MLB 2016 Season Quarter-Pole Awards
I’ll keep this introduction brief because I know everyone wants to go ahead and read the picks. Even though this is a Rangers site, I like to take a look around the league to keep tabs on what is going on during the season. Here’s a chance for you to do so without putting in the time! Feel free to tell me how great my picks are in the comments, or who YOU would have chosen for any of the categories below and why I’m mistaken. I may do a follow-up post for predictions moving forward for the rest of the 2016 season as well.
AL MVP: Manny Machado, Orioles
Machado has been simply amazing so far in 2016, piling up 28 extra base hits through a quarter of the season – trying to surpass his career high of 68 in 2013. He’s been the best player on the surprising AL East-leading Baltimore Orioles, and a big reason why they may stay in the hunt this year. Manny’s OPS is .977 while plays impeccable defense, using his plus-plus arm to play on the Baltimore I field’s left side with ease and grace. My only knocks on Machado are that he could be more selective (8.0 BB%), and perhaps steals a few bags (Manny stole 20 bases in 2015, has 0 in 2016 to date). Add all of that to playing a majority of the season at shortstop, a position with offensive production scarcity, and you have a league MVP. The Orioles sitting in first place currently did not affect my pick here.
NL MVP: Nolan Arenado, Rockies
Nolan Arenado is one of my favorite players to watch with my MLB.tv subscription. The Rockies are a fun team to watch (and play with and against on DFS sites), and the engine that makes their machine run both offensively and defensively is Arenado. Sporting an OPS over 1.000, he has room to improve on his .307 average, as he is currently dealing with a career-low BABIP in 2016 (he’s been a tad unlucky with balls hit in play). He is a wizard at the hot corner, combining a cannon of an arm with quick-twitch reflexes and good range. I thought he was one of the best players in the NL last season (led the league with 42 HR, 130 RBI, 354 Total Bases), and has improved the one knock on him from last season – Arenado has improved his walk rate from 5.1% in 2015 to 10.4% in 2016. Even further, he has nearly cut his strikeout rate in half (16.5% in 2015 to 8.7% in 2016). Very impressive for a 25-year-old superstar. He’s my pick.
AL LVP: Justin Upton, Tigers
Upton was one of the prize signings of the Tigers’ busy offseason, striking a deal for 6 years / $132,750,000. So far in the 2016 season, the Tigers are paying for a .223/.270/.319 slash line. This is made even more concerning by the fact that Upton owns a career high BABIP, meaning that some regression to his batting average is likely on the way. Seeing the stats so far this year may think you’re looking at his brother Melvin (B.J.) Upton‘s line: 2 HR and 10 RBI with a 6.2% BB rate and an eye-popping 37.1% K rate through almost 200 plate appearances. Upton has been among the worst players in baseball – I am factoring in the fact that the Tigers JUST gave him this deal a few months ago. They had better hope something gets figured out, or this contract will look like a monumental mistake. Hat tip to Prince Fielder – who would be receiving this prestigious award if Justin wasn’t a complete disaster so far this season.
NL LVP: Erick Aybar, Braves
Rangers’ former pesky nemesis Erick Aybar was shipped off to
Siberia Atlanta and has pretty much closed up shop on his career in response. Aybar has never been known for his bat or his plate patience, but with LAA he averaged 40+ XBH per season and was always pesky, never prone to striking out a ton. So far in 2016 he’s been pathetic at the plate, almost doubling his strikeout rate (career 11.5%, 18.5% in 2016) and accounting for 4 extra base hits and 6 walks in almost 200 plate appearances. Even though all of this is bad, you may wonder why I picked a non-descript start on the Braves for my NL LVP. Here’s why – Aybar’s wRC+ (weighted runs created plus, measures how a player’s wRC compares with league average. League average is 100, and every point above/below 100 is a percentage point above/below league average) is currently 8, worst in MLB. 8!!!! His is 92% below LEAGUE AVERAGE. That is astonishing. For even more context, the second-worst wRC+ currently belongs to Derek Norris, with 46. I don’t think I’ve ever seen A) a wRC+ that low, or B) such a disparity between first and second place in such a category.
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale, White Sox
Chris Sale has started nine games in the 2016 season and is 9-0. I’m not a huge proponent of pitcher wins, but nine wins in nine starts is unreal. Let me talk about a few reasons why Chris Sale is my pick. Yes, his K% is down so far in 2016, but this can be explained by his decision to try pitching to contact more this season as an attempt to go deeper in games and improve overall as a front-line starting pitcher, as FanGraphs detailed in early May. His new approach has worked; Sale has averaged 7.2 innings per start (including 3 CG), saving the pale hose bullpen each time through their rotation.
Here are some important pitching statistics in which Sale leads the league in 2016:
Hits Allowed per Nine Innings: 5.1
Strikeouts per Walk Allowed: 6.2
Sale is the most feared pitcher in the American League for a reason, the top reason for the White Sox hot first-place start in the AL Central, and is well on the way to his first Cy Young award. If he continues this type of dominance he could be staring down an all-time great season for a starting pitcher.
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Ho hum. Kershaw dominant again. Somehow, Clayton has improved yet again – he is destroying the National League with pinpoint accuracy and a devastating pitch repertoire. He is currently sporting career-lows in ERA, WHIP, FIP, ERA+, BB/9 – and this is a 3-time Cy Young winner with an MVP award. Some other notables for Kershaw to start his 2016 season: 3 CGSOs in ten starts (wow), 47 hits allowed and 95 Ks in 79.0 IP, a 19.00 K/BB rate (95 Ks, 5 BB allowed), the list goes on. Many are looking at Noah Syndergaard as the current NL Cy Young frontrunner, and don’t get me wrong he’s been great. But he’s going up against this guy. Kershaw’s the best in the league yet again.
AL Cy Yuck: Sonny Gray, Athletics
The Athletics had high hopes for Gray coming into this season. Assuming they’ll deal him before he becomes an expensive piece, they really needed him to get off to a hot start in order for the A’s to recoup as much talent possible in return for their prized ace. That hasn’t gone to plan, however, as Gray started the year very poorly and has since gone on the disabled list. Bad news for the A’s.
Here’s the ugly 2016 line for Gray. Close your eyes A’s fans:
ERA of 6.19, WHIP at 1.65, 55 hits and 24 walks allowed in 48.0 IP, 9 wild pitches! All of this from a guy with a career 3.17 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. Yuck.
NL Cy Yuck: Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
At 34 years old and coming off a serious injury in 2015, Wainwright has gotten off to a miserable start in 2016. His stuff has been hittable, he’s lacking a clear put out pitch, and his classic curveball has betrayed him for the first two months. Wainwright’s been a bit unlucky with a bloated BABIP in comparison to his career rate (.337 in 2016 vs. .293 career), but nonetheless a 5.92 ERA and 1.53 WHIP with 65 hits allowed in 51.2 IP with only 31 KS. This is alarming from a perennial front-end starter, and he is rewarded with my NL Cy Yuck award for the first quarter of the 2016 season. Here’s hoping he turns it around, Wainwright seems like a good dude.
AL Rookie of the Year: Nomar Mazara, Rangers
Mazara has quickly established himself as one of the best hitters in the potent Texas Rangers offense. Called up to the big league squad because of an injury to Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar has taken the league by storm with a ‘beyond-his-years’ patient approach at the dish while doing so as the youngest player in the majors (21 years old). His stat line currently reads at .304/.351/.457 (.807 OPS) with 6 bombs, 16 RBI and 11 walks in 36 games. Mazara also packs a cannon arm in the outfield, already logging two Assists in his short time in the bigs. If Nomar keeps this up, he may just have some AL ROY hardware coming his way at the end of the 2016 season.
NL Rookie of the Year: Aledmys Diaz, Cardinals
I watch a ton of baseball. I watch a lot of non-Rangers baseball games. I’ll be honest – I barely knew of Aledmys Diaz before Jhonny Peralta torn a ligament in his thumb in early spring training. A 25-year-old rookie at shortstop, Diaz has hit the hell out of the baseball to the tune of .352/.386/.599 (.984 OPS) with 6 homers, 23 RBI and 15 doubles already in 2016! Diaz does not walk much (5.2%), but isn’t prone to the strikeout (9.2%)either. Diaz is a feisty hitter who has sparked the Cardinals offense in the absence of Peralta, a strong offensive shortstop in his own right . A great move by the Cardinals front office; they just seem to find guys out of nowhere to produce every season.
Best AL Team: Boston Red Sox (27-17 W-L record at time of article)
Riding a potent offense, the BoSox are a formidable team off to a hot start. If David Price can turn it on and they make a move for a second top-end starter at the deadline, watch out. They’ll battle for the AL East crown with their explosive offense and good-enough pitching staff.
Team Offensive Numbers: .296/.359/.485 (.844 OPS) — Note: the .296 average is by far the best in the AL (and baseball for that matter) – the Tigers are second in the AL with a .265 team average.
Best NL Team: Chicago Cubs (29-14 W-L record at time of article)
The Cubs were the hot pick in the off-season to win the World Series, which didn’t seem right. Even with the deep lineup and pitching staff, the lovable losers had to somehow botch this, right? Not so much. As of late May, these guys are damn good. Their offense is as potent as the Red Sox – with more patience instead of average, as they bludgeon the National League. Their pitching staff has been impressive, and we know their front office won’t be afraid to improve that part of the club in July. The bullpen and back end of the rotation could use some fortification.
Surprise AL Team: Chicago White Sox (27-19 W-L record at time of article)
I touched on the White Sox’ strong start earlier while giving Chris Sale some shine. This team is hitting enough and really pitching well, anchored by Sale and always under-the-radar lefty Jose Quintana. We will see if they have staying power throughout the summer – the AL Central race is going to be riveting, with four solid teams vying for that crown.
Disappointing AL Team: Houston Astros (17-28 W-L record at time of article)
The Astros have been a disaster in 2016 following a breakout 2015 season where they rode a hot start to their season into a divisional series berth against the Royals. The pitching has been dreadful (4.54 team ERA, 6th worst in the majors) and the bats have been putrid (.220 team AVG, 2nd worst in the majors). If this slide continues, I wonder if the savvy front office will sell some expiring contracts in hopes to quickly re-tool for a run at the AL West crown in 2017. This is a young team with loads of potential for the coming years. They need more starting pitching and have multiple glaring offensive holes in the lineup.
Surprise NL Team: Philadelphia Phillies (25-20 W-L record at time of article)
Nobody had the tankin’ Phils above .500 at this point in the season. It’s great to see a young core of players get the chance to go out with no expectations and play, and boy are they playing well. They may be lucky to this point, with many of their wins coming in one-run games, but an improving team needs to learn how to win those types of games in order to be successful down the line. It will be interesting to follow how this young core performs as the season grows older.
Disappointing NL Team: Los Angeles Dodgers (23-23 W-L record at time of article)
The Dodgers were a popular pick for many to be the class of the NL West division. A loaded, expensive roster has largely underperformed save for Cy Young candidate Kershaw and Rookie of the Year candidate and budding star SS Corey Seager. The rotation is thin behind Kershaw, as import Kenta Maeda has cooled off after a great start to his debut season and free-agent signing Scott Kazmir has been a complete bust so far (5.23 ERA). The lineup looks old (29th in SB) and lacks depth. It will be interesting to see if the rest of the rotation can come around and the veteran bats start to heat up as the season progresses. It should be a dead heat between the Dodgers and the Giants (even year magic!) throughout the summer.
Bonus! Here are some additional categories because I was having so much fun writing this article:
Best Player on Bad (under .500) AL Team: Mike Trout, Angels.
Worst Starter on Good (over .500) AL Team: Prince Fielder, Rangers
Best Player on Bad (under .500) NL Team: Nolan Arenado, Rockies
Worst Starter on Good (over .500) NL Team: Danny Espinosa, Nationals
Player Off to Great Start Who Will Fade: Daniel Murphy, Nationals
Player Off to Bad Start Who Will Surge: Troy Tulowitzki, Blue Jays
Best Performance: Max Scherzer, Nationals: 20 strikeouts against the Tigers on May 11th.
I hope everyone enjoyed my picks. Again, please comment with your own picks if you think I’m a buffoon, or let me know if you agree with my choices. You can reach me on Twitter for discussion as well. Look for a follow-up with some fun predictions for the season moving forward in the near future.