Vote For Change: My 2018 Year End Awards

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Credit: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The World Series is in the rear-view mirror and free agency has officially begun. That also means we are engulfed in award season, as the BBWAA has unveiled their winners throughout the last week. Meanwhile, my fellow writers in the IBWAA have also chosen their triumphant few and to the victor go the spoils. For the fifth year, I was able to vote as part of this illustrious group and decide on who was truly worthy. If you want to check out my voting record over the years, you just have a few clicks to adhere to: 201420152016 and 2017. As always, it is a true honor to have this opportunity to vote and I always vote with the utmost respect. With that being said, here are my picks to win awards in 2018:

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American League MVP: Mookie Betts

Every year, I plan to pencil in Mike Trout for this award and most years that is how the vote ends up happening. Even last year, despite missing noticeable time due to an injury (or an upgrade, for those that believe Trout is a cyborg) he was my choice for MVP because of the sheer level of production he was putting up. But this year, Trout’s banner year just wasn’t quite enough to topple the year Mookie Betts had. 

Bett’s numbers speak of a new level for him: .346/.438/.640, 32 home runs, 80 RBI’s, an OPS+ of 186, 10.9 bWAR and 10.4 fWAR. Betts lead the American League in runs, batting average, slugging percentage and WAR all while helping lead the charge for the Red Sox to procure another world championship. 

But it wasn’t just the core numbers that won Betts this award. Mookie posted the highest extra base hit % of his career (13.7%), a great AB/HR ratio (16.3%), all while raising his walk rate to 13.2%, the highest of his career.

But what truly sealed the deal for me was his Win Probability Added, which lead the American League. Betts posted a 6.0 WPA according to Baseball-reference and a 5.77 for Fangraphs. The other candidates, most notably Trout and teammate JD Martinez are far enough away that this is a no-contest for me. Betts not only tore up the rest of the league, but was the most vital cog of the Red Sox’s arsenal.  

With Betts posting another great year offensively and defensively (and the third consecutive above six wins a season) it will be interesting to see if the conversation starts of his place on the hierarchy of baseball’s elite. Trout has held the mantle for years, but if Betts keeps up at this pace, we could have to start inserting him into the conversation of ‘Best Player in Baseball’ sooner rather than later.

My Top 3: 1-Betts, 2-Martinez, 3-Trout

IBWAA Winner: Mookie Betts

BBWAA Winner: Mookie Betts

National League MVP: Christian Yelich

When the season began for the Milwaukee Brewers, their big offseason acquisition was former Kansas City Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain. But the other pick-up turned out to be even more notable, as the team went and acquired Christian Yelich from the Miami Marlins. While Cain had a great season, Yelich performed out of this world and garnered himself an MVP trophy.

Yelich has always had the talent to make himself an elite producer and in 2018 he elevated his game to a new stratosphere. By the time the season had wrapped up, Yelich led the NL in batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, total bases and WAR (both bWAR and fWAR) among position players in the league.

What really pushed Yelich over the edge was the second half of the season:

Down the stretch, Yelich was a monster as he hit a robust .370/.508/.804 in the final month of the season, not only cementing this award but also wrapping up a playoff spot for the Brewers.

The biggest change in his game was the elevation of the ball. The funny thing is, Yelich actually saw his fly ball rate go down (23.5%) from last year (25.2%), but he also saw his ground ball rate drop as well (down to 51.8% from last year’s 55.4%). But the increase happened in his line drive rate, which soared to 24.7%, up from 19.4% in 2017. Yelich was making better contact on the ball and it showed in his final numbers.

The cherry on top of the sundae for Yelich is his WPA, which lead in the NL for position players at 6.02. In fact, next on the list is Paul Goldschmidt, who posted a 4.66 WPA. That huge gap (as well as stellar defense) not only helped the Brewers but showed that Christian Yelich is far and away the winner of the National League Most Valuable Player award.

My Top 3: 1-Yelich, 2-Cain, 3-Carpenter

IBWAA Winner: Christian Yelich

BBWAA Winner: Christian Yelich

Credit: 
Brian Blanco/Getty Images

 American League Cy Young Award: Blake Snell

This was easily the hardest vote for me and one that took me awhile to be comfortable with. Snell and Justin Verlander both put up stellar performances in 2018 but only one man can win, and my vote went to Snell despite a few issues that in years past would probably cost him an opportunity to win this award.

Let’s start with the “dark print”, or where Snell lead the league. Snell was first in ERA (1.89), ERA+ (219) and hits per 9 (5.6). There were two more categories that Snell lead in, which I want to focus on a bit deeper. First is RE24 (Run Expectancy, or for pitchers Runs Saved), where Snell lead with 48.4. To give you an idea of just how impressive that number is, the only pitcher better than Snell this past year was Jacob deGrom, who had an absolutely amazing year for the Mets. Also, Snell’s previous high in this category was 1.6…seriously.

The other stat Snell lead in was wins at 21, and I found this a bit amusing. Over the last few years, there has been a progressive movement to “Kill the Win”, with MLB analyst Brian Kenny leading the charge. The reasoning being that there are so many factors involved in a pitcher getting a “W” that doesn’t even involve the pitcher that it feels like an empty statistic. If we are being honest, I never look at a pitcher’s win total anymore. The only time I am even aware of it is if it is mentioned in a broadcast or in an article. The win to me doesn’t factor into how I vote, so I don’t even give it a second thought.

That being said, the other numbers did enough to help his case. But he did receive some stiff competition from Verlander, who lead in strike outs, WHIP, strike out to walk ratio and pitchers WAR. The most notable difference between the two pitchers was innings pitched. Verlander threw an impressive 214 innings over his 34 starts this season, while Snell threw only 180.2 innings over 31 starts.

For some, that would be a deal-breaker. There is a case that can be made that the extra 33 innings thrown by Verlander should count for a bit more and I can see that argument. There aren’t many pitchers that toss 200+ innings in today’s game and having that kind of stallion to ride can be a difference maker.

But for me, the numbers just leaned too far to Snell’s side to get me to throw my vote to Verlander. It was a tough choice and I honestly believe either pitcher is worthy of the award, but at the end of the day I picked Snell, as did both the BBWAA and the IBWAA.

My Top 3: 1-Snell, 2-Verlander, 3-Kluber

IBWAA winner: Blake Snell

BBWAA winner: Blake Snell

National League Cy Young Award: Jacob deGrom

I don’t get to do this very often but…I predicted this at the beginning of the year. Yep, I took a big swing and actually connected for a change. Honestly, this felt like a natural progression for deGrom and it felt like at some point he would put everything all together. That year was 2018.

In fact deGrom absolutely dominated this year and pretty much ran away with this award. deGrom lead the NL in ERA, ERA+, FIP, HR/9, WPA, RE24 and WAR. Dominance isn’t always a given when it comes to pitchers but this year was truly the year of deGrom. 

To give you a deeper view of his dominance, let’s break down a few of the numbers. Batters hit .196/.244/.277 against deGrom, only taking him deep ten times this year. In fact, deGrom only gave up 40 total extra base hits this year over 217 innings. To give you a better view of how big a deal that is, the Anderson twins (Chase and Tyler, and yes, I am aware they aren’t actually twins) both gave up 30 home runs this year, or almost deGrom’s entire extra base total.

Want to go deeper? deGrom gave up 215 total bases. That number is actually pretty close to his 2016 number of 213 total bases. Oh, that was in 69 less innings then he accumulated this year. In other words, deGrom was a machine this year that no one could shut down.

There were even some analysts that felt deGrom was worthy of the NL MVP award this year, and it’s not too far of a reach.  deGrom posted an insane 9.6 bWAR and 8.8 fWAR this year, both fairly large numbers for a starting pitcher. Throw in the 5.85 WPA and you have an argument that determines the value of deGrom is possibly on par with any hitter in the league.

I’ve always viewed the MVP as a hitter’s award, unless there is a pitcher that blows away the rest of the competition. By that, I mean there are players who play every day who are having really, really good seasons but not quite great. If that happens and there is a pitcher who has being insanely dominate, I would vote for the pitcher. In this case, Yelich had an amazing season and because he is out on the field every day, 162 games a year, my vote went to him. 

I know that probably feels like I am slighting pitchers, but I am a firm believer in the mental aspect of the game and the wear and tear it has on position players. To say it is a grind would probably be an understatement. So while deGrom was out of this world this year, so was Yelich. 

Luckily for the Cy Young award, there is no argument. deGrom wins this hands down and can put his season up there with such greats as Gooden, Gibson and Kershaw. Jacob deGrom was the best pitcher in the National League this year, period.

My Top 3: 1-deGrom, 2-Scherzer, 3-Freeland

IBWAA Winner: Jacob deGrom

BBWAA Winner: Jacob deGrom

   

Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

American League Rookie of the Year: Shohei Ohtani

This felt like a slam-dunk for me and I was a bit surprised to hear some backlash from Yankees fans, but the best rookie in the American League this year was Shohei Ohtani. Sure, there were some great performances from Gleyber Torres, Brad Keller and Miguel Andujar, but none of them did what Ohtani did.

Let’s start there: Shohei Ohtani did things this year that hadn’t been done in a century. In. A. Century. Over the last 100+ years of baseball no one has achieved the feats that Ohtani did this year:   


Ohtani is also the first player since Ruth in 1919 to throw 50 innings and hit 15 doubles, or to throw 50 innings and draw 25 walks, or to throw 50 innings and drive in (or score) more than 35 runs, or to throw 50 innings and make 200 plate appearances. He’s also the first player since George Sisler in 1915 to throw 50 innings and steal more than eight bases. You get where I’m going with this. Even Ohtani’s abbreviated rookie run was something no one had seen since before the Black Sox scandal, and it happened in a league that’s vastly more talented and specialized than the one Ruth revolutionized.

You get where we are going with this. Ohtani broke down the norms of what is expected of a major league ballplayer. He was a successful pitcher and hitter in 2018 but that isn’t even all of it. He did all of this while playing in a different league than he was used to. He did all of this while playing in a completely different country than he was used to. If that wasn’t enough, he pretty much made it look easy.

.285/.361/.564 batting line. 22 home runs, 61 RBI’s. OPS+ of 152. 126 ERA+. 1.6 WPA. 29% K rate. All while shuffling in between being a hitter and a pitcher. In a new league. In a new country. If he would have just put up average stats and been an average performer it still would have been impressive. But the fact he made it look easy shows what a true talent he is.

So sure, Andujar, Torres and Keller had great seasons. Any other year it is a different conversation and even possibly a battle for the winner. But this is a no-contest. Ohtani is the Rookie of the Year and no one came close to what he did.

My Top 3: 1-Ohtani, 2-Torres, 3-Keller

IBWAA Winner: Shohei Ohtani

BBWAA Winner: Shohei Ohtani

Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

National League Rookie of the Year: Juan Soto

I mentioned earlier that the AL Cy Young was the toughest one to pick a winner, but a close second was this race. Juan Soto and Ronald Acuna were not only two rookies that shined in 2018, but they were pretty close to equals as well.

The two rookies tied for fWAR (3.7), were separated by four homers, 6 RBI’s, and .001 in batting average. Soto had a slightly higher OBP, while Acuna’s slugging was a bit higher. wRC+? Soto 146, Acuna 143. In other words, either player was worthy of being the best of 2018, but only one could win. 

In matters like this, where two competitors are so close that you would have to break a tie, I normally lean toward value. Looking at WPA, Soto had the sizable lead, 3.46 to Acuna’s 1.96. RE24 is a bit closer, but still a runaway for Soto (30.45 to 26.69). Finally, with the Clutch stat on Fangraphs, Soto wins again, 0.22 to -0.12. When it came down to helping their team and making sure they are put in winning situations, Soto came away with a lengthy lead.

So while you can see why I picked Soto, it’s not like Acuna wasn’t deserving. In fact, these two were so good this year that you almost forget all the other great rookies in the National League. Guys like Harrison Bader and Walker Buehler are rarely talked about despite putting up numbers that are very good for a first year player. With a NL class like this, you wonder who will break out and shrug off the ‘Sophomore Slump’ in 2019. If this year was any kind of barometer,  Soto and Acuna will soon be the cream of the crop of not just the NL, but the entire baseball world.

My Top 3: 1-Soto, 2-Acuna, 3-Buehler

IBWAA Winner: Ronald Acuna

BBWAA Winner: Ronald Acuna

    

Credit: AP Photo/Steve Nesius

American League Manager of the Year: Kevin Cash

This was another close race and one that could easily be a three-way tie. Bob Melvin of Oakland led his team of vagabonds and youngsters to a playoff spot despite starting the year with the lowest payroll in the game and 34-36 on June 15.  Alex Cora led the Red Sox to 108 wins (and eventually a world championship) in his rookie year as a manager and was able to turn away the playoff bound New York Yankees.

But what Kevin Cash did with the Tampa Bay Rays is some other level managing job. Cash propelled a team that was supposed to hang out in the basement of the American League East and led them to a 90 win season. Despite the team trading off some of their best players before the trade deadline, they went out and turned themselves into contenders. The funniest part of the whole deal is he did this almost from a survival standpoint.

The Rays lost a couple of their top pitching prospects (Jose De Leon and Brent Honeywell) before the season to injuries. Anthony Banda joined that list a few months into the season. After trading Chris Archer at the trade deadline, they were left with one actual starting pitcher. The lack of starters led Cash to use “The Opener”, where he would have a reliever start the game, pitch an inning or two and then hand the ball off to someone who could go deeper into the game.

This wasn’t done to be cute or try something new out as much as just a lack of starting pitching…and it worked. ‘The Opener’ became a regular part of their rotation and helped bridge the gap for a number of their younger pitchers.

The team focused on good pitching and defense and that helped get them to third place in the East, ten games behind the second place Yankees. Cash pushed the right buttons and his calm demeanor helped keep his team focused through a number of rough patches.

So while Melvin and Cora deserve a ton of praise, Kevin Cash deserves this award. If anything, Cash earned his managerial stripes in 2018 and has come out with a contract extension. It’s too bad he didn’t get some hardware to go with it. 

My Top 3: 1-Cash, 2-Melvin, 3-Cora

IBWAA Winner: Bob Melvin

BBWAA Winner: Bob Melvin

         

Credit: Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

National League Manager of the Year: Brian Snitker

The story of Brian Snitker is one that easily could be made into a ‘feel good’ movie for Disney. Snitker is a guy who has been the loyal soldier, a guy who has been in the Atlanta organization since 1977, when he was a minor league player. He has managed for almost every one of their minor league teams and even spent a stint as the major league team’s third base coach from 2007 to 2013. Snitker has been there and done that when it comes to the Braves organization.

But in May of 2016, Snitker was promoted to manager for the Braves on an interim basis and he would get the job full-time in October of that year. So the path Brian took to this role was a long and lengthy one, but he didn’t really reach his stride until this past season.

What Snitker did in 2018 is something no one, not even the Atlanta front office, expected. He led the Braves to a 90 win season, a National League East title and their first playoff appearance since 2013. This from a team that wasn’t really supposed to contend until 2019.

But it shouldn’t be too surprising it came early. With a nice mix of veterans (Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis) and top-shelf prospects (Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna), the Braves took advantage of the Washington Nationals’ pratfall and dominated the NL East for most of the season. While the talent will get most of the credit, Snitker deserves some heavy praise for the culture he has fostered in Atlanta. Former Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur told a great story of Snitker that goes back years before:


One of Jeff Francoeur’s favorite stories occurred after he homered a few times for Double-A Mississippi and then got drilled in the ribs against Montgomery. Snitker instructed a reliever to retaliate. When the pitcher simply buzzed a batter, Snitker blasted the pitcher in the dugout and told him to get out of his sight.
When one of Mississippi’s pitchers retaliated the next inning, the benches cleared and the umpires halted the game.
“After we got back in the clubhouse, [Snitker] grabbed a beer and told us he had never been more proud of the way we came together as a team that day,” Francoeur said. “If you play for him, you know he’s always going to protect you and have your back.”

Probably one of the best ways to describe Snitker is hard but fair. It appears that his mentality is exactly what this Braves team needed. Craig Counsell and Bud Black did some great things for Milwaukee and Colorado, respectively, but Snitker’s accomplishment this year has earned my vote for NL Manager of the Year.

My Top 3: 1-Snitker, 2-Black, 3-Counsell

IBWAA Winner: Brian Snitker

BBWAA Winner: Brian Snitker

 

Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

American League Reliever of the Year: Blake Treinen

Blake Treinen of Oakland had a year for the ages in 2018. Before this year, Treinen was almost a stereotype for a reliever: Great stuff,  but not consistent enough with his location. Treinen could miss bats, but didn’t miss them as much as he needed them to.

That all changed this past year, as Treinen’s late break on his pitches helped increase his numbers across the board. He bumped up his strike out rate to 31.8% (previous high was 24%) and saw his walk rate take a dip. Hitters also went from hitting .271 against him in 2017 to .157 this year. 

Treinen posted an ERA of 0. 78 and a FIP of 1.82. An interesting look into his numbers show a guy who’s luck appeared to switch around in 2018. In 2017, batters posted a BABIP of .344 against him. Luck was not on his side. But in 2018, his BABIP was .230, .114 points lower. Whatever he changed this year made a huge difference in his results.

What’s interesting is there is a huge difference when it comes to pitch usage this past season. Treinen did use his slider a bit less (21% compared to 25.5% in 2017) but  his cutter was used 11.8%, up from 0.5%. His velocity also saw a slight uptick this year, but nothing that will blow the doors off. More than anything it appears he used his cutter slightly more and the extra movement made it harder to put the ball in play. 

Whatever he did, it appears to have elevated him to the top of the relief game in the American League. His dominance not only helped lift Oakland to a playoff spot, but also my nod for American League Reliever of the Year.

My Top 3: 1-Treinen, 2-Diaz, 3-Leclerc

IBWAA Winner: Edwin Diaz

BBWAA Winner: Edwin Diaz

National League Reliever of the Year: Josh Hader

There was no reliever in the NL this last year that dominated quite like Josh Hader. Hader steamrolled through the league in his second season and left a litany of whiffs in his path. My comparison has been ‘Mitch Williams with control’ and in 2018 he proved to be a force to be reckoned with. 

Let’s begin with the numbers:  2.43 ERA, 2.23 FIP, 2.7 fWAR over 81 innings. Hader struck out batters at a 46.7% clip while posting a K-BB% of 36.9%. The best part is that he did this basically using two pitches: a fastball and a slider.

What Hader did was basically tell the hitter “here it is, now hit it” and most of the time the batter failed. Hader did allow nine homers this year, which equates to allowing one every nine innings. Hitters did make contact on Hader at almost a 70% clip when he put the ball in the strike zone. But this one blemish wasn’t enough to take away from his great year.

With Jeremy Jeffress still in the fold, it will be interesting to see if he continues to close or if Hader will get more opportunities in 2019. Hader did save 12 games and blow 5 (if you keep track of that stuff) and that number could see an increase in the next season. What Hader has done is put the rest of baseball on alert that he is one of the best relievers in all of the game, no matter what inning he is throwing in.

My Top 3: 1-Hader, 2-Jeffress, 3-Erlin

IBWAA Winner: Josh Hader

BBWAA Winner: Josh Hader

 

Credit: Jim Young-USA TODAY Sports

So there you have it, another season officially wraps up as we reward those that reached the highest of achievements. It is a great honor that I get to vote every year like this and I can only hope I do a respectable part to show the value of an organization like the IBWAA. This is a game we all love and while we might squabble here and there on numbers, it really comes down to what you value. I can only hope 2019 brings us just as many highly contested winners. Here’s to baseball being back sooner rather than later.

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And the Winner is…

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The 2014 Major League Baseball season has come to an end, which also means that all ballots have been turned in to decide the winners in the awards to be announced this week. I was fortunate to turn in my first ballot as a member of the IBWAA, the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, this year and realized a few things. One, this isn’t as easy as one thinks it is. I spent a lot of time thinking about who I really felt should win these awards and who truly should be honored. I also realized that it is MY vote, and though I am positive some will disagree with it, it is just one man’s opinion. I also should stress this: I turned in my ballot about two weeks before the end of the season. In hindsight, I probably should have waited, but that is a lesson learned and will prepare better for 2015. So without any further ado, here are my winners for the 2014 season…

American League MVP: Alex Gordon, Kansas City

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We can probably all agree that Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels had the best numbers for a player in the American League this year. I don’t argue that, nor am I trying to take that away from him. But my vote was based more on who was more valuable to his team this year in the league, and in my opinion that man is Alex Gordon. Not too long ago I made Gordon’s case for MVP, as I felt he shouldn’t be overlooked when it came time for the voting. I know I am a bit biased, if for no other reason than the fact that I watch the large majority of Royals games during the season. The thing about Gordon is his numbers don’t tell the whole story; he is the leader of this Royals team in so many facets of the game. Obviously his defense is of another caliber, as most know. His WAR numbers get a nice bump from his defensive metrics, as he finished the year 7th in the AL in bWAR with 6.6 and 5th in fWAR with 6.1. You could also add in the 27 defensive runs he saved this year on defense, 1st in the league with Josh Donaldson far behind in 2nd place with 20 DRS. Gordon is also an excellent base runner, and was most valuable when the Royals needed him to be. Gordon basically carried the team on his back in August, a month where the Royals made one of their biggest pushes for a playoff spot. Gordon had a slash line of .292/.356/.585 with 9 home runs and 16 RBI’s. Alex was what the Royals needed when they needed it this year to help propel them to the playoffs. This Royals team doesn’t go on the run they went on in the playoffs if not for Gordon being a leader during the regular season. In fact, without him this Royals team doesn’t even get to October. For that, my most valuable player vote goes to Alex Gordon.

National League MVP & Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles

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What else can be said about Clayton Kershaw’s season that hasn’t already been said? Kershaw had a season for the ages, one that was so good that the comparison’s toward all-time great Sandy Koufax don’t really feel far-fetched anymore. Kershaw lead the league in Wins(if you like that sort of thing), Win-Loss Percentage, ERA, Complete Games, ERA+, FIP, WHIP, Strikeouts per 9 inn., Strikeout to Walk Ratio and was an All-Star as well. Oh, and he threw his first career no-hitter, a game so dominant that only one other pitcher(Kerry Wood) has thrown a better game, and that was just a piddly 20-strikeout game. All this while missing the entire month of April(after throwing the season opener in Australia)! Kershaw was so dominate this season that I also felt like he was the MVP of the National League, which some folks in baseball(hello, Tommy Lasorda) feel a pitcher shouldn’t win the award for Most Valuable Player. But when a pitcher has a season like this (and no other major candidate really sticks out) it throws that pitcher into the MVP conversation. I had seriously considered both Andrew McCutchen of Pittsburgh and Giancarlo Stanton of Miami for the award, but alas I felt Kershaw was more valuable to the Dodgers success than either of those two were for their teams. Kershaw winning MVP isn’t like Willie Hernandez winning American League MVP back in 1984; Kershaw is not only an elite pitcher at the moment but if he continues on the path he is going he could be an all-time great. So as preposterous as some believe a pitcher winning MVP is, just remember it in the proper context; Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball and it isn’t even close.

American League Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, Seattle  

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Out of all the votes I had to place, this was easily the toughest decision to make. It came down to Hernandez and Corey Kluber of Cleveland and honestly, a pick either way didn’t feel like a bad one. As someone who watches close to every Royals game during the season I had seen Kluber several times and saw just how dominant he was for the Indians this year and in some ways that almost swayed my vote. Obviously in a close vote you compare numbers and once again, they were pretty damn even. David Schoenfield goes into great detail about just how close this race was and why really neither pitcher was a bad choice. My only hope is no one voted for Kluber just based off of win totals; that would just seem silly. I think the biggest argument for Hernandez(at least in my eyes) was his streak of 16 starts of at least 7 innings giving up 2 runs or less which he held this year until August 17th. The previous mark was set all the way back in 1971 by Tom Seaver as he set the mark of 13 starts. In this day in age, where most starters have a rough time going more than 6 innings a start and where teams employ lockdown bullpens as part of their strategy, the fact a starting pitcher could accomplish this feat is borderline amazing. The fact that Hernandez was able to accomplish this really swayed my vote and was enough to warrant his second Cy Young award. The real point of this is that if I would have gone with Kluber it wouldn’t have been a bad choice either; there was no bad choices. Just two pitchers who had excellent seasons and both deserved consideration for this award.

American League Rookie of the Year: Jose Abreu, Chicago   

Cleveland Indians v Chicago White Sox

This was about as easy a choice as possible. From almost day one Abreu showed he was the real deal, which is never a certainty with any talent from Cuba. But Abreu made sure it was known early he was as advertised, hitting 29 home runs, a slash line of .292/.342/.630 and an sOPS+ of 169 in the first half of the season. His power numbers went down in the second half, hitting only 7 home runs while producing a slugging percentage of .513 and raising his batting average and sOPS+. I’m sure the longer season wore on Abreu, but all in all he put in a rookie season that should be praised for years to come. It’s a bit unfortunate that Abreu ran away with this award, as the American League put together a nice crop of rookies in 2014, from New York Yankees Masahiro Tanaka and Dellin Bettances to Kansas City’s flame-throwing hurler Yordano Ventura. All had really solid opening campaigns but none matched Abreu who should be a solid bat in Chicago’s batting order for years to come.

National League Rookie of the Year: Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati

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This race was much closer than it’s AL counterpart, as it came down to New York Mets pitcher Jacob DeGrom and Cincinnati’s Billy Hamilton. Honestly, an argument for either rookie is valid and a part of me almost voted for DeGrom. But I liked all the different area’s of the game that Hamilton helped the Reds this year. Everyone knows of Hamilton’s speed, he of the 56 steals this year. But he also produced 200 total bases only grounded into 1 double play this year and 39 extra bases. There was a small downside to his year; Hamilton struck out a ridiculous amount for a top of the order guy, 117 times, and was caught stealing 23 times. Both of these facets will need to be improved upon in 2015 for him elevate his game. Defensively Hamilton was more than solid; 14 defensive runs saved in 2014, 10 assists and an 1.8 dWAR. Overall a more than solid rookie campaign for Billy Hamilton(and likewise for DeGrom) and for the Reds sake(especially if they want to contend in 2015) hopefully he can grow on it.

American League Manager of the Year: Bob Melvin, Oakland 

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I mentioned earlier that I should have waited and locked in my votes during the last week of the season and this selection is a big reason why. Do I think Bob Melvin did a fabulous job managing the A’s in 2014? Of course. This was a team that was one of the elite in baseball for a large chunk of the season, a team of no superstars, compiled together and platooned–yet they still reached the playoffs. But just barely and Oakland’s second half collapse almost cost them that postseason spot, one they didn’t clinch until the last weekend and left them in Kansas City for the one game “battle to the death” Wild Card game. For that reason I feel like I should have waited to vote, as Buck Showalter deserved high praise for this honor and very well might have been my vote. Hell, throw Mike Scioscia’s hat into this argument as well, as the Angels came from behind to not only win the American League West but put together the best record in the league. Lesson learned by me, but I still think Melvin should get a ton of credit. No way does Oakland even sniff the playoffs if an average manager is in charge of this team. Melvin maneuvered and coddled this roster and got top notch performance out of his team. Something has to be said for being able to get the most out of the talent you have, especially when your talent doesn’t always match up with the best teams in baseball.

National League Manager of the Year: Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh 

MLB: NL Wild Card-Cincinnati Reds at Pittsburgh Pirates

The easy thing is to say Hurdle deserved this honor more in 2013. That year he guided Pittsburgh to their first playoff spot in over 20 years and helped the Pirates slay some demons. But for all the love Hurdle got in 2013, he deserves even more for his managerial work in 2014. Hurdle helped the Pirates reach the playoffs again this past season and did it without their ace from 2013(A.J. Burnett), their closer fizzled out and was eventually traded(Jason Grilli), they lost their star(Andrew McCutchen) for a few weeks and lost their future ace(Gerrit Cole) multiple times to the disabled list. Despite all of this the Pirates made back to back appearances into the postseason and although that only lasted one game(thanks to Brandon Crawford and Madison Bumgarner) it just showed the great job Hurdle did as manager this season. Honorable mention should go out to both Matt Williams of Washington and Mike Redmond of Miami. Both did a great job with their team this past year and that was not lost on me. It just felt like Hurdle accomplished the insurmountable and continued to show that he has been one of the best Pittsburgh acquisitions the last few years.

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So there you go, my picks for the 2014 IBWAA end of season awards. This was a great learning experience and makes me even more pumped for my next ballot, the upcoming Hall of Fame vote. Voting seems like an easy chore from the outside looking in, yet there is a decent amount of pressure if you take them seriously. I have a feeling that the next vote will go a bit smoother. The great thing about the voting process is that they inspire endless debate. One man’s vote is another man’s worst nightmare…that was mainly meant for anyone who voted Ned Yost ‘Manager of the Year’. So you might not agree with my vote’s, just know that can go both ways. It is all just a matter of opinion at the end of the day.

Missed Calls & The Battle for Instant Replay

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So you thought you had a rough week? Try being a Major League Baseball umpire. This week shone a giant light on the element of human error in the umpires and put more emphasis on instant replay. Let’s start with what went on in Cleveland Wednesday night.

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Adam Rosales of Oakland stepped to the plate against Cleveland’s Chris Perez with Cleveland leading 4-3. Rosales hit a blast to left center field and it looked like it hit off the railing in the seats and bounced back onto the field. The umpires called it a double, claiming it hit the wall. Oakland A’s manager Bob Melvin came out to dispute the call, and the umpires reconvened to look at instant replay. After viewing the video(which was blatantly a home run)the umpires came back and the double held up. Melvin was infuriated and rightfully so, as the umpires have more than one angle they can look at the play from and have more than one feed for it as well, with both the Oakland and Cleveland broadcasts available. Somehow, the umpires still felt the ball hit below the top of the wall. Melvin was eventually ejected from the game and Oakland would lose by that 4-3 score.

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Major League Baseball declared the next day that it was an improper call made by Crew Chief Angel Hernandez, but the call would stand. But the story doesn’t end there. How can you screw up instant replay, especially when it seemed so obvious what the call should have been? Peter Gammons seems to think this was done on purpose as an objection to instant replay. Make sure you click and read that column. WOW! Now, Gammons doesn’t ever just throw out accusations like that, as it just isn’t his style. So for him to go out in a public forum and say that must mean there is a lot of validity behind that statement. So some of the umpires don’t want instant replay? I’m not shocked, but in the end we will get more instant replay. But Hernandez’s gaffe wouldn’t be the only one by an umpire this week.

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During Thursday’s Angels/Astros match up, Houston manager Bo Porter decided to make a pitching change in the 7th inning. He brought in reliever Wesley Wright, while Angels manager Mike Scioscia decided to use a pinch hitter to combat Wright coming in. Porter then called for another reliever to counteract Scioscia’s move, bringing in Hector Ambriz. The problem is by major league baseball rules that is a no-no.   Rule 3.05b says: “If the pitcher is replaced, the substitute pitcher shall pitch to the batter then at bat, or any substitute batter, until such batter is put out or reaches first base, or until the offensive team is put out, unless the substitute pitcher sustains injury or illness which, in the umpire-in-chief’s judgment, incapacitates him for further play as a pitcher.” To make a tad bit simpler, if you bring a pitcher into the game, he has to pitch to at least one batter before you can take him out and put in a new pitcher. This was, of course, Scioscia’s argument and led to a long heated debate between himself and the umpires. There is normally a four man umpiring crew, yet all four men in blue believed Porter could bring in another pitcher without Wright pitching to a batter. Think about that for a bit. The four guys who are in the game to uphold the rules didn’t know what the actual longstanding rule was! Scioscia would then protest the game, as it continued and eventually the Angels would win in spite of this entire mess.

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Major League Baseball reacted fast again, suspending Crew Chief Fieldin Culbreth for two games and fining Adrian Johnson, Brian O’Nora and Bill Welke. This is almost uncharted territory, as very rarely do umpires get suspended, especially for just a missed call. Granted, this was no normal missed call. But it does show that Major League Baseball is paying attention and realizes that umpires should be punished for their mistakes, just like players and coaches are. But the hot button topic that these two miscues seemed to have elicited is instant replay.

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Instant replay has been maybe the most discussed topic in baseball circles for years now, yet we still see very little actually used during games. The most widely discussed argument is that the human element has been used for years and the percentage of mistakes an umpire actually make are few and far between. There is truth in that statement, but it ignores the main issue that keeps the topic from continually popping up: the actual mistakes. It seems odd that in 2013, with the technology that is available nowadays, that baseball still hasn’t adopted instant replay. When people at home can EASILY tell when a call is blown, it makes no sense to not use the technology out there and make sure the umpires get the call right. It’s as simple as putting a 5th umpire up in the press box and giving him a very short amount of time to look at the play and render a decision. Why it isn’t as easy as that is a completely different conversation.

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So why are we still waiting on Major League Baseball to adopt full blown instant replay? There are two factors. One, Allan H. Selig and the rest of the good ole boys that are the major league owners are very old-school and don’t want to change with the times. Look, I’m an open minded traditionalist when it comes to baseball, but just since Selig has been in office, baseball has added the wild card, started interleague play and added a bit of instant replay. So that reason shouldn’t fly. No, the real reason is money. It cost extra money for the equipment. It cost extra  money for a 5th umpire. The NFL spends about $4 million a year on instant replay, while baseball has ten times the amount of games football does, it would knock that cost well into eight figures. But the sad part is baseball can afford it. Look at the recent TV deals. Baseball is swimming in money, so they have no excuse not to pony up the cash and equipment and make instant replay happen. It makes the sport look bad when everyone else can see what they choose to ignore. Unless somehow they get some sick pleasure from their umpires screwing up calls on a nightly basis. If that is the case, we might be waiting awhile.

2013 Predictions That Will Probably Be Wrong By June

openind day 13Spring Training has started and before you know the 2013 baseball season will be underway. Spring might be the best time for most teams, as everyone is filled with hope and think their team could be THE team. Yes, even some Houston Astros fans. Or not. Hope springs eternal and Spring gives team eternal hope, even when they maybe should be more realistic. With the season only six weeks away, I will go ahead and try to guess how the season will unfold. Just remember when June rolls around to not point out my bad predictions(or bad guesses, however you want to word it) and realize that very few so called “experts” can predict what will happen. That’s part of what makes baseball so great. So without further ado, here are my division predictions for 2013.

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AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

1.Tampa Bay

2.Toronto

3. New York

4. Baltimore

5. Boston

This might be the hardest division to handicap. I literally could rotate most of these teams in any slot and wouldn’t really argue too much with the results. Tampa almost seems like the safe bet, since Joe Maddon and company always find a way to win and probably have the best rotation in the American League. I like what Toronto has done this offseason, especially with how their rotation will shape up. Dickey, Morrow, Buerhle, Johnson and Romero? If everyone stays healthy, that could be a lethal round of arms. The Blue Jays could also turn out like the Marlins did last year, so they might be interesting to follow. I hate putting the Yankees in third place, especially since they did nothing major this offseason and in fact lost talent, but they still have some good arms, and they are the Yankees. Unfortunately. Baltimore will slip, as no team can keep up the amount of luck this team had last year(especially in extra innings), but they still won’t be a bad team. Buck Showalter is too good of a manager for that. Boston is at the bottom of my list, but I do think they will be better than they were last year. Farrell will do fine in his first year in Beantown, but this team still doesn’t have the firepower they have had in the past. All in all, this division will be a fun one to watch, and might have the most depth of the bunch.

Royals-Walk-Off-Celebration-436x350AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

1. Detroit

2. Cleveland

3. Chicago

4. Kansas City

5. Minnesota

This pains me more than you will ever know. Let’s start at the top, with the Tigers. Detroit won the Central late last year, after Chicago held the top start for a good chunk of 2012. Not only did the Tigers get to the World Series, they have IMPROVED since last year. Detroit now gets Anibal Sanchez for a full season, Victor Martinez returns from injury and they added Torii Hunter to the team, which will help them offensively, defensively and in the clubhouse. No reason to think the Motor City will be giving up the reigns on the division anytime soon. I’m going ahead and taking Cleveland second, although you should be able to flip flop them and Chicago in all honesty. I really like the moves that the Indians have made this offseason and the biggest acquisition has to be manager Terry Francona. Francona alone makes that team better in 2013 and when you add in Swisher, Bourn, Stubbs, and Bauer, and the offense looks tons better than they did last year. The real question with Cleveland will be their pitching and whether or not they can get Ubaldo Jimenez back to being the guy who made NL batters look dumb. Chicago ran out of gas late last year, but they have a lot of quality young arms and somehow GM Kenny Williams always makes it work. It’s easy to say they will fall a bit this year, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they don’t. I’ve got Kansas City sitting in fourth place and I will go into more detail obviously when the season gets closer. To shorten up my thoughts, the Royals have a lot of ‘ifs’ going into this year and they are counting on a lot of things that didn’t work in 2012 to work in 2013. That is really expecting some major changes, when not as much has changed with this team as they have people thinking. Just saying, you might want to hold off on purchasing those playoff tickets, my Royal Blue brethren. Minnesota takes up the bottom of the league, but I have to believe they will be better than they were last year. If the Twins play this year like they did last year, I think Ron Gardenhire might blow a gasket and up and quit before the season is over. A part of me is leery to count out the Twinkies. They are THAT team, the one who never truly goes away. Just ask the Royals about that. I know everyone thinks the Central is the worse division in baseball, and they might be right. But it is already way better than it was this time last year.

2013 al westAMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

1. Los Angeles

2. Texas

3. Oakland

4. Seattle

5. Houston

Another good division, with a number of teams that could contend for a playoff spot. It is also a division with one extra team this year, as the Astros move over to the American League and join the West. Granted, they were kind of held at gunpoint to move and really didn’t want to, but they are there now and a number of NL Central teams are a lot sadder because of it. Let’s start at the top with the Angels. I’ve got them in first, and will freely admit that it is partially because they are my second favorite team. Year two of the Pujols Project should help the team way more than last year, and they’ve even added that Hamilton guy to take some of the load off of Albert’s back. Oh yeah, and there is that Trout guy as well. I’ve heard he’s pretty good. Texas is slotted in second, but they just as easily could get first. One wonders if their early exit out of the playoffs will motivate them or let it linger as the season begins. Even though the Rangers have lost some key players(Hamilton, Young, etc.) I love the young talent that is shooting up the pipeline for the Rangers and think they will be just as lethal as they were before. Oakland is in third, but it is hard to bet against Bob Melvin and company. This team has no stars, and yet had over 90 wins last year. They still have the good pitching that guided them to the playoffs last year and an offense that buys into what Melvin and Billy Beane are selling. If the team makes a push at the traded deadline they could once again win the West in 2013. The Mariners are booked for fourth place and I want to like this team more. I think they have a some really good young talent, but I totally don’t know what they are thinking with the offseason acquisitions. I mean, does the team really need 253 outfielders/first basemen/designated hitters? They do realize that those three areas only cover 5 spots in the order, right? It just doesn’t make much sense. Lastly, the Astros will take up the cellar of the West. This team is completely rebuilding, and as much as they should be credited for it, it will make for a very, very long season in Houston. Good luck, Astros fans. You are going to need it.

NL-East-Batting-Practice-featuredNATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

1. Washington

2. Atlanta

3. New York

4. Philadelphia

5. Miami

The top of this division will probably have a couple of the best teams in the league. They also might have a couple of the worst. Washington looks to once again see October baseball this year, as they have both Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper for a full season. This is just a really, really good team with lots of great talent and depth. Yes, depth will win you games, especially come postseason. Atlanta looks at a possible second place finish, although anyone who thinks they win the division might not be too far off. Great pitching, great offense, great defense and this team will probably be a wild card team when it is all said and done. The Upton boys will get a full season playing together and even with the loss of Chipper Jones might not slow down Atlanta as much as originally thought. I’ve got the Mets in third place, as this team seems on the verge of some really good seasons. It is a young bunch, but one with some great up and comers. I think they will be way better than anyone gives them credit for. Philadelphia takes up fourth place, and I am aware the team still has Halladay and Lee. But they also have a group of aging veterans(Utley, Rollins, Howard) and players who are bloated and overpaid(Delmon Young, Yuniesky Betancourt). Phillies fans, a lull is in your future. Embrace it. As much doom and gloom as the Phillies seem to be, the Marlins are in worse shape. Another rebuilding year. A rookie manager. A bunch of new, young faces. Don’t embrace this, Marlins fans. You deserve better.

pittsbNATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

1. Cincinnati

2. St. Louis

3. Pittsburgh

4. Milwaukee

5. Chicago

The National League Central hosts one less team this year. Unfortunately for the other five teams, they won’t have the Astros to feast on anymore. Let’s start with the Reds, who sit atop the perch of this division. Dusty Baker’s team was right on the verge of getting to the NLCS this past fall, but those pesky Giants took that dream away from them. It was kind of San Francisco’s thing this past year. Back to the Reds. They are basically bringing back the same team, and with it probably the NL Central title. If I had to find something that worried me, it would be the switch of Aroldis Chapman to the rotation. I don’t get it, but we’ll see how it goes. The Cardinals will make it interesting for Cincy, but the loss of Chris Carpenter for the year could cause the Cards to go out and pick up another starter, although using someone like Shelby Miller might do just as good a job. I totally think this is the year Pittsburgh FINALLY gets a winning season, even if it is just a few games over .500. The baseball Gods have to be looking out for those faithful fans that have stuck by that team for so long. With Andrew McCutchen leading the charge, I see good things in the Pirates future. Milwaukee takes up fourth, as it seems the team just doesn’t have the pitching to keep it in the hunt. Rounding out the division is the Cubs. Now, I completely think Chicago will be better this year, especially with the great offseason they had acquiring pitching. But the team is still fairly young and will go through some growing pains. Stay strong, Cubs fans. Your time is coming soon.

San Francisco Giants v Colorado RockiesNATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

1. San Francisco

2. Los Angeles

3. Arizona

4. San Diego

5. Colorado

What a hot mess this division could turn out to be? Almost any of the last four teams could collapse and make for a rough season for their ballclubs. Or they could go on a hot streak and give San Francisco a run for their money. The Giants are not only the defending World Champions, but with their team basically kept in tact, could be a favorite for another world title. Their pitching alone should have the other teams in their league worried. The Dodgers have the chance of giving their rivals a run for their money, but it could go the other way. A lot of money spent does not guarantee one a playoff spot. Ask the Red Sox about that. There is a part of me that can’t wait until Zack Greinke implodes in LA, but how soon that happens is anyone’s guess. There is a good chance it won’t be this year. The Dodgers could be interesting to follow, just to see how the team chemistry is in that clubhouse. Also in the conversation is Arizona, but they also had a major upheaval. The team got rid of their best player, and got rid of any players who don’t live by manager Kirk Gibson’s hard nosed style. This will either be a team who is fun to watch, or one that has to scrap to score runs. San Diego will get a reprieve again from last place, mainly because Bud Black is really good at his managing job. I hope the Padres are paying attention, since that guy deserves a more competitive team. Last once again looks like it will be Colorado. Some changes have been made, and one is curious to see how first year manager Walt Weiss does. I have to believe that if Troy Tulowitzki is healthy, this could be a much better team. But like all things in this game, that is a big if.

So there you go, my predictions for 2013. I’m sure I will be forced to eat my words within a few months and you’ll want to point out where I was wrong. You’re right; I should have just gone with a Cubs/Red Sox World Series! I’m sure Major League baseball and the Fox Network would just love that. Now….LET’S PLAY BALL!

Cheering for the New Kids

If one thing stands out when it comes to the teams looking to make the playoffs this season, it would be a new batch of younger, hungry teams look to be October bound. There is nothing like rooting for the underdog come the playoffs, hoping they can knock off a team like the Yankees. Three teams stand out to me this year as teams to root for in the postseason.

1) Washington Nationals

No one is surprised that the Nationals are making their first trip to the playoffs. What is a surprise is that it came this early. Washington is a team that did it the right way. Most of the Nationals talent are homegrown, from Stephen Strasburg to Bryce Harper. Sprinkle in some veteran pitchers(Gio Gonzalez), some cast-offs(Mike Morse), and one big free agent signing(Jayson Werth) and you have a team that could be a regular in the playoffs for years to come. Credit Gm Mike Rizzo for piecing this team together, and credit Manager Davey Johnson for getting them to gel. They will be interesting to follow, since Strasburg has been shut down, but this is a talented team that can go a ways just on their pitching. My guess? A NLCS appearance, before being knocked off in six or seven games.

2)Oakland A’s

In my On Deck Circle last week(which is weekly on kvoe.com), I discussed just how this team has been winning. If ever there was a team of nobodies that are surprising baseball, this is the team. Not only that, they are doing it in a rough division, which has the Rangers, Angels and Felix Hernandez. The fact they have gotten this far should be a sign of the great work of Billy Beane and Bob Melvin. But it is also a sign of what young talent can do, especially young pitching. Don’t expect any name players, or any stars to step up and dominate for this team. The concept of team is vital for this ragtag bunch, and so far it is guiding them to October. The A’s will probably be one of the wild card teams, so it’s a 50/50 shot of where they will end up. Either one and done, or going on to the ALDS. I wouldn’t expect them to go much farther, but so far they aren’t following convention. So if they go farther, don’t be surprised.

3) Baltimore Orioles

Now, here is a team I can get behind! The Baltimore Orioles are having one of those miracle seasons that are just amazing to watch. This is another team built around youth and veterans, and the mixture is working so far. Buck Showalter continues his career trajectory of turning every team around that he touches, as the Orioles are poised to make their first playoff appearance since 1997. There are stars on this team, like Adam Jones, and there are some great young talent like Manny Machado. Throw in some Jim Thome, a dash of Mark Reynolds, and a pinch of Nate McLouth and you have a recipe for a resurgent Baltimore franchise. This team has gotten by this year thanks to great relief work, clutch hitting and late inning heroics. Those are actually all great qualities for a playoff team, so don’t be surprised if this team makes a big run. World Series, possibly? Possibly. Yes, it seems crazy, but there is no reason to doubt them now. This team has been winning when they need to all year, so another rush of wins isn’t out of the question. If not, it is still a great story to follow. What was once a storied franchise could now make a case to add to their legacy…and we gain by watching it!

So there you go. Three teams to watch in the playoffs this year that can fill your heart with shock and awe. October can be a kooky month, so don’t be surprised if one of these teams makes a late appearance. Before you snicker and say no, who had the St. Louis Cardinals as the World Series Champions a week before the end of the 2011 season? Didn’t think so. So get ready folks, the playoffs are coming and don’t expect to see it coming. Trust me, it will be worth it.

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