Tuesday, March 13, 2018

What I Didn't Expect in Politics in 2017

It's snowing out and nothing else is really going on, so I'm taking care of some site housekeeping today. Every year, I make a certain number of predictions on these webpages, and every year I try to look back at how I did. This is the first of two posts on that subject—the one that will focus on politics.

Every fall, I issue race ratings, inspired by those at Inside Elections, for every downballot constitutional office up for election. For those types of elections (not so much for politics in general), 2017 was a pretty quiet year: only the Virginia lieutenant governor, Virginia attorney general, and Louisiana treasurer were on the ballot. Here were my ratings for those three races, originally issued in October and kept current (although they never changed) through November 6. They predicted a status quo election, with Democrats holding onto the two offices they already owned, and Republicans successfully defending their one seat.

The small number of races meant I had fewer opportunities to make a bone-headed mistake, and as a result the ratings validated quite nicely.
  • Democrats won two out of two races I rated as Lean Democratic.
  • Republicans won the one contest I rated as Solid Republican.
The final results are also pretty close to how one might express a "Lean Democratic" or "Solid Republican" race quantitatively. Here's the Democratic margin of victory or defeat in each of the three elections:

In a well-calibrated world, the Virginia average of D+6.2 is probably right on the border between Lean Democratic and Likely Democratic. Likewise, the Louisiana treasurer margin of R+11.5 is on the Solid side of Likely Republican. All in all, pretty close, though.

As I mentioned, getting these races right is no great achievement: last year offered a small number of fairly predictable races. The big challenge will be 2018; midterm cycles are the absolute busiest for downballot constitutional offices. My goal this year is to merely handicap all 142 of them before November, let alone get them all right. Wish me luck!

Friday, March 2, 2018

Race Ratings for the 90th Academy Awards

The Oscars are the one election that numbers still can't predict. The black box that is the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences doesn't lend itself to model-building; instead, we're forced to rely on the sleuthing and scuttlebutt of reporters with their fingers on the pulse of the electorate. I'm sorry to say that the fate of your Oscar pool rests entirely on educated guesses.

In politics, there's a place for those too. My colleagues at Inside Elections and other electoral handicappers issue qualitative predictions on a scale from "Solid Democratic" to "Solid Republican," and it's proven a useful way for politicos to easily think about and group together races of varying competitiveness. In that spirit, for four years running now, I've issued the same type of race ratings for the 24 categories at the Academy Awards. Meant to give the fairweather Oscars fan a quick idea of the state of play, they're the best way to think about who will win the big prizes on Sunday night.

Below are my ratings for the 90th Academy Awards, based on a consensus of betting markets, expert opinions, and award history. For my own personal predictions (which occasionally veer away from conventional wisdom to try to predict the inevitable upset), click here.

Best Picture: Tilt The Shape of Water
The Oscars' use of instant-runoff voting for the top prize has kept the Best Picture winner consistently suspenseful for the last several years—including when it wasn't supposed to be suspenseful at all. This year is no exception, as The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri have both won crucial precursor prizes (the Directors Guild of America Award and the Screen Actors Guild Award, respectively). Both would break Oscar precedent, as The Shape of Water would be only the second film in 25 years to win Best Picture without at least a nomination for SAG's top prize, and Three Billboards would be only the second film in 25 years to win without a Best Director nomination. I give the edge to Shape, since it has more Oscar nominations overall (13), indicating support among all of the Academy's branches, and also snagged the highly predictive Producers Guild of America Award.

Best Director: Solid Guillermo del Toro
The Shape of Water helmer won the all-important DGA Award, while Three Billboards's Martin McDonagh isn't even nominated. Once Del Toro wins, all three of the "Three Amigos"—the Mexican auteurs Alfonso Cuarón, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and Del Toro—will have won the Best Director Oscar this decade.

Best Actor: Solid Gary Oldman
Oldman has been rewarded for his physical transformation into Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour by nearly every awards guild thus far.

Best Actress: Solid Frances McDormand
McDormand's portrayal of a justice-seeking mother in Three Billboards is Oldman's awards-circuit dominance without a Y chromosome. She's a lock as well.

Best Supporting Actor: Solid Sam Rockwell
McDormand's Three Billboards co-star seems like he will easily overcome whisper campaigns about his character's problematic arc to win Oscar gold.

Best Supporting Actress: Solid Allison Janney
There was a time when Janney and Lady Bird's Laurie Metcalf were running neck and neck here, so some might still see this as a competitive category, but since the precursor awards started getting handed out, there's really been no indication that Janney could lose. The only question now is if the I, Tonya star will rap "The Jackal" as part of her acceptance speech.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Solid Call Me by Your Name
This is an historically weak category: three of the nominees weren't good enough to score a nomination anywhere else, and the writing branch had to dig so deep that it nominated a superhero movie (Logan) for the first time in history. The contest here is between Call Me by Your Name and Mudbound; the Best Picture nominee has the clear advantage.

Best Original Screenplay: Tossup
On the other hand, because almost every prestige pic this year was not adapted, the Best Original Screenplay category is packed to the gills with talent. Get Out, the wildly original thriller with something to say about racism, and the snappy dialogue of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri are locked in such a tight battle that it's impossible to say who's ahead. Lady Bird could be a dark horse, too.

Best Animated Feature: Solid Coco

Best Documentary Feature: Lean Faces Places

Best Foreign Language Film: Lean A Fantastic Woman

Best Cinematography: Likely Blade Runner 2049
The brilliant Roger Deakins finally looks lined up for his first Oscar after 14 (!) nominations, but beware: the Academy may be consciously averse to his work. He's been a frontrunner in this category at least twice before—only to be upset.

Best Costume Design: Likely Phantom Thread

Best Film Editing: Tilt Dunkirk

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Solid Darkest Hour

Best Production Design: Likely The Shape of Water

Best Original Score: Likely The Shape of Water

Best Original Song: Tilt "Remember Me"

Best Sound Editing: Likely Dunkirk

Best Sound Mixing: Likely Dunkirk

Best Visual Effects: Tossup

Best Animated Short: Likely Dear Basketball

Best Documentary Short: Lean Edith+Eddie

Best Live-Action Short: Likely DeKalb Elementary

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

My Model Nailed This Year's Hall of Famers—The Vote Totals, Not So Much

About one month ago, Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome, and Trevor Hoffman were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, which means two things: (1) this Hall of Fame election post mortem is almost one month overdue, and (2) for the first time in three years, my forecasting model correctly predicted the entire Hall of Fame class.

You'd think that would be cause for satisfaction (and I suppose it is better than nothing), but instead I'm pretty disappointed with its performance. The reason is that an election model doesn't really try to peg winners per se; rather, it tries to predict final vote totals—in other words, numbers. And quantitatively, my model had an off year, especially compared to some of my peers in the Hall of Fame forecasting world.

First, a brief rundown of my methodology. My Hall of Fame projections are based on the public ballots dutifully collected and shared with the world by Ryan Thibodaux (and, this year, his team of interns); I extend my gratitude to them again for sacrificing so much of their time doing so. Based on the percentage of public ballots each player is on to date, I calculate his estimated percentage of private (i.e., as yet unshared) votes based on how much those two numbers have differed in past Hall of Fame elections. These "Adjustment Factors"—positive for old-school candidates like Omar Vizquel, negative for steroid users or sabermetric darlings like Roger Clemens—are the demographic weighting to Ryan's raw polling data. And indeed, they produce more accurate results than just taking the Thibodaux Tracker as gospel:

My model's average error was 1.6 percentage points; the raw data was off by an average of three points per player. I didn't have as many big misses this year as last year; my worst performance was on Larry Walker, whom I overestimated by 5.0 points. My model assumed the erstwhile Rockie would gain votes in private balloting, as he had done every year from 2011 to 2016, but 2017 turned out to be the beginning of a trend; Walker did 10.5 points worse on 2018 private ballots than on public ones. I also missed Thome's final vote total by 3.5 points, although I feel better about that one, since first-year candidates are always tricky to predict. Most of my other predictions were pretty close to the mark, including eight players I predicted within a single percentage point. I came within two points of the correct answer for 17 of the 23 players forecasted, giving me a solid median error of 1.3 points. For stat nerds, I also had a root mean square error (RMSE) of 1.9 points.

All three error values (mean, median, and RMS) were the second-best of my now-six-year Hall of Fame forecasting career. But that's misleading: during the past two years, thanks to Ryan's tireless efforts, more votes have been made public in advance of the announcement than ever before. Of course my predictions are better now—there's less I don't know.

Really what we should be measuring is my accuracy at predicting only the 175 ballots that were still private when I issued my final projections just minutes before Jeff Idelson opened the envelope to announce the election winners. Here are the differences between my estimates for those ballots and what they actually ended up saying.

The biggest misses are still with the same players, but the true degree of my error is now made plain. I overshot Walker's private ballots by more than 12 percentage points, and Thome's by more than eight. Those aren't good performances no matter how you slice them. If we're focusing on the positives, I was within four percentage points on 16 of 23 players. My average error was 3.8 points, much better than last year when I had several double-digit misses, but my median error was 3.2 points, not as good as last year.

But where I really fell short was in comparison to other Hall of Fame forecasters: Chris Bodig, who published his first-ever projections this year on his website, Cooperstown Cred; Ross Carey, who hosts the Replacement Level Podcast and is the only one with mostly qualitative predictions; Scott Lindholm, who has been issuing his projections alongside me since day one; and Jason Sardell, who first issued his probabilistic forecast last year. Of them all, it was the rookie who performed the best: Bodig's private-ballot projections had a mean and median error of only 2.2 percentage points. His RMSE also ranked first (2.7 points), followed by Sardell (3.1), Carey (3.9), me (4.6), and Lindholm (6.3). Bodig also came the closest on the most players (10).

Overall, my model performed slightly better this year than it did last year, but that's cold comfort: everyone else improved over last year as well (anecdotally, this year's election felt more predictable than last), so I repeated my standing toward the bottom of the pack. Put simply, that's not good enough. After two years of subpar performances, any good scientist would reevaluate his or her methods, so that's what I'm going to do. Next winter, I'll explore some possible changes to the model in order to make it more accurate. Hopefully, it just needs a small tweak, like calculating Adjustment Factors based on the last two elections rather than the last three (or weighting more recent elections more heavily, a suggestion I've received on Twitter). However, I'm willing to entertain bigger changes too, such as calculating more candidates' vote totals the way I do for first-time candidates, or going more granular to look at exactly which voters are still private and extrapolating from their past votes. Anything in the service of more accuracy!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Edgar Martínez Is a Coin Flip Away from the Hall of Fame

In early December, I thought we were finally going to get a break. After four consecutive Hall of Fame elections where the outcome was in real doubt, this year looked like a gimme: Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero, and Trevor Hoffman were going to make the Hall of Fame comfortably; no one else would sniff 75%.

Then Edgar Martínez started polling at 80%. And stayed there. And stayed there. And stayed there.

Thanks to Edgar's steady strength in Ryan Thibodaux's BBHOF Tracker, which aggregates all Hall of Fame ballots made public so far this year, my projection model of the Baseball Hall of Fame election has alternated between forecasting the Mariner great's narrow election and predicting he would barely fall short. Despite the roller coaster of emotion these fluctuations have caused on Twitter, the reality is that my model paints a consistent picture: Martínez's odds are basically 50-50.

My model, which is in its sixth year of predicting the Hall of Fame election, operates on the premise that publicly released ballots differ materially—and consistently—from ballots whose casters choose to keep them private. BBWAA members who share their ballots on Twitter tend to be more willing to vote for PED users, assess candidates using advanced metrics, and use up all 10 spots on their ballot. Private voters—often more grizzled writers who in many cases have stopped covering baseball altogether—prefer "gritty" candidates whose cases rely on traditional metrics like hits, wins, or Gold Glove Awards. As a result, candidates like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens (PEDs), Mike Mussina (requires advanced stats to appreciate), and Martínez (spent most of his career at DH, a position many baseball purists still pooh-pooh) do substantially worse on private ballots than on public ballots. Candidates like Hoffman (so many saves) and Omar Vizquel (so many Gold Gloves) can be expected to do better on ballots we haven't seen than on the ones we have.

That means the numbers in Thibodaux's Tracker—a.k.a. the public ballots—should be taken seriously but not literally. What my model does is quantify the amount by which each player's vote total in the Tracker should be adjusted. Specifically, I look at the percentage-point difference between each player's performance on public vs. private ballots in the last three Hall of Fame elections (2017, 2016, and 2015). The average of these three numbers (or just two if the player has been on the ballot only since 2016, or just one if he debuted on the ballot last year) is what I call the player's Adjustment Factor. My model simply assumes that the player's public-to-private shift this year will match that average.

Let's take Edgar as an example. In 2017, his private-ballot performance was 16.6 percentage points lower than his public-ballot performance. In 2016, it was 7.7 percentage points lower, and in 2015 it was 6.8 percentage points lower. That averages out to an Adjustment Factor of −10.37 percentage points. As of Monday night, Martínez was polling at 79.23% in the Tracker, so his estimated performance on private ballots is 68.86%.

The final step in my model is to combine the public-ballot performance with the estimated private-ballot performance in the appropriate proportions. In the same example, as of Monday night, 207 of an expected 424 ballots had been made public, or 48.82%. If 48.82% of ballots vote for Martínez at a rate of 79.23%, and the remaining 51.18% vote for Martínez at a rate of 68.86%, that computes to an overall performance of 73.92%—just over one point shy of induction.

But my model is far from infallible. Last year, my private-ballot projections were off by an average of 4.8 percentage points—a decidedly meh performance in the small community of Hall of Fame projection models. (But don't stop reading—historically, my projections have fared much better.) Small, subjective methodological decisions can be enough to affect outcomes in what is truly a mathematical game of inches. For example, why take a straight average of Edgar's last three public-private differentials when they have been growing more and more gaping over time? (Answer: in past years, with other candidates, a straight average has proven more accurate than one that weights recent years more heavily. Historically speaking, Edgar is equally likely to revert to his "usual" modest Adjustment Factor as he is to continue trending in a bad direction.) If there's one thing that studying Hall of Fame elections has taught me, it's that voters will zig when you expect them to zag.

One of my fellow Hall of Fame forecasters, Jason Sardell, wisely communicates the uncertainty inherent in our vocation by providing not only projected vote totals, but also the probability that each candidate will be elected. His model, which uses a totally different methodology based on voter adds and drops, gives Edgar just a 12% chance of induction as of Monday night. I'm not smart enough to assign probabilities to my own model, but as discussed above, it's pretty clear from the way Edgar has seesawed around the required 75% that his shot is no better than a coin flip. Therefore, when the election results are announced this Wednesday at 6pm ET, no matter where Martínez will fall on my model, no outcome should be a surprise.

Below are my current Hall of Fame projections for every candidate on the ballot. They will be updated in real time leading up to the announcement. (UPDATE, January 24: The below are my final projections issued just before the announcement.)

(Still with me? Huzzah. There's one loose methodological end I'd like to tie up for those of you who are interested: how I calculate the vote shares of first-time candidates. This year, that's Chipper Jones, Thome, Vizquel, Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones, Johnny Damon, and Johan Santana.

Without previous vote history to go off, my model does the next best thing for these players: it looks at which other candidate on the ballot correlates most strongly with—or against—them. If New Candidate X shares many of the same public voters with Old Candidate Y, then we can be fairly sure that the two will also drop or rise in tandem among private ballots. For example, Vizquel's support correlates most strongly with opposition to Bonds: as of Monday night, just 21% of known Bonds voters had voted for Vizquel, but 49% of non-Bonds voters had. Holding those numbers steady, I use my model's final prediction of the number of Bonds voters to figure out Vizquel's final percentage as well.

Here are the other ballot rookies' closest matches:
  • Chipper voters correlate best with Bonds voters, though not super strongly, with the result that Chipper is expected to lose a little bit of ground on private ballots.
  • Thome voters have a strong negative correlation with Manny Ramírez voters, so Thome is expected to gain ground in private balloting.
  • Rolen voters correlate well with Larry Walker voters, giving Rolen a slight boost among private voters.
  • Andruw voters are negatively correlated with Jeff Kent voters; in fact, no one has voted for both men. This gives Andruw a tiny bump in private balloting.
  • It's a very small sample, but public Damon voters and public Bonds voters have zero overlap. Damon gets a decent-sized private-ballot bonus because of that.
  • Santana voters are also inclined to vote for Gary Sheffield at high rates, although small-sample caveats apply. Therefore, Santana gets a slight boost in the private projections.

Finally, anyone with one or zero public votes is judged to be a non-serious candidate. Every year, one or two writers casts a misguided ballot for a Tim Wakefield or a Garret Anderson. There's little use in trying to predict these truly random events, so all of these players—including Jamie Moyer this year—have an Adjustment Factor of zero.)

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

State of the State Schedule 2018

Got any New Year's resolutions? Fifty governors do too. This is the time of the year when each state's chief executive gives his or her State of the State address, setting forth an ambitious (usually too ambitious) agenda for the year ahead. As we head into an election year that could usher in massive changes to state government, it's worth paying attention to the issues that those elections will be fought around. To that end, as Baseballot has provided every dang year since 2013, here is a full schedule of 2018's State of the State speeches. As each date passes, links will be added to the transcript of each speech; dates will also be updated as new orations are announced.

Alabama: January 9 at 6:30pm CT
Alaska: January 18 at 7pm AKT
Arizona: January 8 at 2pm MT
Arkansas: No speech in even-numbered years
California: January 25 at 10am PT
Colorado: January 11 at 11am MT
Connecticut: February 7 at noon ET
Delaware: January 18 at 2pm ET (State of the State); January 25 at 1pm ET (budget address)
Florida: January 9 at 11am ET
Georgia: January 11 at 11am ET
Hawaii: January 22 at 10am HAT
Idaho: January 8 at 1pm MT
Illinois: January 31 at noon CT (State of the State); February 14 at noon CT (budget address)
Indiana: January 9 at 7pm ET
Iowa: January 9 at 10am CT
Kansas: January 9 at 5pm CT (Brownback State of the State); January 31 at 3pm CT (Colyer inaugural); February 7 at 3pm CT (Colyer joint address)
Kentucky: January 16 at 7pm ET
Louisiana: February 19 at 5pm CT (special-session address); March 12 at 1pm CT (State of the State)
Maine: February 13 at 7pm ET
Maryland: January 31 at noon ET
Massachusetts: January 23 at 7pm ET
Michigan: January 23 at 7pm ET
Minnesota: March 14 at 7pm CT
Mississippi: January 9 at 5pm CT
Missouri: January 10 at 7pm CT
Montana: No speech in even-numbered years
Nebraska: January 10 at 10am CT
Nevada: No speech in even-numbered years
New Hampshire: February 15 at 10am ET
New Jersey: January 9 at 3pm ET (Christie State of the State); January 16 at 11am ET (Murphy inaugural); March 13 at 2pm (Murphy budget address)
New Mexico: January 16 at 1pm MT
New York: January 3 at 1pm ET (State of the State); January 16 at 1pm ET (budget address)
North Carolina: No speech in even-numbered years
North Dakota: January 23 at 10am CT
Ohio: March 6 at 7pm ET
Oklahoma: February 5 at 12:30pm CT
Oregon: February 5 at 9:30am PT
Pennsylvania: February 6 at 11:30am ET
Rhode Island: January 16 at 7pm ET
South Carolina: January 24 at 7pm ET
South Dakota: December 5 at 1pm CT (budget address); January 9 at 1pm CT (State of the State)
Tennessee: January 29 at 6pm CT
Texas: No speech in even-numbered years
Utah: January 24 at 6:30pm MT
Vermont: January 4 at 2pm ET (State of the State); January 23 at 1pm ET (budget address)
Virginia: January 10 at 6:30pm ET (McAuliffe State of the Commonwealth); January 13 at noon ET (Northam inaugural); January 15 at 7pm ET (Northam State of the Commonwealth)
Washington: January 9 at noon PT
West Virginia: January 10 at 7pm ET
Wisconsin: January 24 at 3pm CT
Wyoming: February 12 at 10am MT

National: January 30 at 9pm ET

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Follow Every Election in 2018 with This Calendar

In the year that is now almost complete, people took a practically unprecedented interest in politics. Granted, it was generally concentrated on one side of the political spectrum, but in 2017 people demonstrated in our nation's capital, called their congressmen and congresswomen, and voted. Boy, did they vote. Turnout in inconveniently timed special elections for GA-06 and the U.S. Senate seat in Alabama surpassed that of even regularly scheduled midterm elections. And people—again, mainly on the left—who had never before felt a stake in their local races began religiously following legislative election results—even in districts all the way across the country.

This was a welcome development to me as a charter member of Election Night Twitter. I've always enjoyed following minor special or local election results as idle entertainment on a Tuesday night, the same as I might sit down to watch a random A's-Twins game when my teams have an off day, but this year I was joined by so many engaged netizens eager to see "the Resistance" strike its next blow. Suddenly, it wasn't idle entertainment anymore; every week's elections became appointment viewing.

To keep to those appointments, I found I needed a calendar—so I started one. To my knowledge, no one has tried to create a comprehensive schedule of obscure elections before. Each state's election office has a listing of upcoming elections, but you have to visit 50 different websites to find them all. Fellow psephology nerds like Daily Kos Elections and Ballotpedia—both of whom I am indebted to in the compilation of my own calendar—have admirably assembled calendars of different types of elections but haven't taken the final, ultimate step.

So I present to you, election-obsessed people of the internet, this Google Calendar for all to view. My calendar will track every federal, state, and local* election in the country from January 1, 2018, all the way through the midterm general election—and beyond. If you find that I'm missing any, please let me know on Twitter. Enjoy!

*In localities of significant size; I draw the line at the Union City, Pennsylvania, school board.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Power to the Max: My National League Award Picks

Last night, Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger were named the 2017 Rookies of the Year by the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA). They were virtually incontestable picks—but the rest of the awards-reveal week won't be nearly as clear-cut. Back in September, I agonized over my own picks for the National League's top performances when voting for those same awards for the BBWAA's digital shadow cabinet, the Internet Baseball Writers' Association of America (IBWAA). Here, preemptively, is why the real awards voters are wrong. (You can read my picks for the American League here.)

Reliever of the Year

1. Kenley Jansen
2. Corey Knebel
3. Pat Neshek

This IBWAA-only award is in perennial danger of being hijacked by gaudy save totals, but, happily, in this case, the league leader in saves is also the best reliever in baseball. Not only did Kenley Jansen shut the door 41 times for the Dodgers, but he led all qualified relievers in strikeout rate (42.3%) and was one-tenth of a percentage point away from doing so in walk rate (2.7%). If you strike dudes out and don't walk them, you're going to be very, very good—like 1.32 ERA good, also tops in the circuit. Jansen also crushes all comers—pitchers or hitters—in WPA (5.33), an important stat for a situation-based reliever.

Brewers closer Corey Knebel is the only other NL pitcher in Jansen's league when it comes to strikeouts (40.8%), but he also had a huge Achilles heel: his walk rate (12.9%). By contrast, Phillies-to-Rockies tradee Pat Neshek sported the stingiest walk rate of them all (2.6%) but a more mortal 29.4% strikeout rate. By K/BB ratio, Neshek blows Knebel out of the water (11.50 to 3.15), but the less denominator-skewed K−BB% stat gives Knebel a 27.8–26.8% advantage. Neshek also led in WHIP (0.87 to 1.16) and ERA (1.59 to 1.78) despite pitching much of the second half in Coors Field. So why did I opt for Knebel? Neshek's 4.2% HR/FB percentage implies he was quite fortunate in the dinger department, and his xFIP is accordingly 3.26—much higher than Knebel's 2.97.

There were plenty of runners-up for this category, most notably Archie Bradley and Felipe Rivero, but Bradley left a lot to be desired going by true skill (his 1.73 ERA masked an unremarkable 3.71 DRA), and Rivero benefited from a .234 BABIP.

Rookie of the Year

1. Cody Bellinger
2. Paul DeJong
3. German Márquez

Cody Bellinger (.933 OPS, 39 home runs, 4.0 FanGraphs WAR) was an easy pick here. Between him and honorable mention Austin Barnes (whom I would've ranked fourth) plus Rookie of the Year Corey Seager and Kenta Maeda last year, the modern Dodgers are debuting a streak of rookie talent reminiscent of the Eric KarrosMike PiazzaRaúl MondesíHideo NomoTodd Hollandsworth run of the 1990s. Cardinals middle infielder Paul DeJong—best known for hitting the foul ball caught by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie—racked up 3.0 WAR and 25 home runs, making him a comfortable choice for second.

At 2.2 WAR in just 50 games, Phillies wunderkind Rhys Hoskins was awesome but didn't have enough at-bats to justify stiffing DeJong or my eventual number-three vote, German Márquez. The Rockies rookie was hated by Baseball Prospectus (who gave him a negative WARP!), but his FanGraphs WAR (2.4) matched Barnes's, and his Baseball Reference WAR (3.1) wasn't all that far behind Bellinger's. Despite a 4.39 ERA, he pitched 14% better than the average 2017 pitcher for 162 innings; it's rare for a rookie to be a solid contributor all season long.

Manager of the Year

1. Bud Black
2. Dave Roberts
3. Andy Green

There are so many more deserving candidates for Manager of the Year in the NL than the AL. Bud Black led Colorado to a playoff berth on the strength of their pitching (a 90 ERA−, the best in Rockies history), previously believed to be an impossible feat. That is surely a testament to this former pitching coach, who also managed his team to a great record in one-run games (21–14). Dave Roberts adeptly juggled playing-time dilemmas in his outfield and at second base, and he righted the ship after a rough stretch that set off a panic in Chávez Ravine. Immediately after losing 16 of 17 games in late August/early September, the Dodgers recovered to go 12–6 over the final few weeks.

The surprise on my ballot is Andy Green. I appreciate how Green has used his team's suckitude to experiment with unorthodox strategies, like shifting and multi-inning reliever usage. Something he did worked, as the 71–91 Padres outperformed their Pythagorean record (57–105) by more than any other team in baseball.

That's three picks, but there are two other NL skippers who would've cracked my ballot had they had the fortune to manage in the AL. Torey Lovullo was clearly a boon to the Diamondbacks, but I hesitated when I saw that they still underperformed their Pythagorean record by five wins. And Craig Counsell—he of the painfully erect batting stance—led the surprise Brewers to be the last team eliminated.

Cy Young

1. Max Scherzer
2. Stephen Strasburg
3. Zack Greinke
4. Clayton Kershaw
5. Jacob deGrom

NL Cy Young is one of those awards that everyone acknowledges is close but everyone also acknowledges there's an obvious correct choice. Therefore, I won't be surprised if Max Scherzer wins the thing unanimously on Wednesday night. At first glance, Scherzer appears to be neck and neck with his Washington teammate, Stephen Strasburg: ERAs of 2.51/2.52, xFIPs of 3.28/3.27. But Scherzer, befitting his reputation as a workhorse, pitched more than 25 more innings. He creates more distance when you note that he was the league's most dominant strikeout pitcher, with a 34.4% strikeout rate and a 15.5% swinging-strike rate. No wonder Baseball Prospectus gives him a 2.26 DRA (Strasburg's is 2.93) and a wide lead in WARP (7.41 to 5.95) over Jacob deGrom.

After Scherzer, Baseball Prospectus likes deGrom and Zack Greinke the best, while Baseball Reference ranks Gio González second in WAR among National Leaguers. But those three all had ERAs of at least 3.20, so it's clear that Strasburg is just being penalized for the three starts he missed due to injury. He is, though, second to Scherzer in FanGraphs WAR (5.6), the version that is the closest summary of the fielding-independent-pitching factors that I favor when considering Cy Young Awards.

Greinke slots in at third place, where he also ranks in FanGraphs WAR (5.1) and Baseball Reference WAR (6.1) if we ignore González. Despite that site's esteem for the Nationals southpaw, I just couldn't see a way that González was among my top five NL pitchers. His excellent run prevention (a 2.92 ERA) was not fully attributable to his actual pitching skills (a pedestrian 8.42/3.54 K/BB ratio; a 3.93 FIP). In the same way, but for opposite reasons, I disregarded FanGraphs WAR's own outlier, Brewer Jimmy Nelson. Nelson's 4.9 WAR was due to some significant revisionist history on the saber-site's part, dismissing many of his 75 runs allowed as products of bad luck. They may well have been, but no other site saw in Nelson (owner of a 3.58 DRA) what FanGraphs did.

Like his 2016, Clayton Kershaw's 2017 was difficult to pigeonhole. The Dodgers ace missed around five starts with a bad back, but he put up characteristically superb stats when he did pitch, including a 2.31 ERA and a league-leading 6.73 K/BB ratio. Yet, very uncharacteristically, he didn't pitch all that well beneath that veneer: he mustered just a 3.30 DRA thanks to some good luck on balls in play (.267 BABIP) and runners left on base (87.4% LOB%). That dropped what could have been a Cy-winning campaign with more innings and some better fundamentals to fourth place. Finally, deGrom rounded out my ballot. With what qualified as a workhorse season for the New York Mets combined with a strong 4.05 K/BB ratio, Baseball Prospectus makes a strong case for deGrom being one of the best pitchers in the league. But he flunks the eyeball test, with an ERA+ (119) a lot less impressive than Greinke's (149) or Kershaw's (180).


1. Giancarlo Stanton
2. Joey Votto
3. Max Scherzer
4. Charlie Blackmon
5. Kris Bryant
6. Nolan Arenado
7. Anthony Rendon
8. Zack Greinke
9. Gio González
10. Paul Goldschmidt

This messy MVP race makes the other NL awards look like the pictures of consensus. According to FanGraphs WAR (for pitchers, RA9-WAR added to their offensive and defensive WAR, for a picture of the whole player), Max Scherzer is the MVP with 7.3 WAR. At Baseball Prospectus, it's Giancarlo Stanton (8.55 WARP) in the lead by a distance roughly equivalent to one of his monster home runs. And at Baseball Reference, Scherzer, Stanton, and Joey Votto are all effectively tied at 7.6 (7.5 for Votto, but WAR is hardly an exact science).

As in the American League, I went to WPA/LI—a.k.a. the stat that best sums up all the times you contributed to helping your team win—to break the tie. By Baseball Reference, Votto leads Stanton 6.4 to 6.2, but at FanGraphs, Stanton has a clearer lead of 7.00 to 6.32. In the end, Stanton also ranks higher than Votto according to all three flavors of WAR, so he is my pick by a hair.

What about Scherzer, for whom a strong case can be made to be number one? His lead in RA9-WAR is effectively nullified by his deficit in WARP, so he doesn't clearly stand out from the pack of hitters to me. And then there's the National's WPA/LI of 3.05 (FanGraphs version, subtracting his negative hitting value from his positive pitching value)—good for a starting pitcher, but in the end he just didn't provide the constant jolts to his team's chances of winning that Stanton did for the Marlins.

The rest of the league didn't quite measure up to those three. FanGraphs ranked Kris Bryant (6.7) and Anthony Rendon (6.9) above Votto, giving them extra credit for playing the more challenging position of third base. However, Votto had more Defensive Runs Saved (11) than either Bryant (2) or Rendon (7), so a defensive penalty for him seems perverse. Rendon falls particularly far in my ranking because of his 3.29 WPA/LI; Bryant's was 5.20, third in the league.

Meanwhile, Baseball Prospectus's pet case was Charlie Blackmon, who they convinced me was at least Bryant's equal. The Rockies outfielder ranks just behind Votto in FanGraphs WAR (6.5) and is a close match for Bryant in other categories. Baseball Reference says the Rockies outfielder has the edge in WPA/LI (5.3 to 4.5); FanGraphs says the Cub does (5.20 to 4.88). But BP seemed more convinced that Blackmon was better than Bryant (7.70 vs. 6.67 WARP) than the other two sites were that Bryant was better than Blackmon (just a fraction of a win separated them at both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference). Blackmon also took 60 more plate appearances than Bryant.

Blackmon's Colorado teammate, Nolan Arenado, similarly gets a boost on my ballot because he is beloved by Baseball Reference (7.2 WAR), but unlike Blackmon, there is a wide gulf between him and Bryant in FanGraphs WAR (Arenado's is 5.6) and WPA/LI (3.43). Although Arenado is obviously an asset with the glove, his hitting (129 wRC+) is both easier to quantify and less impressive than Blackmon's 141 wRC+ and Bryant's 146. Arenado does get the nod over Rendon, though, as FanGraphs WAR is the only measure of value that believes Rendon was superior.

My last few slots give love to the pitchers—and specifically those who were valuable to their team in ways beyond balls and strikes. Zack Greinke boosted his overall value (6.70 WARP) with good defense, while Gio González, despite mediocre peripheral pitching stats, was valuable enough when paired with his team (i.e., his defense) that he prevented enough runs to tie Blackmon in RA9-WAR (6.5). However, his 1.25 WPA/LI revealed that he didn't actually boost the Nationals' chances of winning all that much. Finally, I fit Paul Goldschmidt onto my ballot in order to honor his contributions to win probability (4.3 per Baseball Reference, in fifth place) and his 6.36 WARP (good for seventh), although I could have just as easily gone with my top honorable mention, Justin Turner. Two of my other Cy Young votes, Clayton Kershaw and Stephen Strasburg, might also have shown up here, but as with Turner, I ultimately decided that their missed playing time was more of a disqualification in an MVP race. To help your team, you've got to be on the field.