2008 Alex Gonzalez of the Marlins Awards

by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
January 22, 2009

National League Winner

Kosuke Fukudome PA 2B RBI AVG OBP SLG
Pre-AS 386 17 36 .279 .383 .408
Post-AS 204 8 22 .217 .314 .326

Future generations might wonder how Kosuke Fukudome made the 2008 National League All-Star team, since batted .257 overall with 10 homers, 58 RBI, and 104 strikeouts.  His manager publicly called him out during the postseason after having benched him in the month of September.  Fans in his own country abandoned him, and the Japanese media lost interest in him as the Japanese player storylines in Los Angeles, Boston, and Tampa Bay became more compelling.    

Granted, Fukudome was a poor choice to start in the All-Star game, but the reason he started was due to his enormous popularity.  He wasn't just popular in the Pacific Rim, but among Cub fans everywhere.  After he hit a three-run homer off Eric Gagne on opening day to send that Cubs/Brewers contest into extra innings, half of Chicago wore tee shirts that insisted Fukudome was indeed their homey.  Although the Fukudome headbands would eventually be altered into nooses, at the time their sales were a sign of his popularity.

Past NL AGotM Winners

Year Player Team
2005 Cesar Izturis LAD
2006 Nomar Garciaparra LAD
2007 Johnny Estrada MIL
2008 Kosuke Fukudome CHC

And even though Fukudome did not have the numbers to start in the All-Star game, he would not have made a terrible reserve.  Many credited his plate discipline for transforming the Cubs from the team with the second fewest walks in the league to the National League leaders in that category, as Fukudome was seeing more pitches per plate appearance than any other player in baseball.  He was batting .310 at the end of May, which is unfortunately when many fans had already cast their ballots, and had made some great defensive plays in right field.  Though his defense would remain solid, his batting average by month tells most of the story on offense: .327, .293, .264, .236, .193.  His swing, which has looked uncannily like Ichiro's in April, began to look like Ichiro's might if he were trying to swing a tank with his eyes closed.       

Did the pressure of having an entire media crew devoted to covering his every move catch up with him?  Did culture shock and homesickness precipitate his downfall?   Did pitching coaches around the league simply implement a better plan to exploit the holes in his swing after seeing him for a couple of months? Or was it a matter of day baseball and a 162-game schedule wearing him down prematurely?  Whatever the reason, Kosuke Fukudome went from legitimate Rookie of the Year Candidate to runaway Alex Gonzalez of the Marlins winner in just a few months.

American League Candidates

Bobby Crosby PA 2B RBI AVG OBP SLG
Pre-AS 360 26 38 .260 .317 .375
Post-AS 245 13 23 .204 .265 .311

Pre-AS 255 15 28 .251 .322 .383
Post-AS 163 8 20 .182 .276 .336
Pre-AS 337 17 55 .302 .412 .572
Post-AS 119 2 9 .211 .395 .356
Pre-July 292 16 49 .303 .414 .557
Post-June 164 3 15 .236 .396 .409

Interestingly, you could either make the case that J.D. Drew's season was too good overall to be an AGotM or that Crosby and Buck's seasons were too poor overall to even match an Alex Gonzalez season.  Neither Crosby nor Buck showed much more than their career averages would suggest in the first half; they were each just exceptionally bad down the stretch.  We didn't have the heightened expectations of a player having a breakout season as we did with Gonzalez in 2003.

Past AL AGotM Winners

Year Player Team
2005 Brian Roberts BAL
2006 Hank Blalock TEX
2007 Orlando Cabrera LAA
2008 J.D. Drew BOS

Last year, I wrote that "no player who finishes the season with a .390 OBP is going to win an award with Alex Gonzalez' name on it, Marlins or otherwise," chastising Drew's teammate Kevin Youkilis for his success.  But really, Brian Roberts had a .387 OBP as our inaugural 2005 winner, so it's more about the collapse after heightened expectations than anything else.  This year, J.D. Drew appeared to be in line for one of his best seasons, then struggled so much after June that his final numbers were right in line with his career averages, a very Gonzalezesque thing to do. 

The funny thing is that right when Yankee fans were yapping the loudest about how overrated J.D. was, he turned in one of the best individual months ever.  In June, Drew belted 12 of his 19 homers for the season en route to a 1.309 OPS for the month.  In a way, Drew was more of a one-month wonder than a true Alex Gonzalez of the Marlins, but in the absence of another obvious American League choice, Drew comes away with the 2008 hardware.

Honorable Menchion

Pre-AS 337 12 56 .321 .377 .525
Post-AS 270 13 41 .284 .333 .492
Pirates 360 13 57 .330 .383 .535
Yankees 247 12 40 .268 .320 .474

Nady is of course ineligible for an AGotM as he switched leagues mid-season and his home run and RBI totals wouldn't have warranted a win for him anyway.  He gets an honorable Kevin Menchion because there were people who thought that Nady - who had never hit above .280 in a full season - actually was the .330 hitter that he pretended to be with the Pirates this year.  Those people also believed that if Nady did suffer a dropoff with the Yankees, it would be due to the Pressure of New York or a simple power outage due to Yankee Stadium's famously deep left field power alley.

The pressure certainly didn't get to him, as Nady hit very well in his first few weeks with the Yankees.  He may have been a .223 hitter in September, but it wouldn't make sense that the initial pressure wouldn't have gotten to him but that barely being alive in the Wild Card race in September was too much for him to handle.  Yankee Stadium didn't curtail his power much, as he banged out five homers in 98 at-bats there.  In reality, Yankee Stadium only suppressed right-handed home runs by three percent from 2006-2008, while PNC Park, which has a deeper left field power alley, suppressed them by a whopping 28%.  Unfortunately, Nady was not really a .330 hitter, but rather a .268 hitter after having joined the Yankees.

While not quite a Gonzalez, Nady was certainly a player who was overachieving in July and crashed back to Earth by the end of the year.  The Pirates did well to parlay him into prospects

Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at keith@baseballevolution.com.