It’s the end of the season, who should the award winners be this year? A number of the award races came down to the wire with some very tight races. The following are my picks for the American and National League MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year awards.
AL MVP – Miguel Cabrera
As the season wound down, two players came out as the favorites in the MVP discussion, Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers and Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers. Statistically, they were in a dead heat to each other. Josh Hamilton finished first in batting average (.359), fifth in home runs (32), twelfth in RBIs (100), second in OBP (.411), first in SLG (.633), and first in OPS (1.044). Miguel Cabrera finished second in batting average (.328), third in home runs (38), first in RBIs (126), first in OBP (.420), second in SLG (.622), and second in OPS (1.042).
While you might want to give some edge to Miguel Cabrera on the stats, there are several other considerations to consider. First, Josh Hamilton plays more important defensive positions, as he regularly played left and sometimes center field compared to Miguel Cabrera’s regular play at first base. On the other hand, Josh Hamilton barely played in the month of September as he was recovering from an injury. It’s sometimes hard to give an MVP to someone that basically missed a month of the season. Ultimately, this factor is why I’m giving the edge to Miguel Cabrera in the MVP race and making him my top pick.
People may note that Joe Mauer won the MVP in 2009 despite similarly missing a month of the year. So why are we giving the nod to Miguel Cabrera over Josh Hamilton? While Josh Hamilton lead the league in OPS like Joe Mauer did in 2009, Joe Mauer didn’t just lead the league in OPS, he owned it. In 2009 he lead the AL with a 1.031 OPS, which was .70 points higher than second place Kevin Youkilis. Josh Hamilton lead the league in OPS by beating out Miguel Cabrera by only .02 points and only .49 points ahead of third place Jose Bautista. To win the MVP while missing a month of the year, you need to really dominate the MVP race to make up for the lost month.
NL MVP – Joey Votto
As I discussed in my mid-season awards article, it’s almost cliche to pick Albert Pujols for the MVP. He’s won 3 NL MVP awards over the last 5 years, and he’s come in second place 3 other times in his career. However, Albert Pujols should fall short to his central division rival Joey Votto this year.
Joey Votto finished in the top three of virtually every offensive category in the NL. He finished second in batting average (.324), third in home runs (37), third in RBIs (113), first in OBP (.424), first in SLG (.600), and first in OPS (1.024). How close was Albert Pujols to Joey Votto? Pretty damn close. He finished sixth in batting average (.312), first in home runs (42), first in RBIs (118), second in on OBP (.414), third in SLG (.596), and second in OPS (1.011). While Albert Pujols did have more home runs and RBIs, he did fall short to Joey Votto on batting average, OBP, SLG, and OPS. While this race was really close, you got to give the edge to Joey Votto. He gets bonus points for leading the Cincinnati Reds to their first post season birth in ten years. Another bonus point you can give Joey Votto is his consistency over the entire year. He had an OPS over 1.000 for 5 of the 6 months this year and never had a month with an OPS below .900. Albert Pujols had an OPS over 1.000 in only 3 months, having an OPS below .900 in one month.
For those wondering about where Carlos Gonzalez is in this discussion, the answer is he shouldn’t be. Offensively he was near the top of most major offensives categories. He finished first in batting average (.336), fourth in home runs (34), second in RBIs (117), fourteenth in OBP (.374), second in SLG (.598), and third in OPS (.974). Those numbers are certainly great. While they aren’t enough to challenge Votto or Pujols for the MVP, normally folks would think it should put him in the picture. However, these statistics don’t tell the entire story. Carlos Gonzalez’s numbers were a definite product of playing at Coors Field. He had a 1.162 OPS at home, but a paltry .775 OPS on the road. That’s an OPS difference of .387 points. It’s hard to give Gonzalez MVP votes when he can’t play on the road. As a comparison, when Matt Holliday finished second in MVP voting in 2007, he had an OPS of 1.157 at home in Coors Field and .860 on the road. That’s still a significant spread of .297, but still not as as statistically biased as Carlos Gonzalez. As another comparison, when Larry Walker won the MVP in 1997, he had an OPS of 1.169 at home and a 1.176 OPS on the road.
AL Cy Young – Felix Hernandez
I have a bit of a confession to admit. In Felix Hernandez’s last start, I was secretly hoping that he would lose the game to fall to 12-13 for the year. I wanted it to be done to see if the Cy Young voters would still be brave enough to select Felix Hernandez for the Cy Young award despite having a losing record for the year (not to mention only 12 wins). Alas, he won his last start and finished with a 13-12 record. With the exception of wins, Felix Hernandez finished with the lead or close to the lead in virtually every other pitching category in the AL. He finished first with a 2.27 ERA, first with 249.2 innings pitched (12 more than second place CC Sabathia), a close second in strikeouts (1 less than Jered Weaver’s 233), second to Cliff Lee in WHIP, second in complete games, and first in quality starts. While there were great years by others such as Jered Weaver, David Price, and CC Sabathia, Felix Hernandez was clearly above the pack. It’s unfortunate that many Cy Young voters will not be able to look at anything besides the win column, because Felix Hernandez clearly deserves the Cy Young.
NL Cy Young – Roy Halladay
A number of pitchers had great years in the NL, however there are really only three candidates to consider for the NL Cy Young award. They are Roy Halladay, Adam Wainwright, and Ubaldo Jimenez. Josh Johnson, who lead the league in ERA, really isn’t under consideration with only 183.2 innings pitched for the year. Some may wonder why Ubaldo Jimenez should be in the discussion. While his overall numbers aren’t in the class of Adam Wainwright and Roy Halladay, he did pitch half of his games in Coors Field, so it is worth considering how he performed when he was away from Coors Field.
Lets first take a look at Roy Halladay and Adam Wainwright. They are neck and neck in virtually every pitching category. Adam Wainwright finished with a slightly better ERA to Roy Halladay (2.42 vs 2.44), while Roy Halladay had a slightly better WHIP (1.04 vs 1.05), a few more strikeouts (219 vs 213), and he did have one extra win (21 vs 20). Both had the same number of quality starts at 25.
Ubaldo Jimenez finished the year with 19 wins, 2.88 ERA, 214 strikeouts, 1.15 WHIP, and 25 quality starts. However, lets take a look at just his road stats. On the road, he a 2.63 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP. Those numbers definitely put him closer to Adam Wainwright and Roy Halladay’s numbers. If he didn’t pitched half of his games at Coors Field, it stands to reason he could have had a few more strikeouts and quality starts to lead the league in those categories, and perhaps make the contest even closer.
Ultimately, there’s one key differentiator that makes me give the award to Roy Halladay. Roy Halladay pitched an incredible 250.2 innings. That’s 20 innings more than Adam Wainwright’s 230.1 and 29 more than Ubaldo Jimenez’s 221.2. That’s over two full games more than Adam Wainwright and over three full games more than Ubaldo Jimenez. Performing at such a high level and being such a workhorse gives Roy Halladay that edge for the Cy Young award.
One might ask, if Ubaldo Jimenez had not pitched in Coors Field, could he have pitched more innings? No one will ever know for sure, but it’s doubtful. Jimenez actually averaged more innings per start at Coors Field than on the road (6.7 innings vs 6.6 innings).
AL Rookie of the Year – Neftali Perez
There were a number of good rookies this year in the AL. Austin Jackson had a solid rookie year, hitting .293, posting a .745 OPS, and played an incredible 151 games for the Detroit Tigers. Wade Davis and Brian Matusz both also had a solid rookie years for Tampa Bay and Baltimore. They posted 4.14 and 4.30 ERAs respectively and both pitched enough to qualify for the ERA title.
However, Neftali Perez of the Texas Rangers was the clear Rookie of the Year winner in the AL. Neftali Perez didn’t have just a good year as a closer, he was one of the best closers in the American League in 2010. In 69.1 innings, he had a 2.73 ERA, 40 saves, 71 strikeouts with only 18 walks, and a phenomenal 0.88 WHIP. How does that compare to the rest of the league? Amongst closers he had the third best WHIP, falling only behind Rafael Soriano and Mariano Rivera. He had the third most saves, only behind Rafael Soriano and Joakim Soria. Saves aren’t the greatest statistic in the world, since they matter so much on team. However, he had only 3 blown saves all year. That’s the best in the AL for any closer who had more than 17 saves during the year. His 69.1 innings pitched was also very impressive. That lead all AL closers who had atleast 8 saves.
NL Rookie of the Year – Jaime Garcia
Wow, the NL Rookie of the Year picture was far different than the AL one and far less clear. Amongst pitchers, you have one standout with Jaime Garcia of the St. Louis Cardinals. He finished the season with a 13-8 record and an amazing 2.70 ERA, that’s the fourth best ERA in the National League. That’s quite an accomplishment for a rookie, however, he only barely qualified for the ERA title with 163.1 innings pitched.
Amongst position players, there were a number of great rookies this year in the NL, but three separated themselves from the pack. Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants lead all NL rookies with an impressive .305 batting average, .505 slugging percentage, and .862 OPS. He did all this while handling 76 games behind the plate and helping the San Francisco Giants get into the playoffs. However, he only played four months out of the year. Jason Heyward of the Atlanta Braves played the majority of the year, had a .277 batting average, impressive .393 OBP, and .849 OPS. Starlin Castro just had enough at bats to qualify for the batting title and finished 10th in the batting race with a .300 average and a solid .755 OPS, all while playing over 120 games for the Chicago Cubs at shortstop.
As you can see from the above, it’s pretty hard to pick out the Rookie of the Year in the NL, as no clear candidate really stood out from the rest. The eventual tie breaker went to Jaime Garcia. He gets the nod for several reasons. First, he played the entire year for the St. Louis Cardinals, giving him extra points compared to Buster Posey and Starlin Castro. The second reason is his amazing 2.70 ERA. It’s one thing to be a rookie and have a good year such as Buster Posey, Jason Heyward, and Starlin Castro did. It’s simply another to rank fourth best in a major category such as ERA in the league.
“ESPN Statistics”, ESPN
“Baseball-Reference.com – Major League Baseball Statistics and History”, Baseball-Reference