Josh Nelson’s IBWAA Awards ballot: Jose Abreu for MVP

With the regular season wrapped up, it’s time to submit my Internet Baseball Writers Association of America 2020 awards ballot. The format is very similar to what the BBWAA writers go through when selecting their awards, and having gone through this process, I know some will have an easy job voting. Simultaneously, those with a National League Cy Young ballot will be pulling their hair out and continuing to second-guess if they made the right decision.

If you would like to play along, in the comments below, you can post your picks.

American League MVP: Jose Abreu

I can’t think of a better situation to show how much Jose Abreu means to the White Sox than on Saturday’s win over the Chicago Cubs. A team beaten up physically and emotionally after losing six straight games was on the ropes again. Down 5-4, bases loaded with two outs, Abreu came through with a bases-clearing double. There are more moments like that from Abreu in 2020, which might be his best professional season despite only playing 60 games. Not only should he win the MVP, but he could come away with a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards, too.

Where Abreu finished in the American League:

  • Games Played: T-1st
  • bWAR (Baseball-Reference): 1st
  • fWAR (FanGraphs): 3rd
  • Runs: 3rd
  • Hits: 1st
  • Doubles: T-9
  • Home Runs: 2nd
  • RBI: 1st
  • AVG: 4th
  • OBP: 10th
  • SLG: 1st

That’s a formidable resume to beat, and I expect the BBWAA also pick Abreu as the White Sox first MVP since Frank Thomas won the award in 1993 and 1994.

The rest of my AL MVP ballot:

  1. Jose Ramirez
  2. DJ LeMahieu
  3. Brandon Lowe
  4. Tim Anderson
  5. Mike Trout
  6. Nelson Cruz
  7. Anthony Rendon
  8. Luke Voit
  9. Alex Verdugo

National League MVP: Freddie Freeman

Freddie Freeman is having a fantastic season with the Atlanta Braves in 2020, but making it more special is remembering what he suffered through dealing with COVID-19. Watching the White Sox every day, we see Yoan Moncada struggle with his recovery. It helps everyone understand the impact this virus has even if it doesn’t kill you. Freeman thought the worst when his fever hit 104.5 degrees. Remarkably, Freeman recovered in time to play in 2020 and help lead the Atlanta Braves to another NL East title.

Where Freeman finished in the National League:

  • Games Played: 2nd
  • bWAR: 2nd
  • fWAR: 1st
  • Runs: 1st
  • Hits: 3rd
  • Doubles: 1st
  • Home Runs: 14th
  • RBI: 2nd
  • AVG: 2nd
  • OBP: 2nd
  • SLG: 2nd

The rest of my NL ballot:

  1. Mookie Betts
  2. Manny Machado
  3. Fernando Tatis Jr.
  4. Mike Yastrzemski
  5. Trevor Story
  6. Ronald Acuna Jr.
  7. Marcell Ozuna
  8. Juan Soto
  9. Trent Grisham

American League Cy Young: Shane Bieber

The most effortless award winner to choose, in my opinion, is the American League Cy Young because Shane Bieber was that dominant in 2020. I imagine Bieber will pick up MVP votes on some ballots, but I view the Cy Young as the pitchers’ MVP award. That’s why you don’t see Bieber on my MVP ballot, as I keep that to just position players.

Bieber led the majors in ERA (1.63) and strikeouts (122). He gives Cleveland a great chance of making a deep run in this year’s postseason. I hope another team figures him out before the White Sox have to cross his path for the third time in 2020.

The rest of my AL Cy Young ballot:

  1. Kenta Maeda
  2. Lucas Giolito
  3. Zack Greinke
  4. Dylan Bundy

National League Cy Young: Yu Darvish

If I spend any more time thinking about the NL Cy Young vote, I will change my mind. I’ve gone from Jacob deGrom to Trevor Bauer to Yu Darvish, back to Bauer, and finally settling on Darvish. I think any of the three are very deserving and do not envy anyone with a BBWAA vote in this category.

Why I picked Darvish over Bauer? I watched Darvish twice this season carve up the White Sox lineup (14 IP, 1 ER, 15 K to 2 BB). Meanwhile, Bauer gave up the only home run Nomar Mazara hit in 2020.

The rest of my NL Cy Young ballot:

  1. Trevor Bauer
  2. Jacob deGrom
  3. Corbin Burnes
  4. Dinelson Lamet

American League Rookie of the Year: Kyle Lewis

On Aug. 31, I was sure that this year’s AL Rookie of the Year award was Luis Robert’s to lose, and sure enough, he lost it with his poor September performance. Kyle Lewis is also struggling in September, but his overall numbers are still ahead of Robert’s and why he gets the nod.

Lewis looks like a star in the making for Seattle and a foundation piece in their rebuilding efforts. Interestingly, the Mariners last year gave Lewis a cup of coffee run by playing in 18 games. He opened a lot of eyes with his performance, hitting .268/.293/.592 with six home runs, and it helped him transition to 2020, hitting .266/.366/.443 with 11 homers. Not bad for someone selected one pick after the White Sox drafted Zack Collins in 2016.

The rest of my AL Rookie of the Year ballot:

  1. Luis Robert
  2. Willi Castro

National League Rookie of the Year: Jake Cronenworth

Again, another toss-up award that I don’t think there is a wrong answer. Choosing between San Diego’s Jake Cronenworth or Milwaukee’s new ace reliever, Devin Williams, was tough.

I picked Cronenworth because of his position versatility, helping the Padres at first base while Eric Hosmer was out due to injury. After Hosmer returned, Cronenworth locked down the second base position. A product of the Tampa Bay Rays system, Cronenworth held his own quite nicely hitting .292/.362/.488 with a 130 wRC+. With his addition, the Padres now have the National League’s best infield.

The rest of my NL Rookie of the Year ballot:

  1. Devin Williams
  2. Tony Gonsolin

American League Reliever of the Year: Liam Hendriks

Liam Hendriks has set himself up nicely for a big payday this upcoming offseason entering free agency. In 2019, Hendricks was terrific for Oakland, closing games with 25 saves and carrying a 1.80 ERA/1.87 FIP. He’s been better in 2020. In 24 games, Hendricks pitched 25.1 innings with a 40.2 K% to just a 3.3 BB%. Opposing hitters have a .157 batting average, and it’s remarkable anyone has scored a run off Hendriks. Even though he’ll be 32 years old starting in 2021, Hendricks will be one of the more coveted free agents.

The rest of my AL Reliever of the Year ballot:

  1. Brad Hand
  2. James Karinchak

National League Reliever of the Year: Devin Williams

Even though I didn’t give Devin Williams a first-place vote for Rookie of the Year, he deserves NL Reliever of the Year honors. His changeup has become one of the most lethal pitches in today’s game. In 2020, opposing hitters are 2-for-62 against Williams’ changeup, striking out 41 times with a whiff rate of 61.1%. Overall, Williams has struck out 53% of the batters faced with an opposing batting average of .089. He’s been so good that it wouldn’t surprise me if Milwaukee decided this offseason to move Josh Hader and move forward with Williams as their primary closer.

The rest of my NL Reliever of the Year ballot:

  1. Raisel Iglesias
  2. Freddy Peralta

American League Manager of the Year: Kevin Cash

Tampa Bay won the American League East by not having a single pitcher qualify for the ERA title. Only three pitchers on their staff threw more than 50 innings in 2020 (Tyler Glasnow, Blake Snell, and Ryan Yarbrough), and 12 different pitchers made starts for the Rays. Some of that is because of Kevin Cash’s opener strategy. Still, a lot of it was out of necessity as injuries significantly impacted the Rays pitching staff.

But it doesn’t seem like anything fazes the Rays these days. No matter what button Cash pushes, it appears that the Rays always come out ahead with his decisions, whether it’s changing pitchers or platooning hitters. It’s remarkable how easily the Rays won the AL East, and how they dominated the Yankees in 2020 (8-2 record).

A hat tip to Toronto/Buffalo Blue Jays skipper Charlie Montoyo. For a team that didn’t have a permanent home, Montoyo has done an excellent job helping the young Blue Jays team remain focused. They are an unpredictable bunch, but Montoyo has the Blue Jays going to the postseason.

The rest of my AL Manager of the Year ballot:

  1. Charlie Montoyo
  2. Rick Renteria

National League Manager of the Year: Don Mattingly

When more than half the league is making the postseason, there will be a surprise team joining in the fun. There wasn’t much hype around the Miami Marlins to be that surprise team. Still, the projection models were optimistic in a 60-game season that this roster could win 25+ games.

Then COVID-19 hit the team hard. Mostly due to the Marlins players not taking the virus seriously while going out in Atlanta. It put other players in jeopardy. Some in baseball thought the lack of management from Don Mattingly was to blame, and he deserved to be fired.

After the wakeup call of losing half of the roster and having to call up players like old friend Eddy Alvarez, it’s astonishing that the Marlins finished second in the NL East. This roster is an overachieving bunch who will finish at least a .500 record even though they have a run differential of -46 entering the season’s final day. Their expected win total is at 25. Navigating stormy waters and coming through the other side with a postseason berth is an incredible feat for Don Mattingly and his staff. Fun fact: The Marlins have never lost a playoff series in franchise history. We’ll see if that continues as they face the Chicago Cubs in the Wild Card round.

The rest of my NL Manager of the Year ballot:

  1. Gabe Kapler
  2. Dave Roberts

(Jose Abreu portrait by Carl Skanberg)

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Josh Nelson

Josh Nelson is the host and producer of the Sox Machine Podcast. For show suggestions, guest appearances, and sponsorship opportunities, you can reach him via email at josh@soxmachine.com.

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mikeyb

I’m going to ignore the fact that you don’t feel pitchers should be MVP candidates and instead focus on my only other question: was Lucas Giolito really the 3rd best pitcher in the AL this year? The no-hitter was phenomenal, no doubt, and my 2nd favorite game of the year (behind Abreu’s Cub bashing).

But he only went more than 6 innings in 3 of 12 starts, gave up 14 runs in 14.2 innings vs. the division winning Twins, and just generally (to me) didn’t really look as dominant as he did last year (when he finished 6th in Cy Young voting). I have to admit I didn’t really pay as much attention to the competition this year, so maybe he really was the 3rd best pitcher in the AL, but that would be surprising to me.

Joliet Orange Sox

In fwar, Giolito (2.0) was 4th in the AL behind Bieber (3.2), Greinke (2.1), and Maeda(2.1). I don’t think it is a reach to put him 3rd on a Cy Young ballot. Giolito threw more innings than Greinke or Maeda (which I know fwar gives him some credit for) but I point it out to address your concern that he only went more than 6 innings three times. Even Bieber only threw 5 more innings than Giolito. It was a year without off days and limited pre-season training and quick hooks and…

mikeyb

Huh, would not have guessed that, thanks.

Right Size Wrong Shape

Renteria?

Right Size Wrong Shape

I see your point, but that last 10 days really soured me on Ricky (who I wasn’t crazy about to start with). Maybe Francona since he kept a team with no hitting in the race all year.

HallofFrank

I’ll be surprised if Keuchel doesn’t finish in the Top 5 in Cy Young voting.

What he lacks in K’s he more than makes up for elsewhere. He was the only other pitcher (besides Bieber) to be under 2.00 in ERA. His HR prevention numbers are wild, and he excels in both traditional numbers (ERA, W, etc) and new metrics (Adj ERA+, Adj Pitching Runs, WPA, etc).

As Cirensica

Good job Josh. Solid picks. I would have gone with Bauer instead of Darvish.

MrStealYoBase

I think they should break the ROY voting into hitters and pitchers like they do for MVP/Cy Young. (And, if it wasn’t obvious, I agree with Josh that pitchers shouldn’t really be considered for MVP).

The issue of how valuable a pitcher is compared to a hitter doesn’t have an obvious answer. Yes, Bieber was insanely good through 12 starts, but it’s just that: 12 games. How do you compare the value of a guy who is a major influence on the outcome of 12 games (of which, the Indians ultimately won 10), v guys like Abreu, Ramirez, DJM, etc. who played 50+ games, and probably influenced the outcome in 30 of them?

People will point to WAR, which is supposed to bridge the gap, but where positional adjustments are somewhat arbitrary and the formulation is up for debate. For example, I think it’s kind of ridiculous that Fangraphs uses FIP for pitcher WAR, a predictive stat rather than actual performance stats.