The 100-Game MLB Awards

Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

The Major League Baseball season is 162 games long and lasts for six months; what happens in the last three months is far more important than what happens in the first three. However, the first 100 games of the season can give us a snapshot of what’s to come and which players are the best in both leagues. In this article, we’ll take a look at the award winners for both leagues over the course of the season’s first 100 games of the season. It’s been a fun year, one that has already broken records and captivated fans.

In this post, we’ll look at numbers both traditional and advanced to pick out the very best in both leagues. I’ll explain some of the more advanced statistics when we get to them; basically, I’m trying to weed out fairly useless stats such as RBI and pitcher wins in order to get to the bottom of who the best players in baseball really are.

So here we go. These are, through about 100 games of the season, the award winners in both the American and the National League. We’ll start in the AL.

American League

Most Valuable Player: Aaron Judge, RF/New York Yankees

Stats (AL Rank)

.310 (10) .434 (1) .649 (1) .1083 (1) 32 (1) 41.54 (1) 182 (1) 5.4 (1)

All rise!

The production of Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge speaks for itself. He is first in baseball in wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) to this point of the season, first in OPS, first in slugging percentage, first in home runs, first in RE24 (run expectancy for the 24 base-out states), and first in walk percentage. Judge has been the most productive player in the American League this season, which means that you’d probably be surprised to hear that I kind of struggled with this one.

Consider this: in the category of Win Probability Added, a statistic that is exactly what it sounds like, Judge is sixth in the American League. He also strikes out in 30.1% of his plate appearances, the sixth-highest rate among qualified hitters in the AL. Ultimately, I looked past those numbers because Judge has been so dominant in just about every other mainstream and sabermetric offensive category. However, this isn’t the runaway that everyone thinks it is, with players like Jose Altuve, Chris Sale (more on him shortly), and George Springer nipping at his heels.

Honorable Mentions: George Springer (Astros), Jose Altuve (Astros), Chris Sale (Red Sox), Khris Davis (Athletics)

Cy Young Award: Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox

Stats (AL Rank)

141.1 (1) 2.48 (1) 0.89 (1) 12.74 (1) 1.97 (1) 2.52 (1) 30.30 (1) 5.6 (1)

I’m going to get in trouble for using some of these stats if I don’t explain them, so here goes.

SIERA (Skill-Interactive ERA) is an attempt to answer just what makes a certain pitcher successful. It rates ground balls as more valuable than fly balls and getting strikeouts as the most valuable skill of all. FIP (fielding-independent pitching) takes the defense behind the pitcher out of the equation and rates his performance independent of that. RA9-WAR is the pitching equivalent of Wins Above Replacement except that it uses runs allowed per nine innings as its barometer of success. RE24 is the same for pitchers as it is for hitters, and a higher number means that a certain pitcher is negatively affecting the other team’s run expectancy over the course of a game.

Got all those stats down? Good, because Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale is the American League’s best starter in every one of those categories. He’s also first in ERA and strikeout rate; in fact, in his last start, Sale became the fastest pitcher to reach 200 strikeouts in a season in MLB history. Sale is on pace for over 300 strikeouts on the season and has been the American League’s most dominant pitcher so far this season. This is a no-brainer if I’ve ever seen one.

Honorable Mentions: Corey Kluber (Indians), Marcus Stroman (Blue Jays), Luis Severino (Yankees)

Rookie of the Year: Aaron Judge, RF/New York Yankees

See American League MVP above.

Honorable Mentions: Trey Mancini (Orioles), Jordan Montgomery (Yankees), Ben Gamel (Mariners), Jacob Faria (Rays)

Manager of the Year: A.J. Hinch, Houston Astros

The Houston Astros are having the best season in the American League and are on pace for 107 wins. Hinch, the one-time Stanford psych major, has undoubtedly been part of the Astros’ success so far this season. He has managed through injuries to ace Dallas Keuchel and shortstop Carlos Correa and, all the while, has led Houston to a whopping 17-game lead in the AL West. You could go with someone like the Twins’ Paul Molitor in this spot, but I’m going to take the manager of the best team in the American League, and that man happens A.J. Hinch.

Honorable Mentions: Paul Molitor (Twins), Joe Girardi (Yankees), Kevin Cash (Rays)

National League

Most Valuable Player: Bryce Harper, RF/Washington Nationals

Stats (NL Rank)

.336 (3) .441  (2) .634 (1) .1075 (1) 25 (T-4) 46.67 (1) 172 (2) 4.8 (2)

Bryce Harper is second on his own team in Wins Above Replacement to Washington’s third baseman, Anthony Rendon. That said, he’s still the MVP of the National League to this point in the year.

Harper ranks first in the National League in RE24, Win Probability Added, and slugging percentage. He’s also second in wRC+ and on-base percentage. Harper is in the top five of just about every significant offensive category. His all-around greatness shouldn’t be taken lightly, and it’s become clear that he’s the best player in the National League right now. Through 100 games, he’s been the most valuable player in the National League, even if he (technically) isn’t the Most Valuable Player on his own team.

Honorable Mentions: Anthony Rendon (Nationals), Joey Votto (Reds), Justin Turner (Dodgers)

Cy Young Award: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

Stats (NL Rank)

141.1 (1) 2.04 (1) 0.88 (2) 10.70 (3) 2.94 (2) 2.91 (2) 31.10 (1) 5.9 (1)

To be honest, my initial inclination was to give this award to Max Scherzer. However, in the interest of statistical research and analytical thinking, I decided to go with Kershaw by a very slim margin. Here’s why.

Kershaw pulls in ahead of Scherzer in RA9-WAR, RE24, and ERA. RA9-WAR is the important one here, as it is an exact quantification of a pitcher’s value to his team to this point in the season. ERA is also extremely important, as Kershaw is allowing fewer runs than Scherzer per nine innings. It is easy to give this one to Scherzer and you could justify doing that here. Instead, I’m going to take Kershaw, even though he’s about to go to the disabled list with a recurrence of back stiffness.

Honorable Mentions: Max Scherzer (Nationals), Gio Gonzalez (Nationals), Kenley Jansen (Dodgers)

Rookie of the Year: Cody Bellinger, OF/1B/Los Angeles Dodgers

Stats (NL Rank Among Rookies)

.269 (13) .352 (6) .617 (1) .969 (1) 27 (1) 26.34 (1) 146 (2) 2.6 (1)

If this seems like it’s too easy for you, guess what: it is.

Bellinger is first among NL rookies in OPS, home runs, RE24, WAR, and slugging percentage. He actually gets something of a surprise run in some of these categories from his own teammate, catcher Austin Barnes. Don’t kid yourself, though: to this point, Bellinger has been the National League’s best rookie and his heroics have helped the Dodgers to one of the best 99-game starts in MLB history. Even in the most stacked lineup in Major League Baseball, the rookie first baseman has stood out.

Honorable Mentions: Austin Barnes (Dodgers), Kyle Freeland (Rockies), Josh Bell (Pirates)

Manager of the Year: Dave Roberts, Los Angeles Dodgers

Is this a boring choice? Probably. Is it the right choice? Yes.

Roberts has anchored the Dodgers as they’ve won nearly 69% of their games to this point in the season. The team is currently on pace for a staggering 111 wins, and Roberts has played no small part in their early-season success. Roberts won the award last year, and while voters may be fatigued of voting for the same person they did a season ago, Roberts is clearly the best choice for Manager of the Year.

Honorable Mentions: Bud Black (Rockies), Torey Lovullo (Diamondbacks), Craig Counsell (Brewers)

The National League MVP Debate is Not a Clown Question, Bro

With baseball entering the second half of the season this week, I’m going to take a look at the debate over who should be the MVP in the senior circuit.  The debate has mainly become about two players: Nationals OF Bryce Harper and Diamondbacks 1B Paul Goldschmidt. Harper is a slightly better power hitter than Goldschmidt, but Goldschmidt is a better base-stealer and hitter for average. The debate over this topic has been a very interesting one, but everyone, and I mean everyone has Harper winning the award by a wide margin.  Among them is Grantland baseball writer Jonah Keri:

When we checked in on Harper at the season’s quarter-way mark, he was both the runaway winner for NL MVP and in the midst of a historic season unmatched by any 22-year-old not named Ted Williams.

His second quarter has been punctuated by a couple of health scares. The first was downright terrifying, as Harper’s knee buckled when he tried to make a throw during a June 18 game against the Rays. That injury proved to be nothing more than a left hamstring strain, and Harper returned to the lineup two days later. Then, a week after that, Harper sat out three straight games — this time with a right hamstring strain — and returned on June 28.

Despite the two hamstring-induced starts and stops, the prognosis on Harper’s health remains positive, and he’s been an absolute monster when he’s been in the lineup. In the 56 plate appearances since that initial strain, he’s hit three homers and six doubles and posted a .340/.446/.660 line. With apologies to Paul Goldschmidt, Todd Frazier, and everyone else, this one isn’t particularly close: Harper has been the clear first-half NL MVP, and it’s his award to lose as we move forward.

I’ll tell you how I got to thinking about this debate.  I was talking to a friend of mine about it, and he said that Harper was the unquestioned MVP.  (His name is Danny Blomster, he’s a sabermetric genius, and you can check out his blog here.)  Anyhow, I championed the argument for Goldschmidt, beings that he is on a worse team and, while he hits in a better lineup than Harper, hits for a starting rotation whose best pitcher this season has been Robbie Ray.  My friend pulled out some sabermetric stats that supported the case for Harper, like his slugging percentage, OPS, and others.  So I looked at Goldschmidt and Harper, side-by-side, sabermetrically.  Here’s what I found.

Harper has a slightly higher on-base percentage (.471) than Goldschmidt (.466). If you take into account a stat called wOBA (weighted on-base average), Harper really begins to separate himself, as his wOBA is .490 to Goldy’s .452.  However, wOBA does not take into account intentional walks and stolen bases, and this is important. Goldschmidt has nineteen intentional walks to The Chosen One’s eight; the former’s total is tops in baseball.  Pitchers do not want to pitch to him, and that is why he has been intentionally walked so much.  Goldschmidt also has sixteen stolen bases to The Phenom’s four; he is trying to create runs for his team.

Many are voting for Harper based on his all around game.  That and the fact that he, you know, murders baseballs:

For most baseball fans, watching Bryce Harper play baseball is more aesthetically pleasing than watching Paul Goldschmidt play.  Fair enough; you get more home runs, and therefore more entertainment, out of watching Harper play.

However, another crucial advantage Goldschmidt has over Harper is in BABIP (Batting average on Balls in Play).  Goldschmidt’s .402 easily eclipses Harper’s .377.  For context, the average BABIP in the majors is .297, which means that the MVP candidates are really, really good. What does this mean?  It means Goldschmidt is a better pure hitter than Harper.  Luck does not play a role here, as Goldschmidt’s BABIP has been higher than Harper’s every year since 2012, Harper’s first in the league.  The sample size is plenty large enough.

Another interesting area of the debate is the K% (strikeout rate) and BB% (walk rate) of each player.  Goldschimdt wins here, but only slightly.  His K% is 19%, which is fractionally better than Harper’s 19.9 K%.  Both of those are actually around the league average of 20.1%, so both players are middle-of-the-road is this statistic.  Harper wins in BB% (19% to Goldschmidt’s 18.2%), but neither stat distinguishes one player as being better than the other.

Then there is the area of the game that can’t (or can) be quantified: coming up clutch.  As former Miami and NFL wide receiver Santana Moss once eloquently stated, “Big time players make big time plays in big time games.”

It’s no different in baseball.  With the presence of advanced stats in all sports, many have begun debunking the notion of “clutch”. However, whether you like it or not, it exists, as Russell Carleton of Fox’s “Just a Bit Outside” wrote last August:

Let’€™s clear a few things up. Clutch is not a result of having superior moral character, notwithstanding the plot of every sports movie. It is also not a guarantee that a hitter will always come through. My contention is a much more reserved one. Clutch is likely some combination of ability to deal with pressure combined with some particular change in approach, whether conscious or unconscious, that results in slight variations from what we might otherwise expect. For some, that change makes a hitter better and in some it makes him worse.

These analyses may not completely prove that clutch ability exists, but they do lay what I hope is a foundation for how we might continue the search. “€œClutch”€ is a way of saying that the situation matters because players are human. What we have here is an indicator that has reasonable (if not great) consistency across years, and it explains differences between players in how leverage affects them. More searching might find something with more consistency. Even then, year-to-year consistency is not the only way to establish that a measure is reflective of a player’€™s true talent level. Using a more tracking-based approach might help. Players can and do change, even within a season. There’€™s no reason clutch needs to be an enduring trait, rather than a state we can detect with some reliability. The rest is simply showing that the factor, whatever it is, can explain some of the differences between players’€™ performances in different leverage situations.

Clutch is actually a stat.  It is not one that can be sutained over time or predicted in the future, but it does well to describe a player’s past performance.  According to the version of the stat, Goldschmidt’s clutch rating in 2015 is 0.7, which, according to the site, is “above average”.  Meanwhile, Harper’s clutch rating is -1.41, and that is considered “poor”.  These numbers are not presented in the spirit that they will not change, but they have been telling through the first half of the season.  For context, the top two clutch hitters of all time, according to Fangraphs, are Tony Gwynn and Pete Rose; one of these players is in the Hall of Fame, and the other should be.  The third most statistically clutch hitter ever?  Scott Fletcher, a .262 career hitting middle infielder who played for six different teams over a 16-year career.  Clutch is not perfect, but it could be that stat that thinks that Jhonny Peralta is a better defensive shortstop than Andrelton Simmons.

Goldschmidt can also be considered a clutch player without statistical assistance, as SBNation Diamondbacks blog AZ Snake Pit writes:

It seems like every time the Diamondbacks need a little something extra, or a clutch hit, he’s there to deliver. The list of pitchers he’s traumatized is too long for this article, but even Tim Lincecum in his prime was no match.

And that ultimately is why Paul Goldschmidt is so weird: most of the time he’s not doing anything, maybe just hitting into a routine out or just hanging out at first base, but then he turns it on when it matters and BAM. Diamondbacks win. There is literally not comp for this type of player, because there is literally no other player that has ever done this, especially in baseball.

Isn’t it weird that a player would have a lot of mundane moments punctuated by moments of pure exhilaration? I’ve literally never seen that, have you???

Goldschmidt wins this category.  By a lot.  While clutch can be a volatile statistic, it does well to describe his performance this season, especially in comparison to Harper.  While clutch has its ups and downs, it does well here: it describes Goldschmidt as more of a clutch hitter than Harper.

Okay, so we’re now finished with the sabermatics sabermetrics of this debate.

Anyway, this discussion, as you can already tell, is extremely complicated.  Harper’s team has done better this season, record-wise (three games up on the Mets in the woeful NL East) , but it’s hard to argue that the Diamondbacks would be where they are right now (42-42) without Goldschmidt.  While Harper’s slugging percentage, OPS, and on-base percentage are better than Goldschmidt’s, I’m giving Goldschmidt the advantage.  The advantage for all of the above listed reasons, as well as a very simple one: the acronym MVP stands for “Most Valuable Player”.  If the award was for “Most Outstanding Player”, Harper would be the clear-cut winner.  But Goldschmidt has been more valuable for his team this season, and the stats demonstrate that.

Goldschmidt has the edge here.

All stats courtesy of

MLB All-Star Game Ballot, Part 2

About a month ago, I published what my MLB All-Star Game ballot would look like; you can read about it here.  Well, here is part 2:


1B: Prince Fielder, Rangers

2B: Jose Altuve, Astros

SS: Jose Iglesias, Tigers

3B: Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays

C: Stephen Vogt, A’s

DH: Nelson Cruz, Mariners

Outfielders: Mike Trout, Angels; Adam Jones, Orioles; Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox


1B: Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks

2B: Dee Gordon, Marlins

SS: Jhonny Peralta, Cardinals

3B: Matt Carpenter, Cardinals

C: Buster Posey, Giants

Outfielders: Bryce Harper, Nationals; Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins; Justin Upton, Padres

As you can see, not a whole lot has changed here.  I still have not voted for any Royals in either ballot, even though it looks like they will be sending quite a few players to the game:

Let me know what you think!

On Bryce Harper Getting Ejected the Other Night

Bryce Harper and his streaking Nationals were at home on Wednesday night playing the Yankees.  The Nats have won five games in a row and surged to the top of the NL East over that stretch.  However, Wednesday night’s win would be overshadowed by an incident between Harper and home plate umpire Marvin Hudson.  Basically, the first pitch of the at bat was a strike that looked to be down in the zone or out of it altogether.  Supposedly, Harper then “refused” to get in the box, and Hudson ejected him.  Manager Matt Williams then cane out to argue on his behalf, for which he was ejected.  The ejection, in my eyes, was completely wrong.

First of all, players argue balls and strikes all the time.  If I had a dollar for every time a player was discontented with a ball-strike call, I could be really, really rich.  Harper was very unhappy however, and something that is important to note when considering the other side of the argument is that the pitch was only strike one.  Also, the at bat took place in the third inning, and there is still most of the game left at that point.  Think what you want about Bryce Harper, but he is an extreme competitor.  He wants everything to go his way, and sometimes if they go the other way, he becomes unhappy.  However, be clear of his intent; he just wants to win.

Second of all, if I pay the money to go to a Washington Nationals game, I would much rather watch Bryce Harper do what he does than watch Marvin Hudson do his job.  I have never heard of anyone that has gone to a baseball game and paid a real significant amount of attention to the umpires; they want to watch the players.  And without the best Nationals position player on the field, the game is simply not as exciting.  On a Wednesday night when people are most likely coming straight from work to see the game, depriving them of one of the most exciting players in baseball is simply not right.

Finally, along these lines, I am sick and tired of watching exhibitions that are not-so-affectionately known on social media as “#umpshows.”  Like I said in the first paragraph, I don’t watch baseball for the umpires.  It’s a great game, but the umpires are a blight upon it, no doubt about it.  Hudson did not exactly shy away from the arguments with Harper and Williams, either.  In the video above (which was shared by MLB’s YouTube account), not-so-nice words are blurred.  When Williams goes out to confront Hudson, he launches a bunch of these (examples of them rhyme with duck and spit).  However, Hudson did the exact same thing.  Don’t think of umpires as higher authority of better than the players, because they clearly don’t act it.

Finally, one of the reasons why Hudson wanted Harper to get back in the box (other than to create an #umpshow) is that he wanted to speed up the game.  This side of the anti-Harper argument is understandable.  However, the attempt backfired in Hudson’s face.  Not only was he embarrassed by Williams, Harper, and his own actions, the arguments took roughly two minutes, which doesn’t exactly speed up the game.  While this year’s pace-of-play rules have clearly worked, this was a miss.  An attempt to speed up the game by five or ten seconds wound up setting it back for two minutes, which does not look good for the game of baseball.

Any way you slice it, I think Harper should not have been ejected.

But, hey, let’s all get together to watch another great #umpshow sometime soon.