NL MVP Race 2019: Cody Bellinger

By: Tim Sever

The Los Angeles Dodgers put together another astounding season in 2019, capturing their seventh straight National League West division title, while ultimately falling short in the playoffs. With a combination of young potential and veteran leadership, Los Angeles is one of the best-positioned teams in the Major Leagues to contend for titles in the future. No player better exemplifies this promising present and future than star outfielder Cody Bellinger. He has been nothing short of stellar thus far into his career, and if this year is any indication, he will be a premier player in this league for a long time. Continue reading “NL MVP Race 2019: Cody Bellinger”

NL MVP Race 2019: Christian Yelich

By: Romeo Wada

Since being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers, Christian Yelich has emerged from being a consistent hitter to being one of baseball’s top stars.  Coming off a historical career year in 2018, Yelich picked up right where he left off, putting together another remarkable season. Despite a September 10th injury sidelining him for the end of the season, Yelich has still put together a strong case for another MVP award.

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NL MVP Race 2019: Anthony Rendon

By: Kathleen Boyce

For the majority of the season, the NL MVP race has been between Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger. On July 8th, MLB released a commercial called “Belli vs. Yeli: A game of M-V-P (Cody Bellinger vs. Christian Yelich!)” with the two players playing a game of PIG, but with letters M,V, and P. However, while the MLB made the NL MVP race out to be a two-horse race, another player put together an MVP caliber season and catapulted himself into the discussion.

Anthony Rendon used to fly under the radar when it came to the recognition of his talent, but his impressive statistics and World Series win has changed this and he is now regarded as one of the best hitters in baseball. He helped pull the Nationals out of a huge regular-season hole and through the playoffs with a dominant season at the plate and in the field, and he deserves to take home the NL MVP award. Continue reading “NL MVP Race 2019: Anthony Rendon”

AL Cy Young Race 2019: Charlie Morton

By: Charlie Silkin

Coming off a World Series title and 2 ALCS appearances with the Astros, Charlie Morton took his talents to Tropicana Field, signing a 2 yr./$30M deal with the Tampa Bay Rays during the 2019 offseason. Given the fact that the Rays were on a tight budget and had to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox in the division, they needed a difference-maker, and Morton was the pitcher of choice.

Besides the Rays’ unusual splurging, there were 2 other reasons why this move could be considered a surprise: First of all, Charlie Morton was 35 years old when he signed and with the recent exceptions of Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, pitchers tend to be less effective as Father Time takes its hold. Secondly, prior to his two-year tenure with the Houston Astros, Charlie Morton had only one season (2013) where he was an above-average pitcher, and then again, he was barely above-average with a 109 ERA+ (he was only 9% better than the average pitcher).

Nevertheless, Morton did experience a resurgence when he signed with the Houston Astros prior to the 2017 season, which is no surprise considering Houston is one of the best teams at analytically improving starting pitchers. Of course, Tampa Bay is a heavily analytically-driven club as well, so one could argue that Morton was put in a good position to succeed despite leaving the Astros.

As for the question of “Why Morton?”, under-the-radar, Morton is actually one of the most clutch pitchers in baseball. Prior to the 2019 season, Morton was 2-0 in playoff elimination games, with wins in Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS and Game 7 of the 2017 World Series. His clutch ways would continue throughout the 2019 season, as he was 5th in the AL in Win-Probability Added (WPA) and 3rd in the AL in +WPA1; it’s no wonder he was selected to start the AL Wild Card game for the Rays (which he would also win). Needing someone to get them over the hump, the Rays chose Morton, and it’s safe to say that their investment paid off greatly, as he was one of the best and most valuable starting pitchers in all of MLB this past season and as a result, he should be considered as the top candidate for the AL Cy Young award this season.

Even after being effective for the Astros, Morton had a breakout year with the Rays. He ranked in the top 10 in the American League in most statistical categories among qualified starters. He ranked 3rd in ERA (3.08), 4th in fWAR (6.1), 4th in xFIP (3.28), 5th in K/9 (11.1), and 5th in ground ball rate (48.2 %). He even ranked 2nd in FIP (2.81) – ahead of Justin Verlander’s 3.27! Shocking, right? Well not really. Justin Verlander is still one of the best pitchers in the game, yes, and he still has elite stuff to prove it, but he had one major flaw: home runs. His 36 home runs allowed were the second-most in the American League this season, but he still had an ERA below 3. Why? Only one of his home runs allowed was with more than one baserunner. 28 of his 36 home runs allowed were solo shots, the result of allowing a .218 BABIP against him and stranding almost 90% of his baserunners. In the playoffs, we saw what happened when Justin Verlander did not effectively prevent baserunners and did not leave them hanging on the bases. In Game 2 of the ALCS against the Yankees, Verlander allowed a 2-run home run to Aaron Judge that would have won the game for the Yankees had Adam Ottavino not imploded. In Game 5 of the ALCS as well, Verlander allowed a 3-run home run to Aaron Hicks and that was all the Yankees would need to win the game. There’s no question that Verlander is very valuable to his team and he has the 6.4 fWAR to prove it, but his 2.58 ERA vs a 3.27 FIP suggests that his performance was in spite of being home-run prone and that his stats paint a better picture of his performance than what it probably should have been. Morton wasn’t as fortunate in keeping people off the bases, with a LOB% of 75.3% and a .298 BABIP, but he was the only one of the Cy Young contenders with a higher ERA than FIP, suggesting he was likely a bit unlucky throughout the season.

Cole, on the other hand, needs no introduction. His ERA (2.50), ERA+ (189), and FIP (2.64) all led the American League, and he had the most strikeouts (326) and highest K/9 (13.8) in all of baseball. There’s no question that Gerrit Cole was one of the best pitchers in baseball this season, but was it because of an easy schedule? Of course, the Astros didn’t choose their schedule, Gerrit Cole was a dominant pitcher during the season, and his stuff showed as much, but it has to be worth noting that only 12 of his 33 starts were against a team who finished the season with a record of .500 or better. It’s no wonder why his stat line looks so attractive—one-third of his starts were against the Angels, Rangers, and Mariners. Great job beating up the bottom-feeders of the American League, Gerrit. In all seriousness though, Cole mostly did well at preventing runs against the good teams with a 2.05 ERA, but really, only 12 starts? The best team Cole can say he faced in the regular season was the injury-plagued Yankees—in April. Morton, on the other hand, made 18 of his 33 starts against teams with a winning record, and while pitching through a tougher schedule successfully does not deem a pitcher “better”, it can’t be ignored that Morton had to go through much more adversity than Gerrit Cole to put up high-level numbers this past season. Not only did Cole face mostly soft opponents, but when the ball was in the air, like Verlander, Cole got into trouble. Cole finished the season with the 2nd-highest HR/FB rate in the AL (16.9%), meaning that almost 17% of Cole’s fly balls went into the seats. In addition, Cole had a mere 40.3 ground-ball %, tied for the 8th lowest in the AL. With that distribution, Cole is probably counting his blessings that his run prevention statistics weren’t worse as well. When hitters did manage to make contact against Cole, they got plenty of opportunities to do damage, but given their mostly lack of talent, there was barely any offense to be generated.

When determining who deserves the distinction of being the “best” pitcher in the league, should the title go to a pitcher who got lucky, one who coasted his way through the season, or the pitcher, who, despite not having the shiniest stat line, could be counted on in the biggest moments and would always come through when his team needed him? That was Charlie Morton. When the Rays needed a difference-maker in the rotation, Charlie Morton stepped up. When the rest of the Rays rotation was injured in August, it was Morton who provided length and stability every 5th day in order to give his team’s bullpen a much-needed reprieve. In the shadow of Justin Verlander and Cole, Morton tossed the best season of his career and as a result of his contributions, the Rays, the team which spent the least amount of money on its roster, were able to fight their way into the playoffs.

AL Cy Young Race 2019: Justin Verlander

By: Alexander Eustace

With the World Series in full swing, and featuring several star-studded pitching matchups, it seems fitting to reflect on the league’s best pitchers throughout the regular season. The AL Cy Young race, in particular, features Astros teammates Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole on top, with Rays right-hander Charlie Morton trailing right behind them. Given the dominance of both Verlander and Cole, it may not be fair to call either one the “unquestioned leader” of Houston’s staff. However, as evidenced by both traditional and modern statistics, Verlander has a stronger case to collect his 2nd career Cy Young Award and his first since 2011. Continue reading “AL Cy Young Race 2019: Justin Verlander”

AL Cy Young Race 2019: Gerrit Cole

By: Jordan Denish

In one of the closest Cy Young Award races in the past decade, teammates Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander are producing two of the most dominant seasons by a starting pitcher ever. Cole leads the American League in ERA, strikeouts, and FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching, which is a measure that computes a pitcher’s expected ERA given their walks, strikeouts, and home runs given up) while Verlander leads the American League in wins, WHIP, and strikeout-to-walk ratio. In the year of the home run, the performance of each of these pitchers has been remarkable. 

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Future Star or Future Benchwarmer? Why Top Prospects are Traded in the MLB

By: David Miron

Reading Time: 5 minutes

On December 6th, 2016, the Boston Red Sox traded Yoan Moncada, the number three overall MLB prospect, as well as a package of other prospects to the Chicago White Sox for Chris Sale.[1]The very next day, the Washington Nationals traded for Adam Eaton, giving up a bundle that included the number five overall prospect, Lucas Giolito.[2]In each of these trades, a player with seemingly endless potential, a player highly regarded by the Baseball America prospect rankings, changed hands. Thus, the first thing that comes to mind is why? Was the return great enough? Was there internal conflict? Did the trade fill a hole in the depth chart? These blockbuster moves merit an analysis of their underlying motivations through which we can hopefully answer some key questions, the most important of which being why is it that a team would trade a player regarded by many to be the future of their franchise?

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What’s the Number?

By: Ryan Thoms

Reading Time: 5 minutes

After one of the most peculiar and slow progressing Major League Baseball free agency periods in recent memory, the free agent class of 2018 is set to be stacked, especially with one of baseball’s most dynamic players, Bryce Harper, set to hit the open market for the first time. After Harper’s monstrous 2015, which saw him win the NL MVP, he dropped off significantly in 2016. Despite his 2017 freak injury in the season’s final months, Harper was able to bounce back nicely in every statistical category. However, 2018 was a mixed bag for Harper as he struggled with consistency and had trouble reaching his full potential with the bat.  Below is a table of Harper’s four most recent seasons and his career accolades:

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2018 NL Cy Young Race: Aaron Nola

By: Robb Dehney

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Phillies fans entered the 2018 season with largely the same expectations as those of any fanbase suffering through a rebuild. Following a102-win campaign in 2011, the Phillies had descendedinto irrelevancy, bottoming out in 2015 with 63 wins and 99 losses. That year, they also traded long-time ace and 2008 World Series hero Cole Hamels to the Texas Rangers. The future faced by the franchise could only be described as bleak, yet in reality, the seeds of future success had been sown. Though Hamels was gone, a then 22-year-old rookie hurler by the name of Aaron Nola would soon take his place. Little did the team know that its 2014 first round pick would go on to become an upper echelon starter, a stopper, a staff ace, and a Cy Young worthy pitcher.

Thus far in the season, the club has far exceeded expectations, though it has struggled recently. The Braves maintain what has become a significant edge for the division lead, but both clubs are far ahead of schedule in what was expected to be a pair of arduous rebuilds with the Phillies in contention until recently. It is in this context that we witness the rise of the next great National League pitcher. In recent years, Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer have cast Cy Young size shadows over the league, combining for five of the last seven awards for the Senior Circuit’s top pitcher (Scherzer also won the American League Cy Young award in 2013). The status quo has been challenged this year with newcomers who have inserted themselves into the Cy Young conversation.

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NL MVP Race – Paul Goldschmidt

By Ryan French

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Paul Goldschmidt, a household name only in the greater Phoenix region, is a true anomaly in the baseball world. How can a Major League Baseball player slashing .299/.399/.532 for his career be left relatively unknown? East coast bias? Teammates overshadowing him? The answer: The Diamondbacks haven’t been relevant in a long time. As we will explore in this article, the only knock against Goldschmidt is his lack of publicity.

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