The month of April is behind us, and in baseball that means the time is nigh for grand, sweeping pronouncements based on four weeks of play. Actually, for purposes of this column, it means that it’s time to hand out April awards. What follows is a dispersal of various bits of hardware, all in honor of those performers who have performed well thus far. These aren’t predictions; rather, they’re just a listing of who should win the awards were the season to end today. Needless to say, the criteria of the voting writers aren’t my criteria. These awards go to the guys who are doing the best jobs, without respect to how the 24 others in the same clothes are doing their jobs.
With that, to the podium…
AL MVP: Cliff Lee, Indians. Thus far, it’s a curious season for AL position players. Take a gander at the VORP rankings, and you’ll find that the top 10 spots are occupied by NL hitters. Heck, even the unassuming Nate McClouth is out-VORPing every hitter in the American League. Certainly, VORP is far from determinative when it comes to the MVP award, but the fact remains that AL pitchers are outdoing AL hitters this season. So, in brazen defiance of the King-Neal Act of 1999, I’m naming a pitcher as MVP, and Lee is that pitcher. The logical imperative is that he’s also my Cy Young choice for the AL, and when I get to that award I’ll rhapsodize about the season he’s having. Also in the mix: Manny Ramirez of the Red Sox, and Joe Saunders of the Angels.
NL MVP: Rafael Furcal, Dodgers. There’s plenty of room for reasonable disagreements here. However, I’m going with Furcal because of his rather gaudy triple-slash rates (.381/.462/.602), and because he’s authoring those numbers while providing good glove work at the most vital defensive position on the diamond. Of course, it won’t last; at this writing, he’s on pace for 72 doubles, and if reaches that mark then I’ll do something sinister to myself, like boil my hands in oil, or watch the NFL draft. In any event, once all elements of the game are taken into account, Furcal is having the best season to date of any player in baseball. Also in the mix: Chipper Jones, Braves; Albert Pujols, Cardinals; Hanley Ramirez, Marlins; Chase Utley, Phillies.
AL Cy Young: Cliff Lee, Indians. So, Lee’s numbers: they’re bad, “bad” like the kids say. In 37 2/3 innings, he’s got a 1.19 RA, and he’s struck out 32 batters against only two walks. As well, opponents are “hitting” .151/.163/.198 against him. There’s probably some genuine skills growth at work here, but this obviously can’t hold up. (His .195 BABIP will tell you that much.) Still, he’s been the most dominant pitcher in all of baseball this season, and he’s been the best player in the American League. Also in the mix: Zack Greinke, Royals; Joe Saunders, Angels.
NL Cy Young: Tim Lincecum, Giants. There are a couple of especially remarkable things about Lincecum’s campaign. First, he boasts an RA of 1.73, and second, he’s doing it despite toiling for a team that ranks a paltry 27th in Defensive Efficiency. In a related matter, he’s got a BABIP of .374, but he’s nonetheless keeping runs off the board. In other words, if you put Lincecum on a team with competent defenders, he’d probably have numbers to rival Cliff Lee’s. Also in the mix: Jake Peavy, Padres
AL Rookie of the Year: Nick Blackburn, Twins. The 26-year-old Minnesota right-hander paces all AL rookie pitchers in VORP, and he’s doing so despite generally opposing a tough set of hitters. In fact, among pitchers with at least 25 innings Blackburn ranks 12th in opponents’ OPS. He also gets bonus points for having a name that sounds as though it were lifted from the script of a Spaghetti Western. Also in the mix: Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox; James Johnson, Orioles; Evan Longoria, Rays; Greg Smith, A’s.
NL Rookie of the Year: Geovany Soto, Cubs. Soto’s manning the catcher position and doing a fine job of it, but, even more important, he’s raking, pasting pitching at a .333/.427/.621 clip, and on pace for 93 extra-base hits. While he’s not likely to keep that up, Soto’s Goldstein-approved minor league dossier suggests that he’s the genuine article. He might just wind up in the MVP discussion this season. Also in the mix: Kosuke Fukudome, Cubs; Jair Jurrjens, Braves; John Lannan, Nationals.
AL Manager of the Year: Bob Geren, A’s. When it comes to this all-too-subjective honor, I pay attention to the skippers for whom results far exceed expectations, and that leads me to pick Geren. In some quarters, you saw the A’s bandied about as a potential last-place finisher in the AL West. Instead, they’ve got the best record in the AL according to the sun-dappled alternate reality of third-order wins. That’s thanks mostly to an Oakland pitching staff that’s thus far flush with minor miracles, but Geren gets credit for border collie-ing them along. Also in the mix: Dave Trembley, Orioles.
NL Manager of the Year: Tony La Russa, Cardinals. Here’s another club that was pegged for bottom-feeding status, but after the first month of play the Cardinals are percentage points out of first place and in playoff position.
It’s not likely that La Russa will be able to LOOGY-ROOGY his way into a division title, but the surprises haven’t stopped yet. Also in the mix: Fredi Gonzalez, Marlins; Bob Melvin, Diamondbacks.