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November 21, 2011

Internet Baseball Awards

National League

by Greg Spira

For full results to this year's IBA voting, look here.

Today, in the second of two parts of our coverage of the 2011 Internet Baseball Awards, we take a look at the National League’s winners and top finishers. This is the 20th year of the Internet Baseball Awards. In 1991, our first year, the three IBA winners in the National League were Barry Bonds, Tom Glavine, and Jeff Bagwell. The last two picks were the same picks the BBWAA made that year. But Internet voters chose a very different Player of the Year: Barry Bonds. The BBWAA had already given him his first Player of the Year award the previous year.

Bonds had yet another MVP-quality year in 1991, as did Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg. But the Braves were the biggest story in baseball that year, having gone from worst in 1990 (and a number of previous years) to best in 1991. And Terry Pendleton made that same journey with them. Pendleton had been horrendous in 1990 as the St. Louis Cardinals’ third baseman. But the Braves acquired Pendleton in an attempt to improve their poor defense. The plan worked better than anybody imagined. Pendleton had the best of his career. Bonds was significantly more productive that season, but he had done nothing in 1991 that he hadn’t done a year earlier. And so the BBWAA selected Pendleton as their MVP in a very close vote, while IBA voters selected Bonds as the Player of the Year by a significant margin.

These days, the gap between IBA votes and BBWAA voters is far smaller than it used to be, but a close look at the full results from both groups will also turn up some interesting differences.

Now to the voting. The point system for the balloting was as follows:

  • Player of the Year ballots: 14 points for first-place votes, nine points for second-place votes, eight points for third-place votes, etc., down to one point for a 10th-place vote.
  • Pitcher of the Year ballots: 10 points for first-place votes, seven points for second-place votes, five points for third-place votes, three points for fourth-place, and one point for fifth-place votes. This point system we use differs from the BBWAA point system for historical reasons.
  • Rookie of the Year ballots:10 points for first-place votes, seven points for second-place votes, five points for third-place votes, three points for fourth-place, and one point for fifth-place votes. This is a longer ballot than the BBWAA uses and (obviously) a different point system.
  • Manager of the Year ballots: Five points for first-place votes, three points for second-place votes, and one point for third-place votes.

Player of the Year
The Los Angeles Dodgers certainly went through a tumultuous season, but their top position player, Matt Kemp, barely seemed to notice. The young outfielder led the league in home runs (39) and OPS+ (171) despite playing half his games in a strong pitcher’s park and posted the highest WARP of any player since 2004. Voters responded by giving him 70 percent of their first-place votes.

Ryan Braun appeared on only four fewer ballots than Kemp but earned just 21 percent of the first-place votes, resulting in a second-place finish. Braun led the Milwaukee Brewers to the team’s first division championship in 29 years by leading the league with a .597 SLG and finishing near or at the top in virtually every major offensive statistical category besides triples and walks.

While Braun has never been a serious Player of the Year candidate, he has finished among the top 20 vote-getters every season since 2007. Kemp, on the other hand, finished seventh in 2009. Kemp is the first Dodger to win this award since Mike Piazza did so in 1997 and 1998, while Braun finished higher in the balloting than any previous Milwaukee Brewer.

A huge gap separates the top two votegetters from the rest of the field, and only one other player besides Kemp and Braun earned more than 10 first place votes (Albert Pujols with 14). Prince Fielder came in third place, just like he did in 2009. Fielder also had fifth-place finishes in both 2006 and 2007.The first baseman may not have been the best hitter in the league, but he was the scariest; he led the league in intentional walks with 32.

Fourth place went to Albert Pujols who, as a free agent this winter, is bound to sign the biggest contract in baseball history over the next couple of months. His IBA Player of the Year voting results show why: he has finished fourth or higher in the voting in 10 of the 11 years of his career. In his “off” year in 2004, Pujols placed seventh.

Justin Upton, the young star of the Arizona Diamondbacks, placed fifth. His only previous top-25 finish came in 2009, when he finished 21st. Last year’s winner, Joey Votto, finished in sixth place. Votto has now finished in the top 20 three consecutive years. Roy Halladay’s seventh-place finish was the highest of any pitcher.This is the fifth time that Halladay finished among the top 15 votegetters in Internet Player of the Year voting.

The highest-ranking reliever was John Axford of the Brewers in 23rd place. The highest-placing rookie was another relief pitcher, Braves closer Craig Kimbrel, who finished in 31st place. Other random facts: fifteen of the top 20 votegetters played for winning teams, and ten of the top 20 made it into the playoffs. On the other hand, no San Diego Padre finished in the top 50; Heath Bell, the Padres closer, was the highest-ranking Padre in 56th place.

Pitcher of the Year
Voting for the 2011 Internet NL Pitcher of the Year did not feature a lot of variety. Only three pitchers received more than 10 first-place votes. Pitchers for two teams won six of the top 10 places in the balloting.

The winner, Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw, won the rare pitching Triple Crown, leading the league in wins (21), ERA (2.28), and strikeouts (248). But the race was closer than you’d expect; the other pitcher who received wide-scale support for this award was Roy Halladay. Halladay pitched one-third of an inning more than Kershaw in 2011 while posting an ERA of 2.35, less than one-tenth of a run more than Kershaw. Many advanced statistics rate Halladay’s 2011 season as superior, but there is no measurement that can comprehensively compare Halladay’s and Kershaw’s seasons and conclude that there is a significant, qualitative difference between them.

And so while Halladay actually placed on the most ballots (553 to Kershaw’s 538), Kershaw received a far higher percentage of first-place votes—twice as many, in fact—as Halladay did (65 percent vs. 32 percent), and thus triumphed in the overall vote by a significant margin.

Kershaw finished in 12th place last year and 11th place in 2009. Halladay, on the other hand, is a three-time winner of Internet Pitcher of the Year honors and has finished among the top five candidates six times. Another player with experience at the top is Halladay’s teammate, Cliff Lee, who finished third overall. Lee won the 2008 Internet Cy Young and finished fourth in 2010. Lee was the only other pitcher besides Kershaw and Halladay to receive more than 10 first-place votes (he received 23 in total).

One of the reasons the Diamondbacks won the NL West was Ian Kennedy, who came out of nowhere (well, 28th in 2010) to finish fourth. Yet another Phillie, Cole Hamels, captured the last spot in the top five. Hamels was voted into the top 10 on three previous occasions (fifth in 2008, sixth in 2007, ninth in 2009) and appeared further down in the top 25 in both 2006 and 2009.

Two-time Internet Pitcher of the Year winner Tim Lincecum finished seventh after a fifth-place finish in 2010. Teammate Madison Bumgarner followed up his eighth-place finish in 2010 by landing at sixth.

The highest-finishing rookie and the highest-finishing relief pitcher was Braves closer Craig Kimbrel, who placed 10th.

You probably noticed earlier in the article that three of the top five votegetters were Phillies. In addition, three other pitchers in the top 10 were San Francisco Giants. Only one Houston Astro, J.A. Happ, received a vote, and he finished with just one point in a five-way tie for last place.

Three of the top six pitchers were left-handed starters. Six of the top 10 pitchers were on teams that made it to the playoffs.

Rookie of the Year
On September 9, 2010 the Atlanta Braves called up Craig Kimbrel from Triple-A Gwinnett. This marked the fourth and last time Kimbrel would be promoted to the majors that season. In his previous callups, Kimbrel had been very hard to hit but somewhat wild, allowing two runs on five hits in 9 1/3 innings while walking 11 and striking out 12. But in that last callup, Kimbrel allowed no runs on three hits and five walks while striking out an astonishing 23 batters.

Rookie of the Year awards rarely end up in the hands of the players appointed as frontrunners by pre-season prognosticators. And the Internet electorate has generally proven far more reluctant than the BBWAA to vote to honor relief pitchers with any award. Relievers who get a look in September almost never proceed to continue to dominate enough in the next season to win Rookie of the Year honors. Only two pitchers have followed that script in the past 25 years: Todd Worrell in the BBWAA balloting in 1986, and Neftali Feliz in the IBA and BBWAA balloting last season in the American League.

Kimbrel proved to be the exception. The right-hander dominated everyone—left-handed hitters and right-handed hitters, power hitters and contact hitters, veteran hitters and rookie hitters—allowing 5.6 hits per nine innings while allowing 3.7 bases on balls and striking out 14.8 batters. Kimbrel’s strikeouts per nine doesn’t quite set a new major-league record for relief pitchers, but it is the highest figure ever by a pitcher throwing 77 innings in a season.

Kimbrel earned 55 percent of all first-place votes and found placement on 85 percent of the ballots submitted. First baseman Freddie Freeman, another member of the Atlanta Braves’ rookie class, finished second after posting a .340 OBP and a .446 SLG in 2011. That offensive performance, about 18 percent above average in terms of OPS+, was far and away the best of any rookie in the NL. The Braves also supplied the fifth-place finisher, Brandon Beachy. The 25-year old right-hander started 25 games for the Braves. In 141 2/3 innings, he allowed 125 hits and 16 home runs, gave up 46 walks, and struck out 169. Beachy’s punchouts led all NL rookie pitchers and set a new Braves record for strikeouts in a season.

Seven different rookies received more than 10 first-place votes: Kimbrel (287), Freeman (65), Beachy (33), Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa (37), who led the class with 55 extra-base hits, Phillies starter Vance Worley (24), the highest-ranking starting pitcher, Diamondbacks starting pitcher Josh Collmenter (36), who walked only 28 batters in 154 1/3 innings, and Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos (21), who thankfully is safe now after being kidnapped in Venezuela. The youngest of these eight is Freeman, who won’t be 23 until September 12, while the oldest is Collmenter, who will be 26 in February.

Five of those top eight were pitchers. Six of the top 10 played on winning teams. The Cardinals were the only team without a top-40 player.

Manager of the Year
Whenever a team goes looking for a new manager, there’s lots of talk about the team needing to hire someone with major-league managerial experience. That’s why there are so many recycled managers. And the more managers are recycled, the smaller the pool of inexperienced managers becomes. However, among 2011’s NL managers, inexperience won the day.

The manager who voters overwhelming honored as the 2011 Internet NL Manager of the Year wasn’t exactly a first-year manager, but 2011 was his first full season as a major-league manager. Kirk Gibson was brought on as the interim manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks on July 1, 2010. At the time, the Diamondbacks had produced a 31-48 record under their previous manager, AJ Hinch. Under Gibson, the 2010 Diamondbacks didn’t exactly take off—in fact, their record in the second half was even worse than it had been in the first half—but Arizona was happy enough with what they saw in Gibson to remove the interim tag and sign him to a two-year contract almost immediately upon season’s end.

The 2010 Diamondbacks were not perceived as a talentless team; despite their record, their roster was nothing like, say, that of the equally inept 2010 Seattle Mariners. Gibson was hired to turn the talent in the organization into wins, but no one expected him to lead Arizona to the 2011 NL West title with 94 wins. It’s no surprise that Gibson‘s name appeared on 47 percent more ballots than any other candidate.

Ron Roenicke, who finished second in the voting, was more inexperienced than Gibson. Before the 2011 season, his major-league managerial career consisted of a mere eight games as an interim manager for the Angels on the rare occasion Mike Scioscia was absent. Roenicke took the helm of the Milwaukee Brewers in spring training in 2011 and rode the team to its first division title since 1992. Just behind Roenicke in the voting was someone with 5,097 more games as skipper: Tony La Russa. The skipper of the world champion Cardinals finished third in the final year of his illustrious managerial career, which started in the Disco Demolition era. (Bill Veeck hired LaRussa to replace Don Kessinger as the manager of the White Sox less than one month after that legendary July night ignited at Comiskey). La Russa never won an Internet Manager of the Year award, but he finished in the top five in eight of the 13 years he has been on the ballot.

Charlie Manuel, who led the Phillies to yet another NL East title, finished fourth, marking the fifth straight year in which he has finished among the top five vote-getters without winning the award. Clint Hurdle, who led the Pittsburgh Pirates past 70 wins for the first time since 2004, placed fifth. He won this award back in 2007, and was the highest-ranking manager in this year’s voting to lead a team that finished under .500. Rounding out the top six was Dodgers rookie skipper Don Mattingly.

Gibson received 54 percent of the first-place votes and was named on 89 percent of the ballots; Roenicke (on 57 percent of the ballots), LaRussa (also 57 percent), and Manuel (26 percent) were the only other managers to receive more than 20 first-place votes. Padres manager Bud Black, who won the award last year, finished 10th.

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