Cool your jets on free agency talk. I’m not done talking about 2013 (you know, because I’m a masochist).
In a shocker, no Cub received a single vote for either the MVP or Cy Young. That’s no matter, because here are even more prestigious awards only eligible to Cubs, former Cubs and other Cub-related peoples. All awards are named after Cub figures of my baseball-watching lifetime, which started around 1997.So no, there’s no Cap Anson Award.
Without further ado, here are your 2013 Cubbies.
Derek Lee Award for Best Representation of a Cub
Named after Derrek Lee, the consummate professional, the captain.
Winner: Alfonso Soriano
Public opinion of Soriano has been up and down during his tenure with the Cubs. Most of that was due what appeared to be a lack of effort on the field. Off the field, almost everybody had good things to say. He rarely said the wrong thing, and came off as reasonable even when he was critical of the team. His on-the-field improvement in his last two seasons with the Cubs was enough to change the opinion of even his hardest critics, well most of them anyway.
Reed Johnson Award for Best Play
Named after Reed Johnson robbing what would have been a game-tying grand slam by Prince Fielder in the first game of the 2008 season.
(This might not have even been Johnson’s best play that season, as he made a great diving catch to rob Felipe Lopez of a hit less than two weeks later. Unfortunately, I can’t find a working video of that anywhere so I’m going with this one.)
Winner: Starlin Castro’s Arm
I’m biased here. One of my favorite baseball plays is a long throw from an infielder. Here Castro makes a throw from about as deep as you’ll see a shortstop make, and he does it going against the throw. It’s all arm.
You may very well have a different play, maybe one of these. But for me, it doesn’t get a whole lot better than that.
Here’s the play in video form.
Sammy Sosa Award for Let’s Just Pretend That Didn’t Happen
Remember when Major League Baseball suspended Sammy Sosa for corking his bat? Me neither.
The winner: Matt Garza and his Weirdly Misogynistic Tweets
This happened after the Cubs traded Garza to the Rangers, but it’s still eligible for a Cubbie since it was in the same year where he was a Cub.
Some pitchers are great athletes. These are the guys who can make a great play coming off the mound and not embarrass themselves at the plate and on the bases. Other pitchers are pretty much only good at throwing baseballs toward home plate. Matt Garza belongs to the latter group.
In a game in August, the Oakland A’s took advantage of Garza’s weakness by bunting, forcing Garza to make a play. Garza was none too pleased with their strategy. As dumb as that reaction is, it was in the heat of the moment. Adrenaline was high. That might not excuse it, but it’s at least a little understandable. What he did after the game though? Less understandable.
I’m still not sure what Kaycee Sogard, wife of A’s second baseman Eric Sogard, said to spark this. I have to think it wasn’t worse than what Garza said. At least Garza isn’t a uni browed fool talking able selfie.
Garza’s defense against claims of misogyny? He has three daughters so he can’t be a misogynist. We all know true sexists make a point to never pass on X chromosomes.
In the interest of fairness, Garza did apologize for this.
Geovany Soto Award for Great Season Nobody Noticed
Most people seem to be under the belief that Geovany Soto had a good rookie season and sucked ever since. That’s not true, as he was even better in 2010. He was not only the best hitter on the team, he was perhaps the best-hitting catcher in baseball. For some reason, few people cared to notice.
Winner: Blake Parker
There’s not always a clear winner for this one. Parker wasn’t talked about much probably because the bulk of his appearances were after the Cubs’ season was lost (you know, after June). In those appearances, though, Parker was quietly dominant. His 2.72 ERA led all Cubs relievers with at least 20 innings pitched, and his 2.90 FIP trailed only Pedro Strop and Carlos Villanueva (a candidate himself for this award, he was great out of the bullpen). He did this with a healthy K% of 28.2% and BB% of 7.7%. If he can repeat that next year, we could have a decent set-up man on our hands.
Milton Bradley Award for .gif of the Year
Named for this:
Winner: Welington Castillo’s Soft Grounder to Short
I like to think he was aiming for Brandon Phillips.
Bonus gif: Carlos Gonzalez trying to bunt against the Cubs.
Aramis Ramirez Award for Best Hitter
Aramis Ramirez as a Cub hit .294/.356/.531 with 239 home runs, and that’s with his 2010 season weighing his averages down.
Winner: Dioner Navarro
Navarro only had 266 plate appearances, but he was so far ahead of the pack that I had to pick him (If we bump up the minimum PA requirements, the winner would have been Nate Schierholtz. Would that have made you feel better?). Navarro’s wRC+ of 136 was by far the highest for any Cub. Among all catchers with at least 100 plate appearances, Navarro trailed only Joe Mauer. He did that with an impressive line of .300/.365/.492 with 13 home runs, 3 of them in one game. This from the guy who hit .245/.306/.357 for his career coming into the season. You figure that out.
Mark Prior Award for Best Pitcher
I’m still not over Prior losing the 2003 Cy Young to Eric Gagne.
Winner: Travis Wood
I could have gotten fancy here and gone with Jeff Samardzija. You could even make a certain case that Edwin Jackson was better than Wood last year. As I’ve shared before, Samardzija and Jackson were two of the unluckiest pitchers when going by the difference between ERA and xFIP. Wood was on the opposite side of things.
That’s a tale of two seasons, even if it’s three different seasons.
I’m going to keep things simple, though, and go with Travis Wood. From a runs-allowed standpoint, Wood is the obvious choice. His 3.11 ERA was an improvement of over a full run from 2012. It could have been even better had the Cubs’ effort to give him 200 innings gone better.
Wood’s K% and BB% were right around their career averages. It’s easy to look at his .248 BABIP and point to that at the cause of his great season. For whatever it’s worth, though, this was his second straight season with a BABIP in the .240s.
I’m not going to bet on Wood repeating his 2013 performance, mostly because of his numbers in the table above. Regardless, his season last year is more than worthy of recognition. That he hit 3 home runs was a nice bonus.
Carlos Zambrano Award for Most Valuable Cub
Because why not?
Winner: Welington Castillo
Beef Welington had a breakout of sorts in 2013. I’ve already written about his defense, but to review, he led all catchers in defensive runs saved with 19 and ranked fifth in Fangraphs’ defensive rating, which valued Castillo’s defense at 15.3 runs. He emerged as a truly elite backstop in what was really his first full season, as his 2012 campaign was limited to just 52 games.
His bat was just as nice a surprise. Castillo matched his improvement behind the plate with just as impressive improvement at the plate. After mildly floundering in the first half with a line of .266/.324/.353 with a wRC+ of 86, he switched gears in the second half by producing a line of .288/.388/.475 with a wRC+ of 137. He went from 14% worse than average to 37% above average. We are looking at fairly small samples, but the way he went about it hints that it could have been a true breakout. His BABIP was near-constant between halves, so it’s not as if he went from unlucky to lucky. His K% was also unchanged, but his BB% ballooned from a substandard 4.9% to a healthy 12.7%. He also saw a big jump in his isolated power, .087 to .187.
Add it all up, and Castillo led the Cubs in Fangraphs’ WAR at 3.2 and tied Travis Wood in Baseball-Reference’s WAR at 4.4 (Wood actually comes in at 5.1 if you count his offensive contribution).
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player make such obvious improvements on both sides of the ball over the course of a season.
I wish I could say that Castillo winning this was more a reflection of his performance than it was his weak supporting cast. To test that, I averaged his two WARs and compared it to the leaders of the other last place teams.
White Sox: Chris Sale – 6.0
Rockies: Troy Tulowitzki – 5.5
Marlins: Jose Fernandez – 5.3
Blue Jays: Colby Rasmus – 4.8
Astros: Jason Castro – 4.4
Cubs: Welington Castillo – 3.8
That’s not what I was hoping to see. The lesson: 2013 Welington Castillo shouldn’t be a team’s best player.
The happier lesson in this: 2014 Welington Castillo could be even better than the 2013 version. With luck, the Cubs will rank higher on that list next year. With better luck, the Cubs won’t be on that list next year.