Wherein the author discloses his inaugural IBWAA award ballot. Just like all the big-name baseball writers out there.
Voting is a privilege. Whether it is our civic duty and right, or part of a participatory democracy away from the gamut of politics, there is a kind of earnestness and thoughtfulness incumbent to the voting process. If we vote for or against anyone or anything based solely on our biases, we vote in a way inconsistent with the diligent maintenance of a representative democracy (or democratic republic, if you will.)
It’s an honor to participate in selecting the best ballplayers and managers of 2018. No, the IBWAA doesn’t hand out the hardware, but it is a necessary counterbalance to the monolithic BBWAA, and ours is a voice that is very much needed to help push the game and its interests forward. Without further adieu, my 2018 ballot:
AL MVP: Mike Trout
Honorable mentions: Mookie Betts, Matt Chapman
Any other season, and this is Betts running away with MVP. But what Mike Trout did–which is to say, put up Bondsian numbers without remotely a level of Bondsian protection around him–is unreal. Shohei Ohtani was hurt most of the season, Albert Pujols is roughly 200 years old and little more than a compiler at this point (not that there’s anything wrong with that), Justin Upton hit 30 dingers but also struck out 176 times. I love Martin Maldonado because Brewers, but that cannon for an arm doesn’t make up for an OPS barely scraping over .600. A league-leading OBP for the third-straight season (.460!) and a second consecutive AL-best OPS to go with an otherworldly OPS+ of 199, Trout kept an otherwise pedestrian Angels club from dipping to Orioles-grade futility.
Carrying that club on his back, Trout did much more with much less. For that reason, I give him the nod over Betts, who had a superior supporting cast and enjoyed an outstanding campaign (traditional slash line: .346/.370/.518). Betts’ time will hopefully come, but he’s the 1A to Trout’s 1.
Chapman is admittedly the outsider pick here, but the Athletics’ tide was turned in no small part to Chapman going off from June through August (1.022 OPS in 63 games played, .386 BAbip, 40-23 team record during that stretch) and provided value in the lineup wherever he was slotted. His breakout year deserves more recognition, and Chapman favorably compares to yet another beastly, still-ascendant third baseman, Alex Bregman (who himself also deserves serious consideration for the hardware.)
NL MVP: Christian Yelich
Honorable mentions: Javier Baez, Lorenzo Cain
Cubs fans who maintain their position that Baez deserves the MVP more than Yelich are at a we-didn’t-actually-land-on-the-moon level of denialism. Yelich led the National League in batting, slugging, OPS (traditional and adjusted), total bases, bWAR and came as close as anyone has to Joe Medwick‘s triple crown in 1937, the last time it was awarded in the NL. He played sparkling defense in right field, spelled Ryan Braun in left and positioned himself well for a second Gold Glove. Despite striking out at a 2:1 clip, Yelich still amassed a .402 OBP and, of course, there was the gonzo September to remember. There can be little doubt that Yelich was the straw that stirred the Brewers’ drink.
Baez had a superstar, big budget supporting cast and still struck out 163 times against 29 walks as an easy mark for opposing pitchers. He also faded down the stretch, peaking in July and tailing off down the stretch (OBP down nearly 30 points from July to the end of the season.) The guy can hit and he’s a slick, theatrical fielder, but as long as he can’t hit with two strikes or in the clutch (sub-.700 OPS in high leverage situations, .258 average in late and close contests), he’s not an MVP. I won’t be surprised if he wins one in his career, but not this year and not when the Brewers bested the Cubs when it mattered most.
Lorenzo Cain, as I wrote here just about a month ago, was himself a serious MVP candidate until Yelich went into the stratosphere. His value to the Brewers as a playoff-tested veteran, superior fielder and the first true leadoff hitter for the Brewers since Scott Podsednik, cannot be overstated. It was his ability to get on base and hit to all fields that allowed Yelich to blossom and paced the club to a Royals 2.0 offensive performance with more muscle. A late-bloomer, Cain at 32 shows no signs of aging and that five-year pact to return to Milwaukee is already proving to be a wise investment short-term with minimal long-term risk.
AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander
Honorable mentions: Corey Kluber, Luis Severino
Remember when we thought Verlander was washed up? Pacing an absurd field of top-flight AL pitchers with a 0.90 WHIP and nearly 8 K/BB and amassing 290 strikeouts in 214 innings pitched, Verlander’s age 35 campaign was as effective as any he’s ever had and perhaps moreso. With 204 wins, good health and this level of resurgence, there’s a slim chance at 300 wins and, if not, Verlander will likely become the next-generation’s standard bearer for Hall of Fame-caliber pitchers.
Meanwhile, Kluber had an uncharacteristic season and merely manages a 0.99 WHIP, 6.5 K/BB and pitched two complete games (as a sign of the times, leading the league.) He also gave up a grand slam to Brent Suter in Milwaukee. I don’t hold that against him, but still. Did you know this was his first 20-game-winning season?
Severino may well have been a victim of playing at Yankee Stadium (3.51 ERA against a 2.95 FIP) while striking out 200+ batters in less than 200 IP for the second-straight season. The second half splits leave something to be desired, but at age 24, Severino hasn’t even really figured out how to pitch yet. When he does, yikes.
With apologies to Blake Snell, who kept an under-the-radar Rays team relevant despite the Yankees and Red Sox running away with the division. It’s a crowded field, and we’ll see how he handles success in 2019. No reason he can’t be more involved in the conversation if he sustains this level of success.
NL Cy Young: Jacob deGrom
Honorable mentions: Max Scherzer, Josh Hader
This is why we have the Cy Young Award: so that pitchers earn laurels against their own peers. deGrom isn’t an MVP because he’s pulled a prime-Pedro Martinez season for a pedestrian ball club. His park-adjusted and standard ERA paced the league, his FIP was marginally higher, but even that was a minuscule 1.99. He yielded only 10 home runs in this, the herald season of launch angles and dinger-mania. A 10 bWAR for a mediocre team doesn’t make him inherently valuable. But the body of work does strongly suggest he is worthy of the Cy Young Award. What he did to the National League, win-loss record notwithstanding, was pure deGromination (and I won’t apologize for the pun.)
Meanwhile, Max Scherzer did Max Scherzer things: led the NL in IP, WHIP, H/9, K/9 and plunked a dozen guys in the process. He also gave up 23 dingers. Scherzer at age 33 is beginning to look like Nolan Ryan with more command and, unlike deGrom, he played on a team that flat underwhelmed instead of a team with little expectation for success.
Josh Hader pulled an Andrew Miller this season and I’m not sure Miller could even dream this up. Hader struck out 143 batters in just over 81 innings. He was more dominant in more games (0.81 WHIP, 2.43 ERA/1.23 FIP) and was even squeezed more than a few times this season by home plate umpires. Middle relievers get no love when it comes to the hardware, which is a shame. This might be as close to a protest vote as I have, but it’s not like Hader is unworthy. It’s a shame these guys don’t get the recognition they deserve…
NL Reliever of the Year: Josh Hader
Honorable mention: Jeremy Jeffress
Hey, look at that! No homerism here: Hader was virtually unhittable for most of 2018 and has continued to dominate in October.
Jeffress, who should never not be a Brewer ever again, reclaimed the closer spot after Corey Knebel stumbled badly midseason and was sent to Triple-A. The Brewers, as most have noticed now, don’t have a closer in the traditional sense, but JJ locked down 15 games along with eight wins with a sub-1 WHIP, 89 strikeouts in just under 77 innings pitched and developed a knucklecurve that kept hitters off his fastball and slider. The fastball also regained the life it had when Jeffress was a younger fireballer, regularly hitting 96-97 MPH at season’s end. Pitching everywhere from mid- to late-innings and in and out of tight spots routinely. The Brewer bullpen may have benefit from stout defense, but Hader and Jeffress, along with a mostly-unheralded rogues’ gallery of effective arms, were more than capable getting the job done this season.
AL Reliever of the Year: Edwin Diaz
Honorable mention: Craig Kimbrel
Speaking of unhittable, Diaz, who was already a very effective closer, turned into an absolute monster in 2018, amassing 57 saves and 124 Ks in 73 innings while only yielding five home runs and a FIP well below a very nice ERA (1.61, 1.96). Oh, and Diaz walked 17 batters all season. The WHIP was a nearly impossible 0.791 and lefties slugged less than their shared on base percentage (.198, .246) while right-handers got rung up over 11 times per walk issued.
Diaz only induced two double plays all season. Yawn. It’s not like there was much left to clean up when Diaz took the hill. Just an unbelievable performance on a team that was largely overshadowed all season in the Pacific Northwest.
Kimbrel approaches Eric Gagne territory with a scant 62 IP, but got 96 strikeouts, had a 0.99 WHIP and struck out almost 14 hitters/9 IP. The FIP was a little higher than ERA, but he also was at home in one of the more dangerous-for-pitchers parks in the AL and still managed to hold hitters to a puny .146 batting average. In a high-octane AL East with heavy hitters and hitter-friendly confines, to be that effective warrants mention.
AL Rookie of the Year: Miguel Andujar
Honorable mention: Shohei Ohtani
I can’t bring myself to say the year’s top rookie is a guy who was injured for significant portions of 2018. I just don’t know how that can be a thing, but Ohtani-mania has run wild over baseball types. If he stayed healthy and sustained the numbers, sure, I can go with that. The kid nearly threw a perfect game and hit 22 dingers in just over 100 games. He also struck out 102 times. And there’s still the two serious arm injuries and is going to be rehabbing from Tommy John while allegedly still hitting in 2019.
The sad thing is that Ohtani’s dramatics marginalizes our real Rookie of the Year.
Dan Federico was all over Miguel Andujar going into this season and Andujar exceeded all expectations, even to the point of pushing platoon mate Brandon Drury off to Toronto. Andujar hit .297 and finished with a respectable .855 OPS (126 adjusted) while, in contrast to Ohtani, striking out 97 times in 600+ PAs over 149 games. Finishing second in the league with 47 doubles accompanying 27 HR and driving in 92 RBI in a robust Yankees lineup and under the burden of New York expectations, Andujar has a bright future, so long as he figures out how to play at the hot corner.
NL Rookie of the Year: Ronald Acuna
Honorable mention: Juan Soto
I mean, this is really a 1/1A kind of situation. Soto hit .292, Acuna hit .293. Soto played in 116 games, Acuna, 127. Acuna hit 26 HR with a .917 OPS. Soto hit 22 HR with a .923 OPS. The difference, then, is in the clubs: Acuna helped drive the Braves to the Postseason. Soto was saddled with an underwhelming club on the brink of at least a partial rebuild.
These two should be trading blows in the NL East for years to come. Who knows, we might be looking at a nascent, Gen-Z Willie Mays–Duke Snider kind of rivalry. Regardless, because of his pivotal role in helping push the team to a division title, I give the nod to Acuna.
AL Manager of the Year: Bob Melvin
Honorable mention: Alex Cora
On Saturday morning, June 16, the Athletics woke up after losing their fourth game in a row. At 34-36, they looked like a mediocre club with some young, unactualized talent and Jed Lowrie had cooled from his hot hitting early in the season.
The A’s never lost four in a row the rest of the season. They reeled off a five-game winning streak beginning that Saturday, a six-gamer not long after that and added two more six-game win streaks on top of that. They never looked back, and a lot of that is credit to leadership that won’t let a team quit. A good manager or coach won’t win a team games, but a bad one can absolutely lose them. What Melvin did to keep the club fresh and turn the season around is phenomenal and, to me, that decision makes itself.
Alex Cora took a dangerous team and made them lethal, winning a franchise-best 108 games with a blend of established and emerging talent and fending off a hard-charging Yankees club down the stretch. Unlike their rivals, the Sox took a first-time manager who could lead and guide the team to success instead of appearing to merely get in the way.
NL Manager of the Year: Craig Counsell
Honorable mention: Brian Snitker
Seriously, no homerism here: the Brewers fell one game short of October ball last season. David Stearns retooled the beleaguered bullpen and acquired on-base guys who just so happened to be MVP candidates this season. Counsell, who had been maligned for his ability to handle his pitching staff, figured it out this season (and really, hadn’t been deficient this way since 2016 with an inferior bunch of arms.) The team bought into him and a team that left the bases loaded last season (figuratively and literally) cashed in by winning Game 163 and claiming the NL Central.
Snitker’s work with the Braves–a team just about off everyone’s radar going into 2018–has been nothing if not remarkable. Even granting the quick ascent of Acuna and Ozzie Albies, a returning to form Freddie Freeman and a renaissance campaign from Nick Markakis, it takes an exceptional manager to push a team from low expectations to October baseball. Snitker is as deserving as anyone for the award.
Brent Sirvio is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.