Baggs' NL MVP Award ballot

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Baggs' NL MVP Award ballot

SAN FRANCISCO Buster Posey had the stats, he had the narrative and he led his team to a division title. He was the NL batting champion and the Giants defensive captain on the field.It added up to an Ivy League-quality application for the Most Valuable Player Award, and it didnt hurt that Posey aced the character test, too. So it wasnt a surprise to anyone when he was named a runaway winner of the award on Thursday.NEWS: Buster Posey honored with NL MVP Award
I was among the 32 members of the BBWAA who held an MVP vote this season. Here is the ballot I turned in on Oct. 4, along with comments on each selection:1. Buster PoseyThe Giants only got better in August after Melky Cabrera went down, and while Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro deserve their share of credit for that, Posey was the one who led the uphill charge. The previous August, the defending champs crashed and burned. The obvious difference: That team didnt have Posey, who was unable to walk for four months because of that horrific collision at the plate. The Giants had him in 2012, and in every respect, he was their most valuable difference maker. Others had more impressive counting stats, but no player meant more to his team than Posey meant to the Giants.RATTO: Posey takes fun out of NL MVP race
2. Ryan BraunTake away the names on the stat sheet and Braun probably wins the award. The Brewers left fielder led the NL with 41 homers, 108 runs scored and a .987 OPS, while finishing second in RBIs and third in OBP behind Posey and Andrew McCutchen. And Braun compiled those numbers without Prince Fielder hitting alongside him in Milwaukees lineup. The only reason anyone would vote Braun lower than No.2 or No.3 on their ballot is to penalize him for last years positive testosterone test, which was thrown out on a technicality. Even if Braun knowingly cheated, Im not a moralist when it comes to voting for postseason awards. That happened in 2011, and Im voting on the 2012 season. So theres no need to do anything punitive like leave Braun off my ballot, or rank him below others who had inferior seasons.3. Andrew McCutchenOne of these days, the Pirates will see a season through all 162 games. Like his team, McCutchen tailed off badly in the second half and thats not how you win an MVP award. But while it might be a tiebreaker for me when a player has a strong finishing kick, I tend to look more at the entirety of the season. And for the first four months, nobody was more valuable than McCutchen. Almost any way you parse the numbers, Posey, Braun and McCutchen were the three best players in the league. I do think the advanced metrics overrate him a bit in center field, though.4. Yadier MolinaThe Cardinals lost Albert Pujols to free agency and Lance Berkman to the knee gremlin, but they still found a way to play baseball deep into October. Thats more a reflection on Molina than anyone else. Even though he struggled to hit in the postseason, he had his best offensive season when the Cardinals needed it most. Behind the plate, he has no peer and that includes Posey. Molina shuts down an opponents running game, he buys strikes for his pitchers with the way his magic glove almost seems to never leave the zone and hes valuable in the best sense of the word: He makes everyone around him better. I was tempted to rank him higher, and perhaps I should have.GALLERY: Posey joins rare company5. Craig Kimbrel
6. Aroldis Chapman
Im going to get some disagreement here, and that's perfectly OK. I believe the MVP is meant for everyday players, and yes, I see closers as everyday players. Even if Kimbrel or Chapman pitches three innings a week, theyre a threat every day they arrive at the ballpark. They govern an opposing managers decisions, they get in the head of hitters and they effectively shorten the game. I wont even spout off all the statistics. You can find them, and theyre devastating. Kimbrel and Chapman had two of the most dominant, strikeout-filled seasons by a closer in major league history, and that makes them among the most valuable players in the NL.7. Chase HeadleyNo, Headley doesnt make my ballot because he led the NL with 115 RBIs. We all realize, or should, that RBIs are heavily context-dependent. (That doesnt make them meaningless, though.) Headley appears here because he was a breakout star who finished top-10 in OPS despite playing in a non-threatening lineup in the worst hitters park in the league. So yes, context matters. Headley had a truly outstanding season, hes a good defensive third baseman, and every time I watched him, he did something to help the Padres win. He could even steal his way into scoring position. The Pads knew what they were doing when they resisted trade overtures for him.8. Ian DesmondThe bottom of the ballot is always hard. Seems like every year, youre trying to cram 10 worthy players into the last two or three spots. You also face the best team dilemma every once in awhile, and that definitely came into play in 2012. The Washington Nationals had the best record in the league, but they had no clear-cut top-5 MVP candidate. I really felt their best player was Ryan Zimmerman, but Adam LaRoche had more impressive statistics. I was trying to decide which of the two to put on my ballot. So I was surprised when I asked my Nationals beat colleagues for their thoughts and they said Desmond was their most worthy candidate. The anecdotal evidence agreed with them; Desmond was a wrecking crew when I saw him play against the Giants. Even though he ended up missing some time with injury, his defense at shortstop was impressive to those who saw him play every day. So his positional value earned him the nod on my ballot. The difference between Desmond, Zimmerman and LaRoche was not huge, though.9. David WrightHe didnt play for a contender, but theres no way I could leave Wright off my ballot entirely. His overall numbers were too good to ignore. Whens the last time you could call a New York ballplayer underrated?10. Angel PaganI usually allow myself some leeway for a prerogative vote with the 10th spot on the ballot. Ive used it in the past to vote for setup men, who are becoming more valuable every year but dont have an award of their own. I voted for Scott Eyre and Jeremy Affeldt in the past, and I nearly voted for Jonny Venters last year. I really wanted to throw Sergio Romo a vote this time around. Obviously, there was no way for me to know that hed throw the last pitch of the season a ballsy, 89 mph fastball down the middle that froze Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera to clinch the World Series. But when I filled out my ballot, there were too many solid position players to justify a prerogative vote. I left off Aramis Ramirez, who hit 50 doubles, and Aaron Hill, who pretty much had Chase Headleys season except in a more lively home ballpark. Matt Holliday was the other near-miss for me. Instead, I decided to vote for Pagan, who was emblematic of the improvement in a Giants offense that went from 570 runs in 2011, the fewest by an NL team in 19 years, to a better-than-average total of 718. The Giants hit the fewest homers in the majors, but had the most triples and Pagan hit 14 of them to lead MLB while breaking the San Francisco-era franchise record held by Willie Mays and Steve Finley. He did what so many mid-career newcomers at AT&T Park could not: He didnt curse the ballpark but instead made it work for him and used it to his advantage. Pagan took off after he was moved back to the leadoff spot on Aug. 3, and his constant presence on base is what allowed Marco Scutaro to put his considerable skills to work in the No. 2 spot. Pagan ended up being a defensive asset in center field, too, even if his routes didnt always inspire confidence. It turns out Carlos Beltran was right when he told me down the stretch in 2011 that the Giants needed a leadoff hitter above all. Pagan was that man. His overall numbers might grade lower than some of those omitted from my ballot, but I think Pagan was one of the leagues biggest difference makers and Im happy to recognize him with a 10th-place vote.

After Giants' first Coors Field sweep in 15 years, Bochy preaches urgency

After Giants' first Coors Field sweep in 15 years, Bochy preaches urgency

DENVER — Bruce Bochy watched the first two games of this road trip from his home in San Diego and the final three from the top step of the dugout at Coors Field. He did not like what he saw, but at the moment he’s more concerned with what he might hear. 

“What you have to careful of — you can’t let any kind of complacency set in and say, ‘It’s early, we’ll be ok.’ I don’t want to hear that either,” Bochy said. “It’s the old adage that you come out with some sense of urgency. All these games are important. You’ve got to stay away from that attitude, too: ‘We’re not through April yet and have 140-something games left.’ That doesn’t work out.”

Three weeks into the season, nothing is working. The rotation has a 5.02 ERA, the worst in the Majors. The lineup scored 10 runs over a five-game road trip and got shut out twice. The bullpen hasn’t been given many leads with which to make up for the first-week trouble. The defense has been uncharacteristically sloppy. 

It has added up to a 6-13 start, tied for the worst in club history. The Giants have lost six of seven and they’ll head home seven games out of first place. 

“Right now there’s nothing clicking,” Bochy said. “Let’s be honest, this has been a rough start and we’re not very good right now. I’m not saying we’re not very good. We are good, but we’ve got to find a way to come out of this. This was a tough way to end this series. We’ve been through it. I’ve got men out there and that’s when you find a way to get through this. They will.”

Perhaps Monday will bring some fresh blood for the roster. Drew Stubbs appears poised to give the Giants another veteran option should they cut bait with a struggling outfielder. Michael Morse could be an option in left field soon, and if he’s mostly relegated to first, the Giants can put Brandon Belt in the outfield. He looked fine there Sunday while playing both corner spots. 

Those are moves made around the edges of the roster, though. There is no magic bullet coming from the outside, not even Christian Arroyo, who continues to mash at Triple-A. This is a $200 million roster and much of that has been spent on the rotation. Through 13 games, it is the worst in the National League, and the ace was lost to an off-field accident. Sure, the starters have pitched at Chase Field and Coors Field, but on back-to-back days they were dominated by Rockies rookies who make a living here. 

Samardzija could not keep pace with left-hander Kyle Freeland, who sawed off a handful of bats while cruising through seven. Samardzjiza gave up a run early, two more in the fourth on a hanging splitter that was blasted to right, and five in the sixth.

Bochy challenged his starting staff to improve after Saturday’s game. He has not publicly done the same with the lineup, but subtle changes have been made here and there. It is a group that, outside of a couple of players, has lacked energy. Because they don’t hit for power, the Giants are reliant on stringing together rallies. For the fourth time in seven games, the lineup failed to put a runner on base the first time through the order. 

“Even in spring training we had our games where we had trouble getting something going early,” Bochy said. “It’s the fourth or fifth before a hit. Somehow, we’ve got to change that.”

The Giants played Sunday without Jarrett Parker (clavicle) and Denard Span (right shoulder sprain), but for the most part the lineup is healthy. Bochy said he has talked to hitting coach Hensley Meulens about possibly altering pre-game routines, but that seems a cosmetic fix. 

“We’ve talked and we’ve shaken up the lineup, but as you saw today, there’s only so much you can do,” he said. 

Bochy knows there is outside noise regarding the roster. His eyes bulged the other day when asked if Arroyo would get a call-up next week. The Giants do not feel he is quite ready, or that there is a spot for him on the infield. For all the potential bench options waiting at Triple-A, this team's core is set, and it’s not outrageously banged-up compared to the rest of the division. 

The Dodgers, who come into town Monday, have 10 players on the disabled list, including No. 2 starter Rich Hill, second baseman Logan Forsythe, and left fielder Andre Ethier. The Rockies, the best team in the NL West thus far, are off to this start without big offseason acquisition Ian Desmond and young slugger David Dahl. Jon Gray, their opening day starter, went on the DL after facing the Giants in San Francisco. Chad Bettis, a rotation member, is getting treatment for testicular cancer. 

This division is better than expected, and as the end of April approaches, the Giants are bringing up the rear. Bochy’s plea for urgency was one that would have fit right in with last season’s second half. Back then, the Giants could at least lean on a huge start that got them into the postseason. As they flew home Sunday, there was nothing to fall back on but a simple truth.

This is the team. It must play better.

“We have everything we need in this room,” Samardzija said. “Sometimes you need to go out on the field and prove it.”

 

Instant Replay: Giants' struggles continue in sweep from Rockies

Instant Replay: Giants' struggles continue in sweep from Rockies

BOX SCORE

DENVER — Bruce Bochy spent about 10 minutes before Sunday’s game talking about potential options in left field and center. The problems for this lineup, however, currently go much deeper than the outfield. 

A day after the Giants managed just four hits off Antonio Senzatela, the bats went completely limp against fellow Rockies rookie Kyle Freeland. The Giants were shut out 8-0, a rarity at Coors Field. They were blanked twice on the road trip and scored just 10 runs during a five-game swing through Kansas City and Denver. 

The sweep at Coors Field was the Giants' first since 2002. At 6-13, they have the worst record in the National League.

For the fourth time in seven games, and third time on this five-game road trip, the Giants went one time through the order without a baserunner. That puts added pressure on your starter, and Jeff Samardzija couldn’t keep it close. Charlie Blackmon hit a leadoff liner to right that was misplayed into a triple and he scored on a sacrifice fly. Gerardo Parra got a spinner down in the zone in the fourth and blasted a two-run shot to right. 

As they did Saturday night, the Rockies pulled away with a huge rally. Nolan Arenado’s infield single and a walk of Carlos Gonzalez set the table in the sixth. Gerardo Parra lined a single to center and all runners advanced when Gorkys Hernandez kicked it. Trevor Story’s single to right was bobbled by Hunter Pence and two more scored. Blackmon’s double made it 8-0.

Starting pitching report: Samardzija was charged with seven earned in 5 1/3 innings. He has a 7.40 ERA through four starts. The starting staff has a 5.02 ERA, the worst in the majors. That won’t play, not when you’ve spent most of your resources the last two years on starters. 

Bullpen report: Hunter Strickland's Mullet had a scoreless debut. 

At the plate: Nope. 

In the field: Brandon Belt’s first start in left this season was rather uneventful. He caught a liner right at him in the first and came up inches short on a diving attempt in foul territory. Belt moved to right in the seventh inning. He had one previous inning there in the big leagues but he actually prefers right because it’s the same angle as his normal position. Belt gloved a liner right at him in the eighth. 

Attendance: The Rockies announced a crowd of 42,011 human beings and one donkey, who was a menace. 

Up next: The first look at the Dodgers. The Giants will see Hyun-Jin Ryu, Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood and likely Julio Urias in the four-game series.