October 11, 2012
Somewhere in a dark, smoky room, cloaked members of the Baseball Writers Association of America are deciding the fates of the best players in the game in a secret, ritualistic ceremony worthy of the Bilderbergs.
That is how it works, isn’t it? Or is it a vote?
In either case, if this author were a member of the BBWAA, this is what his ballot would look like:
The race for MVP of the American League couldn’t be much closer. Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers and the Angels’ Mike Trout both had tremendous seasons. Look at the similarity of their “slash.”
Cabrera won the first Triple Crown in 45 years. He led the league in batting average, home runs (44), and RBIs (139). Carl Yastrzemski was the last player to lead the league in those 3 categories in one season. He did it in 1967 with a .326 average, 44 HR, and 121 RBIs.
Meanwhile Trout enjoyed an historical rookie season. He led the league in runs, stolen bases, and all of MLB in WAR (wins above replacement). On top of that, he hit 30 home runs and drove in 105 RBIs. He’s also a tremendous defensive centerfielder, while Cabrera struggled at times in his return to his old position (third base) this year.
The race between Cabrera and Trout has opened a debate between the traditional stat crowd and the sabermetric crowd. How important are stats like batting average and RBI? Why isn’t finishing first in runs scored, stolen bases, and WAR considered the Triple Crown?
Trout could easily be the MVP this year, but the edge has to go to Cabrera. Winning the Triple Crown is only part of the measure of how effective an offensive player Cabrera was this year. And he truly was the most valuable player on his team.
AL Cy Young
The AL Cy Young award comes down to three pitchers: Tampa Bay’s LHP David Price, Detroit’s RHP Justin Verlander, and RHP Jered Weaver of the Angels.
Price had 20 wins and the lowest ERA in the American League (2.56), Weaver also had 20 wins and led the league in WHIP (1.02). Verlander led the league in strikeouts, innings pitched, complete games, and WAR, and he was second in the league in ERA and WHIP. He won 17 games.
How important are wins and losses when considering a Cy Young candidate? Felix Hernandez won the 2010 Cy Young with a 13-12 record. That may have signaled the beginning of a new era – one in which a pitcher with fewer than 20 wins isn’t precluded from consideration.
In this case, all things considered, Verlander wins the Cy Young by a nose over the two other outstanding pitchers. Combined with his other numbers, his durability is rare these days. Verlander’s 6 complete games and 238.1 IP (7.2 per game) put him over the top.
AL Rookie of the Year
The American League had several intriguing freshmen this year.
There were several pitchers who had outstanding debuts. Jarrod Parker, the right-handed starter for the surprising Oakland A’s was 13-8 with a 1.26 WHIP, 3.47 ERA, and had 3.7 WAR. His teammate, LHP Tommy Milone was 13-10 with a 3.74 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. Minnesota’s Scott Diamond, who sounds like he should either be a lounge singer or a professional wrestler, was 12-9 with a 1.24 WHIP, 3.54 ERA, and 2.2 WAR. And the highly touted (and highly paid) Japanese import, Yu Darvish of Texas, was 16-9 with 4.0 WAR and 3.90 ERA.
At the plate, Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes of Oakland had a .292/.356/.505 slash with 23 home runs. After a slow start, he lived up to his viral-video reputation.
But the clear winner here is Mike Trout. He falls just short of the AL MVP on this particular ballot, but runs away with the ROY.
AL Manager of the Year
When the Chicago White Sox hired Robin Ventura, a man bereft of professional managing experience, eyebrows were raised and hands were wrung. But Ventura awakened a dormant Pale hose squad, leading them to an 88-win record, and nearly an AL Central division title.
Either Buck Showalter or the retro cartoon bird logo was the reason for the most successful Baltimore Orioles season since 1997. We’ll give Buck the edge over the bird. Showalter did a masterful job with his young team, coming out of nowhere to challenge the New York Yankees in the AL East, and eventually securing a Wild Card spot. Baltimore would have been the biggest surprise of the year, if it weren’t for the Oakland A’s.
2012 was supposed to be yet another rebuilding year for GM Billy Beane and his Athletics. In a case of life imitating art imitating life, Beane traded away veteran players for young prospects on the cusp of the major leagues, as he did before the 2002 season. Yes, that was the season chronicled in the book and movie, “Moneyball.”
But, unlike the unfair portrayal of Art Howe in the movie would suggest, it takes a good manager to win with a young team.
2012 A’s manager Bob Melvin did exactly that. He won with 4 rookie starting pitchers, and 17 rookies on the team as a whole. Like the cadets in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” Melvin asked his kids to grow up a little faster than they expected. And they responded by wresting the AL West division title away from the powerhouse Texas Rangers on the last day of the season.
For that, Bob Melvin deserves manager of the year.
AL Comeback Player of the Year
There were several players who had revivals in 2012. Not surprisingly, two of them were on the revived White Sox: Adam Dunn and Alex Rios.
Rios not only bounced back from two straight difficult campaigns, but he put up career highs in home runs (25) and RBIs (91). Adam Dunn hit only 11 home runs in 2011 – the first year he has hit less than 30 since 2003 – and he hit only .175. But this year, he went back to being the classic three-true-outcome player he is known to be. His average still sat precariously close to the Mendoza line (.204), but he did hit 41 home runs and walked 105 times.
Toronto’s Edwin Encarnacion didn’t have a bad year in 2011, but he went bonkos in 2012. He had a .941 OPS with 42 jacks and 110 RBIs.
But the winner here is closer Fernando Rodney. His two-year stint with the Angels was marred with injuries and ineffectiveness. His SO/9 average slipped from 10.9 in 2008 to 7+ in each of the next three years.
However, this year with the Tampa Bay rays, Rodney had, by far, his best season in the big leagues. In 76 appearances, he saved 48 games, gave up 43 hits and only 5, count ‘em, F-I-V-E earned runs. He struck out 76 batters in 74.2 innings against only 15 walks. His ERA was a microscopic 0.60, and his WHIP an improbable 0.78.
AL Best Closer
Fernando Rodney also wraps up the Best Closer Award (Rolaids Relief Man award, or whatever it’s actually called) for all the reasons stated above. Jim Johnson of the Orioles had a nice year as well, saving 51 games while pitching to a 2.49 ERA. But Rodney was just too dominant this year.
Coming up next: A vote for NL Regular Season Awards