I was going to review the first half of the NFL season this week, but frankly the team I want to review the most, the Steelers, are still quite an enigma in many ways – I want to see what happens this week against the Ravens. Also, with the bye weeks several teams haven’t actually played half their schedule yet, so we’ll get to that next week. This week, we’ll briefly preview baseball’s major awards, the contenders, and both who I think SHOULD win, and who I think WILL win. We’ll start with the rookies.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
National League contenders:
Braves RHP Craig Kimbrel: 77 innings, 48H, 32BB, 127K, 2.10 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 46 sv
Braves 1B Freddie Freeman: .282/.346/.448 (avg/obp/slg), 21HR, 53BB, 142K
Phillies RHP Vance Worley: 21 starts, 131 innings, 116H, 46BB, 119K, 3.01ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 11-3 W/L
Strengths/Weaknesses of each: Freeman has a lot of pop and should continue to develop, but his walk/strikeout ratio is worrisome and 22HR from a first baseman isn’t that great. Worley’s ERA and WHIP are excellent, and he’d be a serious contender most seasons, but his innings are low for a starter and his walk total was a bit on the high side. Kimbrel was utterly dominant until the very end of the season, and while I think the closer title is overrated he was extremely valuable to the Braves and one of the main reasons they almost made the playoffs. Some voters will mark him down for his meltdown in the final game of the season, but I’m loathe to count any one game as too big of a negative, especially since the youngster was almost certainly fatigued (something to watch going forward, as I think Kimbrel is a high injury risk the next season or two because of this).
Who I think SHOULD win: Kimbrel. I generally value starters more than relievers because they throw so many more innings, but Kimbrel’s dominance is impossible to ignore in this case. 127 K’s in 77 innings is ridiculously good. Worley 2nd, Freeman 3rd.
Who I think WILL win: Kimbrel in a landslide. The voters overvalue closers in general, and in this case the gaudy save total will win the day for Kimbrel. I think the voters might put Freeman2nd, but it will be close.
American League contenders:
Yankees RHP Ivan Nova: 165 innings, 163H, 57BB, 98K, 3.70 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 16-4 W/L
Mariners RHP Michael Pineda: 171 innings, 133H, 55BB, 173K, 3.74 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 9-10 W/L
Angels 1B Mark Trumbo: .254/.287/.466, 312B, 29HR, 89RBI, 26BB, 128K
Royals 1B Eric Hosmer: .293/.334/.465, 272B, 19HR, 34BB, 82K
Rays RHP Jeremy Hellickson: 189IP, 146H, 72BB, 117K, 2.95ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 13-10 W/L
Strengths/Weaknesses of each: Trumbo showed the most power, but his complete lack of plate discipline and corresponding low average will cost him with the voters. Hosmer is the better long-term bet, but a .290 average and 19 HRs aren’t eye-grabbing stats for the voters either. Pineda’s peripheral numbers are excellent, but a losing record and a relatively high ERA will keep him from winning – watch out for this kid though, he’s a Cy-Young contender if he stays healthy. Nova had the great record, but he allowed almost a hit per inning and his strikeout/walk ratio was very poor – he also was demoted mid-season, which the voters won’t like. Hellickson’s ERA was sterling and he threw the most innings, but 72 walks in 189 innings is a bit on the high side, and 117 K’s is a low total – albeit one that will not affect the voting much.
Who I think SHOULD win: Had Pineda finished stronger he’d have definitely had my vote, but he faded badly in September and no matter how you slice it, a 3.74 in Seattle’s spacious field isn’t great. I’d go with Hellickson because he threw almost 200 innings for a playoff contender and put up reasonable peripheral numbers – he has to walk less and strike out more to retain his effectiveness, however. Pineda would be #2 for me, Hosmer #3, Nova #4.
Who I think WILL win: This might be close because of Nova’s gaudy record, but I think Hellickson will win a close race. Nova’s W/L will get him #2, followed by Trumbo (chicks AND voters dig the longball), Hosmer, and Pineda.
National League contenders:
Diamondbacks RHP Ian Kennedy: 222IP, 186H, 55BB, 198K, 2.88 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 21-4 W/L
Dodgers LHP Clayton Kershaw: 233IP, 174H, 54BB, 248K, 2.28 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 21-5 W/L
Phillies RHP Roy Halladay: 233IP, 208H, 35BB, 220K, 2.35 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 19-6 W/L
Braves RHP Craig Kimbrel (see above)
Strengths/Weaknesses of each: We talked about Kimbrel already, but it’s worth noting that aside from his strikeout rate, he basically did in 77 innings what Halladay and Kershaw did in 230+ innings. Kennedy will get extra credit for being the glue of the DBacks’ playoff-bound rotation, and for playing in a tougher park than Halladay or Kershaw. Halladay has the ‘career’ tiebreaker of sorts, in that he’s been so great for so long – he gave up more hits than the others, but his strikeout rate was excellent and his walk rate was historically good. Kershaw was the most dominant, but he might lose votes because of his pitcher-friendly home park and (more likely) because his team was never a factor in the playoff race.
Who I think SHOULD win: This is SO close. Originally I thought Kershaw was the clear winner, but when I looked at his splits Dodger Stadium helped him more than I expected – his home ERA was 1.69, road ERA was 2.87 – he gave up 44 runs and 10HR on the road, exactly twice his home numbers on both counts. On the other hand, his road strikeout rate was higher and his road numbers were still excellent. Halladay, on the other hand, was better on the road than at home – 2.48 home ERA, 2.23 road ERA. The consistency and the added pressure of a playoff push puts me in Halladay’s camp, although if the voters choose Kershaw I wouldn’t complain one bit. However, if they choose Kennedy or (unlikely) Kimbrel, I’d be disappointed – Kennedy’s numbers were very good but were inferior to Halladay and Kershaw at every turn, and no reliever should contend when there are such excellent starters to choose from.
Who I think WILL win: Call it a hunch, but I think Kershaw will win. He has the better overall ERA, the better won/loss record, and I think the voters tend to take the ‘new guy’ when faced with a legitimate choice (see Pujols’ MVP votes the last decade for proof). Halladay will finish a close 2nd, followed by Kennedy.
American League contenders:
Tigers RHP Justin Verlander: 251IP, 174H, 57BB, 250K, 2.40 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 24-5 W/L
Angels RHP Jered Weaver: 235IP, 182H, 56BB, 198K, 2.41 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 18-8 W/L
Yankees LHP CC Sabathia: 237IP, 230H, 61BB, 230K, 3.00 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 19-8 W/L
Rays RHP James Shields: 249IP, 195H, 65BB, 225K, 2.82ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 16-12 W/L
Strengths/Weaknesses of each: Sabathia pitches in a hitter’s park, but gave up too many hits to be considered dominant. I put Shields and Sabathia together on purpose – Shields was superior in every category except strikeouts and won-loss record, yet I predict that BECAUSE of that record he will receive almost no support…had he gone 19-9, you’d be hearing a lot more about him, and that’s a shame. Weaver’s season was excellent and would normally win – the only small weakness was a low strikeout rate – but Verlander had a dominating season in every way, he really had no weaknesses this season.
Who I think SHOULD win: Easiest call of the day is Verlander, he threw the most innings, gave up the fewest hits, led in K’s, ERA, and WHIP, and had the sterling 24-5 record to boot. Weaver vs. Shields is a very close call – in the end I’ll go with Weaver’s better ERA over Shields’ extra innings, but I can understand the reverse call. Sabathia is a distant 4th for me.
Who I think WILL win: Verlander, and he’s got a great chance to be the unanimous pick. Weaver will probably get 2nf, Sabathia 3rd, and I’ll bet Shields gets almost no support.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
National League contenders:
Brewers LF Ryan Braun: .332/.397/.597, 38 doubles, 33HR, 111RBI, 58BB, 93K, 33 steals
Dodgers CF Matt Kemp: .324/.399/.586, 33 doubles, 39HR, 126RBI, 74BB, 159K, 40 steals
Brewers 1B Prince Fielder: .299/.415/.566, 36 doubles, 38HR, 120RBI, 107BB, 106K
Strengths/Weaknesses of each: Fielder had the best on-base percentage, but its close, and he’s by far the worst defender of this group. Both he and Braun play in a hitter-friendly park and both hit substantially better at home than on the road, and being teammates they might ‘split’ the Brewer vote – but both will likely get ‘bonus’ voter points for being in a playoff race. Braun has the best arm, the highest average, and seems to me to be the best ‘pure’ hitter of the bunch. Kemp matched Braun in nearly every category including steals, posted numbers slightly better on the road than at home, and played the hardest defensive position and played it well. Kemp will lose points for not being in contention.
Who I think SHOULD win: Kemp, and frankly it’s not as close as you might think – I dock fielder points for his home/road splits and his poor defense/lack of speed, and I dock Braun for his home/road splits as well. Kemp grades out slightly better on offense than Braun for me, but gets extra points for playing center and for playing in Dodger Stadium. I’d list Braun 2nd and Fielder 3rd based on defense and speed.
Who I think WILL win: I think Braun will win, the voters traditionally do not reward greatness on non-contending teams, and they also tend to not take defense/position/park into account much. Kemp will finish second because the Brewer vote WILL get split and because the voters DO like homers and RBIs (Kemp led the NL in both). Braun is not a bad choice, he had a fine season, but he’s not the BEST choice in my opinion.
American League contenders:
Tigers 1B Miguel Cabrera: .344/.448/.586, 48 doubles, 30HR, 105 RBI, 108BB, 89K
Red Sox CF Jacoby Ellsbury: .321/.376/.552, 46 doubles, 32HR, 105 RBI, 52BB, 98K, 39 SB (caught 15 times)
Jays 3B Jose Bautista: .302/.447/.608, 24 doubles, 43HR, 103 RBI, 132BB, 111K
Yankees 2B Robinson Cano: .302/.349/.533, 46 doubles, 28HR, 38BB, 96K
Strengths/Weaknesses of each: Cano gets bonus points for being a second baseman, but his walk rate is low and his other numbers pale in comparison to the other contenders. (Note: his teammate Curtis Granderson led the league in RBI and hit 41 HRs, but his low average will preclude him from real contention, I believe). Jose Bautista led the league in homers and slugging%, and he was pitched around all season, but I believe his team’s failures will drag down his vote totals. Ellsbury had a breakout season and is a strong contender – his combination of average, power, speed and defense makes him the most well-rounded candidate, with no obvious weaknesses, but the Sox’ collapse might cost him votes and his teammate Adrian Gonzalez might take some of his votes as well. Cabrera plays the easiest defensive position, has no speed anymore, and is viewed negatively for some of his off-field behavior. He also might lose votes to teammate Justin Verlander…but he was the best HITTER in the league. He led in average and on-base%, and while he hit ‘only’ 30 homers he also played in the toughest home park for home runs of any contender.
Who I think SHOULD win: I think it’s very close to a tie between Ellsbury and Cabrera – Ellsbury pulls ahead on defense, but Cabrera’s superior average and OBP (70 points of on-base percentage counts for a LOT with me, it’s the same as the difference between a .320 hitter and a .250 hitter) draw him even. In cases like this, I do use playoffs/team performance as a tiebreaker, so I’d give the nod to Cabrera SLIGHTLY over Ellsbury, with Bautista a very close 3rd and Cano 4th.
Who I think WILL win: I don’t have much of a read on this race – I THINK Cabrera will win it, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see Ellsbury pull it out if Verlander gets more support than I expect and splits the Detroit vote. Either way, I expect to see Bautista in the top 3 or 4.
Next week, we’ll finally get to the NFL midseason review!
Dave Glass can be reached at email@example.com.