Top 2016 Regular Season Award Candidates – And a Bit of History

First, a disclaimer.  Baseball Roundtable has never claimed to be the best prognosticator – although this year I did get seven of the ten playoffs teams correct in a February 8 post. I missed the Indians and Orioles in the AL (had the Astros and Tigers) and the Nationals in the NL (had the Cardinals).  My predictions for the post season, made October 3, were less accurate – although I still have a chance to be right on the World Series winner.  I have the Cubs winning the Series (just against the Red Sox). Surprises for me?  After an offensive slump in September/October, I did not expect the Blue Jays to get past the Rangers. (Note: the Jays scored the fewest runs in the AL after Aguste 31.) I also underestimated Terry Francona’s ability to manage a pitching staff.

So now, I intend to sit back and enjoy the rest of the post-season – and root for a Cubs/Indians World Series – and (in this post) present BBRT’s selections (and predictions) for MLB’s major 2016 regular season awards.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

National League ROY – Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers

Corey Seager photo

Photo by apardavila

The competition for NL Rookie of the Year comes down to a pair of young, power-hitting shortstops – Corey Seager of the Dodgers and Trevor Story of the Rockies.  Seager gets the edge, largely because Story’s season was interrupted by injury.

Seager, the Dodgers’ 22-year-old shortstop was a 2015 September call up and – while not getting enough playing time to lose his rookie status – hit .337, with four home runs and 17 RBI in 27 games.  (In four minor league seasons, Seager put up a stat line of .312-62-278 in 390 games.)  In 2016, Seager proved his late-season 2015 performance was no fluke, playing in 157 games, and hitting .308, with 26 home runs, 105 runs scored, and 72 RBI. He made the 2016 NL All Star team and played a key role in getting the Dodgers to the post-season. He is the real deal.

Seager’s main competition for the ROY Award comes from the early-season rookie “story” of the year – Colorado’s 23-year-old shortstop Trevor Story. After hitting .340 in Spring Training, Story started the season with a bang (several bangs, in fact).  He homered in his first four regular season games (six home runs in those four contests).  Story went on to tie the MLB record for rookie home runs in April with ten long balls – finishing the month with a .261 average, ten homers, 19 runs scored and  20 RBI in 22 games. Unfortunately, in early August, Story suffered a thumb injury that required season-ending surgery. He ended 2016 with a .272 average, 27 home runs, 72 RBI and eight steals in just 97 games.

BBRT Selection:  Corey Seager    

BBRT Prediction:  Corey Seager

Brotherly Love (of the long ball)

The Elias Sports Bureau reports that Dodgers’ SS Corey Seager and Mariners’ 3B Kyle Seager are the first brothers to hit 25 or more home runs in the same MLB season. Corey finished 2016 with 26 round trippers, Kyle with 30.      

American League ROY – Gary Sanchez, C, Yankees

Gary Sanchez Yankees photo

Photo by apardavila

Timing may prove to be everything when the votes are counted for AL Rookie of the Year.  BBRT expects a very close vote and gives the nod to Yankees’ 23-year-old catcher Gary Sanchez – although the fact that he played in only 53 games may work against him. The stats, however, back up his candidacy: a .299 average, 20 home runs, 34 runs scored, 42 RBI and 24 walks drawn (again, in just 53 games) – with virtually all of the damage done after August 1.  Couple that with his praiseworthy work behind the plate and you have a deserving Rookie of the Year candidate. Before his August call up, Sanchez hit .282-10-50 in 71 games at AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.  BBRT side note: Sanchez was called up to the Yankees late in 2015 – made his major league debut on October 3 –  and (few fans may realize) was included on the Yankees’ 2015 post-season roster.

The fewest games ever played by a non-pitcher in a Rookie of the Year season is 52 by Giants’ 1B Willie McCovey in 1959. He played his first game on July 30 and went to post a .354 average, with 13 home runs and 38 RBI.

BBRT sees Sanchez’ main competition coming from Tigers’ RHP Michael Fulmer (acquired by the Tigers from the Mets in the July 2015 trade for Yeonis Cespedes). The 23-year-old Fulmer went 11-7 (26 starts – 159 innings), with a 3.06 ERA.  Timing may be important here. Fulmer, who got his first start April 29, was 9-2, with a 2.50 ERA at the end of July. In August and September, Fulmer went 2-5, 3.59. Fulmer needs to hope the voters remember his May performance – when he went 3-1 with a 0.61 ERA (two earned runs in 29 2/3 innings).

BBRT Selection:  Gary Sanchez    

BBRT Prediction:  Gary Sanchez (in a very close vote)

From 1992 through 1996, the LA Dodgers had a record five consecutive Rookie of the Year Award winners: 1B Eric Karros (1992); C Mike Piazza (1993); OF Raul Mondesi (1994); SP Hideo Nomo (1995); OF Todd Hollandsworth (1996).  

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MOST VALUABLE PLAYER AWARD

American League MVP – Mookie Betts, RF, Red Sox

Mookie Betts photo

Photo by Keith Allison

This is a tough one to call – Mookie Betts, David Ortiz, Jose Altuve, Mike Trout and, perhaps, Josh Donaldson can all make a good case.  However, there is a need to narrow it down.  As BBRT considers these candidates, I remind myself that this is not the award for best player of the season – but, rather (by its own definition) for most valuable player (to his team).  So, despite another stellar season by the Angels’ CF Mike Trout (.315-29-100, with 30 steals), the Angels’ fourth-place finish becomes a factor.  Then there is David Ortiz’ unbelievable season – in which he pretty much demolished the record book for accomplishments at age 40 or over with a .315-38-127 line. Big Papi slips a bit on my ballot because of his role as DH, but he is likely to get an emotional boost in the actual balloting based on his career, age and attitude.  His leadership – on and off the field – has long meant a lot to this team. Then there is Josh Donaldson, a key element in Toronto’s 2016 success, who put up a .284-37-99 line, with 122 runs.  Still, BBRT sees his impact a bit short of either of the two players on my list I haven’t touched upon yet – Mookie Betts and Jose Altuve.

Altuve led the AL in batting average at .338 and base hits at 216, while also smacking 24 home runs, scoring 108 runs, driving in 96 and stealing 30 bases – all the time serving as the spark plug for the Astros’ offense. Just 26-years-old, the 5’6”, 165-pound Astros’ 2B already has two batting crowns, two stolen base titles, three consecutive 200-hit seasons, a Gold Glove and four All Star selections – and he seems to just keep getting better.  What he doesn’t have is an MVP Award – and I don’t think it’s coming this year. (It might have, if the Astros had made the playoffs.)  BBRT’s choice for AL MVP is Red Sox’ RF Mookie Betts – who did a little bit (a lot, actually) of everything. Betts hit .318 on the season, launched 31 home runs, scored 122, drove in 113 and stole 26 bases.  How does all that flesh out?  He was second in the AL in average, runs scored and base hits; third in doubles, fourth in RBI, sixth in stolen bases.  Betts is just 24-years-old and, like Altuve, just seems to keep improving.  Betts would get BBRT’s vote (if I had one) for AL MVP.  If he doesn’t win it, I expect it will end up as a career-topping tribute to the performance and presence of David Ortiz.

BBRT Selection:  Mookie Betts   

BBRT Prediction: David Ortiz

 You could make a pretty good All Star team of players who have won two or more consecutive MVP Awards:

        C –    Yogi Berra, Yankees (1954-55)

        1B – Albert Pujols (2008-09)

        2B – Joe Morgan, Reds (1975-76)

        3B – Mike Schmidt, Phillies (1980-81)

         SS – Ernie Banks, Cubs (1958-59)

         OF – Barry Bonds/ Pirates (1992), Giants (1993); Giants (2001-04)

         OF – Mickey Mantle, Yankees (1956-57)

         OF – Dale Murphy, Braves (1982-83)

           P –    Hal Newhouser, Tigers (1944-45)

           Bench:    Roger Maris, OF, Yankees (1960-61)

                             Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Tigers (2012- 13)

National League MVP – Kris Bryant, 3B-plus, Cubs

Kris Bryant photo

Photo by apardavila

Really not much of a race here.  Yes, there will be votes cast for Nationals’ 2B Daniel Murphy (.347-25-104), Dodgers’ SS Corey Seager (although the votes cast for Rookie of the Year may work against him) and Rockies’ master of leather and lumber 3B Nolan Arenado (who led the NL in home runs and RBI for the second straight season and is likely to pick up his fourth Gold Glove).  However, Kris Bryant should win the NL MVP Award hands down – he was the most valuable player on MLB’s winningest team.  The 24-year-old Bryant, the 2015 NL Rookie of the Year, played in 155 games, hitting .292, with a league-leading 121 runs scored, 39 home runs and 102 RBI (not to mention eight steals).  In the process, he started games at 3B, LF, RF, 1B and SS. Bryant’s contributions – at the plate and all around the diamond – pretty much define the term “MVP”.  His presence made manager Joe Maddon’s job a whole lot easier.

 

BBRT Selection; Kris Bryant   

BBRT Prediction:  Kris Bryant

BBRT RANT

Here’s a BBRT rant you have heard before, but BBRT is nothing if not consistent.  I believe we need another major award in MLB – recognizing each season’s best position player (to include the DH position).  Pitchers have the Cy Young Award – recognizing each season’s best pitcher.  There is, however, no equivalent award reserved for the best performance by a position player. While some would argue the MVP Award serves that purpose, the fact that numerous pitchers have won the MVP over the years argues against that contention. I believe we need a position player award equivalent to the Cy Young, as well as the MVP Award (based on contributions to team success).

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CY YOUNG AWARD

National League Cy Young Award – Max Scherzer, RHP, Nationals

Max Scherzer photo

Photo by apardavila

BBRT sees the NL Cy Young race as Max Scherzer, followed by “Pick a Cub,” the Marlins’ Jose Fernandez, and a pair of Giants (Johnny Cueto and Madison Bumgarner). Why separates Scherzer from this very talented pack? The Nationals’ righty:

  • Led the NL in wins (20 – the league’s only 20-game winner);
  • Led all of MLB in strikeouts with 284 (30 ahead of Justin Verlander’s second-best total) and WHIP (0.97);
  • Topped the NL in innings pitched (228 1/3); and
  • Turned in a 2.96 ERA – one of just eight qualifying hurlers to come in under 3.00.

That combination is enough to give Scherzer the edge in a very tough Cy Young Awqrd race.

For a list of contenders, look first to the Cubs’ staff.  You have Kyle Hendricks (16-8, with MLB’s lowest ERA at 2.13); Jon Lester (19-4, 2.44, with 197 strikeouts in 202 2/3 innings); and Jake Arrieta (18-8, 3.10). Then there’s the Marlins’ young star Jose Fernandez (who died in a tragic late September boating accident) at 16-8, 2.86, with 253 strikeouts in just 182 1/3 innings.  Finally, you have Giants Johnny Cueto, who had an all-around solid season at 18-5, 2.79, and Madison Bumgarner (15-9, 2.74, with 251 K’s in 222 2/3 innings).   There’s lots of talent here, but I think Scherzer’s numbers stand out from the small crowd at the top of the NL.

BBRT Selection:  Max Scherzer   

BBRT Prediction: Max Scherzer

A few Cy Young Award “firsts:”

      – First winner – Don Newcombe, Dodgers (1956)

      – First southpaw winner – Warren Spahn, Braves, 1957

      – First relief pitcher winner – Mike Marshall, Dodgers, 1974

      – First rookie to win the CYA – Fernando Valenzuela, Dodgers (1981)

       – First to win CYA and MVP in same season – Don Newcombe,                         Dodgers (1956)  

       –  First shared (tied) CYA – Denny McLain, Tigers & Mike Cueller,                  Orioles (1969)

        – First pitcher to win the CYA in both leagues – Gaylord Perry,                         Indians (1972)/Padres (1978)

American League Cy Young Award – Rick Porcello, RHP. Red Sox

Rick Porcello Red sox photo

Photo by Keith Allison

Rick Porcello of the Red Sox is an imposing presence on the mound at 6’ 5” and 205 pounds.  Well, the big guy had a big year in 2016 – leading all of MLB with 22 victories (against only four losses). In his 33 starts, Porcello recorded a 3.15 ERA (fifth-best in the AL), 1.01 WHIP (second-best in the AL) and fanned 189 batters (AL’s eighth-most) in 223 innings pitched (AL’s fourth-highest).  Also in the mix are the Indians’ Corey Kluber (18-9, 3.14, with 222 strikeouts in 215 innings); the Tigers’ Justin Verlander (16-9, 3.04, with a league-leading 254 K’s in 227 2/3 innings); the Blue Jays’ J.A. Happ (20-5, 3.18), and Orioles’ closer Zach Britton (47-for-47 in save opportunities. with a miniscule 0.54 ERA in 67 innings). BBRT has to go with Porcello’s 22 victories and .846 winning percentage.  The most likely pitchers to sneak past Porcello would be Britton and his perfect record in saves or Verlander (those 250+ strikeouts will garner a few votes).  As an aside, 2016 saw Porcello (in his eighth MLB season) record his highest-ever numbers in wins, winning percentage, innings pitched and strikeouts – and his lowest-ever season ERA.

BBRT Selection: Rick Porcello  

BBRT Prediction: Rick Porcello

In 2016, eight MLB pitchers qualifying for the ERA title finished the season under 3.00 – and all eight were in the National League (with the two lowest ERAs belonging to Cubs’ hurlers Kyle Hendricks at 2.13 and Jon Lester at 2.44).  The lowest qualifying American ERA went to the Blue Jays’ Aaron Sanchez at 3.00.

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MANAGER OF THE YEAR

American League Manager of the Year– Terry Francona, Indians

Terry Francona photo

Photo by Keith Allison

Okay, John Farrell did take the Red Sox from worst to first and Rangers’ Manager Jeff Bannister overcame lost time by Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and Colby Lewis (not to mention Prince Fielder’s injury-forced retirement), but BBRT leans toward the Indians’ Terry Francona for AL Manager of the Year. Francona led the Tribe to the top of the AL Central (BBRT didn’t even pick the Tribe to make the post season) with a 94-67 record.  Francona pushed the Indians to the top despite a series of injuries (Michael Brantley, Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco, Yan Gomes). In the process, he earned continued praise as a manager who effectively handles a pitching staff under stress and uses position-player platooning to adjust for injuries, balance playing time and put winning combinations on the field.  I expect the voting will be close, but Francona should edge Bannister for the recognition. (Side note: Jeff Bannister was the 2015 AL Manager of the Year and only once has a manager received this recognition in consecutive seasons: Bobby Cox, Braves, 2004 & 2005).

BBRT: Selection: Terry Francona

BBRT Prediction: Terry Francona

National League Manager of the Year  – Dave Roberts, Los Angeles Dodgers

Dave roberts dodgers photo

Photo by Malingering

This looks like a three-way race between the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts, Nationals’ Dusty Baker and Cubs’ Joe Maddon.  All three managers had plenty of talent on the roster – and were expected to make the post-season.  BBRT gives Roberts the edge here for a couple of reasons.  First, Joe Maddon and Dusty Baker were already proven commodities. Maddon and Baker are both three-time Manager of the Year Award winners, while Roberts came into the season with one game of managerial experience. (Roberts filled in when the Padres fired manager Bud Black in June of last year.  He managed one game – a 9-1 loss to Oakland – before Pat Murphy was hired as manager and Roberts returned to the coaching staff.)   As a Rookie manager, Roberts led the Dodgers to a 91-71 record and the NL West title.  Not only that, he did it despite placing an MLB-record 28 players on the disabled list during the season – including staff Ace Clayton Kershaw (who, at one point, went 75 days between starts).  Bringing the Dodgers home in first place, despite an ever-changing lineup, bench and pitching staff (LA used 31 pitchers, including 15 different starters) give this rookie manager BBRT’s vote.

BBRT Selection:  Dave Roberts    

BBRT Prediction: Dave Roberts

MANAGER OF THE YEAR TRIVIA

Established in 1983, the Manager of the Year Award has gone to 44 different managers.  Here are a few tidbits:

     – La-La Land: The first ever Manager of the Year Awards (1983) went to Tony La Russa (White Sox) and Tommy Lasorda (Dodgers).

     – The most MOY Awards (four each) have gone to Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa. Cox won his awards with the Blue Jays (1985) and Braves (1991, 2004, 2005). La Russa won with the White Sox (1983), A’s (1988, 1992) and Cardinals (2002).

     – The first manager to win the award in both leagues was Bobby Cox (see above bullet).

     – Bobby Cox is the only manager to win the award in consecutive seasons

     – 47 MOY Awards have gone to first-place finishers; 15 to second-place finishers; four to third-place finishers; and one to a fourth-place finisher.

     – The only manager to win the MOY Award with a team that finished under .500 was Joe Girardi, who managed the 2006 Florida Marlins to a 78-84 fourth-place finish. (BBRT note: Girardi was fired after the season, despite winning Manager of the Year.)

Coming Soon – A look at the Baseball Hall of Fame 2017 Today’s Game Era ballot.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member:  Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

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