What if postseason counted for awards?
The other day, I wrote a column outlining reasons why Corey Kluber was a slightly better choice for the American League Cy Young Award than Felix Hernandez. One of the primary reasons, I argued, was that Kluber had the statistically superior second half, when both pitchers were in the midst of a playoff chase. And with all else being fairly equal, I thought that should count for something.
One reader responded on Twitter that if the second half matters so much, why didn't Madison Bumgarner's dominant postseason give him the edge over Clayton Kershaw? And of course, this was a question posed by a person who didn't realize that the Baseball Writers' Association of America votes are cast at the end of the regular season.
But that question does bring up an interesting exercise: What if votes were cast at the end of October, not the beginning? The GIBBY Awards are an outlet for addressing this, since they allow voters to consider the postseason in their choices.
Looking back, there are multiple instances in which the postseason probably would have or could have changed the result of the major awards voting. I'm going to limit this exercise to the Wild Card era because of the added rounds, and I'm going to eliminate the Manager of the Year Awards completely, because the vast majority of the time, they probably would have just gone to the skippers of the two World Series clubs.
Here are 10 awards that might have looked different, had the postseason been in play:
1. Albert Belle over Mo Vaughn, 1995 AL MVP Award
There are debatable MVP Award choices, and then there are MVP Award choices that are so glaringly, obviously wrong that you can't help but laugh. Vaughn over Belle in 1995 is the latter (although something tells me Belle wasn't laughing). If the goal here was to find a slugger among sluggers on a playoff team (and that was -- and among some voters still is -- the No. 1 MVP Award premise), Belle (.317/.401/.690 slash line, 50 homers, 52 doubles, 126 RBIs) was clearly out in front of Vaughn (.300/.388/.575, 39 homers, 28 doubles, 126 RBIs).
So either the voters held a grudge against the surly Belle, or they put undue attention on Vaughn's 11 stolen bases to Belle's five.
Anyway, the postseason would have probably corrected this whiff. When the two met in the AL Division Series, Belle hit a massive homer against Vaughn's Red Sox and had his famous point-to-the-biceps moment, while Vaughn went 0-fer. The Indians reached the World Series for the first time in 41 years, thanks in large part to Belle's bat (which went deep three other times that postseason). It was -- or, rather, should have been -- his year.
2. Livan Hernandez over Scott Rolen, 1997 National League Rookie of the Year Award
Rolen was a unanimous selection, and for good reason. He had an .846 OPS, 21 homers and 92 RBIs in 156 games. A fantastic big league break-in.
But Hernandez was the one who finished second, by virtue of his 9-3 record and 3.18 ERA for a Marlins team that won the NL Wild Card (while Rolen's Phillies lost 94 games). And on the postseason stage, he made history, becoming just the third rookie in history to win a postseason series MVP Award and the first and still only rookie to do it twice (NL Championship Series and World Series).
Hernandez's overall 3.18 postseason ERA wasn't all that inspiring (though it was exactly in line with his regular-season showing), but he won two games in the NLCS (one in relief and one in a complete game against the Braves) and another pair in the World Series. After all that, he might have been Rookie of the Year. If nothing else, his October display probably would have made a Rolen win less than unanimous.
3. Derek Jeter over Ivan Rodriguez, 1999 AL MVP Award
It feels more than a bit ridiculous to suggest there is a situation in which Jeter did not get enough attention, but it is pretty surprising, in retrospect, that the stars never aligned for him to win an AL MVP Award. There are several years in which he had a particularly good case, including 1998 and 2006. But 1999 was his absolute best season, and the postseason probably would have sealed the deal.
In 1999, the voters were clearly torn on the AL MVP Award, as five players received multiple first-place votes. Jeter received just one, but we can look back now and see that he led all position players in WAR (Pedro Martinez led everybody in WAR and, in my opinion, should have been the MVP that year after a pitching season for the ages at a time when offense was in full flight). Jeter had a .349/.438/.552 slash line, 24 homers, 102 RBIs and 19 steals. He finished sixth overall in the voting.
Now, had the postseason been in play, it probably would've been a different story. Of the five guys who finished ahead of Jeter, only one -- Pedro -- was on a team that advanced out of the first round, and the Yankees won the only game Pedro started against them in the ALCS. Jeter hit .375 (18-for-48) that postseason, as the Yanks cruised to their third title in four seasons. If postseason performance were taken into account, Jeter could have claimed the only thing lacking in his ample trophy case -- the AL MVP Award.
4. Mike Piazza over Jeff Kent, 2000 NL MVP Award
Of the 32 first-place votes cast in this balloting, 28 went to a San Francisco Giant -- 22 for MVP winner Kent and six for Barry Bonds (that probably should have been flipped around, but whatever). Finishing third, with three first-place votes, was Piazza. His OPS (1.012) was a bit behind those of Kent (1.021) and Bonds (1.127), but -- as far as the numbers voters were likely leaning toward at the time -- he had more homers than Kent (38 to 33) and more RBIs and a higher batting average than Bonds (113 to 106 and .324 to .306). Not bad for a catcher.
Piazza's Mets dispatched of the Giants in the NLDS and eventually advanced to the Subway Series, where Piazza became the target of Roger Clemens' shattered-bat-flinging craziness. Piazza hit .302 (16-for-53) with four home runs and six doubles that October. He probably would have leap-frogged a couple Giants to claim the NL MVP Award.
5. Mark Prior over Eric Gagne, 2003 NL Cy Young Award
Anytime a reliever wins the major pitching prize, it's worthy of heightened scrutiny. Gagne, with 55 saves in 77 appearances and a 1.20 ERA beat out Jason Schmidt (17-5, 2.34 ERA in 29 starts) and Prior (18-6, 2.43 ERA in 30 starts) in the NL Cy Young Award voting. But both of those guys pitched for playoff teams, while Gagne didn't.
October would have changed things. Maybe Schmidt, who finished second, would have edged Gagne after his complete-game shutout of the Marlins in a NLDS his Giants would go on to lose. More likely, Prior's performance for the Cubs would have lifted him to the top instead of the third-place showing he'd be saddled with.
Prior was brilliant that postseason, throwing a complete-game victory against the Braves in which he allowed just a run on two hits and following that up with a strong seven-inning showing in a win over the Fish in Game 2 of the NLCS. We all know what happened next -- Prior's three-hit shutout of the Marlins in Game 6 coming undone with one out in the eighth, when the Steve Bartman incident unfolded. That probably would have earned Prior some sympathy votes in his Cy Young Award bid.
6. David Ortiz over Vladimir Guerrero, 2004 AL MVP Award
Maybe it would have been Ortiz. Or maybe it would have been Manny Ramirez. Whatever the case, there's no way the voters would have let one of the most captivating October runs in history pass by without a member of the Red Sox winning the AL MVP Award. Ortiz (.301/.380/.603 slash, 41 homers, 139 RBIs) and Ramirez (.308/.397/.613, 43 homers, 130 RBIs) already had a good MVP argument as it was, but they each earned just a single first-place vote, with Guerrero (.337/.391/.598, 39, 126) and Gary Sheffield (.290/.393/.534, 36, 121) above them.
If voters had a hard time justifying a first-place vote for either guy when they were both so valuable to Boston, that's understandable. In the postseason, though, Ortiz had a .400 average, five homers and 19 RBIs to Ramirez's .350 average, two homers and 11 RBIs, so I think the voters looking for a representative of the Red Sox would have sided with him.
To that point, Curt Schilling, who finished second in the AL Cy Young Award voting that year, probably would have cut into -- not overcome, but cut into -- Johan Santana's unanimous AL Cy Young Award showing.
7. Albert Pujols over Ryan Howard, 2006 NL MVP Award
This was the year of Justin Morneau's iffy AL win, but he performed well in the Twins' ALDS loss to the A's, so I don't think the postseason would have changed anything (though hopefully it would have raised the Tigers' Carlos Guillen up and out of the No. 10 spot). I do think, however, that the postseason would have addressed a potential wrong in the NL.
Howard won this award on the might of his 58 homers and 149 RBIs, plain and simple. Pujols, though, was superior in batting average (.331 to .313), OBP (.431 to .425) and SLG (.671 to .659). And in the postseason, Pujols tacked on another three homers and three doubles with 13 walks for a Cards team that won it all. I'm guessing that would have been enough to prompt people to rethink their vote (Pujols had 12 first-place votes to Howard's 20) and give Albert his second straight NL MVP Award.
8. Josh Beckett over CC Sabathia, 2007 AL Cy Young Award
I actually think two awards would have changed this year, with NLCS MVP Matt Holliday leap-frogging Jimmy Rollins in what was an ultra-close NL MVP Award vote (Rollins had 16 first-place votes to Holliday's 11).
But the AL Cy Young Award gets top billing here only as some sort of cosmic evening of scales after the Belle-Vaughn swap from '95. Sabathia (19-7, 3.21 ERA, 241 innings, 209 strikeouts, 1.141 WHIP) won the AL Cy Young Award over Beckett (20-7, 3.27 ERA, 200 2/3 innings, 194 strikeouts, 1.141 WHIP), a result that was hard to find fault with.
In the playoffs, however, Beckett was unreal -- 4-0 with just four runs allowed on 19 hits with 35 strikeouts and two walks in 30 innings. He bested Sabathia in Game 5 of the ALCS, which turned out to be the swing game in a Series that the Indians had led, 3-1. And Sabathia's 8.80 ERA in three postseason starts would not have helped his AL Cy Young Award cause.
9. Justin Verlander over David Price, 2012 AL Cy Young Award
As it was, a single first-place vote separated Verlander from Price. The argument for each guy (not all that unlike this year's AL Cy Young Award race) was compelling. Price had a slight edge in ERA (2.56 to 2.64), Verlander a big edge in innings (238 1/3 to 211).
One can only assume that Verlander's performance in the lead-up to the World Series would have/should have given him the final push. He allowed just two runs on 10 hits with five walks and 25 strikeouts over 24 1/3 innings in three starts in the ALDS and ALCS. He didn't fare nearly as well in the World Series sweep at the hands of the Giants, but still, on measure, Verlander had a good argument as the best pitcher in the AL in the 2012 calendar year, and he could have captured his second straight AL Cy Young Award.
10. Giancarlo Stanton over Kershaw, 2014 NL MVP Award
Kershaw had a historic regular season and a "meh" postseason. Madison Bumgarner, meanwhile, had an October for the ages. So a few things could have happened here: Bumgarner could have overtaken Kershaw for the NL Cy Young Award, Kershaw could have lost his top spot in the NL MVP Award voting or it could have stayed as is.
Of the three scenarios, the second strikes me as the most likely. But first, with regard to the NL Cy Young Award, this is the gist of the comparison the voters would have been looking at:
Kershaw: 29 games, 21-5, 2.13 ERA, 211 innings, .199 AVG against, 0.87 WHIP, 0.51 HR/9, 7.82 K/BB
Bumgarner: 40 games, 22-11, 2.60 ERA, 270 innings, .224 AVG against, 1.00 WHIP, 0.80 HR/9, 5.39 K/BB
Hard to say, really. I'm sure plenty of voters would be tempted to go with Bumgarner, what with the World Series dominance fresh in their minds and the innings total so far out in front. Kershaw definitely wouldn't be the unanimous choice he was, but I still think he'd get it on the might of his superior rate stats. If nothing else, Bumgarner would have leapt from fourth to at least the place or show column.
The NL MVP Award, meanwhile, would have probably shifted to a position player. The reason Kershaw won this NL MVP Award is basically because his numbers (1.77 ERA, 0.86 WHIP) were in another stratosphere and the Dodgers went 20-1 in his last 21 starts. A pitcher's performance has to be outlandish in order to win the MVP. Add the postseason showing, though, and Kershaw's numbers are still stellar but not historic, with his team knocked out in the NLDS, so I don't think the MVP argument for him would have been anywhere near as intense. I also don't think any position players in October did enough to push Stanton or Andrew McCutchen out of the top three.