Monday, September 29, 2008

'Closing' Day - Part 2?

I can't think of another season, another league, another sport, where the playoff picture is not completed after the final day of the regular season. At some point today the White Sox and Tigers will take the field to make up a game that was scheduled for earlier this month. If the White Sox are victorious they will square off against the Twins in a one game playoff in Chicago Tuesday afternoon.

It amazes me that after a 162 game season playoff pictures still do not become fully understood until the last days of the season. One would think that after all of those independent trials, the best teams would separate from the rest of the pack. People claim that big market teams like the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Dodgers all have an unfair advantage, that a salary cap would create a form of competitive balance that isn't already present.

While it is true, as I mentioned, that there are teams that are out of contention prior to Opening Day, there are others that can kiss the playoffs goodbye before the summer arrives. However, what chaos would ensure if all 30 teams were in the hunt until the last weeks of the season? The trade deadline, which is one of the most interesting times in baseball, would be all but obsolete.

With that said, I will give a sneak peek into my post-season awards, and introduce "TheOLIBy's".

The 2008 season was definitely an interesting one for the American League. The top performers were predominantly from underachieving teams, and just when a player would begin to pull away, another would string together an equally as impressive stretch. However, following the same rule of thumb from last year, the requirements for winning an award are league-wide value.

That is, the Baseball Writers of America (BBWA) will dock a player based on his teams results. I believe this to be a false set of rules and one which is not entirely justified. True, if we are talking about two players with nearly identical seasons, it is fair to look at his teams performance, however to what extent? Consider the American League this season, where Alex Rodriguez and Grady Sizemore have been the two top performers according to Baseball Prospectus' VORP (Value Over Replacement Player). In fact, of the top 10 performers in the American League, only four come from playoff teams.

Thus, consider the value those players had to their respective clubs in asking yourself, would the Red Sox have been hurt more by the loss of Dustin Pedroia then the Yankees would have the loss Alex Rodriguez? While the Sox may have dropped a handful of victories with his absence, chances are the team was still good enough to make the playoffs. Whereas the Yankees still had a shot as early as September 1st, despite missing ARod for nearly a month.

As I mentioned during last season's American League Award Show,
When selecting who will win the awards, I take into account several factors. The first, is how a player performs in respect to their position. For the record, I am not going to pick a player who performed at a high level at a brutal position, but wasn't even in the top 5 or 10 in 'win' stats.

The second criteria is 'Win' stats? The Hardball Times owns a stat for this, as does Baseball Prospectus; called Win Shares Above Bench (WSAB) and Value over Replacement Player (VORP) respectively. I will reference these stats in and out of my writings, for the most part, utilizing both.

Next, I will look at exceptional play of a player. A streak, a record, or really something they did on an individual level to lift the team to higher levels. That is not to say a player from a losing team can not win an award, although admittedly, those players are at a slight disadvantage.

Lastly, I do take into account salary and the players surrounding-something you will notice with my AL Cy Young award.
Salary is one component of last years requirements which I will more or less neglect. While Rodriguez is making enough to solve the debt crisis in North America, it is not his fault that a team was willing to dish out that sort of cash.

The American League MVP race will come down to Alex Rodriguez, Dustin Pedroia, and Josh Hamilton. Each of these players had exceptional seasons, with Pedroia and Hamilton being major surprises throughout the league. Two players certainly deserving of acknowledgment, and who may make a last minute push once I fully evaluate the numbers are Joe Mauer and Milton Bradley.

The Cy Young race has been one of the most interesting ones the American League has recently seen. The two top candidates are Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, two deserving candidates each of whom had outstanding seasons on mediocre teams. Jon Lester, Ervin Santana, and John Danks will all receive consideration, but will seemingly fall short of Lee and Halladay.

Last year, I set forth the following additional requirement for the Cy Young winner,
[T]he Cy Young award is not simply awarded to the pitcher who had the best statistics, rather, it is awarded to the pitcher who was not only most valuable to his team, but would have been to any other team.
One of the reasons I decide that is because pitching statistics are often misleading. A pitchers ballpark can have a great influence on a pitcher, not only whether a park is a 'hitters' park or a 'pitchers' park, but whether the park is friendly to ground ball pitchers. A club's defense can let a starter down enough to negatively affect his statistics, despite having a better pitched season.

Entering May, the American ROY picture appeared to be an open and shut case. Jacoby Ellsbury was playing like a seasoned veteran, while Evan Longoria and Alexei Ramirez were struggling to adapt to Major League Baseball. At that point, Mike Aviles was still an unknown player bound to be tabbed as a 'journey man'.

According to The Blogger's Poll, the top three by the end of May sat at Ellsbury, David Murphy, and Oakland pitcher Greg Smith-none of whom look even partially deserving as of today. As it stands, it appears as if Longoria, Aviles, and Ramirez top the list for position players in the American League, with Joba Chamberlain and Brad Zeigler being the tops of the pitching class.

The American League manager of the year will come down to two candidates, the Tampa Bay Rays' Joe Maddon and Minnesota Twins' Ron Gardenhire. Mike Scocia makes an annual showing on this list, but this season, Maddon and Gardenhire have been the class of the American League.

In similar fashion, the National League provides us with many candidates, most of whom come from non-playoff contenders. There are, however, players with statistics that the BBWA favor and grade at too high of a level.

Another issue with the National League is the fact that two of the most important players have half a season or less of statistics accumulated. Both Manny Ramirez and CC Sabathia would be sure fire locks if they had played from Opening Day at that level in the National League. However, that they were mid-season acquisitions, it is difficult to discover exactly what type of impact they had on their respective teams, or if their impact was greater then a player with a full season worth of playing time.

For the MVP award, right off the bat I am going to eliminate Ryan Howard, who is receiving far too much recognition in the media. True he has been a catalyst in the Phillies run to winning the National League East due to his monster September. It is not as if he is the sole reason the Phils are going to make the playoffs, and his ineptitude at the plate through much of the season is reason enough to discredit him. Despite that, people see the Phillies in the playoffs and can only recall what a player has done for them lately.

If Howard is going to be considered for National League MVP, Manny deserves the first look. In fact, it is arguable that Howard's September wasn't any more spectacular then was his teammates April. Recall Chase Utley absolutely killed it in April, hammering out 10 home runs.

The National League MVP will come down to four players, Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman, Hanley Ramirez, and David Wright, with Manny Ramirez having an outside shot at the award given what he did for the entire Dodgers club. None of these players made the playoffs, but each team was integral in providing their respective clubs close to the playoffs-which I feel is equally as valuable.

As for the Cy Young race, there is no race in my opinion. This is an open and shut case belonging to Tim Lincecum. I will let the numbers direct me here allowing Johan Santana to enter the race. Also receiving consideration will be Cole Hamels, Brad Lidge, and CC Sabathia.

Similar to the American League, a hot start out of one of the National League's rookies seemed to eliminate the purpose for further discussion. Geovanny Soto was an absolute monster the first month of the season. However, as the season grew on, catching duties began to catch up to Soto as his incredible pace predictably slowed. Still the favorite for the award, Soto invited Jair Jurrjens, Joey Votto, and Hiroki Kuroda into the conversation.

Joe Torre and Lou Pinella did splendid jobs managing their respective clubs, however the job is fairly easy when you have a roster of All Stars. Certainly they can not be docked for having the benefit of a great team, and will be strongly considered as candidates to win this award. Also involved in the discussion will be Florida's Fredi Gonzalez, Philadelphia's Charlie Manuel, and Houston's Cecil Cooper.

You may be still asking yourself, 'So what about these "OLIBy's"?' Well, as you obviously remember, last year I handed out baseball's version of the Dundy's. While I have enjoyed receiving hits from fans of NBC's The Office, I feel terrible that they aren't able to see any pictures of Angela-almost as terrible as I feel for teachers looking for Lesson Plans for SE Hinton's The Outisders-thus, it is time to change the name for this 'annual' award show.

The OLIBy's will be much the same as they were in 2007, providing 'bests' and 'worsts', as well as acknowledging impressive milestones. Stay tuned for those and much more to come!

BallHype: hype it up!

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