As we round the final corner and drive for home on the 2007 Major League baseball season, the watercooler topic of choice among baseball stalwarts is the award races—who deserves the MVP awards? Who's going to win the Cy Young awards? Who's the best rookie around? Some years there's really no discussion—like Randy Johnson's 1999-2003 run, or Barry Bonds' 2001-2004 run—but this year it looks like the major races are going to be right down the wire and tough to forcast, and one, the NL MVP, has the potential to yield us a truly loopy, Palmeiro-gold-glove kind of result.
In addition to the standard six, the two MVPs, Cy Youngs and RoYs, I'll also discuss the Barry Bonds Award and the Satchel Paige Award, which are our own creations at SportingGurus, named after, in my own opinion, the greatest position player and pitcher in history. The former is awarded to simply the best player in each league, the latter to the best pitcher, with no regard whatsoever for RBI or win totals or the quality of the team around the guy. The chosen few who vote on these awards are expected to back up their choices with credible evidence, and “he hit well in the clutch all year, that's why he has all those RBI” or “he just knows how to win, that's why he went 20-5” don't qualify. In other words, since we're always in the habit of ignoring the Raccoon Lodge's awards, we have our own, and we'll forecast each set of awards based on its own criteria (team quality, RBI and wins in the former's case, actual production in the latter's).
This is the easiest race to call. Here's the thought process:
1. If the Yankees reach the postseason, he's the MVP.
2. If (1) does not happen, if the Mariners reach the postseason, Ichiro is the MVP.
3. If (1) and (2) don't happen, and the Tigers reach the postseason, Magglio Ordonez is the MVP.
4. If the Yankees get the wild card but Alex Rodriguez either sucks down the stretch or misses most of these last few weeks with injury, Vladimir Guerrero is the MVP.
Is it messed up that the MVP's going to be decided by which team wins the Wild Card? You bet it is. But that's how the Raccoon Lodge thinks. If the season ended today, Rodriguez would win.
AL CY YOUNG
Again, it's pretty straightforward here:
1. If Josh Beckett can at least finish tied for first in the league in wins, the Cy is his.
2. If (1) does not happen, and Chien-Ming Wang leads the league in wins, the Cy is his.
3. If neither (1) nor (2) happens, that gives us a 95% certainty that either C.C. Sabathia or John Lackey will lead the league in wins; whichever one has the hottest last few starts gets the Cy.
4. If nobody in particular sets himself apart with a hot September, Beckett wins by default.
If the season ended today, there is little question Beckett would win the award.
AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
There is no question that this award is going to Daisuke Matsuzaka.
This is the big one. This is going to be a tricky schematic, but let's give it a try anyway:
1. If the Brewers reach the postseason and Prince Fielder plays even reasonably well, Prince Fielder is the MVP.
2. If (1) does not happen, and one of David Wright and Jose Reyes has a hot September while the other does not, that player wins the MVP.
3. If (1) does not happen and Wright and Reyes do about equally well in September, and the Phillies reach the postseason, whichever of Chase Utley or Ryan Howard has the hot September—and at least one of them will have to for the Phillies to make it—that player wins the MVP. Howard gets it by default if they both get hot, by virtue of his RBI.
4. If (1), (2) and (3) do not happen, the award becomes entirely unpredictable; in all likelihood, Wright and Reyes would split votes but would combine to take almost all of the votes, making one of them the MVP, but it would be impossible to predict which.
If the season ended today, Jose Reyes would probably win the award.
NL CY YOUNG AWARD
This one's another tricky pony, just like it was last year, since it seems unlikely any pitcher is going to clear 18 wins. Brandon Webb has the advantage of being the most newsworthy pitcher this year with his run at Hershiserdom, but also the disadvantage of having won the Award last year. What we have is a clear frontrunner with a total quagmire behind him if he slips up:
1. Jake Peavy has a crazy ERA and the best W-L in the league right now (16-5). If he reaches 18 wins, the Award is his.
2. If (1) does not happen, next in line is Brad Penny. If he gets to 18 wins and Peavy does not, Penny will win the Award.
3. If (1) and (2) do not happen... well, any one of the following pitchers could conceivably win out through September and grab the Award: Tim Hudson, Roy Oswalt, Brandon Webb, Carlos Zambrano. Who knows? Suffice to say, though, that Peavy and Penny are pretty heavy favorites for the work they've already done, and even if both finish the season unimpressively, one of them would likely win a very fractured vote anyway.
NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Again, there is no question that Ryan Braun will win this award, probably unanimously.
AL BARRY BONDS AWARD
Alex Rodriguez laps the field. He's way ahead of everyone else in the league with 13.5 WARP3 (Ichiro is second with 11.7) and 31 Win Shares (Magglio has 29 and Ichiro 28). If Rodriguez misses most of September with the injury he just sustained, or plays but poorly, there's a chance Magglio or Ichiro could catch up on Win Shares, but probably not the WARP.
AL SATCHEL PAIGE AWARD
The leader in both VORP and Win Shares is C.C. Sabathia, but the margins are thin enough that this competition is still up in the air. It appears Erik Bedard, who has been awesome to date, is going to be shut down, taking him out of the running. That's a shame; Bedard's 2007 season has been laudable, a testament to a pitcher putting in the work to master his command of his pitches and, just as importantly, the mental aspect of pitching. As long as his arm stays together, Bedard should continue to be a beast.
The somewhat more sophisticated SNLVAR identifies the two best pitchers in the AL as 1. Kelvim Escobar, 2. Bedard, 3. Johan Santana, and 4. Dan Haren. Did you know Johan Santana leads the AL in home runs allowed? That's pretty remarkable—his defense isn't allowing the home runs—and I have a hard time seeing the league leader in allowing bombs as the best pitcher in the league. Santana's nevertheless in the running for the honor and could claim it by going Sandy Koufax 1966 on us in September.
Bottom line: C.C. Sabathia is the best pitcher in the AL at this point in the season, and it's his award to lose. Should he falter, the best candidates to step up for it are Santana and Escobar.
NL BARRY BONDS AWARD
Hanley Ramirez leads the league by far in VORP, but since the Davenport Translations think the same as many of us of Ramirez's defense—it's awful—he's far behind the WARP3 leader, Albert freakin' Pujols, who holds a razor-thin edge over David Wright, 11.7 to 11.6. Jose Reyes is next in line at 11.1, followed by Miggy Cabrera at 10.7. Win Shares has Wright way ahead, 29 to 26 over Pujols, so I'd have to call Wright the frontrunner right now, but given that Pujols is Albert freakin' Pujols after all, he's as likely as not to run him down before season's end. Win Shares continues its curious infatuation with Eric Byrnes, who it has tied with Pujols for second in the league based largely on a crazy-strong defensive rating.
NL SATCHEL PAIGE AWARD
This one's not close. Jake Peavy blows away the field. He's up a whopping 1.1 in SNLVAR over the next guy (Brad Penny), up 11.5 in pitching VORP (again, over Penny), and up by two Win Shares over, once again, Penny (21 to 19.) But here's something bizarre: If you count only pitching Win Shares, Brandon Webb is actually half a Win Share ahead of Peavy and stands as the best pitcher in baseball. He has an astonishing -3.6 hitting Win Shares. I honestly don't know how that's possible, but there it is. I think VORP/SNLVAR are overrating Peavy, because I believe Win Shares does a better job than any other advanced metric at adjusting for park effects, and Brandon Webb pitches in a brutal park for pitchers.
That said, I still think Peavy is comfortably ahead, and Webb could catch him if he gets lit up a few times in September. Needless to say, it's unlikely.
So if you're keeping track at home, here are the projected favorites for each award:
| Bonds Award
| Cy Young
| Paige Award
| Rookie of the Year