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Sizing up Nats’ chances for NL awards

Aug 13, 2014, 10:00 AM EST

Photo by USA Today Photo by USA Today

With the Nationals and Braves locked in a race for the NL East division crown, it’s easy to overlook the individual performances that helped earn Washington a first place standing here in the second week of August.

I was asked on the radio last week whether Anthony Rendon deserved any MVP consideration and it got me thinking: which Nats players have a chance at earning some hardware after this season?

Sure, individual honors are an offseason discussion, but sometimes the race to the finish can be quite entertaining.

Here is a look at which Nats players should be considered for awards this year:

National League MVP: Rendon and Denard Span

Both Rendon and Span have what I would call an outside shot at finishing near the top of NL MVP voting, but there are still about seven weeks left in the season for them to make their case. Right now Rendon is 8th among NL position players in WAR at 4.3. Span ranks 17th among NL players at 3.3.

The Nationals are in first place and there’s no question they wouldn’t be there without the production of Rendon and Span at the top of their order. After Tuesday’s game, Rendon is now hitting .276 with 16 homers, 66 RBI and an NL-best 82 runs.

Everyone around here knows how well Span has been playing lately. It’s been written about nearly every day since July. Through 108 games he is now batting .303 with a .356 on-base percentage, 71 runs and 23 steals.

Both Rendon and Span have been great, but right now each is a longshot for MVP. They will probably each finish somewhere between fifth and 20th in voting. At this point, Giancarlo Stanton has to be the favorite. Maybe Clayton Kershaw.

National League Cy Young: Doug Fister and Tanner Roark

Let’s start this off by saying that as long as Kershaw keeps it up, no Nationals pitcher – or anybody else, for that matter – has a prayer in the NL Cy Young race. Kershaw has been the best pitcher in the game for years now and this has so far been the best season he’s ever had. Like, yeah, he’s somehow getting better.

That doesn’t mean Nats pitchers can’t get votes, however. If the season were to end today, there would have to be some representation for what has been the fourth best rotation in the majors in terms of ERA (3.29). And so far it has been Fister and Roark leading the way, no matter how unpredictable that would have seemed back in spring training.

Fister has been the clearcut ace of the Nats’ staff this season, consistently turning out gems no matter the overall state of the team. After Tuesday’s win over the Mets, Fister now places seventh among NL starters in wins (12), third in ERA (2.34) and fourth in WHIP (1.073). He has also walked only 13 batters in 111 2/3 innings.

The biggest knock on Fister in terms of the Cy Young race is that he missed the first six weeks of the season. The lack of starts and innings pitched will certainly lower his chances.

Roark has been no slouch, either. The 27-year-old is ninth among NL starters with a 2.86 ERA and is just behind Fister with 11 wins. He also ranks seventh in the NL with a .233 batting average against and should finish with over 200 innings pitched.

At this point, it would not be crazy to see both Fister and Roark finish with votes, given how much they have meant to the Nats this year. Still, it’s Kershaw’s to lose.

NL Rookie of the Year: Aaron Barrett

By this, I simply mean he could get a few votes. Each of the last three seasons has seen eight different NL players earn rookie of the year votes and in 2010 nine guys got consideration. The case could be made that Barrett has been among the best eight or so rookies in the NL this season.

Barrett is in Syracuse now, but he came out of nowhere early this season to make a total of 40 appearances out of the Nats’ bullpen. Along the way he compiled a 3.21 ERA with 43 strikeouts and 18 walks in 33 2/3 innings.

Barrett was strong right from the beginning when he debuted on Opening Day in New York. The rookie pitched seven outings before allowing a run and gave up just one in his first 20 games (19 IP). To come in and make an impact on a team as talented as the Nats right away is impressive, and he could build on his case later this season if (more like when) he returns.

Obviously, though, Barrett will not finish anywhere near the top of NL rookie of the year voting. Right now the award is Billy Hamilton’s to lose. Jacob deGrom of the Mets will get some consideration, as well.

Side note: I couldn’t put Michael Taylor in the ‘he could get some votes’ discussion after seeing him for just one game Tuesday night. But, trust me, I thought about it.

Silver Slugger Award: Rendon and Ian Desmond

Rendon may be an underdog in MVP voting, but he has a very good chance of winning a Silver Slugger at third base this year.

Rendon has played 95 games at third base – compared to 28 at second – and ranks favorably among his NL counterparts. The 22-year-old is first among NL third basemen in runs, RBI and doubles. He places second in home runs, hits, OPS and steals.

At this point, Rendon could be the favorite in a crowded group that includes Todd Frazier, Aramis Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval.

For Desmond, it could be three years in a row he wins a Silver Slugger at shortstop. And, once again, it could be due in large part to injuries cutting Troy Tulowitzki’s season short.

Tulo was far and away the NL’s best player this year before he went down in late July with a hip injury. In the time since, Desmond has continued to play well and at a consistent rate. He now leads NL shortstops in RBI (72), and ranks second in hits (109), steals (13) and games played (115).

As long as he stays healthy – and Tulo stays on the DL – the Silver Slugger should go to Desmond.

Gold Glove: Span

This is much harder to quantify than the other awards races, as sometimes no one knows what MLB is thinking when they hand them out. Span, however, has been exceptional in center field this season with the Nationals. He’s been durable, consistent and has a .996 fielding percentage.

Yeah, some of the advanced metrics favor other players because of their arm strength, but if you watch Span on nightly basis like we here in Washington do, it seems a huge oversight that he’s never won a Gold Glove in his career. This should be the year.

  1. stoatva - Aug 13, 2014 at 10:10 AM

    Like you, I think MVP and Cy Young are a lost cause for the Nats, but I’d love to see Tony Two-Bags pick up a Silver Slugger at third. Did Werth get “Comeback” POY in 2012? He should have.

    • stoatva - Aug 13, 2014 at 10:14 AM

      Buster Posey. Okay, maybe.

    • stoatva - Aug 13, 2014 at 10:17 AM

      Strange that six players have won Comeback POY twice.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 13, 2014 at 12:17 PM

      Rendon and Span may get some random votes in 7-10 and Fister also. We will see.

  2. tcostant - Aug 13, 2014 at 10:22 AM

    I’m starting to think that Todd Frazier is the most under rated player in baseball. He losses the ROY to Haprer, because while his stats were better, Harper was a teenager. Now, he has 20 HR’s and no one knows this guy.

    As for Desi, we have to sign this guy at any cost.

    • bowdenball - Aug 13, 2014 at 10:40 AM

      I’m not sure what stats you’re looking at when you say Frazier’s were better than Harper’s in 2012. Harper had a higher OBP and higher slugging % in 2012, more HRs, more hits, more runs scored, more steals, and played better defense at a more important and difficult position.

      Harper didn’t win the award because he was 19, he won it because he was easily the best rookie in the National League that season.

      • nats1924 - Aug 13, 2014 at 11:30 AM

        im not 100% on resigning Desi unless its for a hometown discount. Given Stras ain’t a true #1 and will prob walk when its time, i’d rather take those dollars to extend JZ and/or Fister

        As for SS, let’s see how Cabrera does in the next few months. historically he’s pretty strong in Sept and Oct. I’d rather give him a contract than dump a whole lot of dough on Desi.

        Of course if we can get our share of money from a tv contract money would be less of a concern. -hate angelos and the Os aka St Browns.

      • coop202 - Aug 13, 2014 at 11:40 AM

        Think everyone is waiting to see what happens with the masn deal. 120m v 20m is a big difference and certainly will effect negotiations.

  3. Soul Possession, Sec 3 My Sofa - Aug 13, 2014 at 10:28 AM

    Speaking of Kershaw, he was drafted 7th overall in 2006. That was near the end of the “No Scouts For You” period of MLB ownership for the Nats, and man, if you ever needed an argument for beefing up a scouting department, just look at the Nats 2006 draft. So far, Brad Peacock (41st) and maybe Tyler Moore (33rd, and still in the minors) are the best picks of that list.

    They could have let the fans pick and not done any worse.

    • sjberke - Aug 13, 2014 at 12:39 PM

      Just to clarify, the Nats had the 15th pick of the first round because of their surprise .500 finish in 2005. So Kershaw was long gone (all the teams that could have taken him but didn’t are the ones to be criticized, except maybe for Tampa Bay, which took Evan Longoria). The Nats took Chris Marrero, who we all remember but not as a great contributor. The teams drafting around the Nats didn’t do much better (the Blue Jays drafting 14th took Travis Snider and the Brewers drafting 16th took Jeremy Jeffress). Nevertheless, the general point about Nats scouting and drafting at that time is well taken.

  4. jd - Aug 13, 2014 at 10:32 AM

    Frazier is good but he’s helped by the bandbox as his home park. Rendon is a much better player/hitter than Frazier. What may hurt Rendon is the fact that he played so much at 2nd base. Josh Harrison of the Pirates is now playing full time 3rd base and is also having an excellent year but I don’t think that the voters will consider him a 3rd baseman. The only other player in the conversation is Carpenter but he’s not really in Rendon’s class.

    Rendon is a 4.4 WAR player with almost a 3rd of the season left.

    • knoxvillenat - Aug 13, 2014 at 2:41 PM

      ” The only other player in the conversation is Carpenter but he’s not really in Rendon’s class.”

      Apparently Mike Matheny didn’t get that memo, unfortunately.

  5. stoatva - Aug 13, 2014 at 10:33 AM

    I continue to watch with interest to see how Mike Trout will respond to playing meaningful games in the last third of the season. Since July 1 he’s hitting about .266. Every time I check the box score it seems like he’s 0 for 4, with the occasional 3 for 5 thrown in. No, I am not ready to declare him “overrated,” but it bears watching.

  6. bowdenball - Aug 13, 2014 at 10:36 AM

    I’ll preface this by saying that Span is an excellent fielder. But there’s a reason “some of the advanced metrics favor other players because of their arm strength.” That’s not just some weird quirk in the advanced metrics. It’s because arm strength combined with accurate throws makes you a better defensive player. If there’s a player whose glove is close to as good or as good as Span’s who has a superior arm, that player is the better defender and deserves the Gold Glove (which, despite the name, goes to the best fielder, not the best glove).

    Yes, Span’s range is excellent. I love watching him play. But if his arm is a liability, that needs to be considered in judging his defensive contributions. You wouldn’t give a silver slugger award to a guy who hits a lot of HRs and has a mediocre average and OBP, or vice versa, if there was a more complete candidate. This is the same.

    • 6ID20 - Aug 13, 2014 at 11:31 AM

      If Span’s arm is a liability, where is the bogus SABR stat that “proves” it by showing how many runners take an extra base on Span compared with other center fielders?

      • bowdenball - Aug 13, 2014 at 11:48 AM

        Take it easy. I don’t know if it’s a liability. That’s why I said “if” repeatedly. I was taking issue with the text that seemed to suggest that you can just ignore that as a factor.

        Since you asked, though- Fangraphs has his outfield arm runs above average at -0.6. He was above average in 2013 but otherwise has rated below average throughout his career.

        I don’t mean to disparage Span, though. I think he’s excellent overall, arm and everything. I’m simply taking issue with the idea that his impressive range is all the proof we need to conclude that he’s the NL’s best centerfielder. It’s more complicated than that.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 13, 2014 at 12:33 PM

        Average arm and some days better than others. I can live with average. Nyjer was noodle arm and near the bottom of his peer group.

      • bowdenball - Aug 13, 2014 at 12:53 PM

        I can live with it too, GoSM. I just wanted to point out that it’s an element of his defense. Fans who express outrage at his failure to win a GG or his advanced metric ratings seem to forget it. In their defense I’m often blinded by his range too. It’s a joy to watch.

  7. manassasnatsfan - Aug 13, 2014 at 11:41 AM

    Kershaw will win the Cy Young. However if you count the five weeks against Doug Fister that he was on the DL, why does Kershaw get a pass? He was on the DL pretty much the same dates as Fister.

    I have no problem with Fister coming second or third.

  8. MicheleS - Aug 13, 2014 at 11:41 AM

    Now that Cutch is hurt for PIT, Span really has an excellent chance at the gold glove. I hope Tony is recognized some how for his break out season.

    • coop202 - Aug 13, 2014 at 11:50 AM

      For gold glove I’m more worried about Carlos Gomez than mclutch v span.

      • coop202 - Aug 13, 2014 at 11:52 AM

        Worried is the wrong word. See as competion or something like that

      • Joe Seamhead - Aug 13, 2014 at 2:50 PM

        Gomez makes not just a lot more errors than Span, he makes a lot more mistakes out there than Denard does, at least this year he has.

      • coop202 - Aug 13, 2014 at 4:21 PM

        Kind if splitting hairs 1 error v 4 so yes a lot more over a thousand innings relatively. But he has a stronger arm and higher dwar. Clutch has more errors than both for starters. Defensively I like span the best of all the big NL names, just saying I think he’s more of the competition

  9. #4 - Aug 13, 2014 at 12:13 PM

    Wrong time for this discussion. Let’s stay focused on the team and not individual accolades.

    • Soul Possession, Sec 3 My Sofa - Aug 13, 2014 at 2:24 PM

      For the players, maybe. Like Leon Spinks, we ain’t got nothin to lose.

  10. Eric - Aug 13, 2014 at 12:16 PM

    So…FanGraphs currently has us strong-ish favorites to win it all…how on earth do we have a better chance (according to their calculus) than the As?

    http://www.fangraphs.com/coolstandings.aspx

    • Eric - Aug 13, 2014 at 12:18 PM

      PS – I understand a bad week or two for us could change those projections somewhat dramatically, I just don’t understand how the Nats in the weak NL East are projected more strongly in the WS than the As at this time.

      • coop202 - Aug 13, 2014 at 12:20 PM

        Path of least resistance? I guess the angels could overtake the As and send the As to the wild card

      • therealjohnc - Aug 13, 2014 at 12:50 PM

        coop202 is correct, the difference is almost certainly based on the potential path to the WS. The A’s may get forced into the Wild Card game, which is essentially a coin flip, by the Angels. Getting bounced in a one-and-done significantly decreases your chances of winning the WS! Even if they hold on and win the division they are likely to share their postseason with two very good teams, the Tigers and (yes) the Orioles. And quite possibly the Angels, who may well be better than both but have to run the gauntlet of the Wild Card unless they can run down the A’s.

        The path for the NL teams, including the Nats, is less daunting. For those who fret about how the Nats match up with the Braves and the Cardinals, there is a decent chance that neither team makes it to the playoffs. And the Nats have played well against the other NL contenders.

    • 6ID20 - Aug 13, 2014 at 12:21 PM

      Fangraphs is like Grape Nuts, which contains neither grapes nor nuts. Fangraphs is run by and for geeks, not fans. And their web page has no graphs.

      • Joe Seamhead - Aug 13, 2014 at 2:55 PM

        I like your post, 61D20. I am not a huge fan of how ambiguous that many of their formulas are comprised, especially on defensive ratings.

    • adcwonk - Aug 13, 2014 at 12:59 PM

      Because the Angels are better than the Braves?

    • Eric - Aug 13, 2014 at 1:09 PM

      Thanks for the feedback, all.

  11. coop202 - Aug 13, 2014 at 1:01 PM

    My how far this team has come from Patterson and rick ankiel to span and fister/every other starter on our team and backed up in the minors.

    Even seeing our former AAA guys from the last two years are having success around the league now makes me happy.

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