Silver Slugger Award Winners vs. STATS Advanced Analytics

By: Derek Wolff | November 19, 2018

When Major League Baseball rolled out its Silver Slugger Award winners for 2018 last week, plenty of familiar faces were on the list. Mike Trout won for the sixth time, MVP Mookie Betts captured his second award, and J.D. Martinez became the first player in the award’s 39-year history to win twice in one year (OF, DH).

Those three hitters unsurprisingly finished the season at the top of the STATS advanced analytics leaderboards. However STATS took a position-by-position look at each of the winners to determine if they were indeed deserving of their Silver Sluggers.

Betts (.346) and Martinez (.330) finished first and second, respectively, atop the American League in batting average, while Trout was fourth at .312. Nolan Arenado led the National League with 38 home runs, and fellow MVP finalist Javier Báez led the NL with 111 RBI.

Those traditional statistics shed some light on those stars’ performances in 2018, but STATS uses innovative pitch-by-pitch data to present a more complete composite of each player’s value at the dish:

  • BIP+ illustrates ball in play quality by using Statcast batted ball numbers. It also accounts for defensive shifts, spray angles and the running speed of the batter to determine a percentile of better contact than average.
  • Contact+ measures how much more or less contact a batter makes than an average hitter.
  • Discipline+ assesses a hitter’s ability to lay off pitches outside the strike zone and swing at pitches inside it, independent of contact.
  • RVAA (expected run value above average) measures batting run value above the average hitter, quantified by runs. It uses a base value of 0 for an average batter. For example, Betts’ league-leading RVAA of 72.3 means he was around 72 runs better than an average hitter in 2018.
  • RVAA+ measures the effectiveness of each at-bat, given the situation. Like BIP+, Contact+ and Discipline+, this carries a base value of 100, meaning a score of 101 would indicate an above average performance.
  • sWAR is STATS version of the traditional WAR metric, which varies from outlet to outlet. sWAR is a value based on RVAA and Defense. For the Silver Slugger awards, only offense is taken into consideration, so defense has no bearing on the following analysis. The league average sWAR is roughly 1.9 per every 600 plate appearances.

Using these metrics, STATS took a look at this year’s crop of winners to see where we agreed and — more importantly — where we saw things differently.

CATCHER

AL: Salvador Pérez, Royals (second Silver Slugger Award)
NL: J.T. Realmuto, Marlins (first)

STATS Picks: Pérez, Realmuto

It’s important to note that to qualify for the batting title at a particular position, a player must have a minimum 3.1 plate appearances at that position per team game, which equates out to 502 per season.

Pérez was the only qualified catcher in the AL with 544 plate appearances, but that doesn’t mean his selection came without merit. Along with Realmuto, he led MLB qualified catchers in five of our identified six categories, posting top-of-the-charts totals in Contact+ and BIP+. His numbers there — 109 and 135 — mean that he made nine percent more contact and 35 percent better contact than a league-average hitter. To put Contact+ into perspective, Jean Segura led all qualified batters with a Contact+ of 113.

Realmuto had, by far, the highest RVAA among catchers at 16.5, nearly 10 runs better than the next highest catcher, the Dodgers’ Yasmani Grandal (7.2). Realmuto’s RVAA+ of 126 was 26 percent better than a league-average hitter, while his discipline score of 108 was eight percent better than average. Both marks were league highs at the position. Grandal led all qualified catchers in sWAR at 5.0.

Batter’s Name PA RVAA RVAA+ CONTACT+ DISCIPLINE+ BIP+ sWAR
Salvador Perez, KC 544 5.6 109 109 64 135 1.6
J.T. Realmuto, MIA 530 16.5 126 101 108 122 3.4
  • Bolded numbers indicate league-leading at the position. (STATS LLC)

FIRST BASE

AL: José Abreu, White Sox (second Silver Slugger Award)
NL: Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks (fourth)

STATS Picks: Matt Olson, Athletics; Goldschmidt

While our numbers certainly back Goldschmidt as a worthy winner, we have our first disagreement in the form of the AL selection. In the midst of a continued White Sox rebuild, José Abreu took home his second Silver Slugger, his first since winning the award as a rookie in 2014. He hit .265 with 22 home runs and 78 RBI in 547 plate appearances during a down season for AL first basemen, while Olson hit .247 with 29 homers and 84 RBI in 655 plate appearances.

The 108 additional plate appearances certainly help Olson’s case, but head-to-head he only trailed Abreu in BIP+, where he still made 26 percent better contact than league average, while posting considerably higher numbers in RVAA, RVAA+ and sWAR. By STATS’ calculations, Olson was a more dynamic hitter in 2018 and should have been awarded his first Silver Slugger.

Batter’s Name PA RVAA RVAA+ CONTACT+ DISCIPLINE+ BIP+ sWAR
José Abreu, CWS 547 16.1 124 104 85 136 2.3
Matt Olson, OAK 655 30.5 139 94 121 126 5.7

Goldschmidt, meanwhile, had a dominating season, posting top-10 marks among all MLB hitters in sWAR (10th), RVAA (7th), RVAA+ (7th) and BIP (4th). He feasted on left-handed pitching, earning the highest offensive WAR (2.6) and RVAA (18.1) in all of baseball against southpaws.

Batter’s Name PA RVAA RVAA+ CONTACT+ DISCIPLINE+ BIP+ sWAR
Paul Goldschmidt, ARI 681 41.7 151 97 106 161 5.9

SECOND BASE

AL:José Altuve, Astros (fifth Silver Slugger Award)
NL: Javier Báez, Cubs (first)

STATS PICKS: Altuve, Báez

Two of baseball’s flashiest defensive players got the job done at the dish as well in 2018. Báez’s 157 BIP+ was sixth best in baseball among qualified batters. He hit .290 with 34 home runs and 111 RBI for the Cubs en route to a top-three finish in NL MVP voting. Altuve was the most valuable second baseman in baseball in RVAA among qualified players, as the Dodgers’ Max Muncy posted an RVAA of 31.6 in 474 plate appearances while splitting time between five different positions, with the majority of his playing time coming at first base.

Batter’s Name PA RVAA RVAA+ CONTACT+ DISCIPLINE+ BIP+ sWAR
Javier Bȧez CHC 639 7.6 110 98 63 157 6.9
José Altuve, HOU 598 20.7 129 110 91 119 4.1

SHORTSTOP

AL: Francisco Lindor, Indians (second Silver Slugger Award)
NL-Trevor Story, Rockies (first)

STATS Picks: Lindor, Story

While our official picks are in line with the actual winners, it’s important to note here that had Manny Machado stayed in the AL all season, he likely would have earned our nod.

Batter’s Name PA RVAA RVAA+ CONTACT+ DISCIPLINE+ BIP+ sWAR
Trevor Story, COL 660 26.8 134 101 102 147 5.3
Manny Machado, LAD* 690 34.1 141 102 105 121 5.5
Francisco Lindor, CLE 739 31.2 135 107 96 118 7.5

* Traded to the Dodgers from the Baltimore Orioles on July 18.

A year removed from striking out an NL-leading 191 times, Story rebounded nicely, leading all shortstops with a BIP+ of 147. Lindor was 21 runs better than average against right-handed pitchers this season, good for seventh best in the league, and finished around 31 runs better than average in general. His 7.5 sWAR was third-highest in the league, behind only Betts and Trout, and tops at the position.

But had Machado earned enough plate appearances in either league to qualify, there’s a good chance he would have taken home the award over one of these winners. Machado’s RVAA of 34.1 made him the 11th most valuable player in MLB this season, according to that metric. He led all qualified shortstops in that category, as well as in RVAA+.

THIRD BASE

AL: José Ramírez, Indians (second Silver Slugger Award)
NL: Nolan Arenado, Rockies (fourth)

STATS Picks: Alex Bregman, Astros; Anthony Rendon, Nationals

STATS disagrees with each of the chosen selections for the award at third base. In the AL, Bregman led Ramirez in each of the major categories, despite having a BIP of just 101. He finished 2018 as the eighth-most valuable player in MLB in RVAA.

Batter’s Name PA RVAA RVAA+ CONTACT+ DISCIPLINE+ BIP+ sWAR
José Ramírez, CLE 686 30.7 137 108 110 95 5.8
Alex Bregman, HOU 707 41.2 148 109 121 101 6.2

Similarly, Rendon led Arenado in each of the major categories, despite having 73 fewer plate appearances.

Batter’s Name PA RVAA Avg RVAA adj Contact Discipline BIP WAR
Nolan Arenado, COL 667 13.3 116 100 97 119 4.3
Anthony Rendon, WSH 594 47.6 166 108 119 137 7.0

By our metrics, Rendon’s snubbing seems to be the more egregious of the two, considering the vast margins between him and Arenado in these categories, especially at RVAA. Not only was Rendon more than 34 runs better than Arenado this season; he also finished fourth overall in that metric, trailing only Betts, Trout and Martinez.

OUTFIELD

AL: Mookie Betts, Red Sox (second Silver Slugger Award); Mike Trout, Angels (sixth); J.D. Martinez, Red Sox (second and third)

NL: Christian Yelich, Brewers (second); David Peralta, Diamondbacks (first); Nick Markakis, Atlanta (first)

STATS Picks: Betts, Trout, Martinez; Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, Cardinals; Rhys Hoskins, Phillies

It’s unsurprising that we have no differences in the AL, as Betts, Trout and Martinez were the three best hitters in the game this year. They finished first through third, respectively, in RVAA while Trout additionally posted top-3 numbers in BIP+ (3rd), Discipline+ (3rd) and sWAR (2nd) among all qualified batters.

Texas’ Joey Gallo was the only player to make more significant contact than Martinez, while Betts led the league in RVAA, RVAA+ and sWAR.

Batter’s Name PA RVAA RVAA+ CONTACT+ DISCIPLINE+ BIP+ sWAR
Mookie Betts, BOS 612 72.3 198 106 118 160 11.0
Mike Trout, LAA 585 58.1 182 104 124 166 8.5
J.D. Martinez, BOS 644 53.0 168 97 108 176 6.4

In the NL, the MVP Yelich’s selection makes sense. He posted the top numbers for NL outfielders in RVAA and RVAA+, and he was sixth overall in all of baseball by both metrics.

Batter’s Name PA RVAA RVAA+ CONTACT+ DISCIPLINE+ BIP+ sWAR
Christian Yelich, MIL 651 43.2 155 100 105 153 6.4

At the other two spots, our numbers favor Hoskins and Ozuna slightly more than the winners, Peralta and Markakis. Of the four, Hoskins had the best Discipline+ at 111, while he and Ozuna each were better than Markakis in ball in play quality. Hoskins and Ozuna each were more valuable by a wide margin in RVAA, while Hoskins’ relatively low sWAR of 2.6 is due in large part to his poor defense score of -22.7.

Batter’s Name PA RVAA RVAA+ CONTACT+ DISCIPLINE+ BIP+ sWAR
Nick Markakis, ATL 700 18.3 122 110 105 93 3.8
Rhys Hoskins, PHI 657 27.6 135 100 111 117 2.6
David Peralta, ARI 611 16.7 123 100 102 127 3.7
Marcell Ozuna, STL 628 26.7 135 103 95 123 5.0