Wrapping Up the Regular Season
With the conclusion of the 2014 MLB regular season, we can take some time to reminisce upon the now-completed storylines of the season, as the magic of October baseball begins. From AL MVP to NL Cy Young, let’s take a look back on the year in baseball.
I won’t be touching Manager of the Year as I won’t be trying to quantify what impact a manager actually makes and trying to sift through all the noise. I’ll be using 50-50 WAR, a combination of RA-9 WAR and FIP-WAR, for pitchers.
It’s been a long time coming, but in a “down” season from Miguel Cabrera (if you can label 18th in the league in fWAR as such), there’s a clear choice for AL MVP, and it’s the best player in all of baseball. His team finally made the playoffs, and without him they’d be nowhere close. Any other choice would be … fishy.
Mike Trout is far and away the best choice for AL MVP. The things this man does on a diamond shouldn’t be legal. He posted an AL-leading 7.8 fWAR in a down season at the age of 23. I don’t mean to turn this into a “worship Mike Trout” post, but this is going to be a “worship Mike Trout” paragraph. Williams. Cobb. Ott. Mantle. Trout. Those are the top 5 accumulators of fWAR before the age of 24. Jose Bautista has 28.4 career fWAR. Mike Trout has 29.1. Mike Trout is simply unfair. This year he posted a 167 wRC+, made up of a .287/.377/.561 slash with 36 home runs. Using Baseball Reference’s excellent “Neutralized Batting” tool, we can see that in an average environment, Trout might have hit something like .306/.399/.597 with 39 home runs, good for a .996 OPS. Just for fun, in 2000 Coors Field, Trout could have hit around .355/.453/.693 with 49 home runs. Now that would have been a pleasure to watch. I think it’s safe to say that Mike Trout is your 2014 AL MVP.
This pick is going to be hotly contested. Some argue that pitchers shouldn’t be awarded MVP because “they already have the Cy Young.” Well, the hitters already have the Hank Aaron award. Well, pitchers only pitch once every 5 days, don’t they? Sure, but they can face over 20 batters on that day, which works out to 4 plate appearances per day … which is what most batters average. As well, there’s something to be said about doing more (providing more value) with less (in “less” playing time).
So I don’t feel bad about awarding the NL MVP to Clayton Kershaw. The 26 year old missed the beginning of the season with injury, but came back to pitch 198.1 IP of pure, straight, filthy baseball. Striking out nearly 11 batters per 9, and walking just 1.4 per 9, Kershaw wracked up a 51 FIP- to go along with a disgusting 50 ERA-. Kershaw led the NL in fWAR, whether you used straight fWAR, 50-50 WAR, or pure RA-9 WAR. Honestly, it’s pretty easy to say Clayton Kershaw is this year’s NL MVP.
AL Cy Young
Now this was not an easy decision. It was looking like King Felix had this locked up, until Corey Kluber posted an insane 28.5% K-BB% in September, turning the AL Cy Young race into a race for third place.
After a very nice 2013 season in which he posted 2.8 fWAR, no one could have foreseen Kluber’s 7.1 50-50 WAR 2014 season. Kluber posted a spectacular 5.27 K/BB, striking out 10.27 batters per 9, while walking just 1.95. Kluber may garner some MVP votes, not even thinking about Cy Young votes. The 28 year old posted a 64 FIP- to go along with his 66 ERA- in a workhorse-like 235.2 IP. Regardless of if he wins, Kluber is an absolutely deserving candidate who posted an incredible season, and has broken out to be one of the front-line pitchers in the MLB.
In Felix Hernandez, we have another 28 year old, although this one isn’t a break-out stud; King Felix is an absolute superstar. He has accumulated 47.2 fWAR in his career, posting 2060.2 IP before the age of 29. Felix is a true workhorse ace, and already has one Cy Young win underneath his belt. Felix posted a 5.39 K/BB, with a 9.46/1.75/0.61 per 9 triple slash. Posting a 70 FIP- and a 58 ERA- in exactly 236 IP, Felix posted another excellent season.
However, I must give my vote to Corey Kluber. While he was the AL Pitcher WAR leader, that doesn’t tell the whole story; Kluber posted an already incredible 66 ERA- on a somewhat-high .316 BABIP. Kluber might have been the victim of some bad luck or random variance and he still posted incredible results in terms of earned runs allowed. Felix posted an incredible 58 ERA-, but on a .258 BABIP; Felix might have benefited from factors like playing in pitchers parks like Safeco, Anaheim and O.co. They both had excellent catchers framing wise in Yan Gomes (sigh) and Mike Zunino, but Kluber generated more swinging strikes, more chases outside the zone, and worked in the zone more. With all due respect to the King, it’s Corey Kluber’s throne this year.
NL Cy Young
Okay, this one is a little easier. Logic dictates that if the best player in the NL is a pitcher, then he is also the best pitcher in the NL. So, Clayton Kershaw also brings home the Cy Young hardware in 2014, with his insane line posted earlier (50 ERA-, 51 FIP-, 198.1 IP, 7.6 50-50 WAR).
Welp, that was easy.
AL Rookie of the Year
There are actually quite a few strong candidates for Rookie of the Year in both leagues this year, with a very strong rookie crop coming up. Star pitchers emerged like Masahiro Tanaka, Collin McHugh, and Marcus Stroman (yay!!!) and even a reliever in Dellin Betances, and some useful hitters like Kevin Kiermaier and George Springer. However, Jose Abreu posted a huge season for the Chicago White Sox, justifying the $68 million they committed to him in the offseason.
Abreu slashed .317/.383/.581 for a .964 OPS and a huge .264 ISO with 36 home runs, adding up to a 165 wRC+ and 5.3 fWAR. The slugger posted perhaps one of the finest rookie seasons in the 2000’s, ranking #5 overall by WAR. It will be interesting to follow Abreu’s career as he continues his ascension into becoming one of the game’s finest sluggers.
NL Rookie of the Year
This was looking like an easy run away for Billy Hamilton … Then September happened. In 74 September PAs, Hamilton posted a wRC+ of 8. 8. That is 92% of weighted runs created worse than league average. My word that is some awful baseballing. Then Jacob DeGrom happened. In September, DeGrom posted a 1.76 xFIP, including a memorable game in which he struck out the first 8 batters he faced.
Honestly, it’s a very difficult choice for NL Rookie of the Year, so I’m going to go with a deep, deep sleeper pick: former Blue Jay and fellow Met, Travis d’Arnaud. “Whaaaaaat? That’s unpossible, he hit .242 and posted 1.6 fWAR!” All of you are thinking. Well, you all happen to be right, but there’s something that hasn’t been talked about much; d’Arnaud is quite the catcher. When we look at Baseball Prospectus’ sortable framing stats, we see that d’Arnaud posted 11.9 runs added by call. This shoots d’Arnaud up near the top of the leaderboard. What with the lack of MLBAM data, it’s difficult to tell how much of Billy Hamilton’s 20.1 UZR is noise (not to say he isn’t an absolutely fantastic CFer), so I’m going to go a bit off the board and choose the former Blue Jay as my vote for 2014 NL Rookie of the Year.
MLB Moment of the Year
It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball. Through the magic of Opening Day, to spectacular rookie debuts, to no-hitters, to hitting for the cycle, baseball has a certain romance that is difficult to match.
Derek Jeter has got to be the living embodiment of the romance of baseball (which makes up for the less romantic gift basket thing). Throughout his career, Jeter has posted a 119 wRC+, along with 73.5 fWAR (and, in the interest of keeping this positive, we won’t talk about his fielding). Jeter is surely a first ballot hall of famer and has been the face of New York baseball since 1996.
So it’s all the more fitting that Derek Jeter’s final game in New York ended so … well, it’s definitely hard not to be romantic about baseball.
Congrats, Mr. Jeter. For all the jump throws and the defense debates and the killing the Blue Jays, you were one of the all time greats. Thank you; for the privilege of watching you make the game we all love so much, look so easy.