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The 2005 Insider Baseball Awards,AL Edition

 

By Adam Hoff

 

The regular season is coming to a close and it seems that we are in for a treat.  The Phillies will be making one last ditch effort to catch the Astros in the NL Wild Card race, the Indians play the White Sox not for the Central division title but for a Wild Card berth, the Red Sox and Yankees battle for the AL East and possibly the Wild Card, and fantasy leagues everywhere are decided by random Tom Glavine gems (seriously, the guy threw a two-hitter with 11 K’s today – 11 K’s!  He hadn’t struck out more than eight hitters in a game in the last four years!).  Despite all this, we’ve got to throw on the breaks, stop enjoying ourselves, and engage in the time-honored tradition of debating the individual awards.  We must.  Here are my awards for the 2005 Major League Baseball season.  There are plenty of traditional categories but a few random entries as well.  We’ll do the AL awards today and the NL award tomorrow.  Enjoy, and remember one thing: these are the correct choices. 

 

(One warning, this is one of those “columns full of stats” as one reader put it.  Beware.)

 

American League MVP.  What a race!  Anyone who says that the AL MVP is an easy choice is either biased, confused, senile, old-fashioned, or Martin from The Apprentice.  That said, I have made my choice and it is David Ortiz.  I won’t get into all of the stats that he and A-Rod bring to the table, but it is important to highlight a few things that helped me make my decision.  First, as I was sitting down the write this column, Ortiz was jacking a monster home run over, well, The Monster to tie a must-win game in the eighth inning.  Second, as I was finishing the intro, Big Papi was coming through with the game-winning hit in the bottom of the ninth (hey, I took a break to eat some cereal, so no, it doesn’t take me 45 minutes to write an intro).  Third, allow me to play a little game called “remove the closer or remove the superstar?”  If you took A-Rod off the Yankees, they would still find the Aaron Boones and Aaron Smalls and other Aarons of the world to win their 90-95 games and close in on a playoff berth.  But if you took Mariano Rivera off the Yanks and tried to close games with Tom Gordon or Tanyon “I look so awkward on the mound because my name is Tanyon” Sturtze, you would have an absolute train wreck on your hands.  On the Red Sox side, if you took Big Papi off this team I have no doubt that they would be no better than 86-76 and setting up tee times right now.  If you took Keith Foulke off the team … oh wait, I think you see my point.  Ortiz is absolutely carrying that team on his wide back.  Fourth, people argue that Manny Ramirez is having a great year (true, monster numbers as always) and that he takes pressure off Ortiz.  What, Gary Sheffield sucks?  Hideki Matsui is an easy out?  Please.  A-Rod isn’t even the scariest bat in his lineup.  Fifth, the whole defense thing.  I understand that Ortiz being a DH is a problem, but it’s not that big of a deal.  They don’t give MVPs for defense or else cement-gloved players like Juan Gonzalez wouldn’t have them.  Anyone remember MVP Jose Canseco trying to catch a ball off his head?  Plus, while A-Rod plays a strong third base, he doesn’t dominant games with his glove.  If someone can give me a stat that proves A-Rod won at least six games purely because of his defense, then we can talk.  Otherwise, lets “stop being polite and start getting real” here and talk about what these guys do at the plate in the middle of the order.  That’s where you find value.  Sixth, and boy do I need to wrap this up because we’re headed toward “longest paragraph ever” territory, Big Papi does it when it counts. (See: points one and two.)  ESPN put up a graphic tonight that showed what Ortiz is doing when he comes to the plate with a chance to tie the game or give the Red Sox the lead in the seventh inning or later.  The numbers?  A .393 average, 7 home runs, 23 RBI on 19 hits, and a 1.193 OPS.  Crazy numbers.  I won’t post A-Rod’s in the same situation, because I don’t want to embarrass him.

 

Apologies to: Rodriguez, who really has had a great season, Manny Ramirez, Vlad Guerrero, and Travis Hafner. 

 

AL Second Half MVP.  Could we possibly name someone that wasn’t included above?  It’s hard to look past A-Rod and Big Papi because they were beasts in both halves, but I’m going with Victor Martinez of the Cleveland Indians.  Hafner gets the pub for driving the Indians’ offense, and rightfully so, but this is the guy that turned their season around.  He was struggling early and so where the Indians.  He surged late and they surged late.  That seems like a pretty good indication of value.  He has the post-All-Star break numbers to back it up: .385 average (leads AL by 50 points), 1.039 OPS (third in AL), and .452 OBP (leads AL).  Throw in 44 RBI and those are pretty impressive statistics.  Plus, not to talk out of both sides of my mouth with the whole defense thing, but he played a vitally important position and was largely responsible for guys like Lee, Millwood, and Sabathia finding their way in the second half. 

 

Apologies to: A whole bunch of people including A-Rod, Ortiz, Jason Giambi, and Mark Teixeira (a staggering 67 post-break RBI). 

 

American League “Quietly Good Player” Award.  Did you ever imagine that someone could hit 43 home runs and drive in 140 runs in the post-steroids era and draw virtually no attention?  That is what Mark Teixeira has done this season.  Thanks to the Rangers dramatic fade from the AL West race, people pretty much ignored the guy that is well on his way to being the best power hitter in the game. 

 

Apologies to: Richie Sexson (39 HR, 119 RBI in the ultimate pitcher’s park), Carl Crawford (.301 with 46 steals, 15 HR, 15 triples, 33 doubles, and 81 RBI from the leadoff spot – wow), and Michael Young (won a batting title hitting .334 with 219 hits, 113 runs, 91 RBI, 69 extra base hits, a .388 OBP, and a .521 slugging percentage). 

 

AL Breakout Player Award.  There were a lot of candidates here.  Too many to list in detail, in fact.  I’ll get their names in the “apologies to” section and just get straight to handing out this award to Grady Sizemore of the Indians.  What a stud.  He was thrust into early action when Juan Gonzalez went down with injury (also known as “the most predictable thing to ever happen”), was slotted as the leadoff hitter, and never looked back.  He ran the bases, worked the count, hit for power, and played incredible defense in centerfield, all while becoming a leader of this young Indians team.  Where would Cleveland be without him?  If you think Crawford’s numbers are impressive for a leadoff hitter, Sizemore is right there with him: .294, 111 runs, 22 stolen bases, 22 home runs, 11 triples, 36 doubles, and 81 RBI.  I wish I could buy about 15,000 share of “Grady Sizemore Stock.” 

 

Apologies to: Jonny Peralta (another young Cleveland star with 24 HR and a .519 slugging percentage), Brian Roberts (faded and lost last few weeks of season to injury but displayed power, speed, and hit for average), and Jorge Cantu (brutal .311 OBP, but hit 28 home runs and drove in 115 runs as a second basemen). 

 

AL Cy Young.  Last year Johan Santana absolutely boat-raced the field by putting up a series of numbers that had only been equaled twice in baseball history (by Sandy Koufax and Pedro Martinez).  This year?  We’ve got an ugly mess on our hands.  Let me go through and eliminate a few leading candidates before deciding between my final two choices.  You can’t give it to Bartolo Colon for a variety of reasons: Francisco Rodriguez is the best pitcher on the Anaheim staff; you can’t give the Cy Young to a guy with a 3.43 ERA and 1.16 WHIP, you just can’t; 21 wins is nice but wins are the most overrated stat in the history of sports (for a pitcher, not for a team, obviously); and for a power pitcher, 157 strikeouts isn’t a whole lot.  So he’s out.  All of the White Sox pitchers are done since Jose Contreras was clearly the ace by the end of the pennant race, and we’re not giving it to him.  Rich Harden would have been in the mix had he pitched more than half the season.  Really, it comes down to two guys: Santana and Mariano Rivera. 

 

I typically don’t like to tab closers for the Cy Young, but Rivera makes a compelling case.  He’s probably the MVP of the Yankees and the greatest closer in the history of the game, and he’s quietly having what might be the best season of his career.  And this after supposedly being “done” after he got lit up early in the season against the Red Sox.  His 1.40 ERA is almost a full run better than any other full-time AL closer, he strikes out more than a batter an inning, and he boasts 43 saves and a ridiculous .87 WHIP.  He’s been incredible.  Then there is Santana, who has all of the numbers except for that overrated wins total (he’s 15-7) that old school baseball writers salivate over.  “Give us 20 wins!”  It’s almost like some sort of crazy mantra for those guys.  If you could just look beyond that for a moment and check this out: 2.92 ERA (leads AL), 229 strikeouts (leads MLB), .98 WHIP (leads AL), 23 quality starts (leads AL), 9.17 K/9 (first in AL), .212 batting average against (leads AL), the list goes on and on.  What more can a pitcher accomplish?  In fact, that’s that: sorry, Mariano, but Johan Santana is my choice. 

 

Apologies to: Mariano Rivera. 

 

AL Second Half Cy Young.  Why specify a second half winner?  Two reasons: 1) People are always doing “first half awards,” so the guys that excel in the latter stages should get equal pub.  2) The Cy Young typically goes to the best pitcher, not the most valuable or clutch.  Recognizing the guy that turned it on for the final few months is a way to reward someone that got rolling when it mattered most.  So there you have it.  This probably isn’t a good place to start since it is going to the same guy, but this has to go to Johan Santana as well.   After going 13-0 down the stretch last year, Santana went 8-2 this year as he tried to single-handedly keep the Twins in the playoff chase.  He also posted a miserly 1.61 ERA with a .89 WHIP.  Incredible, really.  By the way, in case you aren’t picking up the trend, you might want to trade for Johan Santana around midseason in your fantasy leagues next year.  The guy is automatic once the calendar flips to July. 

 

Apologies to: Randy Johnson (everyone was too busy bashing him to notice that he went 7-2 with a .98 WHIP after the break) and Jose Contreras (emerged as the Sox ace, going an astounding 11-2 with a 2.96 ERA and an AL-leading 103 innings pitched in the second half).  

 

AL “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 Cliff Lee of the Indians, who went 18-5 with a 3.79 and 1.22 WHIP and somehow stayed completely under the radar. 

 

Apologies to: Nobody, really.  The American League was so hard up for good pitching performances that we had to start touting Colon and Mark Buehrle as Cy Young candidates. 

 

AL Breakout Pitcher Award.  Cliff Lee would probably qualify here as well, but I don’t want to go too far overboard on a guy with only 16 quality starts.  You probably have to go with one of the A’s hurlers here.  Danny Haren, Rich Harden, and Joe Blanton all stepped up big this year to team with Barry Zito and drive the A’s back into the playoff hunt.  Everyone knows how much I love Harden but he only threw 126 innings and was sort of expected to breakout this year, so I have to pass.  (But you have to get excited looking at those numbers – 116 K’s, 2.57 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, .200 average against – and wonder what he’s capable of if he can stay healthy.)  I’m going with Danny Haren and not just because he’s a former Pepperdine Wave, although that doesn’t hurt his case one bit.  He was 14-12 with a 3.73 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and ranked fifth in the league in strikeouts and second in quality starts.  Plus, he displayed the kind of live arm and tough mental makeup that is present in all dominant starting pitchers.  Apparently the A’s noticed as well, because baseball’s most frugal franchise just re-signed their young star to a four-year deal. 

 

Apologies to: Lee, Blanton (3.55 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 21 quality starts, but only 112 K’s in 197 innings), Harden, and John Lackey (13-5 and top 10 in both ERA and strikeouts).

 

American League Closer of the Year.  Do they still have the Rolaids Award?  Does anyone care?  I’m renaming it and giving it to Mariano Rivera, obviously.

 

Apologies to: Francisco Rodriguez. 

 

American League Rookie of the Year.  Remember back in the 80’s and early 90’s when there was always at least one stud rookie that made you think, “Man, I’m glad we have that award, because that dude is stud.”  With the exception the occasional Albert Pujols magic show, we never have that anymore.  I think it is due to the fact that so many players get called up and garner too many at bats to be official rookies the next year.  Guys like Grady Sizemore, Joe Mauer, and Jorge Cantu were all basically first year players, but because they got 100 at bats and change last year in the big leagues, they are ineligible.  Instead we are left with the great position player versus pitcher debate … and a relief pitcher at that.  On one hand you have Robinson Cano, the young second basemen of the Yankees.  He came up when the Yanks were looking old, sluggish, and hopeless, and he gave them a huge boost.  Then he sort of hit the rookie wall only to rebound with a monster September that has propelled New York into first place.  All told he is in the top 20 in the AL in batting average at .295 and has 33 doubles, 14 home runs, 74 runs scored, and 61 RBI.  Pretty good numbers.  He doesn’t walk much and the .318 OBP hurts his case, but he’s had a very good season.  On the other hand you have Huston Street of the A’s.  One year removed from pitching in the College World Series, he stepped in as Oakland’s closer and was just as responsible as the starting rotation for leading the charge back into contention.  He was 5-1 with 22 saves, a brilliant 1.63 ERA, and a .98 WHIP (joining only Rivera and Joe Nathan as AL closers with ratios under 1.00).  Those numbers aren’t just good for a rookie, they are good for anyone.  Give me Huston Street as the AL ROY.

 

Apologies to: Cano.

 

NL will up on Monday.

 

Adam Hoff is a columnist for WhatifSports.com and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers of America.  He can be reached at ahoff@uchicago.edu or by sitemail at adamo112.

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