May 3, 2017
The Vogelsong Awards Return
Baseball has an affinity for awards with names, dating back to the Chalmers Award. The predecessor of the Most Valuable Player Award, the Chalmers Award was named after a car company, Chalmers Automobile, and was given annually from 1910 to 1914, with the inaugural award fomenting one of the biggest controversies in the game’s history.
There have been a number of other awards named after prominent players. The Cy Young Award dates back to 1956 and, true to its namesake, has often been awarded to the pitcher with the most wins and the 60th-best ERA. The Roberto Clemente Award, named after the Pirates outfielder and humanitarian, honors the player “that shows the most sportsmanship and kindness,” including Pete Rose (1976), Steve Garvey (1981), Sammy Sosa (1998), and Curt Schilling (2001).
The Hank Aaron Award has been given to the top hitter in each league since 1999, and it’s named after the non-detestable player with the most career home runs. And, of course, the Silver Slugger Award, given to the top hitters at each position in each league, is named for PECOTA developer/Baseball Prospectus writer/mover-on to bigger things Nate Silver.
Last year we added the Vogelsong Award to this constellation. Ryan Vogelsong hadn’t appeared in the BP Annual since 2008 when he returned from a five-year major-league hiatus to go 13-7 in 28 starts for the 2011 Giants, compiling a 2.71 ERA and 3.63 FIP over 179 2/3 innings. His entry in the 2012 Annual began: “Vogelsong wins the award for best player unmentioned in the 2011 BP Annual.”
The Vogelsong Awards honor the best batter and pitcher overlooked by the Annual. With the 2017 edition covering a record 2,077 players in its 576 pages, there are a limited number of players to appear each season who aren’t in the Annual. But some do, and the Vogelsong Awards identifies the best of them.
There are two types of Vogelsong Awards. Full Vogelsongs are awarded to players who aren’t mentioned in the Annual at all. Lineout Vogelsongs go to players whose Annual entry is limited to a short "lineout" description given to less prominent players. Note that foreign players who sign with major-league team after the Annual’s deadline are not eligible for the award, because they almost certainly would’ve been in the Annual had they signed earlier.
And so, after a long, cold, lonely winter, the Vogelsong Awards return!
Here are April’s winners. The contributors to this year’s Annual did such a good job that in April there were only five batters who got 20 or more plate appearances and four pitchers with five or more innings who weren’t in the book. This makes for a great reference book, but it made the task for our blue-ribbon panel of experts excruciating, with their final decisions coming only after hours of deliberation in my mother’s basement.
APRIL FULL VOGELSONG PLAYER OF THE MONTH: Jim Adduci, Detroit Tigers. The Canadian-born Adduci, who will turn 32 later this month, was selected in the 42nd round of the 2003 draft. (Frame of reference: Bryce Harper was 10 years old at the time.) After nine years in the minors, he got into 17 games for the 2013 Rangers and 44 the following year, posting a combined .189/.259/.242 line. He followed that with a couple seasons in Korea, where he batted .307/.369/.530—not quite Eric Thames-esque, but enough to earn him a minor-league contract with the Tigers over the winter.
When JaCoby Jones was put on the 10-day disabled list after taking a Justin Haley fastball to the face, Detroit called up Adduci, who went 3-for-4 with a double and a walk in his first game and 3-for-6 with a double and a triple the following day. In limited play (six games, 22 plate appearances) he batted .400/.455/.650 in April. That’s good for 0.3 WARP, which works out to exactly 0.3 more WARP than he’d accumulated in the rest of his major-league career. He seems likely to return to Toledo when Jones returns, but he gets to keep his Vogelsong Award.
Jim Adduci fun fact: Outfielder Jim Adduci’s dad is outfielder Jim Adduci. No senior/junior thing here: James David Adduci is the father of Jim Charles Adduci.
APRIL FULL VOGELSONG PITCHER OF THE MONTH: Craig Breslow, Minnesota Twins. I know, you’re thinking “well, of course, it had to be the stat-head darling Yale grad who reworked his mechanics based on sabermetric concepts, but come on, he pitched only 7 1/3 innings!” Well, yeah, true, but the two pitchers with more than 10 innings in April who didn’t appear in the Annual (Craig Stammen and Casey Lawrence) had ERAs in the 8.00s. Breslow had a 2.45 ERA and a 3.44 FIP, and he walked only two batters.
Yes, he was used in low-leverage situations (only two appearances out of 10 with an average leverage index higher than 0.8). Yes, he’s struck out only four batters. And his DRA ... well, don’t even ask about his DRA. (OK, it was 9.49.)
But come on! He’s a Yale grad (molecular biophysics and biochemistry, no less) who reworked his mechanics based on sabermetric concepts!
APRIL LINEOUT VOGELSONG PLAYER OF THE MONTH: Manny Pina, Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers' catching depth chart was supposed to be topped by Jett Bandy and Andrew Susac. But when Susac batted only .192 with one extra-base hit in spring training, the team broke camp with a Bandy/Pina tandem. And in April, the club that traded away Jonathan Lucroy last summer led the majors in catcher OPS by far, .972 compared to .913 for second-place Detroit.
Bandy and Pina split time behind the plate, and Pina hit .375/.423/.562 in his 14 April games, aided by an 89 percent contact rate (sixth in the majors, minimum 150 pitches seen). His bat’s been his strength; his lineout entry states: “Behind Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado, the Brewers' catching depth did not have many chances to prove their defensive prowess. In Manny Pina’s case, the bat helps to speak for those lacking defensive chances, as the veteran saw his first real playing time in the majors.” But he also contributed 1.8 framing runs in April, the fifth-most in the majors.
APRIL LINEOUT VOGELSONG PITCHER OF THE MONTH: Andrew Triggs, Oakland Athletics. Another pitching award for another sabermetric darling, but there were no thumbs on the scale. Triggs was legitimately excellent in April: 1.84 ERA, (11th in the majors), 2.76 FIP (11th), 1.91 DRA (16th), 1.1 WARP (23rd. Triggs, Sean Manaea, Kendall Graveman, and Jesse Hahn gave the A’s a majors-best 2.98 starter DRA in the month.
Triggs’ strikeout rate was a below-average 18.6 percent, but he walked only six batters in 29 1/3 innings and allowed only one homer. His lineout comment in the Annual was optimistic: “Andrew Triggs’ extreme sidearm delivery disguised sub par offerings, but improved command and a successful migration to the rotation helped convert his career trajectory from journeyman reliever to potential back-end starter.”
He was better than that in April. He got shelled in an 11-1 A’s loss to the Mariners (4 2/3 innings, eight baserunners, six earned runs) but allowed no runs in his other four starts. Triggs was drafted in three consecutive years, by Cleveland in 2010, San Francisco in 2011, and Kansas City in 2012. The Royals sold him to Baltimore in 2015, and the Orioles waived him at the start of last season. With a notably high-spin slider and a ground-ball rate of 54 percent (13th-highest in the majors among ERA qualifiers) during April, he’s been one of the main drivers of Oakland’s surprising start. (Granted, this is a team for which “surprising” equates to “not in last place.”)
Congratulations to our winners! They can preorder next year’s Annual, in which they are virtually certain to be mentioned, after the season ends.