Handing Out Baseball Awards
Wednesday - October 11, 2006
After six months it’s time to wrap up the regular season with the traditional awards.
Rookie of the Year
Whereas the National League boasts a dozen candidates worth looking at, including five from Florida alone, the American League race is much smaller and probably harder to call. Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon (4-2, 0.92 era and 35 saves), Detroit’s Justin Verlander (17-9, 3.63 era), the Angels’ Jered Weaver (11-2, 2.56 era) and Francisco Liriano from the Twins (12-3, 2.16 era) are all worthy candidates. Injuries knocked Lariano and Papelbon off the list which leaves Verlander and Weaver. Weaver suffers from a lack of publicity and that he didn’t get his first start until May 27 and had only three in June. Verlander was a stud for a large part of the season but struggled in the last two months. Verlander wins nearly by default. One benefit to pitching for the entire season.
On the National League side it’s been Dan Uggla and Prince Fielder (.271, 28 HR, 81 RBI, 82 runs) for most of the season. Now we have to question if Fielder is a true front runner and whether Uggla (.282, 27 HR, 90 RBI, 105 runs) is even the best rookie on his team. Marlin shortstop Hanley Ramirez was good for a .292 batting average with 17 HR, 59 RBI, 119 runs and 51 stolen bases while teammates Mike Jacobs and Josh Willingham both had impressive first years. A couple of pitchers quietly made their marks. Florida’s Anibal Sanchez (10-3 2.83) and the Dodgers’ Takashi Saito (6-2, 2.07 era and 24 saves) are all worthy. Give it to the Nationals’Ryan Zimmerman (.287, 20 HR, 110 RBI and 84 runs). In a near split with Uggla over the stats Zimmerman slides ahead with a higher OBP and by playing a harder position. Yes, his team finished last in the division but this isn’t the MVP award and he didn’t have much help around him. He topped Alfonso Soriano in average and RBI while having fewer strikeouts.
It’s a one-man race in the American League. Johann Santana tied for the league lead in wins with 19, and led in era (2.77) and strikeouts (245). He’s the first person since Dwight Gooden in 1985 to lead both leagues in all three pitching Triple Crown categories.
The National League race is more complex. Six pitchers tied for the most wins with 16 but only two made the playoffs. Chris Carpenter was the only starter the Cards could count on and he responded wonderfully going 15-8 with a 3.09 era. Carlos Zambrano was one of the few bright spots for the Cubs going 16-7, 3.41 and a paltry .208 batting average against while Roy Oswalt (15-8, 2.98 era) did everything he could to keep Houston in the race. As tight as this is Carpenter pushes ahead of Oswalt with a divisional title and a lower batting average against and WHIP.
After half a season with multiple candidates, both leagues have narrowed it down to two. In the American League it’s Derek Jeter and Justin Morneau while the National counters with Albert Pujols and Ryan Howard. Let the arguments begin. Jeter leads Morneau in batting average (.343 - .321), runs scored (118 - 97), on-base percentage (.417 - .375) and stolen bases (34 - 3). The Twins first baseman topped his Yankee counterpart in homeruns (34 - 14), RBI (130 - 97), slugging percentage (.559 - .417) and strike outs (93-102). So who’s more valuable? Yes the Yankees are loaded but they lost a combined 262 games with injuries to Robinson Cano, Hedeki Matsui and Gary Sheffield while maintaining a winning percentage just .005 percent below their season total. That being said I’m going with Morneau in a close one. Even without a few of their big hitters, the Yankees still led the majors in runs (930) and RBI (902) with Jeter contributing 12.6 and 10.7 percent of his team’s runs and RBI respectively. The Twins conversely brought fewer men across the plate - 801 runs and 754 RBI - but Morneau accounted for 12.1 percent of the runs and 17.2 percent of the RBI. That’s value.
How is this for a close call in the National League? Pujols: .331, 49 HR, 137 RBI, 119 runs, .431 OBP and .671 slugging. Howard: .313, 58 HR, 149 RBI, 104 runs, .425 OBP and .659 slugging. Both teams had crappy pitching (St. Louis 4.54 team era and Philadelphia 4.60). Howard kept the Phillies in the race by hitting .348 in August and an amazing .387 in September. Pujols wasn’t bad with .315 and .368. But a few things separate the two. St. Louis is in the playoffs while Philly is at home. Pujols had 25 game-winning RBI, the most in the league, and with all his power he only struck out an improbable 50 times.
Manager of the Year
Two months ago this it was a slam dunk in the American League. Detroit’s Jim Leyland led his team to the best record in baseball and had a 10-game lead on the competition. Poor hitting and tired young arms caught up with the team as it relinquished the division title to the Twins on the last game of the year. Minnesota, under manager Ron Gardenhire, went on an unbelievable tear finishing 71-35 after a 24-33 start to take the division. But while Gardenhire deserves everyone’s respect, he had a lot more to work with than Leyland. Since 2003 the Twins finished on top of the division three times. In 2003 the Tigers lost an American League record 119 games.
In one of the oddest twists of fate the National League Manager of the Year is, as of this writing, unemployed. Yes, Joe Girardi can be tough on the ownership and, yes, his team did finish six games below .500. But who would have expected this from a team that: started five rookie hitters and two first year pitchers for the majority of the season; had the lowest payroll in the league that was less than half of the team ahead of it; and whose star pitcher had 10 fewer wins and an era that was 1.25 runs a game higher than the year before. Yes, the team had plenty RoY candidates, and Girardi deserves some credit for helping developing that talent.
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