The 2016 season has come to a close, which is unfortunate in some respects. But it appears we are going to have an exciting postseason ahead of us--we always do, honestly--perhaps adding a little bit of sunshine on the overall sadness that another year has gone by.
But, with every 2,430 games that come in a single baseball season, some players (and managers), stand out above the rest. Thus, we honor them, and I’ll do my best here to provide my selections for both leagues’ top awards. Without further ado, my MVP picks and choices for the rest of the major awards. . .
National League Most Valuable Player: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs (8.4 fWAR)
It’s still hard to think that Bryant was a rookie just last year, but the former No. 2 overall pick has proven why he was one of the most hyped prospects since Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. Bryant, this season, hit for a .292/.385/.554 slash, popping 39 home runs and driving in 102 RBI. He’s been by far the best player on by far the best team in baseball, making the MVP award almost a lock for him.
Worth nothing: The Cubs as a whole have four of the top-15 players in OBP this season, and they’re all right near each other, at Nos. 11, 13, and two tied for 14 (Bryant is here). Bryant, even with the fourth-best isolated power in the NL, still manages to be a top-15 player at getting on-base. That’s a lethal combination right there.
Runner Up: Daniel Murphy, Washington Nationals (5.5 fWAR)
American League Most Valuable Player: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels (9.4 fWAR)
I’ve ranted a lot on Twitter about Trout being the American League MVP, including the usage of the #TeamTrout hashtag, which may or may not actually exist elsewhere. But, the debate about whether we should name an MVP based on whether a player is playing a pennant race is appalling. Sure, “valuable” and “best” are definitely different words, and I think most (if not all) would agree that Trout is the best player in the American League. But even still, as Dave Cameron of FanGraphs said it best, by naming an MVP on a contending team, we’re basically rewarding a player for having good teammates.
Maybe if the race was closer, I’d consider looking elsewhere. It’s harder to play better under the stress of a pennant race, so guys like Mookie Betts, Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado should get some credit, but they are so far behind Trout it really isn’t fair to the Millville Meteor, as he is often called. This season, Trout hit for a .315/.441/.550 slash and sat on 29 home runs, 100 RBI and 30 steals, all while playing solid defense in center.
Runner Up: Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox (7.7 fWAR)
National League Cy Young: Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins (6.2 fWAR)
What happened to Fernandez is obviously upsetting to everyone in the baseball community, and it’s hard to say that I did not take that into account when making this selection. The National League featured lots of good pitchers this season, but no one pitcher really took the spotlight this year, as Clayton Kershaw often does. This, then, leads me to Fernandez, who definitely comes with his array qualifications to get the nod, tragedy aside. But honestly, there’s not a better way to honor Fernandez then by giving him an award he was likely to get at some point during his career.
Looking at the conventional stats, Fernandez posted a 2.86 ERA this season, ranking 7th in the National League. His 16 wins tie him for fifth. But his 182 ⅓ innings put him down at 19th, and if there’s a reason as to why he won’t win the award, this is likely it. But Fernandez really shines in the advanced metrics, with only one pitcher, Noah Syndergaard, having a better FIP and no pitcher having a better xFIP. Fernandez also struck out batters at the highest rate in the NL, with his K-BB% also ranking first. In a wide-open field, Fernandez could capture the NL Cy Young award this year.
Runner Up: Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals (5.6 fWAR)
American League Cy Young: Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox (5.2 fWAR)
Asking me to pick an American League Cy Young is like asking me to choose between a glazed or a sprinkled doughnut. Yes, I like doughnuts. But if Boston Creme isn’t an option, I could take it or leave it. The American League Cy Young race lacks a Boston Creme, and it’s filled with glazed and sprinkled (with maybe a jelly-filled in there somewhere). Due to the lack of a true “Cy qualified” candidate, many writers have found themselves choosing Zach Britton, something I cannot get myself behind, purely due to his lack of innings pitched. So, this leads me to the White Sox’ Sale.
Sale tied Rick Porcello and Justin Verlander on the fWAR leaderboard, with 5.2 wins above replacement, but Porcello got over six-and-a-half runs per game in run support (ranking first in the Majors), obviously making his job much easier. Sale received 4.47 runs of support per game, ranking 32nd of 74 qualified starters. Sale didn’t rank 1st in the AL in FIP (3nd) or xFIP (7th), but sometimes it’s a combination of results and dominance, which is where Sale finds himself. His K-BB% is the 2nd highest in the league, and his overall 17-9 record with a 3.21 ERA isn’t shabby either. Sale has the chocolate sprinkles in this race, which are obviously better than rainbow.
Runner Up: Rick Porcello, Boston Red Sox (5.2 fWAR)
National League Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers (7.5 fWAR)
Seager is not just a Rookie of the Year candidate. He’s also an MVP candidate and should easily finish in the top 5 of the voting. The 22-year-old hit like a big league veteran this season, slashing .308/.365/.512 with 26 home runs and 72 RBI, providing stellar defense at the game’s hardest position, shortstop. In terms of fAWR, Seager more than doubles second-place Trea Turner, who may have made this a closer race had he played more than 73 games.
Seager’s dominance in this race does not need much more backing, perhaps outside of the fact that he was the second-most valuable player (fWAR) in the NL this season, period.
Runner Up: Trea Turner, Washington Nationals (3.2 fWAR)
American League Rookie of the Year: Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees (3.1 fWAR)
In the AL, you’ve got a ridiculously close race between two well-worthy candidates: Gary Sanchez, Yankees’ catcher; and Michael Fulmer, Tigers’ starting pitcher. Both, believe it or not, were worth almost exactly the same amount of fWAR, but I’m going with Sanchez here.
My reasoning for this pick is quite simple, actually: Sanchez made history, whereas Fulmer was good. Good usually wins this award, but when you have history, I think you have to side with that. Sanchez hit 20 home runs this season while playing just 53 games. It may be hard to give a player who played just two months of the season this award, but Fulmer himself only made 26 starts, raising the question of who truly had a larger impact. Sanchez plays a premium position defensively, and he’s pretty good at it, catching 11 of 30 runners stealing among other things. He also slashed .299/.376/.657 this year, which speaks by itself.
Runner Up: Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers (3.0 fWAR)
National League Manager of the Year: Dusty Baker, Washington Nationals
The Nationals effectively ended their 2015 season with Bryce Harper being choked by Jonathan Papelbon in a dugout skirmish that ex-manager Matt Williams apparently did not see. Somehow, Baker managed Papelbon and Harper together (more just Papelbon by himself), and it appeared that no problems arose. The Nationals moved quite smoothly up until Papelbon was released (more due to performance than anything else) and continued to steamroll right along through the rest of the season.
If I told you at the beginning of the season that Harper was going to hit .243 this season with “just” an .814 OPS, and asked you to predict the Nationals’ record, many of you would have likely predicted them to win about 85 games, or perhaps even less. The Nationals went on to win 95 games this year and run away with the NL East. It’s true, not all of the credit should be attributed to Baker; Wilson Ramos had a phenomenal year behind the plate, Trea Turner provided a spark plug during the second half of the season; and the back-end of the rotation more than picked up the slack for the loss of Stephen Strasburg for extended amounts of time. Baker did a very nice job in his first season as Nationals’ manager, and thus, he’s my pick for NL Manager of the Year.
Runner Up: Joe Maddon, Chicago Cubs
American League Manager of the Year: Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians
Francona has been a phenomenal manager throughout his entire career, leading both the Red Sox and the Indians to success (though his tenure with the Phillies from 1997 to 2000 is often forgotten, for obvious reasons).
In 2016, Francona showed excellent bullpen management especially. What really stood out to me in particular was his willingness to use Andrew Miller in roles outside of the 9th inning, taking the advice to use your best pitcher in the most important situations to heart. Miller made at least one appearance in the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth innings with Cleveland. It’s also important to note that the Indians ran away with the AL Central and finished with the second-best record in the league.
Runner Up: Jeff Banister, Texas Rangers
I can already imagine the backlash.
"You're crazy, Devan!" (I am.)
"Mike Trout is a one in a generation type talent!" (He is.)
"Prospects mean nothing compared to Major League players!"
"You'll never be a general manager!"
It's a little ridiculous that I even have to write this article.
After the season's first two weeks, Angels outfielder Mike Trout was struggling mightily.
Through 14 games, Trout was hitting .220/.333/.340 with just one home run and four RBIs in 60 plate appearances, 16 of which ended with a strikeout.
The internet (believe it or not) was actually worried that Trout's reign as a superstar was over. The 24-year-old had the worst first-14 game start in his career, excluding his first taste of the big leagues in 2011.
Trout, through 14 games, had generally been hitting right around .300 or higher. His .220 average, coupled with Bryce Harper's torrid start, worried many that he had truly lost his place as the best player in baseball.
Trout laughs at all of you...and small sample sizes.
In exactly 60 plate appearances since bottoming out on April 19, Trout is hitting .407/.467/.833 with an absurd 1.300 OPS, slugging six home runs and driving in 18. This sample, Trout struck out just 16 times.
Guess what, baseball world?
Trout's bad start has basically been washed away by FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement, where he finds himself comfortably among the leaders (as usual).
Trout has a 2.0 fWAR, good for third in the Majors, behind only Manny Machado and Dexter Fowler. (Harper is in 18th with 1.3 fWAR). In fact, if he played in all 162 games, Trout would be on pace for 11.6 fWAR, an easy career high.
We know that won't happen. Trout will go through more tough stretches again this season. But, once again, the lesson here is to not judge a player by small sample sizes.
Let's just let Mike Trout keep playing baseball the way he has always done. And let's let him keep laughing at us.
We've made it! This is our last weekend without regular season baseball, with Opening Night coming next Sunday. We have arrived at my last division preview, as this time I take a look at the American League West. They have five teams that all have arguments for contention in 2016, but who will?
1. Houston Astros -- 2015 Record: 86-76; Projection: 92-70
The Astros narrowly missed out on winning this very division last year, falling two games shy of the Rangers in the standings. Fans still weren't upset by any means. The team hadn't made the postseason since 2005, and they had some of the worst teams in baseball from 2011 to 2013, losing an average of 108 games during those horrid years. Last season was a huge turnaround for them, and it should only serve as the beginning of a huge window of contention for the 'Stros.
To find the heart and soul of this Houston team, look no further than the middle infield, with 21-year-old Carlos Correa and 25-year-old Jose Altuve being among the best shortstops and second basemen in the league, respectively. The Astros practically had no turnover in their lineup going into the 2016 season, with only Chris Carter leaving via free agency. Other than that, this team is ready to pick up where it left off.
Their pitching staff is deep. I had absolutely no problem with the team taking a shot at Doug Fister to help with the back end of their rotation. I, in fact, loved it. He was an awfully good starter not too long ago, and at 32, he should still be in his prime or close enough to his prime to be a valuable piece. The team upgraded their bullpen, their lone issue in 2015, this offseason with the addition of Ken Giles from Philadelphia. Giles, with his 100 mile per hour fastball and wipeout slider, is one of the best up-and-coming closers in baseball and should be able to finish off games with ease.
Overall, the Astros have the makings of a ball club that could be very dangerous in the 2016 playoffs. The laughingstock of the league no longer, many will be paying attention to Houston for many reasons. Plus, who isn't excited to see what Carlos Correa can do in a whole season?
2. Texas Rangers -- 2015 Record: 88-74; Projection: 90-72
When the Rangers acquired Cole Hamels from the Phillies at the trade deadline last season, their main intention was to have him for a possible run into the postseason in 2016. They were 50-52 at the time and seven games out of the division. Slowly but surely, the Hamels acquisition became not just a 2016 move, but a 2015 move too, as the Rangers propelled themselves towards the postseason. They went 38-22 the rest of the way, and they found themselves playing the Blue Jays in the American League Division Series, where they lost in five games.
The Rangers' lineup is solid from top to bottom. Probably the most underrated player there is Delino DeShields, who, as a Rule 5 draft pick, went out and posted a .718 OPS, stole 25 bases, and provided fine defense. DeShields could even have a bigger year in 2016, as he stole 101 bases in 2012 while in the Astros system. With more of a green light on the base paths, DeShields could be a huge headache to pitchers. Also, the Rangers added Ian Desmond to the mix this year, where he'll serve as an outfielder until Josh Hamilton can find a way to get healthy (if he does at all). On a one-year, $8 million deal, Desmond looks to be a steal and may be able to have a solid year in a hitter's park.
As for their staff, the biggest addition (or more like a re-addition) the Rangers will be getting this year is Yu Darvish, who missed all of last year with Tommy John surgery. Darvish and Hamels should give them one of the better one-two punches in the American League. As for their bullpen, the Rangers took on Tom Wilhelmsen in a trade with the Mariners this offseason, where he'll be in the back-end of the 'pen with Jake Diekman, Sam Dyson, Keone Kela, and Shawn Tolleson.
The Rangers should have a very good year in 2016, but the Astros are just a bit better in terms of depth and in the rotation. I expect Texas to have a good shot at the playoffs, though.
3. Seattle Mariners - 2015 Record: 76-86; Projection: 82-80
The Mariners did a lot this offseason. Perhaps the move I liked the most, however, was the hiring of Jerry Dipoto to be their general manager and their subsequent hiring of Scott Servais to be their manager. They needed an executive like Dipoto to come in and clean house, while building around the talent that they already have in store, with players like Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, and Nelson Cruz.
The Mariners brought in quite a few mid-range additions this offseason: starter Wade Miley, outfielder Nori Aoki, reliever Steve Cishek, reliever Joaquin Benoit first baseman Adam Lind, outfielder Leonys Martin, catcher Chris Iannetta and many, many others. If I spent time on every one, I'd be here all day. However, I'd like to point out that as a whole, I loved what the Mariners did this offseason. They attacked their weaknesses from 2015, like the pitching, especially out of the bullpen. Miley is a huge bounce-back candidate for their rotation; though he had a 4.46 ERA last year, his peripherals were very good (147 strikeouts and 64 walks in 193 2/3 innings) and advanced stats like FIP and xFIP suggest that his ERA should have been closer to 4.00. FIP in particular said that Miley should have had a 3.81 ERA last year with better defense behind him.
The Mariners' core part of their lineup is similar to what it was in 2015. In terms of wRC+, the Mariners had the seventh-best offense in the league. If they want to be better than that, they'll need Cano to play like he did in the second half. He had a .331 batting average, hit 15 home runs, and posted a 157 wRC+ in the latter half of 2015. There's reason to believe he'll be back to where he was, as he is now fully healthy after battling a long-term stomach illness. Overall though, there's reason to have hope in the Mariners' lineup in 2016.
Looking at the team as a whole, it's really hard to know where the Mariners stand in 2016. It is impossible to determine if they will mesh, if their pitching will hold up, or if they can beat out some of the better American League teams. I initially thought that the Mariners could win the AL West, but I'm still skeptical as to whether they will put it all together on the field.
4. Los Angeles Angels - 2015 Record: 85-77; Projection: 81-81
The Angels are wasting the best player in baseball. Mike Trout has only seen the postseason once (in 2014 for a mere three games). And he won't see it again this year. The Angels are coming off a season where they were oh-so-close to making the postseason, but just could not do it. I liked the addition of Andrelton Simmons to fill a whole at shortstop, but are they really going into 2016 with a platoon of Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry in the outfield? I am not a fan.
Outside of Trout and Albert Pujols, I have concerns about who will provide the offense in Anaheim. The team had five players with an OPS+ of 100 or greater in 2016. One of them is gone (David Freese), and the other two--Kole Calhoun and C.J. Cron--were just above 100 at 104 and 106, respectively. The Angels ranked 12th in the American League in runs scored in 2015. That could only be worse this year. Mike Trout can only do so much, L.A.! That's what I love about baseball; one player cannot make a team a playoff team.
The rotation is fine. I am a fan of Garrett Richards at the top there and Andrew Heaney more towards the back. Even Hector Santiago was solid last year, working to a 3.59 ERA in 33 games (32 starts). But then the Angels have Jered Weaver, who has struggled to work above 80 mph this Spring Training and looks even more hittable than last year when he worked to a 4.64 ERA. Matt Shoemaker is the wild card here, as he had a 3.04 ERA (3.26 FIP) in an excellent rookie year, but posted a 4.46 ERA (4.59 FIP) last year. What Shoemaker will we see next year?
The Angels have plenty of concerns in my eyes, but there's definitely a chance they contend, especially if their offense can pick up some of the slack. They've got a good couple of stars there, but I'm worried about the depth, or lack thereof. The Angels will keep themselves in the mix if they can win the close games and beat the teams they should beat in 2016. Because I don't think they'll be blowing anyone away.
5. Oakland Athletics - 2015 Record: 68-94; Projection: 78-84
The Athletics missed the playoffs in 2015 for the first time since 2011, and I don't see them reversing their fortunes. The front office may still have hope, though, considering Sonny Gray is still in an Oakland uniform. This is despite the fact that he was a hot name on the trade market this offseason, and the Athletics are not expected to contend next year.
The team made a few modest upgrades this offseason, bringing in relievers Ryan Madson, Liam Hendriks, John Axford and Marc "Scrabble" Rzepczynski; starter Rich Hill and Jed Lowrie, Khris Davis, and Yonder Alonso in the lineup. Each move came with a purpose, but my favorite of all of them was the trade for Davis, who is a candidate to a ton of home runs in 2016. This is something the A's lacked last year. Davis hit 27 in 440 plate appearances with the Brewers last season, posting a 122 OPS+. There's a lot to like about his upside on the field, but the A's must like him due to the fact that he's inexpensive and controllable through the 2019 season.
As for their pitching, you can't go wrong with Gray, who, at 25, was named to his first All-Star team last year. He posted a 2.73 ERA in 31 starts and 208 innings last season, striking out 169 and walking just 59. Gray is the ace of Oakland's staff, and his excellent control gives me plenty of reason to believe that he'll be the ace for years to come. Hill was the another addition for the A's this offseason, and he earns $6 million in 2016 after making just four starts last year. However, Hill's four starts were fantastic, as he posted a 1.55 ERA in 29 innings with a 36 to five strikeout-to-walk ratio with the Red Sox. Those are again reasons to believe that his success was sustainable. The A's hope he'll be just good enough to be worth the $6 million they owe him.
Overall, the Athletics are another puzzling case in the American League West. I'm not sure how big of an impact their new additions this offseason will make. However, I can say without much doubt that Oakland will be improved after a bad year last year, but the question is how much.
Up Next: Postseason and Award Picks
The 2015 regular season has come to an end. Twenty teams went home packing for the offseason today, ending what has been a long road of just over six months of baseball. With the Cover Those Bases season awards, I am selecting who best made the 2015 season a great one. Without further ado, here are my selections.