Last year (not to pat myself on the back or anything) but I went 8 for 8 in predicting the end-of-season awards for MLB. In 2010 though, most of the major awards were relatively straightforward, even the Managers of the year being pretty obvious, so perhaps it wasn’t that great of a feat.
Here’s my predictions for 2011. There’s been enough discussion about these awards in the media, with enough differing opinions, that its going to be interesting to see how this plays out. This time through, there’s enough controversy about who really “deserves” the two MVP awards that I’ll be offering up some distinctions between who I think will win and who really should win. I wonder if sometime soon we won’t have to make that distinction.
- AL MVP: Who I think will win: Justin Verlander. In a year where none of the four playoff contending teams really had a break-out candidate, I think the voters will give it to a pitcher for the first time in 25 years. I don’t agree with it: I don’t think pitchers should be eligible for MVPs (a topic for a future blog-post), but Verlander’s season was clearly a step ahead of the normal pitcher’s season. As for Jacoby Ellsbury, his 30/30 season and his single-handed effort to drag his team into the post season almost earned him the nod, but when Boston missed the playoffs I’m guessing Ellsbury’s candidacy took a nose dive as well. Curtis Granderson’s fade in the 2nd half after a blistering first half costs him, despite a fantastic season overall. Adrian Gonzalez also started out w/ a monster first half, but faded down the stretch. Jose Bautista would get more consideration if he was playing for a better team. Miguel Cabrera quietly had a fantastic season but he’s completely overshadowed on his own team by Verlander’s great season. Who really should win? Batista if his team was relevant at all. He was clearly the best AL offensive player this year and put up historic stats. But, the modern MVP isn’t about guys who toil in the 2nd division. If they wanted to give the equivalent of a “Cy Young” to the “best hitter” in the league, Batista would be the winner hands down. The definition of the MVP comes into consideration yet again. Who probably would have won if his team didn’t collapse and miss the playoffs? Ellsbury.
- AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander, with a no-hitter and dominance day-in and day-out, first to 20 wins and the pitching triple crown. Jered Weaver, Josh Beckett get some 2nd place consideration (despite Beckett’s late season injury and subsequent beer and chicken distractions). James Shields became a new pitcher in 2011 and could get some top 5 votes. CC Sabathia will get votes since wins play so heavily. Felix Hernandez won’t get the votes he got last year. CJ Wilson had a great season leading Texas to back-to-back titles; thankfully for him the voting for this award came in prior to his post-season meltdowns.
- AL Rookie of the Year: Jeremy Hellickson had wins and a great ERA and should be the pick. Michael Pineda looked like a lock until fading in the 2nd half, but Hellickson’s toiling on the East Coast (media bias) and in the AL East (legitimately more difficult than the teams Pineda normally faced) gives him the nod. Mark Trumbo put up some comparisons to Wally Pipp for Los Angeles and gives the Angels another big bat going into 2012. Jordan Walden (closer for the Angels) had a fine season. Ivan Nova quietly put his name into the mix with a 16-win season. Justin Smoak, perhaps Dustin Ackley, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Aaron Crow could get mentions. Zack Britton started strong but disappeared in the 2nd half. There’s so many good candidates this year, the voting may be pretty close, and any of the above names could get some top-5 votes. But Hellickson should be the winner.
- AL Mgr: Joe Maddon’s magic show of a managing job, with a completely new bullpen, huge loss of talent and nearly halving of his team’s payroll from the 2010 version of the Rays yet still sneaking into the playoffs should be your winner. Manny Acta, who had the Indians in playoff position for a bit after last year’s 93-loss season in the first half, gets some consideration. You could mention the job Ron Washington did to get his team back to the WS despite losing his ace pitcher.
- (Unofficial “award”): AL GM: This award begins and ends with Andrew Friedman, who had the Rays in the playoffs with a payroll 1/5th of his competition. It just doesn’t get any better than that. Dombrowski in Detroit gets some credit for trades that paid off well, and Daniels in Texas gets some longer term credit for continuing to build a good young team.
- NL MVP: Who I think will win: Ryan Braun led his team to the playoffs and overshadowed his cleanup hitter down the stretch. Matt Kemp hit the cover off the ball all season but his team went nowhere during the season of the McCourts, and there’s little precedent for players from the 2nd division winning the MVP unless they have an outer-world season. Jose Reyes had a great (contract) year, but his team is faltering and he was hurt by injuries. And, his little ploy to guarantee the batting title on the season’s final day certainly turned off some BBWAA members. Andrew McCutchen had a breakout season but the Pirates swoon will cost him. Lance Berkman will get some consideration but will be difficult to select since he’s (arguably) the 3rd best player on his own team. Prince Fielder also had a monster year and could take votes away from Braun, but without a clear candidate in the competition I’m guessing Fielder comes in 3rd. Justin Upton came out of nowhere (as did his team) to put his name in the discusion and likely is a top-5 finisher. Who really should win? Kemp clearly, but for the same reasons Batista won’t win, neither will Kemp.
- NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw won the NL pitching “triple crown” (Technically, he tied for the league-lead in wins with 21) for a team with a losing record on the year. That’s tough to do. Roy Halladay, having his typical dominant year with 6 CGs at the break, certainly deserves the award but i’m guessing voters want to reward someone new. Cliff Lee isn’t having a half-bad season either. Cole Hamels and Jair Jurrjens should be in this conversation but tailed off in the latter part of the season. Ian Kennedy should get some 4th and 5th place votes for his fantastic season, finishing 21-4 for the surprising NL West winning Diamondbacks.
- NL Rookie: Craig Kimbrel, who broke the rookie-save record before the all star break and is one of the top closers in the game right now will win despite what people may think about saves and reliever value. Freddie Freeman is in the conversation. Phillies starter Vance Worley has come out of nowhere to go 9-1 to start the 2nd half. The Atlanta rookies (including Brandon Beachy) could go 1-2-3. Hometown candidates Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos certainly deserves some notice and may get a few 5th place votes here and there, but you can’t hit .230 and expect to win the ROY award.
- NL Mgr: Kirk Gibson in Arizona for a worst-to-first turn around. Clint Hurdle of Pittsburgh, with his 2010-worst team over .500 at the all star break is 2nd.
- (unofficial award) NL GM: Milwaukee’s Doug Melvin wheeled and dealt his prospects into two front-line starters and a first place team out of last year’s 77-win team. You can also give some credit to Towers in Arizona (though a lot of the work there was due to his predecessor).
Thoughts? There’s plenty of opinion pieces out there with these predictions, though most were published at the end of the season. Get ready for two weeks of award over-analysis as these awards are given out by the BBWAA starting November 14th.