September 30, 2008
AAR and IBA
What was most interesting about yesterday's rain-delayed, rain-delayed game between the White Sox and Tigers was just how typical it ended up being. The White Sox got a quality start and scored half their runs on a homer. The Tigers got terrible relief pitching, played poor defense, and didn't hit enough to overcome that. Had the game been played in August as originally scheduled, it would have passed largely without notice.
The Tigers definitely showed up, overcoming a very generous strike zone to put together some excellent at-bats against Gavin Floyd in the middle innings. They made one significant base-running error-Brandon Inge's double in the fifth absolutely should have been a triple, which would have enabled him to score on Dusty Ryan's single-that cost them when they couldn't score despite having first and third with nobody out. Failing to score then was critical, because there was little chance this game would end with the Sox having scored just one run. When the Tigers' pen got involved in the sixth, turning a 2-1 lead into 2-6 deficit, the missed opportunity loomed large. The game ended, for all intents and purposes, when Alexei Ramirez hit his slam in the sixth, although the two tack-on runs the Tigers' defense allowed in the eighth enabled Ozzie Guillen to save Bobby Jenks, which could be significant tonight.
I won't even try to predict the outcome of tonight's game. The Twins have an edge in that they didn't have to play yesterday, and got light work from Joe Nathan and Jose Mijares Sunday, so they have a clean pen for this one. The Sox get to play at home-both teams were 53-28 at home, 35-46 on the road-which is fairly significant in this matchup. It's not just the results, but the approach; the Sox hit home runs, which are easier to come by at US Cellular. The Twins rely on getting results on balls in play, and do that better-a higher BABIP and more doubles and triples-at home. The Sox have their best starter this season on the mound, the Twins a mid-rotation guy who before last Wednesday had been struggling.
It's not quite a coin flip-the balance of edges favor the White Sox because of location and starting pitcher-but it's close enough to be an unpredictable game. Once again, watch it with us.
The following are my Internet Baseball Awards ballots. The IBAs have run on Baseball Prospectus for nearly a decade, and date back to the mid-1990s on Usenet, where Greg Spira conceived and ran them. We'll have this year's available within a few days on the site.
American League MVP
I'm amenable to the idea that, in a close race, the relevance of a player's performance to a team chasing a post-season berth is an acceptable tiebreaker. Unfortunately, there was no tie to break here. Cliff Lee was that much better than the field, and Roy Halladay also that much better than the other candidates, that no amount of bias towards up-the-middle position players or players on contenders could make it up. It was just that kind of year in the AL, where the top tier of position players weren't as impressive as the league's top pitchers. There's nothing wrong with that.
You could flip Sizemore and Mauer without getting much argument from me. Sizemore was second in both RARP and WARP, and a +6 defensively by John Dewan's defensive scoring. His plus-minus system doesn't evaluate catchers; Mauer's defense is down a bit from last year's insane season, but still very good. He's miles ahead of his more BBR(BI)AA-friendly teammate. Pedroia's defense moves him ahead of Rodriguez, and after that, you can throw the next guys in a group. Hamilton is something of a placeholder for the three Rangers, who were all pretty close in value, and who had no or negative defensive value among them. The Rangers have to improve their defense, and yes, I've been writing that since 2000 or so.
American League Cy Young
Yeah, I had no idea, either. Not about the top two spots, but about Lester, who was clearly the third-best pitcher in the league by VORP and Support-Neutral stats. The gap between him and Ervin Santana was wide enough to fit the league's top two relievers by WXRL. So yes, in that order. I could just as easily have slotted Joe Nathan or Joakim Soria in the fifth slot, because as everyone knows, I hate the Angels.
American League Rookie of the Year
Longoria's VORP edge on Aviles is tiny, and what's surprising is that his defensive edge, at least in the plus-minus system, doesn't exist. Aviles was +15, Longoria +11. I had no idea Aviles had sustained his hot start, and there's a pretty strong case for him ahead of Longoria, based largely on him being a better defensive shortstop than was advertised. Chamberlain pitched very well in both his roles, and could have won had he stayed on the mound all year.
American League Manager of the Year
No manager had a fantastic year, but it's worth giving Maddon some credit for his role in the development of the Rays, and specifically his management of a young pitching staff. He neither over- nor underworked his starters, and he managed a pretty effective bullpen that had been assembled from spare parts. Scioscia won 100 games, albeit in a soft division, with well shy of 100-win talent. I do wonder if he realizes playing Angel baseball without much team speed is a problem, but he continues to manage a pitching staff as well as anyone in the game. Francona's slot could also be Ozzie Guillen's; both, year-in and year-out, make many more right decisions than wrong ones. Francona does a better job of not creating chaos.
National League MVP
As in the AL, the gap between the best player and the field dwarfs whatever soft arguments exist to close that gap. The best hitter in the league is also one of the most valuable defensive players. Pujols may win; if he doesn't, it will be a travesty. Ramirez dramatically improved his defense this year, and was clearly the second-best player in the metrics. The two pitchers slot in-yes, in that order, as they're nearly inseparable, and this is the place to give credit for the value of the performance to a contender's efforts-between those two and a host of viable options. Chase Utley rates consistently as a superior second baseman, and moves ahead of two plus defenders who outhit him. Sabathia in the last spot is a soft selection, admittedly. I'll acknowledge respecting the narrative, but note that he's not that far behind the position players he beats out in terms of VORP accumulated in the NL. It's a reasonable slot, and you could move him up to eight or nine.
National League Cy Young
Santana and Lincecum had years that were nearly identical in statistical value. The difference between them in the metrics isn't statistically significant. With that the case, I'm open to the argument that Santana's innings were thrown for a team who needed every single win it could get in a race, while Lincecum's lacked that import. If you go strictly by the numbers, you could conclude either pitcher was better-Lincecum's strikeouts may carry the day here. I can't argue against any ordering of these two. What I can say is that any ballot that doesn't have those two names atop it is in error. Hamels is third, slightly at the lead of a large pack. The Lidge pick seems out of place, but I'm swayed by Rob Neyer's notion that Lidge's perfect season in save opportunities means he was some number of wins-five, six?-better than even a good closer. Sabathia is, again, a nod to the narrative putting him ahead of a group of pitchers that includes Ryan Dempster, Ben Sheets, Dan Haren, Brandon Webb, and Derek Lowe.
National League Rookie of the Year
One of the easier lists to create, although Hiroki Kuroda deserves to be mentioned as well.
National League Manager of the Year
It was a very soft year for NL managers. For all the praise of Joe Torre, he led a team everyone had winning 87-90 games to 84 wins, and it's hard to identify what he did well other than finally let Andre Ethier play in August. Ned Colletti handed him a huge upgrade over his existing left fielders, and Torre nearly screwed it up by sticking with Juan Pierre initially. I'm not impressed. Fredi Gonzalez managed a young team reasonably well, got good work from a complete no-name bullpen for much of the year, and seemed to understand that he shouldn't be wasting outs given his low-OBP, high-power lineup. Piniella had the best team in the league and didn't screw it up. Manuel…well, he gave Jayson Werth and Greg Dobbs enough playing time that his team won the division.