Monday, November 10, 2008

MLB to begin unveiling award winners

Major League Baseball will unveil its annual postseason award winners starting at 2 p.m. today with both leagues' Rookie of the Year winners. After that will come the National League Cy Young (Tuesday), both leagues' Manager of the Year (Wednesday), the American League Cy Young (Thursday), the NL Most Valuable Player (Nov. 17) and the AL Most Valuable Player (Nov. 18).

Here's one writer's opinion on how that all should shake out:
AL Rookie of the Year: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay. Hit 27 home runs and finished the season with an OPS+ (weighed on-base plus slugging, with 100 being average) of 125. By the end of the season, it wasn't really that close.

NL Rookie of the Year: Geovany Soto, Chicago. This one isn't that close, either. Soto hit .285 with 23 home runs and backstopped the Cubs to the best record in the National League.

NL Cy Young: Johan Santana, Mets. Tim Lincecum had a sensational season. There's no question about that. He went 18-5 for a bad San Francisco team, and he led the league in strikeouts per nine innings (10.51), hits allowed per game (7.22) and ERA+, a park-adjusted statistic (167). But Santana had an ERA+ of 166, and his ERA was better than Lincecum's (2.53 to 2.62).

Most importantly, though, Santana did his best work against the National League East rather than against the woeful National League West. (Lincecum was 3-0 with a 0.62 ERA in six starts against the San Diego Padres.) Santana also did his best work when it was most important. The fact that the Mets didn't win the National League East doesn't change the fact that their ace went 4-0 with a 1.83 ERA in September, including a three-hit shutout (on three days' rest) on the second-to-last day of the regular season.

AL Manager of the Year: Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay. Next question.

NL Manager of the Year: Cecil Cooper, Houston. Joe Torre suddenly looked like a better manager when he had Manny Ramirez. Charlie Manuel's team repeated as division champion, but the postseason doesn't count. Ned Yost was fired in Milwaukee. Lou Pinella's Cubs had a great year, but they had an awful lot of talent, too -- their Pythagorean win total (expected wins based on runs scored and runs allowed) was the same as their real win total.

Cooper, on the other hand, oversaw an Astros team that should have gone 77-84 based on its runs scored (4.4 per game) and runs allowed (4.6 per game) average. Instead, the Astros won 86 games and were in contention for a wild-card spot into the final week of the season.

AL Cy Young: Cliff Lee, Cleveland. Lee led the American League in wins, ERA and ERA+, and he finished second in innings pitched, complete games, and walks plus hits per nine innings. Roy Halladay had a sensational season for Toronto and performed brilliantly against Boston (2.56 ERA in five starts) and New York (2.40 ERA in six starts), but there's a far bigger gap between Lee and Halladay than there is between Santana and Lincecum.

Anyone who votes for Francisco Rodriguez should first read this and second have their voting privileges revoked. Rodriguez wasn't the best pitcher in the league. He wasn't even the best closer in the league.

NL Most Valuable Player: Albert Pujols, St. Louis. No, his team didn't make the playoffs. Yes, Ryan Howard drove in a whole bunch of runs. Yes, Manny Ramirez looked good for the Dodgers in August and September. But Pujols is -- and has been for years -- the best player in the National League. He led his league in slugging percentage, on-base plus slugging, adjusted (for park effect)on-base plus slugging, total bases and a host of other stats. It should be Pujols in a landslide.

AL Most Valuable Player: Kevin Youkilis, Boston. Phew. This is the most compelling race in the field, with a field crowded with probably a half-dozen candidates. Dustin Pedroia hit .326 and won a Gold Glove at second base. Joe Mauer hit .328 as a catcher for a Twins team that took the White Sox to a one-game playoff; teammate Justin Morneau played in 163 games this season and drove in 129 runs. Chicago's Carlos Quentin had the base OPS among players on playoff teams. Alex Rodriguez, in case you've forgotten about him, led the American League in slugging percentage and hit .328 with seven home runs in 30 games against the Red Sox and Rays.

But Youkilis did it all for the wild-card Red Sox. He played first base; he played third base. (His Bill James plus-minus defensive stats ranked him among the league leaders at first and just shy of the league leaders at third.) He hit .312 with 29 home runs and 115 runs batted in. He reached base at a .390 clip and had the third-best slugging percentage in the league. In the first three weeks after Ramirez was traded, he hit .388 with seven doubles, six home runs and 18 RBI.

Sometimes we have to have a philosophical discussion about the word "valuable." Kevin Youkilis, this season, defined valuable.

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