The 2018 Major League Baseball season is complete. The postseason gets underway tonight. I can’t wait – playoff baseball is outstanding. But, before any of that gets started, let’s talk about the Major League Baseball Awards. While they won’t be handed out until after the playoffs are completed, they are voted on before the playoffs begin. Playoff performance shouldn’t be included in theĀ  minds of the voters. So let’s talk about who should win and why.

The National League Awards

MVP Award

Three weeks ago this race seemed close. And then Christian Yelich went crazy over the final few weeks of the season to put the rest of the league in his rearview mirror. Except for maybe Jacob deGrom. And for me, that’s the two guys that the race comes down to.

Christian Yelich hit .326/.402/.598 on the season for Milwaukee. He also stole 22 bases. Yelich led the league in average, slugging, OPS, OPS+, and total bases. He finished second in the league in home runs and RBI if you’re into that sort of thing. Jacob deGrom led the league in ERA and ERA+. His 1.70 ERA in 217.0 innings was easily the best in the league. He allowed 152 hits, just 10 home runs, walked just 46 batters, and he struck out 269.

Both players were dominant in their respective role. So that gets down to the question: What’s more important: Being able to help out every single day, or being able to help out every five days but being far more dominant in that fifth game? It’s a tough question. Historically, pitchers don’t get a ton of love in the MVP voting. Perhaps that’s because the Cy Young is viewed as their “MVP”.

For me, I’m simply leaning towards being able to impact more games. Jacob deGrom was dominant. He was better than dominant. But he only played in 32 of the Mets 162 games. Christian Yelich played in 147 games for the Brewers. For that reason, he gets my vote for National League MVP.

Cy Young Award

After reading all of the above, it’s pretty clear who I would be voting for in the Cy Young race, right? With all due respect to Max Scherzer who led the league in wins, innings, strikeouts, and WHIP, he simply wasn’t as good as Jacob deGrom in 2018. Scherzer beat deGrom in innings by 3.2 and WHIP by 0.001. deGrom dominated him in ERA+, though, with a 219 mark to a 168 mark. That’s the deciding factor for me. Jacob deGrom should win this award running away despite the fact that he went 10-9 on the season because the Mets scored as many runs in his starts as they did in my starts. Basically.

Rookie of the Year

The 2018 class of rookies may go down as one of the better ones ever. With all due respect to the rest of the class, this is a two player race. Ronald Acuna and Juan Soto both did things that put them in historical class for their ages in the Major Leagues. Acuna, a 20-year-old, hit .293/.366/.552 in 487 plate appearances for the Braves. He also stole 16 bases on the year. Soto, a 19-year-old hit .292/.406/.517 in 494 plate appearances for the Nationals.

If you noticed above, I have not mentioned WAR once to this point. And the reason is a bit simple: I think of WAR as a guide rather than some hard-lined thing. WAR for pitchers is also, in my mind, a dumpster fire, and the different versions of pitching WAR (Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs) look at things very differently. With position players I feel a bit more comfortable using it, but still think that the defensive component of publicly available WAR is sketchy at best.

With that said, the Fangraphs version of WAR has Ronald Acuna and Juan Soto tied at 3.7 each. The Baseball-Reference version has Acuna ahead 4.1 to 3.0. Offensively, they are nearly tied in both versions. Baseball-Reference has Acuna as a significantly more valuable defender in their version. What defensive system do I trust a little bit? The one that uses statcast. It’s not perfect. There are some issues that I have with it, too. But it’s far better for outfielders than ones that use a grid on the field to determine defensive values. And the statcast Outs Above Average ranks Acuna as 8 plays better than Soto. When all of the offense is so close, that’s going to be the tie-breaker here. The edge is incredibly small, but it goes to Acuna.

The American League Awards

MVP

Much like the National League Award, the American League Award comes down to two players for me. Mookie Betts hit .346/.438/.640 in 614 plate appearances for the Red Sox. He also stole 30 bases. Mike Trout hit .312/.460/.628 in 608 plate appearances for the Angels. He also stole 24 bases.

Mike Trout led the league in walks, on-base percentage, OPS, and OPS+. Mookie Betts led the league in runs scored, average, and slugging percentage. They were the two premiere players in the league and no one else was close.

With all of that said, Mike Trout had the better offensive season. Trout’s OPS+ was significantly better, at 199, than Betts, who was at 186. Elite for both, but Trout was just better and it wasn’t particularly close. When you look at the stolen bases, Trout went 24-for-26. Betts went 30-for-36. If someone has the edge there, it’s very, very small. Overall edge for Trout with the bat and the legs.

Let’s talk defense. The metrics at Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference give a defensive edge to Mookie Betts. The outs above average metric through statcast does, too. Two of the three differences are quite small, though. But here’s where things matter to me: Mookie Betts is a right fielder and Mike Trout is a center fielder. There’s a very big difference there. For me, that matters. It may not mean as much to you, so your mileage may vary. But for me, the edge on offense for Trout, while also still being an above-average defender in center versus an elite defender in right field. Mike Trout gets my vote, but I do believe that Mookie Betts will run away with the actual award.

Cy Young

This race has a whole lot of candidates. For me, there are four guys that should be considered: Trevor Bauer, Gerrit Cole, Blake Snell, and Justin Verlander. Let’s talk about each of these guys individually.

Trevor Bauer posted a 2.21 ERA in 175.1 innings pitched, allowed 134 hits, walked 57 batters, and he struck out 221 batters. He only allowed nine home runs, too. Gerrit Cole posted a 2.88 ERA in 200.1 innings, allowed 143 hits, walked 64 batters and struck out 276. Blake Snell posted a lead best 21 wins, 1.89 ERA, and 219 ERA+. That came in 180.2 innings where he allowed 112 hits, walked 64, and he struck out 221. Justin Verlander posted a 2.52 ERA in 214.0 innings with just 37 walks and a league best 290 strikeouts.

Every single pitcher had an incredible season. So, how do you separate those four guys? Blake Snell had the best run prevention, leading the league in ERA and ERA+. Trevor Bauer was second, and then there’s a really big gap in ERA+ before you get to third place Justin Verlander. Cole came in sixth in ERA+.

The question for me is how do you weigh the run prevention of a Blake Snell and Trevor Bauer in 175.1 and 180.2 innings versus the 214.0 innings for Justin Verlander or Gerrit Cole’s 200.1 innings? For me, the innings are very important here. In an era where teams are going to the bullpen quicker and quicker, a starter that can be dominant, like all of these guys are, is valuable in my mind. And for me, that’s what leads me to say that I’d vote for Justin Verlander as the Cy Young winner. 214.0 innings just sticks out. While Blake Snell’s 1.89 ERA is incredible, that it came with 180.2 innings – basically 5-6 fewer starts worth of innings than Verlander – just takes away enough to give the edge to Verlander. It will be interesting to see how the voters go. I’m not sure there’s a wrong answer.

Rookie of the Year

Coming into the year it was supposed to be the year of Shohei Ohtani. And for a while, it really was. But his elbow simply couldn’t hold up. We found out that his UCL had a tear in it back in March, but it wasn’t torn enough to take him off of the mound. Yet. Eventually it tore more and did take him off of the mound. It didn’t take him out of the lineup, though.

He would throw 51.2 innings with a 3.31 ERA with 22 walks and 63 strikeouts. That’s a full years worth of production of a reliever. And it’s pretty good production, too. But there’s also that whole side of what he did at the plate. Ohtani stepped up to the plate 367 times in 2018 and hit .285/.361/.564 with 21 doubles, 2 triples, and 22 home runs. He also stole 10 bases. The sample size was a problem, but his slash line is borderline MVP caliber had he done it over more plate appearances.

When you add together his overall production on the mound and at the plate, it’s not close. With all due respect to Brad Keller (140.1 innings, 3.08 ERA), Miguel Andujar (.297/.328/.527, 27 home runs, 606 PA), and Joey Wendle (545 PA, .300/.354/.435, 16 steals), this was easy for me. Shohei Ohtani is the rookie of the year.

DALTON AND GREEN IN 2018 T SHIRT

16 Responses

  1. abado

    I think I’d probably pick Yelich for MVP, too. I think it matters that he was a big part of leading the Brewers to the playoffs and a division title in one of the best divisions in baseball (although I know that doesn’t matter to some).

    I’m not sure what to think about the games played differentiation between Yelich and deGrom (or any starting pitcher). Michael Bauman at the Ringer noted that deGrom took part in almost 200 PA more than Yelich, so starting pitchers who rack up innings have a ton of impact in their 30+ games.

    • Doug Gray

      I don’t buy into that “he faced so many batters” comparison to a hitters PA. Yelich played defense every day. Yelich ran the bases every day. It’s just not a good comparison.

      It’s tough to balance it though. A starting pitcher has such a big impact when they are on the field. A single player that isn’t a pitcher usually doesn’t have that kind of impact in any game all year, much less 30 games. It’s tough.

  2. Ryan

    Brad Keller. Ouch. That one hurts. Looks like the Reds swung and missed in trading that rule 5 pick to the Royals…

    • kdavis

      Probably because he doesn’t throw 100 MPH and he didn’t have a lot of strike outs for his 140 innings pitched. Reds probably though they had better pitching than him.

  3. Stock

    Only difference is I have Betts over Trout. This is as close to equal as you get. Betts and Boston are still playing. That has always and should be a tie breaker.

      • Stock

        Just compared them on Fangraphs. Trout has a WAR of 9.8. Betts has a WAR of 10.4. I am pretty sure when Fangraphs calculates WAR defensive position as well as quality of defense is considered.

      • Doug Gray

        Defensive WAR is trash.

        But winning is done by the team. That Betts had better teammates shouldn’t be a tiebreaker.

      • Stock

        Pop’s won the MVP not only because he had a good year but that he was a leader. Value does not stop and end with the box score.

        Same with Don Baylor. Probably the same with Rose though there were many leaders on the Big Red Machine. There is more to baseball than hitting and pitching. People are just winner’s sometimes. More goes into being valuable than just hitting. Winning should absolutely be considered and it has been for years.

        Ted Williams has a .406 BA in 1941. His OPS is 1.287. Joe DiMaggio wins the MVP with an OPS of 1.083.

        In 1942 Ted Williams wins the triple crown and has on OPS of 1.147 but Joe Gordon wins the MVP with an OPS of .900

        Ted Williams wins the triple crown in 1947. His OPS is 1.113. DiMaggio has on OPS of .913 yet wins the MVP.

        In 1948 Williams has on OPS of 1.112 and finishes 3rd in the MVP voting behind Boudreau (.987) and DiMaggio (.994)

        In 1957 Ted Williams has on OPS of 1.257. Mickey Mantle has an OPS of 1.177 and wins the MVP

        The list goes on and on. I choose Williams and the 1970’s because I was very familar with them. But these are not exceptions. Being a leader has value. Being on a winning team should absolutely be considered when picking an MVP.

        One more example. Before he arrived the Yankees were in the World Series 6 times in 9 years. ARod was there one time. Great player but not a great team player.

    • Stock

      There once was a day when winning the division/pennant was a major factor in winning the MVP. I paid much more attention in the 70’s and I think this was much more prevalent further back. Here are 3 examples:

      1979 – Willie Stargell (“We are family” for those of us old enough to remember) wins the MVP playing 126 games. 60 runs, 82 RBI and a RC+ of 137. If the Pirates don’t win the pennant he is not in the top 10. Dave Winfield led the NL in RC+ with 161.

      Baylor wins the MVP with RC+ of 142. Fred Lynn does not make the playoffs. His RC+ is 174. Defensively, Lynn is a good defensive CF and Baylor is a terrible LF.

      1973 – Pete Rose (115 Runs, 64 RBI, 5 HR .338 BA), Willie Stargell (106 Runs, 119 RBI, 44 HR, .299 BA) Rose wins MVP but Stargell clearly was the better player this year. The Pirates didn’t make the playoffs though and the Reds did. Of course I felt Morgan should have won his first MVP in 1973 but defensive stats were ignored back then.

  4. Matt

    Correction for your NL MVP section: Yelich did not lead the league in OBP – Votto did.

    • Matt

      On another note, I think I agree with every single one of your picks. I’m with you on Trout’s numbers as a CF being so much more impressive than if he put up the same numbers in a corner.

      AL Cy Young was probably the toughest one for me.

      While I agree that ERA-estimators like xFIP (though flawed, and a blunt instrument) are better for evaluating talent level and how good you can expect someone to be going forward, I much more heavily weight actual performance for the year (i.e. IP, ERA) for awards. But that’s not to say that Ks and BBs don’t matter. 2.52 is a darn fine ERA. That combined with more innings, and the utterly bonkers strikeout and walk numbers Verlander put up give him the edge for me. I mean seriously, he had 12.2 K/9 and *1.6* BB/9 (for a MLB-leading 7.84 K/BB)

    • Doug Gray

      I knew this. And I have no idea how I typed it out. It’s been corrected. Thank you for pointing it out.

  5. MK

    My NL Cy Young pick is Colorado’s Kyle Freeland 17-7, 2.85 ERA. As the Colorado factor works against hitters going for season and career awards, the same factor should work to a pitcher’s benefit. I will go with Yelich as NL MVP ROY. I don’t care about the league where the didn’t play real baseball.