Time for the Insider Baseball Awards
By Adam Hoff
Everybody is doing it, so I suppose it’s time to get into the act. Here are my awards for the 2004 Major League Baseball season. There are plenty of traditional categories but a few new entries as well.
American League Cy Young. This is one of the easiest awards to hand out in recent memory. Johan Santana has been invincible over the past four months. I’ve been beating this into the ground, but it’s worth noting that if you put in the baseline stats in key areas of 20 wins (Santana is 20-6), 2.80 or lower ERA (2.61), 1.00 WHIP (.92), .200 BAA (ridiculous .192), and 10.0 K/9 (10.46) and search for pitchers that have achieved those numbers or better in the history of baseball, you will find only two other names … Pedro Martinez, who equaled those baseline stats in his most underrated season, 2002, and Sandy Koufax, who did it in 1965. That’s it! In the entire history of a sport that spans three centuries, there have only been three pitchers to ever do what Santana is doing this year. It’s completely mind-boggling.
American League Second Half Cy Young. This probably isn’t a good place to start since it is going to the same guy, but I thought it would be fun to single out the best second half performers in each category. Obviously, this goes to Johan Santana as well. He has had one of the best second halves to a season in the history of the game. He went 13-0 with a 1.18 ERA, .154 BAA, 124 K’s in 99 innings, and a .73 WHIP. To put those numbers in perspective, if they were his full season marks, he would rank eighth all time in ERA, first in BAA, and first in WHIP. Simply put, Johan Santana was quite possibly the best post-All Star break pitcher in baseball history.
American League “Quietly Good Pitcher” Award. We can’t all be Cy Young winners, but it feels appropriate to identify someone who just did a solid job with little or no fanfare. In the AL we’ll take Santana’s Minnesota Twins teammate, Brad Radke. The veteran starter has been completely overshadowed (understandably) but has “quietly” had a terrific season. He’s third in the American League in WHIP and ERA, fifth in the majors in the extremely important K/BB ratio, and third in the big leagues in quality starts.
National League Cy Young. This award was Jason Schmidt’s to lose in late August, but he fell apart for a stretch of three or four starts and had to kiss the hardware goodbye. I still feel that he’s the guy I’d want starting a big playoff game, but in any event, the award has come down to a race between Roger Clemens and my choice, Randy Johnson. Here’s the deal, Clemens is going to win. We all know that the win-crazy voters will never choose the guy with a 16-14 record over the pitcher with an 18-4 mark. What I also happen to believe is that they should. Not to take anything away from Clemens, but Randy has been far superior in every other important statistical category. His ERA is better by almost a third of a run per nine innings, he struck out more batters, walked fewer, allowed fewer hits, logged more innings, and made more quality starts. His WHIP, K/BB ratio, BAA, and K/9 aren’t even in the same stratosphere. In fact, as good as Santana has been (and we know that he’s been historically and almost inconceivably good), Unit actually has a better WHIP (.90, the third lowest mark since 1969 when they lowered the mounds) and K/9 (10.62). He also ranks second in the majors in ERA, first in WHIP, second in K/BB ratio, second in K/9, first in strikeouts, first in quality starts, and first in perfect games. Okay, so maybe that last one was a joke, I think you get the point. Plus, he received the fourth worst run support in baseball and either lost or received a no-decision in six different games in which he allowed only one run. The Cy Young Award is meant to go to the best pitcher in each league. As to who the best in the NL is – to quote Poppy from Seinfeld – “there can be no debate!”
National League Second Half Cy Young. You could take Clemens, Johnson, Zambrano, or even Jake Peavy here (we’ll get to him in a minute), but I’m going with a sleeper in Houston closer Brad Lidge. You can point to Clemens, Oswalt, and the offense if you want as the reason that the ‘Stros won the Wild Card, but I find Lidge to be the leader of that team. Since the All-Star break Lidge has been thrust into the closer role and has flourished with a 4-1 record, 21 saves, 1.45 ERA, .92 WHIP, and a positively ridiculous 15.58 K/9 ratio. In my opinion, he has emerged to join Gagne and Rivera as one of the three most dominant closers in the game.
National League “Quietly Good Pitcher” Award. Armando Benitez certainly deserves a look here, but he was mentioned briefly as a Cy Young candidate before the Marlins collapsed, so that rules him out. Neither Perez (strikeout master Oliver or No Decision King Odalis) gets their due and Ben Sheets got a raw deal going 12-14 despite being one of the five best pitchers in the game this year, but I have to go with young Jake Peavy for this one. He’s going to win the ERA crown with a 2.27 mark, he’s 15-6, and he’s a stud. Yet as my buddy Jeff noted, nobody except the Dodgers fans ever talk about Peavy (and that’s only because they are terrified of him).
American League Rookie of the Year. The ROY of the year awards are sort of boring, so we’ll get them out of the way here. I personally wasn’t all that impressed with Bobby Crosby this year, but they tell me that Lew Ford is ineligible, so I’ll go with the A’s shortstop. He did hit 22 jacks and played some sweet D. Plus, the walkoff home run the other night didn’t hurt his cause any.
National League Rookie of the Year. Look, I love Khalil Green. He’s got a cannon of an arm, a flair for the dramatic in the field, and was really coming on at the plate before breaking his finger. But there is just no way he beats out Jason Bay for this award. Bay barely reached 400 official at bats and still finished with 26 home runs, 82 RBI and the third best slugging percentage (.561) ever posted by an NL rookie. Get this one right, voters!
American League MVP. A month ago I thought this was a two-horse race between Manny Ramirez and Gary Sheffield. Two weeks ago I thought Manny was the clear choice (although I also remained certain that the media would never award it to him). Today, all that has changed. Thanks to a torrid final week of September, Vlad Guerrero is the American League MVP. For starters, he has the numbers to back up the award. He’s hitting .337 (fifth in the majors) with 206 hits (fifth), 126 RBI (fifth), and 124 runs (third). Not bad. You could still argue that Manny’s numbers are better (higher OBP, higher slugging, more home runs, more RBI), but the fact that Guerrero hit .519 with five home runs and a 1.779 OPS over the final pressure-packed seven games pretty much seals it up.
American League Second Half MVP. It’s almost impossible to pick somebody here. Miguel Tejada drove in 71 runs after the All-Star break. Gary Sheffield hit 20 home runs with one good arm. Mark Teixeira hit 20 jacks and was the driving force behind the Rangers wild charge down the stretch. Even “back from the depths” Carlos Delgado makes a case as his 22 home runs and 1.022 OPS both lead the AL in the second half. The list goes on. However, I’ve got to give it to David Ortiz. His numbers (1.009 OPS, 18 home runs, and 61 RBI) were rock solid. More importantly, he was the second half MVP of the Sox. And the truth is, both Manny and Ortiz deserve something. They have the best numbers in the American League (although as we mentioned, Vlad is close) and play for a 97-win team. So we’ll give the first half nod to Manny and the second half to Ortiz.
American League “Quietly Good Player” Award. It looks like it’s raining Red Sox in the last few categories as I’m going with Johnny Damon. Nobody really talks about him, but he’s been a beast at the top of the Boston order. You could make a case for Paul Konerko and his 41 home runs, but I like Damon for three reasons: 1) His well-documented flowing locks. 2) The “leadoff hitter things” that he’s doing, like the .304 average, .380 OBP, and 123 runs scored. 3) The “extraordinary leadoff hitter things” that he’s doing, like the 20 home runs and 93 RBI (leads all leadoff hitters by a mile). Who cares if he can’t throw?
National League MVP. Please. It’s Barry Bonds. If you need supporting arguments for this, please see pretty much every baseball column I posted this summer.
National League Second Half MVP. It should probably be Bonds again, but this is getting ridiculous, so let’s give Adrian Beltre some love. While playing on a bad ankle, he absolutely carried the Dodgers during the second half of the season. Beltre led the majors in post-All Star break home runs with 26, was third in hits (101), RBI (65), seventh in batting average (.357), and fourth in slugging (.686). Good thing for Adrian that this was a contract year, huh?
By the way, special mention to J.T. Snow here. The long-time fielding wizard and saver of small children broke out the big lumber down the stretch, ranking second (.387) in average and OBP (.496), and fourth in OPS (1.142) after the break.
National League “Quietly Good Player” Award. Mark Loretta gets a long look here for hitting .335 with 47 doubles, Todd Helton had the quietest .347 season in history, and Lance Berkman’s .316/.450/1.016 summer didn’t get nearly enough love. However, I’ve got to go with Aramis Ramirez. The Cubs’ third baseman was constantly overlooked and overshadowed this season, but he was easily the MVP in Chicago. In fact, you could argue that his ankle sprain in early September was the beginning of the end for the Cubbies. All told he hit .318 with 36 home runs and 103 RBI and half the time, everyone forgot he was even playing. Expect some serious turnover in Chicago this summer, but know that Ramirez will be slugging in the middle of the order again next year.
There you have it; the 2004 MLB Awards. Tomorrow I’ll make my bold (and stupid) postseason predictions. Oh yeah, one last thing …
Weekly Apprentice Commentary. The newest feature of the column (because I need to vent about this somewhere), I’ll be offering 100 words or less each week on my favorite reality show. This week we saw the demise of Jennifer C. and all I can say is that she was arguably the most annoying human being to ever appear on television. She rivaled Puck from the Real World, Whoopi Goldberg hosting the Oscars, John Kruk on Baseball Tonight, and Paula Abdul. That’s some pretty amazing company. Needless to say, she was a mess. Let’s hope that we’ve seen the last of her.
Adam Hoff is a columnist for WhatifSports.com and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers of America. He can be reached at email@example.com or by sitemail at adamo112.