Ignoring the subjective and focusing on the objective is one of the goals of sabermetrics.
It was in this spirit that I made my picks for the end-of-season MLB awards—I didn’t even look at the standard stats; I used what I consider to be more objective measures of a player’s contribution to his team.
That said, the fact I’m using sabermetric tools to help me doesn’t mean there isn’t room for some debate. Often the objective differences between elite players aren't significant, and sometimes the numbers contradict themselves.
Really, the point of this column is to watch the flamewar in the comments section.
National League MVP: Miguel Cabrera
There were three players in the running for my vote in this category: David Wright, Miguel Cabrera, and Hanley Ramirez.
Ramirez led the NL in VORP but did it as the worst fielding shortstop in the league. Wright and Cabrera have offensive numbers which are basically the same—Cabrera has a slight edge on offense but Wright was the better fielder.
In the end, I decided to go with Cabrera because he didn’t play on a team that folded under pressure like a piece of wet toilet paper.
More objectively, Cabrera also had the edge over Wright in GPA, WPA, RC/27, and RC...while Wright only lead in VORP and defense.
National League Cy Young: Jake Peavy
I have no need to mention any esoteric sabermetric stats when discussing Jake Peavy.
He leads all National League pitchers in VORP, xFIP, PRC, and even has a substantial lead in WPA. Objectively it’s an open and shut case: Peavy is your NL Cy Young Award Winner.
National League Relief Pitcher of the Year: Takashi Saito
How’s this for a stat—“Relievers Expected Wins Added.”
Well, among relievers in the National League, Takashi Saito led the league in that category, finishing just in front of Heath Bell. Saito also has the edge over Bell in xFIP.
National League Rookie of the Year: Ryan Braun
Hunter Pence, Troy Tulowitzki, and Ryan Braun are all deserving of this award.
Based on VORP, Braun was the most valuable of all rookies in baseball—but VORP doesn’t take into account fielding ability. Braun was one of the worst-fielding third baseman in the league
However, Pence was also low on the list among outfielders in Zone Rating and range. Tulowitzki was one of the better fielding shortstops...but Braun had a 17-run lead in VORP over Pence, and a 20-run lead over Tulowitzki.
That’s just too much offensive goodness for glove work to overcome.
National League Comeback Player of the Year: Dmitri Young
The Comeback Player of the Year Award is the most subjective of all baseball’s awards. What’s a comeback? When does a comeback begin? What are you coming back from? What is the essence of the comeback?
I don’t need Socrates to tell me I’ll have a hard time finding an objective footing here.
Subjectively, the fact that Dmitri Young went from what he thought was his deathbed to the All-Star game in less than a year makes him the hands-down winner.
(If you didn’t know it, this award has already been announced—and it was in fact given to Young).
National League Wedge Antilles Award: Heath Bell
I introduced the concept of the Wedge Award in one of my earlier columns; basically the award goes to the best player in a supporting roll.
Heath Bell was the setup man for Trevor Hoffman on the Padres this year. Bell was a much better pitcher than almost every other reliever in the NL, but he was overshadowed by his overrated bullpen-mate.
American League MVP: Magglio Ordonez
This was a tough pick—Alex Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez had very similar offensive numbers.
Based on VORP and Runs Created, Rodriguez is the stronger offensive player—but it’s only a slight difference.
I decided to go with Magglio because A-Rod was, statistically speaking, the worst defensive third baseman in the league among those who qualified for postseason awards.
Offensively, there's only about a 10-run difference between Magglio and A-Rod. The difference in fielding ability and the fact that Magglio played a more important defensive position led me to cast my vote for Ordonez.
American League Cy Young: C.C. Sabathia
What a mess—Erik Bedard, Johan Santana, Josh Beckett, Fausto Carmona, Felix Hernandez, Sabathia, and even J.J. Putz all stake strong claims to the Cy Young Award.
There's no cut-and-dried winner, so I went with the player with the highest Value Over Replacement Player and Pitcher’s Runs Created (PRC), as those are the stats I consider more reliable in judging a player’s worth.
American League Relief Pitcher of the Year: J.J. Putz
This season was something special for J.J. Putz—lots of saves, lots of wins, a low ERA, and an overall effectiveness unparalleled among baseball’s closers put him ahead of the pack.
Rafael Betancourt is the only other reliever who comes close...and Betancourt isn’t a closer.
American League Rookie of the Year: Dustin Pedroia
Among AL rookies, only Jeremy Guthrie approached what Pedroia has accomplished this year.
Guthrie was excellent, and Orioles fans should have high hopes for his future, but Pedroia was much better.
I took a close look at Pedroia’s stats, and he matches up very nicely with another Red Sox player: Bobby Doerr.
Doerr was a HOF second baseman who played for the Red Sox in the 1940s.
I’m not saying Pedroia will be a Hall-of-Famer but I think that’s how high his potential is.
American League Comeback Player of the Year: Matt Stairs
This award has already been given to Carlos Pena, but I think Matt Stairs should have gotten more consideration.
Pena is 29 years old and spent the entire year playing first base, while Stairs is 39 and played numerous positions, including 60 games in the outfield.
However, I admit it—it’s hard to get past Pena’s 167 OPS+...and the fact that it's a 68-point jump from his previous season.
American League Wedge Antilles Award: Rafael Betancourt
Betancourt is another setup guy who was pitching in front of an overrated closer.
With the exception of J.J. Putz, no relief pitcher in the AL had a better “expected wins added” mark than Betancourt. For being among the top two relievers in baseball, Betancourt takes away three saves and five wins from the season.