Thursday, October 29, 2015

Final Calls for Decision 2015

Election Day 2015—yes, it's a thing—is next Tuesday, and you can expect to read more about it in this space and on my Twitter feed before the winners are announced. In addition to countless mayors, ballot measures, and state legislators, statewide constitutional officers are on the ballot in three states this year: Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi (though Louisiana doesn't vote next Tuesday, because Louisiana is weird). This blog is the only place on the internet where you'll find race ratings for these oft-forgotten, oft-important elections. Now that we're in the home stretch, here are my final race ratings for attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer, and more. You can also access the current ratings at any time by clicking on the "2015 Ratings" tab above.


Most observers believe that Democrat Jack Conway has opened up a small but perceptible lead for governor. I'm not ready to jump on board that train. This is still an off-off-year election—which leads to low, unpredictable turnout—and Kentucky is still a conservative state. Since downballot races often fall in line behind top-of-the-ticket results, I'm being cautious with my ratings here.
  • Attorney General: Leans Democratic (unchanged). The Republican Attorneys General Association (like the NRSC or RGA, but specifically for attorney-general races!) spent $2.2 million in Kentucky through October 2, mostly on a hard-hitting TV ad campaign tying Democrat Andy Beshear to the unpopular president. The onslaught appeared to budge the polls, as a September Bluegrass poll showed that Republican Whitney Westerfield had erased his deficit from the summer and moved into a tie. But then the RAGA announced it was pulling out of Kentucky, and Democratic outside forces fought back in a big way in October. The last three polls have made September's look like an outlier. Although the RAGA has since returned for a final Parthian shot, it may be too late for Westerfield.
  • Secretary of State: Leans Democratic (unchanged). Alison Lundergan Grimes looks like the safest Democrat in Kentucky; she hasn't been targeted to nearly the same degree, but she has taken her own campaign seriously by airing ads on television.
  • Treasurer: Tossup (unchanged). Republican Allison Ball has held a consistent lead in polls, but it's too small to mean anything. But she is now running television ads, which have correlated with other Kentucky downballot candidates grabbing polling leads. Hmmm...
  • Auditor: Tossup (unchanged). This race has turned late toward Democrat Adam Edelen, who has spent $608,949 to Republican Mike Harmon's $27,643—but it's still close enough that Election Day turnout will have the final say.
  • Commissioner of Agriculture: Leans Republican (unchanged). Despite leading, Republican Ryan Quarles has gone negative in a race with a surprising amount of fireworks. He's the only one spending in the race ($275,796 to $32,254).


Lots of downballot races came off the board in Louisiana on Saturday, when the state held its preliminary round of voting in its unusual jungle primary. As my original ratings predicted, Republican incumbents easily crested 50% and won reelection in the races for secretary of state, treasurer, commissioner of agriculture and forestry, and commissioner of insurance. That leaves two constitutional seats, plus the suddenly exciting governor's race, on the runoff ballot on November 21.
  • Lieutenant Governor: Likely Republican (unchanged). In a mild surprise, Billy Nungesser defeated fellow Republican John Young for the right to face Democrat Kip Holden for lieutenant governor. The Nungesser/Young primary was nasty, but Nungesser is not nearly the scandal-ridden, widely despised candidate that David Vitter is, a fact that has made the governor's race competitive. Nungesser should easily pick up almost all of Young's support; their combined preliminary totals of 58.9% are more than enough to defeat Holden. However, Holden is the mayor-president of populous East Baton Rouge Parish, and he has a strong turnout operation in the African-American community. If Democrat John Bel Edwards performs particularly strongly in the governor's race, it's not totally insane to think that he could sweep Holden in with him.
  • Attorney General: Solid Republican (unchanged). As expected, this runoff is between incumbent Republican Buddy Caldwell and former Republican Congressman Jeff Landry. That means, of course, that Republicans are guaranteed to hold this seat. It's worth noting, though, that Caldwell was a Democrat until recently and many Republicans still don't trust him. Landry, a strong conservative, is considered the "true" Republican in this race. I'd say this race leans Caldwell, who should get the support of Democrats looking for a relative ally in the AG's office.


There has been only one public poll in Mississippi since April, but the state's obvious partisan lean makes up for it. No ratings have shifted in the last month, and all but one of the seats is forecast to go easily Republican.
  • Lieutenant Governor: Solid Republican (unchanged).
  • Attorney General: Likely Democratic (unchanged). Incumbent Jim Hood—who is famously the last statewide Democrat in the Deep South—has faced the attacks of super PACs and now allegations of impropriety. The sole poll, a Mason-Dixon joint conducted last week, puts Hood's lead at a narrow 50% to 44%. However, the Hood campaign has pointed to the survey's oversampling of Republicans and touts internal polling showing him with a 57%-to-35% lead.
  • Secretary of State: Solid Republican (unchanged).
  • Treasurer: Solid Republican (unchanged).
  • Auditor: Solid Republican (unchanged).
  • Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce: Solid Republican (unchanged).
  • Commissioner of Insurance: Solid Republican (unchanged).

Monday, October 26, 2015

Baseball Teams are Hiring the Best and Brightest. That's a Problem Now?

Ken Rosenthal is not anti-intellectual. He's a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, a progressive thinker, and hip to the use of advanced metrics in baseball. So it was strange when he penned a column expressing trepidation at the trend of MLB teams hiring more and more Ivy League general managers.

In fairness, that's not all the column was about. I agreed with many of the things that Rosenthal says: that a person's connections shouldn't matter more than their merits in the hiring process. That baseball has a diversity problem among both its field and general managers. That the other major hiring trend in baseball, hiring managers with little or no coaching experience, is head-scratching. But Rosenthal's column wrongly conflates these issues with the intellectual elite's presence in front offices.

I too believe that experience matters when hiring a manager, and I too hate it when shrewd baseball minds like Dave Martínez or Torey Lovullo are continually overlooked in favor of popular ex-players. But the general managers responsible for the inexperienced-manager fad are predominantly not Ivy Leaguers, but rather the old-school GMs. Since Kenny Williams (an ex-player) kicked it off in 2011 by hiring Robin Ventura to manage the White Sox, only three out of 11 inexperienced managers were hired by Ivy League GMs:
  • In 2011, John Mozeliak (University of Colorado) hired Mike Matheny to manage the Cardinals.
  • In 2012, Dan O'Dowd (Rollins College) hired Walt Weiss to manage the Rockies.
  • In 2012, Michael Hill (Harvard) hired Mike Redmond to manage the Marlins.
  • In 2013, Mike Rizzo (ex-player) hired Matt Williams to manage the Nationals.
  • In 2013, Dave Dombrowski (Western Michigan University) hired Brad Ausmus to manage the Tigers.
  • In 2014, Terry Ryan (University of Wisconsin) hired Paul Molitor to manage the Twins.
  • In 2014, Matt Silverman (Harvard) hired Kevin Cash to manage the Rays.
  • In 2015, Doug Melvin (ex-player) hired Craig Counsell to manage the Brewers.
  • In 2015, Michael Hill (Harvard) hired Dan Jennings to manage the Marlins.
  • Just last week, Jerry Dipoto (ex-player) hired Scott Servais to manage the Mariners.
It's natural to associate, as Rosenthal does, the old-school GMs with the experienced coach and manager crowd, but the facts bear out that it's actually ex-player GMs who prefer these ex-player managers. Meanwhile, new-school GMs have hired managers such as Joe Maddon, Rick Rentería, Bobby Valentine, John Farrell, and Jeff Banister. The popular narrative of a toothless field manager taking orders from his boss's spreadsheets is the exception rather than the rule.

Rosenthal is right: the idea of discouraging dissent, or at least diversity of opinion, by hiring your like-minded friends is counter to the spirit of the sabermetric movement, which is supposed to be open-minded and encourage the scientific method of always questioning hypotheses. That's why it shouldn't surprise that the hiring process of "who do you know?" has been a staple of Major League Baseball for decades. In the days before intellectual dominance of baseball, it was even rarer for teams to hire anyone, no matter how impressive their credentials, unless they were old playing buddies of the baseball staff or old drinking buddies of ownership. This reality is lamentable, but it's not new.

And, not too long ago, it was impossible to be hired by a major-league team if you weren't white. Yet Rosenthal connects baseball's lack of diversity to the new Ivy League revolution rather than decades of institutionalized racial exclusion. The first black field manager didn't arrive until 1975; general manager, 1977. Those embarrassing facts come about precisely because baseball's old-boys club was so incestuous in its hiring—creating a vicious cycle where team staffs were white because everyone they knew was white.

Yet Rosenthal falls back on the popular stereotype that the Ivy League is the institution that is truly white and preppy: "Even though the Ivies and other schools aggressively recruit underrepresented minorities, their campuses are not as diverse as American society at large." This statement is not only false, but it's not even hard to disprove. Thanks to financial-aid policies that have grown incredibly generous and a fanatical drive to recruit minorities in order to maintain their relevance in today's diverse society, Ivies are now just as socioeconomically diverse as other colleges and as the country as a whole—if not more so:

(I'll stop you right there—yes, Ivies have a lot of Asians. Yes, they do count as minorities. Chinese- and Japanese-Americans have less well-known but still extremely ugly histories in this country. And while Ivies could do better among black and especially Latino applicants, they still outperform most other American universities.)

I recognize that I may be biased; I'm an Ivy grad myself. But I'm still capable of seeing that there is plenty to criticize about Ivy League institutions and its graduates without resorting to lazy caricatures. The white skin, or ill-conceived trades, or bad attitude of a few executives who happened to graduate from the Ivy League shouldn't paint a picture of the entire eight-school consortium. While Rosenthal didn't quite go this far, his column opens the door to anti-intellectualism with its broad brushstrokes. It's easy for the casual reader to draw the conclusion that everything Rosenthal (and I) lament are the fault of a cabal of privileged nerds.

When the greed of Wall Street led to the Great Recession in 2008, many correctly blamed the Ivy-educated suits at the big banks. But if you hate Hank Paulson because of where he went to school, you should equally credit Harvard for giving us the comedy of Conan O'Brien, the genius of Neil deGrasse Tyson, and the philanthropy of Bill Gates. In reality, the Ivy League deserves credit/blame for none of these people. The actors themselves are accountable for their own actions. It was a privilege for all of us—Hank, Conan, Neil, Bill, and I—to attend such an excellent school, but it did not make any of us privileged. Our very different backgrounds before college, and the arrogance or humility with which we comported ourselves after it, decided that.

You might want to sit down for this, there are still some snotty, overprivileged people at Brown, Dartmouth, or Yale. There are some bad eggs. But we're not all like that, I promise. As we've seen, these campuses are diverse, which means they are home to every kind of person under the sun—good and bad. The vast majority of the people I met in college were good people with ideas to make the world either a better or more interesting place. The 20% of Princeton students who are selfish and entitled may go on to seek power in Washington, DC, or money on Wall Street, but the rest go off to lead other, less evil industries: starting nonprofits, writing books, becoming teachers, and more.

A small fraction even decide to go into baseball, because that's what they are passionate about. They apply statistics to the sport because that's what they're good at and what they can contribute. And the good ones work hard to put themselves in a position to become a GM years down the line. (No owner is just hiring whiz kids to run a team right out of college.) This new wave of GMs isn't being hired because of where they went to school. They're being promoted because they are good at their jobs.

Rosenthal acknowledges that, saying he doesn't have a specific issue with any one new GM hire. "It's the pattern that troubles me," he writes. But if it's a pattern of, in Rosenthal's words, people with résumés "quite sufficient for his new position" getting jobs, what is so troubling? There's nothing inherently wrong with an Ivy Leaguer having an "inside track" to a front-office job. The fact is that most graduates of elite schools are extremely capable and smart, and more often than not, capable and smart people are going to get hired. They'll also, more often than not, be the ones to rise to the top. Not every smart and capable person went to an Ivy, of course—many people who didn't have the opportunity to go to a top-tier college, or any college at all, are just as smart and often even more hard-working—but at the upper echelons of management, you can't be surprised when the Ivy League is overrepresented. That's not a problem. It's a reasonable byproduct of a merit-based hiring process.

And as long as that hiring process remains merit-based (and doesn't turn into a new version of the insiders-only network that existed in old front offices—a valid concern), smart people will always have jobs in baseball regardless of their background. Rosenthal laments the fate of scouts and executives who aren't facile with the new math of baseball. While I agree that their old-school insights remain valuable, they also must be intellectually curious enough to accept the sport's new discoveries. If they, like so many conservative baseball minds do, refuse to keep up with progress in their industry, then there is no more place for them in it. But there is no reason the old generation of front-office staff shouldn't be able to adapt to the changing times, like baseball old-timers Peter Gammons and Rosenthal himself have done. If they are smart and keep an open mind, no Ivy Leaguer worth his salt would replace them.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Best ERA Doesn't Mean You're the Best Pitcher, the Best Record Doesn't Mean You're the Best Manager, and More End-of-Season Lessons

Obviously, I can't vote for MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, or Manager of the Year; I'm not a professional baseball writer. But the great thing about the internet is that you can find a club no matter who you are. The Internet Baseball Writers Association of America lets even us amateur bloggers into its ranks, and one of the perks is that we vote on the IBWAA's own versions of these end-of-season rewards. The weekend I spent researching these awards made me question how I believe runs are prevented; they forced me to pick sides in the debate over defensive metrics. They led me to uncover the secret brilliance of Sergio Romo and to quantify how "clutch" Josh Donaldson is. And they made me angry—again—over how stupidly people interpret the Manager of the Year awards.

Here's how I voted for the IBWAA and how I would have voted for the official, BBWAA awards:


American League

It's a close one between Josh Donaldson and Mike Trout. Although WAR is a great guide for asking the question of who was "most valuable," it can be subjective. My heart wants to give it to Trout out of sympathy for getting boned by Miguel Cabrera for a few years in a row—and he has been better offensively. Trout has a better slash line at .299/.402/.590 despite playing in a worse hitter's park; Donaldson's gaudy runs scored and runs batted in totals can be discounted as having to do more with the excellent lineup that surrounds him. But Donaldson has a few subtle advantages. He was an excellent baserunner, going 6 for 6 in stolen-base attempts (indeed, he hasn't been caught since 2013); Trout, meanwhile, was a sloppy thief, going only 11 for 18. Also, despite Trout's reputation as a fielding wizard, Donaldson played better defense according to both UZR and DRS—Trout, meanwhile, was merely average. Finally, Donaldson, in context, was a more valuable hitter. That means that he got hits when they counted the most, as measured by stats like Win Probability Added and Run Expectancy. The Blue Jays' prolific offense also helped Donaldson score better in these stats, but Donaldson also has a comfortable lead over Trout in Context-Neutral Wins (WPA/LI). That means, simply, he contributed more to his team's wins than Trout. That's a pretty good definition of MVP to me.

Of course, contrary to popular belief, MVP isn't just an award for hitters—it's Most Valuable Player, and pitchers are players too. Therefore, we mustn't forget about the best pitchers in the AL, which I'll explain in more detail in the Cy Young section below. Dallas Keuchel and David Price are extremely close in that race, but for MVP, Keuchel's surprising 13 Defensive Runs Saved—more than double any other AL pitcher this year!—put him over the top in overall value. Downballot, Lorenzo Cain may have been better on a daily basis than Manny Machado, but Machado had a hundred more plate appearances. Kevin Kiermaier deserves recognition for his historic defensive season—contributing to lowering the ERA of an entire pitching staff certainly qualifies as valuable. On the flip side, sure, Nelson Cruz gave away some runs on defense, but his OPS+ was third-best in the league, and no one but Trout and Donaldson added more win probability with his at-bats. I think he deserves to be squeezed in.

1. Josh Donaldson
2. Mike Trout
3. Dallas Keuchel
4. David Price
5. Manny Machado
6. Lorenzo Cain
7. Kevin Kiermaier
8. Mookie Betts
9. Sonny Gray
10. Nelson Cruz

National League

Amid all the uncertain votes elsewhere, there's great comfort in the fact that there's no way I can screw this up. Bryce Harper is having an undeniably historic season. His OBP of .460 and SLG of .649 reveal a hitter who simply belongs on a higher plane. In historical context, it's even more impressive. Given that this is an era of low offense, he has the best adjusted runs-created score (wRC+) of anyone not named Barry Bonds since Mark McGwire in 1998—and the best score of any clean player since 1994. He's also played run-saving defense and been a positive force on the bases. Spare me any talk about how the Nationals didn't make the playoffs; without Bryce Harper, they'd have lost 90 games. He has been the most valuable—the most value added—to any team in baseball.

It's a good thing, too, because if he weren't around the race would be too close to call between Paul Goldschmidt and Joey Votto. Votto's second half has pushed him to an insane .427 wOBA with more walks than strikeouts—even though Goldschmidt plays in a much better hitter's park. But Goldschmidt had 18 Defensive Runs Saved this year—damn impressive for a first baseman—and he also stole 21 bases. In the name of consistency, I erred on the side of defense and baserunning here too—but ask me next year and I might have a totally different answer.

AJ Pollock and two stars from Chicago finish up the ballot, edging out Jason Heyward. Heyward's defense was great, but Kris Bryant's ability and willingness to play four different positions, plus the Fielding Bible's surprising bullishness on Rizzo's own defense, were nothing to sneeze at, either. Finally, I'll explain my treatment of pitchers in the following section, though again it's worth noting that Zack Greinke was the NL's best defensive pitcher and that factored in here.

1. Bryce Harper
2. Zack Greinke
3. Jake Arrieta
4. Clayton Kershaw
5. Paul Goldschmidt
6. Joey Votto
7. AJ Pollock
8. Max Scherzer
9. Anthony Rizzo
10. Kris Bryant

Cy Young

National League

So much ink has been spilled on this award, including by me. Suffice it to say that it's effectively a three-way tie between Zack Greinke, Jake Arrieta, and Clayton Kershaw. Each one looks the strongest depending on how much control you believe pitchers have over run prevention vis-à-vis their defense. There are so many complicating factors here that I've attempted to use to create some daylight between the three. Take, for instance, the happy coincidence that Greinke and Kershaw are on the same team. That means that, generally, they've had the same defense behind them. It's not literally the same defense, of course, but it's more directly comparable than the fielding between Kershaw vs. the fielding behind Arrieta, at least. And yet, for some reason, Dodgers fielders are helping Greinke a lot more than Kershaw. That could be a tipoff that Greinke really is having some extra effect on hitters. Or it could just be luck. Or it could be Greinke's choice of catcher, and it's unclear whether that should count as something under his control.

Greinke has also been more consistent from start to start, but, on the flip side, that has meant he hasn't soared to the same heights. Arrieta and Kershaw each has four complete games and three shutouts; Arrieta has a no-hitter, and Kershaw has three games with Game Scores over 90. Greinke hasn't worked as deep into games and, as Dave Cameron of FanGraphs crucially notes, has much worse numbers against hitters the fourth time through the order—signaling that taking him out relatively early has been a key strategy by the Dodgers to keep his ERA depressed. That's a strike against him in my book. Kershaw and Arrieta have met more challenges.

After much agonizing over how I wanted to assign credit to Greinke's stinginess, I came to a compromise/copout. When asking the question of who was the most valuable player, you have to consider what the player accomplished, in the past tense—regardless of whether they "earned" it. But the Cy Young Award is different—it's meant to reward the best pitcher. Skill at pitching is measured in other ways too—strikeouts, lack of walks, durability, etc. When evaluating who has the most pitching talent, it is desirable to strip away defense as much as possible. So while Greinke topped all pitchers on my NL MVP ballot—because, when he was on the mound, he (one way or another) gave up the fewest runs and put the Dodgers in the best position to win—I cannot place him first for Cy Young. His strikeout rate (8.08 per 9 innings) is inferior, and he lucked into favorable scenarios like stranding 86.5% of runners on base. Instead, I decided to vote for the man who everyone knows is the best pitcher on the planet. If you put things in perspective, it's clear who the consummate artist on the mound is, the man who can exert the most will on the baseball when it's placed in his hand. That's Clayton Kershaw.

1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Jake Arrieta
3. Zack Greinke
4. Max Scherzer
5. Jacob deGrom

I also puzzled over whom to give my last vote to. Gerrit Cole and Jacob deGrom both had strong cases, and Cole had pitched more innings, which I usually look favorably upon. But deGrom was skipped in the Mets rotation several times in a conscious effort to keep his arm fresh, so it can't be held against him. There are also several ways in which deGrom was slightly but noticeably superior to Cole: K/9 (9.66 to 8.74), xFIP (2.92 to 3.16), hard-hit percentage (25.7% to 29.5%), percentage of strikes thrown (68.4% to 65.5%), and swinging-strike percentage (12.7% to 10.2%).

American League

This race is actually harder to decide than the NL's. There were at least clear differences between Greinke, Kershaw, and Arrieta—it was just a question about how to weight them. In the AL, you have two dominant starters with nearly identical pitching lines in Dallas Keuchel and David Price. Keuchel has a 2.48 ERA; Price is at 2.45. Keuchel allowed 185 hits, Price 190. Each allowed 17 home runs and twirled three complete games. Keuchel has 216 strikeouts to 51 walks, and Price has 225 strikeouts to 47 walks.

At first I leaned toward Price. He struck people out at a slightly higher rate and walked them at a slightly lower one. Following my logic with the NL Cy Young, Price's 2.78 FIP should give him the edge over Keuchel's 2.91. But something interesting happens when you normalize home run rates. Because Keuchel allowed a flukish and awful 13.6% of fly balls to go for home runs (a ratio that can usually be chalked up to luck), Keuchel's xFIP of 2.76 is much better than Price's of 3.24. And, judging by Skill Interactive Earned Run Average (SIERA), which assigns different values to hits depending on how well they were struck, Keuchel has a 2.84-to-3.27 advantage. The reason, methinks, is Keuchel's extreme ground-ball tendencies; 61.7% of the hits off him were on the ground, best in the AL. Other than strikeouts, ground balls are the best thing a pitcher can produce, because they are most easily converted into outs and rarely go for extra bases. Price, on the other hand, gave up a lot more fly balls (36.4%) than Keuchel did (only 19.6%). While strikeouts were an approximately equal part of both pitchers' games, Keuchel had the added weapon of the ground ball. He should get credit for this more than the typical fielding event. To put the icing on the cake, Keuchel also had the AL's lowest hard-hit percentage (21.2%), while Price's was worse than Kyle Gibson's and Chris Tillman's.

Otherwise, Chris Sale clearly deserves recognition for his 6.52 K/BB ratio. The man led the league by striking out 32.1% of batters, and his fielding-independent numbers were best in the league. His 3.41 ERA was a tad high, especially by his standards, but still ranked 10th in the league—and no one other than Keuchel, Price, and Sonny Gray had an ERA under 3.10 anyway. Speaking of Sonny Gray, sabermetrics aren't a huge fan of his 2015, but I still am; his ratios may have been merely solid (7.31 K/9 and 2.55 BB/9), but, similarly to Keuchel, he used a high ground-ball rate to avoid hits. Given that a low hit rate has been a career-long trend for him, it's safer to say it's not all good luck. (He also allowed fewer line drives than Keuchel, Price, and Sale.) Finally, I compared Chris Archer and Corey Kluber head to head for the last slot. Archer has a better ERA, but much of that is due to the park he pitches in. Kluber proved superior in most peripheral stats, especially walks allowed, strike percentage, and hard-hit percentage (Archer's was a surprisingly poor 32%).

1. Dallas Keuchel
2. David Price
3. Chris Sale
4. Sonny Gray
5. Corey Kluber

Rookie of the Year

American League

Let's play a game. Player X is a rookie shortstop. He played 99 games this year after being called up in June. He hit double-digit home runs in about 435 plate appearances and stole 12–14 bases, and he's now an American League Rookie of the Year favorite. Is it Carlos Correa or Francisco Lindor? Mwahaha, trick question! It was both! The pairing that many have suggested are the new Jeter and Nomar have had eerily similar stories this season. On offense, Correa has the upper hand, since he's jacked 22 home runs and has walked more (Lindor has a higher OBP, but he's been quite lucky on balls in play). However, Lindor has been a revelation with the glove, saving twice as many runs as any other AL shortstop in half the playing time. According to UZR, Correa has also fielded his position terribly, and that dooms him.

The choices after these two are slim pickings, with Billy Burns leading in both rWAR and fWAR. However, this has as much to do with his 555 plate appearances as his 26 stolen bases; he's been a compiler, not a particularly outstanding player (a .317 wOBA). The truly impressive rookie, for me, has been Miguel Sanó, who debuted on July 2 and hasn't stopped hitting home runs since. In a lot fewer at-bats, he's been almost as valuable as Burns, hit almost as many home runs as Correa, and shown insanely good plate discipline. If he qualified for the batting title, his OPS+ would be between José Bautista's and Chris Davis's.

1. Francisco Lindor
2. Carlos Correa
3. Miguel Sanó

National League

Whither Joc Pederson? His bizarrely bad second half dropped him out of contention for this award, even though I'd wager his career will eventually surpass all but my top NL rookie's. I voted for Kris Bryant for MVP, so it should be fairly obvious that he's my pick here. The following are the categories he led NL rookies in: home runs, runs, RBI, doubles, and, despite some service-time shenanigans, plate appearances. A couple of Cardinals, Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk, matched him in rate stats, but you'd have to smush them together to reach Bryant's counting stats. Piscotty and Grichuk did it in spurts; Bryant has sustained his excellence for a full season.

Matt Duffy was thrust into an everyday role this season and responded by hitting .295 in a tough park for hitters along with 12 runs saved on defense; that puts him in a comfortable second. And, although his season was sadly cut short by a hard slide, Jung Ho Kang still outhit the likes of Odubel Herrera and Addison Russell with a .287/.355/.461 slash line.

1. Kris Bryant
2. Matt Duffy
3. Jung Ho Kang

Manager of the Year

Here's the thing about the Manager of the Year award. It's always used as a proxy for "most surprising team"—when a team significantly outperforms its preseason expectations, it's assumed that the manager's leadership got them there. That's baloney. When a team significantly outperforms its expectations, it's because the pundits were wrong and the players themselves overperformed. Furthermore, that assumption implies that who's a good manager changes from year to year. Last year, Matt Williams was a genius because the Nationals made the postseason. This year, he was run out of town on a rail. But do we really think he just forgot how to manage? No—he was never that good to begin with.

The people who are the best managers—and who are truly worthy of this award—do not change much from year to year. They're the people who are loved and respected by their teams, who avoid controversy, and who generally make shrewd strategic decisions. These traits don't ebb and flow depending on how well his team plays baseball. So, to sum up, my Manager of the Year ballots won't be conforming to the conventional wisdom.

National League

Joe Maddon has been the best manager in baseball for quite some time—beloved by his players, new age in his tactics. That didn't change this year in his first season with the Cubs, where he blended in seamlessly and got top-notch effort out of a young team. Even though his Giants underperformed, Bruce Bochy is still one of the shrewdest tacticians in baseball, and his staying power through good times and bad has to be respected. Finally, Clint Hurdle has quietly become one of the stat-savviest managers in baseball, and his adept use of the bullpen led the Pirates to strongly overperform their Pythagorean record in 2015.

1. Joe Maddon
2. Bruce Bochy
3. Clint Hurdle

American League

This is the rare case where my pick is probably the same as everyone else's. Jeff Banister has really impressed in his first season as Rangers skipper, quickly earning the trust of players while implementing unorthodox and saber-friendly tactics. It's a close call, though, between him and Joe Girardi, who has quietly done excellent work in New York for eight years now. In the toughest media environment in the sport, he has avoided major controversy—no small feat, considering the return of Alex Rodriguez this year—and is also the manager who uses his challenges most efficiently (a study conducted last year found he got 79% of challenges overturned, the best in baseball by a country mile). Finally, I was torn several different ways for third place. If there were an award for Most Improved Manager, I'd definitely vote for Ned Yost, who has shown shocking development as a tactician since last year's playoffs. AJ Hinch's Astros, meanwhile, have made smart use of the defensive shift, but that is probably a directive from the front office. Bob Melvin is also typically one of the game's steadiest hands on the tiller—even earning a contract extension this year despite a terrible record—but he shares with Hinch a team that drastically underperformed its Pythagorean record. And Terry Francona is the public face of probably the most positive, well-run workplace in sports, and he's managed to maintain strong leadership through a disappointing season and turnover in the front office. Perhaps against my own better judgment, I decided to go with the guy who made everyone look silly when they questioned even his most bizarre moves all season long.

1. Jeff Banister
2. Joe Girardi
3. Ned Yost

Reliever of the Year

Unlike the BBWAA, the IBWAA also votes on an award for best reliever. There is no stipulation that it has to be a closer, however, which is going to lead to some unorthodox choices here—be prepared.

American League

Dellin Betances pitched 84 innings out of the bullpen, striking out 14.04 batters per inning with a 1.50 ERA. His walk rate was high and he was lucky, but he still had elite fielding-independent numbers. Orioles closer Zach Britton and Yankees closer Andrew Miller were arguably even more dominant, though over fewer innings. Miller had the lower ERA at 1.90 and struck out a whopping 40.7% of batters, but Britton offered better control at 1.92 walks per nine. The tiebreaker ended up being how good Britton was at getting ground balls (79.1%), contributing to a 1.21 SIERA. Miller also allowed a high 29.8% hard-hit percentage. I wish I could've found room for David Robertson, with his elite 6.62 K/BB ratio, and Carson Smith, with his high innings total in higher-leverage situations than the rest of this crew. Some might ask where Wade Davis is—his 0.94 ERA by far led all relievers—but he pitched in relatively low-leverage situations, his K/BB ratio is merely solid, and his swinging-strike percentage trailed all the aforementioned names, indicating his stuff wasn't as sharp. Instead, he lucked out with a .200 BABIP and 92.2% left-on-base percentage.

1. Dellin Betances
2. Zach Britton
3. Andrew Miller

National League

If only Carter Capps had stayed healthy for the full season—he'd be a lock here. Instead, the NL doesn't quite have the same caliber of reliever as the AL. Kenley Jansen pitched the best among the remaining crop, but he too was injured for a chunk of the year. The question is whether his 10 K/BB ratio (first in the NL), 4% walk rate (first), 0.78 WHIP (first), 2.14 FIP (fourth), 1.43 SIERA (first), 11.1% line-drive rate (first), and 16.6% swinging-strike percentage (fourth) are good enough for his low innings total (52.1). Sergio Romo also had awesome ratios and an uncannily low FIP (1.91), but he pitched fewer than 60 innings and gave up too many runs to go with it (2.98 ERA). Jeurys Familia and Francisco Rodríguez were about equally stingy when you adjust for park factors, but Familia threw 20 more innings. Thank goodness there's a clear number one, at least: sometimes the best ERA belongs to the best pitcher. Like Betances, Aroldis Chapman had his struggles with walks, but he also struck out 15.74 (!) batters per nine innings to make up for it.

1. Aroldis Chapman
2. Jeurys Familia
3. Kenley Jansen

Friday, October 2, 2015

Breaking the Tie for NL Cy Young

One of the lucky few with a vote for NL Cy Young? May God have mercy on your soul. In a year of several close awards races, this is the mother of them all. In their own ways, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Jake Arrieta have all reached historic heights this season. Do you prefer impeccable peripheral stats? Kershaw (and his soon-to-be 300 strikeouts) is your man. Or is straight-up run prevention your thing? Go with Greinke and his 1.68 ERA. Want a mix of both, perhaps with a flair for the dramatic mixed in? Vote for Arrieta, the author of the game's most recent no-hitter.

It all comes down to how you assign responsibility for run prevention. We know that the pitcher doesn't control who scores off him all on his own; luck and the quality of his defense play a role. But it's also foolhardy to claim that a pitcher's stuff has no effect whatsoever on the efficacy of batted balls. We know that the truth lies somewhere in the middle—but we don't know exactly where. So, unfortunately, in order to answer the question in front of us—who has been the best pitcher in the National League?—you pretty much need to answer the biggest open question that sabermetricians still have about the game.

In the past, for awards voting specifically, I've favored using actual runs allowed. Although I know that FIP is more predictive (i.e., if I were signing either Kershaw or Greinke to a free-agent contract, I'd choose Kershaw since he's more likely to be able to replicate his performance), ERA tells you what actually happened, and awards are supposed to be recognitions of what you accomplished—past tense. However, this year, I've gotten hung up on another part of that logic—the word "accomplished." Although fewer runs scored on Greinke's watch than Kershaw's or Arrieta's, how much of that can we really count that as his "accomplishment"? The Cy Young Award is supposed to isolate pitching ability, and Kershaw and Arrieta have stronger claims to legitimate personal pitching accomplishments. So I find myself in the same old dilemma.

Where is the best place along the spectrum to plant your flag? 70% pitcher, 30% fielders? 40% pitcher, 60% fielders? For now, it comes down to a personal judgment call. But the good news is that, if you've made your personal choice about how you value run prevention, your NL Cy Young vote is pretty much decided. In fact—much like those old magazine quizzes that told you how good of a lover you are based on how clean you keep your room—there's even a chart you can use.

A relatively new feature on FanGraphs is a WAR leaderboard that can toggle between FIP-based WAR, RA9-WAR, and a 50-50 mix of the two. (FIP-based WAR gives a pitcher credit for only the peripherals he clearly controls, like strikeouts and walks; RA9-WAR gives a pitcher full credit for run prevention.) Among NL pitchers, Kershaw dominates if you think fielders prevent runs; Greinke wins if you think pitchers do; and Arrieta emerges as a compromise candidate if you split the difference. (Note: stats have been updated as of Monday, October 5, so they are final.)

We can be even more specific; this is a spectrum, after all, not just two endpoints and a midpoint. Assuming that WAR changes linearly, we can calculate each player's WAR assuming any level of FIP-versus-RA9 split: 50-50, 70-30, 12.35-87.65, etc. Think of it as a sliding scale where each player's WAR shifts up or down as you change how you value pitchers' contribution to run prevention.

The chart above helps us visualize what this means for the Cy Young vote: that the identity of the most valuable pitcher changes depending on your starting assumption. Whoever's line tops the chart is the rightful Cy Young winner for that range of percents. We can even pinpoint the exact place on the run-prevention spectrum that one pitcher ceases to be the most valuable and another begins: by finding the intersection of their two lines.

This yields the following dictum: if you believe that the pitcher is responsible for between 0% and 46.4% of run prevention, you support Clayton Kershaw. If you believe that the pitcher is responsible for between 70% and 100% of run prevention, you back Zack Greinke. And if you believe that the pitcher is responsible for between 46.4% and 70% of run prevention, you fall into Jake Arrieta's tiny window of supremacy. Maybe this suggests that Kershaw is the best winner because he covers the most ground; I don't know. For me, it definitely limits Arrieta's potential. But your judgment on run prevention is just that—your judgment. Now, when you decide, you'll know how to vote.