Okay, the Rockies are not a playoff team. They are an interesting team. With a group of players who are among the best at their position at 3B, 2B, CF, and RF (and arguably SS). But they just don’t matter to MLB Network and MLB.com (again this does not apply to Tracy Ringolsby who actually writes about these interesting players on a regular basis).
The latest offense…the Essurance MLB Awards. I know, I know…its like the Grammys or Emmy or MTV Awards. No one cares and it doesn’t matter. But…it does.
Because the Rox simply got forgotten again. In two categories.
First, Best Major Leaguer
And the nominees are:
1 – Jose Altuve
2 – Mookie Betts
3 – Mike Trout
4 – Kris Bryant
5 – Josh Donaldson
The list, in MLB’s defense is based on the top 5 WAR (ESPN agrees) but…really? First, to say best Major Leaguer without taking into context multiple years is…silly. Much like I think the MVP award should be divided to make more sense – without Nolan this is a 100 loss club…he’s darn valuable, but that doesn’t matter without a playoff spot. Best offensive player makes sense…or what they are trying to do here. But really…these are your best 5 players in 2016? Does anyone buy that?
And what is really interesting is that there are two third basemen on the list, and to be blunt, Nolan is better than either of them (and I think that is a majority view in baseball both among players, coaches and GMs). On the ESPN list Nolan is second on defensive value to only the great SS for Cleveland, Francisco Lindor (SS is the most difficult spot on the field, then 3B, C and CF…in my opinion at least), and Betts (CF…but at Boston so…take that for what it is) and is tied with Manny Machado (who has played some short for Baltimore this season). Nolan is in the discussions as the greatest defensive 3B of all-time, as Brooks Robinson has even complimented his play (he has had a number of errors in the 2nd half but I think that is the Coors Field wear-down effect).
But it is in offense where Nolan gets downgraded. Now yes, his average is lower than Bryant by a bit, but is better than Donaldson. Altuve will win the AL Batting title (playing in a very offensive park) and Betts and Trout are both in the .315-.320 range. As for homers, Nolan leads Bryant by 1, Donaldson by 3 (another hugely offensive park, especially in power terms), Trout by 11, and Betts by 7 (Altuve is a 2B so having 24 homers is impressive).
It is true that in OPS numbers Nolan is only 11th best, trailing all 5 players (David Ortiz is the leader but by definition I think, a DH can’t be the best player). But is OPS is very close to Donaldson and Bryant and higher than Betts and Altuve.
But come on…we all know what this is about – Coors Field. The ball flies further (MLB said one scientist says 20 feet when given a certain loft but…I think that overstate is by at least 10 feet, I have always heard more in the 8 to 10 feet). The outfield is huge. And breaking balls don’t break. So all stats at Coors are null and void (including evidently pitching stats). Statistics like OPS+ attempt to smooth things out, but they are very basic stats when it comes to leveling things out. Is Coors an advantage? Of course it is. But a “so far beyond that we might as well think of them as AAA stats” (yes, heard someone on either ESPN or MLB actually say that), no!
And when players go on the road they face a much larger challenge than any other team (though other teams have reported some of the same challenges after leaving Coors). Pitching looks different. Pitchers pitch differently. There are a large number of adjustments. This isn’t like leaving Boston where you know you can just hit a 7-iron off the Green Monster for a hit. These are serious physical and mental challenges (and there are some coming to Coors for hitters, even Rox hitters).
And of course, as I have been harping on for several years, there is the wear-down effect. Playing 81 games at altitude, and living here for closer to 100 days during the season, is hard on the body. My own doctor has been blunt in treating my own disease, “I would be healthier and feel better at sea level.” The impact of altitude has been documented. Attempts to counter its effect, like oxygen tents and such are of limited aid. I think the removal of amphetamines has probably impacted the Rox more than any team (at least if the report that 75% of players used them in the past to deal with the length of the season). But the simple fact is, that impact is recorded no where in the evaluation of Coors Field on players.
But yes, Nolan has a still very good .832 OPS on the road. And a terrific 1.018 OPS at home. What is strange is that this season his BABIP in play is only about average (or a bit below) both at home (.297) and on the road (.280) for a player who hits the ball as hard as Nolan does, those are really low numbers. I think he has simply had a bit more bad luck this year than in past years.
The attempts to “level the field” for things like WAR and OPS+ I have argued overstate significantly the “Coors Effect.” They also generally do not handle defensive stats very well either, especially in the outfield but also in the infield because of the speed of balls hit and the challenges of positioning with young pitchers and different spin at Coors. And these attempts to make it all even hurt Nolan in these key categories as the attempt is made to talk about Nolan the national stage.
Look, Trout is a great player (and CF tend to need to be lighter than 3B), but his offensive and defensive stats are not better than Nolan’s. If I was starting a new team who I would take first – Trout, Harper, Bryant or Nolan…that is a tough one.
Bryant has had a great year, he does play the outfield in addition to 3B (he is decently good at defense at both positions but not great). He too benefits from a great place to hit (most day) And he is a year younger than Nolan but…Nolan is to be blunt…the best 3B in baseball (MLB Network ranked him 6th last off-season, though the in study expert that day said he thought Nolan was #1, no matter what the computers said). He is a better all-around player than Donaldson. Period.
Altuve has had a great year, but he is not the best major leaguer on his own team – his shortstop Carlos Correa, in a down year still putting up an .817 OPS (2nd best among SS). Even in a great season like this, Francisco Lindor, the best defensive player in baseball along with his .795 OPS in a depleted lineup, has been at least as good a player as Altuve
If Nolan is not in the discussion for the best player in baseball, then the discussion is just wrong. I know WAR hates RBIs but he will lead baseball in it by a long margin, for the 2nd year in a row. He will probably lead the NL in homers. He is the best defensive 3B in baseball and arguably the 2nd best defensive player in baseball. But because he plays at Coors, is a Coors Field creation as some call him…it just doesn’t matter.
And that makes this award and this list…silly.
Okay, here we go again. Now, I do think Corey Seager will win the award and should. I also think if Story had been healthy, the way he was improving each month, he would have at least made it interesting (how many votes do you think Tyler Anderson will get? Can we call him a Coors Field creation with his 3.56 ERA?). In the AL you have Michael Fulmer the key starter for the Tigers and the Indians Tyler Naquin.
But then it gets squirley. The 4th choice is Gary Sanchez. Now, he plays a big position (C) and he single handedly just about turned around the Yanks season (Which has again faded). But he has a grand total of 42 games, with 183 PA. Really? That is really more in the range of a September call-up. I mean, 17 homers. Awesome. And yes, a 1.019 OPS. Great. But 42 games? It takes time for pitchers to adjust.
And #5 is Trea Turner. Again, only 62 games. And just 276 PA. Again, he is a great players and I see great things in his career eitehr as a SS or CF.
But guess who has played 97 games, who was there on opening day, and who has 372 PA. Guess who has the 2nd highest OPS among rookies? Trevor Story. Guess who has the most homers for rookies (still). Guess who was a positive defensive player for his team. Trevor Story. If Altuve gets extra credit for playing middle infield…shouldn’t Story also?
If Trevor doesn’t tear up his thumb Story ends up with 35-40 homers, 15 steals, and plays great defense. But even without that, can you really say that he isn’t one of the top 5 rookies? Even if we use WAR – a stat I already have stated I think has flaws, Story is tied for 2nd among position players among rookies (granted half of Seager) but at 3.2 he and Turner are tied. And Nyquin? He is 2.5 WAR behind Story.
Now granted the injury has taken Story off the front pages but…he didn’t get abducted by aliens. And here is the thing, after a great April May was a decline, but in June and July he kept improving. The more he faced pitchers, the better, not worse he got. The book on him changed, and he changed and got better. That is impressive. And you have to wonder with him getting better and better, how good would end of year stats would have made the ROY in the NL very interesting.
Yes, yes…Coors Field. He only had a .747 OPS on the road but that was improving as the season went on. But still…the numbers are the numbers. Do we just ignore them? Does Coors make him not great? Again, 3.2 WAR in those 97 games. Nyquin is at just .6WAR.
I will add that Diaz with St. Louis has 3.3 WAR but his defense I suppose is why he didn’t get nominated either.
But for all around position players among the rookies, Story is arguably the 2nd best rookie in baseball after Seager.
But not for the folks at MLB. Come on folks…get the video and you might find there are some great players playing here in Colorado. It just takes a little time to realize both Nolan and Trevor should be on the list. Maybe not winners but…at least in the discussion.