With the World Series over, baseball falls into a familiar early offseason pattern. First come the annual awards, and several results with which you will disagree. In early December, journalists, executives, young people armed with resumes, and the no-longer-suspended A.J. Preller will descend on National Harbor, Maryland, just a few steps away from a brand-new casino, for the Winter Meetings.
For the remainder of the year through early January, the sport will settle into its annual screaming contest over the Hall of Fame credentials of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, the oh-so-close Jeff Bagwell, and the last-year-on-the-ballot Tim Raines. After a wave of postseason football threatens to engulf us all, it’ll be just a few weeks before pitchers and catchers report.
Since we like to be on the leading edge here at BP, let’s cut to the front of the line and award the first major awards* of the 2016 season: The Annual Vogelsong Awards. This award is named in honor of Ryan Vogelsong who, in 2011:
2. Tied for the 12th most wins in the league and the seventh best winning percentage
3. Was an All-Star (didn’t appear) and tied for 11th in the Cy Young (one fifth-place vote)
4. Did not appear in the Baseball Prospectus Annual
For more detail on the award, click here.
The Vogelsong Award goes to the best position player and pitcher who were given little or no attention in the Annual. 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. Foreign players who signed after the Annual’s deadline (sorry, Kenta Maeda and Seung Hwan Oh!) are ineligible for the award.
We’ve awarded Vogelsong Awards every month of the season. A full list of the winners is at the end of this article. Often, the monthly winner was a hitter who had a hot couple weeks or a pitcher with a dozen or so dominant innings. The annual award is different, since players who had one lone good month (e.g., Rangers catcher Bobby Wilson: .883 OPS in May, .548 OPS the rest of the season) fall out of the running.
Here are the top performers for the full season …
FULL VOGELSONG PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Ryon Healy, Oakland
The 2016 Annual covered 1,994 players, or about 66.5 per team. When you cast a net that wide, you pick up virtually all the players with a shot at meaningful playing time. Only six players who didn’t appear in the Annual (excluding late-signing foreign players) got even 250 plate appearances: Minnesota’s Robbie Grossman (389), Kansas City’s Whit Merrifield (332), Toronto’s Darwin Barney (306), Oakland’s Ryon Healy (283), Atlanta’s Chase d’Arnaud (262), and Texas’ Bobby Wilson (251).
The latter two were below average on both sides of the ball and had 0.4 WARP between them. Barney’s key tool, as usual, was his glove, and it’s hard to trust slow-to-stabilize fielding numbers for a player who didn’t play more than 40 games at any one position. That leaves us with Grossman, Merrifield, and Healy. Merrifield rescued the Royals from Omar Infante’s bat (TAv since 2014: .234, .202, .239) at second base and provided reasonable offensive (.283/.323/.392, .253 TAv) at the first two spots in the batting order and above-average defense (1.8 FRAA). Grossman generated thump (.280/.386/.443, .287 TAv) but sub par defense, limiting the switch-hitter to fewer than 20 starts every month of the year but June.
Healy had the fewest plate appearances of the trio, but he hit the most homers (13) by a Full Vogelsong qualifier, generating a .305/.337/.524, .303 TAv line. He was penciled into the A’s lineup at third base on July 15 and was the team’s starter there for 72 of the season’s final 73 games, batting at every spot in the lineup except first and second. His -0.1 FRAA rates his defense as a push. Other advanced metrics are less impressed, but he was a big step up from his predecessor, Danny Valencia. He wound up leading the A’s in TAv and was fourth in WARP. He’ll head into spring training as Oakland’s starting third baseman and, we’re sure, with an entry in the 2017 Annual.
FULL VOGELSONG PITCHER OF THE YEAR: Joseph Biagini, Toronto
There were four solid pitching contenders for the full-year award: Cincinnati starter Dan Straily, Texas relievers Matt Bush and Tony Barnette, and Toronto reliever Joseph Biagini. All had their strong points. Straily led the Reds in innings and had the second-highest WARP of Full Vogelsong qualifiers. Among 259 pitchers with at least 900 pitches, Bush had the 13th-highest zone rate, 53.5 percent, and Biagini had the 40th-highest chase rate, 34.5 percent. Bush had the lowest DRA, 3.05, among Full Vogelsong qualifiers with at least 40 innings pitched, and his teammate Barnette’s 2.09 ERA was the lowest of the group. Biagini had a 54 percent ground ball rate, 45th among 273 pitchers with 60 or more innings pitched, and Bush’s 4.4 K/BB ratio was 35th.
The temptation is to give the award to the starter. Straily pitched 191 1/3 innings, 29th-most in the majors, but he achieved his 1.6 WARP mostly as an accumulator. Of 74 ERA qualifiers, he was 68th in FIP, 71st in cFIP, and 60th in DRA. Of the relievers, Bush handled more pressure than the others, as the average leverage index when he entered games was 1.34; Barnette was second at 1.16. But in the second half of the season, Biagini had the sixth-highest Win Probability Added for American League relievers with at least 20 innings pitched, 1.3; Bush was 19th at 0.7.
Barnette, hampered by an oblique injury, was limited to 19 2/3 innings after the All-Star break, generating 0.4 WPA. Bush faced a 1.30 leverage index when brought into second-half games, but Biagini was barely lower at 1.24. So Biagini’s lower full-year leverage index is a product of him being used in low-pressure situations at the start of the year. As John Gibbons gained confidence in the 26-year-old rookie, his average leverage index rose from 0.87 in June and 0.99 in July to 1.58 in August and 1.27 in September. In the Blue Jays’ sweep of the Rangers in the Division Series, Biagini pitched three innings, allowing two hits and no runs (though he allowed two of three inherited runners to score), while Barnette allowed a hit in each of his three appearances covering four innings, allowing his lone inherited runner to score, and Bush took the loss in the deciding game on Josh Donaldson’s mad dash home.
So Matt Bush, impressive reliever with an unfortunate past, gets edged out by Joseph Biagini, Rule 5 draft pickup from the San Francisco Giants who, prior to 2016, had never played above Double-A in four minor-league seasons and had pitched only five games in relief over his entire prior professional career.
LINEOUT VOGELSONG PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Aledmys Diaz, St. Louis
Diaz was the Lineout Vogelsong Player of the Month in April. Milwaukee’s Jonathan Villar won the award in May. For the year, Villar led Lineout Vogelsong qualifiers in plate appearances, with 679, and Diaz was second with 460. Villar and Diaz were 1-2 in runs and hits. Diaz and Villar were 1-2 in RBIs, batting average, and on base percentage, and they were 1-3 in OPS (minimum 300 plate appearances for rate stats). Diaz’s .321 TAv was 10th in the majors (again, minimum 300 plate appearances), tied with Jose Altuve and one point ahead of Corey Seager. Villar’s .291 tied him with Brian Dozier, Edwin Encarnacion, and Stephen Piccotty for 61st.
So while Lineout recipients Ryan Schimpf (.315 TAv, 20 home runs, .315 isolated power) of San Diego, Boston’s Sandy Leon (.310/.369/.476), and the Brewers’ Hernan Perez (.273 TAv, 34 stolen bases) had fine seasons, this was a race between Villar (4.8 WARP) and Diaz (4.1 WARP). Villar gets the edge on playing time, but that illustrates Diaz’s value, as the Cardinals, who finished a game shy of the second Wild Card, went only 19-18 during the six weeks Diaz missed after an Andrew Cashner pitch broke his thumb. Diaz (.310/.369/.510, first in TAv and second in OPS on the Cardinals) was a better hitter than Villar (.285/.369/.457, third in TAv and OPS on the Brewers).
Villar was a much better base stealer, going 62-for-80 in stolen base attempts compared to 4-for-8 for Diaz. But Diaz had 1.4 baserunning runs while Villar, who he made 16 outs on bases, the most in the majors, had -2.4. They were both shortstops who were supposed to merely keep the spot warm, for the injured Jhonny Peralta in Diaz’s case and uber-prospect Orlando Arcia in Villar’s. Villar did yield to Arcia, becoming a 2B-3B, while Diaz turned Peralta into a third baseman; Villar nonetheless got better grades for his glovework. Diaz batted second in 65 starts and eighth 25 times, Villar was the Brewers’ primary leadoff hitter.
In the 2016 Annual, we wrote of Diaz:
“About as close as the Cardinals get to a 'you only moved the headstones!’-level mistake, Aledmys Diaz hasn't impressed since signing a four-year, $8 million contract prior to the 2014 season. The expectation now is that he could turn into an extra infielder. Diaz passed through waivers untouched in July, so the rest of the league might find that evaluation a tad optimistic.”
Villar’s Lineout was scarcely more complimentary:
“Jonathan Villar went to the Astros in the Roy Oswalt trade, and all these years later it's still the most interesting thing about him.”
The choice here is Diaz. He was a better hitter, supported by a reasonable .312 BABIP compared to Villar’s .372 (third highest in the National League), and wasn’t far behind in the field or on the bases.
LINEOUT VOGELSONG PITCHER OF THE YEAR: Dan Otero, Cleveland
The most prominent pitchers who received Lineouts were a mixed bag. There were three starters, none stars: Colorado’s Tyler Chatwood (3.87 ERA, 4.36 FIP, 4.15 DRA, 2.2 WARP), San Diego’s Luis Perdomo (5.71/4.88/4.02, 2.1 WARP), and Milwaukee’s Junior Guerra (2.81/3.75 WARP/4.43, 1.3 WARP). There were several competent relievers: Houston’s Chris Devenski (2.16/2.30/3.72, 1.7 WARP) and Michael Feliz (4.43/3.20/2.65, 1.7 WARP), Cleveland’s Dan Otero (1.53/2.29/3.06, 1.6 WARP), Cincinnati’s Blake Wood (yes, really, a Reds reliever, 3.99/4.16/3.50, 1.3 WARP), and Minnesota’s Taylor Rogers (3.96/3.53/3.30, 1.2 WARP). Certainly, none of these pitchers had the prominence of Diaz and Villar.
As with the Full Vogelsong Pitcher award, it’s tempting to go with the starting pitcher. But none of the three pitched enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. Of the 118 pitchers with at least 120 innings pitched, Guerra had a nice ERA, but he was the only one of the trio with a below-median FIP, Perdomo was the only one with a below-median DRA, and none had a below-median cFIP. But let’s give some love to the DRA leader of the group.
Otero has a 5.7 K/BB ratio, best of the bunch, and 10th-highest in the majors. His K/BB was a product of a stingy 3.7 percent walk rate, sixth-lowest in the league. He was a ground ball machine, with a 64 percent ground-ball rate that was seventh in the majors (minimum 60 IP for all preceding statistics). Considering his comment in the Annual—“After two years as a key bullpen cog for the A’s, Dan Otero turned into a punching bag, the unfortunate sinkerballer whose ball doesn’t sink until it’s on the other side of the outfield fence”—it’s worth noting that his 0.7 percent home run rate was the seventh-lowest in the majors this year.
Congratulations to our winners! They can preorder next year’s Annual, in which they are virtually certain to be mentioned, after the season ends.
*You might argue that the Gold Glove Awards, announced yesterday when absolutely nobody was following any other news stories at all, are a major award. But I was thinking more of the MVP/Cy Young/Rookie/Manager awards, for which MLB, in a nod to the CPSU, announced finalists Monday even though the election took place over a month ago.
April Full Vogelsong Pitcher: Dan Straily, Cincinnati
April Lineout Vogelsong Player: Aledmys Diaz, St. Louis
April Lineout Vogelsong Pitcher: Tyler Chatwood, Colorado
May Full Vogelsong Player: Bobby Wilson, Texas
May Full Vogelsong Pitcher: Joseph Biagini, Toronto
May Lineout Vogelsong Player: Jonathan Villar, Milwaukee
May Lineout Vogelsong Pitcher: Michael Feliz, Houston
June Full Vogelsong Player: Whit Merrifield, Kansas City
June Full Vogelsong Pitcher: Buddy Boshers, Minnesota
June Lineout Vogelsong Player: Sandy Leon, Boston
June Lineout Vogelsong Pitcher: Bud Norris, Atlanta
July Full Vogelsong Pitcher: Brandon Kintzler, Minnesota
July Lineout Vogelsong Player: Ryan Schimpf, San Diego
July Lineout Vogelsong Pitcher: Junior Guerra, Milwaukee
August Full Vogelsong Player: Ryon Healy, Oakland
August Full Vogelsong Pitcher: Matt Strahm, Kansas City
August Lineout Vogelsong Player: Scott Schebler, Cincinnati
August Lineout Vogelsong Pitcher: Chris Devenski, Houston
September Full Vogelsong Pitcher: Matthew Bowman, St. Louis
September Lineout Vogelsong Player: Tommy Joseph, Philadelphia
September Lineout Vogelsong Pitcher: Robert Gsellman, Mets
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