Following the crowning of MLB’s Gold Glove awards two days ago, it is now time for the Silver Sluggers. A slightly less popular award, largely because frankly the best hitters win MVP awards more often than the best fielders, the Silver Slugger honors the best hitter at each position.
From a sabermetric perspective, I’m far more confident in my Silver Slugger picks than my Gold Gloves, because I trust the offensive analytics more. There is, even within this ideology, some debate about whether to care more about raw production (looking at numbers like wRC+ or OPS+) or predictive stats (whether a player having an artificially high or low batting average on balls in play should factor in). I tend to lean more towards the former, as a full season of stats generally doesn’t have crazy BABIP outliers. Though I can also see the argument that if one’s concern is what happened rather than what deserved to happen, why ignore RBI (which I do)? It’s hard to explain but generally speaking I think a philosophy built largely around stats like wRC+ makes the most sense.
Here are my American League winners.
Designated Hitter–J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox: For the sake of irony, I’d love to justify giving this award to Shohei Ohtani, as the AL (obviously) doesn’t have a pitcher Silver Slugger, and giving it to a pitcher would be funny. And truthfully, Ohtani might have the second-best case for the hardware at DH on his own merits. But the overwhelmingly correct answer here is J.D. Martinez, worth more than double Ohtani’s (or Giancarlo Stanton’s, or Khris Davis’s) Offensive Runs Above Average. Martinez had the league’s third-best wRC+ (best among DHs) and second-most home runs and, despite the obvious lack of defensive contribution, will garner well-deserved MVP votes.
Catcher–Wilson Ramos, Tampa Bay Rays: Gary Sanchez’s down year meant a very thin crop of reasonable candidate this season in the American League behind the plate, and that is why I’m giving the award to a player who finished the season with the Philadelphia Phillies. It’s tempting to recognize Omar Narvaez of the Chicago White Sox, or even Most Interesting Non-Ohtani Player Of 2018 Willians Astudillo of the Minnesota Twins, but Ramos played just enough (315 plate appearances) and batted just well enough (130 wRC+) to begrudgingly give the award to him. If you insist on giving it to a more full-time AL catcher, um, Yan Gomes? This wouldn’t be my recommended hill on which to die.
First Base–Luke Voit, New York Yankees: It sounds ridiculous. It feels ridiculous. But yes, the top offensive first baseman in the American League was acquired from the AAA Memphis Redbirds in late July. Who else could it be? If your insistence is that the winner of the Silver Slugger should’ve spent a full season as a first baseman in the American League, you could go with C.J. Cron of the Tampa Bay Rays, with his 122 wRC+, but I lean on the side of Voit’s 194 wRC+, even if in just 148 plate appearances. By Offensive Runs Above Average, a counting statistic which by definition provides an advantage to good players who play a lot, Voit leads AL first basemen. There are seven or eight NL first basemen who had better offensive seasons, including possibly two on the St. Louis Cardinals alone, but Voit benefits from weak competition for this award.
Second Base–Jose Altuve, Houston Astros: It was certainly a down year by the standards he set last season, but Jose Altuve’s 134 wRC+ (it trailed Robinson Cano by two points, but Cano’s fifty games missed due to suspension meant he had less overall impact) and league-leading 29 Offensive Runs Above Average at the position made him the winner. Whit Merrifield and Jed Lowrie had respectable silver and bronze campaigns, but Altuve is the deserving champion.
Third Base–Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians: It took me a few years to come around on Ramirez as more than a nice player, but it’s increasingly difficult to argue against him as a true superstar. It was neck-and-neck between Ramirez and Alex Bregman, and I have no argument against those who err on the side of the Houston Astros star, who was slightly better by wRC+, but I went with Ramirez on the grounds of his superior power (39 home runs, though 31 by Bregman weren’t exactly poor) and that, with a .254 BABIP, Jose Ramirez was simultaneously one of the AL’s most valuable and most unlucky players.
Shortstop–Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians: I went with Andrelton Simmons for a Gold Glove which Lindor had a reasonable shot at, but Lindor wins this one. That Carlos Correa had a down year made Lindor, who hit 38 home runs, look all the more impressive. Xander Bogaerts was slightly better (though also luckier) on a rate basis, though he had 165 fewer plate appearances, while Manny Machado was well on his way to this award, thanks to a 155 wRC+, before being traded to the National League in mid-July. All in all, it’s hard to not go with Lindor’s mix of longevity and general excellence.
Left Field–Andrew Benintendi, Boston Red Sox: Although something of a letdown in the field, where he was an acclaimed prospect, Andrew Benintendi was a steady offensive performer throughout the season. Joey Gallo had the home runs, but nowhere near the contact ability. Tommy Pham caught (.442 BABIP-fueled) fire but didn’t have nearly the time to catch up to Benintendi’s overall production. Picking a guy with sixteen home runs who was roughly mid-tier in his own lineup in terms of excitement isn’t a fun pick, but he is the deserving one.
Center Field–Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels: At this point, does this award need to be explained? Let’s put it this way, since everything that could be said about Mike Trout has already been said otherwise–my #2 pick for this award, by a fair amount is Aaron Hicks of the New York Yankees. Let’s compare some of their numbers.
Hicks: .248/.366/.467, 15.5% walk rate, 27 home runs, 581 plate appearances
Trout: .312/.460/.628, 20.1% walk rate, 39 home runs, 608 plate appearances
And Hicks was really good! I’d have given him the left field Silver Slugger had he played there instead. Mike Trout is just that good.
Right Field–Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox: In total (spoilers for the NL Silver Slugger winners ahead!), I gave 35 different players a Gold Glove or Silver Slugger award. The only one of these players to receive both is Mookie Betts. And while Betts has long been a defensive stalwart with a very good bat, he became an offensive powerhouse this season, besting worthy also-rans Aaron Judge and Mitch Haniger by home runs, runs, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.