By Joe Leo
Published: October 17th, 2018
Baseball has entered an “identity crisis.” There are sabermetric nerds knocking down the door of the classic baseball ideology; things like ERA+ (ERA adjusted for the ballpark a pitcher pitches in), OPS+ (OPS adjusted for the ballpark hitters play in), and WAR (which is a stat that tries to quantify a player’s total value). For context, these three stats have a league average of 100. There are countless conversations about the “death of baseball” with some of the thinking that the analytical crowd has, but the group of candidates for this year’s awards are going to challenge the framework of the game of baseball forever.
Let’s start out with the Rookies of the Year. If you paid any attention to Major League Baseball at all throughout the summer, the conversation for Rookie of the Year in both leagues hasn’t changed. Ronald Acuña Jr. and Miguel Andùjar have stolen the show since the day they were called up from AAA. Both didn’t make the ballclub out of Spring Training due to the rules surrounding team control but both immediately made names for themselves in the big leagues. Acuña Jr. broke onto the scene in May and didn’t set the world on fire, but being the number one prospect in the Braves system, the hype around the 20-year-old was something Atlanta hadn’t witnessed since the hall-of-famer Chipper Jones. After a knee injury in early August, Acuña went to another level as soon as he stepped back onto the field—finishing the season with 26 homers, 64 RBI’s, a .293 average, and a 144 OPS+.
For Andùjar, the season he had completely took the Bronx by surprise. Brandon Drury was supposed to be the future third baseman for the Yankees, but after Drury had a series of migraines, Andùjar was called upon and quickly put Drury in the rearview mirror. Andùjar not only hit .297 with 27 homers and 92 RBI’s but the Yankee third baseman broke the rookie franchise record for doubles with 47—surpassing Joe Dimaggio who had 44. Andùjar has become a part of the Yankees plan when he wasn’t on the radar as a difference maker in the Bronx.
For the Cy Young awards, this year’s pool has proven to be one for the ages. With the sabermetric crowd challenging the orthodox thinking that baseball has used for hundreds of years, this Cy Young award has traditional baseball people jumping up and down about the National League part of the award. Jacob deGrom has had a season for the ages with his ERA. deGrom finished with a 1.70 ERA, which lead not only the National League but the entire league. But, having a 10-9 record because of the rest of the nine guys behind him, traditional baseball people discount the incredible ERA season. deGrom also pitched 217 innings which was second only to Max Scherzer who had 220.2 innings. Just because deGrom was dealt the short end of the stick because he couldn’t become a position player on the days he pitched doesn’t mean he should be penalized for the team behind him.
In the American League, the sabermetrics fingerprints are all over it. We at the Excelsior feel the award should go to Tampa Bay Rays’ starter Blake Snell. Snell had the best season out of any American League pitcher without question with 21 wins, 1.89 ERA, and a 219 ERA+ which lead the American League. Snell also had 221 strike outs. The Tampa Bay Rays have been at the forefront of the analytical revolution.
The Rays were the only team to consistently use an “opener,” which is a pitcher whose job is to get the top of the order of the opposing lineup out. On the other days when the “opener” wasn’t deployed by the Rays, Blake Snell was winning games for the Rays. This Tampa Bay team overachieved, and it was in large part due to the season that Snell had. As far as pitching is concerned, Snell was as close to a sure thing as you can possibly get and with the combination of skill and youth, Snell will be a marque ace for years to come.
Finishing up with the two MVP’s, the sabermetrics strike again. It is not every day that a team has two MVP candidates that deserve the award as much as Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez from the Red Sox. In this sports writer’s opinion, it has to be Betts for three simple reasons. The first is that Betts is the second 30 home run/30 stolen base player in Red Sox history behind Jacoby Ellsbury in 2011 and the 20th in the history of the American League. The second is that Betts is the backbone of the Red Sox more than anyone on the Boston roster. Even with Martinez hitting 43 home runs and 130 RBI’s, Betts presence at the top of the order is more dangerous than Martinez because Betts can be that middle of the order bat but doesn’t have to be.
The third is that Betts will be the batting champion in the AL with a .346 average. Betts is the best player on the best team in the American League, and that is who should win the MVP. On the other side of the coin in the NL, this player has grasped a hold of the award out of seemingly nowhere. It is in part due to the geographical location in Milwaukee, but Christian Yelich is National League MVP. Yelich is the batting champion in the NL with a .326 average, hitting 36 home runs and having 110 RBI’s with a 164 OPS+ (which lead the National League). Thanks to Yelich the Brewers were a wrecking ball and all year destroyed the senior circuit for the entire season. The Brewers can thank Derek Jeter and the Miami Marlins for an MVP caliber player in Yelich. Yelich has always been a good Major League ballplayer who had the talent to become an MVP candidate. Maybe the change of scenery was the thing that did it for Yelich, but like Snell in Tampa Bay, Milwaukee will have a stud for years to come.
Whether you like it or not, the sabermetrics are becoming engrained in baseball and it is so much that players are being paid because of stats like OPS+, ERA+, and WAR. These players in the conversation for the awards this year are a part of the youthful group that is coming for the gatekeepers and the generation that is on the way out the door. You better get used to it because this is the new era of baseball.