Silver Sluggers proof that even simplest awards can go to wrong players
The Silver Slugger awards were announced Wednesday night, ostensibly naming the top offensive performer at each position in each league. The award, created in 1980, is rarely controversial because, unlike the Gold Glove or Most Valuable Player awards, the Silver Slugger deals exclusively with the most measurable aspect of the game, offensive performance. Still, the managers and coaches who vote on it still manage to get several wrong each year. Here, then is a quick look at the 18 men who won this year’s awards, not all of whom actually deserved them.
Note: I use three advanced statistics below. OPS+ is on-base percentage plus slugging adjusted for a player’s ballpark and presented compared to a league average of 100. TAv is True Average (formerly Equivalent Average), a total-offense rate stat that adjusts for ballpark and league quality and is placed on the batting average scale (.200 is lousy, .260 is average, .300 is excellent). VORP is Value Over Replacement Player, a cumulative statistic very similar to Wins Above Replacement except that it measures offense only and is measured in runs, not wins (generally speaking, 10 runs equals one win). Bold text indicates league leaders, bold and italics indicate major league leaders.
Chris Davis, Orioles
Season Stats: .286/.370/.634, 53 HR, 138 RBI, 165 OPS+, .345 TAv, 67.5 VORP
This was an easy pick. Davis led the majors in home runs, RBIs and total bases (370), was the first player to hit 50 or more home runs since Jose Bautista in 2010 and was clearly the best offensive first baseman in either league.
Robinson Cano, Yankees
Season Stats: .314/.383/.516, 27 HR, 107 RBI, 145 OPS+, .318 TAv, 57.1 VORP
Another easy choice, Cano led AL second basemen in all three slash stats and VORP, and he topped major league second basemen in slugging, home runs, RBIs, OPS+ and True Average.
J.J. Hardy, Orioles
Season Stats: .263/.306/.433, 25 HR, 76 RBI, 97 OPS+, .260 TAv, 22.2 VORP
Hardy led AL shortstops in home runs and is an outstanding fielder, but he wasn’t close to being the best offensive shortstop in the junior circuit this year. Compare his stats above to those of Oakland’s Jed Lowrie, who played in a far more pitching-friendly home ballpark (something for which the three advanced stats at the end adjust):
Lowrie, A’s: .290/.344/.446, 15 HR, 75 RBI, 122 OPS+, .289 TAv, 44.2 VORP
Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
Season Stats: .348/.442/.636, 44 HR, 137 RBI, 187 OPS+, .365 TAv, 83.8 VORP
Joe Mauer, Twins
Season Stats: .324/.404/476, 11 HR, 47 RBI, 144 OPS+, .307 TAv, 41.0 VORP
Mauer is a solid choice but Cleveland’s Carlos Santana might have been an equally good one:
Santana, Indians: .268/.377/.455, 20 HR, 74 RBI, 137 OPS+, .309 TAv, 45.5 VORP
Santana played 154 games to Mauer’s 113, but he also started more games behind the plate than Mauer, 81 to 73 (Mauer started 37 games at designated hitter and first base, combined, and missed the last six weeks of the season due to injury).
If you want to give this award to a catcher who was actually behind the plate for more than half of his team’s games, Houston’s Jason Castro, who caught 95, is your man:
Castro, Astros: .276/.350/.485, 18 HR, 56 RBI, 130 OPS+, .298 TAv, 38.9 VORP
Mike Trout, Angels
Season Stats: .323/.432/.557, 27 HR, 97 RBI, 179 OPS+, .370 TAv, 99.9 VORP
Add to the above nine triples, 33 stolen bases at an 83 percent success rate and AL-best totals for runs scored (109) and walks (110).
Adam Jones, Orioles
Season Stats: .285/.318/.493, 33 HR, 108 RBI, 115 OPS+, .284 TAv, 40.1 VORP
Torii Hunter, Tigers
Season Stats: .304/.334/.465, 17 HR, 84 RBI, 114 OPS+, .285 TAv, 25.2 VORP
Trout was the easy choice. Jones is a solid one, but Hunter was a misfire. Here are four AL outfielders who were more productive than Hunter in 2013:
Jose Bautista, Blue Jays: .259/.358/.498, 28 HR, 73 RBI, 132 OPS+, .301 TAv, 34.8 VORP
Coco Crisp, A’s: .261/.335/.444, 22 HR, 66 RBI, 119 OPS+, .291 TAv, 33.7 VORP; plus: 92 runs, 21 SB (81%)
Daniel Nava, Red Sox: .303/.385/.445, 12 HR, 66 RBI, 128 OPS+, .302 TAv, 29.4 VORP
Desmond Jennings, Rays: .252/.334/.414, 14 HR, 54 RBI, 110 OPS+, .288 TAv, 40.5 VORP; plus: 82 runs, 20 SB (71%)
Crisp and Jennings played in extreme pitchers parks in Oakland and Tampa Bay, respectively, something the advanced stats correct for. Bautista (injury) and Nava (platooning) missed some time, but their respective VORP shows that they still played enough to contribute more to their teams at the plate than Hunter did.
David Ortiz, Red Sox
Season Stats: .309/.395/.564, 30 HR, 103 RBI, 160 OPS+, .324 TAv, 41.8 VORP
With Edwin Encarnacion making most of his starts at first base, Ortiz had no significant challenger for this award.
Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
Season Stats: .302/.401/.551, 36 HR, 125 RBI, 160 OPS+, .324 TAv, 53.1 VORP
The Reds’ Joey Votto was very close (.324 TAv, 52.1 VORP), but Goldschmidt was the best hitter in the National League in 2013, as the black ink above attests.
Matt Carpenter, Cardinals
Season Stats: .318/.392/.481, 11 HR, 78 RBI, 143 OPS+, .310 TAv, 65.5 VORP
Carpenter led the majors in runs (126), hits (199) and doubles (55), led the National League in VORP and topped major league second basemen in batting average and on-base percentage.
Ian Desmond, Nationals
Season Stats: .280/.331/.453, 20 HR, 80 RBI, 114 OPS+, .270 TAv, 29.0 VORP; plus 21 SB (77%)
The voters may not have thought that Hanley Ramirez played in enough games (just 86, starting just 75 at shortstop) to win this award (VORP begs to differ). If that was the case, they should have given it to Troy Tulowitzki.
Ramirez, Dodgers: .345/.402/.638, 20 HR, 57 RBI, 190 OPS+, .364 TAv, 46.5 VORP
Tulowitzki, Rockies: .312/.391/.540, 25 HR, 82 RBI, 140 OPS+, .295 TAv, 36.0 VORP
Pedro Alvarez, Pirates
Season Stats: .233/.296/.473, 36 HR, 100 RBI, 116 OPS+, .272 TAv, 29.8 VORP
Those 36 home runs were nice, but did no one notice the .296 on-base percentage? Again, for those voters who thought that David Wright’s long disabled list stint took him out of the running, there was always Ryan Zimmerman:
Wright, Mets: .307/.390/.514, 18 HR, 58 RBI, 156 OPS+, .322 TAv, 47.9 VORP
Zimmerman, Nationals: .275/.344/.465, 26 HR, 79 RBI, 121 OPS+, .283 TAv, 34.6 VORP
Yadier Molina, Cardinals
Season Stats: .319/.359/.477, 12 HR, 80 RBI, 131 OPS+, .296 TAv, 40.6 VORP
This was really close:
Buster Posey, Giants: .294/.371/.450, 15 HR, 72 RBI, 138 OPS+, .301 TAv, 41.9 VORP
Posey has the edge in all of the advanced stats, so I would have gone with him, but this is not a major injustice.
Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
Season Stats: .317/.404/.508, 21 HR, 84 RBI, 158 OPS+, .326 TAv, 65 VORP; plus 97 runs, 27 SB (73%)
Michael Cuddyer, Rockies
Season Stats: .331/.389/.530, 20 HR, 84 RBI, 137 OPS+, .294 TAv, 26.0 VORP
Jay Bruce, Reds
Season Stats: .262/.329/.478, 30 HR, 109 RBI, 118 OPS+, .286 TAv, 35.7 VORP
How on earth did Shin-soo Coo not win this award? He would have been an MVP candidate if not for his fielding and this award considers him without his fielding.
Choo, Reds: .285/.423/.462, 21 HR, 54 RBI, 143 OPS+, .311 TAv, 60.8 VORP; plus 107 runs scored
Beyond Choo, here are several other outfielders who would have been as good or better choices than Bruce or Cuddyer, ranked in rough order of preference:
Jayson Werth, Nationals: .318/.398/.532, 25 HR, 82 RBI, 154 OPS+, .324 TAv, 44.8 VORP
Hunter Pence, Giants: .283/.339/.483, 27 HR, 99 RBI, 136 OPS+, .300 TAv, 37.6 VORP; plus 91 runs, 22 SB (88%)
Marlon Byrd, Mets/Pirates: .291/.336/.551, 24 HR, 88 RBI, 138 OPS+, .303 TAv, 35.4 VORP
Matt Holliday, Cardinals: .300/.389/.490, 22 HR, 94 RBI, 144 OPS+, .297 TAv, 34.1 VORP
Carlos Gomez, Brewers: .284/.338/.506, 24 HR, 73 RBI, 126 OPS+, .287 TAv, 39.1 VORP; plus 40 SB (85%)
Domonic Brown, Phillies: .272/.324/.494, 27 HR, 83 RBI, 123 OPS+, .297 TAv, 35.1 VORP
Yasiel Puig, Dodgers: .319/.391/.534, 19 HR, 42 RBI, 160 OPS+, .334 TAv, 44.1 VORP
McCutchen was the easy choice, but Choo and Werth should have been fairly easy picks as well.
Zack Greinke, Dodgers
Season Stats: .328/.409/.379, 126 OPS+, .294 TAv, 11.6 VORP
Remember, that was a pitcher who put up those numbers. Silly as it might seem to give a Silver Slugger at this position, Greinke clearly earned this one.