Now that roughly one quarter of the season is in the books, fluke performances are dwindling, and Cubs fans have already given up hope, let’s take a look back at the best performances in Major League Baseball thus far.
Like any award, this exercise is designed to reward players for their past performance per se, meaning that the winners of the first quarter awards are not necessarily my choice as the winner for the full-season award.
In the examination of each award and winner, I will offer an explanation of why I choose each individual, what they need to do to win the full season award, and their chance of doing so.
Furthermore, I will use a combination of traditional and sabermetric statistics to evaluate these players. While pitchers with a great FIP are near and dear to my heart, when looking retrospectively, there is value in a statistic such as ERA.
Today’s piece will focus solely on the National League. The American League Awards were posted a few days ago and can be found here
Without further ado, here are the 2014 MLB First Quarter Awards for the National League.
NL MVP: Troy Tulowitzki
The easiest choice of any award, Troy Tulowitzki has been phenomenal by almost any metric. If you’re a traditionalist, you can stand in awe of Tulo’s .393 average, 13 home runs, and 35 runs batted in. If you’re a sabermetrician, you can appreciate Tulo’s 4.0 WAR, .524 wOBA, and 227 wRC+. Through a month and a half of games, those numbers are downright absurd.
As far as leading the league in statistical categories, Tulowitzki is unmatched. His 4.0 WAR is the most in the league by a comical margin (Giancarlo Stanton's 2.9 mark is second), while his .524 wOBA blows away second place finisher Seth Smith's .445 mark. He is also the only player in the league with a wRC+ over 200.
Furthermore, Tulo also leads the league in runs, home runs, AVG, OBP, SLG, ISO, and WPA/LI, many by significant margins. His 35 RBIs rank second only to Stanton.
Oh yeah, Tulo plays defense too! Not only can the shortstop hit, he is one of the best defensive players in the game. His 8.1 defensive runs above average rank second in the league, as do his 12 DRS, while his 21.1 UZR/150 ranks fourth.
This is a complete player who, similar to Trout, excels in all facets of the game. He has the best offensive numbers in the National League by a hilariously wide margin and has also been at least a top-three defender by just about any defensive metric. Tulowitzki is enjoying a special season and if he comes close to continuing his torrid pace, he will have no competition for this award.
NL Cy Young: Johnny Cueto
When choosing an award based on past performance, we must differentiate between process-based statistics and result-based statistics. In an attempt to eliminate the random chance often found in result-based statistics, sabermetrics often deals with process based statistics that are better indicators of the true skills of players.
While I am a proponent of these process-based statistics, when looking retrospectively, one must award players based on what actually happened and not what should have happened. Johnny Cueto may not deserve a 1.25 ERA, but he put up a 1.25 ERA, so he wins this award.
Don’t get me wrong, Cueto has been very dominant and would be in consideration for this award even if his performance matched his process-based stats, but his superior results make him an easy choice.
Cueto’s value is not simply tied up in a fluke of an ERA, as his 72 innings pitched led the league by a wide margin (Adam Wainwright is second with 64). The right-hander has also struck out over a batter per inning, limited walks, and his league leading line-drive rate against implies that he is among the toughest pitchers in the league to square up.
Cueto’s 99.5% strand rate will not last, but as long as he continues to rack up the strikouts, avoid walks, and avoids being squared up, he should contend for this award. Should Cueto inevitably regress, Stephen Strasburg and Cliff Lee are likely the favorites to win the full season award.
NL Rookie of the Year: Chris Owings
While the AL Rookie of the Year Award candidates are stud-like, choosing the NL Rookie of the Year Award is a bit of a crapshoot. Not only are there very few rookies, but very few have played significant roles, let alone provide positive value.
While Chris Owings is no superstar, he's been one of the few bright spots for the Diamondbacks this year. Beating out incumbent Didi Gregorius for the starting job in spring training, Owings has been solid on both sides of the ball thus far.
The young shortstop’s best offensive tool is the ability to hit for a high average, but he has shown surprising extra base pop thus far. His two home runs do not strike fear into opposing pitchers, but his nine double and two triples have been a pleasant surprise to the D-Backs’ offense.
The question with Owings at the beginning of the year was defense, but he has proved the doubters wrong thus far. He may never be as talented as Gregorious in the field, but his 9.7 UZR/150 proves that he has been well above average in that department for the first quarter of 2014.
Players providing positive values in all facets of the game are likely to enjoy very good WAR totals, and Owings is no different. His 1.1 mark is not elite, but if he continues at this pace, he will be a well above average player for the Diamondbacks in 2014.
If he does indeed continue to produce a .338 wOBA along with above average defense, Owings could be the favorite for the full-season award. Top Pirates’ prospect Gregory Polanco will likely be he greatest competition, but Polanco has yet to make his MLB debut.
NL Manager of the Year: Ron Roenicke, Brewers
When it comes to awarding a Manager of the Year, strong candidates for the award are found on both winning teams and surprising teams. Ron Roenicke of the Milwaukee Brewers is both.
All but written off prior to the season, the Brewers hold a comfortable four game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals for first place in the NL Central. Even more impressive, the Crew has been able to avoid any drama resulting from the return of Ryan Braun.
It remains to be seen if the Brewers’ hot start is anything more than a fluke in a small sample size, but if they are able to keep up their hot pace and make the postseason, Roenicke will be a lock to win this award. The skipper took a mediocre team in turmoil and turned them into a winner, a turnaround which almost always leads to a manager of the year selection.