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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Writers got it right this MLB awards season

Even though one writer took heat for giving Max Scherzer  a Cy Young Award first-place  vote.

New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom delivers

New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom delivers against the Miami Marlins during the second inning of an MLB baseball game at Citi Field on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

A day after Jacob deGrom was denied a unanimous victory in the Cy Young Award balloting, maybe it was poetic justice that the Mets’ ace received the Most Valuable Player first-place vote that prevented a clean sweep for Christian Yelich.

Based on the level of public scorn hurled at the San Diego Union-Tribune’s John Maffei for casting his Cy Young first-place vote for Max Scherzer — hardly an outrageous pick, by the way — you would have thought he had prevented deGrom from taking the trophy. On the historic scale of perceived Baseball Writers’ Association of America villainy, Maffei barely registers, but he was blasted on a number of media outlets (including Twitter, of course) and ambushed by WFAN host Steve Somers.

As for this Major League Baseball awards season, the BBWAA got it right, and I received minimal blowback for listing deGrom fifth on my National League MVP ballot. That was a few notches below the New York chapter’s other rep, the Post’s Mike Puma, who gave deGrom one of the pitcher’s seven second-place votes.

Frankly, that number surprised me, as I’ve traditionally felt that everyday players, many of whom log 150 or more games, tend to make a greater impact than a pitcher making 25 or so starts, not even 20 percent of the season as a whole.

But that speaks to the extreme subjectivity woven into the fabric of the term “most valuable,” which is much different from selecting the manager, rookie or pitcher who simply was the best during a particular season.

That’s the beauty of the MVP — it’s an award tailor-made for talk radio or bar stool banter. But if you wanted to boil it down to the most basic of terms, ask yourself this: If I were starting a baseball team from scratch, whom would I draft first from this year’s top players?

Breaking it down further, in my view, the next level for MVP should involve – but not exclusively –  whether the team was successful overall.

With deGrom, we completely understand that he controlled what he could control — run prevention — better than anyone else in the sport. Heck, deGrom himself drove in five of the 48 runs the Mets scored during the totality of his 32 starts.

The Mets had a 14-18 record in those deGrom games. Again, not his fault. That’s a ridiculous stat. For the sake of this MVP argument, however, what if you removed deGrom from the Flushing equation this season and Robert Gsellman made those 32 starts? Would the Mets’ record during that stretch have been much worse? Would they have finished with 77 wins overall?

Possibly. It’s not a knock on deGrom, obviously — just another perspective on the concept of “most valuable,” a term that can vary from season to season.

The devaluing of pitcher wins, as brilliantly done by deGrom this year, also might transform the conventional wisdom when it comes to a starting pitcher’s MVP candidacy.

Since 1956, only four National League pitchers have been named MVP, with Clayton Kershaw the lone winner (2014) in the last half-century. Kershaw (1.77 ERA, 239 strikeouts) was credited with 21 of the Dodgers’ 94 wins that season. As for the other three MVPs, Bob Gibson (1.12 ERA, 268 strikeouts) had 22 of the Cardinals’ 97 wins in ’68, Sandy Koufax (1.88 ERA, 306 strikeouts) had 25 of the Dodgers’ 99 wins in ’63 and Don Newcombe (3.06 ERA, 139 strikeouts) had 27 of the Dodgers’ 93 wins in 1956.

It’s fair to say that pitcher wins have deteriorated to the point of being nearly inconsequential in analyzing a starter’s overall performance. But that’s a fairly recent phenomenon, and deGrom’s statement-making Cy Young win, coming off a 10-9 record, probably has driven a stake through that undying mindset once and for all.

As for my placing deGrom fifth in the MVP voting, it turned out to be the correct spot, apparently. That’s exactly where the 30-member electorate put him, based on his aggregate score.

If anyone should be angry at me, it’s Freddie Freeman, who finished fourth overall, but I gave him one of only two eighth-place votes. Only three other voters had him lower.

Sorry, Freddie.

Noah way to contend in 2019

There’s certainly nothing wrong with the Mets listening to trade offers for Noah Syndergaard, as they have in rekindling talks with the Padres in recent days. But if new general manager Brodie Van Wagenen is being truthful in his win-now proclamations, he’d be sending mixed messages by dealing Syndergaard, who is under team control for the next three seasons.

With Matt Harvey having washed out, the Mets’ Fab Five already is down to four, and Zack Wheeler is entering his walk year. In addition, would the Mets think they’re getting good value for Syndergaard?

Van Wagenen still is new at this GM thing. As a former agent, he’s negotiated plenty of big-money contracts, but he’s never made a trade. With contracts, it’s only money, but mess up a trade, and the negative fallout can stain you forever. For a perception-obsessed franchise, that’s something to think about.

We’re not saying that Syndergaard is Tom Seaver. But for now, the Mets should first think about scraping up some cash to upgrade the ’19 team before dealing a roster cornerstone in Syndergaard.

Still, chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon was unusually chatty on the subject Friday, which sounds to us as if he’s floating some trial balloons  to see how it registers in Mets Nation.

“It all depends on what he thinks he can get back,” Wilpon said. “If he thinks the return is outsized from what the value of Noah is, then I guess he’ll suggest it and we’ll move on and do that.”

Syndergaard won’t be a free agent until 2021, but the idea of trading him, in the Mets’ thinking, could be part of a strategy to put money in their war chest to sign deGrom, who will be due large arbitration bumps the next two seasons before his own free agency.

On that front, there was some good news for the Mets last week: DeGrom’s decision to stay with CAA bodes well for the team’s effort to keep him. Had he jumped to another agency, that might have signaled a desire to eventually split with the Mets, who then could have felt a need to be proactive and trade him.

“I’ve really enjoyed my time with the Mets,” deGrom said the night of his Cy Young announcement. “They’ve been nothing but good to me. The fans have been great to me.” 

Mind games are a Gray area

With Sonny Gray on his way out of the Bronx any minute, his 1 1/2-year tenure in the Bronx was a stark reminder for the front office that not everyone can succeed in New York. People who knew Gray well in Oakland had their doubts from the minute that trade first went down, but Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, desperate for pitching help in the second half of 2017, perhaps was more optimistic about that scenario than he should have been.

For the past few weeks, Cashman has not been shy about admitting that mistake, and Hal Steinbrenner agreed with his take this past week at the owners’ meetings in Atlanta. Steinbrenner reviews every front-office proposal before green-lighting them, but he acknowledged that it’s difficult to identify which players can’t handle New York until they arrive.

“That could be a real tough issue, when you have a guy that has so much talent and such a great skill set,” Steinbrenner said. “It’s one thing about work ethic. It’s another thing about certain aspects of a person’s makeup that probably show themselves before they get here, but sometimes that’s a tough thing to gauge.

“Throughout the years, we’ve made that mistake before, bringing in guys that we figured there’s no way this guy could not do well in New York — and then they didn’t. I wish I could say that we nail it every time, but I think it’s tough. He’s got a skill set, Sonny. He’s going to succeed someday. I just don’t know where it’s going to be.”

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