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Handicapping the Award Races

 

MVPís, Cy Youngs, and more

 

By Adam Hoff

 

It makes far more sense to do a Major League award winners column in late September, when 98% of the games have been played.  However, itís not nearly as fun as guessing in mid-August.  Plus, I needed a way to sneak in some more praise for my man Johan Santana of the Twins.  So weíre doing it now. 

 

What follows are not the players that would win the award of the season ended today, but rather a projection of how things might shake out.  Weíll take all kinds of things into account, including the prospects of each playerís team, how theyíve been playing recently, as well as some career trends.  However, weíll primarily be focusing on the seasons theyíve had to date. 

 

Letís rock.

 

American League Rookie of the Year.  For a stretch in late June, it looked like Bobby Crosby was going to lock this award up.  He started hitting for power and upping his average, to go with vastly improved defense.  Unfortunately, heís been slumping ever since.  He still ranks 8th among all shortstops in OPS at .777 and has 17 home runs, but his average is down to .255 and his OBP is a mere .329.  Unfortunately, thatís not going to get it done for the Aís young gun.  In fact, itís not even close.

 

1. Lew Ford.  The young Twins outfielder wasnít even projected as an everyday player when the season began, but he has emerged as one of their best offensive players.  Heís hitting .306 with a .391 OBP (good for 10th in the AL), 14 home runs, 16 stolen bases, and 72 runs.  Heís projecting out to a 20-20 season with nearly 100 runs scored and has the award all but wrapped up at this point.

 

2. Shingo Takatsu.  The numbers are sick (5-3 with a 2.23 ERA, .92 WHIP, and 12 saves in 13 chances), but itís been the stability heís brought to the White Sox bullpen that has been most impressive.  If Shingo had been the closer all season, heíd probably be the choice here.  As it is, heíll need a huge final month in addition to the Sox surging past Minnesota to overtake Ford. 

 

3. Bobby Crosby.  Hit .337 with a .946 OPS in June and hit five home runs in July, but has been miserable so far in August (8 for 53).  Combine that with a rough start and 102 strikeouts and heís pretty much done at this point.

 

4. Justin Morneau.  He only has 166 at bats, but now that heís entrenched at first base the rest of the way, the Twins other impact rookie should double that total by seasonís end.  Factor in that he already has 12 home runs and 34 RBI and he should be good for about .270/20/65 by the time all is said and done.  Plus, heís hitting in the middle of the order during a pennant race, so that counts for something.

 

National League Rookie of the Year.  This race is very interesting.  If you were dishing out the award today, it would probably come down to a couple of Padres youngsters.  However, thereís still six weeks of baseball to be played, which means that a late-starter has the inside track.

 

1. Jason Bay.  The Pirates are looking pretty smart right now.  They were met with a ton of criticism last season when they traded their best player, Brian Giles, to the Padres for two prospects.  Well, Giles has been average all season and the two prospects have emerged as Pittsburghís best players.  Oliver Perez is one of the best young pitchers in the game and currently ranks among the NLís top five in strikeouts, WHIP, ERA, K/9, and batting average against.  Are you kidding me?  And then thereís Bay, my frontrunner for NL rookie of the year.  After missing most of the first two months with an injury, Bay has been a stud ever since.  Heís hitting .310 with 57 RBI and he leads all rookies with 18 home runs and a .967 OPS.  It wouldnít be a stretch to project .300/30/80 by seasonís end.  If he comes even close to that, heís the rookie of the year.

 

2. Khalil Greene.  Heís only hitting .265 with 10 home runs and 50 RBI, but you canít even begin to measure the impact heís had on the Padres this season.  He has hit 20 points higher after the All-Star break and he hits 30 points higher with runners on.  Plus, he just might win a Gold Glove at shortstop.

 

3. Akinori Otsuka.  The 32-yeard old rookie has been a stud in the San Diego bullpen.  Heís 6-2 with a 2.11 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and 10.56 K/9.  In fact, heís right there with Guillermo Mota as the best setup man in the National League this year.

 

4. Chad Cordero.  Iím going with Cordero over the Philliesí Ryan Madson because the former made the leap to closer and has had solid results.  With 13 saves, 9.2 K/9, and a 3.66 ERA, Cordero looks like he might fit the bill as the long term closer for the Expos.   

 

American League Cy Young.  At first glance it looks like Oaklandís Mark Mulder is running away with this one, considering his 16-4 record.  However, if you look a bit closer, itís obvious that my boy Johan Santana is closing in fast.  Hereís how the race breaks down.

 

1. Johan Santana.  Iím going with the Twinsí lefty over the Oakland ace.  You could probably call it favoritism since Santana is on most of my fantasy teams, but I really donít care.  First of all, the ONLY statistic that favors Mulder is wins.  He has 16 to Santanaís 14.  But that can be attributed to the fact that Mulder has received two more runs of support each time out (6.91 runs per start, 6th highest in the majors).  Santana is dominant in every other category.  He ranks third in the big leagues in WHIP (.98), second in K/9 (10.29), second in strikeouts (207), first in the AL in batting average against (.202), second in the AL in ERA (3.13), and is tied for fifth in the majors in wins (14).  Itís not even close.  Mulder doesnít even rank in the top 20 in most of those categories.  PLUS, Santana is doing all of his damage in the latter half of the season.  He was absolutely brutal for the first two months of the season, going 2-3 with a 5.64 ERA and 1.41 WHIP.  Do you realize how good he has to be the last two and a half months to get his numbers where they are now?  Itís sick.  In his 16 starts over that time period, Santana is 10-3 with a 1.51 ERA, .66 WHIP, .139 OAA, and 153 strikeouts in 120 innings pitched.  The guy gave up 14 hits in the entire month of July.  6 starts and 46 innings Ö and only 14 hits allowed.  Thatís just unbelievable.  Heís been the best pitcher in the league up to this point (sorry, Mark) and should create even more distance from the pack the rest of the way.

 

2. Mark Mulder.  Iím not even sure how I feel about Mulder being in the #2 spot.  Yes, heís 16-4.  But what else is there to get terribly excited about?  He ranks 30th in the majors in ERA at 3.75 (trailing teammate Tim Hudson by almost a full run per game).  Heís 25th in strikeouts with 119 (trailing teammate Rich Harden despite logging 50 more innings).  His OAA of .245 is good for 19th.  His 1.22 WHIP is 23rd in the league, just behind Hudson and just ahead of Bronson Arroyo of the Red Sox.  Cy Young frontrunner?  I think not.  Nevertheless, it appears that the Aís are going to keep scoring runs for him and he should get at least seven more starts.  If he winds up going 21-5 or something like that and is the only 20 game winner in the AL, heís going to get serious consideration.

 

(For the record, Hudson is the better pitcher on that staff.  However, his stint on the DL coupled with an 8-4 record that is the result of many a blown save will keep him out of hunt.)

 

3. Pedro Martinez.  Here comes Pedro.  Not even an All-Star and sitting on a plus-4.00 ERA in July, Pedro is turning it up a notch down the stretch.  He ranks in the top-10 in the American League in nearly every single category and ranks in the top-4 in winning percentage (2nd at .722), wins (4th with 13), strikeouts (2nd with 180), WHIP (2nd at 1.13), and 3rd in batting average against (.236).  Not bad.  In his five August starts, he is 2-1 with a 2.10 ERA and a WHIP of .99.  Heís coming on strong, heís got an improved defense behind him, and heís Pedro.  17-6 with a 3.40 ERA and 225 strikeouts doesnít seem out of the question.

 

4. Joe Nathan.  You could make a case for a handful of other starting pitchers (namely Curt Schilling, who is 15-6 with a 3.45 ERA), but the next best candidate has to come from the pen.  I give the nod to Nathan by a hair over Mariano Rivera and to a lesser extent Francisco Cordero.  Rivera is still the guy Iíd want closing out my postseason victories, but Nathan has been astoundingly good.  He has fewer blown saves, a lower WHIP (1.01 versus 1.09 for Rivera), a lower ERA (.82 against Marianoís 1.48; although itís tough to argue with either of those performances), and 19 more Kís in four fewer innings.  Plus, heís been equally important to a team heading for the playoffs.  Joe Nathan by the slimmest of margins.  (And watch out Mulder and Pedro, by the way.)

 

National League Cy Young Award.  This one could have been downright brutal.  Think opening scene of Gangs of New York here.  However, if the season ended today, it would be a fairly easy call to give it to Jason Schmidt of the Giants.  Thatís because nearly every other elite starter in the NL has had some serious bad luck holding him back.  Ben Sheets is 9-10 and starting to fade, Randy Johnson is 12-11 on the last place Diamondbacks, the Perez boys (Oliver and Odalis) are 8-6 and 6-4, respectively, and Tom Glavine is 8-10.  Each of those pitchers have ERAís under 3.15.  Itís kind of creepy, really.  Even when we go to the pen, we see last yearís Cy Young, Eric Gagne, slipping just a bit.  Anyway, here are the guys that have realistic shots at it. 

 

1. Jason Schmidt.  There doesnít appear to be any stopping him.  After missing his first few starts recovering from surgery, Schmidt just went nuts.  Heís pitching for a winning team that seems to be hitting its stride.  Heís currently the best pitcher in the game, which is supported by these numbers: 15-4 (second best mark in the game), .188 OAA (best in baseball), 1.02 WHIP (4th in the majors), 193 strikeouts (3rd in the majors), and 2.52 (best in baseball).  Not only is he headed straight for a Cy Young Award Ė he should have won last year as well, by the way Ė but if he can rattle off five more wins without a loss to finish 20-4, heíll have one of the finest seasons of the last 25 years under his belt.  Right now, if my team was in a postseason Game 7, heís my first choice to take the hill.   

 

2. Randy Johnson.  Youíll probably get a fierce argument from Clemens supporters, but Randy has been the better pitcher.  Unlike the MVP award, it doesnít matter how your team plays, only how good youíve been as a pitcher.  And for The Unit, only his 12-11 won/loss record keeps him from having a legitimate shot.  After all, you donít see many Cy Young winners with double-digit loss totals.  (The exact total is eight in the last 23 years.)  However, itís not completely out of the question either.  In 1999 Johnson won his first of what would be four straight NL Cy Young awards with a 17-9 record.  With some luck, Unit could wind up going something like 17-12.  Add in his 2.80 ERA (3rd in the big leagues), .195 OAA (second in the majors), major league leading 216 strikeouts and .91 WHIP (would be fourth best WHIP in last 30 years), and the perfect game Ö well, itís not that much of a reach.

 

3. Roger Clemens.  Iím not a real big fan of The Rocket, nor am I a big fan of his 1.21 WHIP (18th in the majors), but he is 13-4 with a 2.92 ERA and is striking out a batter per inning.  Heís in the running, but heíd need to pretty much win out to catch Schmidt.

 

4. Armando Benitez.  You could make a case for Gagne (35 saves, 2.36 ERA), but my dark horse is Benitez.  Heís back from injury and looks fresh and dominant.  Plus, he already has great numbers to build on.  1.16 ERA, 36 saves in 39 chances, no balks (that was a joke), a .151 OAA, and a nasty .87 WHIP.  People are pretty much ruling out the Marlins in the NL East race, but if the Fish make a run and Benitez is slamming the door every 9th inning, he could make a legitimate case. 

 

American League MVP Award.  Ah, the AL MVP.  For the past several years, this is where the action has been.  Barry Bonds has been so incredibly good over the last three seasons that the NL award has been a runaway.  And it doesnít appear that anything will change this year.  Bonds is the clear choice in the National League, while several players can make a case in the Junior Circuit. 

 

1. Manny Ramirez.  Manny was my choice last year, but everybody screwed it up and gave it to A-Rod, despite the fact that he played for a last place team and put up all his numbers during garbage time.  Oh well.  Manny is right there again this year.  He is hitting .316 and leading the AL in home runs (33), OPS (1.026), and slugging percentage (.620).  Heís 3rd in RBI with 98.  Heís 10th in doubles with 34.  Plus, his attitude and leadership have improved dramatically.  Other than his often-bizarre defense in leftfield, there is no excuse to leave him out of the conversation this year.  If Manny goes nuts down the stretch and propels Boston into the playoffs, heís got to be the guy.

 

2. Vladimir Guerrero.  Heís never met a pitch he didnít like and heís the reason that Anaheim has hung in both the AL West and Wild Card races.  I still canít believe that New York didnít sign Vlad last winter.  Heís 7th in the AL in home runs (28), 4th in RBI (97), 4th in batting average (.324), 2nd in runs (95), and 3rd in hits (154).  Plus, heís stolen 10 bases in 13 attempts.  Heíll need to boost his OPS down the stretch and carry the Angels into the playoffs to get my vote, but itís certainly possible.

 

3. Gary Sheffield.  The Yankees slugger is flying into this race.  If it wasnít for the consistent greatness of Manny and Vlad, I might have made him the frontrunner.  As it is, heíll be in this conversation.  For starters, the Yankees are headed for the postseason and they will undoubtedly have the best record in the league, so that means that someone from their roster will warrant consideration.  A-Rod has been shaky at times, Posada is having pretty much an awful season, Giambiís season is a complete loss, and Jeter was on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the word ďslumpĒ prominently displayed.  Itís an easy call.  Plus, the guy has come out of nowhere with some very nice numbers.  He was pedestrian early, but check out his line: .300 average, 32 home runs (2nd in the AL), .971 OPS (4th in AL), 95 RBI (5th), 98 runs (1st), and 74 walks (1st).  So, his credentials speak for themselves.  However, what makes Sheff even more impressive is that heís become the leader of this team, heís playing through a shoulder injury so painful that it has him contemplating retirement, and heís coming on strong.  In fact, over the past month Sheffield has been one of the two or three best players in the game with 12 home runs, 26 RBI, and a 1.117 OPS.  If he keeps it up and Manny splits the Red Sox vote with Ortiz, Sheffield could be hoisting the trophy.

 

4. (Tie) David Ortiz and Travis Hafner.  Ortiz feels like a legit candidate.  Heís carried Boston at times and heís put up enormous RBI totals (107, good for second in the league).  Plus, heís hitting .306 with 31 home runs and a .977 OPS.  Granted, he doesnít play defense but the guy makes a solid case.  However, if you bring Ortiz into the discussion, you have to consider Hafner.  Heís been the biggest reason that the Indians have surged into the AL Central race and his numbers (.315/.996/23/91) are as good as anyoneís.  If he keeps it rolling and the Tribe can hang in against the Twins, Hafner will make a compelling argument.

 

National League MVP Award.  Letís get this over with and all feel very sorry for the St. Louis Cardinals. 

 

1. Barry Bonds.  What a bore.  Heís about to win the MVP award yet again.  Yawn.  Just to make sure there is no debate here, letís look at the numbers:

 

.371 batting average. Dueling Ichiro for the major league lead, which he currently has. 

 

100 runs.  Trails only Albert Pujols for the major league lead.

 

35 home runs.  Fifth in the big leagues despite the fact that heís had only 286 official at bats (second fewest official ABís in the top-20 is Jim Edmonds with 395).  He has more home runs than strikeouts (24).

 

.612 OBP.  Will shatter his own major league record of .589 set in 2002. 

 

176 walks.  91 of them have been intentional, obviously shattering another record.  Heís on pace for 226 walks, which will Ė everybody now Ė shatter his own record of 198.  Isnít this boring?

 

.822 slugging percentage.  This would be good for third all time.  (He also holds the number one spot with his .863 mark in 2001.)

 

1.434 OPS.  Would completely shatter his own all-time mark.

 

Heís hitting .386 with a 1.610 OPS with runners in scoring position.  Thatís in 57 official at bats Ö heís been walked the other 89 times.

 

With men in scoring position and two out in the inning, heís hitting .429 with a 1.879 OPS.  Heís been walked 74% of the time heís been in that situation.

 

What does it all add up to?  The MVP award.  Again.

 

2. Scott Rolen.  I love Pujols, but Iíve Rolen in the #2 spot because in my opinion heís the best defensive player in the game, at any position.  Plus, he leads the NL in RBI with 110, is 6th in hitting at .329, 6th in OPS at 1.038, 4th in runs with 93, and 8th in home runs with 31.  Heís headed toward having possibly the greatest season by a third basemen in the history of the game, for the best team in baseball.  Itís still not going to be enough.

 

3. Albert Pujols.  Another stud in St. Louis.  He leads the majors in and runs scored with 105 and is second in home runs with 38.  Plus, heís hitting .322 with a 1.046 OPS and has driven in 96 runs.  Oh the day when Barry retires! 

 

4. Adrian Beltre.  Apologies to Jim Edmonds who has been fantastic in Ė where else? Ė St. Louis (31 home runs, a 1.052 OPS which is good for 3rd in the majors, and more Gold Glove defense in center), but Beltre has been the difference in LA.  His emergence has taken their offense from atrocious to good.  Seriously, itís been pretty much just him.  Sure, the acquisitions of Milton Bradley and now Steve Finley have helped, but Beltre is the triggerman.  Heís hitting .333 with a 1.023 OPS and 39 home runs Ö and doing at all on a destroyed left ankle.  He deserves a ton of credit.

 

So there you have it.  There should be some good pennant races down the stretch, but letís not forget about the races for the individual awards as well.  I guess weíll just have to wait and see how I do.

 

Adam Hoff is a columnist for WhatifSports.com and can be reached by email at ahoff@uchicago.edu or by sitemail at adamo112.

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