October 10, 2006
I have a memo here from the tech guys…due to sunspots mixed with some odd gamma rays and a bad burrito from Uncle Robby's in Montebello, the first batch of AL and NL MVP ballots submitted in the Internet Baseball Awards voting got munched. If you voted any time between the opening of the balloting and 11 p.m. Pacific on Tuesday, October 3, your MVP contribution is gone. Please take the time to vote again, unless you're one of the Justin Morneau people, in which case you want the next door down.
(I'm a very apolitical guy, but do you know how hard it was to get through that paragraph without using "Ohio," "Florida," or "Diebold"?)
I've never completed anything early in my life-be careful there-so the glitch doesn't affect me. I don't have a ballot in the BBWAA voting, so I could take an extra week to sort through the candidates and reach a conclusion. It didn't help; I'm as confused about who the AL MVP is as I was when the process started, and I spent a half-hour wondering why Shane Rawley wasn't a candidate for NL Cy Young. I'm less confident in how I've ordered the names on those two ballots than in any vote I've participated in since the 1992 general election.
American League MVP
Even after missing the last few weeks of the season, Travis Hafner led the AL in VORP and RARP. I couldn't reasonably list him any lower than fifth, behind only the high-defensive-value guys, but the highest of the sluggers. If he had completed the season, he might well have overcome my preference for up-the-middle players and topped my ballot. Derek Jeter was third in the metrics, had positive defensive value in Clay's system, and is usually a plus baserunner; I didn't consider his role in the Yankees' summer drama. Santana and Mauer could be listed in any order; Mauer's offense slipped a bit during the summer, although he had a strong finishing kick.
If you're wondering why Morneau is not on the ballot, consider that he was 16th in RARP and 15th in VORP among position players. His candidacy is a product of the emphasis on home runs and RBI, and there are many more things players do to help win games. Voting for him is, essentially, a stat vote; Mauer and Santana were both much more valuable to the Twins' division title.
American League Cy Young
The top two are easy. I'm not a big fan of low-strikeout guys, but Chien-Ming Wang had the metrics to justify his place. The toughest call is whether to slot Francisco Liriano. In the end, the innings edge for the other two guys was just too much to overlook.
American League Rookie of the Year
If the season had been another month longer, Weaver might have won this going away. Any ballot that doesn't have room for Jonathan Papelbon can be questioned, of course; if you wanted to put him on here instead of Weaver, I wouldn't argue.
American League Manager of the Year
It was really a lousy year for AL managers. For all the talk of the AL being the superior league, very few teams exceeded expectations, and the ones that did had managers doing all kinds of ridiculous things along the way. John Gibbons got into at least one fistfight, just to name an example. Ron Gardenhire probably did as much to slow the Twins down with his early-season lineup choices as he did to eventually help them get righted. Joe Torre…well, don't get me started. Consider the above ranking a big shrug.
National League MVP
The metrics have Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, Miguel Cabrera, and Lance Berkman 1-2-3-4. I bumped Beltran up because of his defense, and could have done the same for Chase Utley, but I'll stick with the above. There's a dropoff among the position players at that point, which allows the three starters to all sneak on.
National League Cy Young
I'm pretty sure that Brandon Webb blew this on the last day of the season. Had he pitched even passably well, he would have stayed ahead of the surging Roy Oswalt. Chris Carpenter also had the award in his hands, but spit the bit in his last two starts. Oswalt leads in the metrics, and with nothing much else to distinguish these guys, he gets my vote.
National League Rookie of the Year
There's no attempt to be cute here; the three Marlins were the three best rookies in the league, Johnson holding off a late Matt Cain challenge to get there. Takashi Saito just missed being mentioned on two ballots, and was nearly an MVP honorable mention as well.
National League Manager of the Year
Willie Randolph is the default choice, the manager of the team that exceeds expectations and has a lot of success. He did handle a lot during the season, and I think he deserves credit for the development of Jose Reyes. That's enough for me. Joe Girardi leaves Miami trailing all kinds of accusations, but I like the way he committed to the young pitchers, managed his bullpen and stuck with Hanley Ramirez at midseason. Grady Little helped the Dodgers get to the playoffs around a million nagging injuries, and one very big one to Eric Gagne. He was exposed last week, but you give him Joe Beimel and it's a different series.
Up until the last hours of the regular season, this looked to be a Division Series matchup, but the Royals intervened. Having missed a chance to face off, both teams headed into series in which they were underdogs and prevailed, bringing us back to this point.
The A's and Tigers are very similar teams, featuring good starting rotations fronting solid bullpens, backed by middling offenses. The Tigers bring a superior defense to the series and pitchers more capable of being dominant than the A's best. The A's counter with the best hitter in the matchup, Frank Thomas, and a deeper bullpen, albeit one lacking a Joel Zumaya shutdown artist.
Both teams were at their best in the first round. The A's got great starting pitching, effective relief and plenty of extra-base hits to go with the walks they draw. They avoided the big mistake, the one that had plagued them in years past, and in fact benefited from one in Torii Hunter's misplay of a Mark Kotsay fly ball. The Tigers benefited from unbelievable starts by Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman in which the two pitchers pounded the strike zone. They held the Yankees to just eight walks in the Division Series, a critical element in beating both the game's most patient lineup and their next foe, and they turned balls in play into outs at a very high rate.
This series will become a battle for control of the strike zone. The A's were able to exploit the Twins' impatience at the plate to get a lot of early-count outs. Unlike the Twins, though, the Tigers have the power in seven or eight lineup spots to do damage when they attack those same pitches. The A's staff will have to balance getting ahead of a team that can swing its way into pitchers' counts and be put away, with the risk that being aggressive in the strike zone will lead to a few home runs. This will a particular danger for left-hander Barry Zito and power right-hander Rich Harden; pitchers who rely more on off-speed stuff, especially from the right side, are a tougher matchup for the fastball-happy Tigers.
For the Tigers' part, they'll try to do what they did to the Yankees: pound the strike zone, take away the walks and home runs and let their defense and power do the rest. The A's don't feature the kind of power the Yankees did, so the real key for Detroit will be staying out of the deep counts that the A's like to work. The Tigers' staff isn't shallow, but there's some value in getting the starters out of the game before the point where Zumaya can enter. The Yankees were unable to do that in their three losses; the A's will have to change that.
With two teams better at preventing runs than scoring them, this should be a fairly low-scoring series, with most games in doubt when the bullpens get involved. The A's have more options, while the Tigers have Zumaya. In a five-game series, the edge might go to Detroit, but the extra length gives a slight edge to the deeper team. Take the following with a grain of salt-I was 0-for-4 in the first round and I think this series is enough of a coin flip that I changed my pick twice while doing a preview for SI. A's in seven, because of the bullpen depth and plate discipline.