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Election Days: Determining Who Voters Should Have Picked to Win MLB’s Awards

By: Taylor Bechtold

‘Tis the season for casting ballots.

The voting for Major League Baseball’s regular season awards has commenced, and the finalists have been announced.

Last week, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America revealed the top three in the race for the Most Valuable Player, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year in each league, with MLB set to announce the winners daily beginning Monday. Though there’s nothing nefarious going on in this election, those in charge of the voting process are often influenced by things like standard statistics, popularity and the eye test.

So who does the actual data back as the winners of these awards?

We’ve analyzed several different metrics – Raw Value+, Discipline+, Contact+ and BIP+ for hitters and Raw Value-, Command+, Whiff+ and Strike+ for pitchers – to pinpoint whose names should be called next week.

As a simplistic refresher, RV+ equates to a cumulative way to measure how many total runs a hitter added relative to a league-average batter—that is, one with an RV of zero. On the pitching side, RV- is a cumulative way to measure how many total runs a pitcher took away relative to a league-average hurler (again, an RV of zero).

In some cases (like our first pick, AL MVP), we believe the voters missed the mark completely in determining the finalists. Sorry Randy Arozarena fans, but the selections are based on regular-season performance only:

AL MVP

The finalists: JosE Abreu (White Sox), DJ LeMahieu (Yankees), Jose Ramirez (Indians)
Our pick: Mike Trout, Angels

The best guess is that Trout isn’t a finalist because the Angels were a disappointment this season, but it still remains a glaring omission. Trout led the AL with a 173 RV+, well ahead of Abreu (154), Ramirez (142) and LeMahieu (136).

The three-time MVP was 10th in the majors in Disc+, topping all three finalists. He finished 18th with a 185 BIP+, which was also well ahead of Ramirez and LeMahieu.

NL MVP

The finalists: Mookie Betts (Dodgers), Freddie Freeman (Braves), Manny Machado (Padres)
Our pick: Freeman

Freeman should take home his first MVP award after hitting .341 with 13 homers, an MLB-leading 23 doubles and 53 RBIs. The veteran first baseman also fared well in the advanced metrics, finishing second in the majors with a 202 RV+. Soto, who had an MLB-best 209 RV+, was a strong candidate but he just wasn’t on the field enough for the Nationals.

As it is, Freeman finished far ahead of Betts (146) and Machado (149) in RV+ and was 10th in the majors with a 198 BIP+. Betts was 81st with a 126 BIP+, while Machado was 47th with 143.

AL CY YOUNG

The finalists: Shane Bieber (Indians), Kenta Maeda (Twins), Hyun Jin Ryu (Blue Jays)
Our pick: Bieber

According to the data, Bieber should capture his first Cy Young award after going 8-1 with a 1.63 ERA with 122 strikeouts over 77 1/3 innings in 12 starts.

The right-hander finished fourth in the majors with a 53 RV- among pitchers who faced at least 200 batters. Maeda was one spot better in third with a 49 RV-, but Bieber was also second in MLB with a 147 Whiff+ and first in the AL with a 118 Strike+. Maeda was 61st and 23rd in the majors, respectively in those categories, while Ryu was only slightly above average.

NL CY YOUNG

The finalists: Trevor Bauer (Reds), Yu Darvish (Cubs), Jacob deGrom (Mets)
Our pick: deGrom

This is arguably the closest and most debated award. Darvish led the NL in wins (8) and Bauer topped the league in ERA (1.73), but the data reveals a familiar name rose to the top. DeGrom should join Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux as the only pitchers to win three straight Cy Young awards after posting a 2.38 ERA and holding batters to a .190 average while striking out 104 over 68 innings.

The right-hander finished second in the majors behind Bauer (41) with a 43 RV-, but he led MLB by a relatively wide margin with a 172 Whiff+ and a 122 Strike+ among pitchers who faced at least 200 batters.

AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

The finalists: Cristian Javier (Astros), Kyle Lewis (Mariners), Luis Robert (White Sox)
Our pick: Sean Murphy (A’s)

The Oakland catcher had a higher RV+ (125) in fewer plate appearances than Lewis (108) and Robert (93) all while placing third in the majors in Framing Runs.

Murphy was also well above average with a 128 Disc+ and a 119 BIP+. Robert finished below the league average in both RV+ and Disc+. Javier ended up 18th in MLB in RV-, but his Whiff+, Strike+ and Disc- were all below average.

NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

The finalists: Alec Bohm (Phillies), Jake Cronenworth (Padres), Devin Williams (Brewers)
Our pick: Cronenworth

We’d be more than alright with Williams winning this award (more on him later). But after a red-hot start, Cronenworth ended up batting .285 with four home runs and 15 doubles to give San Diego yet another young, dangerous bat.

While Bohm also had a strong rookie season and finished with a solid 130 RV+, Cronenworth surpassed him with a 145 RV+ – good for 25th in the majors. The Padres infielder also ranked higher than Bohm in Disc+ and Contact+.

AL RELIEVER OF THE YEAR

The finalists: Alex Colome (White Sox), Brad Hand (Indians), Liam Hendriks (A’s)
Our pick: Matt Wisler, Twins

The three finalists are closers and while saves is the sexy stat for relievers, it doesn’t mean those with the most saves were the best firemen. Wisler didn’t have the saves or the huge punch-out numbers, but he dominated with a 1.07 ERA, .165 opponent batting average and 19 RV- over his 25 1/3 innings of work for the Twins.

In comparison, Hand finished with a 30 RV- but a well below average Whiff+ (77), Hendriks had a 45 RV- and Colome ended up with a 49.

NL RELIEVER OF THE YEAR

The finalists: Jeremy Jeffress (Cubs), Trevor Rosenthal (Padres), Devin Williams (Brewers)
Our pick: Williams

Behind a nasty changeup, the 26-year-old Williams emerged as not only one of the top rookies of 2020, but also one of the best relievers in the game. The right-hander allowed one earned run while striking out 53 over 27 innings, setting an MLB single-season record for relievers with a 53.0% strikeout rate.

Williams ended up with an RV- of 4 – easily the best in baseball among relievers who faced at least 100 batters. He was also third in the majors with a 146 Strike+ and seventh with a 169 Whiff+.

 

Data modeling and analysis provided by Lucas Haupt.

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