Last year, Corey Kluber took home his second Cy Young award while Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez won Silver Sluggers and all three finished in the top seven in the MVP vote. Will one of them push ahead in the MVP field this year? Can Carlos Carrasco (4th in 2017 Cy Young voting) or Trevor Bauer surpass Kluber as the best pitcher in the AL? Here’s the break down of all the Indians contenders for the major AL awards in 2018.
Francisco Lindor took home the gold in 2016, but was surpassed by Andrealton Simmons in 2017 as the Angels short stop lead all of baseball with 24.6 runs saved defensively (#2 was 15 saved by Brandon Crawford). While Lindor saved only 13.6 in 2017 (still 3rd best among AL short stops), he was back over 20 this year, still coming in behind Simmons at 21.2 compared to 26.2.
While I’m sure many don’t trust new defensive metrics, but the fact is no one sees every player in baseball enough to judge them solely on the eye test. In addition, going by the old school fielding percent finds Lindor as the 7th best AL short stop and Simmons 3rd behind Didi Gregorious and Carlos Correa. This doesn’t take range into account and Lindor’s 252 total plays made shows that he gets to the ball much more often than everyone in the league except Marcus Semien.
Breaking the defense into components, it remains exceedingly obvious that the only two contenders for this award are Lindor and Simmons (Semien is the third finalist). No other short stop saved as many as 9 runs just by having a greater range than the average short stop and Lindor and Simmons came in at 11.9 and 11.8 respectively. Simmons had the advantage in turning double plays, but the real difference goes back to fielding percent.
Once we know that they have nearly identical ranges, we can start looking at how often they convert the plays they get to into outs. Here, Simmons has a distinct advantage, counted as 5.0 runs compared to Lindor’s 1.9 according to FanGraphs. Breaking this down further, Lindor made just 96.6% of the easiest tier of plays (should be converted 90-100% of the time) while Simmons made 98.7%. Lindor had the advantage by about 2% at the next range, so the winner of this award could come down to whether the voters value converting routine outs over exceptional ones. Both are very deserving of the award and regularly make both the routine and the exceptional, but the slight advantage has to go to Simmons.
The Gold Glove for catcher is much different than that of any other position as it now includes framing statistics as well as the traditional caught stealing and passed ball numbers. This year, Yan Gomes is at an advantage as only five American League catchers played enough innings to qualify. Among those five, Gomes has the second worst fielding percent despite catchers getting credit for a put out on every strike out, really exemplifying his nine errors. However, he allowed the second fewest passed balls (6) and fewest wild pitches (32).
The primary competitors for this award are Martin Maldonado, Mike Zunino and Gomes and the real advantage could go to Maldonado for his ability to control the base running game. He allowed just 18 steals while catching 17 compared to Gomes’ 49 and 20. Gomes had the slight advantage in framing runs at 7.5, tied with Zuninio, but ahead of Maldonado at 5.9. If you expand the inning load to those with less than 900 behind the plate, Salvador Perez also enters into the discussion with 25 runners caught in 52 attempts, 0 errors and four passed balls. Perez has been named the third finalist, despite being the DH or 1B in 33 games. Just as with Lindor, Gomes will likely come in second here behind Maldonado.
For some reason, Jose Ramirez was included among the top three defensive third basemen in the AL along with Alex Bregman and Matt Chapman. No matter what defensive metric you use, Chapman should run away with this award and, while there isn’t a clear number two, it should have been between Kyle Seager and Yolmer Sanchez. Ramirez could be considered fourth, although I think his offensive production and flashy play make some overlook his flaws at the position. The same is likely the case for Bregman who was considered a below average defender by both DRS and defensive runs allowed compared to league average.
That there even is a Gold Glove for starting pitcher has always been weird as they field so few balls and advanced defensive statistics are generally not available. Even so, Corey Kluber has been named among the three finalists along with Masahiro Tanaka and Dallas Keuchel. Kluber and Keuchel saved 3 runs above average according to DRS, surpassed only by Luis Severino in the AL. Here, total attempts really matters and Keuchel was second in the league (behind Marcus Stroman and tied with Mike Clevinger) with 27 assists while Kluber’s 19 put outs were second behind Mike Leake (who had three errors) and Lance McCullers (one error). Neither Kluber nor Keuchel committed an error this year while Tanaka committed one.
In the end, either Keuchel or Kluber would be fine selections for the award.
This race looks a lot like last year, when Simmons took the gold while Lindor took the silver. This race is also a two man race, just like the Gold Glove, but the second man along with Lindor is Boston’s Xander Bogaerts.
Bogaerts has the slight advantage in all three slash stats, but Lindor out accumulated him with 38 home runs compared to 23 and 129 runs scored compared to 72. While both short stops have developed into quite the power hitters, it may be the old fashioned expectations of the short stop that wins the day as Lindor stole 25 of 35 attempted bases while Bogaerts went 8 for 10. With this, Lindor was worth 1.2 run above average on the bases while Bogaerts was -1.7. Lindor also struck out 3% less often with a similar walk rate.
This should be a fairly easy win for Lindor with Didi Gregorious, Jean Segura or Simmons coming in third behind Bogaerts.
Looking to repeat as top offensive 3B, Jose Ramirez has some serious competition in Houston’s Alex Bregman. With nearly identical stats down the line, it could again come down to base running where Ramirez was worth 12 runs (34 steals in 40 attempts) compared to Bregman’s 3.4 (10 steals in 14). Bregman hit 12 more doubles, but Ramirez his 9 more home runs and three more triples, so that should more than balance things out. Bregman has the OBP advantage while Ramirez has the slugging.
If they consider such things, Ramirez was actually quite a bit unlucky this year with a .254 BABIP compared to Bregman’s .289 and Matt Chapman’s .338. By the way, Chapman in nearly certain to come in third in this race, but the winner will go down to the wire. Because writers love the long ball, I’d give a slight advantage to Jose.
This is an ugly field. Just like when Gomes was selected for the All-Star Game and many Indians fans went, “huh?” context is important. Of the seven catchers with 400 plate appearances (only Salvador Perez qualified for the batting title), only two had a wRC+ above 100 (league average) with Robinson Chirinos leading the way at 103. Gomes was the other at 101. Only Chirinos had a walk rate over 8% and only Perez and Lucroy had K rates under 20%. Perez lead the way with 27 home runs, but hit .235/.274/.439. Gomes beat all three of those numbers and lead all catchers with 26 doubles.
Chirinos should be in the discussion as well, but some old school sports write will likely cry if they give a Silver Slugger to a .222 hitter. I really think this one will go down between the rightful winner, Yan Gomes, or the popular pick, Salvador Perez.
If they split up outfield silver sluggers into individual positions, there would be an argument for Brantley being a top two left fielder offensively in the AL. If they don’t, the three outfield picks should be Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and possibly Aaron Judge with J.D. Martinez winning for DH. I don’t feel that any Indians player not listed above was among the top three at their position.
Rookie of the Year
Shohei Ohtani deserves the Rookie of the Year in the American League without any doubt, but Shane Bieber needs to get credit here for being the 19th best pitcher in the American League among those with at least 100 innings. Among rookie pitchers, no player can touch Bieber’s 2.8 fWAR, 3.23 FIP and 1.8 BB/9. As a pitcher, he and about ten others blow Ohtani away.
However, Ohtani was worth as much on offense as Bieber was as a pitcher and he also gets his significant pitching performance added to that. Even not considering the cultural significance of Ohtani’s season, he deserves to win just for the value he provided the Angels. It would still be nice to see Bieber show up in the top five along with Joey Wendle and Miguel Andujar.
Speaking of Bieber being the 19th best pitcher in the American League, among qualified starters, Trevor Bauer ranked third, Corey Kluber 5th, Carlos Carrasco 6th and Mike Clevinger 8th. This is an incredible feat and an argument that the Indians had not just the best rotation in baseball this year, but one of the best ever. Even so, the fact that there isn’t a #1 on there probably means they will be out of luck for the Cy Young.
There isn’t a clear victor, however. Justin Verlander finished first in fWAR, but he did so with the aid of at least 10 more innings than all the contenders except Kluber. Ian Snell had the ERA mark at 1.89, but threw only 180.2 innings. Bauer’s 2.21 ERA was even less significant as a broken leg kept him to just 175.1 innings, although his 11.34 K/9 was topped only by Verlander and Gerrit Cole.
You may think the Indians having so many great starters could split the vote and that is possible, but the Astros also had four of the top 13 and two of the top three. This is impossible to predict, but the old school writers should go for Snell, who was one of two pitchers to win 20 games (Kluber was the other) and had an ERA like the ones they saw when they were going to college in the late 1960’s. That is, unless they feel Verlander and Kluber should get more credit for their extended work loads.
In any event, Verlander, Snell, Cole, Bauer and Kluber all deserve a massive amount of credit for having such incredible seasons and that’s not even mentioning Blake Treinen and Edwin Diaz who probably deserve a top ten finish for being worth more than 3.5 wins each out of the bullpen. This is truly an age of elite pitching.
Early in the season, it seemed the MVP would be a close race with Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, JD Martinez, Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez being the primary contenders (only including offensive stars as there were plenty to choose from). Alex Bregman and Matt Chapman solidified their campaigns down the line to provide a full slate of legitimate contenders.
While I don’t think you always have to completely discount a DH, the fact that every single one of these players is a Gold Glove qualifier at their position except Martinez should put him in the background. According to fWAR, the top three are Betts, Trout and Ramirez and looking exclusively at offense, the order changes to Trout, Ramirez, Betts. The all-encompassing wRC+ has Trout and Betts one and two with Ramirez falling to 5th behind Martinez and Bregman.
One thing this solidifies is that Lindor will likely get some down ballot votes, but has no chance at winning. Ramirez could potentially get some 1st place votes, but is also not going to win. In the end, it is a two man race between Betts and Trout. Both are great on the bases, have great power, great defense and get on base a ton. However, Betts bested Trout on defense, the bases and with power as the best player in baseball only outpaced Mookie in OBP. It’s going to make the Trout faithful mad again, but even advanced stats show that the award should go to someone else this year.