Hello, HHS friends!
Here’s our obligatory comment: I’ve been more-or-less totally MIA in 2021. I apologize for that. There’s no excuse, no fancy reasoning. Life is just hard. Hoping you did read my review of Joe Posnanski’s The Baseball 100. And now, with only lockout news to “comfort” us baseball fans, let’s try to keep things positive. It’s awards season! We need something to vote on before the COG elections in January, am I right?
In 2020, I did not run an awards post. The season was too short, things crept up too fast… it just didn’t happen. But I don’t want that to continue in 2021.
Look, I’m going to be the first to acknowledge: I think the vote-for-pitchers, don’t-vote-for-pitchers debate really muddied the waters in some of our last few discussions; I was thinking that, this year, we would switch from a mixed vote to separate awards for the pitchers and position players. But then, along came a player who screwed the whole thing up. So this year, my initial plan was to do separate awards for pitchers and hitters. Unfortunately, there’s one big reason we just can’t do that. So I’m not going to ask us to do so this year. Okay; without further ado, I believe we should start on the senior circuit this year, as well. So who are our candidates? (As always, description after the jump; rules at the bottom of the post.)
Through the end of July, it didn’t look like there’d be much debate. Fernando Tatis of the Padres was batting .292/.374/.657 and making highlight-reel plays daily for a Padres team that was – somehow, at the start of the day on July 30 – just two games back of the Dodgers and five back of the Giants. They were also 7 games ahead of the Reds for the first Wild Card, and 9.5 up on the Phillies for the second. It was, it seemed, impossible that the Padres would miss the postseason, and Tatis was the reason why. Sure, there had been splashy offseason additions to the roster. But Tatis was the story of the National League. Unfortunately, on the day in question, Tatis was injured. The team cratered in his absence and never fully recovered. That said, he did manage to hit .282/.364/.611, good for the second-best SLG in the NL, a mere .004 behind the leader. Again – still while playing fabulous shortstop. Do you know how many post-Integration SS have managed a .600 SLG? Artie Wilson (1948), Ernie Banks (1958), Nomar Garciaparra (1999), Alex Rodriguez (2000-2003), and Tatis. No Ripken, Jeter, or Yount. The list is short indeed (pun intended, and regretted). So was his shortened season (only 130 GP) something that needs to be overlooked? Or was it just too many games missed for the best player in the League?
More relevantly, if Tatis wasn’t the best of the NL, who was? Sans injuries, perhaps an argument could’ve been made for 23-year-old phenom Ronald Acuna, Jr. Instead, let’s focus on the Champs’ overlooked, perennial MVP-candidate. Did you know that, in the last four seasons, Freddie Freeman has only missed seven games total? It’s impressive. That kind of showing up is the thing that lets you lead the league in PAs, as Freeman did this year. Not ABs, though – Freeman walked a very respectable 85 times, leading to his Freeman-like .300/.393/.503 line. While the power is not what it once was (that SLG is his lowest since 2015), Freeman nonetheless scored more runs (120) than anyone in the NL, for the team that won it all!
Of course, while the Braves did eventually win it all, few would argue they were actually baseball’s best team this year. That honor would likely go to the team that won the most games: the San Francisco Giants. They were anchored by Brandon Crawford. Crawford’s .298/.373/.522 line was strong enough for the former two numbers to place in the top-10 in the league, and his 141 OPS+ was 8th.
But even within his own division, there was competition from Dodgers’ midseason acquisition and NL batting champ Trea Turner. I don’t have the wherewithal to look it up right now – but if anyone wants to figure out how many active players have 3+ seasons of a .325 average, I guarantee it’s not a big number. (I can think of Pujols and Cabrera off the top of my head… but I don’t know if there are others, beyond Turner.) The easy knock on Turner is that he’s a singles hitter (he did lead the league in them). But he also led the league in Total Bases. Not only that, his 146 OPS+ was good for 6th in the league. And – little-known fact – Turner was third in the NL with an 86.5% stolen base success rate!
Rounding out the dominant NL West, let’s move to the Central, where we can find a few candidates. The Reds have a few. Zack Wheeler led the league in bWAR, but you’ll get a fuller write-up of him (and the other pitcher candidates, like Walker Buehler, Corbin Burnes, and Max Scherzer) in the Cy Young post. Of course you can – and are encouraged to – vote for any of them here, too! But Wheeler had a couple of teammates worthy of a look.
Former 1st-round pick Nick Castellanos really broke through this year. .309/.362/.576 (good for a 136 OPS+) is good. 100 RBI and 95 runs with 38 doubles and 34 homers means that it’s not just rates, but volume, too. But lest we not forget teammate Joey Votto. Votto has been counted out by many as a useful player. Deeply disappointing seasons in ’19 and ’20 have led some to write off Votto’s career for dead. However, he hit .266/.375/.563 – that SLG is higher than all but one season of Votto’s since 2012 (that one season being 2017, when we named Votto our NL MVP, disagreeing with the BBWAA). Fun fact: since 2010, Votto has had an OBP at least .096 higher than his AVG every single year! While Votto failed to appear in 130 G, his season certainly merits some down-ballot consideration, particularly given the Reds’ improvement as a team, finishing above .500 in a full season for the first time since 2013.
But the perhaps the best candidates are two players out East. A couple of years ago, the Washington Nationals felt they couldn’t pay everybody. So just prior to their winning the World Series, the decided to bet on age. They bet on Juan Soto. Soto cashed in his fourth-straight season with over a .400 OBP. He’s taken over for the aforementioned Votto as the assumed league leader in the category at this point. Soto walked 145 times this season. Not only is that more than he struck out (only 93 times, increasingly rare among even “contact” hitters, much less ones as powerful as Soto), but this was a truly special number. It ranks 23rd all-time in Major League history. If Soto can ever do this a second time, he’d join just Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, and Babe Ruth. I’m pretty sure that being on a list with only those three guys is pretty much everyone’s goal as a baseball player. But it’s not just the OBP and walks that are impressive. Soto finished second in the batting race, as well. His overall line of .313/.465/.534 was good for second in the league in both OPS (.999) and OPS+ (175). It also made him one of only two players to finish in the top-ten in all three triple slash categories.
The other guy? Why, that’s the one the Nationals, in essence, let go in favor of Soto: Bryce Harper. Harper batted .309/.429/.615, the latter number leading the league, with the other two ranking third and second, respectively. The 1.044 OPS and 179 OPS+ were the league-leaders, as were his 42 doubles. Harper lacked the help of teammates on base to get him to 100 RBI (he had only 84), but he was still one of the most formidable hitters in the league, particularly late in the season. On June 30, Harper began an absolute tear. For the rest of the season, he hit .336/.458/.706 and kept the Phillies alive in a race no one gave them a chance in. Entering that morning, they were 37-40. As Harper heated up, so did the team, going 45-40 the rest of the way, and falling just short. They were only 1.5 back of the World Champs as late as September 25. But a classic Phillies late-season collapse doomed the team. Still, the BBWAA just awarded him the MVP. The question remains: will we do the same?
So make your choice, folks! Rules are below. We’ll keep this post open for… let’s say a week. We’ll see if that’s too fast or too slow of a pace. Anyway, I think we’ll do both Cy Youngs as a single post, all the miscellaneous awards as one post, and the AL MVP as its own. That should give us a good four weeks of voting, and keep us in baseball-mode all December… before we get to COG voting in January! So please make your selections below, and I look forward to reading what you have to say, not just about your choices, but in fact whatever discussion you may have to sway others!
Vote by making a comment below and numbering your choices with 1 being the MOST preferred candidate, and 10 being your LEAST preferred candidate of your ten choices. Your ballots will be EXACTLY ten place, just as the BBWAA does. You must vote for 10 players. Scoring will be 14-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1, just as the BBWAA does. You are not required to vote in all elections; only vote in the ones you would like to vote in. You may make vote changes, if the discussion so moves you. If you change your vote, please do so in a new comment, not as a reply to your original comment (it’s a lot easier to find new comments than replies to old ones). Please don’t vote strategically; we’re trying to get the best result, not to manipulate the vote totals based on what others have done. Voting will remain open about one week. When players are tied, tiebreakers go as follows: first tiebreaker is number of ballots on which players were named; second tiebreaker is highest placement on a ballot; third tiebreaker is the first player to be named (as this usually only happens when a bunch of players are tied for last). Results will be posted in a comment at the bottom of the post when balloting closes.