The Warning Track: Preseason Awards Picks

In the second part of The Warning Track’s 2016 predictions this week, we focus on the first installment of our Awards Watch and who will take home hardware at season’s end.

Most Valuable Player

The average age of all MVPs – American and National Leagues – since 2010 is about 27 years old. It’s a number that makes sense; 27 is right around when a player enters their prime, as most debut in the major leagues in their early 20s.

That number also brings hesitancy in predicting that some popular picks for MVP this year will end up reaching that status. In the American League, 21-year-old Carlos Correa – reigning AL Rookie of the Year – is the overwhelming favorite to bring home the hardware.

Despite his minimal experience (432 career PAs), it’s easy to see Correa as the second-best all-around player in the AL by season’s end, behind only Mike Trout.

His dedication certainly isn’t in doubt.

His numbers from 99 games last year translates to about 35 home runs and 115 RBI over the course of a full season. Those are certainly MVP totals, and when you consider his stellar defensive play and maturity, it’s no wonder he’s the favorite.

But again…he’s only 21. If he were to pull it off, he would be the youngest MVP in history. Heck, even Bryce Harper didn’t break out until his age-22 season last year (Not that that’s much older, but he did debut when he was 19). Then again, another perennially popular pick, Mike Trout, was only 23 when he finally won MVP. Perhaps that is motivation for the even younger Correa?

The lineup surrounding individual superstars also play a part in their MVP campaigns, of course. Defending AL MVP Josh Donaldson would not have driven in the most runs in the majors last year if Bautista, Encarnacion, Martin, et al. hadn’t been on base for him bring home.

Houston’s regulars have the potential to help Correa build his MVP case in that regard, but it’s over in the Senior Circuit where the lineup factor makes one superstar stand out: Anthony Rizzo.

Not only does he almost perfectly fit the age criteria – he’ll 27 in August – but Rizzo is set to reside in the heart of potentially one of the most threatening lineups in baseball, one that features young sluggers with more experience and on-base veterans Jason Hayward and Ben Zobrist. The only thing that might hurt Rizzo is the prospect of those batting before him mashing moonshots, thus robbing him of some RBIs. Not that he’s mind. 

Of course, Harper has a greater-than-good chance of repeating as MVP. But it most likely would require numbers greater than his 42 home runs, 99 RBI and 118 runs from 2015, and I’m hesitant to predict that happening with Washington’s lineup.

Still, the prospect of an even bigger year from Harper is an enticing notion. Unless you’re a Mets fan.

The Picks: American League

1. Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays

2015 stats: 41 home runs, 123 RBI, .297/.371/.568

Predicted 2016 stats: 43 home runs, 117 RBI, .289/.357/.539

 

2. Carlos Correa, Houston Astros

2015 stats: 22 home runs, 68 RBI, .279/.345/.512

Predicted 2016 stats: 33 home runs, .288/.365/.598

 

3. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

2015 stats: 41 home runs, 90 RBI, .299/.402/.590

Predicted 2016 stats: 43 home runs, 93 RBI, .309/.406/.583

The Toronto Blue Jays have the best offense in baseball to start the season, and Donaldson is the heart of it.

The Blue Jays have the best offense in baseball at the start of the season, and Donaldson is the heart of it.

 

The Picks: National League

1. Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs

2015 stats: 31 home runs, 101 RBI, .278/.387/.512

Predicted 2016 stats: 34 home runs, 118 RBI, .298/.401/.545

 

2. Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks

2015 stats: 33 home runs, 110 RBI, .321/.435/.570

Predicted 2016 stats: 36 home runs, 109 RBI, .329/.428/.576

 

3. Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins

2015 stats: 27 home runs, 67 RBI, .265/.346/.606

Predicted 2016 stats: 54 home runs, 97 RBI, .273/.362/.636

Rizzo is the unquestionable leader of a Cubs team primed for 100+ wins in 2016.

Rizzo is the unquestionable leader of a Cubs team primed for 100+ wins in 2016.

Cy Young

The age factor for Cy Young-caliber pitchers since 2010 is the same story as it is for MVPs.

The average age is just under 29; however, when removing the outlier of R.A. Dickey – who won as a 37-year-old in 2012 – the age drops down to 27.

Kershaw is the obvious choice here to win his fourth Cy Young since 2011. That would tie him for third on the all time list with Steve Carlton and Greg Maddux. 

http://async=

However, Max Scherzer’s dominant first season in the National League – in which he very nearly threw the 24th and 25th perfect games in MLB history – gives Kershaw some competition, as does the ascension of 2015 NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta.

To make things even tougher for Kershaw in his pursuit of a record 8 Cy Youngs, there’s a rotation over in New York with three or four starters that are also in the mix.

And we can’t forget about his former teammate in Arizona charged with the mission of leading a renaissance in the desert.

Meanwhile, in the more offensive-prone AL, if anyone is going to finish the season with a sub-2.00 ERA for the first time since Pedro Martinez in 2000, it could be the rapidly-evolving Sonny Gray, seemingly the only bright spot that Oakland has to look forward to this year.

It could also be Dallas Keuchel, who dominated the league en route to winning the Cy Young last year, or also perennial Opening Day starter Felix Hernandez.

There’s also dark horse candidates in Carlos Carrasco, who at age 29 is due for a breakout, and Jake Odorizzi of Tampa Bay. Actually, anyone on the Rays staff is capable of at least breaking out in a big way in 2016, much like the Mets last year. 

One thing that is for certain: as good as the AL’s young sluggers look, the league’s up and coming arms might be even better before long.

 

The Picks: American League

1. Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays

2015 stats: 12-13,  3.23 ERA, 252 K

Predicted 2016 stats: 18-7, 2.86 ERA, 248 K

 

2. Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians

2015 stats: 9-16, 3.49 ERA, 245 K

Predicted 2016 stats: 16-10, 2.99 ERA, 240 K

 

3. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

2015 stats: 18-9, 3.53 ERA, 191 K

Predicted 2016 stats: 17-9, 3.20 ERA, 201 K

The Picks: National League

1. Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals

2015 stats: 14-12, 2.79 ERA, 276 K

Predicted 2016 stats: 19-5, 2.12 ERA, 260 K

 

2. Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates

2015 stats: 19-8, 2.60 ERA, 202 K

Predicted 2016 stats: 19-6, 2.46 ERA, 225 K

 

3. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

2015 stats: 16-7, 2.13 ERA, 301 K

Predicted 2016 stats: 19-9, 2.42 ERA, 300 K

One year of exposure to Scherzer won't be enough for hitter to get on base against him very often in 2016.

One year of exposure to Scherzer won’t be enough for hitter to get on base against him very often in 2016.

 

Best of the Rest

 

AL Rookie of the Year

The Pick: Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins

The Why: A career .301 hitter in the minors, Buxton is being eagerly awaited by the Twins fanbase as the one who can hopefully push them over the cusp and back into contention. Buxton has shown to be an exceptional multi-tool player, as he put on display with what was easily the best play of Spring Training.

 

<script src="

The Contenders: Joey Gallo (TEX), Jose Berrios (MIN)

 

NL Rookie of the Year

The Pick: Steven Matz, SP, New York Mets

The Why: Because an ERA over 3.00 is frowned upon in New York.

The Contenders: Corey Seager (LAD), Trea Turner (WAS)

 

AL Manager of the Year

The Pick: Jeff Banister, Texas Rangers

The Why: Texas is ready to be relevant again after enduring consecutive World Series losses in the early 2010s. A healthy mix of veteran hitting, veteran pitching and an uberprospect in Joey Gallo should thrust them back into contention, and Banister into the spotlight.

The Contenders: Terry Francona (CLE), John Gibbons (TOR)

 

NL Manager of the Year

The Pick: Dusty Baker, Washington Nationals

The Why:  A veteran manager, returning from retirement and trying to reach his first Fall Classic as a manager after 3,176 games managed (thus far). A team looking to live up to the sky-high expectations of yesteryear.

The narrative is too good to pass up.

The Contenders: Joe Maddon (CHC), Chip Hale (ARZ)

 

Thanks for reading.

 

The Warning Track is a blog that covers all things Major League Baseball on a fairly consistent basis, from discussing why some teams are getting hot, who’s in line for awards at season’s end and who is getting ready to make the leap to contender status, as well as hot button topics like MLB’s expansion mission, which players could be headed to new homes, and the latest clubhouse chemistry conundrum. 

If you have anything MLB-related that you would like to see discussed in the upcoming edition of The Warning Track, or have any comments at all, you may suggest/comment/rant/agree/disagree/tell me I know nothing about baseball at any time on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

The Warning Track: The Good and Bad of the All-Star Starters

*all stats are entering play on Friday, July 10th

The rosters for the 86th MLB All-Star Game were unveiled a few days ago, and we all can rest easy: It won’t be the National League versus the Kansas City Royals.

“Only” four Royals were named starters to the game earlier in the week – and that number has since dwindled down to three – while the other components of each team is made of some intriguing as well as frustrating components.

Such is the nature of selecting who is worthy, whether it be at the hands of fans, players or managers.

Oftentimes as baseball fans our first reaction, naturally, is to judge an All-Star squad by how represented our favorite teams are. But then we analyze each selection not by stats…but by straightforward feeling and emotion. The players we like, the players we hate. The obvious snubs and suspicious inclusions. The surefire Hall of Famers who absolutely must be present at All-Star Week versus egotistical youngsters who are all bark and no bite.

So that’s how I’ll “analyze” this year’s All-Star Representatives: likeability. We won’t delve too much into stats…WAR and home run numbers are more or less going to be tossed out the window. Instead we’ll see how good baseball fans all over the country did at picking the players that embody the spirit of the game – those who truly personify the meaning of “All-Sar” with their more vague and shadowed qualities, whether on or off the field.

Without further ado, away we go.

asg

 

National League Starters

Catcher: Buster Posey, Giants – Thumbs Up                     .300/.372/.493, 14 home runs, 57 RBI, 8.3 on the likeability scale

Who doesn’t respect Buster Posey, who has built a Hall of Fame resume before his 30th birthday.

Posey has already garnered Rookie of the Year and NL MVP Honors as well as two silver slugger awards three championship rings, and yet he still seems to fly under the radar.

Posey doesn’t command attention, because he doesn’t need to. He’s quietly the leader on one of the Senior Circuit’s model franchises, and is as much a part of Madison Bumgarner’s record breaking-October as MadBum is. Posey has arguably been the rock of the San Francisco Giant’s three world championships in five years.

When discussing who is the best catcher in the Senior Circuit, the debate basically comes down to Posey and Yadier Molina, who has taken on the villain role to more than a few teams in the league, as compared to Posey’s more youthful calm air.

Either option would get a thumbs up, but Posey’s subtle but superior success gets him a thumbs up.

 

First Baseman: Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondacks – Thumbs Up        .349/.466/.618, 20 home runs, 68 RBI, 68 walks, 59 runs, 8.8 on the likeability scale

One of the most cluttered positions in the National League as far as deserving candidates go, the 1B selection of Goldy gets a thumbs up for the sole fact that he is much like Posey – offensive firepower, defensively capable, club leaders, babe-faced – but lacking any rings to validate his success, which makes you feel for the guy who doesn’t hold a shred of visible ego.

Much of that lacking-of-rings-ness is, of course, due to his belonging to a Diamondbacks club that has underachieved for a long time, though things may be starting to look up for them (7-3 in their last 10 games, tied for second in the NL West).

Goldy’s standardly remarkable season and sympathy-for-being-on-an-unfortunate-team aside, the only other NL 1B I would have preferred to make the All-Star squad is Anthony Rizzo (.296 batting average, 16 home runs, 48 RBI, 24 doubles) for leading the resurgence resurrection of the Chicago Cubs, who would be a postseason squad if the season ended today.

But Goldy will do as well. Thumbs up.

 

Second Baseman: Dee Gordon, Marlins – Thumbs Down   .336/.358/.412, 1 home run, 21 RBI, 5.3 on the likeability scale

Ehhhh…ehhhhhh. 

This is the first of the NL selections that, while pleasant at face value just for the sheer fact that Dee Gordon is one of the most fun players to watch on the bases, doesn’t make much sense.

And I won’t shy away from saying that much of that is due to his belonging on the temporarily Stanton-less Marlins that is just a hard team to root for.

However, the bigger factor in lacking excitement about this selection: Kolten Wong of the Cardinals (.284 average, 9 home runs, 37 RBI), the superior candidate in almost every way.

Besides the fact that he leads all NL 2B in runs, home runs and RBI, along with being near the top in average and slugging percentage, he becomes one of the most complete players in the league – period – when you take into account some of the plays in the field that he makes.

Plays like this.

No big deal, tbh.

WE ARE NOT WORTHY.

Sure, Gordon can get on base and run around them almost as good as Billy Hamilton, but it’s hard not to be disappointed at the exclusion of Wong, who has come a long way from the player who go picked off to end a World Series game.    

 

Shortstop: Jhonny Peralta, Cardinals – Thumbs Up                .292/.349/.465, 12 home runs, 44 RBI, 8.5 on the likeability scale

It’s obviously tough to oversee the fact that Troy Tulowitzki has been a shoo-in for the All-Star game for so long, but so is the cold hard fact that he has regressed in recent years and is now not even the best player on his own squad.

On the flip side, Jhonny Peralta (.289 average, 12 home runs, 44 RBI) has had his best times in St. Louis, where he has hit .273 with 33 home runs and 119 RBI over a season and a half. Sure he was looked down upon two years ago when he was in Detroit for being busted for use of PEDs, but he’s become a feel-good comeback story since then with his transition to the National League, arguably becoming the best all-around shortstop in the majors over that span.

There really is no legitimate desirable second for National League All-Star shortstop.      

 

Third Baseman: Todd Frazier, Reds – Thumbs Up           .281/.337/.586, 25 home runs, 55 RBI, 9.0 on the likeability scale

Had voting ended two months ago, one month ago, even perhaps two weeks ago, the vote would have gone to Matt Carpenter, and righteously so. But his clear extended slump over the last month and a half ultimately cleared the way for Todd Frazier.

It may just be fate, as the Reds slugger gets the All-Star start on his home field, something that’s always easy to root for.

It’s even better when you take into account that Frazier has been giving superstar teammate Joey Votto a run for his money as the offensive leader in Cinci. Frazier will be busy next week, also participating in Monday’s Home Run Derby, where he shocked some fans with his strong performance in 2014.

Will next week’s All-Star festivities be the Todd Frazier show? It could be, and it would be incredibly satisfying.      

 

Outfielders: Bryce Harper, Nationals – Thumbs Up                          .343/.471/.709, 25 home runs, 60 RBI, 7.9 on the likeability scale

Matt Holliday, Cardinals – Thumbs Up                                     .303/.417/.421, 8.6 on the likeability scale  

Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins* – Thumb sideways      .265/.346/.606, 27 home runs, 67 RBI, 9.9 on the likeability scale if he was starting, 0.3 otherwise                                           *Being replaced by Andrew McCutchen

Fans were pretty much on-par with picking the outfield representatives for the National League.

Despite a bombastic ego that borders on major league villain outside of our nation’s capital, it would be criminal for any real baseball fan not to want Bryce Harper in the All-Star game with his outrageous performance thus far in 2015 – he’s already surpassed his career highs for single-seasn home runs and RBIs.

As such, fans gave him what he deserves: an All-Star start, in the form of the most votes for any NL player.

If the year had been 2013 or 2014 Harper would be getting a thumbs down, but he really came into his own in silencing his critics and letting them know with his bat that his first two seasons in the league were just a warmup, reminding us in the process that he isn’t even 23 yet, for Pete’s sake.

Matt Holliday also gets a thumbs up for his uncharacteristically fast start.

Holliday has been one of the most consistent hitters in the league over the last few years, although he hasn’t played for St. Louis in a few weeks due to injury. He is also one of those players who doesn’t get as much recognition as he should for his team’s success, but he is certainly among the most respected in the St. Louis clubhouse, a legitimate veteran of the league.

Starling Marte (.281 average, 13 homers, 48 RBI) would have been another ideal candidate to take left field at Cinci, as well as Joc Pederson in recognition of his unreal rookie season, but Holliday the quiet, seasoned veteran is just as deserving.

Stanton’s selection is where things get deeply underwhelming, due to his injury that will keep him sidelined for at least another month. He is a clear selection for the All-Star game each year, and rightly so as he is the preeminent power hitter in the bigs, but will be replaced by Andrew McCutchen (.302 batting average, 10 home runs, 53 RBI, 9.3 on the likeability scale), a worthy candidate in his own right.

Injuries are obviously a part of the game, as is missing the All-Star game due to some ailment, but this goes beyond next week’s festivities in that Stanton is beginning to garner an unhealthy reputation of health concerns.

Granted, his last two major injuries – a fastball to the face and breaking bones in his hand while swinging – are straight out of the Complete Fluke Department, but the fact of the matter is that the strongest basher in baseball has played more than 123 games only once in the last three years.

His latest injury looks to continue that trend, and that gets a big fat 0 on our likeability scale.

 

American League Starters

Catcher: Salvador Perez, Royals – Thumbs Up     .262/.274/.448, 14 home runs, 37 RBI, 7.9 on the likeability scale

Salvador Perez is one of the most consistent and reliable performers on the best team in the American League, one of the best catchers in the major leagues, and resides on a team that is easy to root for, unless you’re the Chicago White Sox.

He resembles Molina a bit more than Posey, as his defensive numbers are more sterling than his offensive stats (although his 14 home runs are tied with Posey and Yasmani Grandal for the most among catchers in either league), and will undoubtedly be one of the best two or three all-around catchers in baseball once 2020 rolls around.

 

First Baseman: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers* – Thumbs Up .350/.456/.578, 15 home runs, 54 RBI, 9.6 on the likeability scale *Being replaced by Albert Pujols, Angels

The Giancarlo Stanton of not only the American League in terms of hitting prowess, but of this year’s All-Star rosters; Cabrera, too, will miss the festivities due to injury, a big blow to the game and fans alike.

But not all is lost, because Albert Pujols and his AL-leading 26 long balls will start in his place, a comeback story of sorts. After a somewhat mediocre first couple of seasons with the Angels, The Machine is back to destroying baseballs – as well as opposing pitchers’ hearts – like it’s 2009. Pujols was the most feared hitter of the 2000s, and his return to form in 2015 isn’t as much surprising as it is relieving for fans watching him climb the career home run total list.

He’s not only one of the most consistent and powerful hitters of our time, but perhaps the only suitable replacement for someone like Cabrera, and for that, the AL starting first baseman gets a thumbs up.

 

Second Baseman: Jose Altuve, Astros – Thumbs Down  .298/.342/.413, 7 home runs, 36 RBI, 6.4 on the likeability scale

Dozier: 18 home runs, 45 RBI, 65 runs. Kipnis: 111 hits, 27 doubles, .904 OPS. Kinsler: 39 RBI, 49 runs.

Compare any of those other candidates for AL 2B, and Jose Altuve’s selection is maddeningly frustrating.

Altuve was incredible last year, leading the big leagues with 225 hits, and this selection feels like an extended formality to that performance instead of the more mediocre numbers he’s put up in 2015. He’s absolutely a likeable guy, no doubt about that; any guy who jumps to try and hit the ball into play deserves respect.

But this was arguably the most snubbed position out of both All-Star squads, with a multitude of impressive candidates deserving the start over Houston’s 2B.

 

Shortstop: Alcide Escobar, Royals – Thumbs More or Less Up .289/.328/.372, 2 home runs, 31 RBI, 7.3 on the likeability scale

Aside from Rangers phenom Carlos Correa (.282 average, 7 home runs, 19 RBI in 29 games) AL shortstops leave something to be desire when it comes to offensive firepower. Escobar is one of four Royals getting the start next Tuesday thanks to the fervor of the Royals fanbase, and although Boston’s 22-year-old Xander Bogaerts (.304 average, 41 RBI, 3 homers) leads him in almost every major offensive category, Escobar is a vital cog in the defensively-superior machine that is the Kansas City Royals, and for that, a high ranking on the likeability scale won’t be denied.

If only a career of 29 games would be acceptable to make an All-Star case. Next year, Carlos.

 

Third Baseman: Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays – Thumbs Up .299/.358/.543, 21 home runs, 60 RBI, 8.5 on the likeablility scale

Baseball fans were salivating at the prospect of Josh Donaldson playing in Cinci – he was the leading vote-getter in all of baseball, and set a record for most votes for an All-Star candidate.

As in, all time. Ever.

Being the offensive leader on the best offensive team in baseball will get ya there, that’s for sure. And it wasn’t a tough decision for voters – no other 3B in the Junior Circuit comes real close to his numbers.  

 

Outfielders: Mike Trout, Angels – Thumbs Up        .305/.400/.604, 24 home runs, 50 RBI, 9.8 on the likeability scale

Lorenzo Cain, Royals – Thumbs Down                  .312/.371/.489, 8 home runs, 41 RBI, 5.6 on the likeability scale

Alex Gordon, Royals* – Thumbs Up                        .279/.394/.457, 11 home runs, 39 RBI, 7.5 on the likeability scale *Replaced by Brett Gardner

There is no debate surrounding Mike Trout’s selection, and there shouldn’t be. Period.

Lorenzo Cain, however, is a different story. Cain is the first and only starting Royal on the AL squad who I have a gripe with, primarily because out of the three selected AL All-Star outfielders, Cain is the one who should be replaced by none other than Detroit’s J.D. Martinez, who had an absolutely ridiculous June to bring his 2015 totals up to 24 home runs and 58 RBI to go along with a .291 average . He should be representing the Tigers and the AL in the outfield, both to recognize his play and to allow a bit more parity to the AL roster as well.

Meanwhile, the Royal outfielder who is worthy of being named starter, Alex Gordon, won’t be, due to a severe groin strain suffered on Wednesday that will take him out for a couple months. Excellent timing, eh? He’ll be replaced by the Orioles’ Adam Jones , who is a suitable enough replacement with his 11 home runs and 40 RBI except HE ISN’T J.D. MARTINEZ. But I digress. Trout makes up for it all.

 

Designated Hitter: Nelson Cruz, Mariners – Thumbs Way Up .300/.367/.546, 21 home runs, 51 RBI, 10.0 on the likeability scale

It isn’t Alex Rodriguez, and for that, you’ve done well, baseball fans.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

The Warning Track is a blog that covers all things Major League Baseball on a weekly basis, from discussing why some teams are getting hot, who’s in line for awards at season’s end and who is getting ready to make the leap to contender status, as well as off-the-field issues like first-time Commissioner Rob Manfred, which players could be headed to new homes, and A-Rod’s latest conundrum. 

If you have anything MLB-related that you would like to see discussed in the upcoming edition of The Warning Track, or have any comments at all, you may suggest/comment/rant/agree/disagree/tell me I know nothing about baseball at any time on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.