Award Winners
September 22, 2005

There's still a little more than a week left in the season, but I thought I'd take a swing at the guessing who the post-season winners will be and who I believe should be. 

Barry Bonds will win the MVP in the National League... what?  he's only been playing for a week?  Well, you couldn't tell from the amount of fawning over him that's been going on in the media.  About the only time he doesn't get obsequiously praised is when he sits out a day game after a night game.  Then, for some reason, he becomes a villain for not helping his team out in the pennant race.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but the Giants are 5 games out with 10 games left.  That doesn't really qualify as being in a pennant race, especially since Gene Mauch isn't around any more.  As for Bonds, he isn't the first great player who put himself before the team. 

But I digress... I'm supposed to be talking about this year's MVPs.  The candidates in the NL are Andruw Jones, Albert Pujols and Derrek Lee.  Lee and Pujols are #1 and #2 in batting average, Jones is the league leader in homers and RBI.  Lee is #2 in homers, Pujols #3 and they are #7 and #6 in RBI behind Jones.  Pujols and Lee are #2 and #4 in on base and #s 2 and 1 respectively in slugging with Jones 4th.   Voters gravitate to players on teams that make the playoffs so the likely result will be between Pujols and Jones.  But what is "most valuable"?

My definition of most valuable is the player who was most indispensable but also in an objective sense, most productive.  So if a guy like Alex Rodriguez is by far and away the most productive player in the league as he was in 2002, I don't care that he was on a bad team.  He still should win the MVP.  Miguel Tejada won the award that year, and after seeing him play regularly the last couple of years I can see why writers voted the award for him.  But seriously - how bad would the 103-win A's have been without him?  Isn't it probable that they would have made the playoffs on the strength of Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, Eric Chavez and a productive Jermaine Dye?  How bad would the Rangers have been without ARod?  Would they have won 60 games without him with a rotation of Kenny Rogers, Chan Ho Park, Ismael Valdes, Dave Burba and Rob Bell?  Hideki Irabu led the team in saves for crying out loud.  Herbert Perry was their 4th most productive hitter.  They got a total of 44 home runs and 188 RBI from their top four outfielders and their DH combined in a hitter's park.  That averages to 9 homers and 38 RBI from what are usually a team's most productive positions.  This was a truly awful team, yet still managed to win 72 games in no small part because ARod was awesome that year.  So yes, it's acceptable for an MVP to come from a last place team.  And while I don't count against a player on good team for having good teammates, they should figure into the equation as to why his team is good.

Derrek Lee has gotten little or no help this season and as a result, the Cubs are a long ways from being good.  Albert Pujols has had a comparable year to Lee, and even though Scott Rolen has been injured for much of the season, can one really discount the contributions of Chris Carpenter, Matt Morris, Mark Mulder and Jim Edmonds to the Cardinals' success?  More to the point, would the Cubs be in the playoff hunt if they had a healthy Mark Prior and Kerry Wood all year?  Is that a trick question?  A more interesting question to ponder is would the Cubs be in contention if Dusty Baker weren't their manager? 

Andruw Jones hasn't had the year the other two have in terms of on base and slugging, but I don't believe anyone outside of David Ortiz has more game-changing or game-deciding hits this season than Jones.  And who exactly have been Andruw Jones' partners in crime this season?  Chipper Jones has been sidelined by injuries.  Marcus Giles and Rafael Furcal have been decent but the rest of the offense has been largely made up of rookies.  The only constant in the rotation has been John Smoltz.  If there's a player who's team is winning because of him and wouldn't be winning without him, it's probably Jones.  Throw in that he plays a more demanding defensive position than Lee or Pujols and he plays it better than anyone else in the league and the guy I'd vote for is Jones.  I wouldn't say the margin is significant and I won't disagree with the strong arguments for the other two players nor would I say the vote is final because with a little more than a week to go in the season there is plenty of baseball left for one guy to get hot enough to change my mind.  But for me right now the choice is Jones.

In the AL, the choice is between David Ortiz and ARod.  Both players enjoy ample supporting casts so the team context is moot.  I don't think anyone has had more game-winning or dramatic hits than Ortiz this season.  Is it me or does it seem like just about every game the Red Sox win, it's Ortiz delivering the margin of victory?  But he doesn't play the field.  Since his overall offensive numbers aren't that different from ARod's, the guy who also plays defense everyday - and plays it very well - gets the edge over Ortiz' dramatics.

I can see the argument for Roger Clemens as the NL Cy Young winner and I'm not a particularly big fan of wins as a significant factor in who gets the award, but Chris Carpenter should get the hardware.  He's pitched 26 more innings than Clemens; that's nearly 3 complete games worth.  Lesser pitchers (almost by definition) have to pitch those innings for the Astros when Clemens is out thus giving the opposition a better chance to win the game.  For me, the Cy Young winner should be the guy who gave the opposition the least opportunity to win, and this year that guy is Carpenter.  He's tied for the league lead in complete games, second in shut-outs and second to Clemens in ERA.  The league leading wins total is just icing on the cake.

In the AL, it's a similar story.  Bartolo Colon leads the league in wins while Johan Santana leads in WHIP and strikeouts and has a good chance to finish the season first in ERA.  Santana is still the AL's best pitcher, but unfortunately he hasn't gotten much run support from the Twins.  To give you an idea of how good he's been, since the All-Star Break he has a 1.64 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP.  That's not too far off from what he did last year when he ran away with the Cy Young award: 1.21 ERA, 0.75 WHIP.  The biggest difference between this year and last for Santana is that he's only gone 7-2 as opposed to 13-0 in the second half.  But Colon is the guy who will win.  Not only does he lead the league in wins (and as far as the voters are concerned six more than Santana), but he's also second in WHIP and 4th in ERA.  Plus there isn't a great difference in the innings pitched between them.  That should be good enough for the hardware.

The talk of the manager of the year races in the NL revolve around Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa.  But has anyone considered how much the Nationals have achieved?  This is a team that won 67 games last year yet they stayed in the playoff race this year until the final two weeks of the season.  I'm not saying that Frank Robinson should win; only that the discussion should include more than the two managers most often mentioned.  How about the job Phil Garner has done in Houston keeping them in the playoff race despite as dismal start and the offseason losses of Carlos Beltran and Jeff Kent?  Or the job that Ned Yost has done in Milwaukee?  That the Brewers are in 3rd in the NL Central and looking like a real contender for the division crown next year is a testament to the terrific job he and his staff have done. 

But the guy I'd vote for is Bruce Bochy.  Yeah, the NL West has been weak, but consider that the Padres lost their #2 starter (Adam Eaton) for two months, their leading hitter (Mark Loretta) from last year as well as their starting catcher (Ramon Hernandez) for two months each, their starting shortstop (Khalil Greene) for a month and have had been so desperate to find starting pitching for the bottom of their rotation that they actually traded for Chan Ho Park.  It's highly likely that only one player (Brian Giles) will finish with more than 450 at bats.  The #3 and #4 highest win totals on the pitching staff are owned by relievers.  Their record isn't impressive especially for a team bound for the post-season but someone had to win the West and Bochy did an excellent job of guiding his team through adversity and making sure that it was the Padres. 

In the AL, there's no question that the AL Manager of the Year has to be Buddy Bell.  But seriously, the award will probably go to Eric Wedge because of Cleveland's historic second half charge.   Still, one has to wonder how much of their success is due to the schedule.  They finished most of the their games against the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels and A's in the first half, affording them a schedule replete with Tampa and Kansas City in the second half.  The White Sox had the just opposite.  So it's shouldn't be that surprising that the two teams' records converged in the second half.  The surprise is by how much they've closed.  The alternative to Wedge would probably be Ozzie Guillen, but if his team doesn't win the Central after leading the division by 15 games at the beginning of August, or worse misses the playoffs, then there's no way he can win. 

Two other options, and I think stronger choices are Ken Macha in Oakland and Mike Scioscia in LA.  Scioscia has managed to lead the AL West despite losing Vlad Guerrero for a month and Kelvim Escobar for most of the season.  However, little was expected of the A's this season after the offseason losses of Mulder, Hudson and Dye and even less when new staff ace Rich Harden was sidelined with injuries, yet the A's are contending for the playoffs with a pretty young team.  In addition, the A's have been in contention despite a woeful start to the season, injuries to Bobby Crosby and Mark Kotsay and a season from Jason Kendall in which he has yet to hit a home run.  Three of the A's starters began the season with fewer than 10 career major league starts.  That this team is contending at all is pretty impressive.  My vote would go to Macha even if the A's miss out on the playoffs.