Passing Out the Awards

I must admit that I've been pretty hard on sportswriters the past several years, especially when it comes to their record of handing out awards and honors.  This year, I do not envy them for the choices they will have to make because there isn't a single race for a postseason award that is cut and dry.  Although some of the choices are better than others, this year is not like last where the choices seemed so clear cut.  So here's my take on the candidates and maybe my 2 cents will help.

AL Cy Young Award

For most of this year, one name has been mentioned consistently as a candidate for the Cy: Esteban Loaiza.  In June, it was Pedro and Loaiza, in July it was Halladay and Loaiza and in August it was Hudson and Loaiza.  But regardless, the moderately surprising Loaiza has been the guy.  And deservedly so as he has been among the top starters in wins, ERA and strikeouts all season, despite getting little or no run support (2 runs or less) in 11 of his 32 starts.  Still, his shaky finish has left some doubts, so the race now comes down to him, Pedro and Roy Halladay.  Don't even start me off on Andy Pettitte, who's 6.74 runs of support per start, 2nd best in the American League is the primary reason he's won as many games as he has.  Loaiza, on the other hand, ranks 26th in runs support.  Like Pettitte, Halladay has been the beneficiary of good run support as well, but the difference is that he won 15 straight starts, leads the AL in innings pitched by a significant margin and is tied for second in complete games and first in shutouts.  In short, Halladay has carried that staff and the Blue Jays to a respectable record.

But he isn't my choice for Cy Young.  That vote belongs to Pedro Martinez with a caveat, which I'll get to shortly.  But Pedro leads the league in ERA by a comfortable margin, is first in strikeouts, and if not for numerous blown leads by the Boston bullpen, might be among the leaders in wins as well. 

The caveat I mentioned is a guy who could have been in the running, but was not given the opportunity.  He's had 30 starts between this year and last and in those starts his record is 19-7, with an ERA of 3.10, WHIP of 1.146 with 195 strikeouts.  Isolating this year, his ERA is 2.99 and WHIP is 1.016 as a starter.  But Johan Santana will get his opportunity next year.   The reason I mention him in this discussion is that the Twins starting pitching was in complete disarray until Santana was installed in the rotation.  Since then, they have been one of the best in the AL, going 44-20.

NL Cy Young Award

This has been an interesting race as well.  Let me eliminate one name right away: Russ Ortiz.  He is without question the most over-rated 20-game winner since Bill Gullickson.  He is 21st in ERA, 17th in strikeouts, and has pitched as many complete games this season as Garrett Stephenson, Wayne Franklin and Darren Oliver - 1.  Worse still, he leads the NL in walks allowed.  The primary reason he has won as many games as he has is, a) that he's received great run support (6.34 per game, 6th best in the NL), and b) his games have been finished by real Cy Young candidate #1, John Smoltz, who has blown just 3 saves this season and has an ERA of 0.88.  It's hard to imagine a reliever more dominating, but there actually has been one, in LA: Eric Gagne.  Gagne has yet to blow a save this season and has a streak dating back 59 games to last year.  He also has a very good chance of breaking Billy Wagner's record for strikeout rate, currently striking out 15.1 hitters per 9 innings, besting Wagner's mark of 14.9.  He is the primary reason the Dodgers still have life in the wild card race.  The Dodger offense is so anemic that if they make the playoffs, they will enter with the lowest scoring offense since the deadball era. 

But even his unbelievable effort is not enough to get my vote.  My vote goes to Mark Prior, who along with 17 wins and counting, is 2nd in ERA, just behind Jason Schmidt and is 3rd overall in strikeouts.  And he's done it with the 23rd best run support among NL starters.  But unlike Schmidt, he doesn't play in one of the best pitcher's parks in baseball.

AL Rookie of the Year

In an earlier column I suggested that Jody Gerut deserves to win this award, but the more I think about it, the more I'm inclined toward selecting a player on one of the contenders.  True, Gerut has posted a surprising year, although he has appeared a couple times on my lists for most productive minor league hitters.  And Mark Teixeira deserves some recognition as well, especially since he has a chance to match or surpass Eddie Murray's rookie record for most home runs by a switch hitter with 27.  Hideki Matsui deserves recognition as well, as he has handled the media in New York surprisingly well, but his numbers are largely the product of the line-up he's in.  Still, he's come no where near the power numbers that many predicted, but if you read this website with any regularity, this isn't a big surprise as this was easily predicted back in April.

No, my winner is the Royals' shortstop, Angel Berroa, who has posted similar numbers to the other rookies, but played a much harder position defensively and anchored the infield of a team that was in playoff contention until the last two weeks of the season.  The AL keeps getting richer with amazingly talented shortstops, don't they?

NL Rookie of the Year

The NL race looks like it's between 2 pitchers: Dontrelle Willis and Brandon Webb.  I would also include Brewer outfielder Scott Podsednik in the argument, but I don't believe he has much of a chance of winning because he has received so little national exposure.  Willis has certainly pitched well, and his wacky delivery and ebullience in the clubhouse have made him a media favorite.  Throw in a couple of brilliant outings in June and you have the makings of an award favorite. 

But the award should probably go to Webb, because without him, the D-backs would never have been within shouting distance of the playoffs at the start of September.  Once Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling went down with injuries to start the season, almost everyone wrote Arizona out of the race.  But Webb kept them in it with a consistent string of solid to excellent outings, allowing more than 3 runs in a game just twice this season.  No other starter in the majors with at least 20 starts can make such a claim.  His 2.50 ERA currently ranks 4th best in the NL.  Not only is he the best candidate for the rookie of the year, but he's a legitimate (although very much a longshot) candidate for the Cy Young.

I'm gonna save the MVP races until Thursday because they require much more examination and deserve a space all to their own.