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The IBI Awards: Most Valuable Hitter

Kipnis, Santana run away with title

The IBI Awards: Most Valuable Hitter
October 14, 2013
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The 2013 season proved quite successful for Cleveland as the team completed a 24-win turnaround and made the playoffs with a 92-70 record.

As a part of recapping the year that was, IBI is once again giving out some year-end awards. Unlike last year, we will be focusing only on Cleveland-centric awards. Today we unveil IBI's Most Valuable Hitter:





Jason Kipnis



Carlos Santana



Michael Brantley



Yan Gomes



Ryan Raburn



Nick Swisher



Jason Giambi



Kipnis posted a  .284/.366/.452 line and a 5.8 rWAR as he led the way for Cleveland on offense. Santana posted a .268/.377/.455 line and a 4.4 rWAR as he parlayed his patience-power combination into a true middle-of-the-order threat for Terry Francona to use. These two were at the top of my list, and, as you can tell by the voting, were at the top of many others' lists as well.

Gomes, Swisher, and Raburn rounded out my list as Brantley fell just short. As nice as Brantley's swing is, his offense rates as roughly average (104 wRC+) and some defensive metrics do not love his range (-10.8 runs below-average per Fangraphs). Brantley is a great player to have, but I see him more as a solid-average contributor, not someone elite.

Here's what the rest of IBI thinks:

Tony Lastoria:

1. Carlos Santana
2. Michael Brantley
3. Jason Kipnis
4. Ryan Raburn
5. Yan Gomes

Jason Kipnis had one of the best overall seasons thanks in large part to a red hot stretch from mid-May through the All-Star break, but was very ordinary the rest of the season. Michael Brantley was cool in the clutch throughout the year. Ryan Raburn stepped in and helped fill a run producing void and had a career year in limited time. Yan Gomes was sensational behind the plate and turned out to be a good weapon at it. But to me, I love consistency, and the consistency of Carlos Santana from start to finish makes him my Most Valuable Hitter for the Indians.

For a team devoid of run production, Santana is really the one that comes close to being anything remotely close to a true run producer. He was more or less consistent all season hitting .275 with a .848 OPS at the All-Star break and then hitting .258 with a .811 OPS after it. Plus, he just continues to improve a little bit every season and the best may be yet to come. He is an underappreciated hitter on this team and I can’t wait to see what he does next season for the Indians.

Jim Pete:

1. Yan Gomes

2. Jason Kipnis

3. Michael Brantley

4. Carlos Santana

5. Ryan Raburn

My assumption here is that Jason Kipnis will be the runaway winner here, and I understand why folks will pick him over Gomes. The argument against Gomes is that he played in nearly half the games that Kipnis did, and therefore didn't impact the Indians as much. I totally disagree with that assessment. I would argue that Gomes' impact over his 88 games was equal to that of Kipnis, who seemed to disappear over long stretches of the season while playing. Gomes had just as many big hits during the season, and while he didn't win a player of the month award, he was a regular in September, and not-even-arguably played better down the stretch. Gomes filled the offensive gap that the Indians needed, and was consistently brilliant even with inconsistent time.

Steve Orbanek:

1. Jason Kipnis

2. Carlos Santana

3. Michael Brantley

4. Yan Gomes

5. Ryan Raburn

While Kipnis certainly had his ups and downs during the season, the overall line of .284/.366/.452 looks pretty good. The left-handed hitting infielder was at his absolute best during the month of June when he hit .419 with 12 doubles, four home runs and 25 RBI. The main problem for Kipnis was his average of just .261 in the second half compared to the .301 he hit prior to the All-Star break. However, he’s shown that when he’s on, he has the ability to absolutely carry this team offensively. For that alone, he deserves the nod here.

Michael Hattery:

1. Jason Kipnis

2. Yan Gomes

3. Carlos Santana

4. Ryan Raburn

5. Michael Brantley

Selecting a most valuable hitter on this team is an incredibly arduous task as I could have selected any of my top three and been wholly accepting of each player. Of course, one could go the easy way and talk about Francona’s value, impact. I will not. Therefore, I decided to rest my decision on two pieces. First, WAR value, which places Kipnis as the only star level player and one of the 15 best position players in the American League. Second, a star level stretch where he sustained the offense. Kipnis had a June to remember performing as the best player in the American League. For that stretch as well as his cumulative statistics, Kipnis is the most valuable hitter.

Stephanie Metzger:

1. Michael Brantley

2. Jason Kipnis

3. Yan Gomes

4. Carlos Santana

5. Jason Giambi

I tend to get anxiety while watching Tribe games, but Michael Brantley was the one guy who didn’t make me hold my breath when he came to bat. It’s clear that Brantley was Mr. Reliable, and he crafted himself the reputation as “the guy you want at the plate” in nearly any situation.

Jeff Ellis:

1. Carlos Santana

2. Jason Kipnis

3. Nick Swisher

4. Yan Gomes

5. Ryan Raburn

I know I am in the minority but the Indians' best hitter this year was Carlos Santana. He had the best wRC+ of anyone on the team other than Raburn. He did it while playing every day and most of the time playing the most physically demanding position on the diamond. He was second on the team in home runs, first in on-base percentage, and third in slugging.  He was third in all of baseball in pitches per at-bat, fifth in walks, and 18th in on-base percentage.  I know many fans can’t wait to run him out of town, but the Indians' best hitter was Santana.

Jake Dungan:

1. Michael Brantley

2. Jason Kipnis

3. Ryan Raburn

4. Carlos Santana

5. Jason Giambi

While Jason Kipnis had the best year of his young major league career in 2013, he still had his peaks and valleys. The one guy who was consistent all season and was reliable for the Tribe, coming through in key spots, was left fielder Michael Brantley, who had a great season both at the plate and in the field. In addition to belting a career-high in homers and RBI, Brantley finished in the top three in the American League in batting average with runners in scoring position (.375).

Nathan Kemp:

1. Carlos Santana

2. Jason Kipnis

3. Yan Gomes

4. Nick Swisher

5. Michael Brantley

Santana gets the nod because of his patient approach at the plate. He's among the team leaders in home runs and RBI while leading the team in doubles. His OBP (.376) is nearly 20 points higher than the next Indians starter.

Arthur Kinney:

1. Jason Kipnis
2. Carlos Santana
3. Nick Swisher
4  Ryan Raburn
5. Jason Giambi

Kipnis gets the nod over Santana and Swisher due to greater consistency over the course of the season.  Raburn and Giambi may seem like odd choices but they both came up big when the Tribe needed them.

Charlie Adams:

1. Ryan Raburn

2. Carlos Santana

3. Jason Kipnis

4. Yan Gomes

5. Nick Swisher

Ryan Raburn (18.9) produced nearly as many runs above average as Carlos Santana (23.4) and Jason Kipnis (19.0) in less than half the plate appearances. His extreme levels of production when he was in have been consistent difference makers throughout the season. 

Michael Goodman:

1. Jason Kipnis

2. Carlos Santana

3. Nick Swisher

4. Michael Brantley

5. Ryan Raburn 

Despite the second half struggles, there was a time Jason Kipnis led the team’s offense on his own. That’s something (forgetting Mark Reynolds' April) that no other player can claim. I’m giving him the nod over Santana, but it’s close. Santana was great after being moved into the fourth spot in the lineup down the stretch. While Swisher’s year was down from expectations, he still led the team in home runs and got on base at a good clip. If we’re using WAR as a determinant here, Michael Brantley wouldn’t make the list. However, it’s tough to ignore his clutch hitting. Same with Raburn, who had some key hits of his own. Just as importantly, Raburn’s power and prowess against left-handed pitching were a welcome addition.

If you want to follow Jim on Twitter, he’s @JimPiascik. If you want to e-mail him, you can do so at If you want to read his Master's thesis on college athletes and Twitter, you can do so here.

User Comments

Jim Piascik
October 16, 2013 - 7:08 PM EDT
Clearly my brains are addled. I can't remember anything right now. Stupid school. :)

I do love Brantley's approach and swing. I just don't like how the results are limited. But possibly the most important thing is that everyone should want him on the team. We can debate who is more valuable than who all day, but the bottom line is Brantley's a keeper. He (and others) are locked in as starters for 2014. There's plenty of value in that.
October 16, 2013 - 6:08 PM EDT
He hits that way because it's easier to predict the first pitch of those specific at bats...

Brantley, normally an extremely selective hitter, but becomes excessively aggressive with runners in scoring position, trying to take advantage in a situation in which pitchers HAVE to throw strikes.

Michael Hattery has pointed this out a few times on site.

Does this mean he should become more aggressive all the time?

Perhaps, but it does show you how high an IQ player he is...

Jim Piascik
October 16, 2013 - 5:49 PM EDT
That's my favorite part of all of this. If Brantley is so clutch in those situations, why doesn't he hit that way all the time? Why doesn't he bring that intensity to every at bat? And those are some pretty bad looking numbers with the bases empty. :)

It's possible that Brantley's style lends himself well toward hitting with runners on. Maybe pitchers throw more fastballs and he's good against fastballs? I don't have time to run data or write it up now (due to havnig to focus on my thesis proposal), but it's a thought.
October 16, 2013 - 3:20 PM EDT
Not saying I disagree on "clutch" and Brantley...but his numbers with RISP the last 3 seasons...

2011: .294/.343/.447/.790
2012: .265/.388/.394/.782
2013: .375/.411/.458/.870

and with RISP and 2 outs

2011: .302/.348/.465/.813
2012: .250/.385/.453/.838
2013: .364/.432/.500/.932

Bases empty OPSs the last three years: .638, .697, .687

Been solid for a while not in key situations. Again, not saying this means Brantley is "clutch" but is pretty intersting how much better he is in situations where you are hoping for that "key" hit or at-bat. Kind of makes you wonder how great he could be if he hit this well all the time....
Jim Piascik
October 16, 2013 - 10:32 AM EDT
Sure, a hit is better than a walk; there's no denying that. But it is important to have a player walk as well to make his game better-rounded.

I'll take a player with a .270 average and a .370 on-base percentage over a player with a .300 average and a .330 on-base percentage every time. It's less hits, but it also many fewer outs. You only get 27 outs; I'd rather have someone who makes fewer.

As for Brantley and the clutch hitting, most of the time that "clutchness" does not carry over from year to year. Brantley's swing is great and geared for just getting hits -- something that obviously helps in that situation -- but I'm not going to give him any mythical ability to get clutch hits. He is a good hitter, yet he rates out as average compared to everyone else.

Of course there is more to baseball than "baseball card stats."
But those stats are the record of what happened. Brantley is a joy to watch, yet in the end, he is not some transcendent talent. He is a great player to have, but Brantley is not a cornerstone MVP of the franchise. And there's no shame in that. Every team needs a Brantley (or two or three) to stabilize the lineup.
October 15, 2013 - 8:20 AM EDT
If a runners at first santana walking advances runner, then brantley is up with a guy on 2nd. They made it to 92 wins, i think chiz settles in and the bench depth and bats will b back. 2014 A.L. central champs!
October 15, 2013 - 8:14 AM EDT
Keep in mind bourn and swisher should have better years next year, asdrubal is a free agent, like ubaldo was in 13, guys have career years in free agent seasons.

Most the goon squad will b back. Just gotta lock up giambi, i like as a pinch hitting player coach
October 15, 2013 - 8:11 AM EDT
Michael brantley was an mvp when he had risp, two outs, or two outs and risp. And that is smooth. Thats y hes the dr. So calling him avg? Shows u arnt watching. And there is more to baseball than baseball card stats, no he doesnt have corner outfield power .. his hr totals r rising, and he makes up for it with speed and clutch shots. All his hr probably came in winning games.
October 15, 2013 - 8:07 AM EDT
Carlos santana played very clutch baseball, and played well vs tampa in his first playoff game. Lonnie chisenhall and gomes too. That said Santana hit a few walk offs, important hits and getting on base when it metter, and once he was in clean up spot he got bettet, also miguel cabrera only a.l. guy with more walks, how can u fault santana for taking a walk. What was his ops again .377+.455=.843 .. varlos can play catcher if he has too, man first base.. and b one of the most clutch, versatile desinated hitters, with switch hitting abilities. Yan Gomes has a better arm and glove, but both players are making a fraction of what they r worth on free agent market. So quit complaining. I am thankful for santana and gomes
October 15, 2013 - 7:34 AM EDT
My point is, if you have a runner in scoring position and your cleanup hitter is up I wouldn't want to see a walk. Walks are good but how many games are won with no RBI. Also Mr. Piascik a hit also raises the on base percentage
October 14, 2013 - 10:51 PM EDT
I see all the love for gomes.

No one has yet to explain why he continued to bat two spots behind cabby the last six weeks or so?

I also like Santana. But I would also like about 10 to 15 points higher on avg and more rbi's. Your 4 and 5 hitters get paid to drive in runs, not walk, so I get what Larry is saying.
October 14, 2013 - 3:57 PM EDT
The distaste for Santana, I believe exists for three different reasons: First being that even post Moneyball, the walk is still tremendously undervalued by the common fan. Especially when hitting in a RISP situation. The same criticism was thrown at Boggs in Boston, his willingness to take a walk with RISP instead of "driving in runs" if oft criticized. Even though it increases overall run expectancy.

Second, is that Santana is cursed by his own expectations, his 27 homer 2011 campaign, and prospect pedigree have created unfair expectations.

Lastly, is his defense which is sub par, especially when contrasted against Gomes ability to throw the ball. Santana is an immense talent, with a skillset unpopular to the surface observer, never the less, I picked Kipnis.

Merely because of his cumulative value (led in offensive value according to Fangraphs) as well as his ability to carry an offense for an entire month, something we did not see from Santana.
However, I could have gone any of three directions in selecting the best hitter.
October 14, 2013 - 3:52 PM EDT
Agreed Hermie, sometimes guys can underwhelm people when they were so highly touted to begin with.

That said, I think people need to realize that 800+ OPS seasons are pretty good. He placed in the Top 30 in all of baseball in OPS. Hell, he was BETTER than guys like Prince Fielder in OPS.
October 14, 2013 - 3:44 PM EDT
Agree that defense is one thing that probably causes some fans to overlook him.

Think another thing is that he was touted as a superstar prospect by so many...and has simply been "only" very good since up. Hasn't taken that step to superstardom with the bat. Personally don't think that's reason to overlook or ignore how well he has hit. Do think there is way more potential in that bat though...
October 14, 2013 - 3:35 PM EDT
Yeah, things like batting average, HRs, and RBI have their uses, but there are far better numbers to show how productive a player truly is. The problem is we have generations with the AVG/HR/RBI belief burned into them because that has always been what has been featured on baseball cards and the stats that show on TV.

Santana might now have had a great average, actually league average....but he was in the top 20 of ALL the majors in on-base percentage (.377). The name of the game is about not making outs. He also had some pretty consistent numbers across the board.

I agree, it wasn't a GREAT season, but it was a good season. One that still amazes me so many people underappreciated....and I think a great amount of that is because so many people dislike his defense.
October 14, 2013 - 3:22 PM EDT
Santana had the 5th highest walk rate in all of baseball this year (and had a lower K-rate than the 4 guys ahead of him for what it's worth).

I find it pretty amazing that Santana actually had a higher walk rate than Miguel Cabrera (IMO the best "hitter" in baseball). Obviously helps having Prince Fielder behind you.

Lots of talk about finding a middle of the order bat and definitely agree. Either need to find a big bat to protect Santana or a guy that would bump Kipnis behind Santana. Also really want to see how Santana's bat plays out if he's catching 50 or fewer games next year...
Jim Piascik
October 14, 2013 - 2:52 PM EDT
MT88 in WI: Exactly! And we'll be back at it tomorrow. And Wednesday. And every day through Sunday! Hooray!

Larry: It's more about the other stats. AVG/HR/RBI have their uses, but give me how often a player gets on base over average. Santana walks a ton and baserunners are good things. There is no shame in what Santana accomplished this year. None at all.
MT88 in WI
October 14, 2013 - 2:14 PM EDT
Live. Learn. Move on. NEXT!
October 14, 2013 - 2:13 PM EDT
I think it's sad that a .268 average with 20 homers and 74 rbi is considered a solid season. If a player like Santana is your MVP your team is in trouble.
Jim Piascik
October 14, 2013 - 1:53 PM EDT
Ah! Fun with language and interpretation!

The way I intended to break up the categories were best player on the pitching side and best player on the position player side. But what I made the categories doesn't spell that out clearly.

"Hitter" in my mind meant a position player in his entirety. "Hitter" is another person's mind can mean just their hitting contributions, no defense. And both are technically right!

Words have power. And now I wish I had called it Most Valuable Position Player. Or specified it was only an offensive award.

October 14, 2013 - 1:19 PM EDT
I don't think it was a question who the most valuable "hitter" was. Santana was consistent from start to end at the plate. As far as most valuable "player" goes, yeah, that probably goes to Kipnis because he can run and plays better defense than Santana. I hope people who voted for this were not putting defense in the equation when comparing Santana to Kipnis, Gomes and others. Looking at them strictly on offense and more importantly that consistency, it's Santana all that way. You take out that one hot 5 week stretch for Kipnis and he was quite ordinary and maybe even below average. And I just have a hard time calling Kipnis the most valuable hitter when he struggled one again so much in the second half during the club's playoff push.

But, that's the beauty of these awards. We all see things differently.
October 14, 2013 - 1:19 PM EDT
Have to agree with Nicks statement. Top 5 Santana, Brantley, Kip, Gomes, & Raburn. Couldnt put Kip on top he as not so much in 2nd half. Best clutch Brantley batting 1st to 8th - believe leadoff .380s.
October 14, 2013 - 1:07 PM EDT
Santana IMO was definitely the most valuable "hitter" on this club. His offensive numbers and team ranks:

HR: 20, 2nd
OPS: .832, 2nd (1st if you don't count Raburn who didn't "qualfiy")
OBP: .377, 1st
RBI: 74, 2nd
Runs: 75, T-2nd

And with men on bsae?
OPS: .979, 2nd (behind Raburn)

OPS with RISP?
.916, 3rd (behind Raburn, Giambi)

Raburn would be my #3. Didn't get enough ABs to be more valuable than Santana or Kipnis IMO. Kipnis would be #2 then. Swisher #4. As much as he struggled, did lead the team in HRs and had a great September when we needed it. I'd put Brantley 5 just ahead of Gomes for playing more and being more clutch (if you believe in that).
October 14, 2013 - 12:26 PM EDT
Any one who left off Brantley or Gomes I don't think was paying full attention this year.

Also, I like Giambi as much as the next guy but Top 5? The only debate I see here is who is your #5 since Kip/Carlos/Brantley/Gomes are Top 4.....Swisher or Raburn? I want to say Swisher since he finished very strong but in the end, Raburn did more with half the AB's and was consistent thru most of the year, so he'll make it for me at the 5 spot.

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