The youngsters will pull up a chair. The fire will snap and hiss and cast the only light in the room. A tea kettle will whistle, mugs will be filled. And I'll spin the yarn of the bloody Trout-Cabrera wars. People skewered by their own slide rules, gasping strings of random numbers until the very end. Runs batted in used as blunt instruments. Ad hominem attacks in the middle of the night. Tweets volleyed back and forth, back and forth, an endless cacophony. Months of ceasefire, with the truce broken the very next season.
"WAR is hell," I'll tell them. "WAR is hell."
I'll chuckle, look up, and see they're ignoring me to play the damned video games beamed directly into their retinas. And I'll realize that my whole life has been a joke without a punchline, a 650,000-hour movie without a plot, a search for meaning that will never come. Was my job really to write about who should win baseball awards? Literally arguing about baseball awards on the Internet. I'll know that I wasted my entire existence. Everything will have been a cruel lie.
Until that day, though, down the hatch! Ha ha, love the empty calories of awards season. Can't get enough. Feels like I have another three thousand words on Trout/Cabrera in me. Can you believe those wacky voters? I would cast level 16 wRC+ to stun them, and then get to work with a detailed breakdown of why their numbers are dumber than my numbers.
Those were the days. Those were the arguments. It's time to preview the potential arguments for the major awards in either league. How violent will the debates be? Can anything compare with Trout/Cabrera?
There's a 24-year-old kid who's about to be the MVP runner-up or MVP in each of the last four seasons, and I swear to Trout, we're not appreciating this enough.
But the race is over. It's over with the statheads, and it's over with the traditionalists. Josh Donaldson has the edge on Mike Trout in just about every meaningful category. He's close to a full win up in FanGraphs' WAR, and even if they're close to tied in the park-adjusted hitting metrics, Donaldson has the edge in Win Probability Added, which is a fine tiebreaker. For the traditionalists, Donaldson is leading the league in RBI and playing for a team likely to make the postseason. That's a little like saying that 2 x 2 = 4 because x is just a + on its side, and everyone knows that 2 + 2 = 4, but at least they're getting the right answer. Be happy about that.
The award was a lot closer before Trout's wrist started nagging him. Close enough to start taking notes on my "The Blue Jays winning the division is actually the best MVP tiebreaker left" column, but Donaldson has pulled away. There's a lot that can happen in the next three weeks, but unless Donaldson goes 1-for-43 -- or the Angels surge back into a race behind an unspeakably hot Trout -- this is one of the dullest races around, even if the players involved are actually really, really close in value.
Potential argument rating on the Trout-Cabrera scale: 3 out of 10
AL Cy Young
Do: Present arguments for why someone like Sonny Gray, Chris Sale, or David Price has the edge on Dallas Keuchel, if ever so slightly.
Don't: Expect anyone but Keuchel to win. He's leading the league in wins, innings pitched, adjusted ERA, and is just a hundredth of a run away from the ERA lead. If you use fielding-independent stats, he's a tick behind Sale, but it's close enough to scare a majority of voters away from using FIP or FanGraphs' WAR as the one pure metric. Familiarity with the traditional stats will rule.
In a way, it's like the Trout/Cabrera wars. In another, more important way, it's like that argument, but for serious pedants. Picking an award winner based on a half-WAR's difference -- FanGraphs' version of WAR, but not Baseball-Reference's, mind you -- really isn't much better than guessing, or using a nebulous "Well, Keuchel had to pitch in a pennant race, so ..." kind of reasoning.
It's so close that people are going to default to the traditional stats, and I would rather eat a pine cone than read an impassioned 2,000-word argument about why Sale should win if these statistics hold. Unlike the MVP, though, a couple of disaster starts could really futz this all up. So for now, Keuchel is the frontrunner, but there still might be arguments out there by the end of the season.
Potential argument rating on the Trout-Cabrera scale: 6 out of 10
AL Rookie of the Year
Dammit, Francisco Lindor. This was supposed to be over weeks ago. Carlos Correa was the golden heir to the sun's mighty throne, and he was going to be a benevolent ruler for centuries. He had the award locked up. Miguel Sano came up and demolished everything in sight, too, but he was forced into a DH role, whereas Correa played a magnificent shortstop. The difference in value wasn't as close as it should have been. Correa laughed at the attempt to steal his award. Ha ha ha, he laughed.
Then Lindor came up and played an even better shortstop. If Correa is the reincarnation of Nomar Garciaparra, hopefully with better luck after turning 30, then Lindor is Omar Vizquel's best season without the 10-year wait to get there. As of Wednesday, they were tied in Baseball-Reference's WAR. As of Thursday, Lindor was .2 ahead. Which, again, means a little more than the different anagrams you can make from their names, but not much.
What it comes down to, then, is a preference of power to a preference of defense (and trust of defensive statistics). Their OBPs are almost identical. But Correa hits more dingers, and Lindor plays a slightly to moderately better defense.
Which means it's going to be a fracas. A sweet, sweet fracas. Correa will probably win, if only because people stopped paying attention to the Indians before Lindor's tear, but the arguments will be golden.
Potential argument rating on the Trout-Cabrera scale: 8 out of 10
You, there, opening your mouth about Yoenis Cespedes. Please, please don't.
Look, this whole article is predicated on the idea that arguments are good and fun. And they are. But please don't.
Cespedes has played 36 games with the Mets. He has hit well, but we're talking 36 games. Literally just over a month. The Mets are up by seven games. Cespedes is usually worth about seven wins every 350 games or so. The Mets are not up by seven games just because of Cespedes, and suggesting as much is an insult to Jacob deGrom, Curtis Granderson, and everyone else who has been working so hard this season.
Stop loading your narrative cannon. Those are illegal in 43 states now. You realize that Michael Conforto has been almost as good over the exact same number of games, right? Where's the talk about him for Rookie of the Year? Or, heck, where's the talk of Conforto for MVP? Seriously, he has fewer home runs, but he plays a better outfield. They're roughly even in value.
Bryce Harper has hit like Cespedes with the Mets, but with an extra 100 points of OBP. That's for the entire freaking season. Without him, the Nationals finish under .500 and stop contending in July. You don't think that's valuable? You think just because Stephen Strasburg imploded and Matt Harvey didn't, that should make Harper less valuable? Do you realize that he's having the best hitting season since Barry Bonds?
Of the 14 home runs Cespedes has hit, eight of them have come against the Phillies and Rockies. Come on, the Mets were going to win most of those games anyway. You couldn't put those teams together with a 50-man roster and come up with a .500 team, and you're saying that Cespedes beating those teams makes him the most valuable player in the National League? Like, literally the most valuable? Means more to his team over 36 games than any other player over the last 120? Is this the first season you've watched baseball? Do you remember when people were making this exact same argument for Shannon Stewart? You're aware of how ridiculous that MVP would look with the benefit of history, right? Do you even know who Shannon Stewart is? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?
man, i'm all flush and my hands are shaking this is awful
Okay, this argument's a keeper, even though the Yoenites are a tiny, noisy majority right now. He is the Green Party candidate in this election. That doesn't mean I can't yell at the damned hippies.
Potential argument rating on the Trout-Cabrera scale (merit): 1 out of 10
Potential argument rating on the Trout-Cabrera scale (actual): 10 out of 10
NL Cy Young
Another doozy, except this one is blunted by the main contenders being on the same team. I've followed a race like this, with Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds in 2000. And instead of worrying or arguing about who would win, I just laughed and laughed and laughed that the Giants had two candidates running away with the award. It's really a lot of fun.
Zack Greinke could be just the fourth pitcher since 2000 to finish with an ERA under 2.00 in more than 200 innings. There's a precedent for pitchers with an ERA under 2.00 to miss the Cy Young (Roger Clemens in 2005), but usually the pitcher has to get completely jobbed because of pitcher's wins, and voters are a little smarter than that now.
Except, Clayton Kershaw could be just the sixth pitcher in 50 years to finish with an FIP under 2.00 in more than 200 innings. We're talking Pedro Martinez in 1999, Dwight Gooden in 1984, Tom Seaver in 1971, Bob Gibson in 1968, and Sandy Koufax in 1965. Those are all absolutely legendary seasons, the unqualified best in baseball history. Kershaw is up there with them. When it comes to missing bats, limiting free passes, and keeping the ball in the park, Kershaw has been about as good as anyone in baseball history.
But he has just 13 wins with just three or four more starts to go.
And don't forget about Greinke's ERA.
Yeah, this one could be a minor, Trout-Cabrera-type skirmish. The statheads will get to use their fancy stats. The old-schoolers will use the ditto machine to distribute propaganda. But it won't have the same vitriol, considering that they're teammates. Unlike the other awards, this one's impossible to handicap just yet. Those last three or four starts will clear everything up.
Potential argument rating on the Trout-Cabrera scale: 8 out of 10
NL Rookie of the Year
Kris Bryant is running away with the award, though it's close enough that a silly hot streak or slump over the next three weeks could change that. Jung Ho Kang has been the acquisition of the year. Matt Duffy has been frighteningly consistent and a marvel in the field -- a Gold Glover in a Nolan Arenado-less world -- and I still think it's too easy to forget that he plays in the vast acreage of AT&T Park. But Bryant has the numbers and the popular support.
Potential argument rating on the Trout-Cabrera scale: 2 out of 10
So if you're ranking them, from "most intense arguments" to "most boring arguments", you have ...
- NL MVP (lol)
- NL Cy Young
- AL Rookie of the Year
- AL Cy Young
- NL Rookie of the Year
- AL MVP
The NL MVP has the most Trout-Cabrera potential, but it will take sustained silliness to get there. I mean, I get that the argument for Trout was an argument for defense and baserunning, but at least Cabrera won the freaking Triple Crown. Cespedes has played with his team for five weeks, you weirdos.
look i'm shaking again, this is going to be fun