The Yankees and 2016’s major awards

(Maddie Meyer/Getty)
(Maddie Meyer/Getty)

We’re now less than two weeks away from the end of the regular season, meaning candidates for baseball’s major annual awards only have a handful of games remaining to state their cases. Outside of NL Rookie of the Year, which should go to Corey Seager easily, the other major awards in both leagues feature very tight races. Pretty fun.

The last Yankee to win a major award was Mariano Rivera, who was named 2013 AL Comeback Player of the Year after tearing his ACL in 2012. Prior to that you have to go back to Alex Rodriguez‘s 2007 MVP season. There is something of a Yankee bias in the awards voting; a Yankee usually needs to have a season far superior to everyone else to receive votes, a la A-Rod in 2007. If it’s close, the votes tend to go to the non-Yankee.

Anyway, as a reminder, the awards are all voted on following the end of the regular season but before the postseason. The playoffs have zero bearing on the major awards. They cover the regular season only. So, with that in mind, let’s preview the awards races and see where some Yankees may fit into the picture, if any.

Most Valuable Player

Is there an AL MVP favorite right now? I mean, of course it should be Mike Trout, but his teammates suck so he won’t win. For shame. I guess Mookie Betts is the favorite now almost by default. The other serious candidates (Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Jose Altuve) are on teams either fading in the standings or out of the postseason picture entirely. That matters in the voting for whatever reason.

The Yankees don’t have a legitimate MVP candidate this season. Their best all-around player has been Didi Gregorius, and sorry, he’s not MVP material. Gary Sanchez hasn’t been up long enough. Masahiro Tanaka? He’s the best and therefore most valuable player on the roster, though it takes an insane season for a pitcher to win MVP. You need to go 24-5 like Justin Verlander did in 2011. A no-doubt Cy Young season and more, basically.

Now, that doesn’t mean the Yankees will not have a player receive MVP votes. Hardly. Lots of weird stuff happens at the bottom of the ballot and I would not at all be surprised if Tanaka and/or Dellin Betances and/or someone else got a ninth or tenth place vote. Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, and A-Rod received MVP votes last season, for example. Chances are at least one Yankee will get an MVP vote. No one on the roster will win though. Sorry.

Cy Young

Okay, now we’re talking. Tanaka is a legitimate Cy Young candidate along with Rick Porcello, Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Cole Hamels. Unlike the MVP ballot, which is ten spots deep, the Cy Young ballot is only five players deep, so it’s going to be tight. Here’s where Tanaka ranks in various stats among AL pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title:

Innings: 193.2 (seventh)
ERA: 2.97 (first! … Sale is second at 3.03)
FIP: 3.26 (second behind Kluber, 3.25)
WHIP: 1.06 (fifth)
Walk Rate: 4.4% (third)
Strikeout Rate: 20.5% (20th)
K/BB Ratio: 4.71 (seventh)
Ground Ball Rate: 48.6% (11th)
bWAR: 5.6 (second behind Kluber, 6.4)
fWAR: 5.1 (second behind Sale, 5.2)

Tanaka lags in strikeout rate, otherwise he’s top ten in pretty much every meaningful pitching statistic, including top three in more than a few. Of course, his 13-4 record isn’t very Cy Young worthy, and that’s going to hurt his case. I know Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young with a 13-12 record a few years ago, but that was because he was so much better than everyone else. His dominance was too great to ignore. As great as he’s been, Tanaka is not having that kind of season.

My guess right now is either Porcello or Kluber will win the Cy Young, likely Porcello because he’s up over 20 wins. Tanaka’s performance is on par with those two on a rate basis, and in many ways he’s been better. He’s by far the best Cy Young candidate the Yankees have had since CC Sabathia was in his heyday — Sabathia finished fourth, third, and fourth in the voting from 2009-11 — and I think Tanaka will finish in the top five of the voting, possibly even the top three.

Rookie of the Year

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

This is going to be interesting. Sanchez has had an unreal start to his career. He’s hitting .327/.399/.710 (190 wRC+) with 17 homers in 42 games as a full-time catcher, which is bonkers. It’s also only 42 games. If Sanchez plays every single game the rest of the season, he’ll finished with 54 games played. The fewest games ever played by a Rookie of the Year position player is 52, by Willie McCovey in 1959. Next fewest? Eighty-eighty by Ryan Howard.

At the moment Sanchez is first among all AL rookies in fWAR (+2.9) and is third in bWAR (+2.5). His primary competition: Michael Fulmer of the Tigers, the guy the Mets traded to Detroit along with Luis Cessa to get Yoenis Cespedes last year. Fulmer has a 3.03 ERA (3.89 FIP) in 148.2 innings. That works out to +2.5 fWAR and +4.7 bWAR. Fulmer’s been in the big leagues since April. Voters will have to figure out how to weigh 50-something games of Sanchez against a nearly a full season of Fulmer.

I’d love to see Sanchez win, but if I had a vote, it would go to Fulmer. The difference in playing time is too great. Sanchez is only going to play one-third of a season. One-third! He’s basically a rookie who had a hot start and time ran out before the league had a chance to adjust. At this point I expect Sanchez to receive some first place votes and I think he and Fulmer will finish one-two on the ballot in some order, with Tyler Naquin third. My money is on Fulmer winning right now.

Manager of the Year

Does Joe Girardi deserve Manager of the Year votes? If you believe the Yankees have no business being this close to the postseason race, then yes. If you watch every game and hang on every questionable move — questionable moves every manager makes, by the way — then no chance. Girardi’s had a pretty terrible year, strategically.

These days the Manager of the Year seems to go to the manager whose team most outperformed expectations, or improved the most from last season. This year that’s … Terry Francona? I guess John Farrell since the Red Sox were in last place a year ago. I really have no idea how the Manager of the Year voting will turn out. Girardi’s case is built on the Yankees selling and then getting hot for a few weeks in August and September. That will get him votes — Girardi has received Manager of the Year votes every season since 2009 — but probably ain’t enough to win.

Comeback Player of the Year

Gosh, who even are the Comeback Player of the Year candidates? Michael Saunders, I guess? Marcus Stroman probably would have won it with even an average season, but he hasn’t been able to do that. In recent years the Comeback Player of the Year has gone to players coming off major injury, like Matt Harvey and Prince Fielder last year. Chris Young (the pitcher) and Rivera are recent winners too. That could put Saunders in the lead.

With no obvious candidate, this is going to come down to the preference of the voters. Does Porcello deserve Comeback Player of the Year after his miserable 2015 season and average-ish career? Or is he just prime age player breaking out? Maybe Doug Fister should win. Or Robinson Cano. Or Chris Tillman. The Yankees’ best Comeback Player of the Year candidate is Sabathia, and as much as I love the big guy, he hasn’t been good enough to win the award. I’d bet on Saunders winning right now, though I have little confidence in that.

Saturday Links: Mateo, Instructs, Gurriel, Refsnyder

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees and Red Sox will continue their four-game series with the third game later this afternoon. Here are some bits of news and notes to hold you over.

Mateo among Law’s most disappointing prospects

After blazing start to the season with High-A Tampa, shortstop prospect Jorge Mateo hit a wall in June and never really recovered. He finished the year with a thoroughly disappointing .254/.306/.379 (99 wRC+) batting line despite setting a new career high with eight homers. Mateo went 36-for-51 (71%) in steal attempts one year after going 82-for-99 (83%).

It’s no surprise then that Mateo is one of eight top 100 prospects who took a step back this season, according to Keith Law (subs. req’d). “Getting suspended for two weeks for an unspecified violation of team rules was just the tip of the iceberg … multiple scouts have told me they haven’t seen Mateo make anywhere near enough hard contact,” said his write-up. “(The Yankees) seem to have soured a little on his makeup and have clearly superior shortstop options elsewhere in the system.”

The Yankees were ready to trade Mateo to the Padres for Craig Kimbrel at the trade deadline last year and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them shop him for pitching this offseason. They have a ton of shortstops in the farm system, including the superior Gleyber Torres, and Mateo still has enough top prospect shine to headline a package for a quality young pitcher. Right now I think there’s better than a 50/50 chance Mateo is traded this winter. We’ll see.

Instructional League roster released

Earlier this week Baseball America (no subs. req’d) posted the Yankees’ Instructional League roster. Instructs start later this month and run through mid-November. The roster looks the same as always. Some top prospects but mostly recent draftees and international signees, and players who missed time to injury. Blake Rutherford is apparently healthy enough for Instructs after missing the end of the season with a hamstring injury, so that’s cool.

Yesterday we heard James Kaprielian faced hitters for the first time since being shut down with an elbow injury way back in April. He’s not on the Instructional League roster but could always be added and get some innings there. The Yankees want Kaprielian to pitch in the Arizona Fall League and Instructs would be a natural stepping stone. Also, Greg Bird will face living pitching in Instructional League for the first time since shoulder surgery. He’s not on the roster but that might have to do with the fact he’s technically a rehabbing big leaguer, not a minor leaguer.

Gurriel holds showcase for MLB teams

Cuban infield prospect Lourdes Gurriel Jr. held a workout for teams earlier this week in Panama City, reports Jesse Sanchez. There were 60 scouts in attendance and Gurriel did the usual: fielded ground balls, shagged fly balls, took batting practice, ran sprints, that sort of stuff. “I have been waiting for this moment and now it became a reality. This was my first step to the big leagues, God willing. I’m grateful for everyone who helped me get to this point,” he said.

Sanchez said scouts were impressed by Gurriel’s arm and physicality, though the consensus is he needs more at-bats against live pitching. I mean, duh. He hasn’t played in a competitive game in almost a year now. The expectation has always been that Gurriel will need to spend some time in the minors before helping a big league team, the same way his brother did. Yulieski, by the way, has hit .329/.350/.500 (129 wRC+) with three homers in his first 22 games with the Astros, so that’s going well.

Lourdes is not Yoan Moncada, but he’s pretty darn good. He’s working out for teams now even though he won’t sign until he turns 23 next month. Once he turns 23 he will no longer be subject to the league’s international spending restrictions, so teams can pay him whatever they want. The Yankees haven’t signed a big name Cuban player in a long time, not since Jose Contreras, so I really have no reason to think they’ll sign Gurriel. Maybe they’ll surprise me.

Refsnyder nominated for Marvin Miller award

Rob Refsnyder is the Yankees’ nominee for this year’s Marvin Miller Man of the Year award, the MLBPA announced earlier this week. The award is given annually to the player “whose on-field performance and contributions to his community inspire others to higher levels of achievement.” Fans can vote to select one finalist from each division. Here’s the ballot.

Refsnyder, who was born in South Korea and adopted by a family in California when he was three months old, has been helping raise money for a charity called A Kid’s Place, which helps Tampa area children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. Refsnyder designed and is selling a t-shirt through Athletes Brand, with all the proceeds this month going to the charity. Pretty awesome. Well done, Ref.

Saturday Links: A-Rod, Rowson, Braves, Gardner

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Later this afternoon the Yankees and Rays will continue their four-game series with the third game at Yankee Stadium. First pitch isn’t until 4pm ET, so here are some miscellaneous links to help you pass the time.

A-Rod expected to appear at Instructs

According to Brendan Kuty, Alex Rodriguez is expected to make an appearance at Instructional League later this month. As a special instructor, of course. Not as a player. “I’m very pleased to have somebody with Alex’s experience and time in the game to be able to share those experiences with our young players. Our best young players are all going to be part of Instructional League,” said farm system head Gary Denbo.

This year’s Instructs roster hasn’t been released yet but it’ll come out soon enough. It’s usually a collection of top prospects, recent draftees, and players who missed time due to injury. Greg Bird will face live pitching for the first time since shoulder surgery in Instructional League, for example. My guess is A-Rod will wind up spending a bunch of time with the team’s small army of middle infield prospects, specifically Gleyber Torres and Jorge Mateo.

Rowson joins Yankees

Minor league hitting coordinator James Rowson joined the Yankees earlier this week and has been with the team since, reports Dan Martin. Rowson has worked with Aaron Judge a ton over the years. “He’s trying to get comfortable here. Everything is new to him and he’s had his battles before and made the adjustments,” said Rowson. “He’s been through rough times, especially with the punch outs and he’s always come out on the other side. So I feel like he’s going to do that again.”

This is not all that uncommon, really. A handful of minor league coaches will join the big league team for a homestand in September pretty much every year. Every single one of the Yankees’ full season minor league affiliates qualified for the postseason this year though, so those coaches and instructors haven’t had a chance to come up yet. This isn’t Rowson’s first stint with the big league team and it won’t be his last. Chances are he didn’t join the team specifically to work with Judge.

Update: Minor league pitching coordinator Danny Borrell is with the Yankees as well, reports Chad Jennings.

Yankees to open SunTrust Park

(Braves)
(Braves)

The Yankees and Braves will open the brand new SunTrust Park with an exhibition game on Friday, March 31st next year, the Braves announced. Apparently only “A List Members” (season ticket holders) will be allowed to attend. Lame. Atlanta is moving into their new 41,500 seat ballpark just 20 years after moving into Turner Field. The Yankees and Braves opened Turner Field with an exhibition game in 1996 as well.

This year the Yankees closed out Spring Training with a pair of exhibition games at Marlins Park. Last year they played two at Nationals Park. The Cubs came to New York for two exhibition games in 2009, when the new Yankee Stadium opened. They do this stuff every year. Also, the fact this exhibition game is scheduled for March 31st suggests the 2017 regular season will begin on Monday, April 3rd. Next year’s schedule should be announced soon. Possibly next week.

Gardner nominated for Roberto Clemente Award

Brett Gardner is the Yankees’ nominee for the 2016 Roberto Clemente Award, MLB announced. Here are the nominees from each team. The award is given each year to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.” Three Yankees have won the award: Derek Jeter (2009), Don Baylor (1985), and Ron Guidry (1984).

Amazingly, MLB turned an award recognizing community involvement — and an award named after an iconic player and a great humanitarian — into a popularity contest. Each nominee has an official hashtag and the player who receives the most votes on Twitter and Facebook will win. Incredible. MLB really knocked this one out of the park, eh? I’m sure fans will recognize each player’s off-the-field work and definitely not vote for their favorite player. No way.

Game 134: Bounce Back

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

Last night’s game was just one of those games. Every team has those throughout the season. You get blown out, the offense doesn’t do much … it happens. That’s baseball. Unfortunately the Yankees couldn’t really afford a game like that. The loss to the Orioles combined with the Tigers’ win means the Yankees are again 3.5 games back of Baltimore and Detroit for the second wildcard spot.

These next two games this weekend aren’t must wins, but they are incredibly important and the Yankees need to take advantage of these head-to-head matchups against the O’s. The easiest way to gain ground is to beat the team you’re chasing yourself. The Yankees have a chance to do that this weekend. They dropped the ball last night. Now they have to do what they did in Kansas City and win the next two games. Here is the Orioles’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. DH Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. C Brian McCann
  7. 1B Mark Teixeira
  8. RF Aaron Judge
  9. 3B Ronald Torreyes
    LHP CC Sabathia

It’s another cool and cloudy night in Baltimore, though there’s no rain in the forecast, so that’s good. Tonight’s game will start a little after 7pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Awards Notes: Sanchez was named both the AL Rookie of the Month and AL Player of the Month for August. That’s pretty cool. He’s the first player to win both in the same month since Jose Abreu in July 2014. He’s the first Yankee to be named Rookie of the Month since Robinson Cano (September 2005) and the first Yankee to be named Player of the Month since Curtis Granderson (August 2011).

Game 130: Another Important Series

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are halfway through this crucial 12-game stretch against fellow wildcard contenders. They took two of three from both the Mariners and Orioles, yet it feels like they could have done more. Either way, winning those series was pretty much the bare minimum, and that is again the case this week. The Yankees have to at least win this series against the Royals to stay in the race. Here is the Royals’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Aaron Hicks
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. DH Brian McCann
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. RF Aaron Judge
  9. 1B Tyler Austin
    RHP Michael Pineda

The internet tells me it is warm and sticky in Kansas City, and there is also some rain in the forecast later tonight. Shouldn’t be anything that interrupts the game unless they play extra innings. Tonight’s game will begin at 8:15pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Awards Note: Once again, Sanchez is your AL Player of the Week. He is the first rookie in history to win it back-to-back weeks. Wild. He’s also the first AL player to win it back-to-back weeks since Albert Belle in 1998. Sanchez having Belle’s career sure would be fun, minus all the crazy guy stuff.

Game 124: Start of an Important Stretch

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Do you want the Yankees to make the postseason? Of course you do. What’s the point of watching otherwise? The Yankees came into today four games back of the second wildcard spot with five teams ahead of them. Starting tonight, they’ll play their next 12 games against three of those five teams: Mariners, Orioles, Royals, and Orioles again.

These next 12 games are a big opportunity for the Yankees to gain ground in the the wildcard race, and you know what? They had chances like this earlier in the season and didn’t capitalize. This team has been treading water for about three months now. At some point they have to get hot and stay hot to have a realistic shot at the postseason, and hey, maybe they’re in the middle of that hot streak right now. The Yankees have won seven of their last eleven games, you know. Here is the Mariners’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. DH Brian McCann
  7. RF Aaron Judge
  8. 3B Chase Headley
  9. 1B Tyler Austin
    RHP Michael Pineda

It has been cool and cloudy all day in Seattle, the internet tells me. Typical Seattle weather, I guess. Tonight’s game will begin at 10:20pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Awards!: Gary Sanchez was named the AL Player of the Week, MLB announced. That’s cool. He went 11-for-21 (.524) with four homers last week. That’ll do it. Sanchez is the first Yankee to be named AL Player of the Week since Gardner last June, and only the second Yankees catcher to win the award, joining Thurman Munson. Yowza.

Josh Donaldson named 2015 AL MVP; McCann, Teixeira, A-Rod all receive votes

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

As expected, Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson was named the 2015 AL Most Valuable Player earlier tonight. He received 23 of 30 first place votes. Angels outfielder Mike Trout finished a distant second in the voting. I’d have voted for Trout, personally. Hard to believe he only has one MVP to show for this four-year stretch. It was his worst season too.

Anyway, three Yankees players received down-ballot votes: Brian McCann received one ninth place vote while Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira each received a tenth place vote. They’re the first Yankees to receive MVP votes since Robinson Cano in 2014. The Yankees were shut out of the MVP voting last year for the first time since 1992. The full voting results are at the BBWAA’s site.

Bryce Harper was named NL MVP unanimously. The Yankees did not have any awards finalists this year. Their last major award winner remains A-Rod, who was named 2007 AL MVP. Well, Andrew Miller won the Mariano Rivera Award this year, but that’s not really a major award.