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September 29, 2003
Handing Out the Hardware
I believe that at some point in my career, I will have a vote in baseball's most widely recognized year-end awards. Whether this will be the result of a change in what constitutes the "most widely recognized" awards, or an evolution in the restrictive qualifications for voting on the ones currently holding that distinction, I do not know.
Until then, I'll treat my Internet Baseball Awards ballot with the seriousness it deserves, and encourage all of you to vote this week in the IBAs.
American League MVP
I'm certain that Rodriguez is the AL MVP. There was no one terribly close to him in value, and I have an established preference for players at up-the-middle positions that kept Ramirez safely away.
The next seven players could be in almost any order and I wouldn't argue. I emphasized the pitchers because the position players all seemed to have some negative marker. Martinez and Halladay were the two best hurlers in the league in a year when there were few great MVP-candidate players, and they both had a massive impact on their teams.
American League Cy Young
The Martinez vs. Halladay debate came down to quantity innings vs. quality. I went with Martinez, but it was very close. The difference between the two is 80 innings of 5.62 ERA ball, which means that the additional innings for Halladay are just shy of replacement-level. That's not to say that they don't have value, just that the gap between he and Martinez in terms of run-prevention is pretty steep.
Both pitchers got an edge over Loaiza in terms of the quality of opposition faced, as the White Sox right-hander piled up a lot of innings against the Tigers and Indians. Hudson was the best of the A's starters this year. Marte is something of a stealth pick, but it was impossible to separate the three better-known relievers (Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Keith Foulke and Brendan Donnelly), and Marte was actually a bit better than all of them by VORP, while holding his own in all other areas.
American League Rookie of the Year
Could we save the "Japanese pros aren't rookies" argument for a year in which one actually deserves hardware? Matsui was durable and played good defense, but he didn't hit all that well; Berroa outplayed him across the board and is hands-down the most deserving AL rookie.
Rocco Baldelli is exciting and fun and has lots of potential and a great name. He also had a .326 OBP and made nearly 500 outs.
American League Manager of the Year
Pena is the default pick; did any other AL team exceed expectations this season? Tosca is #2 to recognize that the Blue Jays won 86 games and no one noticed; the Twins won the Central with 90 wins, the Cubs the NL Central with 88. Little is third because he didn't actually kill anyone in April, and he used the flexible roster given him pretty well.
Really, though, I could happily submit a one-name ballot, and it's not like I think Tony Pena is Joe McCarthy for the 21st Century. I'd be astounded if the Royals won 75 games next year.
National League MVP
There's no crime in being second behind Barry Bonds, and that's what Pujols is this year. The playing-time argument against Bonds is lost when you consider that the value metrics give Bonds a one-win edge even after taking that into account. Those metrics may overrate him--he's quite the outlier--but if you're going to get into intangible arguments, you have to consider that every single San Francisco Giants game revolves around Bonds in a way that Cardinals' games don't revolve around Pujols.
The Giants were 28-12 in one-run games this season. Some of that is luck, but I believe that most of it is Bonds. Having a .530 OBP in the lineup means that you're never far from a baserunner, and that means a near-automatic rally every time through the lineup in a close game. One way or another, Bonds was a key part of many late-inning Giants' wins, and those wins are why the Giants locked up the division in July.
The two Braves are pretty clear-cut #3 and #4 guys. After that, throw everyone in a hat.
National League Cy Young
It's hard for me to pick a reliever as the league's best pitcher, but between Gagne's insane season and the lack of a clear-cut top starter, I'll go with the unique player. Prior over Schmidt is a razor-thin call; I gave Prior the edge for the monster finish he had in a close race. It will be interesting to see if Webb gets any BBWAA votes. Support-Neutral had him as the best starter in the league.
National League Rookie of the Year
This was probably the easiest top slot to fill, with a player who has little chance of getting the real hardware. Willis had better support across the board but didn't pitch as well as Webb. Podsednik is the Wayne Kirby of this rookie class. He had his peak performance, leveraged it into full-time play with a bad team, and will be out of the league in three years.
It was a monster year for NL rookies, by the way. The D'backs had two other pitchers, Jose Valverde and Oscar Villareal, who might have won the award in other years. The Mets had Jose Reyes, Jae Weong Seo and Jason Phillips. Marlon Byrd quietly had a good year, especially in the second half. Jerome Williams might have caught Webb if he'd been called up sooner.
National League Manager of the Year
In separate radio interviews two days apart, I had to strongly defend my choice of McKeon for this award. I'll concede that I can be stubborn, but exactly how does the guy who inherits a .475 team owned by the Angel of Death and down two starting pitchers, and takes that team into October, not get the award? Is the Cult of Dusty that strong?
Dusty Baker is getting an awful lot of credit for being the guy who happened to take the job when Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano were ready for the majors. As far as I can tell, Baker inherited a 90-win team and managed it all the way to 88 wins, making an awful lot of questionable personnel decisions along the way. If he wins 90 games next season--keeping in mind that I put the over/under on Prior and Zambrano starts at 46.5--then I'll vote for him.
I don't really have a problem with anything Felipe Alou did, save perhaps the decision he made in March to bat Bonds fourth. Again, though, he inherited a pretty good team, with Bonds and about eleventy thousand good young arms, and he didn't screw it up.
Baker and Alou have a halo around them that prevents their work from being evaluated with any detachment. Clearly they had success this year, but I certainly don't think they did a better job with what they had than did McKeon, or Cox, who had to rebuild his team around the lineup, or Robinson, who would be working on his second straight playoff appearance if MLB could run a franchise with any greater sense than it runs anything else.
I'll have playoff previews tomorrow, if I can stop shaking from the withdrawals. Isn't there an Arizona Fall League game on somewhere?