Grading the 2013 MLB Silver Slugger Award Selections
Major League Baseball's 2013 Sliver Slugger Award winners have been announced during an hour-long announcement show on MLB Network. Now, let the debate begin.
The best offensive player at each position is, in some ways, easier to calculate than any other award handed out during the offseason. While advanced statistics and differing ideology on defense hovers over the Cy Young, MVP and Gold Glove honors, the Silver Sluggers tend to be more cut and dry. In other words, raking for six months usually is enough to garner the accolade.
With the dust settled, hardware now belongs to nine outstanding hitters in each league. Did the voters get it right? Were the winners truly deserving?
After watching a season of excellence offensive performances, let's grade the actual selections based on the entire body of work in the 2013 season.
*All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted.
AL winner: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins (.324, 11 HRs, 47 RBIs)
One of the greatest hitting catchers in baseball history continues to rack up the career achievements. This award represents Mauer's first Silver Slugger honor since 2010 and fifth overall in 10 big-league seasons. Through a decade in Minnesota, the 30-year-old owns the second-highest adjusted OPS (136+) in the history of catchers. The only name ahead of him? Mike Piazza.
NL winner: Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals (.319, 12 HRs, 80 RBIs)
As Matt Yallof of MLB Network revealed during the announcement of Molina as the Silver Slugger Award winner, St. Louis scored a half run more per game with Molina in the lineup than when he wasn't available. The honor is the first Silver Slugger Award for Molina, and he now joins Ted Simmons (1980) as the only catchers in St. Louis Cardinals history to take home the hardware.
AL winner: Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles (.286, 53 HRs, 138 RBIs)
If not for the hitting genius of Miguel Cabrera and all-around brilliance of Mike Trout, Baltimore's Chris Davis would be the easy choice for American League MVP. When it came to naming a Silver Slugger at first base, however, the debate should have started and ended with Davis' 370 total bases and 1.004 OPS. Over the last two years, Davis has crushed 86 home runs on the path to establishing himself as the most feared power-hitter in the sport.
NL winner: Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks (.302, 36 HRs, 125 RBIs)
With all due respect to the greatness of Joey Votto in Cincinnati, Goldschmidt's 2013 deserved to edge him out for the Silver Slugger. After posting a good 24-year-old campaign (126 OPS+) in 2012, the Diamondbacks first baseman set new career highs in nearly every major offensive category in 2013, finishing with a remarkable .302/.410/.552 slash line.
AL winner: Robinson Cano, New York Yankees (.314, 27 HRs, 107 RBIs)
The 31-year-old free agent can advise Jay-Z to add another accolade to his glowing list of career accomplishments. After being snubbed by the BBWAA list of MVP finalists, Cano captured his fifth career Silver Slugger. Despite watching teammates like Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson miss big chunks of time due to injury, Cano dominated American League pitching (145 OPS+) without the benefit of lineup protection.
NL winner: Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals (.318, 11 HRs, 78 RBIs)
A uncharacteristically poor October (.553 OPS) shouldn't change what baseball fans remember about Carpenter's breakout 2013 season. The 27-year-old set the table for St. Louis' offense all summer long by reaching base at an outstanding clip (.392) and leading the league in both hits (199) and runs scored (126).
AL winner: J.J. Hardy, Baltimore Orioles (.263, 25 HRs, 76 RBIs)
Hardy, along with Adam Jones, Yadier Molina and Paul Goldschmidt, doubled as a 2013 Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winners. While his defense is obviously stellar, the voters chose the wrong shortstop as the American League's best offensive performer. Despite hitting 25 home runs, Hardy was a below-average offensive performer (97 OPS+). His power was clearly aided by hitting in Camden Yards. On the other hand, Jed Lowrie, the best choice for the award, posted a 122 OPS+ in Oakland.
NL winner: Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals (.280, 20 HRs, 80 RBIs)
To be clear, Desmond is a wonderful offensive player. Over the last two seasons, the 27-year-old Nationals star has hit 45 home runs and driven in 153 runs. Outside of Troy Tulowitzki, he would be the easy pick to start at shortstop on a National League All-Star team. Of course, the Rockies shortstop, despite missing 36 games, was a superior offensive performer in 2013. Tulowitzki out-homered Desmond (25-20) and posted an adjusted OPS (140-114) well above Desmond's mark.
AL winner: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers (.348, 44 HRs, 137 RBIs)
As if there was any debate. To me, Cabrera's greatness isn't defined by this award or his final numbers (.348/.442/.636), but the fact that the honor was decided before September. Due to a nagging groin injury, the Tigers third baseman slugged just .333 and generated only two extra-base hits after August 26. Yet, when the dust settled, he was still the deserving Sliver Slugger.
NL winner: Pedro Alvarez, Pittsburgh Pirates (.233, 36 HRs, 100 RBIs)
As Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports pointed out, baseball is experiencing a power outage. Only 13 hitters surpassed the 30-homer plateau in 2013, the lowest figure in over two decades. One of those sluggers was Alvarez. If Ryan Zimmerman had performed at a higher level or David Wright didn't miss nearly two months due to injury, Alvarez's .296 OBP could have cost him the award. As it stands, his power was good enough to elevate his OPS+ to 116.
AL winner: Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles (.285, 33 HRs, 108 RBIs)
Much like Jones' selection as a Gold Glove winner, the choice is puzzling. In this case, voters were likely enamored with the "slugger" part of the award title, eschewing the definition of Silver Slugger as the best offensive player at each position, not strictly power hitter. While Jones' 33 home runs were valuable, especially as a center fielder, Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava and Jose Bautista all posted higher wRC+ during the season, per Fangraphs.
NL winner: Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates (.331, 20 HRs, 84 RBIs)
In baseball, decent players sometimes post excellent seasons. The greats, however, always find room to grow, even after outstanding campaigns. After 2013, we can start putting McCutchen in the category with baseball's great hitters. In 2012, he dominated. While his 2013 numbers are very, very similar, this improvement stood out: McCutchen walked more (78-70) and struck out far less (132-1010) on his path to a second consecutive Silver Slugger honor.
AL winner: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels (.323, 27 HRs, 97 RBIs)
Baseball's best all-around player is an outstanding defender, runner and athlete, but don't let that distract from what he does best: crush opposing pitching. After posting one of the best rookie years in history (.326/.399/.564), Trout backed it up with an even more prolific sophomore season. According to Baseball-Reference, the Angels outfielder has the highest career OPS+ (166) in baseball history of any 21-year-old with at least 1,000 career plate appearances. In other words, expect to see him on a list like this for years to come.
NL winner: Michael Cuddyer, Colorado Rockies (.331, 20 HRs, 84 RBIs)
Despite Cuddyer winning the National League batting title, this award should have went to Washington's Jayson Werth. Evaluating hitters that call Coors Field home has been an impossible task since the team opened for business in 1993. In Cuddyer's case, his OPS split (.997 to .852) isn't as egregious as some Rockies of the past, but it levels the playing field for superior hitter like Werth to garner this award. By posting a 154 OPS+ for the Nationals, Werth was the more prolific offensive performer.
AL winner: Torii Hunter, Detroit Tigers (.304, 17 HRs, 84 RBIs)
Much like in the case of Adam Jones, better choices emerged in the form of Victorino, Nava or Bautista. Of course, credit still belongs to Hunter after another excellent season at the back end of his career. After hitting .313 for the 2012 Angels, regression was expected due to a .389 BABIP (batting average on balls in play), per Fangraphs. After posting a stellar .344 BABIP in 2013, that regression hasn't arrived yet.
NL winner: Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds (.262, 30 HRs, 109 RBIs)
As noted when discussing Pedro Alvarez's selection, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports profiled baseball's best sluggers. While reading it, this nugget emerged: Over the last three seasons, only three players have 30-plus home runs in each year. Those names? Cabrera, Beltre and Bruce. Considering his age (26), power, defensive prowess and Silver Slugger nod, it's time to recognize Bruce for what he's become: one of the best players in baseball.
Winner: David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox (.309, 30 HRs, 103 RBIs)
While it's blasphemous to even consider another DH candidate for this award, Cleveland's Carlos Santana and Toronto's Adam Lind were prolific enough to give Big Papi a run for his money. Ultimately, though, Ortiz's assault on October record books was his second act of dominance in 2013. Over 137 regular-season games, the Red Sox star assaulted American League pitching by posting a 160 OPS+ and 30 home runs.
Winner: Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers (.328, 0 HRs, 4 RBIs)
In some years, grading the pitcher selection can be an arduous task. After all, how many pitchers hit enough to warrant attention over the course of an entire regular season? In 2013, not many did. By hitting .328/.409/.379, Greinke separated himself from an entire league of weak-hitting hurlers.
What did you think of the 2013 Silver Slugger winners?