Braves Awards & NL Award Predictions


As the Brewers seem ready snatch the Diamondbacks rattle in their house tonight and the Cardinals fans prepare to show Phillies what real hospitality is – just an opinion from visiting both home parks wearing my Braves –everyone is posting their annual award picks so, why shouldn’t I join the  crowd?

MVP means different things to different people of course. Even on a team with the league MVP  there are often other players selected as a local MVP because those closest see things besides numbers as being crucial to their season. Since I’m a fan that loves good stats I sometimes get confused and my picks may look that way. Okay then,  starting with the Braves awards, here are my choices.

I know this is going to sound like it directly contradicts my NL MVP choice to follow but, there is an unquestioned (in my mind anyway) winner this year.

Braves MVP  Freddie Freeman

Without Freeman at first base the Braves defense would not have rebounded from worst in the league last year to fourth this year. Almost every time that Alex Gonzalez made us cheer for a great play at shortstop, Freeman made a superb play at first base saving errors like those that cost us games last year. He gets to popups down the line well even though he’s no sprinter and his ability to stretch is now firmly entrenched in Atlanta baseball folklore.

I know his UZR is not good – in fact it’s ridiculously bad and bears no resemblance to the gold glove caliber play we witnessed all year. There are probably better first basemen out there – Joey Votto is superb, James Loney is smooth and Albert Pujols moves well for a big man. Freeman however is a fine fielder who will only get better.

Then there’s his bat. I posted this information last week but it’s worthy of a quick reprint here. As you can see, Freeman dominated the Braves almost every offensive category.

Stat Result Braves Rank Notes
BA .282 1st*
OBP .346 2nd McCann
SLG .448 4th Jones, McCann,Uggla
BAbip .339 1st
Hits 161 1st
TB 256 2nd Uggla
RBI 76 2nd Uggla
HR 21 3rd Uggla McCann
XBH 53 2nd Uggla,
OPS+ 118 4rd Uggla, Jones, Mccann
RC 87 1st
RC/G 5.4 3rd McCann, Jones

*While Michael Bourn finished with a .301 average and .356 on base, much of that was done prior to him joining the team. As a Brave Bourn hit .278.

As for Kimbrel, I have the feeling that Venters might have done a similar job in the 9th inning if he knew that was to be his role. As I wrote last week however, that job was always Kimbrel’s no matter what statements the Skipper made before the season.  With 10 less innings and only 3 outs to get Venters would have given us more heart palpitations but the same number of saves. Who would have filled out the 7th or 8th inning role I don’t know but our ability to replace him from within is one of the reasons I gave the team award to Freeman.

Braves pitcher of the year Tim Hudson

I know that Kimbrel set records but Tim Hudson was the horse. When Tommy Hanson hurt his shoulder and Jair Jurrjens‘ knee gave out, Hudson reclaimed his number one starter role and continued to prove he deserved it on the last day of the season with another outstanding performance. In 2011 100 pitchers started at least 2 games in the NL, Hudson’s final numbers looked like this.

W QS SO ERA FIP* K/9 H/9 HR/9 WHIP WAR fWAR
16 23 158 3.22 3.39 6.61 6.71 0.59 1.14 3.7 3.7
T8th T7th 24th 11th 17th 30th 10th 6th 7th 12th 14th

*FIP – Fielding Independent is essentially a pitcher’s ERA if he has the league average defense playing behind him making plays at the league average number of successes and failures. In Hudson’s case the league average defense is worse than the Braves put out this year so his FIP is higher than his ERA

Not bad at all for the 35 year old leader of our staff and a guy most predicted would be our third starter. As my dad once said, age and experience often performs better than youth and exuberance.

Braves Gold Glove – Alex Gonzalez

We all watched Gonzalez at short wishing he were as predictably superb at the plate as he was in the field. I searched for ways of quantifying that as I have for offensive statistics but there are none that a non-stat person can wrap their minds around easily and some that don’t quiet make sense to me as someone who watched 140+ games this year. So Gonzalez gets my Braves Gold Glove even if his UZR is – 0.3 runs while his defensive runs saved is +15. Oh well…. Now for the League Wide Awards.

NL – MVP – Matt Kemp, LA Dodgers; Runners up Ryan Braun, Lance Berkman:

I know, I know, Kemp is not on a championship team or even a team that got close. Sometimes – all the time really – it’s harder to be really outstanding on a mediocre team. Add to that the political upheaval in LA with owner Frank McCourt siphoning off money to but luxuries for his trophy wife turned alimony recipient and playing on the west coast  and you have a recipe for being ignored. No one should ever ignore Kemp’s 2011 season.

Kemp was durable – He played in 161 games; that was every game the Dodgers played this year making two years in a row he’s done that. It has no bearing on  my selection of Kemp however, since becoming a regular in 2008 he’s always played at least 155 games a year. Only Nick Markakis matches that accomplishment; actually going one game better at 638 to Kemp’s 637.

Kemp’s numbers for the year are impressive on their own. Comparing them to the rest of the league makes it clear the kind of force he was for the Dodgers.

R H HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG OPS+ BAbip TB RC WAR fWAR
115 195 39 126 40 324 .399 .586 171 .380 353 141 10 8.7
1st 2nd 1st 1st T2nd 3rd 4th 2nd 1st 1st 1st 1st 1sf 1st

WAR and fWAR= Wins Above Replacement. These are the same stat calculated in different ways that reflect the improvement a particular player give a team over a replacement player, usually considered a AAA or 4A player of average skills and low cost. For more information peek at the  Fangraphs’ glossary

To say Kemp had no protection in the Dodger lineup is understating things. The second highest home run total was less than half of Kemp’s; 16 by Rod Barajas. The man second in RBI was James Loney with 67 RBI, he had 12 homers. Andre Either had 62 RBI and 11 homers. Like I said, all by himself. Ryan Braun had Prince Fielder hitting behind him.

MY third place guy won’t get a vote nationally but the Cardinals would have been nowhere this year with out Lance Berkman. More on him later.

NL – Cy Young – Clayton Kershaw LA Dodgers; Runners up Roy Halladay, Ian Kennedy

At 23 years old Clayton Kershaw put up numbers that left no doubt he was the best pitcher in the National League and many would argue in baseball. The Dodgers won 82 games; Kershaw won 25.6% of them.

W QS CG SO ERA FIP K/9 H/9 HR/9 WHIP WAR fWAR
21 25 5 248 2.28 2.47 9.57 6.71 0.58 0.98 6.9 6.8
T1st 2nd 3rd 1sr 1st 2nd 2nd 1st 4th 1st 2nd 2nd

Kershaw was also third in the league behind Kemp and Braun in overall WAR (hitting + pitching) at 7.7.

Many will argue Halladay should have been first and he may well end up there when the BBWA awards are announced. I felt that when Halladay started a game he knew that Cliff Lee (who also has a good case for this award), Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt and Vance Worley were there the next day. The next closest Dodger to Kershaw was Hiroki Kuroda with 13 wins and a 3.07 ERA.

NL Rookie of the Year – Craig Kimbrel Atlanta Braves; Runners up Freddie Freeman, Vance Worley

I spelled out Kimbrel’s Rookie of the year credentials on September 30th so I would regurgitate them here. The day before I wrote about Freddie Freeman’s year so I’ll pass on that too. The Phillies Vance Worley would in most years have been in with a real chance. He went 11-3 with an ERA of 3.01, a WHIP of 1.230 and a WAR of 2.8 for the division champions. That isn’t chopped liver but in a year full of superb candidates it just wasn’t enough.

NL Comeback Player of the Year – Lance Berkman St Louis Cardinals

There isn’t anyone even close to Berkman for this selection. In 2010 the ‘Big Puma’ was plagued with knee injuries and only played in 85 games for Houston with a .245/.372/.436 line, 13 homers and 49 RBI. He was traded to the Yankees for their pennant run but hit only .255 in limited play mostly as a DH. Lots of folks wrote him off. That was a mistake. I’ve watched him carry the Astros for years and knew that he wouldn’t fade away without one more shot at it. The Cardinals gave him the shot and he did so well they just extended him for another year.

His .301/.415/.546 line is only the beginning of this year’s story. He played in 145 games when most said the Cards would be lucky to get 100 out his worn out legs. He hit 31 home runs, 23 doubles 2 triples, drove in 94 runs and played 110 games in right field, filled in for 20 games at first base when  Albert Pujols was injured and played 16 games in left when Holliday was absent through injury. There’s absolutely no way the Cardinals would have caught the Braves without him.  The Puma deserves recognition for this work and I’m happy to supply a tiny bit for him.

NL Manager of the Year – Kirk Gibson Arizona Diamondbacks; Runners up Ron Roenicke, Clint Hurdle

What’s there to say? He took a few strike out prone players, a couple of rookies, other teams castoffs and a couple of 4A players to the NL West Championship. When everyone predicted they would finish last.

Honorable mention to first year manager Roenicke who won the NL Central and would have won this award if not for Gibson. Roenicke however had has far more tools to work with than Gibby including three front line pitchers while the D’backs pieced it together with paperclips and bubblegum.

The new man at the reins of the Pirates in 2011 had a magnificent first half. It seemed however that once the Bucs lost on that horrible call in the never ending game, they fell apart. I guess Clint and his team tripped at the midpoint Hurdle. <Sorry but you know I can’t pass those up.>

Well, that’s what I think. If you agree, disagree or have something else you’d like to see covered. You may contact me through the site or on Twitter @fredeowens

Tags: Cy Young Award MVP Rookie Of The Year