Major League Baseball handed out their awards this week. What if there were more to give out?
Awards week is always a somewhat strange time in baseball. It happens after the postseason has been completed, an attribute it shares with the NHL’s awards, but it also happens over the course of an entire week, which is unique to baseball.
Most of the talk following awards concerns whether they went to the right people, which tends to miss the point of awarding excellent standout performances. The American League Cy Young Award voting was controversial, and the AL MVP discussion opened the same old wound that we deal with every time any sport awards a Most Valuable Player trophy. That is to say, we all argue about how to define valuable in the context of sports.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Fan arguments over awards are a fun distraction from this being the beginning of a long offseason and winter. Should Justin Verlander have won the Cy Young Award instead of Rick Porcello in the AL? Should Zach Britton have been higher in the voting? Was Mike Trout’s superior 2016 season enough of a standout over Mookie Betts to make up for the vast differences in where their respective teams finished? These are entertaining discussions, even if they often boil down to silly things.
Something about awards week seems incomplete, though. It seems like baseball could use a handful of new awards to hand out to help celebrate the game.
Now for some awards that don’t exist, but would be welcome additions to baseball’s ceremonies.
Postseason MVP: The David Ortiz Award
The NHL Awards are the only other league awards that come after the conclusion of the postseason. The difference between hockey and baseball’s awards, of course, is the Conn Smythe Trophy for the playoff MVP of hockey. This is different from the World Series MVP, this year Ben Zobrist, in that it extends beyond the final round of the tournament. David Ortiz would be the award’s namesake, a fitting tribute to a retiring player whose personal highlight reel is quite October-heavy.
Candidates in 2016: Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller, Javier Baez
The Indians’ postseason rested on the arms of Kluber and Miller. Kluber’s six postseason starts were a throwback to a bygone era when teams used three-man rotations for October. He seemed to run out of gas in game seven of the World Series, but wound up with a no-decision. His performances in games one and four put the Indians in the position to even have a game seven.
Miller might have been, if anything, more important to Terry Francona’s strategy. Miller’s versatility allowed the Indians to call on him in just about any situation, and he delivered consistently. At times he was dominant, making games extremely short for Cleveland’s opposition. Cody Allen contributed quite a bit as well, but it’s safe to say the Indians would have had a nearly impossible road in October without Miller.
Baez came into the playoffs with one notable feature: He was the best tagger in baseball. In fact, he was the first player anybody really remembers being notable for how well he tagged baserunners, a skill rarely discussed. In October, he became the Cubs’ sparkplug, winning NLCS MVP for a stellar performance throughout against the Dodgers to win the first pennant on the North Side since World War II.
Winner: Andrew Miller
October performance usually hinges on late inning performance. The players who come through in the “clutch” end up on the winning side of things more often than not. Miller prevented some of the best hitters in the game from doing this consistently throughout October. He allowed the Indians’ depleted rotation to be effective in short bursts rather than being expected to hold up the ballclub.
Most “Valuable” Fan: The Steve Goodman Award
Goodman, of course, wrote “Go Cubs Go.” What people might not know is that it was written as a response to Wrigley Field banning his other Cubs song: “A Dying Cubs Fan’s Last Request.” That song was, well, a much sadder take on being a Cubs fan prior to this month. Listen to it and you’ll understand why the Cubs weren’t really enthused about the ditty.
It has been said that “Go Cubs Go” is a sarcastic response to the Cubs being upset, but it caught on and became an anthem, so much that it became the background noise of the 2016 postseason.
Candidates: Bill Murray, Eddie Vedder, Drew Carey, LeBron James, Jon Hamm
Of course these are all people who were on screen during the World Series. Murray has been part of Cubs baseball for quite some time now, of course, and Vedder is also no stranger to Wrigley Field, but both took a sort of spokesman role for Cubs fans the world over this year. Seeing Bill Murray on the verge of tears standing on the field with the World Series trophy is certainly better than, say, the Farrelly Brothers filming a movie on the field while a team is winning a long-sought trophy.
Likewise, Drew Carey is sometimes a human stand-in for the city of Cleveland. He’s from there, his sitcom took place there, he never engages in the self-deprecating humor that the rest of the country has sort of forced on Cuyahoga County, and he was everywhere he could reach this postseason to follow his beloved Indians.
Of course, the most notable Indians fan this year was a recent convert: Longtime Yankee fan LeBron James. Regardless of his past, his private box at Indians games gave people a good summary of how Cleveland as a whole felt whenever the Indians played. His role this year involved making Cleveland look cool. Working against that, his presence around the Indians made Cleveland seem like less of a tortured baseball city.
Jon Hamm deserves mention here for wearing a Cardinals hat to World Series games at Wrigley Field. If we are considering the person who represented their fanbase the most, that has to be brought up.
Winner: Steve Goodman
Vedder made baseball fans smile wide this postseason, as one of the world’s ranking rock stars was transformed into an excited child meeting his heroes repeatedly, but it pales in comparison to the role Murray took being the stand-in for Cubs fans during games. In many ways, of course, it was the perfect “role” for him, as a lot of what we associate with his acting and humor is similar to what the world thinks of Cubs fans in general.
At the same time, maybe this should just go posthumously to Goodman, as the Cubs finally fulfilled his request.
Baseball’s Storyteller of the Year: The W.P. Kinsella Award
Baseball is a sport for the storyteller. With so much down time during games, announcers have to find a way to keep things moving, and they often come up with absolute gold. Likewise, baseball has inspired so many novelists to incorporate the game into one of their works.
Kinsella, of course, wrote Shoeless Joe which was adapted into the movie Field of Dreams. He left us this year. In his honor, an award for the person who, through language, helped the most to advance the game should be in order. The Hall of Fame does already award baseball writers and announcers as well, of course.
Candidates: Vin Scully, Dick Enberg, Derek Jeter
Scully, of course, has been written about at length both on this website and many others. He is a treasure of the game and we’ll all miss hearing his call of Dodgers baseball.
Enberg also retired at the end of the season after a long stint as the San Diego Padres’ broadcaster. A true professional who could call just about any sport and make it entertaining, he certainly did his part to advance the game.
Jeter is nominated here because of The Players’ Tribune, a website that has allowed athletes to pen some amazing thoughts on playing the games and what the games mean to them. There were a number of great pieces on that website this year from baseball players, some funny, some touching, some just deep dives into baseball itself. He doesn’t do much actual writing, but giving people the forum to do that has certainly done a lot for the experience of following teams and players.
Winner: Vin Scully
The last week of Vin Scully’s broadcasting career might have been the best work he has ever done, refusing to overshadow the games even when the games stopped to honor him, even when the Dodgers made him the man of the hour during their final homestand. He delivered his goodbye eloquently, and joyfully, as he always conducted himself. We learned a lot about the man in that last week, including that he prayed before games that there would be no losers; that nobody would be directly responsible for the loss on either side. Many neutral fans came into game seven of this World Series wishing the same sentiment.
The Statistical Definition of Replacement-Level: The Solve For R Award
In the past week of MVP debates, the phrase “Wins Above Replacement” has come up a lot. That is, of course, a statistic meant to measure player value. There are some issues with such a statistic, of course, but to the non-Sabermetrician it might just seem like an arbitrary set of numbers.
The idea is to measure everybody against a hypothetical “replacement-level” player, generally defined as an interchangeable player who wouldn’t be much improved if at all over a replacement. It is not necessarily supposed to be a bad player, simply a baseline to measure everybody against.
The problem here is that the “replacement-level player” is hard to picture in one’s head. There is good news for this: We can solve for the R in WAR.
(Important note: When I cite a player’s WAR, I am using baseball-reference’s statistic, also known as bWAR, as opposed to Fangraphs’ fWAR. The two statistics are similar but use different equations.)
To get R, we have to look for a player who played as close to a full 162 game slate as possible while posting a WAR of exactly 0.0.
Winner: Matt Kemp
Kemp played over 150 games and finished with a completely neutral 0.0 WAR. That means that, when looking at the 2016 WAR statistic, you can think of it as Wins Above Matt Kemp. In theory, if Mike Trout took Kemp’s place, it would net a team an extra 10-11 wins.
Notable: WAR can go well into the negative numbers. So the reverse is also true. The worst outfielder in baseball would cost a team a couple of games in Kemp’s stead.
The Most Entertaining Player: The Rickey Henderson Award/The Pedro Martinez Award
To me, the most entertaining kind of ballplayer is simply reckless in how they play the game, and unpredictable as a result. Rickey Henderson is the prototype of such a player.
Of course, the most entertaining player in the game at any given time doesn’t need to bear any resemblance to Henderson, just provide baseball with more thrills than anybody else. It’s the person you text friends and tell them they have to watch. It’s the guy whose highlight leads the nightly shows.
It might be a bit of a cop-out to name the NL award after Pedro Martinez, whose number is retired in an American League city and who will likely be remembered best as a member of the Red Sox, but he did pitch in the NL for a longer period of time. He is the picture of an entertaining pitcher; a high strikeout guy who lets his personality out during games and in the dugout on off-days.
The criteria I go by:
–Personality matters. People who have the most fun on the field are generally the most fun guys to watch. Plenty of excellent players prefer to keep their personalities quiet, while that is a good attribute in general it will hurt them in this category.
–Fundamentals are, in general, not great television. There is plenty of space in baseball to appreciate the people who play the game the right way and they deserve every bit of it. However, there is a reason cop shows generally don’t spend a lot of time on paperwork.
–Entertainment should be a positive attribute. Some guys are really fun to watch because they’re an adventure in the field, or at the plate, or because their attitude brushes against their club. There is, unfortunately, a part of all of us that enjoys that stuff. It should not, however, be celebrated, nor should we be particularly proud of being wired this way.
–Being fun to root against gets extra points. This is a space reserved for people who embrace rivalries, accurately, as part of the fun of sports in general. Yankee fans rooted against Pedro Martinez very vocally, but they also had a lot of fun doing it. In turn, their distaste for Martinez made his starts in New York more fun for everybody to watch.
–This is not just a regular season award. Great postseason performances count. They are not necessary, but if it comes down to two ballplayers and one of them had a great October, that player will win.
–Winning MEP and MVP in the same year should be reserved for the absolute best of the best. Once every few years or so, somebody will have a truly special season that deserves both awards, but it should be a rarity.
Unlike my other award ideas, this would work for both leagues.
Candidates: Mookie Betts, Manny Machado, Noah Syndergaard, Gary Sanchez, Bartolo Colon, Max Scherzer, Madison Bumgarner, Paul Goldschmidt, David Ortiz, Khris Davis, Mike Napoli, Kris Bryant
Betts finished second in MVP voting, hit 31 homers, stole 26 bases, hit .318, won a gold glove with an eye-popping 2.8 defensive WAR while making highlight reel catches and throws regularly, finished second in the AL in outfield assists, and was part of an outfield group that did a ritual dance move after every victory.
If people underestimated the Baltimore Orioles, and coming into the season many of us did just that, maybe it was because we didn’t realize just how good Machado is. The Orioles’ young third baseman can do just about every task a position player in baseball is capable of performing, and he can do it better than most. Pairing him up with a couple of also-entertaining power hitters was a recipe for success, and if Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis can keep it up the Orioles will remain in the hunt for years to come.
Noah Syndergaard became the third “ace” of the New York Mets in as many years. He did so by throwing fireballs on a regular basis and inspiring the great Pedro Martinez to scream “Thor!” repeatedly during MLB Tonight broadcasts. He not only took games over on the mound, but he has the kind of stuff that tends to make for the best television. Few strikeouts are more fun to watch than the eye-level fastball that a hitter just waves at.
Gary Sanchez played 52 games in 2016, by far the smallest sample size here. He also set all sorts of home run milestones involving the word “first” and turned a ho-hum Yankees team that had sold off their best two relievers into a thrilling team that hung around in the playoff hunt for longer than expected.
Bartolo Colon was sometimes looked at as a sort of comic relief for the Mets, but his performance was far more than that. The Mets suffered a lot of injuries during the season and still made the NL Wild Card, and Colon was a big part of the reason. Well into his forties, Bartolo Colon is still chewing up innings for the Mets. He also hit his first home run this year, an act celebrated a little sarcastically, but he played along with it well.
Max Scherzer struck out twenty batters in a game. The NL featured a number of pitchers that racked up strikeouts this year, but none had as complete a season as Max Scherzer. Like Syndergaard, his high strikeout numbers put him on this list.
Madison Bumgarner hit for himself in a game played in an American League ballpark. He got one hit in four at-bats, matching the production of DH counterpart Billy Butler. His bid to get into the Home Run Derby failed in the end, but his ability to hit for power has thrilled fans in batting practice for years and makes him one of the few pitchers you actually enjoy watching in the batter’s box.
Paul Goldschmidt is one of the most complete players in baseball. He stole 32 bases this season, hit 24 home runs, and got on base at a .411 mark. He just might be the best player in the NL West, a fact obscured by the struggles of the team he plays for.
David Ortiz had the best farewell season any baseball player has ever had. He did so on a pair of injured feet. He did so while being the subject of ceremonies on just about every road trip. When he left, he was called out for an encore, something incredibly rare in the world of sports. Along the way, he formed a deep bond with Hanley Ramirez that turned the first baseman’s negative reputation into one of the organization’s most positive attitudes.
Khris Davis was often the best thing on late night television this Summer, and because he played for the Oakland Athletics many people may have missed it. He cracked home runs, a lot of them, in a cavernous ballpark under the shadow of Mount Davis, which might soon be his and not Al’s given the state of affairs with the Raiders. Sure, he struck out a ton, but there is nothing boring about the Three True Outcomes.
Mike Napoli pulled off a trick only a baseball player can pull: In one year with a ballclub, he endeared himself to a city forever. His contributions to the loose atmosphere of Terry Francona’s clubhouse in Cleveland spawned the phrase “Party at Napoli’s” that became a sort of Cleveland rally cry. A veteran of some very loose clubhouses in Texas and Boston in the past, Napoli has developed a reputation as one of those “clubhouse guys,” and like Davis he is a big fan of the Three True Outcomes.
Kris Bryant was the leading personality of a team that faced more pressure, and weirder pressure, than any team anybody can remember. He delivered a World Series trophy and an MVP trophy. He saved his best postseason games for the closing games of the World Series. He filmed a commercial that had a goat in it. Before the season. Take a moment and consider the gamble that entails. It takes a lot to win both, but Bryant makes a compelling case.
Rickey Henderson Award (AL) Winner: Mookie Betts
Between “Win, Dance, Repeat” and the actual all-around baseball Betts provided, he takes this award in a very close race, despite splitting consideration with a teammate. The Red Sox are currently built to be an entertaining team almost by design, between unpredictable pitching, an extremely deep lineup, and personalities all over the field, dugout, and bullpen.
Pedro Martinez Award (NL) Winner: Madison Bumgarner
In a very tight NL race, Bumgarner’s great wild card performance in which he beat out the New York Mets just barely edges him out over the competition.