As we approach the end of yet another exciting season, it’s time to hand out awards and look at a handful of pitchers that surprised me on both sides of the ledger. Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed this column this year and received a nugget or two along the way in your quest to win your league(s). May your team either do well in the playoffs, or if that’s not an option, better luck in 2013.
1. Justin Verlander, DET – This isn’t quite the slam dunk it was last year, but it’s pretty close. Verlander leads the AL in innings (231.1), strikeouts (231), WHIP (1.06) and complete games (6). He’s second to David Price with a 2.72 ERA and should easily win his second straight trophy.
2. David Price, TB – Price leads the AL with a 2.56 ERA, and his 19 wins are sure to get voters’ attention. His 201 strikeouts have him tied for fifth in the AL, and he’s topped 200 innings. Not quite a Verlander season, but worthy of a second place finish.
3. Felix Hernandez, SEA – In line for his fourth consecutive season of 230-plus innings and 200-plus strikeouts to go with a 2.85 ERA. His velocity is down a bit, but the results have been strong yet again.
A much tougher choice in the senior circuit, so I expect some disagreement.
1. R.A. Dickey, NYM – Dickey hasn’t been quite as good over the second half, but he still leads the NL with a 2.56 ERA and his 209 strikeouts rank second behind Clayton Kershaw’s 211. Factor in his league-leading 220 innings and solid 1.04 WHIP, and he’s deserving of the honor.
2. Johnny Cueto, CIN – He doesn’t have the lofty strikeout total (164) of some of his peers, but Cueto has had a nice breakout season nonetheless. His 2.83 ERA ranks fourth and his 210 innings third.
3. Clayton Kershaw, LAD – Kershaw’s 2011 was a superior season to be sure, but 2012 hasn’t been that bad in and of itself. His 211.2 innings rank second behind Dickey, as does his 2.68 ERA. He’ll be back competing for this trophy again in 2013.
1. Mike Trout, LAA
2. Miguel Cabrera, DET
3. Robinson Cano, NYY
As easy a 1-2 as there is on these lists, Trout has a .949 OPS, 28 home runs and 47 stolen bases. He also might be an even better defender than he is a hitter, if that’s possible. I can’t see anyone I’d rather have as a No. 1 overall fantasy pick next year. With 42 homers and a 1.000+ OPS, Cabrera hasn’t been too bad himself. Third place was a tossup (I considered Verlander, Adrian Beltre and Josh Hamilton), but going with Cano and his 30 home runs and very good defense at second base.
1. Buster Posey, SF
2. Ryan Braun, MIL
3. Andrew McCutchen, PIT
Chase Headley has made a nice run, and Yadier Molina has been incredible, but I have to go with these three. Of Posey’s 141 games played, 109 have come at catcher, and it’s simply amazing to see how well he’s recovered from being rolled by Scott Cousins. Posey might win a batting title (he’s three points behind McCutchen), and he needs just one more RBI to hit the century mark. Mix in excellent plate discipline and positional scarcity, and he’s well-deserving. Assuming Braun is clean now, he’s done what he can to show that last year’s MVP season wasn’t PED-aided, but he falls just short of what Posey has done.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
1. Mike Trout, LAA
2. Yoenis Cespedes, OAK
3. Yu Darvish, TEX
Trout was obvious, but so was Cespedes given his impressive season – .289/.350/.492. Darvish gets the nod (barely over Matt Moore), and now we just need to see if the Japanese import can avoid the Dice-K career path. Others who impressed included Will Middlebrooks, Jose Quintana and Wei-Yin Chen, but if Trout isn’t unanimous, something is wrong.
1. Wade Miley, ARI
2. Bryce Harper, WAS
3. Yonder Alonso, SD
There was no obvious candidate, but Miley has been solid and consistent for most of the year with a 3.25 ERA and solid ratios – 6.4 K/9, 1.7 BB/9. He’s not a No. 1 starter by any means, but he’s really a pretty easy choice here. Harper hasn’t been Mike Trout this year (no one has), but a 19 year-old who can bat .260/.331/.450 with 19 homers and 16 stolen bases while scoring 92 runs is impressive. He should be much better next year. Alonso has seen Petco cut into his power, but at .275/.350/.394, he’s had a fine rookie campaign.
Jim Johnson, BAL – A hard-thrower who doesn’t strike out a lot of hitters (5.5 K/9IP), Johnson has provided an incredible amount of value with his 48 saves. It would be foolish to predict a repeat in 2013, but he should be fine to count on as a closer for the entire year.
Fernando Rodney, TB – Angels fans have to be wondering where THIS was last year – 0.64 ERA, 44-for-46 in save opportunities. Great job by the coaching staff in changing Rodney’s release point and having him throw his changeup more often. He’ll be back in Tampa Bay next year, and while I can’t fathom him repeating this year, don’t expect a dramatic drop-off either.
Jeff Samardzija, CHC – Before being shut down due to workload concerns, Samardzija fanned 180 batters in 174.2 innings while posting a 3.81 ERA in his first full season as a starter. Given his frame, it’s not unreasonable to think he can throw 210 innings and strike out 220 or more next year.
Kris Medlen, ATL – Medlen’s fastball barely averages 90 mph, but the results have been spectacular – 1.64 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 7.9 K/9IP, 1.5 BB/9IP. Anyone remember an ex-Braves right-hander who didn’t throw hard but had pinpoint control and great results? I doubt you’ll be able to get him at much of a discount next year at this rate.
Ross Detwiler, WAS – With Stephen Strasburg shut down, Detwiler will enter the playoffs as the team’s No. 4 starter in what has been for him a breakout season. The former No. 6 overall pick has a 3.28 ERA despite a so-so 5.7 K/9IP. He’s not your prototypical soft-tossing lefty either, averaging 92.7 mph with his fastball. Perhaps an offseason of conditioning could help bump up those strikeout numbers.
Matt Harrison, TEX – Harrison has gone from not being guaranteed a rotation spot this spring to a key member of a playoff rotation, posting a 3.17 ERA and winning 17 games. He’s a groundball pitcher who benefits from having a guy like Elvis Andrus up the middle, and groundballs are key in Texas’ bandbox of a stadium. Harrison averages 92.1 mph with his fastball, so like Detwiler above, he’s no soft-tosser. Harrison isn’t always going to be as consistent as he has been this year, but I still like his chances in 2013.
Jeremy Hellickson, TB – Hellickson hasn’t posted the gaudy K:BB rates as a big leaguer that he did in the minors, but his 2012 has to be considered a big success. A 3.20 ERA in 166 innings pitching in the AL East is commendable, and his second-half numbers suggest a 2013 breakout is forthcoming. Since the break, Hellickson has a 2.96 ERA and his ratios have improved – K/9IP from 5.8 to 6.8 and BB/9 from 3.6 to 2.5. Those are the types of trends to watch for in identifying breakout candidates.
Tim Lincecum, SF – At 10-15 with a 5.15 ERA, it’s been a disaster of a season for the two-time NL Cy Young winner. His fastball has averaged just 90.4 mph this year, or nearly four full mph lower than in his rookie season in 2007. Whereas he had double-digit strikeout games eight times in 2009, the only time he topped 10 this year was against the Astros, so that doesn’t even really count. It’s possible that an offseason of rest and perhaps a mechanical adjustment could return him to his winning ways, but it’s also possible he’s a No. 3 starter now.
Ricky Romero, TOR – Romero has the dubious distinction of being the first pitcher since 2008 (Barry Zito) to post triple-digits in earned runs, walks and strikeouts. It’s quite a fall from grace after just last year, Romero tallied a 2.92 ERA in 225 innings pitching in the tough AL East. The 2.92 ERA may wind up a career low, but I wouldn’t completely write him off. His velocity and groundball rate are within expectations. He’s walked 12.7 percent of hitters versus last year’s 8.7 percent, but that’s probably somewhat correctable. I’d like to see him throw more first-pitch strikes (just 53 percent versus 58 percent the prior two years), as from what I’ve seen, missing the strike zone early in the count seems to have led to disaster for him this year. Romero will be one pitcher I watch closely next spring.
Jon Lester, BOS – Once a Cy Young candidate, Lester has regressed significantly this year and has the 10th highest ERA (4.96) of starters with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. He still has good velocity, and his walk rate is actually improved over last year, but he’s often proven far too hittable. That makes me think it’s all about location, something that I think we’ll see improve greatly next year in his age 29 season. He’s tops on my list of Red Sox players who I expect to improve once Bobby Valentine is fired.
Ervin Santana, LAA – The Angels are reportedly going to decline Santana’s 2013 option, and despite a poor 2012, he’ll get plenty of play on the free-agent market due to his age (29) and track record. This season was a disappointment, however, as Santana managed just a 4.93 ERA in 29 starts. His velocity is down a full mph over last year, but allowing 36 home runs has doomed his chances at success. If he can get his HR/9IP down from this year’s 1.85 to the 1.00 range of the previous two years, the ERA will follow. I think he’ll be much better in 2013 wherever he lands.
Ubaldo Jimenez, CLE – I saw Jimenez as something of a sleeper this year, as he’s had success in the past and I figured he just took 2011 to adjust to his new team/league. Instead, at age 28, he looks washed up. He really hasn’t been the same since tossing 239.2 innings in 2009-2010, tallying a 5.10 ERA last year and a 5.55 mark so far in 2012. Even more noticeable than the drop in velocity is the trending of this GB% the past four years: 52.5, 48.8, 47.2, 38.4. Add in the fact his control has returned to his pre-2009 levels (4.8 BB/9IP in 2012), and you have a pitcher at a crossroads. I have to think the Indians exercise their $5.75 million option for 2013, but unless the Indians coaching staff identifies some mechanical flaw and he has a great spring, I’d stay away.
Justin Masterson, CLE – Masterson had a strong finish to the 2010 season and broke out in 2011 with a 3.21 ERA in 216 innings, but 2012 has been a disaster – 4.97 ERA, 1.45 WHIP. His control has regressed significantly, and despite increasing his G/F to an elite 2.38, his home rate has nearly doubled. With a 5.40 ERA in September, he’s not exactly finishing strong and could be a non-tender candidate this winter.
Regan, a five-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner, was named the 2010 Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year.