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2009 Post-Season Awards Predictions
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
September 1, 2009
Last season, I decided to make my post-season awards predictions on September 1st in an effort to gauge the extent to which the final month of play, and the resolution of the divisional races, impacts the post-season awards. We got immediate payoff in the endeavor when, moments after I published my predictions, the apparent AL Most Valuable Player Carlos Quentin broke his hand and took himself out of the running for the award.
So, maybe we should make a tradition of it, eh?
As we enter the final month of the season, the post-season awards picture is one of the most clear we’ve seen in recent years.
National League Most Valuable Player
Albert Pujols isn’t smoking the league the way Barry Bonds did for four years from 2001-2004, but he doesn’t have to in order to be considered the National League’s premier player. Pujols has entered into the same class of athlete as Bonds, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, and Kobe Bryant, the type of player that you’re disappointed when they don’t do the things that no other player can do anyway. In Pujols’ case, he is leading the league runs, homeruns, OBP, SLG, and OPS, total bases, and intentional walks, and we find ourselves disappointed that he isn’t leading the league in RBI or batting average. But whatever. He is the National League’s best player, and likely will be for a long time.
National League Hank Aaron Award
Are we still giving this award out? If so, it goes to Pujols. If not, that’s a shame.
By the way, wanna hear something bizarre? Last season, the National League Hank Aaron Award went to Aramis Ramirez. Say what? 2008 was marked by the thorough domination of three hitters – Pujols, Chipper Jones, and Lance Berkman. But no, Aramis Ramirez won the award last year. And I know what you’re thinking, and don’t worry, I checked – it wasn’t Hanley Ramirez, and it wasn’t Manny Ramirez. It was Aramis Ramirez.
That’s kind of like Jesse Jackson winning a Grammy the year Thriller came out, I think.
American League Most Valuable Player
Right now, there is Joe Mauer, and there is everyone else. Playing catcher for a Minnesota Twins team which has not yet given up on a playoff spot, Mauer has nearly doubled his career high in homeruns in just 105 games this season and leads the AL in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS. He is also leading the AL in a host of SABRmetric categories – runs created, OPS+, adjusted batting runs, adjusted batting wins, and offensive winning percentage. Now, as the Yankees streak back into the playoffs on the back of newly acquired Mark Teixeira and a resurgent (on defense as well as offense) Derek Jeter, a case could be made for either of those players. But there can only be one best player in the American League, and that player is Joe Mauer.
American League Hank Aaron Award
If the voters will do us the favor of giving the MVP to Mauer, they can vote the Hank Aaron Award as whacky as they want for all I care – an award that should go to Teixeira can go to Carlos Pena, Aaron Hill, or hell, how about Derek Jeter. Lord knows he wasn’t the AL’s best offensive player when he won it in 2006, so why should that stop him from winning it in 2009?
National League Cy Young Award
The least clear of this season’s post-season awards. But here is an interesting perspective on which pitcher should be considered the “best” pitcher in the National League: the top four pitchers in earned run average come from two teams this year, Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter of the Cardinals and Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain of the Giants. Not surprisingly, the Giants and Cardinals rank second and third in the NL in team ERA. However, the fifth and sixth ranked ERA leaders are J.A. Happ and Dan Haren. Happ plays for the sixth ranked Phillies, and Haren plays for the eighth ranked Diamondbacks. We round out the top ten with two Braves, Jair Jurrjens and Javier Vazquez, Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers, and Wandy Rodriguez of the Astros. The Braves are the fourth best ERA team in the NL, while the Dodgers are the best overall. But the Houston Astros have the 13th ranked team ERA in the National League, out of 16 teams. It seems to me that, purely based on ERA, you have nine pitchers on very good teams playing in pitcher friendly environments, ballpark and defense considered, and one guy who is truly swimming against the tide in Houston.
Do I think Wandy Rodriguez will win the NL Cy Young Award? No. Do I think he deserves it? Probably not. But he does deserve props, and he gets them from me.
Adam Wainwright currently leads the majors in wins, has a fantastic ERA (fourth in the majors) and has a strikeout-to-walk ratio approaching 3.0 for a division winning team. If he gets to 20 wins with about 220 innings pitched, and he is the only on there, then he will make a compelling Cy Young candidate. Dan Haren, Matt Cain, and Chris Carpenter are also all having excellent seasons and would make good Cy Young candidates.
Nevertheless, I don’t see how Tim Lincecum fails to win his second straight award. The guy is simply in his own class as a pitcher. He gives up less than 7.0 hits per nine innings, has a K:BB ratio over 4.0, and strikes out over 10.0 batters per nine innings. In nearly 200 innings pitched, he has given up only eight homeruns. He is tied for the league lead in complete games and shutouts, and he is second in ERA and ERA+. No NL pitcher has the whole package like this guy.
National League Reliever of the Year
When I was a kid, this was the Fireman of the Year. At some point it became the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year. It is based on a statistical formula (boo! hiss!) which means that you can’t argue about who deserved, but simply who was better than the guy who won it (yawn!). In 2009, this award will be won by Ryan Franklin, who has gotten the Dennis Eckersley treatment from Dave Duncan and Tony LaRussa. His 402 ERA+ at this point is one of the most impressive we've seen since the days of Eckersley.
American League Cy Young Award
To me, the AL Cy Young Award begins and ends with one statistic – the American League leader in earned run average pitches on a team that ranks 25th out of 30 major league teams in team ERA. But in case such Awards should not be given out on the basis of single statistics, here are some more: he also leads the AL in complete games, strikeouts, WHIP, homeruns per nine innings, and ERA+. He ranks second in the AL in strikeouts, K:BB ratio, hits per nine innings, and innings pitched. He is amongst the leaders in strikeouts per nine innings, walks per nine innings, and batters faced.
There is a first half/second half argument to be made with respect to Zack Greinke, and it is a valid one. His ERA in June was over 4.00, and his ERA in August was over 3.00. But you can’t find another pitcher who hasn’t had a bad month in 2009 – certainly not Roy Halladay, who had a 4.71 ERA after not getting traded at the July deadline. And certainly not Edwin Jackson or Felix Hernandez, either, each of whom have endured bad spells.
There is no doubt that Zack Greinke is the best starting pitcher in the AL this season, but the Cy Young Award going to a pitcher other than the best pitcher in the league would be no surprise, especially considering Greinke’s rank in one final statistical category: Greinke is currently tied for fifth in the AL with 13 wins, behind three guys – C.C. Sabathia, Justin Verlander, and Josh Beckett – who appear to be playoff bound. This would be the only justification for voting against Greinke. And really, it would be no justification at all.
American League Reliever of the Year
Mariano Rivera. Next.
National League Rookie of the Year
So many great rookies this season – Andrew McCutcheon, Seth Smith, Garrett Jones, Tommy Hanson, Casey McGahee. But to me, and call me biased, but there is only one guy who has become the ace of his starting staff. There is only guy who is in the top ten in the NL in ERA pitching on a contending team. There is only one guy who pitched so well he forced his team to demote Jamie Moyer to the bullpen. The NL Rookie of the Year begins and ends this season with J.A. Happ.
At present, Happ is 10-3 with a 2.63 ERA, a tied-for-the-league-lead two shutouts, 143.2 innings pitched, and a 164 ERA+. And one of his losses was a tough-luck complete game loss when Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel was forced to leave Happ in a tied game in the eighth innings because the bullpen had become so undependable. That’s a lot of faith to have in a young guy.
American League Rookie of the Year
This could be anybody in 2009. Three pre-season favorites, Matt Wieters, Matt LaPorta, and David Price, fell by the wayside early. In their wake are a slew of good-but-as-of-yet-not-great hitters, two or three solid starting pitchers, a pseudo-close, and a defensive specialist shortstop who has nearly singlehandedly turned around the Texas Rangers.
Nolan Reimold, Gordan Beckham, and Brett Gardner have all enjoyed solid first seasons in the majors. In 91 games, Reimold has hit 12 homeruns, stolen 8 bases, and posted a 111 OPS+ for the Baltimore Orioles. In 77 games, Gordon Beckham has 22 doubles, 8 homeruns and 49 RBI for the Chicago White Sox. In 80-plus games, Gardner has 20 stolen bases but not much else for the New York Yankees.
Brad Bergesen is second on the Orioles in games started and innings pitched, and leads the team with a 3.43 ERA, which is good for a 135 ERA+. Jeff Niemann has been the Rays most consistent starter, going 12-5 with a team leading 3.80 ERA/120 ERA+ and 92 strikeouts in 142 innings pitched. Ricky Romero’s ERA+ is only 111, but his 22 starts and 136.2 innings pitched are both second behind Roy Halladay, and his is Romero’s first ever major league action. And 21 year old Brett Anderson’s best years are probably still ahead of him, as his 119/42 K:BB ratio in 146.2 innings for the Oakland A’s can attest.
The A’s best rookie candidate may be Andrew Bailey, with his 6-3 record, 20 saves, and 1.90 ERA/218 ERA+ in 56 appearances out of the bullpen. Bailey has been one of the lone bright spots in an otherwise dismal season for the A’s, and in this season of decent but not great rookie of the year choices, the voters may roll with Bailey as they have done in previous seasons with previous closers Gregg Olson, Scott Williamson, and Todd Worrell.
But if the voters are paying attention, they will give Elvis Andrus more than a passing glance. It is no coincidence that the Texas Rangers are on their way to only their second winning season in ten years in Andrus’ first season in the bigs. Shortstop has been a problematic spot for the Rangers since the Alex Rodriguez-for-Alfonso Soriano trade that force Michael Young to play shortstop, a position for which despite his 2008 Gold Glove he does not have a natural aptitude. The emergence of Andrus forced Michael Young to third base, where he has been more than competent, and the Rangers infield has provided solid support to its pitching staff for the first time in recent memory. Has Elvis Andrus single-handedly turned around the Texas Rangers pitching staff? No – the Rangers pitchers had plenty to do with that. But having a star defensive player at shortstop certainly paves the way for solid pitching in pitchers park.
Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at email@example.com.
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