Small Sample Size: My 2020 Year End Awards

If we are being honest, I’m not even sure where to start. 2020 has been such a messed up year and baseball isn’t excused from all the craziness. Whether it’s the shortened season, the expanded playoffs, or the universal DH, baseball looked way different than what we are used to this past calendar year.

With that said, some things were normal. There was still a World Series winner. There was also lots of bickering between the new & old school evaluations of the game. But where we are concerned today, awards were still voted on by the BBWAA and by a group I am part of, the IBWAA.

Now, the IBWAA has new ownership & has created a new atmosphere for baseball writers on the web, but voting felt at first like normal. That is if you count evaluating 60 games “normal”.

That was the strange part: trying to pick winners in the smallest of sample sizes. While there were some obvious choices, others felt a little more vague. While I normally enjoy going through & picking my winners, this year felt more like a chore than ever before. Parameters were moved & choices all the way around were chosen on a smaller scale.

But I did pick winners and it is time now to unveil them. Before I do, you can always go back & check out my previous IBWAA voting record: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, and 2015. With that out of the way, let’s start handing out awards.

American League Rookie of the Year: Kyle Lewis, Seattle   

If there was an obvious choice for an award this year, Kyle Lewis for AL Rookie of the Year might be it. Lewis went out and made a name for himself in the shortened campaign, leading rookies in fWAR (tied with Ke-Bryan Hayes of Pittsburgh), home runs (tied with Luis Robert of Chicago), runs, OBP and total bases.

He also showed some defensive prowess and could be the start of a fun, young outfield in Seattle. While Luis Robert, Cristian Javier and Brady Singer all had great rookie campaigns, it felt obvious that Lewis was head and shoulders above the rest in the American League this season.

My Top 3: 1. Lewis 2. Robert 3. Singer

IBWAA Winner: Kyle Lewis

BBWAA Winner: Kyle Lewis

AP Photo/Morry Gash

National League Rookie of the Year: Devin Williams, Milwaukee

While the American League winner felt simple, the National League was a bit tougher to pick. So many worthy candidates littered the Senior Circuit and with the 60 game season, it was a bit harder to weed out one single candidate.

But once you saw Devin Williams’ numbers, it was hard to argue with: 1.4 fWAR, 0.33 ERA, 53% K rate, 0.63 WHIP and 0.86 FIP. Williams allowed one earned run over 27 innings, which included a stretch of 24 2/3 scoreless innings, while allowing just eight hits all season. His changeup was a deal breaker in 2020 and led to a lot of love from Pitching Ninja himself:

So while a number of rookies had good seasons in the NL this past season, none were as dominant as Devin Williams. In fact one would think this is just the beginning for this 26 year old reliever.

My Top 3: 1. Williams 2. Ke’Bryan Hayes 3. Alec Bohm

IBWAA Winner: Jake Cronenworth

BBWAA Winner: Devin Williams

Credit: USATSI

American League Manager of the Year: Kevin Cash, Tampa Bay

Even before Cash led the Rays to the World Series, it was apparent that he would be the frontrunner for the AL Manager of the Year. Cash ran a squad that won the American League East for the first time since 1990 and squirmed through an injured list that felt insurmountable. Add in the fact they play in one of the strongest divisions in the game, and it felt like a great time to bestow Cash with this honor.

The Rays had one of the best pitching staffs in the game and was able to use that to hold off the Yankees and Blue Jays in their division. He guided the team through the new playoff format, as the team held off the Yankees and the Astros. Even in the World Series, the Rays held their own and a big part of that was Cash’s managing skills. 

I know some will still question taking Blake Snell out in Game 6 of the World Series, but one move doesn’t tarnish all the other work Cash did this past season. While that argument will rage on, there is no need to question the validity of Cash’s work in this organization.

My Top 3: 1. Cash 2. Bob Melvin 3. Sandy Alomar, Jr.

IBWAA Winner: Kevin Cash

BBWAA Winner: Kevin Cash

National League Manager of the Year: Brian Snitker, Atlanta

I’m going to come right out and take some responsibility: I completely forgot about Don Mattingly when I was working on my votes. I don’t know if I was breezing through everything, or just wasn’t paying close attention, but Mattingly didn’t even cross my mind during this process. 

Now, if I had thought of him, he definitely would have been in my top three and possibly even my winner. He did a great job with a young Marlins club and deserves all the accolades he has been receiving this season. I remembered him about three days after I voted and instantly kicked myself for it. My bad.

This is not to say Brian Snitker isn’t worthy. Snitker led the Braves to their third straight National League East Division title, in a division that is loaded with talent. The Braves got all the way to the NLCS before being ousted by the eventual champs, the Dodgers.

While Atlanta was an early favorite in the East, they did hit a few bumps in the road that Snitker had to guide them through. A good chunk of the season their rotation was being pieced together with any healthy arms they could find and they dealt with a number of injuries during the campaign, including star infielder Ozzie Albies. It wasn’t a smooth ride for the Braves and Snitker was able to steer the way.

So once again, sorry Donnie. I take the blame. Luckily, you still have some hardware to soothe over any hard feelings. Congrats on a job well done.

My Top 3: 1. Snitker 2. Ross 3. Tingler   

IBWAA Winner: Don Mattingly

BBWAA Winner: Don Mattingly

Credit: Getty Images

American League Cy Young Award: Shane Bieber, Cleveland

I should have known on Opening Day that Shane Bieber would be the runaway winner of the AL Cy Young Award. Back on July 24th, Bieber kicked off the 2020 season against my Kansas City Royals and proceeded to dominate. Bieber pitched six scoreless innings, striking out 14 Royals, giving up four hits while walking one. It was a performance that truly set the tone for the rest of Bieber’s award winning season.

Over 12 games, Bieber would lead the American League in ERA, strike outs, ERA+, FIP, Hits per 9 & strike outs per 9. Yes, it was only 12 games and only covered 77 1/3 innings, but it felt like Bieber punched the gas the entire time and never let off. It would have been interesting to see how it would have unfolded if he had an entire season under his belt. Would he have been able to keep this pace up? Would he have ran into a large rough patch? Or would he be a model of consistency and continue to rack up career high numbers?

Unfortunately, we won’t know for sure but might get a window into his development in 2021. This is definitely a season of growth and maturity and it does feel like Bieber has officially put himself into the discussion of top pitchers in the game today. The question will be how much of his dominance will we see next season? While on one hand I can’t wait to find out; on the other, as a Royals fan and having Cleveland in the same division, it would be nice if Kansas City missed him a lot whenever facing the Indians next year. Otherwise, they might be chalking up those games to Cleveland before the game even starts.

My Top 3: 1. Bieber 2. Hyun Jin Ryu 3. Liam Hendriks

IBWAA Winner: Shane Bieber

BBWAA Winner: Shane Bieber

Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

National League Cy Young Award: Trevor Bauer, Cincinnati

There might be no better timing in baseball than a player having a career year right as he is heading toward free agency. This normally means a big contract with a lot of zeros and a lot of years on it. If history holds true, that is what Trevor Bauer did in 2020, claiming his first Cy Young Award.

Bauer was a beast in 2020, leading the NL in ERA, complete games, shutouts, ERA+, WHIP and Hits per 9. In just 73 innings, Bauer posted 2.7 bWAR and set career highs in LOB%, K% and held the lowest BB% and Hard Hit % of his career. In his age 29 season, Bauer showed that he is a top pitcher in this game.

Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how his run in free agency goes. Trevor has always talked about sticking to signing one year deals, so he can control his situation. Here is Bauer to explain his reasoning more:

“I want to be able to be happy playing the game that I love. So I want to end up in situations that make me happy and make me fulfilled. That can be situations like the Reds have, where there’s just a really great group of people that just make me fulfilled as a person,” said Bauer.

“That can be situations like jumping into a team that’s going to go on a playoff run and hopefully win a World Series. That can be a team that would let me pitch every 4th day or treats me with respect in a way that no other team has. Or whatever the case is – there’s certain things that are more important to me than money. And I want to be able to control where I play and when and the situations I’m in so that as I change too, and things become more important to me, or less important to me as I evolve that I can tailor fit my situation to reflect that.”

“I want to be on a contender every year because I love competing at the highest level and the highest level is the World Series,” he said. “So I want to have a chance to go to the World Series every single year. And the way baseball is currently structured, there’s not many teams that go into spring training trying to win the World Series that year.”

So does Bauer stay true to his word and sign a one year deal this offseason? Or does he go against that, realizing he can strike while the iron is hot and receive a long-term deal from a team? This will definitely be an interesting story to follow during the offseason.

My Top 3: 1. Bauer 2. Jacob deGrom 3. Yu Darvish

IBWAA Winner: Trevor Bauer

BBWAA Winner: Trevor Bauer

Credit: Jason Miller/Getty Images

American League MVP: Jose Ramirez, Cleveland

While names like Jose Abreu and Tim Anderson flooded the early discussion for AL MVP, Jose Ramirez sneaked up over the last month or so and made his argument to be at the top of the food chain in the AL.

In fact, from August 24 on, Ramirez lit up pitchers to a tune of .342/.430/.757 with 12 home runs, 28 RBIs, 22 extra base hits and a WPA of 1.579. It felt very obvious that Ramirez helped lead the charge for Cleveland as they made their case to reach the playoffs. 

While he only lead the league in runs scored, he did put up a total line of .292/.386/.607 with an OPS+ of 163 and 133 total bases, just 98 less than 2019 in 71 less games. His 3.4 fWAR lead the American League, with teammate Shane Bieber close behind at 3.2. Ramirez was also 2nd in wOBA at .415, behind only DJ LeMahieau.

While players like Abreu, Anderson or LeMahieau are all worthy of this honor, to me Ramirez felt like the true winner and someone who felt very valuable when it comes to his team’s success.

My Top 3: 1. Ramirez 2. Bieber 3. Abreu

IBWAA Winner: Jose Abreu

BBWAA Winner: Jose Abreu

National League MVP: Freddie Freeman, Atlanta

If there was a player this season that really defined the battle between baseball and COVID-19, it would be Freddie Freeman of the Braves. Freeman actually tested positive for coronavirus back at the beginning of Summer Camp and at one point even had a 104. 5 degree fever. It only feels appropriate that he would be the NL MVP in this shortened season.

Freeman pushed himself to an elite level this year, leading the league in runs, doubles, WPA and fWAR. If that wasn’t enough, he put up a slash line of .341/.462/.640 with 13 home runs, 53 RBIs, and an OPS+ of 186. It’s easy to see why he appeared to be the cream of the NL, but he was able to add more.

Freeman also led the league in line drive % (31.1), 8th in hard hit rate (42.9%), 7th lowest K % (14.1), 5th best walk % (17.2), 2nd in OPS (1.102), 6th in ISO, 7th in BABIP and 2nd in wOBA. While not always in the top five, it’s impressive that Freeman was able to finish in the top 10 of a variety of offensive statistics that shows off his all around game.

While there are very good arguments for both Fernando Tatis, Jr, Mookie Betts and Juan Soto, no one has the numbers all across the board the way Freeman does. Adding in his battle with COVID and the ability to lead his team deep into the playoffs, it only makes sense to name Freddie Freeman National League MVP.

My Top 3: 1. Freeman 2. Tatis, Jr 3. Betts

IBWAA Winner: Freddie Freeman

BBWAA Winner: Freddie Freeman

Credit: USA Today

So while the winners for these awards were worthy of being honored, I can honestly say I hope we never have to make judgements based off of a 60 game season. I’ve been voting for these awards for a number of years now and this felt like the hardest year to truly make a decision on who performed better in a shorter period of time.

While some might say they feel like a regular baseball season is too long, what it allows you to do is truly analyze what each player truly accomplishes over a stretch of 162 games. Doing that in slightly over a third of that number makes it hard to truly trust a lot of decisions that are made.

That being said, let’s hope for a couple things. First, that we get a full season of baseball in 2021. Second, that everyone stays safe and healthy and don’t have their career’s sidetracked by this deadly virus. And finally, that we see more positive than negative for baseball over the next calendar year. Baseball saw a lot of bumps in the road this past year and it might get even bumpier leading up to the players and owners discussing a new CBA. Here’s to more good than selfish decisions being made to help further the game. I’ll get off my soapbox now and get ready for Spring Training.  

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