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The State of the NotAwards Races

Lucas Harrell

With a monthish left in the season, it’s about that time to start handicapping the awards races. Of course, they’ve got that taken care of over on FanGraphs. So we are left with the far more unique, challenging, and thankless task of handicapping the NotAwards races. Because when suckiness becomes outstanding — we firmly believe — it must be celebrated and rewarded.

Least Valuable Player (AL)

This is Maicer Izturis‘ award to lose. Unfortunately, he’s gone and sprained his ankle and landed on the DL, so his prospects of detracting value from the Blue Jays for the rest of the season are in serious doubt. (Ryan Goins, his replacement for now, is hitting .455 since his call-up.) But Maicer is pacing the majors in negative WAR by a full half a win, which should prove to be a prohibitive lead. Few players provide crappy hitting (.236/.288/.310), crappy fielding (-16.5 UZR), and crappy baserunning (1 SB, 5 CS) in the same package, and Izturis’ versatility in sucking at three infield positions is second to none. All in all, his 2013 will go down as one of the most futile campaigns in recent memory. (And that Izturis is emblematic of a franchise having a mind-blowing disappointment of a year certainly won’t hurt him with the voters.) Still, Chicago teammates Paul Konerko and Jeff Keppinger deserve shoutouts here, as does erstwhile Royal Jeff Francoeur (for his epic half-season of turd-laying).

Least Valuable Player (NL)

This one’s more open to discussion. As usual, Yuniesky Betancourt has made a solid case for himself — bolstered by a spectacular .234 OBP that would be the lowest since 2000 (among players with 350+ PAs) — though UZR seems to think his fielding has improved a few ticks. His teammate Rickie Weeks, currently last in the majors in Win Probability Added, deserves mention for always being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Starlin Castro has a claim as well, having accomplished the notable feat of providing negative value despite being among the league leaders in playing time. And in the Money Blown Department, let’s be sure to recognize B.J. Upton (.182 average) and Matt Kemp (5 HRs).

But each of these guys plays either for a team that has thrived in spite of him, or a team that is just boringly, run-of-the-mill bad. In my mind, the award has to come down to two guys who have made a real difference in their teams’ respective fortunes. One is Arizona’s Jason Kubel, league leader in WAR at -1.7, who’s put up a pitiful .270 wOBA at the classic offense-first position of left field. Though he only has 267 PAs to his credit, he’s made the most of them, taking nearly two wins away from possibly the one team in the league that could use them the most.

The other is Adeiny Hechavarria of the Marlins, whose team is about as far from contention as a team can get, but who can be truly said to have helped that team reach new heights of sucking. Hechavarria (.229/.272/.303, -8.2 UZR, -1.5 WAR) has put together a great, awful year, and it’s tempting to honor the worst player on the worst team in the league. But he’s also a rookie (see below), and will have plenty more chances to win some hardware. Kubel’s been sucking for years, and with the news just breaking yesterday that he’s been DFA’d, this could be it for the guy. Like it or not, narratives like this have played well for the voters in the past. At this point the smart money’s got to be on Koob.

Cy Dung (AL)

Assessing pitching suck is, for several reasons, considerably thornier than picking the worst position players. On the junior circuit, the short list has to include Joe Saunders, he of the ERA (5.09) higher than his K/9 (4.86), and Jerome Williams, who’s one of only a couple of qualifying pitchers with negative WAR (-0.2). CC Sabathia and his 4.86 ERA should be recognized for outstanding underperformance. And if the Rays manage to miss the postseason by a game or two, Roberto Hernandez — 6-13, 4.95 — will start to look awfully good to the voters.

What about Phil Hughes? Thanks in large part to coughing up 1.53 gopherballs per nine, he’s put together a shiny 4-13 record and looks like a big reason that the Yankees will likely be staying home in October. But Hughes has suffered from some crappy luck, and with the voters getting more stat-savvy every year, his decent peripherals might sink his case.

Barring the unlikely choice of a reliever, that leaves one guy: Lucas Harrell of the hapless Astros. 6-15 on the year, he’s walked more guys than he’s struck out, a real accomplishment for a pitcher with as many innings as he’s thrown. But more importantly, he’s a poster child of sorts for a historically bad pitching staff (0.2 WAR total!) on a historically bad club. Unless there are major changes in store in September, any choice other than Harrell would surprise me.

Cy Dung (NL)

This one’s a toughie. Do you look at the loss column? As usual, that’s a red herring; Edwin Jackson and most of the other guys up top have suffered from some bad luck and crappy teammates. Do you pick a guy who’s been a disappointment and a potential scapegoat for a not-quite-contending team? Dan Haren or Trevor Cahill fit the bill, but neither has really sucked enough to deserve recognition. Do you go with an outstanding reliever? Brandon League has put together an impressive campaign (-1.1 WAR), but with the Dodgers thriving, the voters will likely look elsewhere.

No, I think you’ve got to look at a couple of cellar-dwelling staffs out West: the Giants, who are completing an absolutely historic reversal of their pitching fortunes, and the Padres, who are one of the worst pitching teams in recent memory. For San Fran, Ryan Vogelsong leads the squad in negative WAR but only has 70-some innings to his credit. That leaves us with Barry Zito, who’s got just about everything the voters could ask for: 10 losses, a shiny ERA (5.81), a terrible K/BB, and a half-win’s worth of negative value.

The Pads actually have three hurlers with a WAR south of -1, but each has issues: Jason Marquis has outperformed his peripherals and actually put together a winning record, while Clayton Richard only has 50 innings, and Huston Street has somehow tightroped his way to a 2.82 ERA. Instead, I think Edinson Volquez will be the Padre with the best shot at the award. He leads qualifiers in ERA (6.01), he’s got that magic number of 10 losses, and being DFA’d only strengthens his narrative. I look for this season’s Cy to come down to Zito and Volquez, with Barry ahead at this point by a nose.

Worst Rookie of the Year (AL)

By comparison with the Cy Dung awards, picking the WRoYs is a cakewalk. It bears mention that 2013 has seen an excellent crop of young AL pitchers — Brandon Maurer, Kyle Gibson, Brad Peacock, Paul Clemens, and Justin Grimm have all been magnificent — but none, in my mind, has put in enough time to stand out and earn the award. I don’t see anyone mounting a serious challenge to the recently-demoted Aaron Hicks, whose sub-Mendoza average and shaky center field defense put him in a class of his own.

Worst Rookie of the Year (NL)

This one is as much of an open-shut case as the voters could hope for. The aforementioned Adeiny Hechavarria has put up dismal offensive numbers, the metrics haven’t borne out his reputation with the glove, and his speed has been wasted with a barely-over-even success rate on the basepaths. And all of this while pacing all rookies in playing time, and occupying a premium position for the worst team in the league. In any other year Pete Kozma, who has been epically terrible with the bat, would be cruising his way to this award. But Hechavarria is putting together suckage for the ages.