Awards Week (Or, The Raybucks)

November 13

And now, we take a welcome break from talk of grand juries, witnesses, boards of trustees, and worse. That story in Happy Valley will certainly not go away, but to be honest I am simply spent talking about it. We will revisit in the very near future, but right now, a much more enjoyable topic.

Some major hardware will be handed out in Major League Baseball over the next week. That includes the coveted Raybucks, a special honor bestowed on this blog and nowhere else ( for a reason ).

Let’s take them in chronological order:

Monday 11/14 Rookies of the Year

There are enough good young players in both leagues to field competitive teams.

I think when all is said and done, the Royals’ Eric Hosmer might have the best career among the American League candidates. Along with Mike Trumbo of the Angels, Michael Pineda and Dustin Ackley of the Mariners, Ivan Nova of the Yankees, Jeremy Hellickson of the Rays, and the late-charging Brett Lawrie and Jemile Weeks, there are plenty of bright futures.

I think Hellickson will win, and he will also get a Raybuck as top AL rookie, barely edging out Pineda, Hosmer, Nova and Ackley. All of these candidates have strong selling points but to me it comes down to Pineda, Hosmer and Hellickson.

Pineda was 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA, but with better strikeout ( more than one per inning ) and walk rates than Hellickson and a much higher WAR ( Wins Above Replacement value ) at 3.4.

However, Hellickson’s opponents batted just .210 ( best among rookies, slightly better than Pineda ), he went deeper into games ( the 22-year-old Pineda was handled a bit more carefully ), and pitched more pressure games against tougher lineups. Pineda, despite better peripherals, had an ERA more than three-quarters of a run higher despite throwing in a pitchers’ ballpark ( SAFECO ).

Hosmer plays in relative obscurity in Kansas City, but that won’t last for long. He’ll be in the middle of a talented young lineup for years to come. He was named rookie of the month twice and despite being called up May 6th, still managed 19 home runs and 78 RBI with a .293 batting average.

In this toss-up I give it to Hellickson.

In the National League, the group is also very talented but I think the decision is much easier. Despite the Braves’ late-season collapse, Craig Kimbrel will get the honors, edging out players such as teammate Freddie Freeman, Vance Worley, Wilson Ramos and Danny Espinosa of the Nationals. More importantly, he also deserves a Raybuck.

Kimbrel struck out nearly FIFTEEN batters per nine innings, tied for the NL lead in saves and posted an impressive 3.2 WAR (Wins Above Replacement), best among NL rookie pitchers. He wins out over Freeman.

11/15 AL Cy Young Award

Not only will Justin Verlander win this, he might win MVP, the first starting pitcher to win both since Roger Clemens in 1986. Like Roy Halladay last year, he could be a unanimous winner, despite an impressive year by Jered Weaver of the Angels. That’s how dominant and important Verlander was for the Tigers.

Verlander performed well enough to earn two Raybucks as the top AL thrower.

11/16 AL, NL Mangers of the Year

Although “I don’t give two (bleeps) about whether I’m manager of the year,” Kirk Gibson will have a trophy dropped at his doorstep via FedEx if he doesn’t bother to pick it up. He will win NL honors for leading the Diamondbacks to the NL West title, a 29-game improvement from the year before. Certainly a nod should also be given to the front office, who brought in some good young arms and has developed a talented young core of position players.

Gibson will win out over Ron Roenicke of the Brewers, who enjoyed a 19-game improvement and went to the NLCS for the first time since 1982. The Cardinals’ Tony LaRussa will also get strong consideration for the way he led the Cardinals back from the dead into the postseason, and the rest is St. Louis history.

Gibson won’t even give ONE “bleep” about this: he won’t get a Raybuck. That will go to LaRussa, who kept the Cardinals together and focused when they were seemingly dead at the end of August. The Cardinals and Rays mounted two of the most remarkable comebacks in baseball history, climaxing in the “greatest night ever” that final Wednesday. Are we still talking about baseball ?

Honorable mentions: Bruce Bochy was a strong candidate for the way he held together the injury-riddled Giants, but their late-season collapse opened the door for Gibson and the DBacks to win. Charlie Manuel led the Phillies to the best record despite a ton of injuries, but he still had the finest starting rotation. Don Mattingly guided the Dodgers to a strong finish despite working in a nuthouse.

In the American League, Joe Maddon of the Rays will win Manager of the Year AND a Raybuck for the same reason LaRussa gets a Raybuck: leading a team back from the dead in the final month. Not to mention getting off the mat after an 0-6 start. And no, I’m not biased because of the team name.

11/17 NL Cy Young Award

Clayton Kershaw won the pitching triple crown (Wins, K’s, ERA — tied for lead in wins at 21 with Ian Kennedy ). Not only did Kershaw lead in the glamour categories, but he had the best WHIP among starters at .977. He also won a Gold Glove. History is on his side: in the seven previous times a pitcher has won the “Triple Crown” since the CY Young has been given out, that pitcher won the Cy.

I think Kershaw will win the Cy, edging out Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Ian Kennedy. He won’t get a Raybuck as the top NL pitcher, though: that will go to Halladay, by the slimmest of margins.

Halladay was 19-6 with a 2.35 ERA and an unbelievable 6-1 walk-to-strikeout ratio and had the highest WAR among all starting pitchers in the major leagues (8.2, a full win better than Verlander). Although Citizens Bank Park slightly favored pitchers ( thanks to the great starting rotation the Phillies employed ), it favored hitters more than Dodger Stadium.

Teammates Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels were just a tick below Halladay’s performance, along with the Diamondbacks’ Kennedy. Unlike Kershaw, all of the other pitchers named were pitching in pressure games in August and September. Also unlike Kershaw, Halladay didn’t get to pitch against the Giants six times in 2011.

If Kershaw wins the Cy, he should give part of his trophy to the punchless Giants: he went 5-0 vs. with a 1.07 ERA, 49 strikeouts and eight walks in 42 innings, with just 29 hits allowed against San Francisco.

By the way, would it surprise anyone to know that Matt Cain ( 12-11 ) pitched almost as well as Kennedy ( 21-4 ) ?

11/21 AL MVP

Justin Verlander did everything a pitcher could do to win the award, and I’m not prejudiced against pitchers winning. He led the Tigers to the ALCS and led the AL in these categories: winning percentage, ERA, innings, strikeouts and WHIP. but I think the Red Sox’ Jacoby Ellsbury is most deserving of the Raybuck as top AL player.

Despite the Red Sox’ late-season collapse, Ellsbury was at his best in September, capping off one of the best years a leadoff hitter has ever had. Ellsbury led the ENTIRE major leagues in WAR at 9.4. Get a load of these numbers:

He batted .321 with 119 runs, 212 hits, 46 doubles, 32 home runs, 105 RBI and 39 stolen bases. He was the first 30-30 player in Red Sox history. Basically, he brought more to the table than any player in the league.

Ellsbury also won a Gold Glove with a 1.000 fielding percentage in center field, and while the Red Sox were disintegrating in September, he batted .358 with eight home runs and 21 RBI in the final month. Ellsbury gets the Raybuck over major league OPS leader Jose Bautista, and the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera, second in the majors in OPS.

I think Verlander has a chance to win the MVP. No one led the league in as many categories as he did, so it would not be shocking if he gets the hardware. However, he is facing a very strong field that includes Ellsbury, Cabrera, Bautista, Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, and Adrian Gonzalez.

This one will be very interesting: some writers are simply averse to voting for pitchers as MVP, as great as Verlander was. I’m hoping they come to their senses and vote Ellsbury.

11/22 NL MVP

A very, very tight race between the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp and the Brewers’ Ryan Braun. Before I give you my choice, I’m going to smash something into a fine pulp right away: do NOT give me the argument that Braun had more “protection” in his lineup.

Kemp was definitely like Mt. Everest in the Dodgers’ lineup, but consider this: there were MORE baserunners on when Kemp strode to the plate this year, compared to Braun. To his credit, he did a lot with them, threatening to become the first Triple Crown hitter since 1967.

He managed 39 home runs and 126 RBI while being intentionally-walked 24 times. He did so while hitting in a ballpark that favors pitchers more than Miller Park, and actually hit slightly better at home. Braun got a nice bump hitting at Miller, with a 1.069 OPS compared to an also-impressive .926 on the road.

Kemp was simply awful in 2010, in addition to being the butt of Rihanna jokes. He was determined not to repeat that experience in 2011 ( baseball, not Rihanna ), and despite the dysfunction in the Dodgers’ ownership, he came out focused and on fire ( can you say, “contract year?” ) and stayed hot almost nearly all season. He also won a Gold Glove playing a more demanding position than Braun, although I think he’s somewhat overrated as a center fielder.

Braun led the NL in OPS while playing pressure-packed games down the stretch, as the Brewers reached the NLCS. His final day 0-4, and Jose Reyes’ bunt, cost him the batting title. He had 33 home runs and 33 stolen bases, and he also does a solid job in left field.

His teammate, Prince Fielder, was right behind Kemp in several major categories and had a .415 on-base percentage, knocking in 120 runs. The Brewers managed to make the postseason although he made the mistake of saying he might not return next year.

This was probably the toughest decision of all, and one could use the argument that Kemp didn’t play in meaningful games, as did Braun and Fielder. However, Kemp was so outstanding he merits equal attention.

He was the best player in the league, its most dangerous hitter, while playing in a division with tougher pitching rotations and while playing his home games in Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers were out of contention early but he didn’t stop playing hard, and is one big reason they amazingly finished above .500. Again, you couldn’t go wrong giving the award to Kemp, Braun, or Fielder, however …

I think Kemp will edge out Braun for MVP, and he will also earn a Raybuck. Giants fans would actually love it if Kemp wolfed down a thousand Raybucks before spring training.

So, recapping:

PREDICTED WINNERS:

KEMP, NL MVP … VERLANDER, AL MVP … KERSHAW, NL CY YOUNG … ELLSBURY, AL CY YOUNG …KIMBREL, NL ROY … HELLICKSON, AL ROY …GIBSON, NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR … MADDON, AL MANAGER OF THE YEAR

RAYBUCK WINNERS:

KEMP … ELLSBURY … HALLADAY … VERLANDER … KIMBREL … HELLICKSON … LARUSSA … MADDON.

I know you all will have your scorecards ready.

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