MLB awards: Some Hank Aaron Award selections miss their mark

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 28: Mike Trout #27 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim waves to the stadium fans after being named the team's 2018 MVP during a ceremony prior to the MLB game against the Oakland Athletics at Angel Stadium on September 28, 2018 in Anaheim, California. The Angels defeated the Athletics 8-5. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 28: Mike Trout #27 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim waves to the stadium fans after being named the team's 2018 MVP during a ceremony prior to the MLB game against the Oakland Athletics at Angel Stadium on September 28, 2018 in Anaheim, California. The Angels defeated the Athletics 8-5. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images) /
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LOS ANGELES, CA – OCTOBER 25: Giancarlo Stanton #27 of the Miami Marlins, Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr., Hall of Famer Hank Aaron and Jose Altuve #27 of the Houston Astros talk to the media during the Hank Aaron Award press conference prior to Game 2 of the 2017 World Series between the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday, October 25, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /

MLB announced the nominees for the Hank Aaron Award as part of MLB awards announcements recently and nearly half of the selections were not the “best overall hitter” on their team.

The Hank Aaron Award is an annual award given to the best overall hitter in each league as part of MLB awards. In 1999, 25 years after Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record, MLB introduced the award to honor Hammerin’ Hank. Originally, the winner was based on a points system that awarded points to hits, home runs and RBI. The player with the highest point total was the Hank Aaron Award winner.

The point system lasted one year. In 2000, the use of specific statistics was tossed out and the rules were changed to a ballot system. The radio and television play-by-play broadcasters and color analysts voted for three players in each league. A first place vote was worth five points, a second place vote was worth three points and a third place vote was worth one point.

That system lasted until 2003, when baseball fans were given the opportunity to vote. The fan vote makes up 30 percent of the points, with the votes by broadcasters and analysts making up the other 70 percent. You can vote for one player from each league here.

The phrase “best overall hitter” is a subjective one. The original point system gave credit to hits and home runs, which is fine, but also to RBI, which is very context-dependent. It essentially eliminated leadoff hitters who don’t get the opportunity to drive in runs.

Of course, a subjective vote isn’t necessarily a better system, even if it’s more engaging for the fans. Also, some of the greatest hitters in the last two decades have won the award, including Alex Rodriguez four times and Barry Bonds three times. Then again, the best player in baseball, Mike Trout, has only won the Hank Aaron Award one time.

This year’s nominees are (almost) all fine hitters, but not necessarily the best hitter on each team. I’ve looked at each team’s nominee and whether another player on that team would have been a better choice. For me, the statistic wRC+ is the best single statistic to credit a hitter for everything he does and put it on an easy-to-understand scale.

An in-depth explanation for wRC+ can be found here. The main idea is that a hitter gets credit for everything he does and that is adjusted for league and ballpark effects, with the resulting number put on a scale with 100 being league average. Mike Trout, for example, had a 191 wRC+. He was 91 percent better than league average, which was the best mark in baseball for a qualifying hitter.

On other end of the scale was Baltimore’s Chris Davis, with a 46 wRC+. Davis was 54 percent worse than league average. There were four starting pitchers this year with at least 50 plate appearances who were better offensively than Chris Davis (Clayton Kershaw, German Marquez, Zack Greinke, and Max Scherzer). With all that in mind, let’s take a look at each team’s Hank Aaron Award nominee and whether a teammate would have been a better option. I used 350 plate appearances as the cut-off point, except in the case in which the nominee had fewer than 350 plate appearances.