Monday, September 13, 2010
Will Coors Factor decide MVP, Cy in NL?
By Jayson Stark
Has there ever been a baseball season when, with three weeks to go, we had this little idea who was going to wind up winning every major award?
All three major National League awards still look like a total free-for-all. And even in the American League, Josh Hamilton's sore rib cage may have reopened the one race (MVP) that seemed, a week ago, as if it had already closed for business.
So where do the six major award battles stand? And how have the plotlines changed in the past week? It's time for the September Awards Watch crew to take a look:
Plotline of the week: Has Carlos Gonzalez overtaken Joey Votto?
Uh-oh. Those Colorado Rockies are doing it again, all right -- blitzing through another September as if they're playing the Arapahoe Little League, not the best of the National League. And the closer they get to a trip to October, the closer we need to look at their mega-talented No. 3 hitter, CarGo, in our MVP tales.
Gonzalez leads the league in batting average, slugging, hits and total bases. And he still has a legit shot at the Triple Crown. But has he overtaken Votto as the favorite? Not yet, he hasn't. Not from this vantage point.
Votto still leads Gonzalez -- and everyone else in the NL -- in on-base percentage, OPS and virtually every significant sabermetric category known to mankind. And he ranks ahead of Gonzalez in both the ultimate Baseball Prospectus measuring stick, VORP (value over replacement player), and in FanGraphs' most revealing stat, WAR (wins above replacement).
Oh, and one more thing: Sorry, but we can't ignore CarGo's precipitous home-road splits. A 97-point batting average difference, 323-point slugging gap and 446-point OPS differential are just too immense to brush under the mat.
But since the Coors Factor has been a big issue in Denver this week (more on that in a minute), it's important to look at the most incisive statistic out there for making sense of stuff like that. So it's especially notable that it's Votto who leads the league in the pivotal park-adjusted stat, OPS-plus, while Gonzalez ranks fourth.
Now if Gonzalez keeps sizzling and the Rockies keep winning, this battle isn't over. But for the moment, it's still Votto's trophy to lose.
My ballot today: (1) Votto, (2) Gonzalez, (3) Albert Pujols, (4) Adrian Gonzalez, (5) Brian McCann.
NL Cy Young
This week's plotline: How do we compute Ubald-itude?
All it took was a column last week by the Denver Post's Dave Krieger -- and Rockies fans everywhere had their perfect award-debate talking point: "Double standard."
In Krieger's column, he (and Rockies pitching coach Bob Apodaca) made a perfectly valid point: "It's one thing," Krieger wrote, "for baseball experts to penalize Carlos Gonzalez in the National League MVP race because he plays half his games at Coors Field. It's quite another not to reward Ubaldo Jimenez in the Cy Young race for exactly the same reason."
And you know what? That's true. So ever since, the e-mails have been flying into my inbox accusing me -- and just about every other baseball "genius" who doesn't reside in the 303 area code -- of that same double standard.
For some reason, I got no credit whatsoever for making a mini-version of the same point in a recent Rumblings and Grumblings column. And you know why? Because after weighing the Coors Factor, I still ranked Jimenez behind Roy Halladay, Adam Wainwright and Tim Hudson in this race (at the time).
Why? Because it's the Year of the Pitcher, that's why -- in case nobody has mentioned that in the last 10 minutes. So it's impossible to separate these guys. All we can do is look at numbers that factor out home parks and try to make sense of what we find.
The big stat that works for Ubaldo? It's his road ERA (2.30), which is No. 1 in the league. But in road WHIP, he and Halladay are in a virtual tie (though Halladay is ahead by a microscopic 0.0009 of a point). And in the definitive park-adjusted stat, ERA-plus, Halladay ranks second (behind Josh Johnson), while Jimenez sits in fourth.
Halladay also continues to lead the league in nearly every other significant sabermetric department. So for me, he's still the favorite. But the top six starters in the NL (Halladay, Jimenez, Wainwright, Hudson, Mat Latos and Johnson) are all having sensational years. So this race isn't over. In fact, it's just getting fun.
My ballot today: (1) Halladay, (2) Wainwright, (3) Jimenez, (4) Latos, (5) Hudson.
NL Rookie of the Year
This week's plotline: How can we sanely compare hitters and pitchers?
As I've mentioned before, I have to cast a ballot for this award in three weeks. So I watch the field closely. And yikes, this isn't getting any easier.
Jason Heyward has found a whole new zone (hitting .437, with a 1.234 OPS, since Aug. 21). Buster Posey (now batting .324, with a .509 slugging percentage) just stunned Latos on Sunday with only the second homer Latos has allowed in Petco Park since May 1. And watch out for 20-year-old Marlins phenom Mike Stanton, who has as many homers as the Yankees in September (six) and is now slugging .529, a number that's been topped by only three hitters that young in the history of baseball: Tony Conigliaro, Mel Ott and Al Kaline.
But maybe the biggest dilemma we all face as voters is trying to compare those impact bats with the performance of the Cardinals' fabulous rookie pitcher, Jaime Garcia.
For weeks, I've been ranking Garcia slightly ahead. But I'm not so sure he is anymore. He just gave up a career-high seven earned runs in his past start, Wednesday in Milwaukee. His ERA was 1.59 after his first 13 starts -- but has jumped to 3.81 over his past 14. And history doesn't work in Garcia's favor. Of the nine rookies to win 15 games or more over the past 20 seasons, just two (Justin Verlander and Jason Jennings) won the award.
So let me say again that, like the other big NL fracases, this race is still too close to call. But if one of these guys would like to separate himself, that's cool with me.
My ballot today: (1) Heyward, (2) Garcia, (3) Posey.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.