Varied opinions add spice to awards voting

Jeff Passan
Yahoo! Sports

The annual bellyaching over the results of baseball's award voting is a testament to the awards themselves. If they weren't so meaningful, so overflowing with gravitas, they'd be little more than the hardware the NFL hands out after every season.

For all of the things baseball does wrong, its awards are not one of them. Sure, us writers who vote have screwed the pooch more often than we'd like to admit. But then diversity of opinion, of philosophy, of import is what makes the votes interesting. If all the voters chose their MVP by listing the top 10 players in Wins Above Replacement, the award would be nothing more than a metric.

And while the strictest and most dogmatic sabermetric adherents prefer that to the alternative of voter error, I enjoy the debate. Which is why I asked four of my colleagues to cast full ballots in each of the eight categories so we could compare.

I have an AL Cy Young ballot this season and Tim Brown an NL MVP ballot, so we abstained from those votes for this article. Otherwise, we've got a full accounting that may not be statistically significant but is revealing. Dave Brown hews closest to sabermetric thought – and includes the most wild cards because of it. Steve Henson is a veteran writer still plenty open-minded. Kevin Kaduk is somewhere in between. And Tim almost didn't include on his AL MVP ballot …

1. Justin Verlander(notes), who, after weeks of numbers-crunching and philosophy-questioning and internal debate ultimately was my choice. The thing about the AL MVP this season is there are a lot of great choices. I wouldn't question anybody who put Jacoby Ellsbury(notes) first (as Tim did) nor Jose Bautista(notes) (Dave and Kevin's choices).

[Related: Verlander not holding his breath on winning MVP]

I did question Tim when he turned in a ballot without Verlander. So he was gonna be that guy, huh? In 2000, when Pedro Martinez(notes) was the best player in the AL by a significant margin, two longtime writers, LaVelle Neal and George King, completely left him off their ballots. Pedro finished second.

I asked for Tim's rationale. The ballot specifically says you can vote for pitchers, and while the Baseball Writers Association of America encourages each writer to determine "value" using his or her own criteria, I figured arguing against Verlander's this season would be incredibly difficult.

Then Tim brought up a line of thinking I'd yet to consider. From his email:

So, I was thinking …

Gibson MVP: 304 IP, 1.12 ERA, 28 CGs.
McLain MVP: 336 IP, 1.96 ERA, 28 CGs
Koufax MVP: 311 IP, 1.88 ERA, 20 CGs, 11 SHO
Verlander MVP: 244 IP, 2.40 ERA, 4 CGs

Times have changed, of course. The five-man rotation and bullpen specialization and managers’ philosophies and mound heights have shoved starting pitchers from the real MVP discussions. Doesn’t mean they can’t be MVPs, but their role has changed. Lessened.

I don’t know, this thing is costing me sleep …

Two things:

a. See, we really do take these votes seriously. Even fake ones!

b. He's absolutely right that the five-man rotation has hurt elite pitchers' values. Verlander started 34 games this season. His 300-inning predecessors in the '60s started at least two more games and finished five times as many. It's not Verlander's fault. He'd love to finish more games. The pitch-count police keep that from happening, and those sorts of philosophies may sink Verlander's candidacy. Modern baseball conspires against the starter for MVP.

I agree with what my friend Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports said this weekend: "Somebody is going to leave Verlander off the ballot." It may be an attention seeker. It may be a protest vote. It may be someone who, like Tim, legitimately believes someone who participates in just one-fifth of a team's games cannot provide the same value as an everyday player.

Still, I look at MVPs before the great run of pitching in the '60s. I see Walter Johnson, who threw 277 2/3 innings in 1924, and Lefty Grove, with 288 2/3 in 1931, and Spud Chandler, who finished 1943 with 253 innings. The voters deemed each worthy enough.

And even though Verlander does participate just 20 percent of the time, his overwhelming contributions in that – his performances after losses, his strikeout totals, his improvement as the game goes on (a .596 OPS his third time through a lineup), his consistency, his stability in a rotation that struggled for months – were enough to convince me that he was the right choice.

D. Brown T. Brown Henson Kaduk Passan
1st Jose Bautista Jacoby Ellsbury Justin Verlander Jose Bautista Justin Verlander
2nd Miguel Cabrera(notes) Jose Bautista Jacoby Ellsbury Justin Verlander Jacoby Ellsbury
3rd Jacoby Ellsbury Curtis Granderson(notes) Jose Bautista Curtis Granderson Jose Bautista
4th Justin Verlander Miguel Cabrera Miguel Cabrera Jacoby Ellsbury Miguel Cabrera
5th CC Sabathia(notes) Robinson Cano(notes) Curtis Granderson Adrian Gonzalez(notes) CC Sabathia
6th Curtis Granderson Adrian Gonzalez Adrian Gonzalez Miguel Cabrera Adrian Gonzalez
7th Adrian Gonzalez Dustin Pedroia(notes) Alex Avila(notes) Michael Young(notes) Curtis Granderson
8th Alex Avila Michael Young Robinson Cano Robinson Cano Evan Longoria(notes)
9th Dustin Pedroia Justin Verlander Michael Young CC Sabathia Dustin Pedroia
10th Alex Gordon(notes) Alex Avila Dustin Pedroia Paul Konerko(notes) Alex Avila

By the way, Tim reconsidered and placed Verlander ninth, which was eight spots lower than he put …

2. Justin Verlander in the AL Cy Young voting. The vote here was unanimous, with none of the other four believing that CC Sabathia's superior Fielding Independent Pitching numbers are good enough to overtake the force of Verlander's season as well as the attention lavished on him for it.

D. Brown T. Brown Henson Kaduk Passan
1st Justin Verlander Justin Verlander Justin Verlander Justin Verlander ---
2nd CC Sabathia Jered Weaver(notes) Jered Weaver CC Sabathia ---
3rd James Shields(notes) CC Sabathia James Shields Jered Weaver ---
4th Felix Hernandez(notes) James Shields CC Sabathia James Shields ---
5th Dan Haren(notes) Josh Beckett(notes) Josh Beckett Josh Beckett ---

I voted Sabathia fifth in the MVP race, the highest of any Yankee on my ballot. For those with the interpretation of "value" as what one means to his team and where his team might be without him, there is a pretty good argument that Sabathia is more valuable than anyone. Ivan Nova(notes), the Yankees' No. 1 starter? He didn't make a single one of our AL Rookie of the Year ballots, which yielded …

3. Eric Hosmer(notes) as the winner despite receiving just one first-place vote, which I cast.

D. Brown T. Brown Henson Kaduk Passan
1st Dustin Ackley(notes) Jeremy Hellickson(notes) Mark Trumbo(notes) Jeremy Hellickson Eric Hosmer
2nd Eric Hosmer Eric Hosmer Eric Hosmer Mark Trumbo Jeremy Hellickson
3rd Michael Pineda(notes) Mark Trumbo Jeremy Hellickson Eric Hosmer Michael Pineda

Eric Hosmer

Hosmer backed his way in through three second-place votes and was the only player to show up on all five ballots. Hellickson finished one point behind him, with Trumbo in third, Ackley fourth (by dint of Dave's first-place vote) and Pineda fifth.

I feel good about Hosmer, even though defensive metrics spit all over him (whereas a scout Sunday said "that's a plus glove, and I think it's going to be plus-plus") and his FanGraphs WAR is lower than that of Houston outfielder Brian Bogusevic(notes) (who has fewer than 200 plate appearances).

Hosmer isn't the best in any category. Jemile Weeks(notes) has a higher average, Ackley a better on-base percentage, J.P. Arencibia(notes) more home runs and Trumbo a higher slugging percentage. Hosmer is more than adequate in all of them, and since Aug. 23, his .382 batting average ranks third in baseball, his nine home runs are fourth, his .641 slugging percentage is ninth and his 24 RBIs 10th.

While this isn't true of other categories, I like to see a strong finish when considering the best rookie. The best players don't tire at the end of a season, and even if Hosmer is feasting on some subpar pitching, he's been an ox in September. Even a miserable finish can't spoil the unanimous vote that almost certainly will go to …

4. Craig Kimbrel(notes) as National League Rookie of the Year. This month, Kimbrel has allowed five runs after going nearly three months without giving up one. He still has 19 strikeouts in 10 2/3 innings, and an ERA of 2.00 on the season with 126 Ks in 76 1/3 innings, and hitters hate facing him, which is incredibly rare for a rookie, and, sure, he's got the rookie save record at 46.

D. Brown T. Brown Henson Kaduk Passan
1st Craig Kimbrel Craig Kimbrel Craig Kimbrel Craig Kimbrel Craig Kimbrel
2nd Wilson Ramos(notes) Freddie Freeman(notes) Vance Worley(notes) Freddie Freeman Freddie Freeman
3rd Brandon Beachy(notes) Vance Worley Freddie Freeman Vance Worley Brandon Beachy

Already Kimbrel is arguably the best closer in baseball. Postseason bona fides await to confirm the title. He's done everything Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez has asked of him, which is one reason among many Gonzalez did not beat out …

Kirk Gibson

5. Kirk Gibson for NL Manager of the Year. While Gonzalez was busy mismanaging his bullpen, Gibson turned a woebegone Arizona team into the NL West champion and proved himself more than a grunt and a glower.

The Diamondbacks enter the postseason overwhelming underdogs, another testament to Gibson's ability to pull the best out of them. He's had some help in personnel overhauls. By and large, though, this is Gibson's team, molded by him and to his distinct liking.

D. Brown T. Brown Henson Kaduk Passan
1st Kirk Gibson Kirk Gibson Kirk Gibson Kirk Gibson Kirk Gibson
2nd Tony La Russa Charlie Manuel Ron Roenicke Charlie Manuel Ron Roenicke
3rd Charlie Manuel Tony La Russa Charlie Manuel Ron Roenicke Tony La Russa

I placed Milwaukee's Ron Roenicke second and Tony La Russa third because each had a win total that exceeded my preseason predictions by the most significant margin in the NL apart from Arizona. That is not my sole criterion, of course, since preseason predictions can diverge so greatly from the reality of a year. I never figured …

6. Joe Girardi, my AL Manager of the Year, would have to subsist an entire season with CC and the Misfits as his starting rotation. And yet the Yankees own the second-best record in baseball and had a shot at 100 wins right up to their regular-season ending series with Tampa Bay.

The Yankees' plus-216 run differential isn't quite the '27 Yankees (plus-376) or '39 Yankees (plus-411), but it would be the best in baseball since Seattle (plus-300) and Oakland (plus-239) in 2001 if they can keep it above the plus-210 of Boston in 2007.

D. Brown T. Brown Henson Kaduk Passan
1st Joe Maddon Joe Maddon Joe Girardi Joe Maddon Joe Girardi
2nd Manny Acta Jim Leyland Jim Leyland Mike Scioscia Jim Leyland
3rd Jim Leyland Mike Scioscia Manny Acta Jim Leyland Mike Scioscia

While Steve also gave Girardi some first-place love, he got no second- or third-place votes. Tampa Bay's Joe Maddon received the firsts and won the poll accordingly. While I think Maddon has done a great job – like always – I had higher expectations for the Rays than most. I also called …

7. Roy Halladay(notes) for NL Cy Young at the beginning of the season, which I'm sticking with here. Tim, Steve and Kevin went another route.

D. Brown T. Brown Henson Kaduk Passan
1st Roy Halladay Clayton Kershaw(notes) Clayton Kershaw Clayton Kershaw Roy Halladay
2nd Clayton Kershaw Roy Halladay Cliff Lee(notes) Cliff Lee Clayton Kershaw
3rd Cliff Lee Cliff Lee Roy Halladay Roy Halladay Cliff Lee
4th Cole Hamels(notes) Ian Kennedy(notes) Ian Kennedy Tim Lincecum(notes) Ian Kennedy
5th Zack Greinke(notes) Cole Hamels Cole Hamels Ian Kennedy Tim Lincecum

The Kershaw-vs.-Halladay(-vs.-Lee) debate is an all-timer. They've thrown the same number of innings, barely walk anyone and strike out plenty of guys. I went with Halladay because he pitches in a significantly tougher home park in front of a marginally inferior defense with offenses in his division far better than those of the NL West.

Neither choice is wrong. Either is worthy, sort of like the NL MVP race, where Kevin and I took …

8. Matt Kemp(notes) while Dave and Steve chose Ryan Braun(notes). The second-place votes were flipped with each guy. And so in our hypothetical polling, we've got the second-ever tie for MVP and the first since Keith Hernandez and Willie Stargell in 1979. Steve did say he'd change his vote to Kemp if he pulls off the triple crown.

D. Brown T. Brown Henson Kaduk Passan
1st Ryan Braun --- Ryan Braun Matt Kemp Matt Kemp
2nd Matt Kemp --- Matt Kemp Ryan Braun Ryan Braun
3rd Roy Halladay --- Justin Upton(notes) Prince Fielder(notes) Justin Upton
4th Joey Votto(notes) --- Joey Votto Justin Upton Joey Votto
5th Clayton Kershaw --- Prince Fielder Albert Pujols(notes) Prince Fielder
6th Prince Fielder --- Albert Pujols Lance Berkman(notes) Albert Pujols
7th Cliff Lee --- Troy Tulowitzki(notes) Joey Votto Roy Halladay
8th Troy Tulowitzki --- Lance Berkman Cliff Lee Troy Tulowitzki
9th Jose Reyes(notes) --- Hunter Pence(notes) Roy Halladay Clayton Kershaw
10th Lance Berkman --- Chipper Jones(notes) Clayton Kershaw Lance Berkman

I didn't hesitate to give Kemp my vote. His raw numbers are almost identical to Braun's. He plays a more difficult position (center field to left field), does so better than Braun, has one of the deadliest arms in baseball and has performed all season long surrounded by a miserable lineup and a miserable ownership situation.

Now, I understand why some would lean toward …

9. Ryan Braun … and Clayton Kershaw … and Jeremy Hellickson &hellip and Joe Maddon … and Jacoby Ellsbury … and Jose Bautista.

Those are my snubs. Gotta happen sometimes. If any of them wins, I'll believe the voters got it right. It might not be my version of right, but then I've had a few players laugh when I told them I think …

10. Justin Verlander should win MVP, and it's obvious my version – whether it's awards voting or, you know, Monday-morning quarterbacking a divorce – quite often doesn't run in line with the populace.

That's how it goes, and I'm more than happy to defend my choice of Verlander (even if it's one that counts as a few bytes in cyberspace and nowhere beyond). With every new scenario a season brings, my idea of value continues to evolve. The core always will be raw numbers. But scouts have input. So do managers and coaches. Players' opinions mean a lot. And then there is the dash of contending, the sprinkle of leadership, the pinch of clutch hitting, the zest of energy – so much unquantifiable and yet undoubtedly real.

My AL Cy Young ballot is due Friday. I haven't sent it in yet. I think I know what it's going to look like, but I want to make sure my logic behind the choices is impermeable. Doing these things correctly is important. If not for Boston, Tampa Bay, Atlanta and St. Louis, the awards would be all we've got right now.

I'm glad they're not. It'll make the announcements in November that much better.

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