Most Valuable Player
Before the season started, we liked Justin Upton to level up and take home his first MVP award as he continued his path to becoming one of the premier stars in the game. We were totally wrong. Rather than working off an established level of success and leaving his lackluster 2010 behind, Upton had an even worse season than his previous career nadir. The right fielder hit a pedestrian .280/.355/.430 with 17 homers and 18 steals, and that’s hardly enough to get anywhere near even a very drunk writer’s MVP ballot. Upton is now something of an outcast in Arizona, but he’ll still just be 25 for the majority of next season and could easily return to his previous level of performance or get even better.
We were obviously wrong on Upton, but we did mention Ryan Braun, Giancarlo Stanton, and Joey Votto as potential candidates. Sure, that’s pretty obvious, but Braun is right in the race and the other two would be should injuries not have slapped them in the face. So who would we pick to win the award now that we have a full season’s worth of results at our fingertips? It’s a pretty crowded bunch near the top; Buster Posey, Ryan Braun, and Andrew McCutchen wound up being the finalists thanks to their terrific all-around seasons. Chase Headley and David Wright were also completely in the mix when it comes to seasonal WAR totals (per FanGraphs, of course), but much of their value was tied up in defensive metrics that aren’t always that reliable. In the case of these two, we’re sold they can handle third base. That said, they’re just a tier below.
Also bearing mention are Yadier Molina and Jason Heyward. Yadi, as all of you who visit this site surely know, had an outstanding season behind and in front of the plate, and he gets an extra boost from his positional value. Plus, there is no way we have a metric at our disposal yet that values all the things he does back there. Seriously, you can’t run on the guy and he might just pick you off any base you’re standing on. I’m talking to you, prospective baserunners! Heyward made huge strides in becoming the excellent well-rounded player most knew he had a chance at being. He played a great right field, did nothing wrong and a lot right on the bases, and held his own at the plate.
After careful consideration, we’re giving the award to Buster Posey. Posey led the National League in WAR at 8.0, and he hit a robust .336/.408/.549. A true star, Posey’s bat has turned into a viable weapon, a pillar for the Giants to build around. Arguments could be made for Braun and McCutchen, as their seasons at the plate were every bit as impressive and in Braun’s case more so. Posey gets the nod over those two because he was basically an equal force at the plate while manning the catcher position, and that simply makes his contributions more valuable.
1. Buster Posey, C, San Francisco: .336/.408/.549, 24 HR, .406 wOBA, 162 wRC+, 8.0 WAR
2. Ryan Braun, OF, Milwaukee: .319/.391/.595, 41 HR, .413 wOBA, 162 wRC+, 7.9 WAR
3. Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh: .327/.400/.553, 31 HR, .403 wOBA, 158 wRC+, 7.4 WAR
4. David Wright, 3B, New York: .306/.391/.492, 21 HR, .376 wOBA, 140 wRC+, 7.8 WAR
5. Yadier Molina, C, St. Louis: .315/.373/.501, 22 HR, .375 wOBA, 139 wRC+, 6.5 WAR
In a safe and somewhat cowardly move, we doubled down on Clayton Kershaw as our pick to win the NL Cy Young award for a second consecutive year. This pick obviously looks a lot better than our Upton pick, as the lanky left-hander once again dominated any and all men willing to step into the box against him. Kershaw seemed to have less buzz around him this season in terms of media attention, but that didn’t mean his season was much of a downgrade. Over the course of 227 2/3 innings, Kershaw posted a 2.53 ERA, 2.89 FIP, and 3.25 xFIP. He led all NL pitchers at 5.5 WAR, struck out nearly four times as many as he walked, and put up the highest ground ball rate of his career thus far. There isn’t much to nitpick about when it comes to the Dodger ace, but let’s take a look at his competition.
Having already elaborated on why the Kershaw pick was a good (and obvious) one, it’s important to realize that there are actually multiple other defensible choices in the National League. The popular selection, and probably the eventual winner, is Mets starter R.A. Dickey. The nearly-40 knuckleballer famously defied all odds against him to have an amazing season; he logged more innings than his Cy Young competitors (233 2/3 IP), very rarely walked a batter (2.08 BB/9), and topped Kershaw to lead the league in strikeouts by one. Nationals lefty Gio Gonzalez has a nice case of his own, as he checked in just below Kershaw at 5.4 wAR while striking out 9.35/9, and establishing a 2.82 FIP.
While Kershaw, Gonzalez, and Dickey seem to be the three best choices, there are a couple other pitchers I’d like to discuss. Cliff Lee probably has the best Cy Young resume ever for a guy with six pitcher wins. Lee pitched 211 innings, only walked 1.19 men per nine, was third in WAR for NL pitchers, and struck out nearly a batter per inning. It was another great year for Lee even if it will go unnoticed by most. Johnny Cueto, master of pick-off moves and ninja kicks, had what is so far his career year to put his name in the race as well. Cueto had a low strikeout rate by award contender standards, but he got plenty of grounders and didn’t get hit hard. That said, Cole Hamels joined his teammate Lee in the category of hurlers who likely had an even better season than Cueto via the time honored tradition of missing bats.
In the end, despite a number of valid contenders, we’re going to echo our preseason sentiments and select Clayton Kershaw as our Cy Young award winner. While there are arguments to be made for others (namely Gonzalez and Dickey), the areas they were able to best Kershaw are few and far between. Perhaps his tradtional stats and lack of personal narrative will cost him, but it’s hard to say anyone in the National League was more qualified to take home the hardware than the same man who did it last year. Oh, and by the way, special bonus points to Stephen Strasburg, as this award would be his without Washington’s innings limit firmly in place. We’re not saying taking every precaution to save that arm is a bad idea, but we are saying this would be the first of several Cy Young awards for the goateed righty if Mike Rizzo and company were less protective.
1. Clayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles: 14-9, 2.53 ERA, 2.89 FIP, 3.25 xFIP, 9.05 K/9, 2.49 BB/9, 227 2/3 IP, 5.5 WAR
2. R.A. Dickey, SP, New York: 20-6, 2.73 ERA, 3.27 FIP, 3.27 xFIP, 8.86 K/9, 2.08 BB/9, 233 2/3 IP, 4.6 WAR
3. Gio Gonzalez, SP, Washington: 21-8, 2.89 ERA, 2.82 FIP, 3.38 xFIP, 9.35 K/9, 3.43 BB/9, 199 1/3 IP, 5.4 WAR
4. Cliff Lee, SP, Philadelphia: 6-9, 3.16 ERA, 3.13 FIP, 3.06 xFIP, 8.83 K/9, 1.19 BB/9, 211 IP, 4.9 WAR
5. Cole Hamels, SP, Philadelphia: 17-6, 3.05 ERA, 3.30 FIP, 3.23 xFIP, 9.03 K/9, 2.17 BB/9, 215 1/3 IP, 4.5 WAR
Rookie of the Year
Take away that huge misfire in the MVP category and StanGraphs is killing the National League awards in terms of preseason picks. We went with Bryce Harper, and we’d like to leave out the part where everyone else aso picked the young Washington phenom. Harper surged right out of the gate upon first getting the call, and then he slumped horribly at the plate before regaining his form in the season’s final month. He’s going to be an outstanding hitter, but one thing that really stood out is what a great fielder and baserunner Harper remained even as he looked hopeless at the plate for long stretches. He’s a real-ass baseball player, and he still can’t drink with us when we invite him to StanGraphs staff meetings. (A lot of drinking and at least a fair amount of rapping about bowel movements goes on during StanGraphs staff meetings.)
Harper had a fine season and led all NL rookies at 4.9 WAR, but that’s not to say he didn’t have some competition. The most impressive contender is Arizona starting pitcher Wade Miley, a control-first lefty who was actually worth 4.8 WAR and might even be considered by many to a Cy Young candidate. Miley may not have the firepower of other top starters in the league, but he limits his free passes and knows what he’s doing. Maybe he doesn’t have the ceiling of many other top pitching prospects, but that shouldn’t degrade what he was able to accomplish in 2012.
Todd Frazier used raw power and Norichika Aoki used speed and a well-balanced attack to throw their names in the mix as well. Frazier had his drawbacks with the glove, but his bat looks real and he’s likely to become a nice complimentary piece for Cincinnati down the road. Aoki hit for average, drew a few walks, stole a lot of bases (30), and even threw in 10 homers to boot. He, like Miley, isn’t bound for something great, but he’s still in line for something above average.
Wade Miley is tempting, but when it really comes down to picking a winner Bryce Harper is the best choice. Harper is a position player who impacts every game, and he was able to do so regardless of whether he was batting, fielding, or tearing around the bases. He’ll be a star, and given the season he already had at age 19, it’s just about a safe bet to assume he’s already reached that level now.
1. Bryce Harper, OF, Washington: .270/.340/.477, 22 HR, .352 wOBA, 121 wRC+, 4.9 WAR
2. Wade Miley, SP, Arizona: 16-11, 3.33 ERA, 3.15 FIP, 3.75 xFIP, 6.66 K/9, 1.71 BB/9, 4.8 WAR
3. Todd Frazier, 3B, Cincinnati: .273/.331/.498, 19 HR, .354 wOBA, 120 wRC+, 2.8 WAR