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Naming the A’s MVP, Cy Young, and more!
The 2019 Oakland A’s won 97 games and reached the postseason for the second straight year, and that success earned them some hardware. Most of it was on the defensive side of the ball, as Matt Chapman and Matt Olson both repeated as Gold Glovers and Fielding Bible winners, and Chapman earned his second straight Platinum Glove. Marcus Semien got shut out after an 8-WAR season, but he did finish in third place for the AL MVP and also received a finalist nod for the Gold Glove, all of which helped him earn a spot on the inaugural All-MLB Second Team alongside closer Liam Hendriks.
Of course, it could have gone even better. There was at least a (thin) case for Semien to win the MVP, and the fact that he didn’t make the All-MLB First Team was an inexplicable snub. Fortunately, here at Athletics Nation we have our own annual awards to recognize the green and gold. After all, somebody has to be the best on the A’s. Spoiler: It was Semien.
Voters were asked to rank their Top 3 for each award, scored on a 3-2-1 point system. There were 12 ballots submitted, by: CatfishBunter, CodyFSchmidt, Jeremy S. Johnson, JosephTDeClercq, Joshua Iversen, JToster, Kevin Urquhart, Matt Doan, Nico, praunlinde, 510SportsTake, and myself.
Here are the five awards we gave out. The winning players should keep an eye on their mailboxes for a substantial cash prize and a sizable trophy (Nico, you’re taking care of sending those prizes, right?). At the end of the post, you can see the history of each award, going back to 2012.
MVP: Marcus Semien
When Chapman won this award last winter, it was safe to assume he might stay on the throne for many years to come. After all, he’s an elite talent who has already panned out into a legit superstar, and the bigger question seemed to be whether he could move his way up to earning real-life league MVP honors.
Indeed, Chapman posted another brilliant 6-WAR campaign, complete with an All-Star berth and all the aforementioned defensive accolades. But that wasn’t enough for Team MVP this year, as shortstop Semien was even better.
The story of Semien’s fielding is well-known at this point, as he worked his way up from being MLB’s worst defensive shortstop in 2015 to a Gold Glove finalist in 2018. He repeated that success with the glove this summer, but this time around he also enjoyed a massive breakout with the bat. For his first four years in Oakland his wRC+ had been as remarkably consistent as it was completely mediocre, hovering between 96-98 each season, just a hair below league-average. That changed in 2019.
Semien, 2019: .285/.369/.522, 137 wRC+, 33 HR, 11.6% BB, 13.7% Ks
His 137 mark ranked 19th among all qualified MLB hitters, on par with names like Jose Altuve (138), Freddie Freeman (138), J.D. Martinez (139), and Mookie Betts (135). His career-high 33 dingers also placed him among the leaders at his position, and for what it’s worth he nearly drove in 100 runs from the leadoff spot in the order.
Looking at just the A’s regular lineup, only Mark Canha posted a higher wRC+, while Semien finished just three back of the team lead in homers. His 123 runs scored tied the all-time Oakland record, 50 years after Reggie Jackson did it in 1969, and he also finished just four shy of the Oakland records for extra-base hits and total bases.
Add it all up, between the breakout bat and the plus defense at a premium position, and you get 8.1 bWAR and 7.6 fWAR, easily the best on the team. Then factor in that he played all 162 games, and that he went supernova in the second half of the season (167 wRC+) when the club was fighting for a Wild Card spot, all with quiet, stoic, drama-free professionalism. The choice is clear, and the only surprise is that his selection wasn’t unanimous.
Cy Young: Liam Hendriks
For the second straight year, the Team Cy award goes to a reliever. Blake Treinen paved the way in 2018 with a historically great campaign, but then he utterly disappeared this summer. In his place, Hendriks stepped up and more or less matched his predecessor’s dominant success.
Like Semien, Hendriks had already spent a few years in Oakland before his 2019 breakout. For three seasons he’d been a tantalizing reliever with big velocity but lackluster results, and then he finally figured it all out and became unhittable.
Hendriks, 2019: 1.80 ERA, 85 ip, 124 Ks, 21 BB, 5 HR, 1.87 FIP
That line added up to 3.8 fWAR and 3.5 bWAR, both of which led all MLB relievers. It only took until June for him to seize the closer role (he converted a solid 33-of-40 save/hold chances), and in July he netted an All-Star berth like Treinen had done the previous year.
While the team’s elite closer netted this award for the second straight year, there was at least some competition this time. Treinen won unanimously on a 2018 squad that had virtually no starting rotation, but in one-third of the first-place votes went elsewhere in ‘19. Personally I voted for Mike Fiers, who might not quite stack up statistically but had the intangible of carrying the pitching staff for four straight months of consistently quality starts. I tend to lean toward a starter if possible for this award, and I wasn’t the only one who did so, but it’s tough to argue the final result here.
Rookie Of The Year: Seth Brown
This was the only close race, and it was a photo finish. The A’s debuted several exciting rookies this year, but not until the last several weeks of the season. That gave us a fun list of names to choose from, but very little actual playing time on which to judge them.
Pitching phenom Jesus Luzardo nearly won on the strength of just 12 innings of work. Granted, they were excellent innings, including a six-out save to seal a 1-0 game that Oakland absolutely had to win down the stretch. But his showing in this vote says as much or more about his elite prospect stock as it does about anything he actually did on the major league field this year.
It was a similar story for the other tippity-top prospects. Fellow lefty hurler A.J. Puk pitched well but threw just 11⅓ frames out of the bullpen. Catcher Sean Murphy slugged .566, but in only 60 plate appearances, thanks to drawing just 13 starts behind the plate. Mid-range prospect Sheldon Neuse had some moments but finished with a 63 wRC+ in 61 plate appearances.
Instead, this award goes to a rookie that no one would have guessed entering the season. Seth Brown was drafted in 2015 and has never cracked our Community Prospect List Top 30, nor come particularly close to doing so. Even calling him a sleeper would have been generous; he was closer to org filler. But after blasting 37 homers in 112 games in Triple-A, he forced his way into an MLB audition and took full advantage of the opportunity.
Within Brown’s first five games, he was a significant contributor to three tight A’s wins. There was a one-run victory in which he drove in two and scored three himself, and then another one-run affair in which he threw out a runner at the plate from left field. In the other game, he came in off the bench with the A’s trailing in the 6th inning in Yankee Stadium, immediately knocked in the tying run, and then drove in two more to help Oakland put it away. By the time he was done, he’d set a franchise record by collecting 10 hits in his first five contests.
Brown, 2019: .293/.361/.453, 120 wRC+, 0 HR, 8.4% BB, 27.7% Ks
He only got 83 plate appearances, which just barely more playing time than the other names listed here. But he almost certainly had the biggest impact of any of them in those limited reps. He never actually homered despite all of his power, but he banged out clutch hits all over the field and opened some eyes with surprisingly strong defensive work at multiple positions.
The 27-year-old wasn’t the most famous rookie on the A’s this season, and it remains to be seen what his future holds. He might stick in the majors long-term, or he could wash out and look back at this debut stint as the highlight of his career. But for this particular snapshot in time, he earned the nod as the team’s ROTY. Fear not, though, as none of these youngsters actually played enough to graduate to full rookie status, so they’ll all have another chance at this award next year. Luzardo 2020?
* J.B. Wendelken also received a 2nd-place vote, but technically he graduated to rookie status in 2018 so he wasn’t eligible here.
Gold Glove: Matt Chapman
Does this even require an explanation at this point? Chapman is unarguably the best defender in the majors at any position, so it stands to reason that he’s also the best fielder on just the A’s.
Over the last two years he’s won literally every major award available to him, except for this year’s overall Wilson award — which he did win in ‘18, and which is the dumbest of all the awards. He consistently gets the nod from experts, from opposing coaches, and from fans around the country, all while posting gaudy metrics. If you don’t buy all of that, then just watch him play one game and you’ll immediately understand where all that recognition comes from, as he turns absurd feats on the near-daily.
There’s nothing left to say about him, so here’s one random highlight from 2019. It’s probably not the best one, and maybe not even in his top 10 best, which makes it even more incredible. This was just another day at the office for him, making a play that almost no other 3B would even be able to attempt.
Just give Chappy this year’s platinum glove right now
— A’s on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) July 4, 2019
And that highlight doesn’t even fully show off his amazing throwing arm, nor does it illustrate how he can virtually cover two positions at once by partially negating the need for a shortstop next to him. And again, this isn’t a carefully curated list of top highlights, it’s just the first few I found in a cursory search.
In a shocking twist, Chapman didn’t win unanimously, for the first time in three years. Ramon Laureano surprisingly got a 1st-place vote; after all, despite his negative overall metrics, he does possess the raw physical ability to author historically great highlights. But there’s no question that Chapman is the top glove in town.
Team Captain: Matt Chapman
This award is a bit more abstract. I give absolutely no instructions on what it means, and let the voters decide for themselves. Scroll down to the bottom to see what kinds of names have won in the past.
Every year my hope is that this award won’t just turn into another version of “Best Player” because we already have MVP and Cy for that. But the presence of Chapman makes that difficult, because he really is the best player on the team (with respect to Semien’s 2019) while also being an obvious leader in the clubhouse. It’s fun when the goofy fun guy wins this, like Doolittle or Coco or Vogt or Gomes, but Chapman makes a ton of sense in his own right.
Personally, I went another direction with my ballot. I put Mark Canha first, based on several factors. His outgoing personality is easy to spot, and his bat-flippin’ antics seem to provide an emotional spark. Furthermore, I was impressed by the way that he moved all over the field in 2019, dutifully plugging whatever critical leak sprung up in the lineup that month. He’s the quintessential Oakland Athletic, as a former nobody and Rule 5 pick who kept working and improving until suddenly he became a 4-WAR star.
After Canha, I picked Sean Manaea. This one had a lot to do with the time I spent in the clubhouse for the S.F. Examiner this year, and stuff that might not translate to the TV audience. He spent most of the year recovering from a major injury, but he was still there with the team every day, smiling and laughing in the clubhouse with the rest of the guys, showing up with weird facial hair or unexpected braids or a random Lincoln-style top hat (yes that happened one day), and there’s something to be said about that kind of irrepressible positive attitude. He feels to me like a big part of the team’s personality and spirit, which sounds like Captain material.
My 3rd-place pick was Fiers, mostly because of the beard incident. He was also a cool, steady, veteran presence on the mound, setting the tone for the rest of the rotation all year, so that gets him in the larger conversation. But the cat-tail was the signature moment that got him on my ballot. The story behind it involved his teammates essentially daring him to do it, and it worked — he walked out to the mound for a real-life MLB game with possibly the stupidest/coolest beard I’ve ever seen. Taking one for the team to give everyone else a fun, light moment in the depths of September is the kind of thing that a Captain does.
But through it all, even though I left him off my ballot entirely (and I was the only one to do so), it’s really tough to argue against Chapman. After all, we don’t call him Chaptain America for nothing.
* Dammit Nico
We started voting on these awards in 2012, so here’s a look back at AN Awards history. Full disclosure: We didn’t get around to it in 2014-15, so a couple years ago I went back and retroactively filled those in to make this table. Also, in 2016 I picked the winners myself instead of a staff vote, because making everyone relive that season would have been cruel.
* Note: There were actually no rookies in 2014 except a couple brief cameos. Billy Burns and catcher Bryan Anderson combined for seven plate appearances, and that was it. And Burns won the next year.