Most Valuable Player
Before the season, we decided to nominate Jose Bautista for this award. This was a safe bet, not a gut feeling or an attempt to make a splash. Unfortunately, even safe picks fail sometimes, and even if Joey Bats had put together a full season’s worth of at-bats (instead, he managed roughly half of a normal year’s work), he still wouldn’t have earned the StanGraphs’ MVP selection in hindsight. We have a two-pronged question to offer up in the way of our defense, however: one, how were we to know Bautista would miss all that time, and two, who knew Mike Trout would be this good ever, let alone right away? Given the circumstances, we think you should overlook our error here.
Let’s talk a little bit about Bautista, as he what he did in 92 games was certainly solid. He was the victim of a little bad luck; okay, a lot of bad luck if you count the injuries as well. Despite producing 3.2 WAR and posting a wOBA of .378, you get the sense that his half-season could have been even more impressive if his batting average wasn’t .241. Bautista’s career BABIP is already on the low side (.270), so it’s not necessarily fair to call that stat out as a major factor in his average, but the .215 mark he posted in 2012 is tough even for him.
Certainly the 2012 numbers don’t quite stack up to what he’s done the previous two seasons, but keep in mind he suffered through a very slow start and then went nuts in June, producing half his season’s work in that month alone. He was never really healthy after that, but imagine if he had been and June was a sign of things to come over the remainder of the season. We might be looking at numbers very similar to his 2011 masterpiece, and then this pick would seem much better, at least in a world that didn’t include Trout.
As it stands, of course, there’s really no discussion to be having here because of the wide gap between first and second in the American League. No player could even dream of touching Trout’s level of production in 2012, and unlike the healthy debate in the National League, there’s very little to be said in the junior circuit. Trout was the holy trinity of baseball players in 2012, proving to be immensely valuable with the bat, glove, and on the bases. The end result was an even 10.0 WAR per FanGraphs, over 2.0 WAR separated from Robinson Cano‘s 7.8 total.
Trout’s dominance was so thorough, in fact, that no one player topped him in anything at all. Even his wRC+ figure, a stat that is both league as well as park adjusted, stacks up exactly with what Miguel Cabrera was able to do (each player finished at 116). Despite Cabrera’s outstanding season with the bat (yawn, triple crown), he didn’t do much of anything else at all, while Trout was a superhuman all across the field in every aspect. How is it reasonable to give the award to Cabrera when he didn’t do anything better than Trout, including the only thing he even does well at all?
Again, that isn’t to say Cabrera didn’t have a great season; he did. Robinson Cano also had a great year, one that saw him hike up his walks, hit like crazy, and play great defense at a position that usually doesn’t see a lot of offensive production. Edwin Encarnacion surprised a lot of people (including us) with his ridiculous offensive numbers, Adrian Beltre continued to flex his home run muscle while handling his leather artfully at the hot corner, and Prince Fielder didn’t disappoint in his first season with the Tigers, although he’s much like his teammate in the sense he can only contribute to a team in one way, albeit a very important way.
1. Mike Trout: .326/.399/.564, 30 HR, .409 wOBA, 166 wRC+, 10.0 WAR
2. Robinson Cano: .313/.379/.550, 33 HR, .394 wOBA, 150 wRC+, 7.8 WAR
3. Miguel Cabrera: 330/.393/.606, 44 HR, .417 wOBA, 166 wRC+, 7.1 WAR
4. Adrian Beltre: .321/.359/.561, 36 HR, .388 wOBA, 140 wRC+, 6.5 WAR
5. Prince Fielder: .313/.412/.528, 30 HR, .398 wOBA, 153 wRC+, 4.9 WAR
Here we went with Tampa Bay’s phenom David Price, and we can’t really argue too heavily against our pick even with the benefit of crystal clear hindsight. That said, Price was somewhat of a sexy choice as opposed to a safe one. The easy bet would have been on Justin Verlander, and as it turns out, that’s a bet we would have won. Verlander is simply too much pitcher to handle, and he easily topped all AL starters by being worth 6.8 WAR in 2012. As for Price? He had a nice season, winning 20 games and contributing 5.1 WAR of his own, but Verlander has him beat soundly across the board.
By that, of course, we mean that J-Ver (worst nickname ever?) edged Price in K/9, BB/9, and FIP — and he did it all despite seeing roughly five percent more of his base runners come around to score on him. Price, as good of a season as he had, did experience some significant luck, stranding an incredible 81.1% of his runners and limiting the opposition to a .285 BABIP. For what it’s worth, Verlander’s BABIP was actually a little lower than Price’s, and the rate stat comparison between the two is so close you could easily mistake one for the other if you weren’t careful. Verlander was better in 2012, but Price more than held his own, and he did it despite being two and a half years younger and having a much tougher division to contend with.
We can’t leave Felix Hernandez out of this conversation, though. Seattle’s ace has been so solid for so long despite his relative youth that he’s almost overlooked anymore, and that’s a shame; the guy is good. Really good, in fact. In terms of WAR, he actually finished closer to Verlander’s total than he did to Price’s, putting him firmly in second place. And while it may be tempting to knock him for pitching in a relatively weak hitting division, that argument would be stronger if he got to pitch against his own team, by far the weakest of the four. In fact, two of the game’s very best offenses in 2012 resided in the AL West: Los Angeles (112 wRC+, second-best in baseball) and Texas (105 wRC+, tied for fourth). Hernandez deserves every bit of credit he gets and then some, particularly since his FIP was actually lower than either of the other two pitchers we’ve spoken of.
Credit also goes to fellow AL West pitcher Yu Darvish, who used a flaming hot second half to nudge his way into the Cy Young discussion, but ultimately he falls short of the trio we’ve already been discussing. If his first half control issues are corrected for good, he may yet win a Cy Young or two in the future, however. Chris Sale of the White Sox was also fantastic in his first season as a starter at the major league level, and he deserves a lower place on our upcoming ballot as well.
1. Justin Verlander: 17-8, 2.64 ERA, 2.94 FIP, 3.31 xFIP, 9.03 K/9, 2.27 BB/9, 238.1 IP, 6.8 WAR
2. Felix Hernandez: 13-9, 3.06 ERA, 2.84 FIP, 3.20 xFIP, 8.65 K/9, 2.17 BB/9, 232 IP, 6.1 WAR
3. David Price: 20-5, 2.56 ERA, 3.05 FIP, 3.12 xFIP, 8.74 K/9, 2.52 BB/9, 211 IP, 5.1 WAR
4. Chris Sale: 17-8, 3.05 ERA, 3.27 FIP, 3.24 xFIP, 9.00 K/9, 2.39 BB/9, 192 IP, 4.9 WAR
5. Yu Darvish: 16-9, 3.90 ERA, 3.29 FIP, 3.52 xFIP, 10.40 K/9, 4.19 BB/9, 191.1 IP, 5.1 WAR
Rookie of the Year
Here, StanGraphs dropped the ball, and it wasn’t just a baseball. It needs to be a much bigger ball to represent just how colossally we missed on this pick. Good Lord, did we ever miss on this pick. We picked Jesus Montero, otherwise known as the guy who posted a .685 OPS with the Mariners. We’re not going to talk about that anymore. Actually, there’s not much to talk about here at all, since we already talked about it in the MVP section.
Mike Trout. Mike Trout! Michael Nelson Trout was born on August 7, 1991 in Vineland, New Jesey. Less than 21 years older, he became the very best baseball player in the history of the known universe. The end. Trout’s 10.0 WAR monster juggernaut of a season dwarfed his peers for the Most Valuable Player award, and obviously the same is going to be true when compared to the much smaller pool of rookie peers — they just can’t touch him.
Even if we open up this award to all of baseball instead of limiting it to league-wide, Trout still wins this award hands down — his WAR total was around twice that of second place Yu Darvish’s, and more than twice that of third place Bryce Harper‘s, for God’s sake. We’ve never seen such disparity in all our lives! The closest AL competitor would be Darvish, of course, who had a great season and posted 5.1 WAR, as we already mentioned above. Beyond that, Jarrod Parker also put up a fine debut season in Oakland, albeit with somewhat underwhelming peripherals. Parker’s teammate Yoenis Cespedes probably had a more impressive season, and were it not for missing over 30 games due to injury, he may well have edged him in WAR (instead he finished with 3.1, while Parker finished with 3.7).
1. Mike Trout: .326/.399/.564, 30 HR, .409 wOBA, 166 wRC+, 10.0 WAR
2. Yu Darvish: 16-9, 3.90 ERA, 3.29 FIP, 3.52 xFIP, 10.40 K/9, 4.19 BB/9, 191.1 IP, 5.1 WAR
3. Yoenis Cespedes: .292/.356/.505, 23 HR, .386 wOBA, 136 wRC+, 3.1 WAR