Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Big Awards Post

Here are the second annual FJB awards for the best performances of the year by Washington Nationals.
  • MVP: Ryan Zimmerman (Runner Up: Josh Willingham)
Not even close. Zimmerman was the second-best hitter on the team and wasn't just the best third baseman in the league. He was the best non-catching fielder in the National League period. Phil Wood's article quoting a scout that Zimmerman is the top player in all of baseball (better than Pujols, Hanley, anyone) is just silly, but on the Nationals there's no debate.

My choice of Willingham might surprise some. Morgan has been getting mentioned as a team MVP, but I just can't give that to a guy who got here, immediately had the hottest hot streak of his career, and then get hurt. Dunn gets bonus points for moving around the diamond without complaint (wonder if Guzman noticed), but Willingham noses him out. Hammer slumped at the end, but for a couple months he was one of the best hitters in the National League, bar none. Also, he's become a below-average but not terrible fielder and handled right field as well as left. He and Dunn are close, but I'll give it to Willingham.
  • Silver Slugger: Adam Dunn (Runner up: Ryan Zimmerman)
This award for the best hitter on the team goes to Adam Dunn. No hitter better demonstrates why it's silly to focus on strikeouts when evaluating a players' outcomes. The goal of offense is to score runs, and the most important things hitters can do are a) avoid making outs (OBP) and b) keep advance runners (including themselves) around the bases (SLG). Pretty simple, right? Dunn's .397 OBP was 30 points better than any hitter not named Nick Johnson (.407). His .528 SLG barely edged Zimmerman's .522, and Willingham wasn't too far behind at .499. No one else was within 100 points.

Compared to the rest of the league's best, Dunn's still a notch below the true elites. He ranked 20th in wOBA in MLB. He's great if he's your second-best hitter, but he's not good enough to carry a contender.

Say what you want about Dunn's glove and the fact that he belongs in the AL (I sure do), but that doesn't change the fact that he was hands down the Nationals' best hitter in 2009.
  • Cy Young: John Lannan (Runner Up: Jordan Zimmermann)
Over the last two seasons, Lannan has thrown 388.1 innings with a 3.89 ERA. Only 21 other pitchers have done that, and the list is a who's who of the top starting pitchers in MLB. I still can't find a reason to think this is what we should expect from him going forward (lack of stick-to-it-iveness isn't my problem), but he's been far and away the most productive pitcher on the team for two years.

Zimmermann on the other hand was no less than the best pitcher to take the mound for Washington this year. His 23% strikeout rate and 7.4% walk rate are All-Star-worthy. He had some bad luck on balls in play (.339), strand rate (67.5%), and home run per flyball rate (12.2%) which made his ERA (4.63) look worse than his skill level. His injury could be devastating to the franchise, and could be nearly as consequential long-term as the Zimmerman and Strasburg signings.
  • Fireman of the Year: Tyler Clippard (Runner Up: Mike MacDougal)
Let's not kid ourselves. Clippard's the winner by default. I'm going to look closer at Clippard in a post in the next week, so I don't want to scoop myself. But we need to keep our expectations for Clippard in check. Still, was the best relief pitcher we had this year, throwing 60.1 innings with a 2.69 ERA, 9.99 Ks per 9, and a +0.92 WPA/LI (leverage independent win probability added). And of course he had the 0.92 ERA in 30 innings for Syracuse before getting the call.

MacDougal was basically terrible with 38 unintentional walks against 34 strikeouts. But, in the great tradition of Rocky Biddle, MacDougal reminds us that from time to time awful pitchers can rack up saves. He closed out 20 of 21, and lucky or not, we took it. I know it's the awards post, but still.

Jason Bergmann and Sean Burnett both deserve honorable mention for ranking #1 and #2 in all of baseball in percentage of inherited runners stranded, among pitchers that inherited at least 50 runners.
  • Most Improved Player: Ross Detwiler (Runner Up: Ian Desmond)
I'm only looking at players who appeared in a Nationals uniform this year. Detwiler, you may recall, had a 4.86 ERA and way too high 4.14 walks per 9 in 2008 pitching in high-A ball. This year, he started with a terrible spring training, but he battled and had a 2.80 K:BB rate through 27.1 innings in AA when Scott Olsen went down. Rizzo decided to give his young fomer top-pick a shot for one start, then another, then what became about six weeks in the rotation. Eventually, his ability to command only two pitches exposed him, and he went back to AAA to work on things. There, his K:BB rate remained over two, and when the team needed a starter for a few more turns in September, he was back. He was a bit lucky but came away with a 1.90 ERA in 5 games, 4 starts, and 23.1 innings.

Overall, Detwiler didn't miss nearly enough bats, striking out just 12.6% of batters faced. And his 42.7% groundball rate is just ok. He still has a ways to go to be a solid big league starter, much less justify his draft spot. But a year ago at this time he was looking like a potential total bust, and barring injury that now seems very unlikely.

Desmond is a similar story. Formerly a highly touted prospect, his stock fell as he failed to advance as expected and showed little ability to command the strike zone. This year, he finally took the next step. His OBP jumped from .318 in AA in 2008 to .401 across AA and AAA his year. And when he got the call in September, he blew everyone away with a .561 slugging percentage. Still, during his September call-up, his 5.7% walk rate was the more important metric, and his inability to avoid bad errors in the field raises flags. Like Detwiler, Desmond hasn't yet shown he can be a Major League contributor, but he's no longer a candidate to wash out completely.
  • Gold Glove: Ryan Zimmerman (Runner Up: Nyjer Morgan)
As noted above, Zimmerman may very well be the best fielder at any position in all of baseball. He's just dominant. The errors in the first half drew a lot of notice, but he saves so many runs with his range that he was a running away from the field regardless. Then the errors mostly went away in the second half, and he (if there's any sense at all) locked up the first of many gold gloves.

Morgan provided outstanding range and excellent instincts in his first chance to play every day in center. He could very well deserve his own gold glove next year.
  • Rookie of the Year: Jordan Zimmermann (Runner Up: Craig Stammen)
Zimmermann is the first impact arm the Nationals have developed since coming to DC. As I wrote in the Cy Young blurb, Zimmermann didn't disappoint in his rookie season. Pray that his elbow heals like Josh Johnson's, not Mike Hinckley's.

Stammen was hard to pass over for most improved. His 47.1% groundball rate and 2.02 walks per 9 should make him a solid back-end starter for a long time to come, if he can stay healthy.


Anonymous said...

You're quite right about Desmond's walk ratio, but it should be pointed out that his strikeout ratio (SO/PA) was 15.7%, which is not bad for a first big-league appearance. (Justin Maxwell's ratio, in contrast was 32%, and Cristian Guzman's, to compare middle infielders, was about 13%--in a full season to be sure). Desmond does need not to swing at so many pitches, but at least when he does he can usually make contact.

Elan said...

for my sanity, can we pretend that zimmermann is just on vacation for the next two years?

Sasskuash said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sasskuash said...


Don't worry he's on a missionary trip. He's saving starving and sick children in Africa, or South America, or South-East Asia. Heck, he might have time to visit all 3. There's no injury to worry about, he'll come back even greater than he was before, and he'll be a candidate for saint-hood at the same time! Then he'll lead the Nats to 13 consecutive World Series championships, and the world will rejoice him for eternity.

And everybody lived happily ever after. Except the Phillies and the Mets. The End.