M’s Season Awards

A lot has been written about the MVP races in both leagues: could a pitcher win? Is defense over-valued? How much should a team’s place in the standings matter?

These are all legitimate questions that may not have obvious answers at this point. For now, I’ll stick with the picks I made a few months ago (Joey Bats and the Doc) and move to something less controversial: Mariner Awards!

It’s been another rough year to be a Mariner fan, though this one might have been a little more painful after being just a half game out as late as June 19th. (Ouch, I read that sentence again. It’s kind of sad that June 19th makes the cut for “late in the season.”) The Ms are likely to finish with less than 70 wins—again—and our fearless leader in right has done nothing but sucked all season. Amid the disaster, there were actually good things that happened this year. I realize that the “we’re young and we’re building” chant may be ringing hollow for some, but not for me.

The top eight players in WAR on this team averaged 26 years old, and all are signed through at least next season. That doesn’t even include Justin Smoak(24), who missed significant time due to various injuries, and likely was playing through an injury in July when he was awful. It’s not a lot of fun hearing year after year that your favorite team is rebuilding when they are winning 60-70 games. Seattle, however, is not Kansas City or Pittsburgh. Our front office has shown its willingness to sign major players to major contracts (see: Hernandez, Felix; Ichiro, Suzuki…Suzuki, Ichiro? Whatever). This is going to get better, I promise.

To the awards!

Comeback Player of the Year

My comeback player has been called up to the show numerous times in his short career, and then sent back down again despite numbers that suggested potential. This season, he was called up on June 8th and played in 13 games, going 7/30 with six walks and two doubles (.233/.361/.300). He was then optioned back to Tacoma on July 3rd. On July 19th, he got what could have been his last chance had he blown it. He didn’t. Over the last three months, he has hit .302/.344/.517, becoming one of the top two Mariner hitters (which, granted, is like being the fastest kid at fat camp). Those power numbers are good for any ballpark, and look especially impressive in Safeco Field. Congrats Mike Carp! Take a few more walks, and stay a while.

Rookie of the Year

Two seamen are very deserving of this award, so I’ll give it to both of them. Michael Pineda has all the tools to be a Cy Young caliber pitcher. Going into the season, there were some doubts that he could survive at the major league level without a major league changeup. Change up? We don’t need no stinkin’ changeup. Pineda’s average fastball velocity ranks fourth in the entire MLB, just half a tick behind the leader, Justin Verlander. That fastball has racked up the 9th most value in the AL, and of the 8 guys ahead of Pineda, his slider has been more valuable than all of their secondary pitches—save for Verlander’s curve and Hellickson’s changeup. It’s a one-two punch that former Mariner, Randy Johnson, was able to work with, and it seems like Pineda might have the stuff. Just think if he mixed in a decent change. He made his last start the other night, so he’ll finish with the following rates (AL rank among qualified pitchers in parentheses just like these ones):

171.0 IP (33)

9.1 K/9 (2)

2.9 BB/9 (27)

3.2 K/BB (13)

3.42 FIP (12)

3.4 WAR (17)

 

17th most WAR in 33rd most innings pitched is impressive. It will be fun to see what happens when he gets to pitch 200 innings!

Dustin Ackley is, of course, the other top youngster. He has accumulated more WAR than any other Mariners position player this season, while needing just half the number of plate appearances to do it. If Dustin Ackley were to perform at his current pace for 700 plate appearances—equal to a full season—he would produce about as much value as Howie Kendrick, Ben Zobrist and Robinson Cano. Not bad company. The thing about Ackley is that these are numbers he can sustain. He’s not putting up these figures with a crazy-high BABIP, or unrepeatable power. He’s patient (11% BB), he has some power (.150 ISO), and he makes great contact  (league leader among 2B in line drive %). He ripped up double-A. He ripped the Arizona Fall League. He ripped up triple-A. And now he’s ripping up major league pitching from the second base position. That has value written all over it, and he’s ours. Yessssssss.

His rate stats as of 9/23/11 (AL second-base rank in parentheses not unlike these ones):

.283 AVG (5)

.359 OBP (2)

.431 SLG (6)

.148 Isolated Power (8)

.351 wOBA (6)

3.6 UZR/150 (8)

 

A balance of contact, patience, some power and above average defense at second base? I’ll build a team around that.

Cy Young / MVP

And it should come as no surprise that Seattle’s most valuable player this season was a pitcher. Having already won a real Cy Young award, I’m sure Felix Hernandez isn’t going to get too excited about my completely meaningless acknowledgement of his feats. He didn’t quite put up the ERA numbers of last season, but his peripherals were right in line. Observe.

Felix Hernandez

K%

BB%

HR%

BABIP

2010

23.2%

7.0%

1.7%

0.263

2011

23.4%

7.0%

2.0%

0.296

 

With virtually identical strikeout and walk numbers, the primary difference this season was a few extra homeruns, and more hits allowed in general. Some would argue he was more “hittable” this season, and others would say he was unlucky. Either way, his career BABIP (average on balls in play against him) of .295 suggests that he simply regressed back to his true hittability (not a word) this year.

On the surface it may have looked like a down year for the King. His ERA was a full run higher than last year— though he actually won one more game than his Cy Young season in 2010, articulating the incredible amount of information contained in the Wins statistic. But in the end, he racked up another 230 innings this season, producing a park-adjusted FIP 19% better than the league average. Other component-based ERA formulas show that he was basically the same King Felix with the same great stuff. An xFIP of 3.12 to go along with 5.5 WAR rank him 3rd and 6th in the AL, respectively. It was a good season for Felix, and we should expect more of the same next year.

The playoffs are probably a long shot for 2012, but it’s not hard to see this team competing deeper into the summer.

 

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