The 2020 Oakland A’s posted a .600 winning percentage and reached the postseason for the third straight year, but that success didn’t earn them any award hardware.
They got a few downballot votes. Liam Hendriks finished 13th for MVP, Chris Bassitt was 8th and Hendriks 9th for Cy Young, Sean Murphy was 4th for Rookie of the Year, and Matt Olson and Ramon Laureano were each finalists for Gold Gloves. But alas, nobody won anything, though Hendriks got a nod on the All-MLB 1st-Team. As a consolation, Olson did get his third straight Fielding Bible despite being snubbed for the GG.
Fortunately, here at Athletics Nation we have our own annual awards to recognize the green and gold. After all, somebody has to be the best on the A’s.
Voters were asked to rank their Top 3 for each award, scored on a 3-2-1 point system. There were eight ballots submitted, by: Billy Frijoles, danbot, grover, John Bitzer, Josh Iversen, King Richard, Nico, and myself.
Here are the five awards we gave out. At the end of the post, you can see the history of each award, going back to 2012.
MVP: Mark Canha
For the fourth straight year, we have a new MVP. Khris Davis, Matt Chapman, and Marcus Semien each took turns from 2017-19, but they all had off-years at the plate in 2020, as did Matt Olson.
The fact is, there wasn’t really one clear standout in this lineup. Lots of players had a few hot weeks, and even moments when they briefly carried the team, but nobody was strong from wire to wire for two full months. Mark Canha was the strongest for the longest, and indeed he marginally led the club’s position players in both versions of WAR.
Canha, 2020: .246/.387/.408, 127 wRC+, 5 HR, 15.2% BB, 22.2% Ks
His power was down from his even better 2019, but he still got on base and was one of the most reliably tough at-bats in the lineup. He was also no stranger to clutch situations, at one point driving in the winning run in the 9th inning or later three times in the span of 10 games (twice on the road against the Giants, the other a walk-off against the Angels). And of course, on defense he’s available to fill in competently or better at four different positions.
Despite the ensemble nature of the 2020 A’s batting order, Canha ran away with this award, netting all but one first-place vote. The other went to Sean Murphy, who finished the season with a slightly higher wRC+ (in barely half the plate appearances) while also providing value as a catcher. Ramon Laureano got some minor love, though his strong start to the campaign disappeared after his suspension.
Notes: This MVP award is for position players only, because there’s the Cy Young for pitchers. Otherwise, Liam Hendriks would have had a good chance of winning this. Also note that the voting totals don’t add up because not all the ballots filled out all three spots.
Cy Young: Liam Hendriks
For the third straight year, the Cy Young goes to a reliever, and for the second straight year it’s Hendriks. The last two years this happened because there weren’t any compelling cases among the starting rotation. This year there was a starter with a legitimate challenge, but Hendriks was just so next-level good that he won again anyway.
Hendriks, 2020: 1.78 ERA, 25⅓ ip, 37 Ks, 3 BB, 1 HR, 1.14 FIP, .227 xwOBA, 14-for-15 saves
That 1.14 FIP is the 7th-best of the entire Modern Era, since the year 1900, in a minimum of 20 innings. He allowed a game-tying homer to blow a save on Opening Day, and then was essentially perfect the rest of the season. And then he took it up another notch in the playoffs and became HercuLiam.
You could make an argument for Chris Bassitt, who had an excellent year as a starter. He wasn’t as lockdown as Liam, but he pitched twice as many innings. He came out ahead in the real-life AL Cy voting, and he came out on top in bWAR. But Hendriks was the kind of special where we’re not even allowed to have him on the team anymore because he was too good.
Rookie Of The Year: Sean Murphy
There were two heavyweights to choose from among this rookie class, both hailing from the Top 3 of our preseason Community Prospect List. But there wasn’t any question between that pair, as Sean Murphy won in a unanimous decision over Jesús Luzardo.
The jury is still out on which of these two young budding superstars will have the better career, but Murphy had the superior rookie campaign. Luzardo held his own as a league-average starting pitcher, but Murphy led the team with a 131 wRC+ at the plate and put in sparkling work behind it.
Murphy, 2020: .233/.364/.457, 131 wRC+, 7 HR, 17.1% BB, 26.4% Ks
He showed the ability to tap into his power in games, and he drew a ton of walks to get on base despite a low batting average. It will be exciting to see how he and the other ROTY candidates build on their success in a full 2021.
Gold Glove: Matt Olson
For three years, Matt Chapman held this award on lockdown. But in 2020 he got hurt and missed nearly half the season, and he was clearly affected by the injury even when he was playing. His defense wasn’t its usual superhuman self.
But Olson’s was. He’s still the best first baseman in the sport, no matter what the ridiculous real-life Gold Gloves say — they’re based purely on 60-game advanced metrics, which is absolutely not at all how you’re supposed to use those numbers. The Fielding Bible knows better, and it still picked Olson.
Team Captain: Matt Chapman
This award is more abstract, meaning whatever the voter wants it to mean. For the last four years, the answer to that vague philosophical question has been Matt Chapman. Hey, we don’t call him Chaptain America for nothing.
There were plenty of other cases to be made. Ramon Laureano rallied the team to a comeback with an impassioned dugout speech during the playoffs, though you might either add or subtract points for his Houston brawl in August. Sean Manaea overjoyed us with his homemade rally signs. Tony Kemp showed all kinds of leadership and appeared to be someone who keeps the clubhouse loose. And so on.
But Chapman is still the boss, the central figure of this winning core both on and off the field. O Chaptain my chaptain.
* Dammit danbot
We started voting on these awards in 2012, so here’s a look back at AN Awards history. Full disclosure: We didn’t get around to it in 2014-15, so a few years ago I went back and retroactively filled those in to make this table. Also, in 2016 I picked the winners myself instead of a staff vote, because making everyone relive that season would have been cruel.
* Note: There were actually no rookies in 2014 except a couple brief cameos. Billy Burns and catcher Bryan Anderson combined for seven plate appearances, and that was it. And Burns won the next year.