A Tradition Like No Other…

Corey Seager has a solid chance to join Fred Lynn and Ichiro as the only rookies to win MVP. (USATSI)

Corey Seager has a solid chance to join Fred Lynn and Ichiro as the only rookies to win MVP. (USATSI)

“It’s hard not be romantic about baseball.”

That quote especially rings true after the madness of November 2nd, when the Chicago Cubs broke their well-publicized championship drought with an 8-7 extra-inning victory in Game 7 of the World Series. As a St. Louis Cardinals fan, the result was anything but romantic, as it’s hard to find solace in your biggest rival succeeding. It’s even worse realizing that this could only be the beginning, with the franchise set to sustain their 2016 excellence for the next few seasons.

As someone who works in sports for a living, when it isn’t my team winning then I almost always want to see a good story being told. And while the Cubs’ triumph isn’t quite the underdog tale that the masses want you to believe, it still fits the criteria based on sheer notoriety of the curse.

Although the drought’s end means a key point of trash talk washes away, it also brings forth some incredible recollections of the fans’ relationship with their team and the faith they’ve had that this day would eventually come. Just read through Wright Thompson’s1 piece on those who passed away before witnessing their team’s glory or Wayne Drehs’ revelation that he postponed open heart surgery to experience history being made.

For some, sports serve as escape from reality. I said as much when I attended last Friday’s FIFA World Cup qualifier between the United States and Mexico, because it allowed me and many others to realign our focus on a diverse group that should truly represent our country, rather than the new leadership contingent that does2.

Writing serves as the same kind of diversion. Since providing a hypothetical MLB award ballot has become an annual tradition of sorts for yours truly, I figure that I continue that streak now since the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) announced its Rookie of the Year honorees last night.

AL Manager of the Year
1. Terry Francona, Indians
2. Joe Girardi, Yankees
3. Jeff Bannister, Rangers

NL Manager of the Year
1. Dave Roberts, Dodgers
2. Joe Maddon, Cubs
3. Dusty Baker, Nationals

I hate picking this award in particular because of the lack of available metrics to judge manager performance. Terry Francona3 gets the nod in the AL after guiding a banged-up Indians team to the league pennant. In the NL, I went with Dave Roberts also because of his success dealing with injuries.

AL Rookie of the Year
1. Gary Sanchez, C, Yankees (3.2 fWAR, 171 wRC+, 20 HR, .299/.376/.657, 4 DRS)
2. Michael Fulmer, RHP, Tigers (3.0 fWAR, 3.76 FIP, 3.06 ERA, 49.1% GB%, 13.9% K-BB%, 159.0 IP)
3. Edwin Diaz, RHP, Mariners (1.9 fWAR, 2.04 FIP, 2.79 ERA, 46.8% GB%, 33.6% K-BB%, 51.2 IP)

To win one of these after just 53 games’ worth of performance, either your competition has to be incredibly mediocre or you have to be incredibly good. Gary Sanchez was definitely the latter. In what seems – maybe just to me – 10 years in the minors (I wouldn’t have guessed that he was only 23), Sanchez was called up to the big leagues in August and never looked back, hitting at a clip that was only matched by Trout according to wRC+. That sort of excellence, regardless of how sustainable it may be, gave Sanchez the edge over Michael Fulmer4. Edwin Diaz is a slightly surprising pick for third here, but he could be the league’s next great relief ace, pairing video game-like strikeout numbers with an above-average groundball rate.

NL Rookie of the Year
1. Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers
2. Trea Turner, 2B/OF, Nationals (3.3 fWAR, 147 wRC+, 13 HR, 33 SB, .342/.370/.567, 5.4 BsR)
3. Aledmys Diaz, SS, Cardinals (2.7 fWAR, 132 wRC+, 17 HR, .300/.369/.510)

This was the easiest selection of the eight awards. Trea Turner is another guy who excelled in less than half a season – albeit propped up by a .388 BABIP – and was a clear second choice in my mind. I went with slightly biased selection of Aledmys Diaz for third, thanks in part to what he brought to the Cardinals in 2016. Diaz, who has my favorite swing in baseball, shored up a shaky shortstop position with elite-level (for SS) offensive numbers and defense that improved as the season went on. His numbers would been even better if it weren’t for an errant Andrew Cashner catching him in the jaw during the middle of the Cardinals’ playoff push.

AL Cy Young
1. Corey Kluber, RHP, Indians (5.1 fWAR, 3.26 FIP, 3.14 ERA, 44.5% GB%, 19.8% K-BB%, 215.0 IP)
2. Justin Verlander, RHP, Tigers (5.2 fWAR, 3.48 FIP, 3.04 ERA, 33.7% GB%, 21.8% K-BB%, 227.2 IP)
3. Rick Porcello, RHP, Red Sox (5.2 fWAR, 3.40 FIP, 3.15 ERA, 43.1% GB%, 17.6% K-BB%, 223.0 IP)
4. Chris Sale, LHP, White Sox (5.2 fWAR, 3.46 FIP, 3.34 ERA, 41.2% GB%, 20.7% K-BB%, 226.2 IP)
5. Jose Quintana, LHP, White Sox (4.8 fWAR, 3.56 FIP, 3.20 ERA, 40.4% GB%, 15.6% K-BB%, 208.0 IP)

There’s not really a bad decision between the top four, but I went with Corey Kluber to win his second Cy Young award because of the slight difference in FIP. If they found a way to split the award like Cady Heron does as with her Homecoming queen crown, I wouldn’t be opposed.

NL Cy Young
1. Jose Fernandez, RHP, Marlins (6.2 fWAR, 2.30 FIP, 2.86 ERA, 40.2% GB%, 26.9% K-BB%, 182.1 IP)
2. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers (6.5 fWAR, 1.80 FIP, 1.69 ERA, 49.4% GB%, 29.6% K-BB%, 149.0 IP)
3. Noah Syndergaard, RHP, Mets (6.2 fWAR, 2.29 FIP, 2.60 ERA, 51.2% GB%, 23.5% K-BB%, 183.2 IP)
4. Max Scherzer, RHP, Nationals (5.6 fWAR, 3.24 FIP, 2.96 ERA, 33.0% GB%, 25.3% K-BB%, 228.1 IP)
5. Kyle Hendricks, RHP, Cubs (4.5 fWAR, 3.20 FIP, 2.13 ERA, 48.4% GB%, 16.9% K-BB%, 190.0 IP)

Yes, I write about Clayton Kershaw a lot. Yes, I debated on making the argument that his 149 innings pitched were better than anyone else’s this season. But I can’t do it this time around, especially with the passing of Jose Fernandez in September. It may seem like I’m riding a narrative by selecting him, but he absolutely deserved the recognition regardless of the tragedy. There is so much I can say about Fernandez, from his endless talent to his boyish enthusiasm for the game, but I’ll just remember the first (and only) time I saw him in person when I was working with the Hagerstown Suns, and how thankful I am for that moment now. Rest in peace, Jose.

AL MVP
1. Mike Trout, OF, Angels (9.4 fWAR, 171 wRC+, 29 HR, 30 SB, .315/.445/.550, 9.3 BsR, 6 DRS)
2. Mookie Betts, OF, Red Sox (7.8 fWAR, 135 wRC+, 31 HR, 26 SB, .318/.363/.534, 9.8 BsR, 32 DRS)
3. Josh Donaldson, 3B, Blue Jays (7.6 fWAR, 155 wRC+, 37 HR, .284/.404/.549)
4. Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros (6.7 fWAR, 150 wRC+, 24 HR, 30 SB, .338/.396/.531)
5. Manny Machado, 3B, Orioles (6.5 fWAR, 129 wRC+, 37 HR, .294.343/.533, 16 DRS)
6. Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians (6.3 fWAR, 112 wRC+, 15 HR, .301/.358/.435, 17 DRS)
7. David Ortiz, DH, Red Sox (4.4 fWAR, 163 wRC+, 38 HR, .315/.401/.620)
8. Adrian Beltre, 3B, Rangers (6.1 fWAR, 130 wRC+, 32 HR, .300/.358/.521, 15 DRS)
9. Brian Dozier, 2B, Twins (5.9 fWAR, 132 wRC+, 42 HR, .268/.340/.546, 5.5 BsR)
10. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers (4.9 fWAR, 152 wRC+, 38 HR, .316/.393/.563)

For five consecutive seasons, Mike Trout has been the best player in the American League. And for the fourth time during that stretch, he will more than likely not win its MVP. Since his outstanding rookie season in 2012, Trout has been worth 47.8 wins above replacement (48.5 if you include his 40 games in 2011) according to Baseball-Reference. Notable men in Cooperstown under that 47.8 mark include Jim Rice, Lou Brock, Phil Rizzuto, Hack Wilson, and Bill Mazeroski. A realistic argument can be made that Trout is a Hall of Famer right now, and no one would bat an eye – which makes it sadly humorous that he’ll only have a single MVP to his name during this five-year run.

Mookie Betts, who certainly had a season worthy of the award in a world without Trout, has the narrative and market by his side to edge out Trout and fellow finalist Jose Altuve. I also want to give a mention here in particular to Adrian Beltre, who was worth just over six wins at 37 years old and has now accumulated 81.3 fWAR in his career. If he isn’t inducted into Cooperstown, then just shut the whole place down.

NL MVP
1. Kris Bryant, 3B/OF, Cubs (8.4 fWAR, 149 wRC+, 39 HR, .292/.385/.554, 7.3 BsR)
2. Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers (7.5 fWAR, 137 wRC+, 26 HR, .308/.365/.512)
3. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies (5.2 fWAR, 124 wRC+, 41 HR, .294/.362/.570, 20 DRS)
4. Daniel Murphy, 2B, Nationals (5.5 fWAR, 156 wRC+, 25 HR, .347/.390/.595)
5. Freddie Freeman, 1B, Braves (6.1 fWAR, 152 wRC+, 34 HR, .302/.400/.569, 9 DRS)
6. Jose Fernandez, RHP, Marlins
7. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers
8. Noah Syndergaard, RHP, Mets
9. Joey Votto, 1B, Reds (5.0 fWAR, 158 wRC+, 29 HR, .326/.434/.550)
10. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Cubs (5.2 fWAR, 145 wRC+, 32 HR, .292/.385/.544)

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow is one of the best of the business, but I will always hold a little bit of a grudge against him for allowing Kris Bryant to fall into the Cubs’ laps. He gets my vote over Corey Seager, who has emerged as the leader of the shortstop renaissance we’ve witnessed over the last couple years. I panned the Nationals for giving up a draft pick to ink Daniel Murphy, but he carried his 2015 postseason momentum and exceeded expectations in a big way. And I can’t say enough about Joey Votto, who I would take over anyone in baseball – yes, even Trout – if my life depended on a single at-bat.

1 – In my opinion, Wright is the greatest sports writer on the planet.
2 – I’ve crafted multiple blog posts in my head about last Tuesday’s election, and I would like to eventually “put pen to paper” and share one, but it’ll be hard to find the time now that college basketball has started up.
3While I liked the Mike Matheny hire when it happened, I will always maintain that John Mozeliak’s greatest misstep as Cardinals general manager was when he didn’t ink Terry Francona for that position. Francona was at his best in last month’s postseason, as his bullpen management shined and was a big reason why the Indians were a game away from winning the Fall Classic. If Mozeliak hires Francona after Tony La Russa’s retirement, St. Louis has at least one more World Series title right now.
4 – It’s unfair to Fulmer that I think this way, but my selection of Sanchez also rests on the assumption that his potential “star” shines brighter than the Tigers right-hander. I look back at the 2009 NL Rookie of the Year race, where Chris Coghlan (2.7 fWAR, 127 wRC+ on a .365 BABIP) was selected over a future league MVP in Andrew McCutchen (3.4 fWAR, 122 wRC+). Since that season, McCutchen has been worth 37.5 fWAR compared to Coghlan’s 3.8 mark.
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