Last year’s vote was, I thought, the toughest in the five years I’ve voted for this award. This year’s vote was challenging in other ways: The winner was clear, but spots two through 10 on the ballot were challenging.
Bryce Harper’s season was stellar. He led the majors in OBP, slugging, OPS and OPS+. His .330 average was behind only batting champ Dee Gordon’s .333. He hit 42 homers, tied for the NL lead with Nolan Arenado and behind only Chris Davis and Nelson Cruz in all of baseball.
In 654 plate appearances across 153 games, the 23-year-old Harper compiled a 195 OPS+, a statistic which weights a player’s on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) to account for the effect their ballpark has on their performance and the league in which they play. An OPS+ of 100 is league average. The only players with a higher OPS+ at age 23 or younger are Ted Williams and Ty Cobb. Only 23 other players of any age have ever compiled an OPS+ of 195 or higher since 1901.
Harper was worth 9.9 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) according to Baseball-Reference.com, tied with Zack Greinke for most in MLB. Fangraphs’ WAR calculation had Harper at 9.5. He added nearly 10 wins of value to the Nationals.
Here are the official criteria as set out by the Baseball Writers Association of America:
There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.
The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931:
1. Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.
2. Number of games played.
3. General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.
4. Former winners are eligible.
5. Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.
You are also urged to give serious consideration to all your selections, from 1 to 10. A 10th-place vote can influence the outcome of an election. You must fill in all 10 places on your ballot. Only regular-season performances are to be taken into consideration.
Keep in mind that all players are eligible for MVP, including pitchers and designated hitters.
1. Bryce Harper, Nationals
2. Joey Votto, Reds
Votto finished one point behind Harper in OBP at .459 and led MLB with 143 walks. His ability to get on base remains unparalleled, but he augmented that with 29 home runs. Votto hit .362 with a .535 OBP and .617 slugging percentage in the second half of the season, giving him a 1.152 OPS. His average, OBP and OPS after the All-Star break ranked first among qualified hitters, and since the first time there was an All-Star break, in 1933, only Barry Bonds and Ted Williams have posted higher second-half OBPs.
3. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
Goldschmidt was one of four players to go 20-20 this season (33 homers, 21 steals). He also hit .321/.435/.570. He and Votto were very close, and Votto’s edge in walks, OBP and strikeout rate made the difference.
4. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
McCutchen rebounded nicely from his slow start and finished with an OBP of more than .400 for the fourth year in a row. He hit at least 21 homers for the fifth consecutive season, but stole only 11 bases, hampered on and off by a sore left knee. McCutchen’s 14.3 percent walk rate ranked fifth in the NL, and three of the four players above him were Harper, Votto and Goldschmidt. McCutchen plays a premium defensive position – you can debate how well he plays it, but he plays it – so I listed him here ahead of Rizzo.
5. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
Rizzo had a great year: 31 homers, hit .278 with a .387 OBP, 5.5 WAR and a weighted on-base average (wOBA) of .384.
6. Buster Posey, Giants
The difference between Posey and Rizzo came down to how much you value Posey playing behind the plate, a premium up-the-middle position, versus first base; and how much you value Rizzo hitting 12 more homers, walking more and posting a higher OBP. I went with Rizzo, but it wasn’t by much.
7. Zack Greinke, Dodgers
I struggled with where to put these three. I have no problem with a pitcher winning the MVP – I voted for Kershaw last year – but there were several strong performances by position players. Greinke was a stud, finishing with a 1.66 ERA and 200 strikeouts in 2222/3 innings. He never pitched fewer than six innings; Arrieta did three times. While Arrieta had a record-setting second half, Greinke was masterful all season, keeping his ERA less than 2.00 the entire time. Greinke had a miniscule edge in hits allowed and opponent OBP, and Arrieta allowed 20 more stolen bases.
8. Jake Arrieta, Cubs
We’re splitting hairs here, and Arrieta was more than deserving. He had a 0.75 ERA in the second half, a record. MLB-low 5.9 hits per nine, 0.4 homers per nine. He had a 1.77 ERA, 236 strikeouts in 229 innings and was this year’s NL Cy Young award.
9. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
How can someone who led the majors in innings pitched and struck out 301 batters with a 2.13 ERA be ninth, and behind two other pitchers? Tough ballot. Kershaw, like Arrieta, pitched fewer than six innings three times. He also was not as consistent early in the season. But from May 26 on, he had a 1.39 ERA and 228 strikeouts in 1741/3 innings, very Kershaw-esque.
10. A.J. Pollock, Diamondbacks
I considered several players for this final spot: Jason Heyward, Kris Bryant, Nolan Arenado, Matt Carpenter, Matt Duffy, Dee Gordon, Brandon Crawford. In the end, I went with Pollock because of how well-rounded a player he is. He hit .315/.367/.498. He showed power – 20 homers. He had speed: 39 steals. He played defense: 14 Defensive Runs Saved at a premium position, center field, good for a Gold Glove.
It’s not exactly wind sprints yet, but good to see Jung Ho Kang back on his feet. The Pirates shortstop posted this video to Instagram last night of his early rehab. He had season-ending knee surgery in September after being injured by Chicago Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan’s takeout slide. The initial assessment was Kang would miss 6 to 8 months.
Gerrit Cole finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting Wednesday night. Cubs ace Jake Arrieta won, followed by Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. There was no right way to call this race, as any of those three were deserving.
Mark Melancon also received five fifth-place votes. Full voting breakdown is here. Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel won the AL Cy Young.
The MVP awards are announced Thursday. I had an MVP vote and will post my ballot, with explanation, here after the results are announced. The broadcast begins at 6 p.m. on MLB Network.
According to Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun, the Pirates and Orioles discussed a trade involving Neil Walker. This took place during the GM meetings. Walker is one of three 2017 free agents, in addition to Pedro Alvarez and Mark Melancon, that the Pirates are listening on. That term is a bit of a misnomer -- every team listens on every player; some conversations just go further than others. But the Pirates have motivation to move one or more of them to reduce the amount owed in arbitration.
Neal Huntington alluded to the possibility of moving each one when he went on KDKA-FM 93.7 the Fan morning show Wednesday. He said Walker’s return is not really tied to Jung Ho Kang’s recovery timetable; that they are exploring all options at first base, including Michael Morse as the everyday guy and also bringing in a full-time guy and making Morse a righty bench bat; and that they felt very good about Tony Watson closing.
What’s interesting about the Orioles’ interest in Walker is that they already have a second baseman: Jonathan Schoop, a 24-year-old who has not yet reached arbitration. Schoop hit at least 15 homers for the second consecutive year and had a .482 slugging percentage to go with a .279 average in 2015, but his staunch refusal to take a walk (23 in 817 career plate appearances compared to 203 strikeouts) gave him a .306 OBP in 2015. But the Orioles are losing Chris Davis in free agency, so it is possible they view Walker as an answer there.
Friday is the deadline for teams to protect minor leaguers from the Dec. 10 Rule 5 draft by adding them to their 40-man roster. The Rule 5 draft allows teams to add players to their active roster from other minor league organizations if they are not protected. It keeps teams from stashing players in their farm system. The catch is, the drafting team has to keep that player on their 25-man roster all season or offer him back.
If a player was 18 or younger on June 5 the year he signed his first professional contract, teams have five years to evaluate him before they must protect him. If he was 19 or older, they have four. So in general, with some exceptions, high schoolers drafted in 2011 and college players drafted in ’12 are eligible for this year’s Rule 5 draft.
The Rule 5 draft is named for the section of the Professional Baseball Agreement that governs it. It does not often produce impact players, but it has at times – Roberto Clemente, Josh Hamilton, Dan Uggla, Johan Santana, Jose Bautista and Joakim Soria were all Rule 5 guys. The Pirates also had a moment of infamy during the 2003 Rule 5 draft.
Here’s the actual rule:
Teams can select a player for $50,000, but they must keep him on the 25-man active roster or major league disabled list all year. If they don’t, they must put him on waivers and offer him back to his original club, if he clears, for $25,000. If the player does not spend 90 days on the active roster because he is on the DL, he must spend a portion of the following season on the active roster until he reaches 90 days of major league service time. The Pirates lost Wei-Chung Wang to the Brewers in last year’s Rule 5 draft, and he stuck: They used him sparingly until he reached 90 days and they put him on the DL because of a shoulder injury.
There are also minor league portions of the Rule 5 draft, a Class AA portion and a Class AA portion.
Players with positional versatility, speed and good defense are easier to keep on an active roster than, say, a corner infielder, so they are more likely to be selected.
The Pirates are at 34 on their 40-man roster. Here are some they might add.
Sure things: RHP Tyler Glasnow, 1B Josh Bell
3B Dan Gamache. Gamache reached Indianapolis this season and hit .312/.355/.413 between Altoona and Indy in 377 plate appearances. He’s not a power hitter, but he plays all over the infield. He had a strong season last year as well, but this was his best season since the South Atlantic League in 2012.
IF Max Moroff. Moroff was named the Pirates’ minor league player of the year this season, during which he hit .293/.374/.409 with seven homers in 612 plate appearances for Altoona.
OF Barrett Barnes. Shin, back, hamstring and oblique injuries have hampered the 2012 supplemental first-rounder, but he finally put together a full season in 2015 between Bradenton and Altoona. He hit .256/.352/.403 with nine homers and a 66/44 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
C Jacob Stallings. Stallings hit .275/.313/.370 in 292 PAs at Altoona this past season, but threw out 37 percent of base-runners, a career high.
OF Harold Ramirez. Baseball America just ranked Ramirez the Pirates’ No. 5 prospect after he tore up the Florida State League, hitting .337/.399/.458 and stealing 22 bases.
RHP Clay Holmes. He missed all of 2014 because of Tommy John surgery, but made nine starts this past season and had a 2.97 ERA between the rookie-level GCL Pirates and Bradenton.
RHP Luis Heredia. Heredia has not performed nearly as well as the Pirates hoped when they signed him in 2010. But he’s still young.
Best guess: Glasnow, Bell, Ramirez, Moroff, Barnes.
The Pirates could remove some people from their 40-man roster to make more room. Jaff Decker is a candidate, especially because of the addition of Keon Broxton. So is Pedro Florimon. They could also work out a trade, possibly with one of the arbitration big three – Pedro Alvarez, Mark Melancon and Neil Walker – although between now and Friday is a tight turnaround.
A note on how I compiled the list: Using the rosters listed on the Web sites of the Pirates’ minor league affiliates, I checked every player’s service time and signing/drafting date. I also trimmed last year’s list, compiled in the same fashion, to include only players still with the organization. I checked as best I could to make sure the players are still with the organization (rosters sometimes list players who haven’t played for the Pirates in affiliated ball for two years, for example). I also excluded the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and the Dominican Summer League teams because of the low number of eligible players and the lack of impact of those that are eligible. So this isn’t every single person who is eligible, but it should have everyone who matters.
Class AAA Indianapolis
RHP Tyler Glasnow
RHP Casey Sadler
RHP Brandon Cumpton
RHP Angel Sanchez
RHP Jake Thompson
1B Josh Bell
INF Kelson Brown
3B Dan Gamache
RHP Matt Benedict
Class AA Altoona
1B Stetson Allie
RHP Tyler Sample
OF Mel Rojas Jr.
RHP Jason Creasy
LHP Tom Harlan
RHP John Kuchno
RHP Jhondaniel Medina
LHP Josh Smith
C Jacob Stallings
IF Max Moroff
1B Jose Osuna
3B Eric Wood
OF Barrett Barnes
C/OF Jonathan Schwind
Class A Bradenton
LHP Rinku Singh
RHP Oderman Rocha
C Kawika Emsley-Pai
RHP Luis Heredia
RHP Clay Holmes
RHP Dovydas Neverauskas
LHP Andy Otamendi
RHP Isaac Sanchez
C Jin-De Jhang
3B Chris Diaz
1B Edwin Espinal
OF Harold Ramirez
Low-A West Virginia
LHP Jared Lakind
RHP Colten Brewer
RHP Jake Burnette
LHP Jesus Paredes
RHP Jose Regalado
RHP Julio Vivas
OF Elvis Escobar
Short-season West Virginia
C Deybi Garcia
LHP Cesilio Pimentel
3B Daniel Arribas
1B Carlos Munoz
OF Maximo Rivera
Pirates GM Neal Huntington joined the KDKA-FM 93.7 the Fan morning show today and touched on most of the Pirates’ pertinent offseason topics.
You can find the audio of his appearance here. (As I’m posting this, I don’t believe it has been uploaded yet, but that’s where it’ll be, and I’ll check back and add the specific link once I find it.)
Some quick takeaways: The Pirates feel Tony Watson can close if they decide to trade Melancon in his final year of arbitration before he becomes a free agent. ... They are not committed to putting Pedro Alvarez back at first base, nor are they committed to starting Michael Morse. ... Tyler Glasnow and Josh Bell will start the season in Class AAA. ... Their decision on Neil Walker is not necessarily tied to how quickly Jung Ho Kang is able to return.
Here is a transcript of the relevant portions of the interview:
Are the Pirates financially able to bring back Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and Mark Melancon?
We have the ability to bring all of those guys back if we decide that for 2016 and beyond that that’s our best club. The challenge becomes, how do we build around those guys and how do we supplement the rest of the club as we look to move forward.
What are the chances of Tyler Glasnow and Josh Bell joining the team out of spring training?
Our belief is the gap between triple-A and the major leagues continues to grow and has never been wider. In short stints, we saw some really good things from both of those guys in triple-A. Josh’s stint was longer. But we also saw reminders that they have extra work to and there’s refinement in their games. Josh, certainly, defensively, and in helping that power translate from pre-game to in-game. Glasnow, the consistency of the mechanics, which will lead to the consistency of the command and the development of a changeup, and the ability to throw the curveball for not only a put-away pitch but also a strike pitch so that he has more than one weapon when he’s equal or behind in the count at the major league level.
What’s the latest on Jung Ho Kang?
The latest update is he is doing everything in his power to get back as quickly as possible. The body needs time to heal, but this is a young man that’s hungry, that’s passionate, that’s bored, and wants to get back more active than his body’s allowing him to be right now. He is checking every box along the healing process. He’s begun early stages of partial weight-bearing. We look forward to the next step of full weight-bearing. We’re still a ways away from having a better feel for when he’ll be ready but at this point in time it’s gone as well as it could have hoped.
On Kang’s timetable as it relates to Walker…
They’re somewhat related but I think people have tied them more closely together than maybe we will tie them together. If we thought Kang would be back in August, it’s a completely different situation. With the fact that our hope is he’ll be back sometime early in the season, if not before, it’s not as interdependent as it may seem on the surface. We want to make sure we put as good a club on the field on opening day, and that we’re ready to get out and compete. We’ve not started well, and that’s one of the things we’ve talked about as a staff, is what can we do different, what can we adjust, to make sure we get off to better starts.
Is Pedro Alvarez your best first baseman moving forward?
It was certainly a harder transition than we anticipated it being, given that the year prior, the challenge at third was throwing. His feet and his hands worked as well as they’ve worked at any time he’s been a Pirate. We anticipated those feet and those hands would go to first base, and while it’s not an easy transition, we anticipated that like many he would go make the successful transition and it was much more challenging than we anticipated.
As we go forward, we’re still evaluating, will Pedro Alvarez be our best option at first base, given the dollars. And that’s the other part of all of these equations, as we did with [Joel] Hanrahan and as we’ve done with some other guys in the past. When you let a Russ Martin walk, it’s not just letting Russ Martin walk, it’s how do you back-fill and how do you reallocate those dollars. In Joel Hanrahan’s situation, it was trading Joel, but then reallocating those dollars onto the club.
Are you comfortable going into opening day with Michael Morse as the everyday first baseman?
We’re evaluating what is available on the trade market, what is available on the free-agent market, how do we best put this puzzle together. How does Pedro fit, how does Michael Morse fit, how do the total of nine arbitration-eligible guys whose salaries are increasing significantly, [Andrew] McCutchen, [Starling] Marte, those guys that are in guaranteed contracts, their salaries are increasing. How do we best fit? How do we put this puzzle together? There may be a scenario where Pedro and Mike Morse are at first base. There may be a scenario where we go get a left-handed complement to Mike Morse. There may be a scenario where we go with Mike Morse. There may be a scenario that we go get a regular first baseman and Mike Morse becomes a right-handed bat off the bench. It’s all part of the offseason process.
Did anybody not meet your expectations from last year?
I think the easy one is Pedro at first base. We anticipated some bounceback with the bat, obviously did a nice job with power. The first base was much more difficult than we anticipated.
(Huntington also mentioned the back end of the rotation, Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke.)
Are you optimistic about being able to re-sign J.A. Happ?
We would like to continue to have J.A. Happ be in a Pirates uniform. The work that he did, the man that he is, the upside that we still see despite a veteran pitcher. We would like to retain J.A. He has earned the ability to venture into free agency and listen to what the other clubs might have for him, and we’re doing the same thing. We’re walking down pathways with other pitchers that we feel are comparable, maybe a little better, maybe a little bit more of a reclamation project that will allow us to reallocate dollars elsewhere on the club. Our hope is to come to an agreement, but if he finds a better opportunity, we’ll do everything in our power to back-fill and move forward.
Do you have confidence that Tony Watson can close?
We do. And we do agree that the last three outs are different. We are not in the mindset of some in the game that anybody can close. We definitively do not believe that. At the same time, we’re fortunate in that we have a guy that we believe could step in, much like we believed Melancon could step in for [Jason] Grilli and Grilli could step in for Hanrahan.