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The Kevin Maas Award
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The Kevin Maas Award
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
April 23, 2009
The BaseballEvolution.com staff likes to create awards based on notorious players. We’ve currently got the Dave Kingman Award, the Alex Gonzalez of the Marlins Award, the Mark Redman Award, and the Josh Towers Award. I think it is time for a new award, and I think that award is going to be the Kevin Maas Award.
Most people of my generation remember where they were when Kevin Maas hit the scene like people from our parents’ generation remember where they were when Kennedy was killed. It was the summer of 1990, six years before Joe Torre and Derek Jeter would return the Yankees to evil empire status. The Yankees had just completed an entire decade without a World Series victory for the first time since before they acquired Babe Ruth. The Yankee Hero of the day, Don Mattingly, who’d declined in recently years was suffering through his worst season, and the Yankees were on their way to finishing with fewer than 70 wins for the only time since 1925.
On June 29th, the Yankees called up Kevin Maas hoping he would make a contribution but having no idea what was to come. He hit his first homerun on July 4th, and then another on the 7th. He had two on July 14th. My introduction to Maas came during a three game series at Texas – living for the summer with my grandmother in southwest Louisiana we got all the Rangers and Astros games on what was then called “Home Sports Entertainment,” and is now called Fox Sports Southwest. Maas hit a homerun in all three games of the series – all Yankees losses – including his third in three games off of Nolan Ryan.
To truly appreciate the Kevin Maas phenomenon, you do have to have some context. First of all, this was 1990, not 1998. When Maas hit his seventh homerun of the season on July 25th, the Yankees’ team leader only had 12. While Cecil Fielder had 51 homeruns that year, the next highest finisher in the AL had 39, and the tenth place finishers (via tie) only had 24. Seven homeruns in 19 games was insane back then.
The other thing it is important to remember is that in 1990 Nolan Ryan was the closest thing to Jesus that baseball has seen in my lifetime. Forget Cal Ripken, Jr., forget Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, forget Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. In 1990, Nolan Ryan reached a point that few others in professional sports have ever reached. Point being, when Kevin Maas hit that seventh homerun, and third in three days, against Nolan Ryan, the entire baseball world was already watching, and Kevin Maas became a household name.
Maas would hit three more homeruns in a series against Detroit at the end of July, including two in one game to reach ten homeruns. His ten homeruns in his first 72 at-bats were a major league record. And he did it in Detroit on a day when Cecil Fielder, the other huge, out-of-nowhere story of 1990, went 0-for-6 with five strikeouts. Kevin Maas was on the scene.
By the end of the year, Maas had hit 21 homeruns in 79 games. Double the games, and you get 42 homeruns, which would have finished second in the majors. In less than half a season, he’d finished second on the entire Yankees team with 21 homeruns. Given a full year, who knows what he could have accomplished.
In retrospect, it is easy to see the warning signs – Maas hit 21 homeruns, but only 9 doubles. His batting average was .252. He also struck out 76 times in 79 games. And in the majors he displayed power that he’d never displayed in the minors. But that is hindsight. At the time, it was easy to figure that this guy had the talent to be an elite homerun hitter, and those other things would improve with experience. Kevin Maas became an overnight pop culture sensation.
He would collapse almost as fast as he had arrived. In 1991, he very nearly doubled his at-bats from the previous year (254 vs. 500), but he hit only two more homeruns (21 vs. 23). His batting average dropped thirty points, and while he didn’t strike out at the same high rate as the year before, he still struck out 128 times in 148 games. And his slugging percentage dropped from a robust .535 to an appalling .390. This guy who’d had 42 runs and 41 RBI in half a season in 1990 put up 69 runs and 63 RBI in a full season.
And it would be his last full season. Maas played 98 games in 1992, 59 games in 1993, missed all of 1994, and played 22 games in 1995. In 1997 he hit 7 homeruns in 86 Triple-A at-bats and called it a career.
In truth, while it would have been impossible to forecast Maas’ complete collapse, we all should have known he wouldn’t do in 1991 what he did in 1990. And I don’t mean because of his minor league numbers, or his batting average, or his strikeouts, or his doubles, or because of any other statistic. Rather, we all should have known that Maas wasn’t going to put up those numbers again for one simple reason, and it is that one simple reason that is the essence of the Kevin Maas Award.
We had every right to expect Kevin Maas to be a legitimate major league baseball player, and to this day we have to wonder how it is that he managed to fizzle so badly. There can be no doubt that expectations played some role. Those expectations were created by a failure of common sense – the overnight sensation that was Kevin Maas trumped what should have been realistic expectations. In 1991, Kevin Maas was a player who had done an incredible thing the year before that Common Sense should have told us he had no way of repeating.
And so that will be the defining aspect of the Kevin Maas Award: an Award given annually to the player who accomplishes something which common sense tells us (or should tell us) he has no chance of accomplishing again.
As a post-script this Award has already caused some confusion. Since I am the only person who, as of this writing, knows about the Award, and I am sure you realize that this means I have confused myself. To avoid similar confusion from readers: the Award is given the year of the accomplishment, not the year in which the players fails to repeat the accomplishment. Thus, Kevin Maas would have won the Kevin Maas Award in 1990, when he hit 21 homeruns in 79 games, not in 1991, when he failed to live up to his 1990 performance. While this will make the Award fascinating because giving the Award necessarily implies anticipating the winner’s performance in the ensuing season, it will make predicting who will win the Award before the season next to impossible. But I am okay with that.
As a second post-script, as many of you have by now figured out, the Dave Kingman Award has not actually been in existence since 1950 – we actually went backwards and gave out those Awards after the fact. In that spirit, we will now do the same here.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the past winners of the Kevin Maas Award:
2008 – Cliff Lee, Cleveland Indians (22-3, 223.1 innings, 2.54 ERA, 12 HR, 170/34 K/BB)
I don’t know why Cliff Lee was so awesome last season, but at the end of the year we all looked at Cliff Lee and said, “this isn’t who Cliff Lee is”. Simple as that. He will probably be a successful pitcher for years to come, but he won’t be doing that again.
2007 – Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers (113 games, 34 HR, 97 RBI, 91 runs)
This is from my 2008 Brewers Preview:
“In my Cleveland Indians preview, I made the point that while there is not much to hate about third baseman Casey Blake, there is not much to like either. Ryan Braun is the anti-Casey Blake. You have to fall in love with his 91 runs, 34 homeruns, 24 doubles, 6 triples, 97 RBI, and 15 out of 20 stolen bases in 113 games in the first major league action this kid ever saw in 2007. But you have to hate his 112 strikeouts (nearly one per game), his 112/29 K/BB ratio, the fact that his OBP is only 46 points higher than his average, his 13 double plays, and his truly major league worst defense.
“So, is this kid Kevin Maas, or is he Albert Pujols? I don't expect 30+homeruns, and 90+ runs and RBI in 450 at-bats again, but he will also hurt the team a lot less in left field than he did at third base.”
Braun is part of the reason we’ve started the Kevin Maas Award – there was no doubt in my mind that he would not repeat his 2007 performance in 2008.
AL Winner – Joba Chamberlain
2006 – Jermaine Dye, Chicago White Sox (146 games, 42 homeruns, 120 RBI, 103 runs, 151 OPS+)
Not that Jermaine Dye hasn’t spent his career being an excellent player hurt by injury and inopportunity. In many ways, Dye’s 2006 was the best expression of what he had always been capable of. We were all smart enough to know, however, that it couldn’t be counted on again.
NL Winner – Bill Hall, Milwaukee Brewers
2005 - Zach Duke, Pittsburgh Pirates (14 starts, 8-2, 1.81 ERA)
I am not completely sure I saw Duke’s collapse coming, but I am pretty sure I should have – his stuff was not dominant (58/23 K/BB in 84.2 innings), and his FIP was over a run higher than his ERA. Duke’s win-loss record and ERA were studly, but his peripherals were dudly.
AL Winner – (tie) Rod Barajas and Dave Dellucci, Texas Rangers
2004 – Adrian Beltre, Los Angeles Dodgers (200 hits, 104 runs, 32 2B, 48 HR, 121 RBI, 163 OPS+)
Beltre is a true Maasian (you could almost name this Award after Beltre) because his numbers were legit in 2004 – he was better on the road, better in the second half of the season, he didn’t strikeout a lot. But given his record up to 2004, common sense ratted Beltre out. Which leads, inevitably, to a discussion that involves the words “Seattle Mariners” and “Common Sense.”
2003 – Javy Lopez, Atlanta Braves (457 at-bats, 43 homeruns, 109 RBI, 169 OPS+)
In a contract year, there were many categories in which Lopez topped his previous two years’ totals combined. There was no doubt that he was playing at a higher level than he’d ever played before, little doubt as to why, and rampant speculation as to how. It was pretty clear that this was a one year deal.
AL Winner: Nomar Garciaparra (13 triples)
2002 – Quinton McCracken, Arizona Diamondbacks (349 AB, 27 2B, 8 3B, .309 AVG, 107 OPS+)
McCracken fell two games shy of 1,000 for his career, which is a shame because he probably would have been the worst player ever to play 1,000 games. When he was actually offensively productive for the D’Backs in 2002, no one, not even his mother, thought it would last. And it didn’t.
By the way – am I the only one who for years thought Quinton McCracken was a wide receiver for the Jacksonville Jaguars (yes, a Keenan McCardell joke).
AL Winner: Jeremy Giambi
2001 – Adam Dunn, Cincinnati Reds (66 games, 19 homeruns, 43 RBI, 54 runs)
Truth be told, I think Adam Dunn’s career is what I expected Kevin Maas’s career to be like – an excellent homerun hitter, but not a great hitter overall. In 2001 Adam Dunn did, in essence, what Maas did, but he didn’t become a household name because Ichiro Suzuki and Albert Pujols were taking the world by storm, Barry Bonds was breaking Mark McGwire’s record, and Sammy Sosa was enjoying a better year than he’d had in 1998. But Dunn was amazing in his own right, and projected to be an extra-base hit machine; so much so that common sense told us he wouldn’t be doing it quite as fast in 2002 as he had in 2001.
AL Winner: Steve Sparks, Detroit Tigers
1998 - Shane Spencer, New York Yankees (67 at-bats, 10 homeruns)
This was a real "fool me once, shame on you" thing for the Yankees. It was also deja vu. Spencer has been called a poor man's Kevin Maas, which is pretty accurate since Spencer never managed to hit more than 12 homeruns in any other season.
NL Winner: Greg Vaughn (50 homeruns)
I am very interest to hear from readers on this - what other flash in the pan performances were obviously flash in the pan from the beginning? Who else deserves a Kevin Maas Award?
Questions? Concerns? Comments? The BaseballEvolution.com Awards Room can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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