The awards races mirror the pennant races. Actually, they’re even better. I cannot remember a season in which this many individual honors were so hotly contested.
The envelopes, please:
Mike Trout, Angels
Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
Adrian Beltre, Rangers
Robinson Cano, Yankees
Josh Hamilton, Rangers
Adam Jones, Orioles
Albert Pujols, Angels
Joe Mauer, Twins
Derek Jeter, Yankees
Ben Zobrist, Rays
Most years, people complain that the criteria are too nebulous, the meaning of “valuable” too subjective. This year, the meaning of “valuable” actually crystallizes the debate.
Cabrera, even with his pursuit of the Triple Crown, is a less valuable offensive player than Trout, according to some advanced metrics. Factor in Trout’s massive advantages in defense and baserunning, and the overall comparison is not even close.
This is not an old-school/new-school debate, or a referendum on the much-debated Wins Above Replacement (WAR) statistic, which heavily favors Trout. It is a simple question of a pure hitter vs. an all-around player. I lean toward the all-around player — who in this case is an elite defender in center field, as opposed to a below-average third baseman.
Still, two things give me pause:
“Number of games played” is listed second among the MVP criteria, right after “strength of offense and defense” (the criteria say nothing about base-running). Well, the Angels did not promote Trout until April 28, while Cabrera had a .940 OPS in April.
What’s more, Cabrera is finishing stronger than Trout, leading him in OPS since Aug. 1, 1.061 to .852. Such a difference is meaningful; Cabrera contributed greatly to his team when the games mattered most.
In almost any other season, he would be MVP. Not this season. Not with Trout oozing value out of every pore.
Buster Posey, Giants
Ryan Braun, Brewers
Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
Yadier Molina, Cardinals
Aramis Ramirez, Brewers
David Wright, Mets
Chase Headley, Padres
Ian Desmond, Nationals
Jason Heyward, Braves
Chipper Jones, Braves
Amazing how PEDs have influenced this race.
The suspension of Melky Cabrera helped fuel Posey’s candidacy. A positive test, later overturned on appeal, helped taint Braun’s.
Listen, I don’t know what to believe on Braun. But his positive test was last year, and ultimately he was not penalized. While “general character” is listed among the MVP criteria, what exactly is his crime for 2012?
Applying selective morality is unfair. And once you remove that specious argument against Braun, this race amounts to a coin flip.
Braun leads the NL in OPS. He is the 11th player in history to produce a 40-homer, 30-stolen base season. And he and the Rays’ Desmond Jennings are the game’s best defensive left fielders, according to the plus-minus ratings on Bill James Online.
Still, I’m going with Posey, the Giants’ heart and soul.
Posey mostly plays catcher, and I generally favor up-the-middle defenders. He had an incredible second half, his surge helping compensate for the Giants’ loss of Cabrera in mid-August. And he leads the league in OPS-plus, a stat that accounts for the difficulty of hitting at AT&T Park, while playing for a lesser offensive club.
McCutchen, the favorite at one point, was hurt by his .693 OPS in August and the Pirates’ fade. Molina, as outlined by Dave Cameron of Fangraphs.com, has an excellent case; his defense at catcher, while difficult to quantify, is significantly better than Posey’s and maybe good enough to elevate him for the award.
Yes, my 10th-place vote for Jones is for lifetime achievement. Care to argue?
AL Cy Young
David Price, Rays
Justin Verlander, Tigers
Jered Weaver, Angels
Felix Hernandez, Mariners
Fernando Rodney, Rays
I nearly went for Verlander, who has thrown 27 1/3 innings more than Price and 50 2/3 innings more than Weaver — and pitched nearly as well as he did last season, when he was the runaway winner for the award.
Price, though, rates the edge because he faces a greater degree of difficulty pitching in the AL East, where his division opponents include four of the top eight offenses in the league.
Verlander, oddly enough, has made as many starts against the East as the Central (11). His run support average is nearly a run per nine innings worse than Price’s. He also has a better strikeout-to-walk ratio and lower WHIP and leads the league in ERA-plus, which adjusts a pitcher’s ERA to his league and ballpark.
Weaver also is quite deserving, but I prefer a greater number of innings. Hernandez also cannot be ignored; he ranks first in fielding-independent pitching (FIP) and has the second-lowest run support among the 38 AL qualifiers. And then there is Rodney, who could break Dennis Eckersley’s record for the lowest ERA by a reliever, 0.61.
As I explained in a previous column, I just don’t value closers as highly as starters. But I feel strongly that Rodney’s work should be acknowledged, and handled Craig Kimbrel the same way on my NL ballot below.
NL Cy Young
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
R.A. Dickey, Mets
Johnny Cueto, Reds
Gio Gonzalez, Nationals
Craig Kimbrel, Braves
OK, I know I’m going to tick off the Dickey supporters. I’m a Dickey supporter myself. But Kershaw, by nearly every measure, has pitched just a tad better.
Specifically, Kershaw leads the league in ERA and walks-and-hits-per-inning-pitched (WHIP), ranks second in opponents’ OPS and third in FIP.
Yes, Dickey holds the advantage in wins, 20-13, but wins are partly contingent on run support, and Kershaw’s run support ranks 39th among the 47 NL qualifiers. Dickey ranks 16th, even though Kershaw pitches for a better team overall.
Gonzalez leads the league in opponents’ OPS and FIP, but pitched with a greater margin for error, benefiting from the best run support in the league. I listed Cueto ahead of him because of Cueto’s success at hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark – Cueto leads the NL in ERA-plus.
Mike Trout, Angels
Yoenis Cespedes, Athletics
Yu Darvish, Rangers
Wei-Yin Chen, Orioles
Jarrod Parker, Athletics
Not much to say, other than that Cespedes would be a runaway choice if he hadn’t been in the same rookie class as Mickey Mantle.
I was one of many who questioned the Athletics for committing $36 million over four years to a Cuban defector who had never played in North America, but Cespedes has been a revelation, a hard worker and terrific athlete who has proven adept at making offensive adjustments.
Darvish, too, has exceeded expectations, while Chen, a Taiwanese lefty who also excelled in Japan, has been the anchor of the Orioles’ rotation. Parker, like Trout, is a more typical North American rookie — the best of the Athletics’ current all-rookie rotation.
Bryce Harper, Nationals
Wade Miley, Diamondbacks
Todd Frazier, Reds
Norichika Aoki, Brewers
Wilin Rosario, Rockies
During a recent trip to Cincinnati, fans expressed concern to me that Frazier would lose out because of the hype surrounding Harper. I understood their point and tried to keep it in mind. But September has been quite a separator.
Harper has a 1.049 OPS with seven homers this month, his best of the season. Frazier has a .504 OPS and one homer.
Yes, Frazier played a huge role in the Reds’ surge while first baseman Joey Votto was injured. Yes, his rate stats are slightly better than Harper’s, and his counting stats are comparable in more than 100 fewer at-bats.
But Harper is an everyday player and plus defender in center, while Frazier bounces around between first, third and left. Harper, 19, also has hit 22 homers, two shy of Tony Conigliaro’s single-season record for a teenager.
Frankly, the biggest challenge with this ballot — and any Rookie of the Year ballot, for that matter — is figuring how to weight pitchers against position players.
I frankly don’t have a good answer; all I can say is that Miley (16-11, 3.32) had an excellent season.
Aoki was this year’s Nyjer Morgan for the Brewers, far better than club officials expected. As for Rosario, he isn’t much of a defender at catcher, but he has hit 27 homers with an .851 OPS. Coors Field helps, as it does with any Rockies hitter, but those numbers are not easily ignored.
Buck Showalter, Orioles
Bob Melvin, Athletics
Robin Ventura, White Sox
Joe Maddon, Rays
Ron Washington, Rangers
Showalter and Melvin are 1 and 1-A; it’s almost impossible to distinguish between the mind-boggling work that each has done. The combined preseason expectations for their respective clubs amounted to zero.
I’m picking Showalter because he managed all season with a makeshift starting rotation — and because he shattered the Orioles’ excuse-making culture that had resulted in 14 straight losing seasons.
Melvin had a different type of challenge, molding a team of rookies and rejects into a confident, cohesive unit — and keeping the team going despite the losses of veteran starting pitchers Dallas Braden, Bartolo Colon, Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson to injuries and suspension.
As with the Orioles, players came and went with the A’s; Melvin has used eight players at first base and five each at second, third and short. To add to the fun, general manager Billy Beane traded the team’s No. 1 catcher, Kurt Suzuki, in August.
Not to worry; Melvin showed a deft touch shifting bullpen roles, managing platoons, adjusting to injuries. Showalter ran his bullpen masterfully and established a meritocracy, creating opportunities for veterans such as Chris Davis and rookies such as Manny Machado.
Again, it’s 1 and 1A. A tie would be perfect.
Davey Johnson, Nationals
Bruce Bochy, Giants
Dusty Baker, Reds
Fredi Gonzalez, Braves
Mike Matheny, Cardinals
In spring training, I asked Johnson about keeping Harper in the minors long enough to delay his arbitration eligibility. Johnson scoffed at the question, saying that such talk was for “second-division clubs,” adding, “I don’t think it’s any secret we’re going to be pretty good.”
That’s Johnson, forever confident. His teams feed off that confidence, and his in-game mastery. As Johnson once said when he was leading the Orioles into a postseason series, “I always bet on me.”
Bochy offers considerably less bravado, but his club somehow improved after the suspension of Cabrera, rising to the challenge of the Dodgers’ trading frenzy. Both Johnson and Bochy are terrific at running bullpens — and it showed after the Giants lost Brian Wilson and the Nationals lost Drew Storen.
Baker, often criticized for his handling of pitching, presided over a staff that had five pitchers make 30 or more starts and produced the No. 1 bullpen in the NL. Gonzalez applied lessons learned from last September’s collapse. Matheny evidently did something right; he had never managed prior to this season, but is headed to the playoffs on his first try.