Posted November 07, 2013

Silver Sluggers proof that even simplest awards can go to wrong players

Awards Watch, Silver Slugger award
Troy Tulowitzki and Michael Cuddyer, Rockies

Troy Tulowitzki (left) deserved a Silver Slugger but didn’t get one; Michael Cuddyer did but shouldn’t have. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

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.

American League

First Base

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.

Second Base

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.

Shortstop

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

Third Base

Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
Season Stats: .348/.442/.636, 44 HR, 137 RBI, 187 OPS+,  .365 TAv, 83.8 VORP

Of course.

Catcher

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

Outfield

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.

Designated Hitter

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.

National League

First Base

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.

Second Base

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.

Shortstop

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

Third Base

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

Catcher

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.

Outfield

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.

Pitcher

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.

21 comments
MikeWendlandt
MikeWendlandt

You should at least consider Jonathan Lucroy at NL Catcher. He's wasn't a better hitter than Molina, but played more games and was an RBI machine.

Chapel420
Chapel420

How could you forget about the guy who had the 2nd highest BA in the National League?  Chris Johnson at 3rd should have won the Silver Slugger.  Seriously he had a higher BA and more RBIs than Wright.  I just believe the Silver Slugger should be a pure "best hitter" award and however had the best BA at the position wins.  Not HRs or RBIs or OBP, just who put the ball in play and got on base more consistently than anyone else.  Answer, Chris Johnson.

GeorgeBest7
GeorgeBest7

I'm surprised Cliff didn't pick Mike Trout for all the awards 

GOSFIELD
GOSFIELD

I'm from the old school. The pitcher bats. There was a guy name of "Schoolboy" Rowe, played for the Tigers. The guy hit a home run. No reason a pitcher can't hit. What happens to these guys? Many of them are dangerous hitters in the minors. Do they undergo some sort of testosterone change or something when they hit the big time?

McTiger
McTiger

What do you mean, Ortiz had no competition? Victor Martinez was the best hitter in Baseball after the All Star Game.

DavidRichard07
DavidRichard07

Pitchers DO hit in the NL Mr. Corcoran. So it SHOULD count. Every GOOD baseball fan knows that the game should be W/O the DH. Baseball would also be better w/o these new insipid "advanced metrics" stats. These are stats created for writers and fans that do not WATCH the games and only see highlights. All baseball WRITERS should have to watch, at MINIMUM 15 hours of COMPLETE games a week. 

Sportsfan18
Sportsfan18

@Chapel420   You said "...just who put the ball in play and got on base more consistently than anyone else"

There can be a huge difference between batting average and on base percentage.  The point is to NOT make an out and to get on base when going up to the plate (almost all of the time, if a run is needed and a man is on 3rd and there are less than 2 outs, a sac fly is good).

In the NL last year Shin-Soo Choo only had the 22nd highest batting average at .285 last yr but he had the 2nd highest on base percentage at .423

You also said that " I just believe the Silver Slugger should be a pure "best hitter" award and however had the best BA at the position wins."   But then you said that Chris Johnson had a higher BA and more RBI's than Wright.  

Why include RBI's when you said the highest BA should win it?

Chris Johnson's on base percentage was only .358% last season and David Wrigth's was .390%


I'll take the higher on base percentage instead of the highest batting average. 

StevenTanner
StevenTanner

@GOSFIELD Well, it's two sports really -- Defense and hitting.  So they neglect their hitting and focus on pitching (meanwhile, pitching prospects are chosen for their PITCHING).

Sportsfan18
Sportsfan18

@McTiger   Ah... but the season is not only the 2nd half...  Ortiz OPS .959.  Martinez OPS .785

Martinez OPS+ 111

Ortiz OPS+  160

This wasn't really close at all...

joey311164
joey311164

@DavidRichard07 Really??? You would rather see 90% of the pitchers be automatic outs by striking out than having a DH hit??? Get with the times, man.  I am a GOOD baseball fan, but I prefer watching a DH hit than most of your pitchers "attempt" to hit.  By the way, all World Series games should have a DH, and both leagues should adopt the DH.

JohnG1
JohnG1

@StevenTanner @GOSFIELD Indeed, though pitching is perhaps the most important part of defense (not exactly the same thing as fielding). I'm a fan of an American League team, but I hate the DH. As Greinke shows, it *is* possible for a guy to be both an excellent pitcher and hitter (seriously, his OPS+ is higher than *six* other guys who won this award at positions other than pitcher--really, really impressive). I imagine others could do well at the plate if they really focused on it. But as you said, pitchers are judged almost exclusively on their pitching, so it makes sense why they would focus on that, even at the expense of other parts of their game.

Sportsfan18
Sportsfan18

@joey311164 @DavidRichard07  YES I would rather see the pitchers hit.  It's how baseball was and is meant to be played. 

ADDITIONALLY, it causes MUCH more strategy to be involved in the game, double switches, pinch hitting for the pitcher in say the 4th or 5th inning when he's pitching well...

Yes, more offense with a DH and that equates to action, but keeping the pitcher in the batting lineup also creates action via strategy too, just a different kind of strategy is all.

NL ball is much better overall...

StevenTanner
StevenTanner

@joey311164 @DavidRichard07 The DH seriously dumbs down this game, removing the more interesting strategic elements while creating a position for just half the game.  Everyone has their own opinion, of course, but let's take the DH to its logical conclusion:  What if none of the position players hit and we had 9 designated hitters who are all big-time sluggers?  What a horrible game that would be.

DavidRichard07
DavidRichard07

The pitcher hitting gives more opportunity for the manager to manage. More strategic hat way, in my opinion. Also, there are times that pitchers come through and hit, I know, they are rare but it's exciting as h$ll when they do!!! The DH really should go. Unions are never going to let happen though.,  

oasis1994
oasis1994

@Sportsfan18 @joey311164 @DavidRichard07 


I agree and I am a Sox fan. Seeing Ortiz play the field scares  me at times, but he is not as bad as people make  him out to be in the field. I am not saying he is great, but he reminds me of the Miguel Cabrera at first base (although Miguel is a better fielder).

The DH is not going away in the AL. There are many reasons, but I believe the main one is that pitchers make too much money and teams fear them getting hurt (Not to mention every sport writer will complain after 1 pitcher gets hurt, which is stupid). 

Pitchers are suppose to be the best athletes on the field, and I believe they should hit. 

OR maybe the AL could adapt this rule. If teams want a pitcher to hit since they can, they let them be the "DH". When the manager wants to change pitchers then he has the choice of;

1. Letting the pitcher continue to hit

2. Bring in a true DH and he can hit the rest of the game for the pitcher.


This would be a long shot of ever happening, but it would be interesting.