Why Box-Toppers is voting pitchers Scherzer, Snell as league MVPs over batters

Box-Toppers postseason awards.png

(Revised Sunday, Sept. 30, to reflect changes resulting from the season’s final weekend games.)

No batters are deserving of the Most Valuable Player Award this year.

Box-Toppers postseason honors ballot

Here is a look at the ballot selections Box-Toppers is making for the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America (IBWAA) 2018 postseason awards. The ballot requires votes out to 10 places for Most Valuable Player in both leagues, five for Cy Young Awards in each league and three for each leagues' Rookie of the Year, Manager of the Year and Reliever of the Year. These are Box-Toppers selections as of Sept. 30. This is Box-Toppers first vote in the IBWAA awards ballot, which began in 2009.

Players are shown with their team and their Box-Toppers point (BTP) total for 2018.

AL Most Valuable Player
Player Team BTP
1 Blake Snell Rays 25.5
2 J.D. Martinez Red Sox 12.5
3 Justin Verlander Astros 24.1
4 Mookie Betts Red Sox 10.9
5 Corey Kluber Indians 21.7
6 Chris Sale Red Sox 21.1
7 Carlos Carrasco Indians 19.8
8 Francisco Lindor Indians 9.6
9 Gerrit Cole Astros 18.0
10 Matt Davidson White Sox 8.7
NL Most Valuable Player
Player Team BTP
1 Max Scherzer Nationals 25.1
2 Christian Yelich Brewers 11.5
3 Aaron Nola Phillies 20.1
4 Anthony Rizzo Cubs 10.0
5 Javier Baez Cubs 10.0
6 Ronald Acuna Jr. Braves 9.2
7 Jacob deGrom Mets 17.8
8 David Peralta Diamondbacks 8.5
9 Curtis Granderson Brewers 8.2
10 Patrick Corbin Diamondbacks 16.0
AL Cy Young
Player Team BTP
1 Blake Snell Rays 25.5
2 Justin Verlander Astros 24.1
3 Corey Kluber Indians 21.7
4 Chris Sale Red Sox 21.1
5 Carlos Carrasco Indians 19.8
NL Cy Young
Player Team BTP
1 Max Scherzer Nationals 25.1
2 Aaron Nola Phillies 20.1
3 Jacob deGrom Mets 17.8
4 Patrick Corbin Diamondbacks 16.0
5 German Marquez Rockies 15.7
AL Rookie of the Year
Player Team BTP
1 Shohei Ohtani Angels 8.0
2 Mitch Garver Twins 7.5
3 Ronald Guzman Rangers 5.5
NL Rookie of the Year
Player Team BTP
1 Ronald Acuna Jr. Braves 9.2
2 Juan Soto Nationals 7.5
3 Walker Buehler Dodgers 13.1
AL Manager of the Year
Player Team Team BTP
1 Alex Cora Red Sox 143.6
2 Aaron Boone Yankees 135.2
3 A.J. Hinch Astros 132.2
NL Manager of the Year
Player Team Team BTP
1 Craig Counsell Brewers 131.4
2 Dave Robert Dodgers 126.0
3 Joe Maddon Cubs 122.5
AL Reliever of the Year
Player Team BTP
1 Blake Treinen Athletics 10.0
2 Edwin Diaz Mariners 9.0
3 Lou Trivino Athletics 8.0
NL Reliever of the Year
Player Team BTP
1 Josh Hader Brewers 9.7
2 Wade Davis Rockies 7.0
3 Felipe Vazquez Pirates 6.0
Box-Toppers gives batters a generous, if somewhat arbitrary, benefit of the doubt in these rankings. In cases where batters are directly compared to pitchers, Box-Toppers ranks batters as if their season Box-Toppers point total were doubled. For example, in rankings for NL MVP, Max Scherzer ranks first with 25.1 points, Christian Yelich ranks second with 11.5 points and Aaron Nola ranks third with 20.1. Though Yelich has fewer points than Nola, Box-Toppers arbitrarily doubles batters point totals in figuring these rankings, which would give Yelich 23.0 points.

Collectively, batters are faring worse, with their statistics trending downward in recent years. This year has been an even lower point.

Consider:

  • Strikeouts are up 36.6 percent from 1995 (when there were 25,425) compared with 2017 (when there were 40,104). The strikeout total for the as-yet incomplete 2018 season, stood this week at 40,601, already higher than in 2017.

  • Batting average is down 8.5 percent from 1999 (when the average was .271) compared with 2018 (when the average this week was .248).

  • Batters are earning fewer Box-Toppers points. From 1995 (when Box-Toppers tracking began) to 2009, batters earned about half or more of all Box-Toppers points awarded each season, including earning 56.91 percent of all points awarded in 2000. But in 2010 and after, batters fell below 50 percent, hovering closer to 40 percent of all points. This season, batters have so far earned 39.40 percent of all points awarded.

Further, the batters leading both leagues in Box-Toppers points in 2018 are both poised to have among the lowest point total to lead their league’s batters for a season since Box-Toppers tracking began in 1995:

  • J.D. Martinez of the Red Sox currently leads American League batters with 12.5 Box-Toppers points, which would tie for the second-lowest point total to lead AL batters in a season. The record for the lowest point total to lead AL batters in a season is 12.1, set by Edwin Encarnacion of the Indians in 2017.

  • Christian Yelich of the Brewers currently leads National League batters with 11.5 Box-Toppers points, which would tie for the second-lowest point total to lead NL batters in a season. The record for the lowest point total to lead NL batters in a season is 10.7, set by Nolan Arenado of the Rockies in 2016. That, in fact, is the lowest Box-Toppers point total to lead any category (AL and NL pitching and batting) in any season.

Normally, Box-Toppers would consider both of those players as their league’s Most Valuable Players, even with their low Box-Toppers point total. But these totals are so low that their value simply isn’t very valuable. Both point totals are less than half of the player leading each league in Box-Toppers points:

  • Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer leads NL players with 25.1 Box-Toppers points, 2.18 times as many points as Yelich’s 11.5.

  • Rays pitcher Blake Snell leads AL players with 25.5 Box-Toppers points, 2.04 times as many points as Martinez’s 12.5.

It is not the first time that a pitcher leading the league in Box-Toppers points has had more than twice as many points as the leading batter. That has happened six times in the previous 46 chances since Box-Toppers tracking began in 1995. But this would be the first time it happened in both leagues in the same season.

Four of those six instances have happened in the past four seasons, from 2014 to 2017, an indication that batters, collectively, are trending toward making themselves less and less valuable. Here are all six of the times a league-leading pitcher has earned more than twice as many Box-Toppers points as the league-leading batter:

  • 1999: Randy Johnson of the Diamondbacks had 31.5 Box-Toppers points to lead the NL, more than double the NL leading batter, Barry Bonds of the Giants, 15.2. (2.07 times as many points.)

  • 2000: Randy Johnson of the Diamondbacks had 33.7 Box-Toppers points to lead the NL, more than double the NL leading batter, Todd Helton of the Rockies, 15.2. (2.22 times as many points.)

  • 2014: Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers had 31.5 Box-Toppers points to lead the NL, more than double (and nearly triple) the points of NL leading batter Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies, 11.6. (2.72 times as many points.)

  • 2015: Jake Arrieta of the Cubs had 29.1 Box-Toppers points to lead the NL, more than double the points of NL leading batter Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies, 11.5. (2.53 times as many points.)

  • 2016: Max Scherzer of the Nationals had 25.7 Box-Toppers points to lead the NL, more than double the points of NL leading batter Nolan Arenado of the Rockies, 10.7. (2.40 times as many points.)

  • 2017: Chris Sale of the Red Sox had 25.1 Box-Toppers points to lead the AL, more than double the points of AL leading batter Edwin Encarnacion of the Indians, 12.1. (2.07 times as many points.)

Lowest points to lead category

Nolan Arenado holds the record for lowest Box-Toppers point total to lead category (10.7 to lead National League batters in 2016). Here are the lowest-point totals to win a league category since Box-Toppers tracking began in 1995:

Player Team BTP Category
1 Nolan Arenado col nl 10.7 2016 NL bat
2 Carlos Gonzalez col nl 11.5 2015 NL bat
2 Christian Yelich mil nl 11.5 2018 NL bat
4 Troy Tulowitzki col nl 11.6 2014 NL bat
5 Edwin Encarnacion cle al 12.1 2017 AL bat
6 Adrian Beltre tex al 12.5 2015 AL bat
6 Aubrey Huff bal al 12.5 2008 AL bat
6 Ryan Braun mil nl 12.5 2012 NL bat
6 J.D. Martinez bos al 12.5 2018 AL bat
10 Manny Machado bal al 12.7 2016 AL bat
11 Adrian Beltre tex al 13.0 2012 AL bat
12 Paul Goldschmidt ari nl 13.7 2013 NL bat
12 Bret Boone sea al 13.7 2001 AL bat

Keep in mind that pitchers are eligible to win league Most Valuable Players honors and have done it twice since 1995:

  • In 2011, Justin Verlander of the Tigers won AL MVP. (He led AL pitchers with 24.4 Box-Toppers points. Top AL batter Asdrubal Cabrera of the Indians had 14.7.)

  • In 2014, Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers won NL MVP. (His 31.5 Box-Toppers points led NL players, nearly triple the top NL batter, Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies with 11.6.)

So, a pitcher is eligible and can win the MVP and there is history and precedent for that. And in fact, there is precedent for both league MVPs being awarded to pitchers: In 1968, Denny McLain of the Tigers won the AL MVP and Bob Gibson of the Cardinals won the NL MVP.

Fifty years later, 2018, like 1968, may be another Year of the Pitcher. It may be a year in which no batter has shown themselves particularly worthy of the MVP. And it may not be because batters are worse than they used to be and pitchers are better. It may be just circumstances, strategies and rules changes have brought us to this point when there seems to be imbalance in the game that favors the pitchers. Batters are being thwarted by defensive shifts and radical new relief pitching strategies. The apparent absence of steroids in the game after baseball imposed new performance enhancing drug rules cannot be discounted.

Batters are changing strategies, too. As stated earlier, strikeouts are up more than 35 percent since 1995. But there is less shame in a strikeout if the next at bat results in a home run—and home run numbers were up 33.2 percent from 1995 (when there were 4,081) and 2017 (when there were 6,105).

Nothing has changed in the way Box-Toppers evaluates games. It’s simply that batters are earning Player of the Game honors less frequently and earning a smaller share of the overall points. Box-Toppers hasn’t changed. The game has changed.

This year, I became a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America (IBWAA) and as such, I have a vote in the group’s annual postseason awards.

To clarify, the IBWAA is not the Baseball Writers Association of America (the BBWAA), which votes on official postseason honors and whose voting members have actively and regularly covered baseball for a media organization for at least 10 years.

The IBWAA bills itself as “a digital alternative to the BBWAA” for all internet baseball writers. Requirements to join are not daunting—write about baseball in some form online, be at least 18 years old and pay the $75 lifetime membership fee. Since I’ve tracked baseball with the Box-Toppers metric since 1995 and shared that for the past six seasons on the web at Box-Toppers.com, I decided to join the group this year.

And in this post, I wanted to explain why, in my first IBWAA ballot, I will vote for pitchers rather than batters as both league MVPs.

I am voting Scherzer for NL MVP and Snell for AL MVP. I am also voting for both of them for their league Cy Young Awards.

As stated previously, both pitchers have more than twice as many Box-Toppers points as the batter leading their league in Box-Toppers points. “Double” is kind of an arbitrary number, granted, but for me, in these cases, it feels right.

While Scherzer and Snell’s 2018 seasons are impressive, neither one of them is necessarily having record-breaking seasons. Both have right around 25 Box-Toppers points, the usual total for a leading pitcher in a season. Scherzer is well ahead of all NL pitchers in Box-Toppers points, but he’s had seasons just as good or better.

And batters aren’t terrible. They just aren’t earning Player of the Game honors as often, aren’t earning as many points and when they do, they seem to be sharing them more equally among batters. If this were a bicycle race, it’s as if the batters are grouped in a large peloton, with no one breaking away from the pack.

It’s interesting that Martinez and Yelich, the players leading their league batters in Box-Toppers points are actually in serious contention for league MVPs. But for me, looking at it from a Box-Toppers perspective, they may be the most valuable league batters, but they don’t measure up as league most valuable players.

My other votes:

AL Rookie of the Year—Shohei Ohtani of the Angels. The dual-threat Ohtani had 8.0 Box-Toppers points in 2018, including 4.0 for pitching and 4.0 for batting. While Ohtani was injured during the season, was unable to pitch much in the second half and will require Tommy John surgery that will rule him out from pitching and perhaps batting much in 2019, he did put together an interesting and impressive rookie season from a Box-Toppers perspective. 

Other AL rookies in Box-Toppers condsideration:

• Twins catcher Mitch Garver (7.5 Box-Toppers points).

• Rangers first baseman Ronald Guzman (5.5 Box-Toppers points).

NL Rookie of the Year—Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr., with 9.2 Box-Toppers points, third among NL batters.

Acuna did not lead NL rookies in Box-Toppers points, but he did have more than half of the total of the two pitchers with the most Box-Toppers points among NL rookies in 2018, who Box-Toppers also considered—Walker Buehler of the Dodgers and Jack Flaherty of the Cardinals, who each had 13.1 Box-Toppers points. 

Since the rookie award is often treated similarly to the MVP, we gave greater consideration to batters for the award, deeming a batter worthy if they had at least half as many Box-Toppers points as the top pitcher.

AL and NL Manager of the Year—For Box-Toppers purposes, I give this award to the team with the most regular season Box-Toppers points. Currently, in the AL, that’s the Red Sox, so manager Alex Cora gets the AL Manager of the Year vote. And in the NL, that’s the Brewers, so manager Craig Counsell gets the NL vote.

AL reliever—This goes to the AL closing pitcher with most Box-Toppers points. That’s Blake Treinen of the Athletics (10.0 points).

NL reliever—This goes to the NL closing pitcher with most Box-Toppers points. That’s Josh Hader of the Brewers (9.7 points). (While Hader has spent much of the second half of the season as a middle reliever, he still has earned six of his nine Player of the Game honors this season as a closer.)

About Box-Toppers—Box-Toppers tracks who most helps their team win the most games. Using standard box score statistics, Box-Toppers uses a simple formula to determine a Player of the Game for each Major League Baseball game played. That player is the person who contributed most to his team’s win. In regular season games, players earn 1.0 Box-Toppers point for being named Player of the Game and can earn bonus points for being Player of the Day or top player or batter in their league for the day.

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The source for the general baseball statistics in this post (strikeouts, batting average and home runs by batters collectively in a season) are from BaseballReference.com.