Takeaways from the 2016 BBWAA MLB Award Finalists
The 2016 MLB season may be over, but it has left us plenty to debate.
As teams turn toward free agency and 2017, the release of the Baseball Writers Association of America’s award nominees has given everyone reason to continue to dissect 2016.
There are some obvious winners and other awards that appear more competitive. There were snubs, too, of course.
But nonetheless, there was plenty to take away.
Lester and Hendricks Could Hurt One Another
No team in baseball boasted a better starting pitching staff than the World Series champion Chicago Cubs. The unit’s 2.96 ERA, .213 batting average against and 1.07 WHIP each ranked tops in baseball by a wide margin.
So it’s no surprise that two of Chicago’s starters, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks, are finalists for the National League Cy Young Award. Hendricks (2.13) and Lester (2.44) were first and second, respectively, in MLB in ERA.
Each has a strong case to take the award. That may split the votes among those wanting to give it to a Cubs pitcher. Washington Nationals hurler Max Scherzer, whose 2.96 ERA ranked eighth in baseball, has a case, too. He led the sport with 284 strikeouts, which is 30 more than second-ranked Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander. He also had a signature moment with a record-tying 20-strikeout game against the Tigers in May.
The possible split vote between the Cubs hurlers is a strange conundrum. Whether they play on the same team shouldn’t matter. But since Hendricks and Lester each pitched for the sport's most successful club, neither will get full credit for doing so. That line of thinking could cause them to hurt one another in the final tally.
Dodgers Should Be Runaways in Pair of Awards
The Los Angeles Dodgers may have lost the National League Championship Series, but they should be the big winners as far as BBWAA awards are concerned.
Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts and shortstop Corey Seager should win NL Manager of the Year and Rookie of the Year, respectively. Seager is also a finalist for MVP.
This season, the shortstop hit .308/.365/.512 with 26 homers and 72 RBI. He was the best player on one of baseball’s best teams. Seager’s 7.5 WAR led all shortstops, according to FanGraphs.
That’s impressive for any rookie, let alone one playing in, arguably, the game’s best era for the position.
Seager’s teammate, starting pitcher Kenta Maeda, and Washington Nationals center fielder Trea Turner also had nice rookie campaigns. In fact, Turner showed defensive versatility after he moved to the outfield from his normal position as a middle infielder.
But Seager was not only the NL’s best rookie, but also one of its best players—making him a runaway for the award.
And though Roberts had the luxury of managing Seager, the first-year skipper navigated an unprecedented set of circumstances in guiding his team to the postseason.
The Dodgers put an MLB-record 28 players on the disabled list. The most notable injury was to starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw—considered the game’s best pitcher—who dealt with a disc herniation for more than two months.
Still Roberts found a way to lead his team to an NL West championship.
Zach Britton Snubbed in AL Cy Young
For any reliever to win the Cy Young Award, he has to be extraordinary. Starters are typically considered to have the tougher gig when compared to their counterparts in the bullpen.
That much is evident in that only nine relievers have ever won the award and none twice. The last reliever to win a Cy Young came when the Dodgers' Eric Gagne won the NL trophy in 2003. Dennis Eckersley, who spent 14 of his 24 MLB seasons as a starter, won the American League award as a reliever for the Oakland A’s in 1992.
But Baltimore Orioles closer Zach Britton did enough to win it. Or, at least, be voted a finalist.
The lefty dominated hitters this season.
Britton sported a 0.54 ERA, allowed only four earned runs, walked 18 and led the AL with 47 saves. He appeared in 69 games but only allowed 38 hits.
Most impressive: Between appearances on and including May 5 and Aug. 22, he didn’t allow an earned run.
Britton had a once-in-a-generation season for a reliever and deserves to be acknowledged for it.
Two of Three AL MVP Finalists Not on Playoff Teams
With the MLB playoffs so exclusive, inevitably good players are left out of postseason play. That often spurs debate as to whether those players should be considered for the MVP award.
One has to ask: What value does a guy have if he can’t lead his team to the playoffs?
Of note, the AL side of the award features Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve and Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout, both of whom did not play this postseason.
By any measure, each is among baseball’s best. Altuve hit .338/.396/.531 with 24 homers and 96 RBI. Trout slashed .315/.441/.550 with 29 homers and 100 RBI.
But if the award was simply given to the game’s best players, we wouldn’t see much variation among its recipients. Team success has to factor in.
Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts (.318/.363/.534, 31 HR, 113 RBI) is the third finalist. He’s likely to get it. But it’s reasonable to question why players like Baltimore's Manny Machado or Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, members of playoff teams, weren’t voted finalists.
Altuve and Trout’s statistics are irrefutable. They’re eye-popping. And perhaps they weren’t on playoff teams because those around them underperformed. But professional organizations are in the business of raising trophies and banners.
Players on teams that don’t, matter a little less from that perspective, because their clubs would still have performed poorly without them.
Nationals Boast Players in All Three NL Player Awards
The Nationals may have fallen short of expectations when they lost in the NLDS to the Dodgers.
But they had a good showing in terms award nominees.
Washington has finalists for the Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and MVP awards. As mentioned, Turner is a finalist for NL Rookie of the Year and Scherzer is up for the Cy Young.
But possibly the Nationals' most important player was second baseman Daniel Murphy, who has an argument to win the NL MVP but may lose the award to Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, who led the NL in WAR (8.4), per FanGraphs.
Murphy tore through the playoffs last season, winning the 2015 NLCS MVP in leading the New York Mets to the World Series. But the Mets thought it a flash-in-the-pan performance and allowed Murphy to walk in free agency this past winter.
What ensued was, perhaps, the best I-told-you-so season in recent memory.
Murphy hit .347/.390/.595 with 25 homers and 104 RBI. He was critical to the Nationals NL East title in a season in which the team’s right fielder and 2015 MVP, Bryce Harper, struggled offensively.