The piece below is not endorsed by Bill James, writer and sabermetrician, or, for that matter, anyone else named Bill James. Mr. James did not contribute to this piece and I make no claim that it expresses his views.
It’s award season in MLB. Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers, MVPs … it’s a lot of fun, so let’s review some other, less official awards that should be recognized. Some of these were inspired by The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, while others are just off-the-wall trivia. After the jump, we’ll distribute:
* The George Grantham Award, for above-average performance in every offensive statistic.
* The other George Grantham Award, for errors at a key defensive position.
* The Joe Morgan Award. This honors the best percentage player in baseball, not idiocy in public statements.
* The Craig Biggio “little stats” award.
* The Ernie Lombardi Award, for great hitting despite slowness afoot. Measured as the difference between BA and BABIP.
* The other Ernie Lombardi Award, for worst GDP rate.
* The Ned Garvin Trophy, recognizing valorous performance by a pitcher on a bad team.
* The Ozzie Guillen Trophy for fewest walks per plate appearance.
GEORGE GRANTHAM AWARD
Bill James has written about this on several occasions … he searched for players who played a minimum number of games, played a key defensive position, and were above-average in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, doubles per at-bat, triples per at-bat, home runs per at-bat, runs per at-bat, RBI per at-bat, stolen bases per at-bat, walks per at-bat, and strikeouts per at-bat. The only two players in history who met such a standard were Willie Mays and George Grantham (or Jackie Robinson and Grantham, depending on where you set the minimum number of games).
I wondered if there was anyone in the Major Leagues this year who met that same standard, except that I used runs per plate appearance and walks per plate appearance instead of R/AB and BB/AB. Conveniently, there was exactly one player who qualified. The 2014 winner of the George Grantham Award is Anthony Rendon. Among 146 qualified batters, Rendon rated above average in every stat. I also looked at GDP/AB, SB%, and BABIP, and Rendon was better than average in all of those, as well.
If you don’t consider third base a “key defensive position”, then no one qualifies in every category. Andrew McCutchen, Mike Trout, and Hanley Ramirez come closest. Cutch and Trout had too many strikeouts, and Ramirez didn’t hit any triples. McCutchen may have been the most perfect offensive player in baseball this year. You don’t need this silly exercise to tell you that, since he led in wRC+, but McCutchen was above average in singles, doubles, triples, home runs, walks, runs, RBI, stolen bases, stolen base percentage, GIDP, BA, OBP, SLG, and BABIP. Rendon was a shade below average in singles per at-bat, but better about avoiding strikeouts.
THE OTHER GEORGE GRANTHAM AWARD
Grantham was a good hitter, but he was a notoriously bad fielder, nicknamed “Boots” because of his tendency to boot the ball. In about 850 games at second base, he was charged with 250 errors and compiled a .949 fielding percentage. He led NL second basemen in errors three times, and finished in the “top” four in four other years, including 1931, when he played only 51 games at second base but committed 23 errors, third-most in the league.
In 2014, no one had more errors than Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond. He actually rates as a fairly average fielding shortstop (and thus, as a defensive asset), but he made 24 errors and put up a .963 fielding percentage, so Desmond wins the bad George Grantham Award. While Grantham was certainly a poor fielder, this award does not necessarily reflect defensive value. It’s just about errors, or boots, as it were. Other contenders included Josh Donaldson (23, .952), Brandon Crawford (21, .967), Jose Reyes (19, .966), and Lonnie Chisenhall (18, .931).
BEST PERCENTAGE PLAYER
What began as Bill James’ quest for a sort of “baseball IQ” eventually identified Joe Morgan as the best “percentage player” in history. James’ formula was 30% fielding percentage, 30% stolen base percentage, 30% walk-to-strikeout ratio, and 10% walks per at-bat. It’s a rough system, but it produces intuitive results. James looked for the best percentage players in history, but who was the best in 2014?
HBT’s John Walsh did something like this in 2006, but he still looked at career numbers. I’m just looking at this one season, so there’s some small-sample noise and you shouldn’t draw any sweeping conclusions from the results. Neither Walsh nor I could tell how James scaled his results, and I will not pretend my methodology was rigorous, but the conclusion seems clear … the 2014 Joe Morgan Award goes to Michael Brantley.
Brantley’s fielding percentage this year was 1.000, his stolen base percentage was 95.8% (23 SB, 1 CS), he walked 0.93 times for every strikeout (52 BB, 56 SO), and he walked in 7.7% of his plate appearances. Other than the raw walk rate, those are all exceptional numbers (top-five in MLB). There are a dozen things wrong with fielding percentage, and I toyed with using something more sophisticated, but factors like speed and arm really shouldn’t play into this, so I stuck with FP. Other exceptional percentage players included Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche, Andrew McCutchen, and Coco Crisp.
The worst percentage players this season included Matt Dominguez and Torii Hunter, but the Dr. Strangeglove Award goes to White Sox outfielder Dayan Viciedo. Viciedo fielded just .965, he was 0/1 on stolen base attempts, and he walked only 32 times, compared to 122 strikeouts.
KING OF LITTLE STATS
In a comment on my article Is Nolan Ryan Overrated by FIP?, Jon L. called Ryan “the anti-late 90′s Craig Biggio.” I thought that was interesting, and I actually started to write up a piece about “Craig Biggio through the decades”, finding the master of little stats (like doubles, hit by pitch, and fewest GIDP) for the ’30s, ’70s, ’80s, etc. The project turned out to be impossible, because there’s no one who’s really comparable to Craig Biggio. For the 2000s, I came up with either Derek Jeter or David Eckstein.
But for a single season, we can find someone who really shined in underappreciated areas. I looked at GIDP, HBP, BB, SB, CS, SF, SH, 2B, and 3B to find this year’s Biggio, the King of Little Stats. The answer is clear, but sort of disappointing. The 2014 King of Little Stats is Mike Trout.
Consider that Trout:
* Got hit by 10 pitches, one of only 17 batters with double-digit plunks
* Grounded into only 6 double plays (14th-best rate among qualified batters)
* Walked 83 times (tied for 8th)
* Stole 16 bases at 89% efficiency
* Tied for third in sac flies (10)
* Hit 48 doubles and triples (fourth-most non-HR extra-base hits in MLB)
Basically, he’s in the top 20 for everything, the top 10 for most of it. It’s a reminder that even as some in the analytics community frown at the direction Trout’s game has gone, he continues to accrue value in stats that are ignored by most traditional media.
Brett Gardner and Starling Marte were the runners-up. If you don’t consider BB a little stat, you could go with Dee Gordon or Charlie Blackmon. Depending on how you weigh defensive value, Chase Utley could be ahead of Trout.
ERNIE LOMBARDI AWARD
I have always been fascinated by Ernie Lombardi. Many people have written eloquent and/or humorous stories about the man and his career, and I won’t re-hash them here. Something you probably know is that Lombardi was slow. There are dozens, probably hundreds, of stories about his slowness. He would hit apparent doubles and barely beat the throw to first. Bill James wrote that Lombardi was “surely the slowest player ever to play major league baseball well.”
And that’s what we’re looking for, this year’s slowest player to play major league baseball well. There are about half a dozen ways I thought of to measure this, but I decided on a simple formula: BA – BABIP. This favors home run hitters and players who don’t strike out a lot, but it also produces an answer that makes a lot of sense. This year’s Lombardi Award winner is Victor Martinez. He’s slow, he’s a great hitter, his score on the Lombardi Index is +.019.
The only other players with positive scores were Edwin Encarnacion, Albert Pujols, David Ortiz, and Brian McCann. I think this simple formula works. The Nick Punto Award (non-sliding category) this year goes to Chris Johnson, who hit .082 lower than his BABIP. Starling Marte was also .082 lower, but is ineligible due to his 132 wRC+. Therefore, B.J. Upton (-.078) is the runner-up.
THE OTHER ERNIE LOMBARDI AWARD
Lombardi grounded into the most double plays per at-bat of any player in major league history, by far. This year’s GDP/AB leader was Miami’s Casey McGehee, who inexplicably batted cleanup all season, before moving up the batting order to third in the final three weeks. McGehee led the majors in GDP (31) and comfortably beat Andrelton Simmons for the lead in GDP/AB (.050 to Simmons’ .046).
NED GARVIN TROPHY
Ned Garvin played from 1899-1904, plus two games in 1896. In just six seasons, Garvin compiled 18.9 fWAR and 19.0 RA9-WAR. He was a good pitcher. Garvin retired with a 2.72 ERA (79 ERA-) and a 57-97 record (.370). He pitched well, but on terrible teams.
There’s no overwhelming candidate for the Garvin Trophy this year, because so many pitchers got moved at the trade deadline, but we’re pleased to present this year’s Garvin Trophy to Nathan Eovaldi. He went 6-14, a Garvin-esque .300 winning percentage, despite his 3.37 FIP and 3.0 WAR.
GEORGE BRETT CITATION
Batting average has long been the holy grail of offensive stats. “He’s a .300 hitter.” Say no more, that’s all we need to know.
This is, of course, inadequate to judge the best players … but there’s an element of truth in it. Bill James noticed that batters will normally match their hit total in two other categories: secondary bases, and runs plus RBI. Secondary bases include walks, extra bases, and stolen bases minus caught stealing. When we talk about that .300 hitter, we’re assuming he has a secondary average close to .300, and that he scores or drives in about 1 run per hit. When that assumption holds, batting average delivers a fairly accurate picture of the player’s offensive production.
In the history of the game, George Brett — and this is from James’ book — “has the most balanced offensive skills–that is, he is the one who most nearly matches his hit total in the other two columns … Brett is the one player whose career hit total or batting average most accurately reflects his overall offensive contribution.”
Who was this year’s George Brett, the player whose hit total or batting average most accurately describes his offensive contribution? It was Dayán Viciedo. He ended the season with 121 hits, 122 secondary bases, and 123 runs scored or driven in. Unfortunately, this means that Viciedo’s .231 batting average is a really accurate representation of his performance. Other contenders for the the Brett Citation include Jason Castro (103 hits, 102 secondary bases, 99 runs + RBI), Matt Carpenter (162, 158, 158), Asdrubal Cabrera (133, 138, 135), and Marcell Ozuna (152, 148, 157).
On the other side, unbalanced offensive players, we find those who are better than their batting average implies, and those who are worse. The latter category is led by Ben Revere (184 hits, 87 secondary bases, 99 R+RBI), who had by far the largest difference in the majors this season. Other “worse than batting average” performers included Adeiny Hechavarria (148, 71, 87), Jose Altuve (225, 157, 144), and Derek Jeter (149, 76, 97). Let’s give Revere the Jesús Alou Demerit for being way worse than his .306 batting average implies.
On the other side, players who out-performed their BA, we find Chris Davis (88 H, 155 SecB, 137 R+RBI), Edwin Encarnación (128, 197, 173), Giancarlo Stanton (155, 250, 194), Chris Carter (115, 193, 156), and Mike Trout (173, 262, 226). Davis, who pounded 26 HR in only 88 hits, earns the Barry Bonds Distinction. Davis hit .196, but had a better wRC+ (94) than Revere (92).
And now some quick ones…
OZZIE GUILLEN TROPHY
No one walks less than Ben Revere. In 2014, Revere made 626 plate appearances yet walked only 13 times, once every 50 PA. Runner-up Adam Jones (19 BB, 682 PA) lags far behind Revere. The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract includes an Ozzie Guillén Trophy for each decade of organized baseball through the 1990s.
TRIS SPEAKER TROPHY
SAM CRAWFORD MEDAL
No one pays much attention to the annual triples leader, but this season it was Dee Gordon, 12. Four players tied for second, with 10 triples apiece.
ROGER MARIS DECORATION
In 1961, Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record and accrued 7.1 WAR, but he was not intentionally walked all season. This season’s Maris Decoration goes to a very worthy candidate, Carlos Gomez of the Brewers. Gomez earned 5.9 WAR, making him a top-10 position player, but he had zero intentional walks this season, despite a 132 wRC+. Gomez hit in the first and fourth spots in the order, in front of a shifting cast of teammates, so there’s no Mickey Mantle to blame.
JIM PALMER AWARD
This prize goes to the pitcher who most outperformed his FIP, the one with the biggest positive gap between fWAR and RA9-WAR. The winner this year is Johnny Cueto, whose ERA (2.25) was more than a run below his FIP (3.30), leading to an fWAR/RA9-WAR differential of 4.1 to 7.7. Other candidates included Cole Hamels and Doug Fister.
The opposite distinction, the Nolan Ryan Trophy, this year goes to the Twins’ Phil Hughes, who finished the season with 2.65 FIP but a 3.52 ERA. Hughes had 6.1 WAR but only 3.6 RA9-WAR. Hughes was by himself on this one, but in another year, David Price or Justin Verlander might have been a contender.
George Grantham Award — Anthony Rendon, WAS
Joe Morgan Award — Michael Brantley, CLE
King of Little Stats — Mike Trout, LAA
Ernie Lombardi Award — Víctor Martínez, DET
Ned Garvin Trophy — Nathan Eovaldi, MIA
George Brett Citation — Dayán Viciedo, CHW
Barry Bonds Distinction — Chris Davis, BAL
Ozzie Guillén Trophy — Ben Revere, PHI
Tris Speaker Trophy — Jonathan Lucroy, MIL
Sam Crawford Medal — Dee Gordon, LAD
Roger Maris Decoration — Carlos Gómez, MIL
Mulcahy Award — A.J. Burnett, PHI
Jim Palmer Award — Johnny Cueto, CIN
Nolan Ryan Trophy — Phil Hughes, MIN
Brad Oremland is a columnist for Sports Central, where he writes mostly about the NFL. He roots for baseball teams named after birds, except the Blue Jays.