Jim Henneman On Baseball’s Award Season, The Blake Snell Decision And More

One way to get over the hangover from World Series Game 6 (I’m sure it’ll last even longer for Tampa Bay fans) is to preview baseball’s award season and throw in a few leftovers from what shall forever more be known as the Pandemic Season.

At least we know the voting will be official when announcements are made Nov. 9-12.

The Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year awards present interesting choices in both leagues. The winners will be announced Nov. 9. Seattle’s Kyle Lewis and Houston’s Cristian Javier both present strong cases, but from a distance I’ll make the argument for Luis Robert of the White Sox.

There’s an even more intriguing situation in the National League. If you are addicted to WAR (Wins Above Replacement) San Diego’s Jake Cronenworth is your man. Philadelphia’s Alec Bohn might identify as the best player, but Milwaukee’s Devin Williams was the most dominant. Still, despite 53 strikeouts a 0.33 ERA and a 4-1 record, Williams’ 27 innings is not a big enough body of work, so I’ll go with Cronenworth, an infielder.

Rays manager Kevin Cash will be a runaway winner when the American League’s Manager of the Year award is announced Nov. 10, but that won’t eliminate the stink of the decision to remove Blake Snell from that game mentioned above. Unfortunately Cash has to take the brunt of the blame for that disaster, but it would be nice if somebody in front office stepped up and admitted it really was a group decision.

Charlie Montoyo did a nice job with the Blue Jays, who also figure prominently for the future, and Rick Renteria deserved to be among the finalists, even though he was fired so the White Sox could hire Hall of Famer Tony La Russa. Renteria has heard that song before — he was fired by the Cubs, who opted for Joe Maddon when he opted out of Tampa Bay a half-dozen years ago.

In the National League, the San Diego Padres surge to contention makes Jayce Tingler an obvious candidate, but Don Mattingly deserves to be more than a sentimental choice. He gets the nod here for the job he did with the Miami Marlins, soon to become a power in the NL East.

The Cy Young Award in the American League is an open-and-shut case with Cleveland’s Shane (don’t call him Justin) Bieber a runaway winner. The biggest surprise here is that Gerrit Cole didn’t qualify as one of the top three finalists, with Minnesota’s Kenta Maeda and Toronto’s Hyun-Jin Ryu, both ex-Dodgers, filling out the ballot.

In the National League, the Mets’ Jacob deGrom was an early pick to win a third straight CYA, but his wheels got derailed late. That left the race wide open between Cincinnati’s Trevor Bauer and the Cubs’ Yu Darvish, who competed in the same division and had similar earned run averages (2.10 for Bauer, 2.13 for Darvish).

Despite the push toward sexier numbers that might favor Bauer, I’m of the belief that wins still matter. The fact that Darvish was 8-3 (and the Cubs 9-3) in his 12 starts is good enough for me.

I often have a problem with the Most Valuable Player awards, when Wins Above Replacement tends to dominate. But this year a case can be made for all six finalists, three in each league and, with one exception, there is little difference in the WAR numbers.

The exception is in the National League, where Mookie Betts’ 3.4 WAR (Baseball Reference) is significantly higher, especially during a 60-game season, over Freddie Freeman (2.9) and Manny Machado (2.7). Betts, who won one MVP in the American League (and should have won another) joined a Dodger team that arguably was the best in baseball and had the reigning NL MVP in Cody Bellinger.

My take here is that Betts is unquestionably the best player who deserves Frank Robinson-like props for getting the Dodgers over the hump, while Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. were almost identical candidates with the Padres — and Freeman was the MVP.

In the American League, for those who go that route, Chicago’s Jose Abreu and the Yankees’ DJ LeMahieu have identical WAR numbers (2.9), somewhat higher than the 2.2 posted by Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez. For me, the traditional numbers for Abreu (19 home runs, 60 runs batted) were more valuable for the White Sox than those of LeMahieu (.364/.421/.590) were for the Yankees. But I won’t argue that this could be a coin flip.

For what it’s worth, those are the opinions — and I’ll stick with them. Your opinions, of course, are always welcome (email below).

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On the subject of postseason awards, I do have a serious question. When it comes to Gold Glove awards, how in the name of Paul Blair can Jackie Bradley Jr. not even be among the three finalists among American League center fielders?

Managers and coaches used to be the only ones voting for these awards — and occasionally they got some justified criticism. There is a much more involved system now, with more sophisticated statistics playing a more significant role.

But no JBJ (or Kevin Keirmaier for that matter)? They might have to rethink that one.

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One of my first discoveries while researching Blake Snell after he was pulled from Game 6 of the World Series (it’s a long hangover, what else can I say?) was that some key aspects in his pitching line were identical one he had posted a few weeks before. In case you missed it, forgot it or are still trying to pretend it never happened, here are those numbers:

Innings pitched: 5.1
Hits allowed: 2
Runs/earned runs: 1/1
Batters faced: 18
Pitches thrown: 73

Those numbers are exactly the same as the ones Snell compiled at Camden Yards Sept. 17, when the Orioles’ lineup, for one game at least, got the same respect as the Dodgers. The stakes were a little higher six weeks later, but the strategy was the same — don’t let Snell face the lineup a third time.

One thing in this research led to another, so there’s more to come and it will make Snell something of a poster boy for starting pitchers who either can’t, don’t or aren’t allowed to last beyond six innings. Two notes of interest — in 108 regular-season starts, Snell has pitched into the eighth inning in five games and only 14 times has he faced a complete lineup for a third time.

There’s plenty more where that came from — but that’s for another time.

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When the Orioles picked up their $3.5 million option on shortstop Jose Iglesias’ contract, GM Mike Elias indicated it was a no-brainer, which it certainly should have been. But there had been enough speculation that it did make you think.

Which leads to even more speculation to the O’s pending arbitration cases. With the possible exception of Renato Nunez, whose lack of a defensive position hurts his value, there doesn’t appear to be any reason for the club to back off any player. There has been a lot of speculation that Hanser Alberto might be a non-tender, which would be surprising given his contributions on and off the field the last two years.

It would be fair to speculate about recently acquired Yolmer Sanchez. He is arbitration eligible even though he had to sign a minor-league contract with the Giants a year ago after winning a Gold Glove in 2019 with the White Sox. He’d probably agree to a below-arbitration-value deal.

One thing often overlooked in arbitration is that those contracts are not guaranteed, so teams have until spring training to make a decision or a trade — or pay the equivalent of a one-month buyout. Given those circumstances, the only reason for the O’s to decline arbitration would be to make room for minor-league players who needed to be protected from the Rule 5 draft.

Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com