The 2017 MLB Awards

Bob Levey/Getty Images

The baseball season is over, but the intrigue is not.

Every year, the Baseball Writers Association of America votes on Major League Baseball’s Most Valuable Player, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, and Manager of the Year awards. Every voter has a different methods for choosing his or her winners; some voters are more sabermetrically inclined, others are very old-school, and others vote in a more random fashion; if you don’t believe me, the same people vote on Hall of Fame enshrinement and three of them don’t think Ken Griffey, Jr. deserves to be in Cooperstown. Yeah, I don’t know, either.

Anyway, about those methods: I’m trying a new one this year. I’ve gone back and forth over the past few years on the value of sabermetrics, but I’ve recently decided that they are essential to understanding why certain players and teams are successful and why others aren’t. That relates to this discussion because I’ll mainly be using a sabermetric, analytically-inclined system to determine who I would give baseball’s major awards to this year (except for Manager of the Year) instead of picking the winners randomly, which is what I had always done in the past.

I actually rolled out some of the winners near the end of September to great Twitter fanfare; things went so well that the proceedings ended with me commencing quite possibly the largest Easter Egg hunt in my young Twitter existence. Anyway, I’ve even tinkered with my system since then, and I have finally come to what I feel like is a fair and understandable structure for handicapping the awards. And these adjustments have changed some of the victors since that time, even though many players’ statistics did not.

Here’s how this will work: there will be nine metrics used to measure player performance. If the player ranks first in his league in batting average, for example, he gets one point. The player’s rank in each of the categories is added up and divided by the number of statistics used (nine). The player who comes out with the lowest number after that process wins the award. These are the statistics I used for position players and pitchers:

Position Players


For pitchers in the MVP discussion, I only used WAR and WPA for their final results and divided that number by two. And if a position player did not play enough innings at one position (e.g. the Indians’ Jose Ramirez), then DRS was removed from his final total and that individual’s DRS would not be considered. The same was true for the Mariners’ Nelson Cruz, the only full-time designated hitter considered for the American League MVP. Finally, if a closer was included in Cy Young consideration, his rank in all categories except for RA9-WAR and WPA would be among closers. In the two aforementioned figures, he would be ranked along with all other qualified pitchers in his league. The point in doing this was to tilt the playing field ever so slightly toward starting pitchers, as they throw at least 100 innings more than their ninth-inning counterparts, while still leaving the opportunity for a dominant closer to take home the hardware. Basically, this provision would leave the door open for a Zach Britton-esque season to still receive the recognition it deserves.

If this explanation is insufficient, the charts I used to calculate the MVP and Cy Young for both leagues can be found here and here (WARNING: Both links contain spoilers). While I’ve tried to explain this as best I can, I am, like many of you, a visual learner, and seeing the calculations that went into this process may help you better understand what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.

One last thing: I’m going to list several honorable mentions with the award winners. They are listed in the order they finished in my calculations.

So, hopefully, that explanation suffices. Here now are my 2017 MLB Award Winners. If you’re on the internet, please don’t judge me.

National League MVP

Winner: Joey Votto, 1B/Cincinnati Reds


.320  .454  .578  1.032  69.12  165  11  6.6  4.96 

Put simply, Joey Votto is the best hitter in baseball.

He has been for some time, actually, but this year he solidified that label even further.  In 2017, Votto’s statistics were at or near career highs in home runs, runs scored, on-base percentage (.454 is the highest mark in the league in two years), batting average, wins above replacement, slugging percentage, and OPS. There is no other hitter in the game that compares to Votto. The Reds star first baseman finished first in the league in on-base percentage, OPS, RE24, wRC+, and Defensive Runs Saved. And in every other category, Votto finished no lower than sixth, which is where he finished in slugging percentage, behind  Giancarlo Stanton, Charlie Blackmon, Cody Bellinger, Freddie Freeman, and Nolan Arenado.

But there is no hitter as consistently good and diversely talented as Votto. And before you come in with the argument that the MVP has to come from a winning team, remember that the Cincinnati Reds won 68 games with Votto in the lineup every day. No, seriously. Every. Day. Don’t blame the best player on the team for his organization’s incompetence.

And we should really appreciate Votto’s greatness while we still can. The superstar turned 34 last month and history has shown us that most hitters rapidly decline around their 35th birthday. If this was Joey Votto’s last season among baseball’s elite, he’ll go down as one of the greatest hitters of all-time. If you don’t believe me, the proof is in the pudding.

This may seem like a far-fetched analogy, but think of Joey Votto like Slash. You already know that he’s great at his craft, but then you hear that song, and that solo, and come to think of it, you realize that he’s one of the all-time greats. Joey Votto transcends any particular award or single season, and he’s undoubtedly the best player in the National League right now.

Honorable Mentions: Charlie Blackmon, Giancarlo Stanton, Max Scherzer, Nolan Arenado, Justin Turner, Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rendon, Kris Bryant

American League MVP

Winner: Mike Trout, CF/Los Angeles Angels


.306  .442  .629  1.071  55.95  181  -6  6.9  5.58 

Let me ask you a question: if you knew someone was clearly the best player in the game for several years running and he just had possibly the best year of his career, why would you deny him his just due?

Mike Trout just posted career highs in OPS, OBP, slugging percentage, and OPS, to say nothing of the fact that he set a career low for strikeout percentage over a full season. And did I mention that he played just 114 games this year after suffering a UCL tear in his thumb at the end of May and cleared the threshold for stat qualification by just four plate appearances?

This was no bother for the best player in the league. While many were distracted by the exploits of Aaron Judge and Jose Altuve this year (don’t get me wrong, they were fantastic), Trout led the American League in RE24 and he led the entire league in Win Probability Added. The best part about this is both of those measures are cumulative statistics that are very dependent on how many plate appearances a hitter gets in a season. Trout, with over 150 fewer plate appearances less than Judge and Altuve, matched or, in many ways, exceeded their value.

A counterargument for Trout’s MVP case would be that the Angels went 19-20 during his midseason absence and, despite his post-All-Star break return, finished the season at 80-82. That may seem fair, but other players actually stepped up when Trout was sidelined, and those pieces did not perform quite as well after the All-Star break. Also, Trout’s only support in the Angels’ lineup, aside from August acquisition Justin Upton, was Andrelton Simmons and the living, breathing, worst player in baseball. Denying Trout the award this year would be like refusing to give the country’s best nurse Doctor of the Year because she didn’t get the chance to save someone’s life.

You have no idea where the Halos would be without him. Just thinking about it frightens me.

Honorable Mentions: Corey Kluber, Jose Altuve, Chris Sale, Aaron Judge, Nelson Cruz, Justin Upton, Jose Ramirez, George Springer

National League Cy Young

Winner: Max Scherzer, SP/Washington Nationals


2.51  0.91  12.02  2.90  2.98  41.82  4.87  7.1  4.14 

Unlike the American League (more on them shortly), the National League’s Cy Young race was fairly clear-cut for most of the season.

The award came down to the Nationals’ Max Scherzer and the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, with Los Angeles closer Kenley Jansen trying to kick down the door to no avail in the latter stages of the year. Scherzer has the modest advantage here, though, after finishing no lower than third in any of the nine statistics used to measure a pitcher’s effectiveness in this exercise. That consistency catapulted him over Kershaw for the award, as the Dodgers’ lefty was a full point behind Scherzer on average.

In my Utopian baseball universe, this would be Scherzer’s third career Cy Young Award, which would make him just the tenth pitcher to achieve that milestone. The other nine pitchers to accomplish this feat either are, should be, or will be in the Hall of Fame. It’s hard to deny Scherzer the hardware this time around considering that he just had the best year of a remarkable and legendary career.

We are blessed with great pitching in baseball nowadays. We should make sure Max Scherzer doesn’t slip through the cracks, and that starts with giving him the 2017 National League Cy Young Award.

Honorable Mentions: Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Stephen Strasburg, Zack Grienke

American League Cy Young

Winner: Corey Kluber, SP/Cleveland Indians


2.25  0.87  11.71  2.50  2.68  48.32  7.36  8.5  4.26 

Corey Kluber trailed Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale in this race for most of the season. He began to pull ahead of the Sox ace, however, with a second half in which he gave up three or more earned runs in just three of his fifteen starts.

Kluber and Sale ranked first or second in the American League in every statistical measure used here except WPA, where Sale finished fourth. Kluber gained the slight edge, though, by finishing first in ERA, WHIP, and strikeout-to-walk ratio, as well as RA9-WAR, where he held a 1.2-win advantage over Sale. It is crazy to consider that the first pitcher to finish a season with 300 strikeouts since 2002 would finish a clear second in the Cy Young race, but here we are.

And after one of the best seasons by two different pitchers in the same league, Corey Kluber comes out on top, playoff performance notwithstanding. His staggering second half is enough to get him my vote for AL Cy Young.

Honorable Mentions: Chris Sale, Craig Kimbrel, Carlos Carrasco, Luis Severino, Justin Verlander

National League Rookie of the Year

Winner: Cody Bellinger, OF/Los Angeles Dodgers

Cody Bellinger


.267 .352 .581 .933 35.97 138 2 4.0 4.30

I’m not here to reinvent the wheel.

Bellinger broke the National League rookie record for home runs in a season (39) and was clearly the best rookie on the National League side. There was no one else even approaching Bellinger’s value this season, and he clearly had the National League’s best freshman effort, even if some of his broken records are less auspicious than others.

Honorable Mentions: Paul DeJong, Austin Barnes, Rhys Hoskins

American League Rookie of the Year

Winner: Aaron Judge, RF/New York Yankees


.284  .422  .627  1.049  54.83  172  8.2  2.38 

Again, I’m not here to insult your intelligence.

Aaron Judge is a contender for the American League MVP, let alone Rookie of the Year. He broke the league’s rookie home run and walk records, and despite his league-leading 208 strikeouts, there isn’t another rookie in the American League who approaches Judge’s value. This is proven, too: Judge led the league in Wins Above Replacement (8.2) this season.

All rise.

Honorable Mentions: Matt Chapman, Andrew Benintendi, Mitch Haniger

National League Manager of the Year

Winner: Torey Lovullo, Arizona Diamondbacks

In his first season as manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Torey Lovullo quite literally engineered a 180° turnaround in the desert.

Last season, the D-Backs were 69-93 and finished just one game ahead of the San Diego Padres, the worst team in the National League. Arizona’s fan base had one of the best players in the game and absolutely nothing else to cheer for. Worst of all, the team traded future All-Star Ender Inciarte and top prospect Dansby Swanson the season before for Shelby Miller; you don’t need me to tell you how that went.

Fast forward a year later, though, and the Diamondbacks were one of the best teams in the league. Despite an abrupt playoff exit at the hands of the Dodgers, Arizona won 93 games and Lovullo’s arrival is no small reason why. While most of the Diamondbacks’ resurgence centered around improved performances from pitchers Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray, in addition to the presence of A.J. Pollock in center field and the midseason acquisition of Tigers outfielder J.D. Martinez, Lovullo deserves credit for his leadership in guiding the Diamondbacks to their first playoff appearance since 2011.

Honorable Mentions: Craig Counsell, Dave Roberts, Bud Black

American League Manager of the Year

Winner: Paul Molitor, Minnesota Twins

Last year, the Minnesota Twins were baseball’s worst team at 59-103 and did not appear to have any hope of being a contender this season. Enter Paul Molitor.

Molitor has managed the Twins since 2015 and has had the team in contention in two of his three seasons at the helm; this year, though, marked his first playoff appearance. How the Twins got there, however, is what makes the job Molitor did all the more impressive.

At the trade deadline, the Twins found themselves at 50-53 and five games back of the second wild card spot. Thinking that the team’s chances of reaching the playoffs were fading with two months to play, GM Thad Levine shipped closer Brandon Kintzler to the Nationals and sent Jaime Garcia, after one start and three days with the Twins organization, to the Yankees. Many, including myself, counted Minnesota out of the race.

Instead, the team finished the year 35-24 and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2010. To add to that, they gave the Yankees, a team that was later one win away from the World Series, an honest-to-goodness fight in the AL Wild Card game. The emergence of young stars such as Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, and Byron Buxton is a great sign for Minnesota, and hopefully they can keep Molitor on the top step of the dugout for the foreseeable future. It’s worked out well so far.

Honorable Mentions: Joe Girardi, A.J. Hinch, Kevin Cash

How did I do? Let me know in the comments section or debate me on Twitter, but please be ready to back up your arguments.

Just How Good Are the Cleveland Indians?

Photo Credit: John Bazemore/Associated Press

Many baseball observers figured going into this season that the AL Central would be a two-team race between the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers.  76 games into play, though, a new contender has emerged: the Cleveland Indians.

Cleveland is on an 11-game winning streak dating back to June 17; it’s worth noting that since that day, no professional Cleveland sports teams have lost a game.  Cleveland teams and their players have lost a shirt or two along the way, however.  In fact, the last time the Indians lost, the Warriors were leading the NBA Finals.  But we’ve already exhausted that point.

Anyway, the Indians have just kept on winning, pushing their streak to 11 games with a 5-3 win over the Braves last night. Granted, they’re the Braves (the second worst team in baseball), but the Indians have still been impressive as they’ve surged to 16 games over .500 and a six-game lead over the defending champion Royals.

But, with all the positivity around the Indians and their winning ways, there still remains this one question: can they keep it up well enough to win the division?  And if they can, how far can they go in the playoffs?

For one, the team’s rotation is one of the best and most underrated in baseball.  Power pitchers such as Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, and Carlos Carrasco man the front of the rotation while Josh Tomlin has done a solid job at the back end of it.  Ironically, Kluber had one of the unluckiest seasons of any starting pitcher in baseball last season.  Unbelievably, he’s actually been less fortunate this year; his FIP (fielding-independent pitching) is better in 2016 and his ERA is worse. However, he’s had far more luck with his record; at 7-7, he’s almost reached his win total (9) from last season, one that saw him lose 16 games.

The rotation has combined for 43 quality starts (6 innings, 3 runs or less allowed), good for 4th in all of baseball.  That being said, the bullpen has done its fair share of work, as well.  Cody Allen has been solid, albeit somewhat inconsistent, in the closer role, converting 14 of his 16 save opportunities so far this season. While Bryan Shaw has struggled in the eighth inning, Dan Otero and his sub-one ERA have locked down the seventh.  The front office should look to bolster the bullpen at the trade deadline, but for now, it will have to do.  Obviously, it’s done well enough over the past two weeks.

Another thing the Indians have going for them is their middle infield.  Short of the Houston Astros’ combination of Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve, I can’t think of a better 2B-SS pairing in the game today than second baseman Jason Kipnis and shortstop Francisco Lindor.  Kipnis has been one of the most consistent second basemen in the game over the past couple of seasons, and even though he’s having a bit of a down year, he can always turn things around in the second half.  It’s Lindor, though, who has carried the offense through the first half of the season.

Lindor was called up on June 14th last season to shore up an offense that was near the bottom of the American League in runs scored.  At that point in the season, the Indians were 29-33 and 4th in the AL Central.  After his call-up, Cleveland went 52-47 to close out the season; more importantly, Lindor ingratiated himself as the team’s starting shortstop and finished second to Correa in Rookie of the Year voting.  However, having hit .313 a season ago, many wondered if he could replicate his 2015 performance this season.

And that he has, and then some.  He’s basically matched last year’s batting average (.314 this season) and is even walking more to help his own cause.  In 25 fewer games and 115 fewer plate appearances, Lindor has already scored more runs than he did last year and matched his steals total from a season ago.

And, for these reasons and others, he has established himself as a bona fide MVP candidate.  Bleacher Report’s Zachary D. Rymer explains:

This makes him a rare breed: a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop who is also an advanced hitter. There may be shortstops with individual skills—Bogaerts’ bat, Correa’s power, Andrelton Simmons’ glove, etc.—better than his, but no other shortstop in baseball today is the total package like Lindor.

For the Indians, this means they have a legit AL MVP candidate on their hands. If Lindor doesn’t get the kind of attention he deserves before then, that would probably do the trick.

Lindor really could be considered an MVP candidate; according to FanGraphs, Lindor ranks eighth in baseball in WAR (wins above replacement player).  If that doesn’t give him consideration for MVP, I don’t know what will.

There have been other solid acquisitions, though.  Juan Uribe has come on strong of late, having hit five home runs in his last 10 games.  Rookie Tyler Naquin is hitting over .300 in fill-in duty for injured star outfielder Michael Brantley; it will be interesting to see how much playing time Naquin gets when Brantley returns from a shoulder injury that has kept him out of action since May 9.

Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana have also hit 16 home runs apiece for a team that ranks in the middle of the pack in that category.  Finally, Rajai Davis has accumulated 21 steals this season and been one of the better leadoff hitters in the game. Yes, the Indians’ rotation has been one of the best in the league, but its lineup is also one of the game’s deepest.

But here’s the thing: the Cleveland Indians could get even better. Consider this: even at 46-30, the team is just 12-11 in one run games.  By contrast, the best team in the American League, the Texas Rangers, are 17-5 in one-run games this season.  Part of this failure in close games is due to mishaps in the bullpen, but if Cleveland can make a deadline deal to shore up the back end of it, we could seriously be looking at them as the team to beat in the American League.  And I mean every word of what I just wrote.

The Indians have been magnificent over the course of the last two weeks.  They’ve captivated us with their pitching and hitting and shown the world that they are capable of doing big things for the rest of this season and beyond.

The sick part is, though, that they may even improve from where they are right now.

Corey Kluber Is the Unluckiest Pitcher in Baseball

There are two pitchers on the same team, in the same starting rotation.  Pitcher A is second in baseball in innings pitched and third in the league in strikeouts.  Pitcher B has a 4.07 ERA and 35 less strikeouts than Pitcher A.  Pitcher B has only thrown 108.1 innings, a whole 25 innings short of Pitcher A’s innings total.  However, here is the twist: Pitcher A is 4-10.  Pitcher B is 10-7.

Pitcher B is the Cleveland Indians’ Carlos Carrasco.  Pitcher A is Indians’ ace and defending Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber.

Kluber pitched eight innings against the A’s on Sunday, giving up only two runs on just four hits.  However, he was the hard-luck loser (again) as the Tribe were shut out on two hits.  This has become a trend in Kluber’s starts, according to ESPN Stats and Info:

Yowzers.  The Indians offense has not been great this season (t-21st in runs scored, 20th in batting average) but the lack of run support it has given Kluber is startling.

Kluber’s numbers, as well as his season to date, should be an exposé to a simple fact: win-loss record is not important.  To demonstrate my point, I’ll give you a list of pitchers with better records than Kluber but far worse Earned Run Averages:

  1. Jeremy Guthrie, KC (7-5, 5.36 ERA)
  2. Drew Hutchison, TOR (8-2, 5.33 ERA)
  3. Colby Lewis, TEX (8-4, 4.77 ERA)
  4. Nathan Eovaldi, NYY (9-2, 4.50 ERA)

So how do they stack up with other pitchers with better ERAs and less impressive win-loss records?  Well…

  1. Shelby Miller, ATL (5-5, 2.38 ERA)
  2. Yovani Gallardo, TEX (7-8, 2.68 ERA)
  3. Wei-Yin Chen, BAL (4-5, 2.78 ERA)
  4. Francisco Liriano, PIT (5-6, 2.98 ERA)
  5. Corey Kluber, CLE (4-10, 3.38 ERA)

However, Kluber is not going to get the national attention he deserves; while he is still having a great season, win-loss record will be the only thing that matters when it comes to Kluber’s Cy Young Award chances.  Here are the last ten Cy Young winners from Kluber’s league, the American League.

  1. 2005: Bartolo Colon, LAA (21-8, 3.48 ERA)
  2. 2006: Johan Santana, MIN (19-6, 2.77 ERA)
  3. 2007: CC Sabathia, CLE (19-7, 3.21 ERA)
  4. 2008: Cliff Lee, CLE (22-3, 2.54 ERA)
  5. 2009: Zack Grienke, KC (16-8, 2.16 ERA)
  6. 2010: Felix Hernandez, SEA (13-12, 2.27 ERA)
  7. 2011: Justin Verlander, DET (24-5, 2.40 ERA)
  8. 2012: David Price, TB (20-5, 2.56 ERA)
  9. 2013: Max Scherzer, DET (21-3, 2.90 ERA)
  10. 2014: Corey Kluber, CLE (18-9, 2.44 ERA)

All of those pitchers have a positive W-L record.  Not that Kluber is going to or should win the award this year; Sonny Gray, Chris Sale, Dallas Keuchel and others are far, far more deserving.  But Kluber was assuredly deserving of making the All-Star team, and it’s a shame that one of the best pitchers in baseball was denied a spot in the game because of his record. Indians reporter Jordan Bastian wrote about this last week:

In 11 of Kluber’s 17 starts, Cleveland’s offense has scored two or fewer runs. The four runs he received while the pitcher of record Thursday were the most he’s had to work with since the lineup spotted him five runs May 28. Entering his start against Tampa Bay, Kluber’s 2.28 run support average was the worst rate in the Majors among qualified starting pitchers.
That has played a large role in Kluber’s win-loss record.

When it comes to peripheral statistics, it could be argued that Kluber has performed as one of the top five starting pitchers in the Majors. With his performance against the Rays, Kluber moved into a tie with White Sox ace Chris Sale for the most strikeouts (141) in baseball. The righty also ranked second in baseball in innings (118 2/3), third in WAR (3.5, per, fourth in strikeouts per nine innings (10.69) and sixth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.88).

Kluber is one of the top five pitchers in baseball.  Some other stats also support this statement.

In a statistic called FIP (fielding-independent pitching), Kluber ranks fourth in the Bigs at 2.51; this is in sharp contrast to his real ERA, 3.38.  This stat is used to isolate defense and luck from the player’s actual pitching.  It shows that were it not for bad luck and some shoddy defense, Kluber would be seen by everyone as one of the best pitchers in the game, which he obviously is.

Another stat that is very similar to FIP is xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching).  It is basically what we would expect a player’s fielding independent ERA to be over the course of a season.  Kluber’s xFIP is almost as spectacular as his FIP; it’s 2.66, which is fifth in baseball.  His xFIP is not much different than his FIP, which means that his excellence is sustainable.  He is clearly one of the best pitchers in the game.

Finally, the most simple stat that demonstrates how stealthily good Kluber has been is WAR.  WAR stands for “wins above replacement” and it is a figure of how replacing Kluber with someone else in the starting rotation would go.  Kluber’s WAR is 3.9, good for third among pitchers in the game.  The first and second best pitchers by WAR are Max Scherzer and Chris Sale, my choices for the Cy Young Award from each league.

By now, you probably get my drift; Corey Kluber is the most underrated (and least fortunate) pitcher in baseball. He is probably one of the top ten pitchers in the game, and even though his record does not give him the credit he deserves, all of his other statistics do.  He had better luck last year in his Cy Young campaign, and even though he isn’t having the same luck he did last year, that shouldn’t take away from the job he has done this season.

The only thing is, he’s the unluckiest pitcher in baseball.