Choosing award selections is one of the most enjoyable parts of writing about baseball (click here to compare my mid-season award picks). And I just could not help myself, so I decided to update my picks back from September. Throughout the week, I will offer my analysis on the actual winners as the awards are announced, with the R.O.Y awards coming on Monday. Here are my final picks.
Most Valuable Player:
Justin Morneau is a name commonly being thrown around in the discussion for MVP. Traditional voters are infatuated with one statistic above all others—RBIs—and Morneau finished second in the league, behind Josh Hamilton, with 129. In fact, his high RBI total was the biggest reason why he won the award back in 2006, when there were several stronger options—including his teammate, Joe Mauer. Still, he was a key cog in a Twins’ offense that was tremendous with runners in scoring position (even if some pundits dismiss it as a statistical fluke), hitting .302/.375/.502, with 21 homers. But I still do not think that he deserves the award this year, as Mauer once again was more valuable to his team; Morneau does not even rank in the top 30 in the league in OPS.
Regardless of how you feel about OPS as a stat, an MVP candidate at a corner infield position should at least rank in the Top 10. Period.
Mauer, who won his second batting title, finished the season hitting .328/.413/.451, with 44 extra-base hits, 85 RBIs and 84 walks. When you consider that he also ranks among the premier defensive catchers in the game and has received plus scores on how he has helped handle and worked with a young group of Minnesota pitchers, it makes it all the more impressive. At such a defense-first position, his offensive output was outstanding, though, at 25, he still has room to continue to hit for more power.
To put into simple terms: finding 20-homer, 120-RBI, sub-.900 OPS production from a first baseman like Morneau is much easier to find than a catcher who fields his position well and can post a .400-plus on-base percentage and .864 OPS like Mauer.
Cleveland Indians outfielder Grady Sizemore put together a fine season as well, but will be hurt by the weak underperformance of his teammates. Sizemore, playing an excellent center field, hit .268/.374/.502, with 33 home runs and 90 RBIs. Although he will not get many votes because his team finished so far out of contention, he added as much value to the Indians as any of the aforementioned players. Is it his fault that Trafis Hafner got hurt? Or Victor Martinez? Did he make Fausta Carmona regress so severely? No, all he did was perform, providing top-notch defense and an .876 OPS and 101 runs scored. The young star places fourth on my make-believe ballot, and perhaps deserves to be ranked higher.
Dustin Pedroia, the diminutive second sacker for the Boston Red Sox, is a fine candidate as well. Although he is generously listed at 5’9—he is closer to 5’6— Pedroia, who finished second in the league in hitting, performed like a 6’4, 220-pound slugger, posting a line of .326/.376/.493 and bashing 17 home runs.
Pedroia also made tremendous improvements in his defense at a keystone position in every defensive metric out there, even winning his first Gold Glove. And when the injury bug bit the Boston lineup, he picked up the slack to help the Red Sox hold their strong lock on the AL Wild Card, delivering several huge hits down the stretch while playing his excellent defense at second base. Like Mauer, he posted an impressive OPS number (.869) considering his defensive position. Although he would not get my vote, he seems like the likely winner, since his on-field production comes close to matching the story.
Still, in my opinion, another Boston player is more deserving—Kevin Youkilis.
Youkilis’ .958 OPS was good for fourth in the AL. Unlike the players who finished ranked ahead of him—Milton Bradley (only 414 at-bats), Quentin and Alex Rodriguez), he has a realistic chance to take home the honors. Justifiably so, too. He finished the year hitting .312/.390/.569, with 29 home runs and 115 RBIs, adding to the legend of the “Greek God of Walks.” Not only did he post strong offensive numbers, he played excellent defense at first and third base (filling in when Mike Lowell went down) and was a constant presence in the Red Sox’s lineup when several of his teammates were on the disabled list. When compared to Morneau, he added substantially greater real value offensively while giving his club better glove work and actually hit better with RISP.
Honorable mention also goes to Bradley, who led the league in OBP and OPS but missed too much time due to injury, Hamilton, who paced the circuit with 130 RBIs, and Rodriguez.
1. Kevin Youkilis
2. Joe Mauer
3. Dustin Pedroia
4. Grady Sizemore
Unlike the MVP race, this was a pretty easy choice here. Cliff Lee went from a demotion to the minors to the best pitcher in the league in less than a calendar year. Lee was truly brilliant, posting a 22-3 W/L mark, the lowest ERA (2.54) in the AL and a ridiculous 170-to-34 K/W ratio. The Cleveland Indians left-hander proved that his early-season success—he went 12-2 with a 2.31 ERA before the All-Star break, earning the start at Yankee Stadium—was not a fluke. He was nearly perfect in the second half by winning 10 decisions as Cleveland played its way to a respectable finish. To sum up his slam-dunk case: he finished the season ranked first in the league in ERA, winning percentage (.880) and wins, second in complete games (4), innings pitched (223.1) and WHIP (1.11), and ninth in strikeouts.
Although Lee is the clear-cut winner, there is a decent case to be made for Roy Halladay as well. Halladay, one of three pitchers in the league to win 20 games, anchored a Toronto Blue Jays pitching staff that finished with the lowest group ERA on the circuit. As he does every year, it seems, he continued to put up zeroes on the scoreboard in Toronto, posting a 2.78 ERA in a league-leading 246.0 innings pitched.
While CC Sabathia threw his share of complete games for the Milwaukee Brewers, Doc Halladay has him beat. Quite amazingly considering how few starters go a full nine innings these days, he finished the season with nine complete games on his own. There are a lot of teams that would be happy to have that total dispersed among the entire starting rotation, let alone one pitcher. Pitching in the ridiculously competitive East division, he also led the league in WHIP (1.05), using his excellent control and command to shut offenses down every fifth day.
Jon Lester had an outstanding season for Boston, going 16-6 with a 3.21 ERA and 152-to-66 K/W ratio. Lester, who threw a no-hitter against the Kansas City Royals in May, finished fourth in the league in ERA and winning percentage and seventh in innings pitched while limiting opponents to a .256/.318/.368 line. The 24-year-old southpaw, who emerged as the new ace of the Red Sox’s staff, has a chance to take home some votes.
Credit also must be given to Mike Mussina, who joined the 20-win club for the first time of his potentially Hall-of-Fame career. Mussina had one of his best seasons ever to anchor a New York rotation decimated with injuries, going 20-9 with a 3.37 ERA for a defensively challenged Yankees team.
Lester’s teammate, Daisuke Matsuzaka, should garner some votes as well, after finishing 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. Matsuzaka, however, consistently struggled with his command, walking 94 in 167.2 innings, and does not deserve to be seriously considered.
Closer Francisco Rodriguez picked up 62 saves in 69 chances for the Los Angeles Angels, breaking Bobby Thigpen’s previous single-season mark of 57. Lost in the media hype, though, he also set the benchmark for save chances, a function of opportunity. Due to the Angels’ weak offense and emphasis on small-ball, the right-hander was given a greater number of opportunities to hold a lead in low-scoring games than any other pitcher in baseball history.
Among major league relievers who registered more than 40.0 innings pitched, Rodriguez did not finish in the top 15 in ERA (19th) or K/9 (19th), top 40 in opponents’ OPS (42), top 60 in WHIP (69) or top 100 in K/W ratio. The flame throwing right-hander, who posted an opponents’ line of .216/.314/.316, led the league in only two statistics, saves and save opportunities. While he grabbed headlines for breaking the record, it is worth mentioning that he was the only pitcher who was given enough chances to even come within four saves of the previous all-time mark—Jose Valverde finished second in SVO with 52. for these reasons, there are about four relievers who should be considered ahead of him.
1. Cliff Lee
2. Roy Halladay
3. Jon Lester
4. Mike Mussina
Rookie of the Year:
Evan Longoria is perhaps an easier choice than Lee in the Cy Young category. After Longoria was promoted to the Rays in early April, he quickly emerged as one of the best young third baseman in the game. Although he missed some time on the disabled down the stretch, he put up excellent numbers for a rookie in only 131 games: 27 home runs, 85 RBIs, .874 OPS. Not to mention, he played excellent defense at third base, allowing Akinori Iwamura to move across the diamond to second. His arrival, combined with a few other defensive changes, enabled the Rays to make the move from worst-to-first in team defense. The Rays’ run prevention efforts, in fact, are the ultimate reason why the Rays won the AL East for the first time in their 11-year history.
Longoria’s play at third base was a major reason why the club converted more balls put into play into outs than any other team in the majors, as the Rays finished the regular season with the best defensive efficiency rating. Throw in a slash stats line of .272/.343/.531 and a lot of big hits along the way, and you get Tampa Bay’s real MVP—with apologies to Jason Bartlett—and the easy choice for top rookie.
Fans in Chicago probably have a different take, though, as Alexei Ramirez has exceeded all expectations with his first-year performance for the White Sox. Ramirez, a nifty defender in his own right and a sensational athlete, belted 21 homers, including a rookie record five grand slams, and 77 RBIs However, he struggled to get on base enough (.317 OBP, only 18 walks ) and was not nearly as productive as Longoria.
Armando Galarraga deserves some love here, too. While Dontrelle Willis was seemingly walking nearly ever hitter, Gary Sheffield was sitting near replacement-level, the Tigers’ pitching staff was in shambles, Carlos Guillen showed that he could not handle either corner infield spot defensively, Brandon Inge played out of position and Justin Verlander was busy dropping 17 decisions, the disappointing version of the 2008 Tigers had one pleasant surprise in Galarraga. The rookie right-hander went 13-6 with a 3.68 ERA, 126 punchouts and a 1.19 WHIP in 28 starts.
Staying in the Central, rookie infielder Mike Aviles had a fine debut season for the Royals. Aviles batted .325//354/.480, with 10 home runs and 53 RBIs in 419 at-bats, providing one of the few offensive bright spots in Kansas City. At 27, he, is obviously old for a rookie and is unlikely to turn into a superstar. Still, an .834 OPS for a shortstop is quite impressive, and will be difficult for some voters to overlook.
A case could be made for Joba Chamberlain and Jacoby Ellsbury, pre-season favorites, as well, in addition to Minnesota speedster Denard Span and Oakland Athletics reliever Brad Ziegler, whose scoreless innings streak provided one of the year’s highlights.
1. Evan Longoria
2. Alexei Ramirez
3. Armando Galarraga
4. Joba Chamberlain
Manager of the Year:
Ron Gardenhire did a tremendous job, yet again, getting the Twins to play hard day in, day out, helping his team exceed all expectations with the departure of Torii Hunter and Johan Santana. My pick, though, is Joe Maddon, who instituted a culture of winning into the Rays’ clubhouse. Every move, it seems, worked out for Maddon during the regular season as the Rays went from the joke of the league to AL East champions. He did a heck of a job, really, and was able to motivate his players to buy into the 9=8 concept—nine players play together as a team to become one of the eight playoff teams. Well, though he received some tremendous help by a front office that provided him with a much-improved roster designed to shine at run prevention, he did exactly that.
1. Joe Maddon
2. Ron Gardenhire
3. Terry Francona
4. Mike Scioscia
Most Valuable Player:
The term valuable is interpreted loosely when it comes to baseball, and many people think that a player must play for a contending team to garner attention for the award. After all, a last-place club could still finish last even if their star first baseman did not mash 50 homers, right? I do not necessarily agree with that mindset, though, as often times too many legitimate candidates miss out on winning awards like this because of the poor performances of their teammates.
With that being said, it is hard not to seriously think about naming CC Sabathia the MVP in the National League after his masterful performance in the second half. Although Sabathia did not spend even half of a season in the league, he was sensational (insert hyperbolic word here) in his new surroundings, going 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA. Not only that, he practically resurrected the Brewers’ quest to reach the postseason for the first time since 1982 on his own. If Sabathia did not provide so many quality innings for Milwaukee, it is hard to imagine the Brew Crew even sniffing the Wild Card down the stretch. Sure, he was only with his team from July on, and was only able to pitch every (for him, third perhaps) fifth day, but the larger-than-life lefty was otherworldly.
Although the Brewers parted ways with top hitting prospect Matt LaPorta, the return on investment—just by ending the playoff drought—was well worth it, as Sabathia turned in one of the best post All-Star break runs in baseball history. I would not vote for him, but he deserves to at least be in the discussion.
Ditto for Manny Ramirez, who had a similar effect on the Los Angeles Dodgers. After coming over from Boston at the trade deadline, Ramirez singlehandedly transformed Los Angeles’s lineup from average to dynamic. He posted Nintendo-like numbers in L.A., hitting .396/.489/.743, for a whopping 1.232 OPS, with 17 homers and 53 RBIs. As ugly as his departure from the Red Sox was, he was also reportedly a much better teammate, too, helping to add a new sense of calm in the Dodgers’ clubhouse.
Ramirez made the difference as the Dodgers' young talent began to flourish, helping Joe Torre’s club win the weak N.L West division with 84 wins. However, Man-Ram simply did not play in enough games in the N.L. to get my vote, as even Sabathia practically had a month on him. Unfortunately, his insane postseason performance does not count for consideration in this award, which obviously hurts his case.
My choice, then, is Albert Pujols, the best all-around player in the majors all year. Pujols helped the Cardinals remain in contention until around 10 days left in the season, which exceeded all pre-season expectations for the organization. In perhaps a typical Pujols year, he finished with a .357/.462/.653 line, 37 home runs, 116 RBIs and 104 walks to pace the game with a 1.114 OPS. Not only that, he played great defense at first base, which enabled him to win his third consecutive Fielding Bible Award at the position. Without his bat in the lineup for 148 games, St. Louis would have fallen out of contention by July. He will lose out on votes because his team missed out on the playoffs, but, as the most productive offensive contributor in the game, he made more of an impact for his team. Period.
Ryan Howard led the league with 48 home runs and 146 RBIs, getting hot at the right time (1.274 OPS in September) to help the Philadelphia Phillies to their second consecutive NL East championship (and eventual World Series championship). But, the games in the first half count too, and I have a difficult time voting for a player with a .339 on-base percentage. Pujols has the edge in the stats that really count, played much better defense and would be the slam dunk pick if he had better teammates.
While I am a big Howard guy, he, like Morneau in the other league, did not rank in the top 10 in the league in OPS or VORP, and was not even the most valuable member of the Phillies.
That honor goes to Chase Utley, who played sensational defense at second base and hit .292/.380/.535, with 33 home runs and 104 RBIs. He finished with one of the highest VORP—Value Over Replacement Player, which is certainly not a perfect stat and does not account for defense—totals ever by a second baseman, 62.2, which was nearly 30 points higher than Howard’s mark. He also ranked as the most effective defensive player in the majors, at any position, in John Dewan’s plus/minus system.
Still, Pujols added the most real value on the diamond, and gets my vote.
1. Albert Pujols
2. Chase Utley
3. Manny Ramirez
4. CC Sabathia
Again, though he only made 17 starts in the NL, Sabathia will garner some votes for carrying the Brewers on his back and pitching them into the postseason.
Brandon Webb, because of his high wins total, is perhaps the favorite. Webb, Mr. Consistency, put up another fine year on the mound: 22-7 record, 3.30 ERA, 183-to-65 K/W ratio, 1.20 WHIP. The 2006 Cy Young struggled at an inopportune time down the stretch, though, which may hurt his case. Yet, along with Dan Haren, he deserves credit for helping the Arizona Diamondbacks stay competitive, even when things got ugly for that offense.
Although either pitcher cannot match the win total belonging to Webb, Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants and Santana of the New York Mets are more deserving of the award, in ’08. Again, this proves why wins/loss record is a misleading, ineffective method for judging a pitcher’s overall effectiveness. Seriously, it is 2008, and we know better.
Lincecum, pitching for the lowly Giants, went 18-5 with a 2.62 ERA, second to Santana, and a league-best 256 strikeouts. Scouts may fear that he will break down eventually, as his mechanics are certainly unorthodox. But since he has come into the league, he has been one of the most successful starters in the majors, and it all came together for him this season as he struck out 10.35 batters per nine innings and limited opponents to a .223 batting average and .614 OPS. For the traditionalists who are infatuated with wins, because baseball is a “team game” they say, consider this: Lincecum left the game with the lead on five different occasions, destined for a win, yet saw his bullpen fail to hold it. Team game, indeed.
Still, my pick is Santana, who came over to the Mets in the blockbuster trade this offseason and then went on to sign a huge deal to stay in New York. Boy, did he earn his paycheck, for year one at least? While New York missed out on the playoffs, again, by blowing a late-season lead, do not point any fingers at the dominant southpaw. He finished with the lowest ERA (2.53) on the circuit, striking out 206 in 234.1 innings pitched. While his 16-7 record is nothing too sexy, go back and read the preceding paragraph. The man pitched well enough to win 20 games, easily, and saw a mediocre bullpen, featuring the likes of Luis Ayala, Scott Schoenweis and Brian Stokes, blow several of his leads.
Even though the New York media was calling Santana’s first year in Queens a bust at the break—despite his 2.84 ERA—he shut them up with a great second half, going 7-0 with a 2.37 ERA and .231 opponents’ batting average in his final 14 starts. He delivered in big spots, too, like on the final Saturday of September, when he saved the Mets’ season (at that point) by putting together a complete game victory on three days’ rest. So, with sincere apologies to Lincecum, Santana gets my vote, as he did not have the benefit of pitching in the weak-hitting West.
An under-the-radar candidate deserving of honorable mention is Brad Lidge, who was by far the most dominant closer in the league. Lidge was invaluable to the Phillies, going a perfect 41-for-41 in save opportunities and posting a 1.95 ERA. K-Rod may be getting the press, but Lidge had the better campaign—he just had fewer save chances. Just ask the Mets how valuable a stud relief pitcher can be. When Billy Wagner went down, it seems, so did the season for the Metropolitans. So, though he is a dark horse, do not be surprised when he gets some votes.
1. Johan Santana
2. Tim Lincecum
3. Brad Lidge
4. Brandon Webb
Rookie of the Year:
Geovany Soto has a better chance of winning this award than Vincent Chase has of getting some in the next episode of Entourage. Soto, the first rookie catcher to start the All-Star game for the National League, was perhaps the most valuable player for the team that posted the best regular season in the N.L. Playing a defense-first position, he batted .285/.364/.504, with 23 bombs, an .868 OPS and 86 RBIs. For that production, while putting on the mask for 131 games at catcher and handling the Cubs’ staff at a premium spot on the field, he deserves some MVP consideration as well. The best years area head for the 25-year-old stud as he continues to establish himself as the best offensive catcher in the league.
Like Longoria in the other league, Soto is the clear-cut pick here. But Joey Votto comes in second, in my opinion. Despite receiving less fan fare and attention than his fellow rookie teammate on the Cincinnati Reds, Jay Bruce, Votto put together a nice first campaign: .297/.368/.506, with 24 homers and 84 RBIs. The 25-year-old first baseman, with Bruce, is one of the key pieces of a nice young nucleus that the Reds have to build around for the future.
Jair Jurrjens had a nice debut season on the mound for the Atlanta Braves, going 13-10, with a 3.68 ERA.
Soto is the only pick for this award, though, and perhaps has a chance to win the award unanimously.
1. Geovany Soto
2. Joey Votto
3. Jair Jurrjens
4. Jay Bruce
Manager of the Year:
Part of me wants to give this award to Joe Torre, who left New York for the West Coast and helped guide a diverse group of youngsters and veterans to the NL West title. But, it is exactly that: the Dodgers, who gave up so many prospects in pre-deadline deals, absolutely needed to win the inferior West. If not, the season would have been labeled an absolute failure. To their credit, they did what they had to do, ending up as the best of the worst after acquiring Ramirez, who helped them unseat Arizona for the title in the majors' weakest division.
My pick, though, goes to Charlie Manuel, who led the Phillies to another division championship. Manuel may not come off as the most intellectual baseball manager, but he did the most important thing that a manager can do: earn his players’ respect. And, from making an example out of Jimmy Rollins after he failed to run out a ground ball earlier this summer to keeping the clubhouse loose, he got the best out of his players in 2008. If the voters, who had to turn in their ballots in before the playoffs started, could account for playoff performance, the World Series-winning manager would easily take home the honor.
Fredi Gonzalez and Manny Acta are also excellent managers, though they were not exactly left with talented rosters to work with. A manager really needs the proper players—as a carpenter needs supplies—to ever have a chance of competing at this level. Which is why bad teams can have great managers sometimes, and great teams can have bad managers.
In Chicago, the Cubs have both in Lou Piniella. While the Cubs have a huge payroll, a great market, and a talented club, Piniella once again did a fine job, steering Chicago to the best record in the NL through 162 regular season games.
Still, Manuel gets my vote. (Note: he was my selection on September 29 as well.)
1. Charlie Manuel
2. Lou Piniella
3. Fredi Gonzalez
4. Joe Torre
To voice your disagreements with my picks, send an email to TylerHissey@gmail.com