball-reference.com for 2019 BBWAA awards.

  • AL MVP: 
  • NL MVP:
  • AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander 17-13 in 1st place votes over Gerrit Cole.
  • NL Cy Young: deGrom nearly unanimously, with 29/30 1st place votes.  Scherzer 3rd, Strasburg 5th, Corbin 11th.
  • AL Rookie: Alvarez unanimously.  John Means 2nd, Brandon Lowe third, Eloy Jimenez fourth, Cavan Biggio fifth.   Guerrero finished 7th, getting a handful of 3rd place votes.
  • NL Rookie: Alonso with 29/30 votes.    Mike Soroka 2nd,  Fernando Tatis Jr. 3rd.  Victor Robles finished 6th with one 3rd place vote.
  • AL Manager: Baldelli, edging out Boone.
  • NL Manager: Schildt barely over Counsell.

My prediction results: 5 for 6.  I over thought the NL cy Young and changed my initial prediction and got it wrong.


 

Links to other awards that I didn’t predict this year (again, updated post-publishing as they’re announced)

  • Roberto Clemente Award: Nominees (one for each team).
  • Hank Aaron AwardMike Trout, Christian Yelich winners for 2019.  Yelich repeats, while Trout wins his 2nd career.
  • Gold Gloves: really a good job picking GGs this year; lots are exactly in line with advanced metrics.  We’ll discuss this in a separate, annual post.
  • Relievers of the Year: Aroldis Chapman, Josh Hader selected for 2019.
  • Fielding Bible; mostly in line with the GGs.
  • Silver SluggersAnthony Rendon a winner!
  • Wilson Defensive Player of the Year:
  • Platinum Glove winners: repeat winners for Matt Chapman and Nolan Arenado
  • MLB Executive of the YearErik Neander with Tampa Bay wins Exec of the year.  Brian Cashman 2nd,  Billy Beane and the Twins’ Derek Falvey tied for third place.
  • Comeback Players of the Year:
  • BA Executive of the Year:
  • Sporting News Executive of the Year:
  • Edgar Martinez DH of the Year:
  • J.G. Taylor Spink Reporter of the year (named at Winter Meetings):

Other links to awards worth noting

  • MLB.com Players/Pitchers/Rookies of the Month.
  • Players choice awards:
  • Esurance MLB Awards:

NLDS Preview: Nationals vs Dodgers

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2019-mlb-postseason

The Nats used two starters to get to this point; how much will it hamper their efforts to supplant the class of the NL this  year?  Maybe not too much, if we can get Strasburg on short rest to pitch Game 2.  Read on.

Here’s a preview of the 2019 NLDS.

MLB Post Season schedule

Likely Pitching match-ups:

  • Game 1: Thurs 10/3/19 5:37pm EST in LA: Patrick Corbin vs Walker Buehler (officially announced)
  • Game 2: Fri 10/4/19: 5:37pm EST in LA: likely Stephen Strasburg vs  (likely) Clayton Kershaw
  • Game 3: Sun 10/6/19 time tbd in DC: Max Scherzer vs (likely) Hyung-Jin Ryu
  • Game 4: Mon 10/7/19 time tbd in DC (if necessary): likely Anibal Sanchez vs (likely) Rich Hill/Kenta Maeda/bullpen game
  • Game 5: Wed 10/9/19 time tbd in LA (if necessary): Corbin vs Buehler rematch.

I just don’t think Scherzer can come back on 2 days rest to start a game on Friday, but as noted Strasburg only threw 34 pitches in the WC game and seems like he can get the start on Friday with perhaps a short leash/pitch count.  This means Scherzer on full regular rest for the Sunday home game (that he’ll be up for, for sure) and then at Sanchez for game 4.  That should get the series back to LA and line up a possible game 5 with probably the best possible guy on the hill for that game (lefty Corbin).

Meanwhile the Dodgers are going with the kid Buehler instead of Kershaw; two years ago it was Kershaw that killed the Nats.  But the last time the Nats saw Buehler they bombed him.  The Dodger’s 4th starter is a question mark; Hill is coming off injury and threw just a handful of innings in September but he’s always been solid against the Nats.  If they have to go Maeda or their 5th starter Ross Stripling its not like its a huge step down in performance.

—-

Season head to head: LA beat DC 4 out of 7; they split four games in LA in May interestingly, when the team was nearly at its nadir, then LA took two of three in DC in mid July when the team had turned it around.

Here’s a quick summary of our pitchers versus LA this season.  First in our 4-game set in LA:

  • Patrick Corbin; beat Rich Hill in LA 6-0 and pitched beautifully; 7ip, 3hits, 0 runs.
  • Anibal Sanchez: lost to Kenta Maeda in LA; gave up 6 hits, walked 2 more and got yanked in the 5th
  • Max Scherzer beat LA giving up 2 runs in 7 innings, but Walker Buehler was better and the team only won b/c we got to LA’s bullpen
  • Stephen Strasburg gave up 2 in 6 but Hyung-Jin Ryu gave up one hit through 8 to beat the Nats.

then, in DC in July:

  • Sanchez pitched one of the best games of his season giving up 1 run on 3 hits to match Ryu’s similar output, then the Dodgers got to the bullpen for the win (stop me if you’ve heard that before)
  • Kershaw threw a QS and the Nats tried the “opener” for the only time on the year (starting Matt Grace with some success) before Joe Ross blew up and got the loss
  • Strasburg was brilliant, giving up 1 run on 2 hits through 7 and the Nats beat Buehler to avoid the sweep.

So.  what can we glean from this?

  • Our lefties have been pretty good against the Dodgers and Corbin may have some success.
  • As a team, the Dodgers are much better against RHs versus LHs … but they’re still pretty good against both.
  • Sanchez was more than adequate in his two LA starts.
  • Scherzer and Strasburg should be able to keep the team in games.
  • LA really doesn’t like hitting against either Strasburg or Corbin, and neither of them are the Nats Ace.

I gotta admit, i’m liking our chances here.  This is where having a big-3 of pitching aces matters; the Dodgers are going to have to win more two starts being made by Corbin, Strasburg and Scherzer, three guys who are all likely getting Cy Young votes this year.  I expect a bunch of low-scoring games with the Nats hoping to god their patchwork bullpen keeps it together.

Notable that the closer in the WC game wasn’t Sean Doolittle?  Or was that playing matchups with the Brewers?  Something to watch for.

 

Opening Day Starter Trivia 2019

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Verlander makes his 11th career opening day start, tying him for the active lead. Photo via sporting News.

Verlander makes his 11th career opening day start, tying him for the active lead. Photo via sporting News.

Every year I update this long-running XLS for this increasingly anachronistic relic of tracking Opening Day Starter honors for teams.  But it does make for some good trivia questions.

After this year’s opening day (including the two-day series in Japan), here’s some interesting stats related to Opening Day Starts from around the league:

  • Most Opening Day Starts, Active Leaders:
    • Justin Verlander makes his 11th and he seems well suited to increase that total given current form and new contract.
    • 11 ties him with both CC Sabathia and Felix Hernandez for the most active, neither of whom seem like they’ll get another shot to extend their totals.
    • Next closest are three tied with 8 each: Jon LesterClayton Kershaw and James Shields.  Lester’s is active, Kershaw’s should continue, while Shields remains unsigned for 2019 and seems unlikely to get another shot.
  • Current Leading Consecutive streak:
    • Julio Teheran with 6, which is pretty amazing because there was talk of him not even making the team with all the pitching depth Atlanta has.
    • Next closest is Corey Kluber with 5.
    • Nobody else really is close.  Lester has 3 straight for the Cubs, to add to his total of 8 between Boston and Chicago.
  • Consecutive streaks ended in 2019:
    • Felix Hernandez has his streak of 10 starts broken, and he wasn’t happy about it.
    • Kershaw had his streak of 8 broken thanks to the spring training injury.
    • Chris Archer has his streak of 4 broken thanks to a mid-season 2018 trade.
  • Number of first-time Opening Day Starters in 2019: 14.
    • deGrom, Castillo, Taillon, Mikolas, Freeland, Ryu, Lauer, Snell, Rodon, Keller, Berrios, Fiers, Gonzales, Minor
    • I’d say half of these are rewards for excellent 2018 seasons (deGrom, Taillon, Mikolas, Freelan, Snell for sure, perhaps also Berrios), some are covering for obvious candidates who are injured (Ryu), while the rest mostly play for tanking teams who have little better choice than to name a starter for opening day (Castillo, Lauer, Rodon, Keller, Fiers, Gonzales and Minor).
    • This is the highest number of first-time opening day starters in my decade of tracking this.

Historically, here’s the all-time record holders:

  • Most Ever Opening day Starts: Tom Seaver with 16.  Tied for 2nd place with 14 is Jack Morris, Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton
  • Most Consecutive Opening Day Starts: Jack Morris, all of whom’s 14 opening day starts were in a row.

Hope you enjoy this useless trivia!

 

 

Ask Collier: first mailbag of the 2018-19 off-season!

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The off season all revolves around Harper.  Photo via GQ Magazine

The off season all revolves around Harper. Photo via GQ Magazine

Hey there!  If its the Nat’s off-season, it must mean mail bag time.  We havn’t seen one from MLB.com beat reporter Jamal Collier in a while (what, was he busy or something? :-) but now we get one with some good discussion-generating questions.

Here’s how i’d answer the questions he took.


 

Q: As a fan of the great outfield we had at the end of the year. Are the Nationals considering trading Adam Eaton if they resign Bryce Harper?

A: Indeed, an outfield of Soto, Eaton, and Harper is pretty awesome, if (biiiiig if) all are healthy and producing at optimal levels.  And the on top of that we have a top-5 prospect in all of baseball Victor Robles who no longer can be kept in the minors.  So that’s four solid players who all would start for any team in this league on one team.  So what do we do?

Well … only one of these four guys is a Free Agent: Harper

And, only one of these guys is projected to make a ridiculous, franchise altering amount of money in free agency: Harper.

Harper has played for 7 nearly full-seasons: he has a total bWAR figure for his career is 27.4.   That’s an average of 3.9 bWAR per season.  Yes he had a monster 10 win season in his MVP season of 2015, but he’s also lost huge portions of several seasons to injury.  And that has to be part of the conversation when you consider whether you commit $200M to him for the next 7 years.

For me the answer is easy.  Juan Soto will make the MLB minimum (or near to it) next year; call it $600k.  He generated 3.0 bWAR in 116 games, which projects to a 4.1 Win season with 162 games.  I’d rather pay Soto $600k to give the team the same expected level of production as Harper would for 30-TIMES more money.   You let Harper walk, you go to war in 2019 with Soto in left, Robles in center, Eaton in right, finally have three outfields all in the “right” positions defensively, and then deal with a 4th outfielder from internal candidates.

NOW.  Letting a tranformative player like Harper go is … well its an “above the GM” decision.  Not only because of the impact on payroll, but because of his role with the team.  He’s a massively marketable star, transformative not just for the team but for the sport of professional baseball.  His $30M/year salary (or whatever he wants) is not just about payroll; you can’t put a price tag on the marketability of a player of his stature and what it means for the team.  He puts “butts in the seats.”  He is in national commercial ad campaigns.  He’s a foil (for better or for worse) across the sport.  Do you just let a guy like this walk?  They’re getting basically *nothing* back for him (a compensation pick between the 4th and 5th rounds, thanks to the criminally poor job the team did in managing the luxury cap over the last two years), so that barely factors into the discussion.

Now, lets say, for the sake of argument, that the team does re-sign Harper.  Yeah for me, if you re-sign Harper, you’re going to have to move either Eaton or Robles.  So … which do you move?   Eaton, like Harper, has been just crushed by injury the last two years, producing a fraction of his value the 3 years prior.  So even though he’s still quite affordable, trading him this off-season would be trading pretty low.  Robles is still the unknown; yeah he’s an amazing prospect, but is he going to have a Juan Soto-like 2019?  Robles can be the centerpiece of a trade that could return a significant player in an area of need for this team (mid-level Starter or quality starting Catcher).  Would you prefer to go that route?

For me; i’m on record.  I want to part ways with Harper, field a starting OF that costs less than half of a one-year Harper salary figure and allocate his projected payroll towards other areas of need.

Collier echos my concerns about trading Eaton low, but also notes that … well this is THE decision that the team faces, probably the biggest one in a decade.  We can’t know until the Harper decision is made.


Q: What’s Michael A. Taylor’s future with this team?

A: For me, despite Michael Taylorawesome 2017 season, he’s reverted back to form.  He’s a 4th outfielder.  Great defensively, poor offensively.  Can play all three OF positions, plays CF excellently.  But he still strikes out 33% of the time and cannot be trusted.  After his 2018, its not like he has real trade value, and he’s now also arbitration eligible so he’s not exactly cheap.  Is he a non-tender candidate?  Probably not, but assuming the team goes with my plan of letting Harper walk and going with a starting OF of Soto-Robles-Eaton, then for me Taylor is an ideal 4th and competes in the spring with Andrew Stevenson for that role.  He should win it, then be coupled with a corner-OF bench bat type who can play LF in a pinch.

Honestly, you learned everything you needed to know by looking at the amount of playing time Taylor got this past September once Robles came up.  Almost none.

Now, if the team reasigns Harper?  I don’t think much changes; the team moves either Eaton or Robles, still leaving Taylor as the 4th.

Collier thinks they’ll explore moving him “before his trade value falls anymore.” Uh … too late dude!


 

Q: Who are the free agent starting pitchers that Nationals will attempt to sign?

A: Taking a quick gander at the list of available starters …  there’s all kinds of interesting names.  Who knows who they may end up with.

Lets start with, what do they need?  They’re keeping Scherzer, Strasburg, Roark, and Ross.  They can either go to war with a 5th starter like Fedde or McGowin or Voth or Jefry Rodriguez, or look at free agency to improve the back end.  I’d love to get a 3rd starter-quality guy to slot in behind the big two, then hope for a better season from Roark (something closer to 2016 than 2018), and hope for Ross to come back to what we know he’s capable of.  That’s a potentially solid rotation for me.

We also might be focusing on a lefty, since Gio Gonzalez was our only lefty starter.  But I don’t think that should be a huge factor honestly.  The team needs to find the best value and availability.

I don’t see them pursuing a $20M/year guy.  Not with the amount of money already going to their two #1 starters and certainly not given the possibilty of their re-signing Harper.

So, lets think about middle-of-the road lefty veteran starters.  How about someone like a Jaime Garcia, or Hyung-Jin Ryu?

If they can’t land a lefty, there’s a slew of interesting names out there that are righties.  I like Nathan EovaldiWade Miley, Garrett Richards.

Collier hedges and says the obvious; we won’t know until they decide what they’re doing with Harper.  Yeah i get it.  He mentions that Patrick Corbin is probably out of the conversation (duh; he’ll be like the 4th most expensive player this off-season) and mentions re-upping with Jeremy Hellicksonwhich I don’t think happens b/c he pitched himself into a decent sized contract..  Its also worth mentioning; maybe the team goes the trade route, which opens up the realm of possibles to half the league’s starters if they’re willing to give up Robles or Carter Kieboom in trade.


 

Q: At what point will the Nats start looking for a more durable first baseman? Zim has averaged only 100 games a season over the last five years.

A:  Uh, the second Ryan Zimmerman isn’t guaranteed 8 figures a year?  And, by the way, what is this guy missing with the current roster construction?  We were nearly to the point of an 1980s Orioles John Lowenstein/Gary Roenecke type platoon this year between Zimmerman and the lefty hitting Matt Adams.  The team is already mitigating Zimmerna’s annual health issues with a backup.

And guess what?  They’ll do it again this off-season.  Look for the team to sign another Adams clone, someone like Lucas Duda or Steve Pearce or Pedro Alvarez.  Heck, maybe they’ll re-sign Adams.

Collier basically says the same thing I did.


Q: Will Riz let Difo and Kieboom fight it out for 2b in spring training or will he look for a veteran 2b, using Kendrick in a super utility role?

A: The question probably should have read: “Wil Rizzo let Difo and Howie Kendrick fight it out…”  Because Kieboom aint’ making this team in 2019.  For one, he’s never played 2B professionally.  Not that its a heavy lift going from SS to 2B (it isn’t) .. but he’s also just 60-some games removed from A-Ball.  Kieboom needs to go from the AFL back to AA and return his OPS figures back to the .880 level before even being considered for AAA.

Honestly, I think the team goes with Kendrick (assuming he’s recovered from his bad achilles injury) as the starter, with Difo as the utility guy.  Thanks to Kendrick’s injury and Daniel Murphy‘s prolonged recovery, Difo was essentially a starter this year.  And he did not impress, his average dropping 40 points from where it was last year.  I think that cements his status as a backup utility infielder who can cover middle infield positions in a pinch.  I’m glad we have someone on the bench who can at least hit at a 75 OPS+ figure; lets not push it.

That being said, for me Kieboom is the future here.  I think he might be ready after a half a season, and at that point you bring him up and slot him in at 2B.  He could eventually move to 3B if the team cannot retain Anthony Rendon, or can stay at 2B and be a Jeff Kent-style slugger.  I’d love to see that come together and have him join Soto and Robles as the core of the next generation of this team.

Collier thinks the team might look elsewhere for a starting 2B.  I think they can make-do from within and not waste money chasing another  Murphy replacement.