The 2014 FanGraphs Player of the Year: Clayton Kershaw

Back in September, we announced the creation of the FanGraphs Player of the Year Award, in order to have an outlet to honor the player we felt performed at the highest level of any player in Major League Baseball each season. We wanted to try and avoid a lot of the semantical arguments about the meaning of different awards, and eliminate many of the divisions between leagues or player types, and simply recognize the most outstanding performer of the season.

To this end, we created a 10 person panel consisting of various authors here at FanGraphs, and then also created a ballot determined by the votes of our readers, so there were 11 ballots cast in total. The voters included:

Tony Blengino
Carson Cistulli
August Fagerstrom
David Laurila
Kiley McDaniel
Mike Petriello
Eno Sarris
Jeff Sullivan
Paul Swydan
Wendy Thurm

Note: I recused myself from the process so as to not reveal information that would give away the ballot I cast for National League MVP this year.

Along with the additional ballot collected by the crowdsourcing project.

As an experiment, we asked the voters to not just rank their top 10 players of the 2014 season, but to also assign a score between 0 and 100 to help illuminate differences between various ballots where just an ordinal rank might make them appear similar.

Based on the results of the voting, we are proud to honor Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw as the inaugural winner of the FanGraphs Player of the Year Award. Congratulations to the best pitcher in baseball for having his best season yet, and one of the best pitching seasons in baseball history, even while missing the first month of the season. Kershaw finished at the top of six of the 11 ballots, and finished second in the five ballots in which he didn’t claim the top spot. His average score of 77.3 was the highest mark as well, and he received the highest individual score of any player on any ballot, with Jeff Sullivan crediting him with a grade of 90.

It was a close fight for the top spot, however, as Kershaw barely edged out Angels outfielder Mike Trout for the top spot. Trout received all five of the first place votes that did not go to Kershaw and finished no lower than third on any ballot, and his average score of 75.3 was only marginally lower than Kershaw’s winning total. Trout had an excellent season in his own right, but was just barely eclipsed for the top spot.

Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen, Indians pitcher Corey Kluber, and Indians outfielder Michael Brantley were the only other players to rank on all 11 ballots. McCutchen’s average score of 52.6 put him firmly in third place, while Kluber’s average score of 34.5 put him at the top of the next tier, edging out Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy and Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. Brantley appeared on one more ballot than Stanton or Lucroy, but his scores were a bit lower on the ballots he did make, pushing him to seventh place overall.

Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez, Nationals infielder Anthony Rendon, and Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista rounded out the top 10. Giants catcher Buster Posey, White Sox pitcher Chris Sale, A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson, Royals outfielder Alex Gordon, and Tigers Designated Hitter Victor Martinez were also listed on at least one ballot, making up our collection of honorable mentions.

The full results can be seen in the table below. We will have a second post later this afternoon with each voter’s individual ballot, as well as a brief explanation for why they voted as they did.

Player Ballots Avg Rank Avg Score
Clayton Kershaw 11 1.5 77.3
Mike Trout 11 1.7 75.3
Andrew McCutchen 11 3.4 52.6
Corey Kluber 11 5.6 34.5
Jonathan Lucroy 10 6.0 32.6
Giancarlo Stanton 10 6.1 28.9
Michael Brantley 11 6.6 25.0
Felix Hernandez 8 6.8 19.1
Anthony Rendon 6 7.3 11.9
Jose Bautista 6 8.3 11.1
Buster Posey 5 8.0 8.6
Chris Sale 6 9.0 6.4
Josh Donaldson 2 8.5 3.2
Alex Gordon 1 9.0 0.9
Victor Martinez 1 9.0 0.5

You’ll notice that the within the top 10, there is perfect agreement between the average rank and average score columns. The grading system was an experiment to see if asking for a second piece of information would allow us to tease out the differences between ranked next to each other, but it turns out that the grading system didn’t add a significant amount of extra information beyond just the normal 1-10 ranking.

Or, at least, it didn’t this year. That doesn’t mean the experiment wasn’t worth doing, but rest assured that Kershaw was not selected as the winner simply due to the different format of also asking for the grade. The results would have been the same even if we had used the traditional 10/9/8 method employed by the BBWAA.

Certainly, the question we asked voters to consider in the scoring column — “the grade represents your estimate of the percentage of years that the player’s performance in that season would result in his placement at the top of your ballot” — was a difficult one, especially considering that one of the ballots was a crowdsourced collection of multiple votes. It may be that the scores reflected here are too high relative to the question that was asked, as it does seem unlikely that Kershaw’s 2014 season is in the top 25% of the best seasons in baseball history, or that Jonathan Lucroy’s season would result in a Player of the Year Award every third season.

So, don’t put too much emphasis on the scores themselves. I could have done a better job of explaining the question originally, or simply picked a question that was easier to quantify. We may adjust the scoring system next year, as we gather more information and attempt to create the best process possible to select the winner.

For this year, however, we are thrilled that a performance as exceptional as Clayton Kershaw’s was selected as the winner of our inaugural award. Congratulations to the Dodgers ace on a remarkable season.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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do we get to see the individual ballots so we can accuse the writers of regional bias? Sullivan def had Felix too high!