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(Photo Courtesy of Keith Allison)
Bob Melvin and Bartolo Colon each have their eyes on some 2013 AL hardware. One is much more likely than the other

by Jim Turvey

During the last decade or so, the Oakland Athletics have done pretty well in loading up their trophy case with MLB awards. Bob Melvin won Coach of the Year last season, three of the last nine AL Rookies of the Year have been A’s, and if we go back to 2002 the A’s had both the MVP and Cy Young winners in the same season. So what’re the chances the A’s can add to their collection this season? Let’s take a look at the options

The “not going to happen”- AL Cy Young- Bartolo Colon

Let’s start with the fact that Colon is not going to win an MLB sanctioned award in the same year that he was named in the Biogenesis report.

That being said, Colon does deserve plaudits for his season, and hopefully will show up on a few ballots. His 18 wins and 2.65 ERA both ranked second in the American League. Wins are becoming near sacrilege to mention in comparing players among baseball statisticians as they are (rightfully) considered archaic and team oriented. That being said, the voters for MLB awards have shown themselves to be slightly archaic, so maybe this is Colon’s best chance.

More up to date metrics also show Colon as having a great year. First, there’s the fact that no AL pitchers had more shutouts, and only three AL pitchers had more quality starts. His FIP was sixth in the AL, which although helped by the massive O.co foul grounds is an impressive feat. Where Colon’s case starts to fall apart is in the fact that he no longer can dominate a hitter like the typical Cy Young winner would. His 117 strikeouts were only good for 44 th in the AL, and even though his WHIP was 12 th in the AL, that’s a far cry from Cy Young material.

The “what could have been”- AL Rookie of the Year- Sonny Gray

Gray wasn’t called up until July 10 th of this season, and for good reason. The A’s always like to play the arbitration game with their rookies, and the A’s rotation wasn’t in need of Gray just yet. However, when he came up he made an immediate impact. Gray was moved into the rotation on August 10 th , and made ten starts between then and the end of the season. He finished the season with 64 IP, a 2.67 ERA, a 2.70 FIP, 1.5 WAR, and more than a strikeout per inning. He established himself as a possible postseason contributor, and had way more composure than would be expected of a 23-year-old rookie.

At this moment, Wil Myers seems to be the likely AL ROY, and Myers himself had to wait until June 18 th to debut. Myers is deserving of the award, but the 2.4 to 1.5 WAR edge that Myers holds over Gray would undoubtedly been erased if the two had seen equal amounts of playing time. Myers played in 88 games; meaning if he played in a reasonable 150 games, at that pace, his value would have been at 4.1 WAR. Gray, on the other hand, only made ten starts. If we turn those ten starts into 30 starts, a reasonable whole season figure for a pitcher, his value jumps to 4.5 WAR, assuming he were able to keep the same pace. Given that his batting average on balls in play allowed was at .276 (the league average is just below .300), and his left on base percentage was 74.9% (the league average is just above 70%) it doesn’t seem unimaginable that he could have kept up this pace.

The “so under the radar that it’s now a bit over mentioned”- AL MVP- Josh Donaldson

ESPN has a lot of problems, but one of the beauties of it is that when they get on board with a progressive sports’ movement it catches on quick. Such is the tale of WAR and baseball. The statistic itself has been around for longer than one would think based on the WAR boom that has occurred in the last year. This has, of course, been the result of ESPN turning into “WARmongers” promoting the statistic every possible chance. This can be a little annoying especially since there are so many other fun statistics to play around with out there (I’m a sucker for ERA+ and OPS+ myself), but it has helped to get players like Josh Donaldson noticed.

Just a few years ago, a third baseman for the A’s with a .301 average and 24 home runs would never be in the discussion for MVP. However, thanks to a little WAR (now listed on the main statistical page for MLB on ESPN), Donaldson is getting the credit he deserves. In fact, he may be getting a little bit more credit than he deserves. Now here me out, I’m as much of an A’s fan as anyone else, but saying that Donaldson has had a better year than Miguel Cabrera strikes me as a little odd. Granted Donaldson is an excellent fielder, and Cabrera is a human sieve at third, but is the difference enough to make up for the difference in their offensive production?

According to WAR – yes. Donaldson finished the year 8.0 WAR (it’s worth noting that baseball-reference.com lists 8.0 WAR and above as “an MVP season”) to Cabrera’s 7.2 WAR. In fact, Donaldson only trailed fellow AL West phenom Mike Trout who was worth 9.2 WAR, leading the league with ease for the second straight year. As much as I consider myself with the times in terms of modern baseball thought, one idea that I still haven’t grasped is giving the MVP to a player on a losing team. I get the concept behind it, but for my money, I don’t know if I would even consider myself an MVP if my team was sitting out October. I think this has to do with the idea put forward by SABR president Vince Gennaro in his book “Diamond Dollars,” which states that each win from 81-90 is exponentially more valuable, whereas wins 0-80 are less valuable.

So for this discussion let’s limit the debate to Cabrera and Donaldson. Here’s a mini breakdown of their 2013 seasons:

R HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS+ TB GDP dWAR RC WPA
Donaldson 89 24 93 .301 .384 .499 148 289 15 1.8 113 4.7
Cabrera 103 44 137 .348 .442 .636 187 353 19 -1.4 155 6.7

It’s pretty easy to see here that while Donaldson had an awesome year, his offensive numbers can’t compete with Cabrera even though Miggy was hurt or missed work most of the last month (he had just two extra base hits from August 27 th to the end of the season). The Runs Created (RC), Win Probability Added (WPA), and On-base plus slugging (OPS+) that comes with park and league adjustments all go to show that his numbers are not just the result of being surrounded by a more talented group of hitters than Donaldson.

Donaldson’s only real hope comes from the fact that he is a borderline Gold Glove third baseman, and compared to Miggy, he’s Brooks Robinson. Personally, I don’t think this is enough, and I don’t think the voters will either.

The “legitimate chance to repeat”- AL Manager of the Year- Bob Melvin

What Melvin has done with the team the last two seasons has been incredible. He’s rejuvenated the A’s, and managed to exceed even the most hopeful A’s fans dreams with two straight division titles in a top-heavy AL West. If anything, Melvin’s case this year is hurt by the fact that he won it last year, meaning the team is an already established feel-good story. This leaves room for Terry Francona, Ned Yost, or even John Farrell (although thinking of the Red Sox as a feel-good under-dog story makes me want to vomit everywhere). I believe Melvin has once again done the best job using platoons, utilizing advanced scouting, and getting the most out of his talent, and personally think that the AL Manager of the Year should just be a coin flip between Joe Maddon and Melvin every year until they prove us wrong. Unfortunately, I have a sneaking suspicion that one of the new guys will replace Melvin this year. Just as long as it’s not Farrell, on the basis that he did some incredible turn around job on a team that spends over $150 million, I’m all right with that.

So as it looks now, this might not be the year for the A’s to get any individual hardware. They will certainly draw votes in every category, and Donaldson and Melvin do have legit cases, but maybe it’s for the best that the emphasis be on a certain different piece of hardware this season. One that’s a little more team oriented and hasn’t been around Oakland since 1989. One that would certainly trump winning any of these awards, and one for which we start the chase on Friday.

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