October 15, 2007

My 2007 Awards Ballot

Earlier this month I laid out my ballot for Twins MVP, going through the various metrics that I use to form an opinion on player value. Today I'll make my picks for MLB-wide awards using those same player-evaluation methods. Rather than repeat everything that I said then about the tools being used to come up with the following ballots, I'll simply link to the aforementioned entry from earlier this month and encourage anyone with questions to read it.

The short version is that I came up a system that blends together Value Over Replacement Player, Win Probability Added, and Linear Weights for hitting and pitching, plus the defensive rankings from The Hardball Times, Ultimate Zone Rating, and Baseball Prospectus. The general idea is to collective and synthesize as much objective information as possible in a sort of wisdom-of-crowds approach, rather than relying upon a single statistic or gut feel. And away we go ...

   AL MVP                PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     RBI     RUN
1 Alex Rodriguez 708 .314 .422 .645 156 143
2 Jorge Posada 589 .338 .426 .543 90 91
3 Magglio Ordonez 678 .363 .434 .595 139 117
4 Grady Sizemore 748 .277 .390 .462 78 118
5 Curtis Granderson 676 .302 .361 .552 74 122
6 David Ortiz 667 .332 .445 .621 117 116
7 Victor Martinez 645 .301 .374 .505 114 78
8 Ichiro Suzuki 736 .351 .396 .431 68 111
9 Placido Polanco 641 .341 .388 .458 67 105
10 Derek Jeter 714 .322 .388 .452 73 102

Honorable Mention: Carlos Pena, Vlad Guerrero, C.C. Sabathia, Fausto Carmona

There's a pretty good chance that a silly voter or two will put someone other than Alex Rodriguez atop their ballot, but it's really not even a question. He put together an incredibly good season offensively, came to the plate over 700 times while appearing in all but four games, and logged 1,330 innings at a relatively important defensive position. Rodriguez didn't have one of the greatest seasons of all time, but it was certainly among the best handful of non-Barry Bonds seasons from the past decade.

Those who worship at the idol of batting average or have some sort of bias against Rodriguez may choose to favor Magglio Ordonez, but he was less outstanding offensively while playing a significantly less important defensive spot. In some years Ordonez would be a deserving MVP, but this isn't one of them. In fact, I narrowly prefer the fantastic season that Jorge Posada quietly turned in, because he was close enough to Ordonez offensively that 1,100 innings behind the plate pushes him ahead.

Unlike the actual voters, who often drool over homers and RBIs without looking beyond raw numbers, I tend to think that an up-the-middle defender providing very good offense is typically more valuable than a no-defense slugger providing great offense. It's easy to see that Ordonez batted .363 and drove in 139 runs, but it's also important to realize that he was about 27 percent better than the average right fielder offensively, compared to Posada being about 35 percent better than the average catcher.

Ordonez makes up for that by coming to the plate 89 more times, but the difference in defensive value is huge. Posada over Ordonez is a good example of my thought process when it comes to assessing player value, as is Grady Sizemore and Curtis Granderson over David Ortiz. It's also why the final four spots on my ballot are filled by up-the-middle defenders rather than guys like Carlos Pena or Vladimir Guerrero, although both of them certainly have a strong case for belonging in the top 10.

   NL MVP                PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     RBI     RUN
1 David Wright 711 .325 .416 .546 107 113
2 Jimmy Rollins 778 .296 .344 .531 94 139
3 Chase Utley 613 .332 .410 .566 103 104
4 Hanley Ramirez 706 .332 .386 .562 81 125
5 Chipper Jones 600 .337 .425 .604 102 108
6 Miguel Cabrera 680 .320 .401 .565 119 91
7 Russell Martin 620 .293 .374 .469 87 87
8 Matt Holliday 713 .340 .405 .607 137 120
9 Prince Fielder 681 .288 .395 .618 119 109
10 Albert Pujols 679 .327 .429 .568 103 99

Honorable Mention: Jake Peavy, Aaron Rowand, Carlos Beltran, Troy Tulowitzki

The NL lacks a no-brainer choice like Rodriguez, but David Wright gets my vote after finishing 10th on my ballot last season. This year Wright set new career-highs in nearly every important category while batting .325/.416/.546 with 30 homers, 73 total extra-base hits, 94 walks, 107 RBIs, and 113 runs in a pitcher-friendly home ballpark. It was a tremendous all-around season from a 24-year-old who played all but two games, logged over 1,400 innings at third base, and went 34-for-39 stealing bases.

I'm confident in Wright as my pick, but the middle-infield trio of Jimmy Rollins, Hanley Ramirez, and Chase Utley aren't very far behind him. Based purely on hitting Ramirez was superior to Rollins, but Rollins came to the plate an additional 72 times and is a vastly superior defensive shortstop. Utley would likely have the best argument for topping Wright had he not missed 30 games with injuries, and even still there's a case to be made for his being the NL's second-best player.

Matt Holliday has become a popular MVP pick, which is understandable given his huge raw numbers and the Rockies' success, but I just don't see it. His offense was less spectacular than it appears given that he played half his games at baseball's most hitter-friendly ballpark and batted .301/.374/.485 on the road. Holliday is a left fielder and wasn't clearly better offensively than first basemen Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols, let alone several guys who manned more important defensive positions.

                  PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     2B     HR     RBI     RUN
David Wright 711 .325 .416 .546 42 30 107 113
Matt Holliday 713 .340 .405 .607 50 36 137 120

Holliday has a slight edge in raw numbers, but the vast differences in home ballparks and defensive values push Wright clearly ahead. The same is true for Ramirez, Utley, Chipper Jones, and Miguel Cabrera, although perhaps to lesser extents. Placing Russell Martin ahead of Holliday is similar to picking Posada over Ordonez. Holliday was about 22 percent better than the average left fielder, but Martin was about 18 percent better than the average catcher and adds a ton of value defensively.

  AL CYA                IP      ERA      SO     BB     HR     OAVG     OOPS
1 C.C. Sabathia 241.0 3.21 209 37 20 .259 .684
2 Fausto Carmona 215.0 3.06 137 61 16 .248 .661
3 John Lackey 224.0 3.01 179 52 18 .254 .680

Honorable Mention: Josh Beckett, Johan Santana, Dan Haren, Erik Bedard

Johan Santana had a far better season than most people seem to think and was among the league's best handful of pitchers, but as much as it pains me to admit it for the first time since 2003 he's not deserving of the AL Cy Young. C.C. Sabathia narrowly gets my vote over rotation-mate Fausto Carmona and John Lackey thanks in large part to his league-leading 241 innings. My guess is that Josh Beckett represents Sabathia's main competition in the actual voting, but that seems misguided:

                  GS      IP      ERA     xFIP      AVG      OBP      SLG
C.C. Sabathia 34 241 3.21 3.63 .259 .292 .392
Josh Beckett 30 201 3.27 3.56 .245 .286 .377

Beckett deserves credit for essentially staying even with Sabathia in ERA given that Jacobs Field was friendlier toward pitchers than Fenway Park this season. However, the difference between the two ballparks wasn't huge and Sabathia started four more games while tossing 40 additional innings. Given two pitchers who were basically equally as effective, I'll take the guy who worked 20 percent more innings every time.

  NL CYA                IP      ERA      SO     BB     HR     OAVG     OOPS
1 Jake Peavy 223.1 2.54 240 68 13 .208 .584
2 Brandon Webb 236.1 3.01 194 72 12 .237 .630
3 Roy Oswalt 212.0 3.18 154 60 14 .265 .708

Honorable Mention: Aaron Harang, Brad Penny, John Smoltz, Tim Hudson

It looks like a Rodriguez-style blowout, but the NL Cy Young race is closer than it appears. Jake Peavy was the best pitcher in baseball, but also benefited from MLB's most pitcher-friendly home ballpark. Meanwhile, reigning Cy Young winner Brandon Webb pitched his home games at one of MLB's most hitter-friendly ballparks. The huge difference in offensive environments wasn't quite enough for Webb to close the gap on Peavy, but it made me take a much closer look before picking Peavy.

   AL ROY                PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     RBI     RUN
1 Dustin Pedroia 581 .317 .380 .442 50 86
2 Jeremy Guthrie 723 175.1 IP - 3.70 ERA - 123 SO - .713 OPS
3 Brian Bannister 683 165.0 IP - 3.87 ERA - 77 SO - .712 OPS
Daisuke Matsuzaka 874 204.2 IP - 4.40 ERA - 201 SO - .731 OPS

Delmon Young will wind up on actual ballots thanks to 93 RBIs, but he wasn't close to being the AL's best rookie while hitting a sub par .288/.316/.408 as a corner outfielder. That honor goes to Dustin Pedroia, who easily topped him in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage while playing 1,140 innings of good up-the-middle defense. Teammates Brendan Harris and Akinori Iwamura were better rookie hitters than Young, as were Reggie Willits, Travis Buck, and others.

Picking the league's best rookie pitcher is a little tougher. With Joakim Soria (69.0 IP, 2.48 ERA), Hideki Okajima (69.0 IP, 2.22 ERA), Rafael Perez (60.2 IP, 1.78 ERA), and the Twins' own Pet Neshek (70.1 IP, 2.94 ERA) the AL had four outstanding rookie relievers, but I'll give a slight nod to starters Jeremy Guthrie, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Brian Bannister. My preseason pick, Alex Gordon of the Royals, got off to a brutal start and could only recover enough to hit a Young-like .247/.314/.411 overall.

   NL ROY                PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     RBI     RUN
1 Troy Tulowitzki 682 .291 .359 .479 99 104
2 Ryan Braun 492 .324 .370 .634 97 91
3 Hunter Pence 484 .322 .360 .539 69 57

While Pedroia had an excellent rookie season, he likely wouldn't have cracked my ballot had he been in the NL. On a rate basis no rookie can compare to Ryan Braun, who batted .324/.370/.634 for one of the greatest offensive displays ever by a rookie. However, Braun's defensive at third base was well below par and he batted under 500 times, while Troy Tulowitzki was fantastic at shortstop while hitting .291/.359/.479 in 682 plate appearances.

Like Holliday, Tulowitzki's hitting got a huge boost from Coors Field. However, even accounting for that he still managed to be about 11 percent better than the average shortstop offensively and logged 1,375 innings of strong defense at shortstop. Braun was about 21 percent better than the average third baseman offensively, but that came along with what was at best shaky defense. It's very close, but I'll take the massive difference defensively and extra 190 plate appearances.

Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

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