Box-Toppers picks Astros’ Gerrit Cole for AL Cy Young & MVP: A look at our postseason awards ballot

Box-Toppers postseason awards.png

Box-Toppers is casting a vote for the American League Cy Young Award to Astros pitcher Gerrit Cole.

We are also casting our vote for AL Most Valuable Player to … Astros pitcher Gerrit Cole.

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) 2019 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.

Players are shown with their team and their Box-Toppers point (BTP) total for 2019.

AL Most Valuable Player
Player Team BTP
1 Gerrit Cole Astros 32.2
2 Justin Verlander Astros 27.5
3 Nelson Cruz Twins 12.5
4 Gleyber Torres Yankees 12.0
5 Albert Pujols Angels 11.0
6 Jorge Soler Royals 10.2
7 Alex Bregman Astros 10.0
8 Rafael Devers Red Sox 9.5
9 Charlie Morton Rays 18.8
10 Shane Bieber Indians 18.1
NL Most Valuable Player
Player Team BTP
1 Marcell Ozuna Cardinals 12.0
2 Christian Yelich Brewers 11.7
3 Cody Bellinger Dodgers 11.2
4 Stephen Strasburg Nationals 20.7
5 Freddie Freeman Braves 10.2
6 Josh Bell Pirates 9.7
7 Jacob deGrom Mets 19.1
8 Nolan Arenado Rockies 9.0
9 Josh Hader Brewers 17.7
10 Michael Conforto Mets 8.7
AL Cy Young
Player Team BTP
1 Gerrit Cole Astros 32.2
2 Justin Verlander Astros 27.5
3 Charlie Morton Rays 18.8
4 Shane Bieber Indians 18.1
5 Mike Clevinger Indians 17.4
NL Cy Young
Player Team BTP
1 Stephen Strasburg Nationals 20.7
2 Jacob deGrom Mets 19.1
3 Josh Hader Brewers 17.7
4 Hyun-Jin Ryu Dodgers 17.4
5 *Jack Flaherty Cardinals 16.5
AL Rookie of the Year
Player Team BTP
1 Eloy Jimenez White Sox 7.5
2 Cavan Biggio Blue Jays 6.2
3 Vladimir Guerrero Jr.  Blue Jays 6.2
NL Rookie of the Year
Player Team BTP
1 Chris Paddack Padres 15.8
2 Pete Alonso Mets 7.0
3 Kevin Newman Pirates 6.2
AL Manager of the Year
Manager Team Team BTP
1 A.J. Hinch Astros 158.1
2 Bob Melvin Athletics 124.9
3 Aaron Boone Yankees 123.4
NL Manager of the Year
Manager Team Team BTP
1 Dave Martinez Nationals 132.9
2 Dave Roberts Dodgers 129.9
3 Brian Snitker Braves 112.7
AL Reliever of the Year
Player Team BTP
1 Brad Hand Indians 8.0
2 Taylor Rogers Twins 7.0
3 Liam Hendriks Athletics 7.0
NL Reliever of the Year
Player Team BTP
1 Josh Hader Brewers 17.7
2 Felipe Vazquez Pirates 8.7
3 Luke Jackson Braves 8.0
* In my haste to submit my postseason award selection ballot by the deadline, I voted Patrick Corbin of the Nationals as fifth pick for NL Cy Young, but Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty earned NL Player of the Day Sunday, passing Corbin in Box-Toppers points, 16.5-16.4. My fifth-place pick should have been for Flaherty rather than Corbin.

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, Marcell Ozuna ranks first with 12.0 points even though several pitchers have more points (most notably, Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals, ranked fourth in NL MVP voting with 20.7). Though Ozuna has fewer points than Strasburg, Box-Toppers arbitrarily doubles batters point totals in figuring these rankings, which would give Ozuna 24.0 points, beating Strasburg's 20.7. While MVP is traditionally a batter's award, it has been awarded to pitchers either when they have a dominant season, no batters particularly rise to the occasion—or both.

I’m a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America (IBWAA) and 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. Box-Toppers has been an active website since the start of the 2013 season, with player tracking that includes every game since the start of the 1995 season. This is my second season as a voting IBWAA member.

In addition to picking Cole for both major AL postseason honors, Box-Toppers is selecting:

National League Most Valuable Player—Marcell Ozuna of the Cardinals.

National League Cy Young Award—Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals.

American League Rookie of the Year—Eloy Jimenez of the White Sox.

National League Rookie of the Year—Padres pitcher Chris Paddack.

American League Manager of the Year—AJ Hinch of the Astros.

National League Manager of the Year—Dave Martinez of the Nationals.

American League Reliever of the Year—Brad Hand of the Indians.

National League Reliever of the Year—Josh Hader of the Brewers.

Box-Toppers selects Cole as both AL Cy Young and MVP for a couple of reasons. First, Cole’s performance has been dominant. Box-Toppers awards a single player in each game Player of the Game honors. Those top players can earn bonus points as top overall players or batters of a certain day.

Cole is Box-Toppers Player of the Year with 32.2 Box-Toppers points, the most of any player in 2019 and the fourth-highest single-season point total since Box-Toppers tracking began in 1995. Only two players in Box-Toppers previous 24 seasons of tracking earned more points in a season—Randy Johnson (twice) and Pedro Martinez.

Cole earned Player of the Game honors 21 times this season, more than any other player. He also earned overall Player of the Day honors seven of those times, also more than any other player. Plus, he earned AL Player of the Day honors six of those times. (Players earn 1.0 Box-Toppers point for being Player of the Day, 0.7 bonus points for being league Player of the Day and 1.0 bonus point for being overall Player of the Day.)

Cole passed teammate Justin Verlander down the stretch to win Box-Toppers Player of the Year honors. Verlander finished second overall with 27.5 Box-Toppers points, earning Player of the Game honors 18 times, including earning overall Player of the Day honors six times and AL Player of the Day five times.

Not only was Cole’s performance outstanding enough to earn AL MVP, but AL batters had overall, yet another lackluster season. The top AL batter as measured by Box-Toppers is Nelson Cruz of the Twins, who had 12.5 Box-Toppers points. That is tied for the second-lowest point total to lead AL batters since 1995 (with the lowest being the 12.1 points Edwin Encarnacion of the Indians had in 2017). Normally, Box-Toppers would consider Cruz to be AL MVP, but Cole’s point total is more than double Cruz’s (2.6 times as much, in fact), which compels Box-Toppers to make a judgment in favor of Cole being AL MVP over Cruz. In fact, we placed Cruz in third place on our AL MVP ballot, behind both Cole and Verlander.

This 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. It has happened eight times in the previous 48 chances since Box-Toppers tracking began in 1995, including last season, when it  happened for the first time in both leagues in the same season.

Six of those eight instances have happened in the past five seasons, from 2014 to 2018, an indication that batters, collectively, are trending toward making themselves less and less valuable. Here are all eight previous times that 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.).

  • 2018: Two instances: Blake Snell of the Rays had 27.2 Box-Toppers points to lead the AL, more than double the points of AL leading batter J.D. Martinez of the Red Sox, 12.5 (2.18 times as many points). Also, Max Scherzer of the Nationals had 25.1 Box-Toppers points to lead the NL, more than double the points of NL leading batter Christian Yelich of the Brewers, 11.5 (2.18 times as many points).

Keep in mind that pitchers are eligible to win league Most Valuable Player 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.)

Kershaw in 2014 had the largest proportional margin over his league’s top batter (2.72 times as many points). Cole having 2.6 times as many points as top AL batter Cruz in 2019 is the second-largest such proportional dominance in Box-Toppers tracking history.

In the National League in 2019, Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg leads all players with 20.7 Box-Toppers points. The top batter is Marcell Ozuna of the Cardinals with 12.0 points. And so since Strasburg has less than double the points of Ozuna (1.73 times as many), we are selecting the pitcher (Strasburg) for the Cy Young and choosing the batter (Ozuna) for MVP.

A closer look at each selection:

American League Most Valuable Player

Gerrit Cole, Astros

Cole led all players with 32.2 Box-Toppers points, ahead of teammate Justin Verlander (26.5), who we placed second on the AL MVP ballot. Top batter in consideration, Nelson Cruz of the Twins (12.5), had less than half the Box-Toppers points as either of the two Astros pitchers. The ballot of 10 ranked AL players includes two other pitchers—Charlie Morton of the Rays (18.8) and Shane Bieber of the Indians (18.1), who we placed ninth and 10th. Our ballot includes Box-Toppers’ six top-ranked AL batters, including Gleyber Torres of the Yankees (12.0), Albert Pujols of the Angels (11.0), Jorge Soler of the Royals (10.2), Alex Bregman of the Astros (10.0) and Rafael Devers of the Red Sox (9.5). It does not include perennial AL MVP favorite Mike Trout of the Angels, who had 8.7 Box-Toppers points in 2019, ninth among AL batters.

National League Most Valuable Player

Marcell Ozuna of the Cardinals

Ozuna narrowly led NL batters in 2019 Box-Toppers points with 12.0. But finishing within 1.0 point of him were last year’s NL MVP Christian Yelich of the Brewers (11.7) and frequent 2019 NL MVP favorite Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers (11.2). Also included on the ballot are batters Freddie Freeman of the Braves (10.2), Josh Bell of the Pirates (9.7), Nolan Arenado of the Rockies (9.0) and Michael Conforto of the Mets (8.7).

Asdrubal Cabrera of the Nationals had more 2019 Box-Toppers points (9.0) than Conforto, but since Cabrera earned 3.5 of those points with the AL Rangers before being signed by the Nationals, we left him off the NL MVP ballot.

There are NL pitchers with more points than Ozuna, but since none had more than double Ozuna’s points, we still select Ozuna for NL MVP. Top NL pitcher Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals had 20.7 Box-Toppers points and we selected him as a fourth-place pick on the NL MVP ballot. Other pitchers on the ballot are Jacob deGrom of the Mets (19.1 points, in seventh place) and closer Josh Hader of the Brewers (17.7 points, in ninth place).

American League Cy Young Award

Gerrit Cole, Astros

Cole led all players with 32.2 Box-Toppers points, followed by teammate Justin Verlander (27.5). The IBWAA ballot has five ranked spots for each league’s Cy Young and in order, the three others Box-Toppers selected are Charlie Morton of the Rays (18.8), Shane Bieber of the Indians (18.1) and Mike Clevinger of the Indians (17.4). 

Zack Greinke, who finished the season with the Astros, actually had more Box-Toppers points than Clevinger (17.9), but since he pitched for the NL Diamondbacks before being traded July 31 (and earned all but 4.7 of his points with them), we did not include him on our AL Cy Young ballot.

National League Cy Young Award

Stephen Strasburg, Nationals

Strasburg led NL pitchers with 20.7 Box-Toppers points, followed by Jacob deGrom of the Mets 19.1. Through August, no NL pitcher seemed to be having a consistently outstanding season worthy of the Cy Young. There were flashes: Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer had seven straight outstanding starts from early June to early July, but was otherwise largely quiet in terms of earning Box-Toppers Player of the Game honors. In fact, he did not even make the list of our five top NL pitchers for our Cy Young ballot (he was ninth among NL pitchers with 15.4 points). But near the end of the season, NL pitchers who had done well earlier in the season each at least earned Player of the Game honors one more time.

The other three NL pitchers on our ballot are closer Josh Hader of the Brewers (17.7), Hyun-Jin Ryu of the Dodgers (17.4) and Patrick Corbin of the Nationals (16.4). 

(I voted largely based on results through Saturday’s games to submit my ballot by the voting deadline. Had I waited to fully analyze Sunday’s final-day-of-the-season action, I would have selected Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty in place of Corbin in the fifth-place spot for NL Cy Young. Flaherty earned NL Player of the Day honors Sunday, giving him 16.5 points, beating out Corbin’s 16.4.)

American League Rookie of the Year

Eloy Jimenez, White Sox

Jimenez led AL rookies with 7.5 Box-Toppers points, earning 6.5 points by June 18 and earning only 1.0 point since then. In fact, on June 18, Jimenez led AL batters in 2019 Box-Toppers points (he finished in 15th). Also on our ballot, two Major League Hall-of-Fame sons and Blue Jays teammates Cavan Biggio and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (both with 6.2 points). (Both Biggio and Guerrero earned Player of the Game honors five times and both each earned one AL Player of the Day honor and one AL Batter of the Day honor. I picked Biggio in second over Guerrero because Biggio had a higher cumulative Box-Toppers game score in his five Player of the Game honors, +18.0 vs. +11.0.)

National League Rookie of the Year

Chris Paddack, Padres

Since pitchers can be considered for this award, too, we used our same method of giving batters the benefit of a doubt by doubling their Box-Toppers point total when comparing them to a pitcher. In this case, Paddack had more than twice as many points (15.8) as second-place player Pete Alonso of the Mets (7.0). Alonso is likely the favorite for this award for his prodigious 50+ home run season—even though Paddack actually contributed more frequently to his team’s wins. Also included on our ballot: Kevin Newman of the Pirates (6.2).

American League Manager of the Year

AJ Hinch, Astros

Our criteria for this award is straightforward. Which teams had the most Box-Toppers points. This year, by far, that is the Astros. Also on our ballot: Bob Melvin of the Athletics and Aaron Boone of the Yankees.

National League Manager of the Year

Dave Martinez, Nationals

Martinez wins because the Nationals collectively had the most Box-Toppers points, helped by their staff of aces Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Max Scherzer, who often padded the team’s Box-Toppers point total with bonus points, frequently earning NL or overall Player of the Day honors. Also on our ballot: Dave Roberts of the Dodgers and Brian Snitker of the Braves.

American League Reliever of the Year

Brad Hand, Indians

Hand led all AL closing and middle relief pitchers with 8.0 Box-Toppers points. Also on our ballot: Taylor Rogers of the Twins (7.0) and Liam Hendriks of the Athletics (7.0).

National League Reliever of the Year

Josh Hader, Brewers

Hader had more than twice as many Box-Toppers points as any other relief pitcher in baseball (17.7). His total is the third-highest single-season total for a closing pitcher since Box-Toppers started separately tracking relievers in 1998. The only other player who earned more points in a season as a closer is Eric Gagne of the Dodgers, who did it twice (19.7 points in 2004 and 19.0 points in 2003).

Earlier this season, Hader seemed poised to shatter Gagne’s “all-time” record. On June 27, he reached 14.7 Box-Toppers points before the season’s halfway point and was on pace to earn 29.4 for the season. But Hader only earned 3.0 points since and trails Gagne’s record by 2.0 points.

Hader leads second-place Felipe Vazquez of the Pirates (8.7), who has been placed on leave by Major League Baseball after being charged in connection with sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl. Third place is Luke Jackson of the Braves (8.0).

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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How Box-Toppers voted in 2018’s IBWAA postseason awards