Covering the Bases: Offseason edition

AllenFIRST: Awards season is also, inevitably, debate season. Especially since the BBWAA began disclosing the ballots of its voters, extreme scrutiny has come into play.

One of the voters of the Cleveland chapter, Chris Assenheimer of the Chronicle-Telegram, took some heat for the ballot he turned in for the American League’s Rookie of the Year Award. His top three: 1. Dan Straily, 2. Chris Archer, 3. Cody Allen.

Assenheimer, a friend and fellow Tribe scribe, took some flak for his picks, mostly due to the fact that he was the lone voter to leave Wil Myers (the AL RoY winner) off his ballot. My hope, however, is that people were not scoffing at the idea of Allen being in the top three (the Indians reliever finished sixth).

I wrote in this space a few posts back that Allen would’ve been my top pick for Rookie of the Year. The New York Times’ September awards preview story also chose the young righty as the league’s top rook. Allen’s role as a reliever (and not a closer), created an uphill battle for recognition, though.

This season, no AL rookies had enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title or enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. Myers only had 335 at-bats, so I can understand Assenheimer putting more of a premium on starting pitching, considering Straily (152.1 IP) and Archer (128.2 IP) were rotation staples for much of the year for postseason teams.

The thin field, in terms of total playing time, could have (should have?) warranted more consideration for Allen, who set a franchise record for appearances (77) for a rookie. In fact, Allen logged the second-most games for a pitcher in team history, and his 88 strikeouts were the most for a Tribe reliever since Paul Shuey had 103 in 1999. It is also worth noting that Allen became a stabilizing aspect to a bullpen that endured and overcame the struggles of setup man Vinnie Pestano and former closer Chris Perez.

If you break down the AL rookie pitchers down to the group that had at least 60 innings (or 15 or more starts), you’ll find that Allen led the way in ERA+ (155), strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.38), pitching runs (10.43), strikeouts per nine innings (11.26) and ERA (2.38). Allen ranked fourth in WAR (1.4), behind Archer (2.2), Yoervis Medina (1.9) and Martin Perez (1.6). Allen ranked third among AL rookie pitchers (starters and relievers) in strikeouts behind Straily (124) and Archer (101).

I get the argument for Myers. He had a strong season: .293/.354/.478, and his traditional numbers would project to 23 homers, 41 doubles and 94 RBIs in a 600 at-bat sample. His OPS+ of 132 also topped AL rookie hitters. Was he the WAR leader among AL rookies? No, that was David Lough at 2.7. Myers actually comes in third at 2.0 (tied with Seattle’s Brad Miller).

In a down year for the American League rookie class, Myers was a perfectly acceptable choice as the top performer. Allen would’ve been a fine pick as well. Certainly, leaving one or both of those players off the ballot would also be fine given the proper argument. One voter might value 125 innings more than 350 at-bats.

SECOND: Assenheimer had nothing on Asuka Iinuma Brown of the Jiji Press (Seattle chapter). Brown left both Indians manager Terry Francona and Red Sox manager John Farrell off the ballot for the American League Manager of the Year. Yikes.

Francona took home the AL honor in light of Cleveland’s incredible comeback showing in 2013.

After sitting through the MLB Network special that announced the award, Francona joked that he felt like he was on an episode of the “Dating Game.” Tito also had another classic quip after being asked if he planned on celebrating the win.

“Well, I have a load of laundry in,” Francona said with a chuckle. “No, I have nothing planned. I’m not going to celebrate. I think the way I celebrated it was the whole year. I got to live it. That means a lot more to me than a trophy or a plaque.”

Indians infielder Mike Aviles, who has played for Francona in both Boston and Cleveland, had this to say about the manager:

“Just look at what he did with the bench. The starters are going to be the starters. They’re going to go out and play, and they’re going to put up their numbers. But the way Tito utilized the bench, utilized the bullpen, even the Minor Leagues with guys coming up and down, the way he utilized everybody, those are the things that people don’t understand and don’t get to see. They just see, ‘Oh, we won.’ Or, ‘Oh, we lost.’ They don’t see what goes into.

“Being around Tito for a couple years, I’ve seen how the guy prepares. The guy prepares more than anybody I know. He’ll have a lineup ready two or three days in advance. He has options in his head already about what would happen, if this happens. When a manager does things like that, it shows you that he’s ready to win a ballgame. When you know you have a manager that prepares so hard to win that ballgame, how could you not do the same?”

Giambi also took some time to discuss Francona’s first season with the Indians:

“He definitely deserves [the award]. When you look across the board, John Farrell did an incredible job, don’t get me wrong. But, let’s be honest, Boston is a Ferrari. They’re always going to walk in and put the best guys out there. It’s like being with the Yankees. To handle all the guys and the egos and the city, there is a lot that goes with it. But what Tito did in Cleveland, from where he took over from the past, it’s unbelievable. What a turn in just one year that he had. Basically, he took a dozen brand-new guys on the team and turned it into a winner.”

THIRD: The AL Most Valuable Player Award was won once again by Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, who beat Angels outfielder Mike Trout for the honor for the second straight year. Once again, the cry from the naysayers was that narrative defeated analysis. Considering the voters are also professional storytellers, falling victim to the narrative tends to happen from time to time.

I wrote here few posts ago that my pick would’ve been Cabrera and, in looking at the numbers in the time since then, I began thinking Trout was actually the correct pick after all. The data clearly says that Trout is the better all-around player. Oh well. Let’s be honest, both players are deserving of the MVP trophy.

For those scoring at home, Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis and catcher/first baseman Carlos Santana finished 11th and 16th, respectively, in AL MVP balloting. Kipnis had 31 points, and received one fifth-place vote. Santana had one eighth-place vote.

MVPsThere were some strange ballots within the voting, though. One, for example, had Trout ranked seventh. Castrovince texted me and said, “Even Hayden could vote Trout seventh,” referring to my 4-year-old son.

And an experiment was born.

I quickly printed out the head shots of the top 10 vote-getters for the AL MVP, mixed them up and handed them to my son. I instructed him to put the baseball players in any order he wanted. Before he did so, he asked me to tell him their names and the teams (some he already recognized by the hats).

My son’s MVP ballot was: Josh Donaldson, followed by Manny Machado, Chris Davis, Adrian Beltre, Robinson Cano, Cabrera, Trout, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Evan Longoria.

Why Donaldson first?

“His name’s funny,” said my son, who then cackled.

Machado and Davis second and third?

“I like the Oriole.”

Cano was originally first, but after he gave the grouping a close inspection, he said, “Wait, I don’t like the Yankees,” and moved the second baseman down to five.

Hayden held up Cabrera and said, “I don’t like the Tigers,” but he still put Miggy ahead of Trout.

And, as Castrovince predicted, even a 4-year-old could vote Trout seventh.

HOME: The AFL has wrapped up and a number of Cleveland’s prospects, including outfielder Tyler Naquin, were on the championship team from Surprise. You can check out Monday’s story on Indians.com about the players who took part.

More interesting might be 23-year-old first-base prospect Jesus Aguilar, who is currently playing for Caracas in the Venezuelan Winter League. Due to a team need, Aguilar has been playing some third base for Caracas. It wasn’t something Cleveland planned, but it isn’t something the organization was against, either.

“They just didn’t have a third baseman and he had it in his past,” said Ross Atkins, the Indians’ VP of player development. “He played a little bit of third before he got to us, so they did it in a pseudo-emergency need. But he’s handled himself fine there. For us, there’s not much downside to it. It increases his athleticism and his versatility. You never know.”

Might Aguilar see some reps at third come Spring Training?

“It’s too early to say,” Atkins said. “But to say, ‘Absolutely not,’ I couldn’t. But that’s a very big decision.”

That’d also be GM Chris Antonetti’s decision to make.

Offensively, Aguilar has hit .315/.376/.583 with 10 homers, four doubles, 25 runs and 31 RBIs in 32 games in the VWL. In 2013 with Double-A Akron, he hit .275/.349/.427 with 16 homers, 28 doubles and 105 RBIs. Aguilar, a right-handed hitter, is also intriguing as a first-base prospect for the Tribe. Possibly adding third base to the mix is interesting. It’ll be something to follow up on this spring.

EXTRA: There were Mark Trumbo-to-Cleveland rumors swirling on Twitter late last week. I addressed that and more in a Friday edition of the Indians Inbox. … Also on Indians.com, the team is looking for nominations for the Mentor of the Year. … Indians will have an assistant hitting coach next season. … Catcher Yan Gomes was recently rewarded for his stellar defense.

–JB

1 Comment

“Wait, I don’t like the Yankees” = Genius son.

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