3. Chris Sale as first-half AL Cy Young was so easy. I’ve got one of the 30 AL Cy Young ballots at the end of the season, and if it’s anything like this, it’s going to be painful to fill out. At first, I had Luis Severino. Then I had Trevor Bauer. Then I decided to make a formula to emphasize what I felt were the most important characteristics, and most applicable metrics, and the results were different than I expected.
The AL Cy Young ballot:
- Chris Sale
- Justin Verlander
- Trevor Bauer
- Luis Severino
- Gerrit Cole
Here’s how I came to that conclusion. I took seven pitchers – the five above, plus Cleveland’s Corey Kluber and Tampa Bay’s Blake Snell – and ranked them in 10 categories: innings per start, strikeout rate, walk rate, home run rate, ERA, batting average on balls in play, defensive efficiency of their team, batting average against, OPS against and DRA, which is Baseball Prospectus’ Deserved Run Average metric.
Each of these was weighted. I believe strikeout rate and home run rate are the two most important, so the best pitcher in each was given seven points for being in first, then had that number multiplied by three. Walk rate was rated 2.5x. ERA, DRA and IP/GS were 2x. Batting average and OPS against were 1x. And BABIP and a team’s ability to turn batted balls into outs were .5x.
Among the seven, Sale was the clear winner. So I excised Kluber and Snell, the bottom two, and ran it again. The results were the same. Sale in first on the strength of his big strikeout numbers, tiny walk rate, reasonable home run rate and the pure inability of hitters to square him up. Verlander was closer in the second iteration, with Bauer faring well in the rate categories but worst in average and OPS against – perhaps on account of a BABIP that 55 points higher than the average of the others. Should that come down, he could have an even bigger second half than he did first and make the real vote even harder than this faux version.
One decidedly easier vote was …
4. Mike Trout as AL MVP.
The AL MVP ballot:
- Mike Trout
- Mookie Betts
- Jose Ramirez
- Francisco Lindor
- Aaron Judge
- J.D. Martinez
- Chris Sale
- Justin Verlander
- Trevor Bauer
- Jose Altuve
There’s not a whole lot to say. Mike Trout is the best player of his generation, and he’s having the best year of his career. Lindor would be the runaway MVP in the NL right now, and he’s not within sniffing distance of Trout. The fact that Betts and Ramirez are speaks to their incredible seasons – and as I said in my All-Star pick column, Ramirez, like his teammate Bauer, has a poor BABIP. If his luck evens out, look out. He might even make …
5. Max Muncy look like a slouch. And yes. It’s true. Max freaking Muncy has a better on-base percentage (.407 to .395) and slugging percentage (.610 to .590) than Jose Ramirez.
No, this category is not Rookie of the Year. Muncy exhausted his eligibility in 2015. This is Most Improved Player – one of my replacements for the worst award the Baseball Writers Association of America hands out, Manager of the Year. This is not to say managers deserve no recognition. They do. I’ve always just found it difficult to objectively measure managers, and I think my writing brethren would agree. What does one measure against? Personal expectations … which might’ve been wildly wrong or misinformed to begin with? In-game strategy … which may be dictated by circumstances that are unknown publicly?
This does not make managers beyond reproach; on the contrary, it’s a sign that more light can be shone on the difficulty of managers’ jobs. They are not button-pushing automatons. They also are not the free-wheeling strongmen of years past. There’s an in-between that I’d like to know more about – and an analytical element that tends to be overlooked by a community that treats managers as pawns.
Highlighting the most improved player, on the other hand, is far easier – and Muncy, who for my money was an even more egregious All-Star snub than Snell, earns it easily.
The Most Improved Player ballot:
- Max Muncy
- Blake Snell
- Blake Treinen
- Mitch Haniger
- Albert Almora
- Ross Stripling
- Kyle Schwarber
- Mike Foltynewicz
- Kyle Freeland
- Eugenio Suarez
A few words on Snell, too. It is true that he belongs in the All-Star Game. I had him on my team. However, some of the measures being used don’t exactly line up with what we know about the game today. I could not care less that Snell’s 12 wins are tied for second in the league. Pitcher wins over half a season indicate nothing other than a guy pitched well and his team scored runs. Was Snell better than Sale or Verlander, each of whom has won nine games? No.
Now, Snell’s 2.09 ERA is the best in the league, and that counts for a lot. It’s why his agent, Tripper Johnson, was absolutely on point when he told Yahoo Sports: “This is a guy that certainly deserves to be there. I might be a little biased. He’s putting together an incredible year. There’s a strong argument he should be starting the game.” The pitcher with the best ERA in the league certainly does warrant consideration.
If nothing else, the inclusion of Bauer – whose near-snub would’ve been even worse and who made the team after Verlander was yanked because he’s expected to pitch Sunday – only helps Snell. Bauer, too, is slated to pitch Sunday, which leaves an opportunity for Snell to fill the void.
Here’s the thing: The criticism from Snell’s teammate, Chris Archer, about players needing to do a better job selecting, while well-intentioned, overlooked the fact that the starting pitchers chosen by the players were: Sale, Verlander, Severino, Kluber and Cole. Which is pretty spot-on. Kluber finished well ahead of Snell for sixth in my Cy Young ballot earlier.
Where it went wrong was the league’s choices. It filled out the pitching staff with Toronto’s J.A. Happ, Minnesota’s Jose Berrios, Detroit’s Joe Jimenez and Oakland’s Blake Treinen. Anyone who says the first three deserve an All-Star bid over Snell should be tested for something or laughed out of the room. Happ got his spot because the Blue Jays are a mess, and Berrios and Jimenez were chosen because the Texas Rangers needed someone to make the team, and Shin-Soo Choo was given the outfield spot that deserved to go to the Twins’ Eddie Rosario or Tigers’ Nick Castellanos.
Really, the villain is the every-team-gets-a-representative rule. It exists to serve the underserved franchises of the baseball world, to ensure every fan feels represented, even if that representation comes in the form of a guy who doesn’t exactly fulfill the “Star” part of All-Star.
Hey, at least they’re still major leaguers, which is more than …
6. Miguel Sano can say. Sano’s demotion by the Minnesota Twins put him right at the front of another new category: Most Disappointing Player.