Monday, November 11, 2019

Hypothetical Award Ballots, 2019

In the past I’ve split these up into three separate posts, but it’s dawned on me that maybe if combined they will be long enough to actually merit a post. I should note that this is something I write not because I think anyone will be interested in, but because I enjoy having a record of what I thought about these things years later. In reviewing some of those posts from prior years, I’ve concluded that they had way too many numbers in an attempt to justify every ballot spot. I publish the RAR figures that are the starting point for any retrospective player valuation exercise I engage in -- I no longer see a need to regurgitate them all unless it’s important to a point.

AL ROY:

1. DH Yordan Alvarez, HOU
2. SP John Means, BAL
3. SP Zach Plesac, CLE
4. 2B Brandon Lowe, TB
5. 2B Cavan Biggio, TOR

Alvarez is an easy choice – while he only had 367 PA, the only AL hitter with a better RG was Mike Trout. The only real competition is John Means, who turned in a fine season pitching for Baltimore, although his peripherals were far less impressive than his actual results, which was also true for Zach Plesac. I slid Brandon Lowe just ahead of Cavan Biggio on the basis of fielding, which is also why they got the nod over Eloy Jimenez and Luis Arraez.

NL ROY:

1. 1B Pete Alonso, NYN
2. SP Mike Soroka, ATL
3. SS Fernando Tatis, SD
4. LF Bryan Reynolds, PIT
5. SP Chris Paddack, SD

Any of the first three would top my AL ballot. On a pure RAR basis, Soroka would edge out Alonso, but Soroka’s peripherals were not as strong as his actual runs allowed which drops him a bit. It’s worth noting that on a rate basis Fernando Tatis was better than Alonso -- he had 40 RAR in 84 games, which over a 150 game season would have put him squarely in the MVP race. Of course, he was unlikely to have kept up that pace, and his underlying performance may not have been the equals of those numbers. But on the other hand, he is four years younger than Alonso and much more likely to be a long-term star. Bryan Reynolds had a quietly good season, but there were other strong position player candidates including Keston Hiura, Kevin Newman, Tommy Edman, and Christian Walker, any of whom would have edged out the second basemen on my AL ballot. The same is also true of pitchers -- I went with Chris Paddack over Sandy Alcantara, Dakota Hudson, and Zac Gallen. Gallen was brilliant over 80 innings (2.63 RRA with lesser but still strong peripherals like a 3.70 dRA), but it’s not enough when Paddack tossed 140 innings with 10.6 K/2.1 W per game.

AL Cy Young:

1. Justin Verlander, HOU
2. Gerrit Cole, HOU
3. Shane Bieber, CLE
4. Lance Lynn, TEX
5. Charlie Morton, TB

I expect Cole to win, but my vote would go to Verlander. Verlander threw ten more innings with a better RRA and the same eRA, although Cole does better in dRA as Verlander’s BABIP was low (.226 to Cole’s .279). I give that some weight, but not enough to overcome Verlander’s lead, and one could argue that Verlander’s high home run rate should offset his low BABIP when making adjustments for peripherals. Sam Miller pointed out on Effectively Wild that Verlander has had a disproportionate number of second-place finishes in Cy voting. I concur, and while none of them were cases in which the actual choice was a poor one, for my money Verlander was the AL’s top pitcher in 2011, 2012, 2016, 2018, and 2019. Mike Minor’s high dRA knocked him off my ballot in favor of teammate Lance Lynn and Charlie Morton.

NY Cy Young:

1. Jacob deGrom, NYN
2. Stephen Strasburg, WAS
3. Max Scherzer, WAS
4. Jack Flaherty, STL
5. Hyun-Jin Ryu, LA

deGrom was an easy choice for the top of the ballot, but after that I used a fair amount of judgment. Strasburg had the most consistent RAR figures, whether using RRA, eRA, or dRA; Flaherty and Ryu both had significantly worse dRAs, which dropped them behind the Nationals on my ballot. There also should be some recognition of Zack Greinke; had he spent his entire season in the NL he would have ranked second here, but if it’s an NL award I don’t think AL performance should get any credit, and so he doesn’t rank in the top five.

AL MVP:

1. CF Mike Trout, LAA
2. 3B Alex Bregman, HOU
3. SP Justin Verlander, HOU
4. SP Gerrit Cole, HOU
5. SP Shane Bieber, CLE
6. SP Lance Lynn, TEX
7. SP Charlie Morton, TB
8. SS Marcus Semien, OAK
9. SP Mike Minor, TEX
10. CF George Springer, HOU

Had Mike Trout not been sidelined by a foot issue in September, this wouldn’t even be a question. I still think Trout is the clear (if not inarguable) choice; he starts ahead of Bregman by just a single run in RAR, and if you give full credit to fielding metrics, Bregman could be ahead as Trout’s BP/UZR/DRS fielding runs saved were (7, -1, -1) compared to Bregman’s (11, 2, 7). However, I only give half-credit as the uncertainty regarding fielding performance means an estimated fielding run saved is not as conclusive of value as an estimated offensive run contributed. The other major area of the game not taken into account in my RAR estimates is baserunning, and using BP’s figures, Trout was +3 runs and Bregman -4 (removing basestealing runs, which I already take into account). That wipes out any advantage Bregman might have in the field, and all things being equal I would take the player who contributes equal RAR in less playing time - just because I think that if I’ve erred in setting replacement level, I’ve erred by setting it too low. The slotting of position players otherwise follows RAR except that Xander Bogaerts had dreadful fielding metrics (-21, 1, -21) which knocks him out.

If you just look at RAR, Verlander could rank ahead of either of the hitters, but while I have absolutely no problem supporting a pitcher as MVP, I do think in such a case that they should have better RAR not just when using their actual runs allowed, but using peripherals as well. Verlander has 91, 83, or 64 RAR depending on the inputs you use; I have Trout as 80 when considering fielding and baserunning, and that sixteen run gap using Verlander’s dRA is too large for me to put him on top.

I’ve never put six pitchers on a hypothetical MVP ballot before, and as you’ll see with the NL, a full half of my MVP ballot spots went to pitchers. One thing I should revisit is the replacement level I’m using for starters, which is 128% of the league average RA; I had previously used 125%, and with the continual decline in the share of innings borne by starters and the 2019 development that starters had a better overall eRA than relievers, it’s worth revisiting the replacement level I’m using for starters and considering adjusting it downward.

NL MVP:

1. CF Cody Bellinger, LA
2. RF Christian Yelich, MIL
3. SP Jacob deGrom, NYN
4. 3B Anthony Rendon, WAS
5. SP Stephen Strasburg, WAS
6. SP Max Scherzer, WAS
7. 1B Pete Alonso, NYN
8. CF Ronald Acuna, ATL
9. LF Juan Soto, WAS
10. SP Jack Flaherty, STL

Bellinger and Yelich were very close in RAR, but this is a case where fielding gives Bellinger (15, 10, 19) a clear edge over Yelich (-1, 0, -3). That’s pretty much the only place that needs explanation beyond just perusing the RAR figures, except that Starling Marte’s (-12, -1, -1) fielding puts him behind the young outfielders of the AL East.

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