Wednesday, July 14, 2010

MLB - Projecting the Award Winners

Just before we start the second half, I wanted to throw out my predictions for winners of the end-of-season awards. Here goes:

American League MVP

Unless a third player gets on a ridiculous run it looks like this one is coming down to whoever has the better second half between Miguel Cabrera and Josh Hamilton. Cabrera has been the model of consistency this season, hitting over .320 and maintaining at least a .400 OBP each month so far, while Hamilton went on a video game-ish run in June to get in the discussion. Hamilton leads the majors with 213 total bases, and his 9 June jacks led the AL. I’ve got Justin Morneau, Robinson Cano and Vladimir Guerrero finishing 3rd, 4th, and 5th.

Winner – Miguel Cabrera
Cabrera, without fail, has been a .320-30-115 guy in his each of his 7 years in the majors, and barring injury, he’s poised to top previous career highs in each of those categories. I think he’s the clear winner of this award at season’s end.

Projected final numbers: .332-39-138

National League MVP

The situation isn’t nearly as clear in the NL. I came up with a substantial list of contenders pretty quickly – Martin Prado, Joey Votto, David Wright, Andre Ethier, Carlos Gonzalez, Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Rolen, Corey Hart, and Angel Pagan.

10) Angel Pagan
9) Martin Prado
The first and last names on this list aren’t going to win the award, but I don’t think anyone truly believes the Braves and Mets would be where they are without the play of those two leadoff hitters. Despite being stuck in a bit of a slump, Prado leads the NL with a .325 average, and his 10 homers are 1 shy of his career high. Pagan has filled in quite nicely for Carlos Beltran, ranking among league leaders in average (5th) and steals (4th). He also has as many homers as Chipper Jones, Jason Bay, and Pablo Sandoval. With Beltran about ready to return, reports have Pagan shifting over to RF where he’ll be the regular over Jeff Francouer. If that’s true, I think he’s got a real shot of getting a few votes.

8) Scott Rolen
7) Corey Hart
Hart and Rolen are All Stars, but since neither stands out in any aspect of the game, I don’t think either will finish among the top vote getters. I’ve got to think that Rolen fades a bit, but I admire his ability to be a big contributor with as many years as he has under his belt. Hart is mentioned often as a trade candidate as we get closer to the deadline, and changing teams would have a big impact on his chances of winning the award. I think Hart needs to lead the league in homers if he wants to win the award since his BA will likely be significantly lower than the average of other top contenders.

6) David Wright
5) Andre Ethier
Neither Wright nor Ethier is forced to carry his offense on his back, but if either of their teams is going to make the playoffs, they’ll need these guys to get really hot again. Their numbers are similar, but Ethier’s would be a bit higher if he hadn’t missed 15 games with his injured finger.

4) Adrian Gonzalez
3) Joey Votto
Gonzalez is hitting the ball as well as he ever has, and his numbers reflect it. Imagine what his numbers would look like in a potent lineup or if he didn’t have to play half of his games in that canyon they call PETCO. He’s been a significantly better hitting on the road, but with the Padres leading the West, it doesn’t look like he’s going to be dealth this year. What about Mr. Neglected? Votto is tied for the league lead in homers, sits 6th in average, 3rd in runs, is 5 off the lead league in RBI, but somehow was left off the initial All Star team. I think the Reds have the best shot of winning the Central, and Votto’s performance will go a long way in determining their fate. Halfway through the season he’s nearly matched his previous career highs, but a lot of “experts” expected a breakout season from the young slugger. He’s a popular pick to win this award, but I don’t think he’ll finish first or second.

2) Albert Pujols
Pujols is always in the discussion, but his very human .308 average and 21 homer first half have some wondering if this is the start of the downside to his monstrous career. I think his struggles are more mechanical and consistency related and that luck just hasn’t been in his favor as frequently as it’s been in the past. I think he rebounds with a huge second half and gets close to what a “normal” Pujols season’s worth of numbers should look like. I’ve got him finishing somewhere around .325-43-116 which would be career numbers for some players but just an average year in the Hall of Fame career of El Hombre. That said, I also think he’ll actually be penalized if he finishes with numbers comparable to those of the other top candidates.

Winner – Carlos Gonzalez
I’d love to give Pujols a three-peat, but I’m going out on a limb with a 24 year old CF that I’m expecting HUGE things from the rest of the way. I love Gonzalez’s game and think he wins this award at least once in the next three years. He’s a bit under the radar at this point with his .314 average, 17 homers, and 60 RBI, but that shouldn’t be the case by season’s end. The Rockies are on fire heading into the break, and Gonzalez’s bullish July .409 average and 1.278 OPS are big reasons for that. Once they get Troy Tulowitzki back, Gonzalez will have even more lineup help, and there’s talk that they’re interested in Dan Uggla as well. Talk about lineup help; not that he needs it. He’s one of my favorite young players. (I’ll probably do some kind of write-up on my top ten baseball players under 28 some time in the near future.)

Projected final numbers: .330-33-117 with 23 steals

American League Cy Young

David Price and CC Sabathia are tied for the league lead with 12 wins, but Price’s 2.42 ERA is nearly half a point lower than CC’s at the break.

Here’s how I project the final voting:

11) Trevor Cahill has had a marvelous first half with 9 wins and an ERA south of 3.00, but I’ll paint my hair green if he wins the award.

10) Phil Hughes has had a nice start to the season, but he’s hit a bit of a rough patch and is likely to have his second half innings limited by the Yankees.

9) If Jered Weaver could start every game at home in the second half, no one would touch him. He’s the owner of a very odd 1.70/4.37 home/away split. As much I like him and his MLB-leading 137 strikeouts, he’s not on the right team to win this thing.

8) John Verlander is up there again in strikeouts and victories, but he’s not going to win this award with an ERA over 3.80.

7) Andy Pettitte is doing a hell of a job at 38 years young. His 11 wins are good for 3rd in the league, and he’s on his way to easily his best season since ’05.

6) Clay Buchholz is Boston’s second best pitcher, cruising into the break with 10 wins and a very smooth 2.45 ERA (2nd best in AL). I think what’s going to hurt him is that he’s logged 92 innings so far which is an exact match of his previous season high in innings pitched. I’ll be surprised if he can match his first half of 7 outings with 1 ER or less. Keep an eye on his hamstring issue in the second half.

5) On paper, I think Cliff Lee is a tremendous fit for the Rangers. Their lineup is stacked, but their rotation lacked any semblance of an ace or even a legit #2. His 3-homer-tossing debut loss to Baltimore was forgettable, and while his career numbers in Arlington aren’t anything to get giddy about, he’s still the ace they need. I don’t see him getting to 20 wins, and I think his final ERA will be closer to 3.00 than 2.50

4) Right ahead of Lee on my list is his former teammate, Felix Hernandez. He only has 7 wins at this point and will need a miracle to get to 20 with this offense, the AL’s worst, at his back. Still, I think he’s going to be one of the top 4 pitchers in all of baseball in the second half. He’ll win this award eventually, but I don’t see it happening this year.

3) He’s working deeper into ball games this year, but is David Price going to hit a wall in the second half? His 115 IP so far are just short of his career high of 128 last year, so he’s going to be entering uncharted waters pretty soon. How will he respond? As good as he’s pitched and as talented as his left arm is, I think the innings will start to catch up with him, and his league leading ERA will climb a bit. The Rays’ offense should have him in competition for 20 wins, but I’m hedging that he’ll have a couple of hiccups on the way to October.

2) Jon Lester sits in the top 6 in ERA, wins, and strikeouts, and aside from his rough outing at Cleveland last month, he hasn’t allowed more than 2 ER in any of his other 9 starts since May 20. I think he’s going to stay on the heels of Price and Sabathia the rest of the way and top the numbers from his previous two impressive seasons. I’m the last guy to be confused with a Red Sox apologist, but Lester has got to be the most underrated stud pitcher in the game. It’s not the only measurement that matters, but I like his chances of reaching 20 wins better than Price’s. I wouldn’t be shocked if he won the thing, but I’m predicting he finishes second in voting and ahead of Price.

Winner – CC Sabathia
I’ve got CC winning his second CY at the end of the year. I believe the veteran steps up when it really counts and continues his dominant run against the AL. I think he’s the type of pitcher who only gets hungrier after winning his first World Series. CC’s historically a noticeably better pitcher in the second half of the season, and he’s heading into the break on a streak of 8 straight wins and 5 starts with at least 7 IP and no more than 1 ER allowed. Look out!

Projected final numbers – 21-5 record, 2.98 ERA, 199 K

National League Cy Young

No, I don’t see a huge Tim Lincecum run in the second half. He’s allowing the opposition to post too many crooked numbers, and I don’t think a three-peat is on the horizon with this NL award either.

A much shorter list here:

7) Clayton Kershaw is really coming into his own in his third year as a pro. He’s going to crush his previous season highs in strikeouts and wins and has been a better second half pitcher in his two years as a pro. Prediction – Kershaw will finish in the top two for this award next year.

6) Matt Latos is going to have his innings limited the rest of the way, but his 10-2 record and 2.45 ERA in the first half is extremely impressive. How about this line – Latos totaled 23 strikeouts while allowing ZERO runs and only 12 hits and 3 walks in 22 innings on his way to winning 3 of his last 4 pre-break starts. That other contest was a no-decision at the Marlins where Latos pitched into the 6th allowing only 1 run. The Padres have won his last 6 starts and 12 of 17 overall.

5) Tim Hudson is the best pitcher on one of the best teams in the game, and his fabulous 2.30 ERA at the break is amazing when you consider that this was his first full season coming off Tommy John surgery. Oh, and he turns 34 today. Happy birthday Timmy! I hope he can hang on in the second half because he’s one of those guys whose game I’ve always admired.

4) Adam Wainwright is the best of a strong Cardinals pitching staff, sitting second in the league in both wins and ERA at this point. I think he tops last year’s very impressive breakout season, but in a year with several elite pitchers at the top of their game, it’s going to be tough for him to earn the hardware. He’s the best 4th place candidate this award has had in a while.

3) Roy Halladay is undoubtedly one of the game’s best, but his sparkling 2.19 ERA is wasted on a team that is only 11-8 in games he starts. I think the Phillies will hit a little better the rest of the way, but can Roy maintain the lowest ERA of his career (2.41 in ’05)? How much will his perfect game against the Marlins factor into final voting? Does it “hurt” him that it happened in May instead of September? We’ll see. Either way, I don’t think anyone should ashamed of finishing 3rd behind these next two guys.

2) Josh Johnson leads baseball with a sick 1.70 ERA and an equally disgusting 0.96 WHIP. He closed out the first half on a roll where he allowed 5 runs total in his last 6 starts. Oh, and those starts just happened to be against the Dodgers, Braves, Padres, Rays, Rangers, and Phillies, all teams comfortably in playoff contention. As much as I like this guy, I don’t see the Marlins winning enough to get him the award. Despite his miniscule ERA and WHIP, he only has 9 wins. Will he keep those numbers down while increasing his win total substantially? Doubtful, but damn he’s good.

Winner – Ubaldo Jimenez
How did Ubaldo’s season start? Nothing special, just a no-hitter in his third game of the year. That game set off a run of three straight starts with more than 22 consecutive scoreless innings; a streak that continued 3 2/3 deep into his next outing. Jimenez won his first 6 starts, lost at the Dodgers after giving up 1 run in 7 IP, and went on to win his next 7 starts. Unbelievable! Barring injury, he’s a lock for 20 wins after getting off to a ridiculous 15-1 start. Jimenez did stub his foot a bit with those three starts at the end of June and the beginning of July, but his last first half start was a dominating 8 IP 1ER win against the Cardinals. He’s a pleasure to watch pitch, and not to scare the rest of the NL, but Ubaldo has a 21-10 career second half record.

Projected final numbers – 23-4 record, 2.52 ERA, 211 K

American League Rookie of the Year

I see this playing out as a three man race – an outfielder, a catcher, and a closer. Brennan Boesch is an amazing 4th in the AL with a .342 average, and while he’s on the low end of that top ten in plate appearances, he’s hitting over .400 in 32 July at bats. Even if he cools off a bit, how far will his numbers drop? He’s also hit 12 homers and has driven in 49. He totaled 28 homers last year, but that was in AA Erie. Justin Smoak is the closest to Boesch in the power categories, but Boesch’s batting average is only four points lower than Smoak’s slugging percentage. Yes, slugging percentage. Boesch is clearly the top offensive rookie in the AL, so far.

Carlos Santana is the position player best suited to challenge Boesch for this award. The rookie catcher has yet to log 100 plate appearances (5 shy) but already has 12 doubles to go along with 5 homers. His .284 average is the result of hitting the ground running upon being promoted, and his .993 OPS is head and shoulders above the rest of the Indians lineup.

Converting 23 of 25 save opportunities before the All Star break as a rookie would earn that guy the award in July in most seasons, but Neftali Feliz’s may need to duplicate his dominant first half in order to be the second closer to win the award in as many years. He’s striking out over 10 per 9 IP, and batters are hitting a weak .197 against him. Feliz may eventually be converted to a starter, but right now he’s one of the best closers in the business.

Winner – Brennan Boesch
I’d love to give it to Feliz as he already is just 3 saves shy of last year’s winner’s season total. Both Bailey and Feliz do a fine job of minimizing hits and walks, but batters are doing a lot more with those opportunities (scoring runs) against Feliz than they did vs. Bailey in his rookie campaign. As great of a hitter as I think Santana is going to be, I think the odds are greater that he rather than Boesch fades a bit down the stretch, especially when you factor in the positions the two play. Santana will probably get more days off, and Boesch could be a pennant race factor. I’d like to think that all three of them will be deserving when we get to October. (Of all the awards, I feel most uncomfortable with my choice here.)

Projected final numbers – .321-21-83

National League Rookie of the Year

Wow, the NL should have one heck of a race for this award in the second half. By the way, Matt Latos is ineligible for this by 2/3 of an inning. If he was eligible I’d have him as the winner at this point. Even if you don’t like the chances of John Ely, Pedro Alvarez, Jon Niese, Starlin Castro, Jhoulys Chacin, or David Freese winning this thing, there are still 10 legit candidates.

My predicted final finish:

10) Unless Mike Stanton quits striking out nearly half the time, he’s going to fall out of this group. Sure he’s had some nice swings, but they’re few and far between at this point.

9) A hot June got Gaby Sanchez in the discussion, but he’s hitting over 100 points less this month. He’s not going to be a big source of power, so if he’s to remain relevant, the average needs to get back in the .330 range.

8) Ike Davis has played a pretty steady 1B for the Mets since his call up, smacking 11 homers in the middle of a playoff contending lineup. On the down side, he’s only hitting .258 and has struck out 71 times in 75 games. Davis totaled 20 homers in the minors last year, but he also whiffed 112 times in 114 games. I expect more of the same in the second half. He’s well on pace for 20 homers, but at pitchers see more of him, the strikeouts will climb. A consistent hitting outburst this season would surprise me.

7) Mike Leake has made the quick transition from Arizona State to the major leagues, but a bit of regression has set in. He’s 6-1 at this point, but he’s had an ERA over 5.00 since June. May’s hot pitcher has allowed 5 or more earned runs in 4 of his last 6 starts. I’m sure he’ll be on an innings count in the second half, and I expect 6 IP 8 H and 3 ER to become his normal pitching line.

6) Yes, he’s only 2-2 in four starts at the break, but I think that come October, Madison Bumgarner is going to be a lot better known than he is in July. In three consecutive road starts, Bumgarner threw 21 innings and surrendered just 4 earned runs. He’s only 20 and hasn’t logged a ton of innings in the minors, but this kid has the stuff to be a really good one. I like his size, improving command of multiple pitches, mental make up, and of course the fact that he’s a lefty.

5) Jaime Garcia had quite a solid first half, compiling rookie highs in wins (8) and ERA (2.17). He, Wainwright, and Chris Carpenter have given the Cardinals a potent threesome at the top of the rotation, but I expect his numbers to regress just a little bit in the second half. He’s not that far removed from Tommy John surgery, and I think his ERA is going to be a bit closer to 3.00 by the end of the year with 13 wins. Still great numbers for a rookie, but I don’t think he wins the award.

4) Tyler Colvin’s 12 homers are most by all rookies, and he’s done it in only 179 AB. For some perspective, he has 1 more long ball than Ike Davis in 96 fewer plate appearances. Colvin also has a .313 average and could make a serious run at this if Lou Pinella continues giving him regular playing time. Was the first half an anomaly? In four minor league seasons, Colvin never topped 16 homers.

3) Stephen Strasburg is the one rookie more hyped than Jason Heyward. The fireballing righty went through the motions of pitching in the minors for a while before winning his MLB debut in early June. His worst outing was a 5-0 defeat at Atlanta where the Braves made consistent contact with everything he was throwing. Word is that due to an innings count placed on him by the Nationals, Strasburg probably has only 10-12 starts left in him. He’s likely to get the majority of the media support for this award, but can you give this thing to a guy who will probably sit out the last month of the season after spending the first two in the minors? Whether or not he gets the honor, Strasburg has already shown the stuff to be one of the game’s elite pitchers. It should be quite a treat to watch his career develop.

2) After battling with a bone bruise in his thumb for nearly a month, Jason Heyward spent the latter part of the first half on the DL. May was Heyward’s best month, where he amassed a .337 BA and a whopping 1.081 OPS. If he’s not healed, he’s going to have really rough time generating consistent power and control with his swing in the second half. I expect the Braves to be serious contenders for a trip to the World Series, and Heyward should be a big part of them getting there. I predict Heyward to raise his average from .251 to at least .280 by the end of the season, and he’ll total 24 total homers.

Winner – Buster Posey
Call me a homer, but I really think Buster Posey is going to emerge victorious at season’s end. His BA, OBP, and SLG are all NL rookie highs, and for a guy who wasn’t expected to provide a ton of help in the homer department, he has 7 in 38 games. He’ll spend a bit more time behind the plate in the second half, but seeing as how he’s one of the Giants’ best hitters, they’re going to want to keep his legs fresh. I anticipate a lot of gap power and two base hits out of him the rest of the way.

Projected final numbers – .327 BA with 16 homers and 28 doubles