Runners-up have impressive credentials
It would probably take a flip of a coin to decide who was more bummed this week — CC Sabathia or Ron Washington, two highly credentialed candidates who were nosed out of their respective races for postseason awards.
Sabathia's AL-best 21 wins didn’t even earn him a second-place finish in the Cy Young Award balloting. And even though voting for Manager of the Year was completed before the postseason — as are all such awards — Washington still had to feel shortchanged after taking his Rangers to the World Series.
These guys aren’t alone, of course. In the year of the runner-up, the roster includes, among others, David Price, Jason Heyward, Adam Wainwright, Ubaldo Jimenez and Austin Jackson. And just wait until next week, when Robinson Cano and Miguel Cabrera will (probably) lose out to Josh Hamilton for the American League MVP nod.
The fact that there’s so much talent and so many blow-away performances among the second- and third-place finishers strengthens the belief that baseball’s athleticism is at an all-time high. Certainly, this is the golden age of pitchers — no one disputes that. Still, that’s small consolation to Wainwright and Jimenez, and the rest of the lonely hearts club.
Here’s a look at what they did right (and wrong) in a month of near misses.
NL CY YOUNG
What he did right: There were plenty of stats-based achievements we could mention, but the Cardinals righty’s biggest gain was in virtually guaranteeing his vesting options for 2012 and 2013. Wainwright did so by finishing in the top five of the Cy Young balloting, meaning all he has to do is not finish the 2011 season on the disabled list. If not, then Wainwright picks up $9 million in 2012 and another $12 million in ’13.
What he did wrong: Nothing, other than fail to match Roy Halladay pitch-for-pitch, win-for-win this summer. In any other year that Halladay wasn’t so dominant, Wainwright would’ve probably captured the award. Instead, he finished second with 20 wins and a 2.42 ERA, both good for second in the NL.
What he did right: Won 19 games, finished third in the league in strikeouts and eighth in ERA. Also tied for eighth with a 1.15 WHIP.
What he did wrong: Just like Wainwright, Jimenez was guilty as charged for not cloning Halladay. But he nevertheless guaranteed that he’d be an also-ran by winning just four games after the All-Star break, even though his strikeout ratio actually went up.
AL CY YOUNG
What he did right: You mean besides posting the best winning percentage of the candidates under consideration? Price’s .760 topped Sabathia’s .750, and there’s obviously no comparing it to Hernandez’s .520
And for those who believe the Cy Young should go to those who boost their team to the postseason, Price was 4-0 with a 1.64 ERA after Aug. 31. Opposing batters hit .172 against Price in the final month.
What he did wrong: Probably didn’t pitch well enough against the Yankees, the Rays’ chief rivals, to make a mark on voters who were leaning toward Hernandez. A 4.39 ERA against the Bombers was especially soiled by an 8.18 mark in the Bronx.
What he did right: Led the American League with 21 wins and was once again a workhorse with 237 innings, second in the league. Even more impressive was Sabathia’s ratio of 0.65 home runs per nine innings in Yankee Stadium, second only to U.S. Cellular Field for home run park factor in the AL in 2010.
What he did wrong: Couldn’t match King Felix in any of the significant categories besides victories. No shame in that. Hernandez allowed the Yankees just one earned run in 26 innings this year, so Sabathia saw first hand why it was the King’s year.
AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
What he did right: That .293 average (fourth in the majors among center fielders) and 103 runs (second), went a long way toward making Tigers fans forget about Curtis Granderson.
In fact, Jackson had a better UZR (ultimate zone rating) than his predecessor (5.4 to 5.3) , which placed him fourth among AL center fielders.
What he did wrong: Not being a closer weighed against Jackson. Neftali Feliz was the fifth reliever to win the AL ROY and the fourth to do it since 2000. The fact that the Rangers were headed for the postseason also gave Feliz a greater stage.
Jackson’s terrific season was also somewhat tempered by his 190 strikeouts. He’s aiming for better plate discipline in ’11.
NL Rookie of the Year
What he did right: The Braves’ outfielder delivered a profound message to the NL in his very first major league at-bat, hitting a three-run HR. Heyward showed impressive plate discipline for a rookie, drawing 90 walks (compared with Buster Posey’s 31).
What he did wrong: Heyward wasn’t able to match Posey in average, slugging percentage and OPS. And let’s face it, anyone who can hit .305 with 18 HRs in just 108 games, in his first year, no less — not to mention handle a major-league pitching staff — deserves a first-place vote. Not even Heyward came close.
AL Manager of the Year
What he did right: Overcame a personal scandal, after admitting in spring training to failing a drug test in 2009. The Rangers rallied around Washington, drawing strength from his honest, unfiltered demeanor. The interactions between the Rangers and their manager are about as real as it gets.
What he did wrong: Without a track record as long as Ron Gardenhire’s, voters still have to be convinced that Washington’s approach will have sustained success. Year in and year out, the steady, wise Gardenhire seems to get the most out of the Twins, even in a year when they lost their closer (Joe Nathan), first baseman (Justin Morneau) down the stretch and had to compensate for diminished production from their best hitter (Joe Mauer) because of injuries.
NL Manager of the Year
What he did right: Rallied the Reds to their first postseason appearance since 1995, taking full advantage of a weak division. Baker saw to it that his team crushed the Cubs, Astros and Pirates to the tune of 47 victories. In a year when he was working without job security, Baker was cool and confident and hip, as always.
What he did wrong: The Reds were in the preseason discussion as a Central Division contender, so their success wasn’t as much of a surprise as the Padres’. Bud Black had to squeeze the most out of a $38 million payroll, second-lowest in the big leagues.
The fact that Black’s Padres righted themselves after losing 10 straight in early September spoke to his resiliency. The Padres managed to hang around until the last day of the regular season, and that clearly impressed voters.