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Tag:2011 awards
Posted on: September 9, 2011 3:05 pm
Edited on: September 9, 2011 4:18 pm
 

Who is frontrunner for AL Manager of the Year?

Leyland
By Evan Brunell

During the week, Eye on Baseball will be profiling candidates to win baseball's major awards after the season. Today: the AL Manager of the Year

View contenders for the: AL MVP | NL MVP | AL Cy Young | NL Cy Young | AL Rookie of the Year | NL Rookie of the Year

Manager of the Year voting is fairly unique in all of baseball's modern awards. Winning a lot of games gets you immense credit, but not if you've been on a winning streak for some time. That's why Terry Francona has yet to win the award despite already ranking as Boston's best skipper in franchise history -- unless you consider it Joe Cronin, who never won a ring. Manager of the Year voting is largely awarded to those who succeeded with teams that weren't thought to be contenders. That influences the list of five skippers below, listed alphabetically. (Only three names can be listed on a ballot.)

Manny Acta, Indians
Current record through Sept. 8: 70-71
2010 Indians record: 69-93

Acta is certainly a prime candidate for the award, as no one expected the Indians to get this relevant quickly. After trading one losing situation for another when being fired in Washington, Acta's stature is on the rise. Known as a skipper who studies sabermetric concepts, Acta is also known for his enthusiasm and has many fans in the game. Acta has seen an Indians team survive no shortage of injuries that cut its Cinderella season short, but put baseball on notice that the Indians are a team to take seriously.

Terry Francona, Red Sox
Current record: 85-58
2010 Red Sox record: 89-73

As mentioned above, Francona has never won an Manager of the Year award. At this point, Boston's success is expected, which sets Francona back in his chances to win the award, especially when the offseason saw two high-flight acquisitions join the offense after missing the postseason in 2010. But Francona's work so far this year should be commended, as the team weathered a 2-10 start to sit atop the division for periods at a time. The team has been hit hard by injuries in the pitching staff, but the team has been able to keep it together. It can't be easy to manage a team as loaded as the Red Sox, weighed down by all expectations, but Francona has been able to keep the team free of controversy and focused on the prize.

Jim Leyland, Tigers
Current record: 81-62
2010 Tigers record: 81-81

Unlike the Red Sox, the Tigers had fairly minimal turnover aside from the blockbuster signing of Victor Martinez. Yet, the team has already matched its wins total from 2010 and has the division in hand, setting the team up for just its second playoff appearance since 1987. The other time making the playoffs was Leyland's first year in Detroit, when the team won the AL pennant before falling to the Cardinals. Leyland's done all this despite having to put a fire out in spring training when Miguel Cabrera was arrested for a DUI. The resulting effects could have torn the team apart, but it didn't. When you combine the Tigers' success plus Leyland's stature in the game, you get the mix of someone who should be considered the frontrunner for the award.

Joe Maddon, Rays
Current record: 78-64
2010 Rays record: 96-66

Yes, Maddon's team has taken a clear step back. Just a year after winning the division title, the Rays are slated to miss the playoffs by a fairly significant margin. And yet, this year has to be considered a success. Tampa Bay was clearly out of the race from Opening Day thanks to the presence of the Yankees, a beefed-up Sox team and a Rays club that saw the subtraction of Carl Crawford, Matt Garza and nearly the entire bullpen. Yet, here the Rays are, 14 games above .500 and with an outside shot at the wild card.

Mike Scioscia, Angels
Current record: 78-65
2010 Angels record: 80-82

Scioscia has already won the award twice -- 2002 and 2009 -- but could be adding a third. Despite having to contend with another season without Kendrys Morales and GM Tony Reagins foisting Vernon Wells onto him, Scioscia has the Angels threatening to take away the Rangers' division hopes. Scioscia isn't without his warts, as his insistence on playing catchers who couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with a bat shows, but he's clearly doing something right. The Angels have long overperformed with Scioscia at the help and this year is no different with a below-average offense being shored up by a trio of pitchers in Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana.

Let us know in the comments who your AL manager of the year is.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeonBaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: September 8, 2011 9:20 pm
 

NL East has league's best rookies



By C. Trent Rosecrans

During the week, Eye on Baseball will be profiling candidates to win baseball's major awards after the season. Today: the AL Rookie of the Year.

View contenders for the: AL MVP | NL MVP | AL Cy Young | NL Cy Young | AL Rookie of the Year

Last year at this time it appeared a Brave was a shoe-in for the Rookie of the Year, but this time we mean it. The Braves will have the Rookie of the Year. Probably. The question is, which Brave will it be -- and will either avoid the sophomore slump that has plagued Jason Heyward a year after finishing second in the voting for the NL's top rookie?

The ballot asks for voters to vote for three rookies, but what's the fun in that? Here's three --plus one more in the race for the National League's best newcomer.

Danny Espinosa, Nationals: The Nationals second baseman was a leading candidate in the first half of the season, hitting 16 homers, driving in 52 and stealing 12 bases. In the second half he's hit just .206/.285/.311 with three homers and eight RBI in 47 games. Overall he's hitting .229/.316/.407. So while he's still under consideration, his drop off has been so drastic that he won't win the award, and may even struggle to get votes, because of the next htree guys...

Freddie Freeman, Braves: While Espinosa has sputtered in the second half, Freeman's just gotten better.
his home run rate has dropped, but his other stats are better since the All-Star break. The first baseman is hitting .295/.355/.462 with 18 homers and 67 RBI to go along with 30 doubles. Freeman will turn 22 next week, but already looks like a polished big leaguer, not just at the plate, but also in the field at first base.

Craig Kimbrel, Braves: Last year the American League's top rookie was a closer that took his team to the World Series -- the Braves hope it's their turn for that this season. Kimbrel leads the majors with 43 saves and hasn't allowed a run in his last 38 games, dating back to June 11. The power right-hander has struck out 115 batters in just 69 2/3 innings, walking just 26. As good as Neftali Feliz was last season, Kimbrel's already been better this year. Feliz recorded 40 saves and struck out 71 in 69 1/3 innings with a 2.73 ERA. Kimbrel bests him in all those categories, with an ERA (1.55) more than a run lower than Feliz had in his Rookie of the Year campaign.

Vance Worley, Phillies: On most teams it's not saying much to say a rookie has solidified himself as the team's No. 4 starter -- but this is the Phillies of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, three of the game's best. Worley's looked every bit like he belongs with that group. The 23-year-old right-hander is 11-1 with a 2.85 ERA in 18 starts and two relief appearances. He also has 96 strikeouts in 110 1/3 innings. If anyone is going to challenge the two Braves, it's the Phillie -- which is only fitting.

So who do you have? Let us know in the comments your pick for the NL's top rookie.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @eyeonbaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: September 8, 2011 2:03 pm
 

AL Rookie of the Year race wide open



By Matt Snyder


During the week, Eye on Baseball will be profiling candidates to win baseball's major awards after the season. Today: the AL Rookie of the Year.

View contenders for the: AL MVP | NL MVP | AL Cy Young | NL Cy Young

Members of the Baseball Writers Association of America who get to vote for the Rookie of the Year in either respective league are forced to narrow the field to three players. In looking at the American League rookies in 2011, that's not a simple task. It seems like the three best at the moment haven't been up for long. Others were stellar for a stretch but have also suffered through rough patches. It's a subjective award, so let's throw some names out there.

Here are seven players who have a realistic shot and three more who could have had one -- if they were recalled from the minors earlier (denoted by an asterisk).

*Dustin Ackley, Mariners. One of the future anchors to the Mariners lineup has only been up for 71 games, which likely isn't enough to garner tons of support here. He is hitting .300 with 13 doubles, seven triples and six home runs and an .845 OPS. He scores well in WAR (wins above replacement player), but he probably needed to be overly spectacular to win the award with what will be just over a half season.

J.P. Arencibia, Blue Jays. Big power (21 home runs) at a tough defensive position is a plus. It would be awfully difficult to overcome the .221 batting average and .281 on-base percentage to win the award in a crowded field, though.

Jeremy Hellickson, Rays. It feels like he'll have a good shot, depending on how the rest of the season goes. Hellickson is currently 12-10 with a 2.90 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. He also has two complete games and is averaging 6 2/3 innings per start. It's been a very solid rookie campaign, even if not spectacular.

Eric Hosmer, Royals. The 21-year-old first baseman has been very good since getting his call in May. He's hitting .285/.335/.458 with 16 home runs, 66 RBI, 55 runs and nine stolen bases. Like Hellickson, though, Hosmer's been more steady than spectacular. The next two guys have been spectacular, but only for a short time ...

*Desmond Jennings, Rays. He's only been up for 44 games, but he's hitting .302 with nine home runs, 15 stolen bases and a .936 OPS. He also passes the eye test, as he comes through in the clutch and has made a few highlight-reel defensive plays. The talent is immense, but the service time probably keeps him off most ballots.

*Brett Lawrie, Blue Jays. In just 32 games, Lawrie is hitting .324 with eight homers, 21 RBI, 19 runs, six steals and a 1.076 OPS. He also has a few clutch home runs (see the picture to the right) and plays the game with a youthful enthusiasm (again, see right). Had he not broken his hand on a hit-by-pitch earlier this summer in the minors, a promotion was likely to come earlier and he'd probably have a real shot at the award, Instead, he's going to have enough service time to qualify as a rookie, yet probably not near enough to gather many, if any, votes.

Ivan Nova, Yankees. Do you like win-loss record in judging pitchers? If so, Nova's your guy here in a no-brainer. He entered Thursday 15-4 for the first-place Yankees. If you don't love win-loss record, he probably doesn't win the award. He has a 3.89 ERA and 1.34 WHIP with a low strikeout rate (again, these numbers are prior to Thursday's start).

Michael Pineda, Mariners. The gargantuan starting pitcher was the easy favorite to win the award at the All-Star break. He was 8-6 with a 3.03 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 113 strikeouts in 113 innings at the time. Since then, he's 1-3 with a 5.48 ERA. Still, did he do enough to hold on? His full season numbers: 9-9, 3.74 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 163 strikeouts in 159 innings. It will be interesting to see how the early stretch of dominance (6-2, 2.16 ERA through nine starts) plays in the minds of the voters.

Mark Trumbo, Angels. His power numbers look great -- 26 homers, 80 RBI, 28 doubles -- and he's playing in a pennant race. He's also had the job since opening day and has admirably filled in at first for injured Kendrys Morales. Trumbo also had some clutch moments of his own. Do the average (.256), on-base percentage (.295) and strikeout-to-walk (102 to 24) rates hurt him? We'll see.

Jordan Walden, Angels. The 23-year-old closer made the All-Star team, but he's faltered in several rough stretches. What looks good: 29 saves, 2.55 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 59 strikeouts in 53 innings. What doesn't: Nine blown saves out of 38 chances. That's awfully high. So do the positives outweigh the negatives? There's sure to be some disagreement among voters.

So who is the best candidate? What would be your top three? Let us know below ...

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnBaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: September 7, 2011 10:37 pm
Edited on: September 21, 2011 9:45 am
 

Phillies crowd NL Cy Young chase



By C. Trent Rosecrans

During the week, Eye on Baseball will be profiling candidates to win baseball's major awards after the season. Today: the AL Cy Young Award winner.

View contenders for the: AL MVP | NL MVP | AL Cy Young

Over in the American League, the engraver can already get the Cy Young Award ready, but in the National League it's a different story -- at this point it's not even an easy discussion when asking who is the Phillies' best pitcher. And just as surprising is that the answer to that question may not be the winner of the National League's Cy Young. Here's five of the leading contenders to be named the National League's best pitcher.

Roy Halladay, Phillies: Last year's winner could certainly repeat. Halladay's been… well, Roy Halladay. He's 16-5 with a 2.49 ERA and pitched seven complete games (although no shutouts). Halladay's so good and so consistent, he's just kind of boring. Sure, he leads baseball with 7.5 strikeouts for every walk and he will strike out 200 for the fourth year in a row, it's just… lacking the sizzle. He may be the best, but there's at least a question.

Cole Hamels, Phillies: While he's often an afterthought in the Phillies' rotation, the 27-year-old lefty is easily the best third starter in baseball. He's 13-7 with a 2.63 ERA and leads the National League with a .968 WHIP. Hamels did miss a couple of starts when he went on the disabled list with left shoulder inflammation last month, hurting his counting stats, which probably knocks him out of contention for the big award. But voters have to vote for five pitchers, so he'll get some votes.

Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks: The National League's leader in wins (18), Kennedy is the newcomer to this race and also gets bonus points for helping his team to the playoffs (while not as big of a factor as it is in the MVP vote, it can't hurt). The 26-year-old right-hander also leads in winning percentage (.818), but his ERA (2.96) isn't in the same neighborhood as the others in this list. He'll get votes, but won't win the award.

Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: Now here's your hard charger in the race, putting up an 8-1 record with a 1.44 ERA in the second half of the season. Overall he's 17-5 with a 2.45 ERA and a league-leading 222 strikeouts. Wins for a pitcher don't mean what they once did, but the fact that he's won 17 games (and could end up leading the league) with a bad Dodgers team may make his stats even more impressive. His ERA is second-best in the league behind Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto (2.36).

Cliff Lee, Phillies: And finally there's Lee, who has lived up to the offseason pursuit of his services. Lee is 16-7 with a 2.47 ERA and six shutouts -- only Pittsburgh and St. Louis have as many as three complete-game shutouts by starters this season. He's had two historic months -- going 5-0 with a 0.21 ERA and three shutouts in June and then going 5-0 with a 0.45 ERA and one shutout in August. He allowed just one run in June and two in August. He followed up his hot August with another shutout in his first start of September. He's also second to Kershaw in strikeouts (204) and second in strikeout-to-walk ration (5.1).

Who is the best candidate to win the NL Cy Young Award? We'll answer that later in the year, but have your say in the comments. 

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @eyeonbaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Posted on: September 7, 2011 1:09 pm
 

Verlander leads candidates for AL Cy Young Award

Verlander, Shields, Weaver

By Evan Brunell

During the week, Eye on Baseball will be profiling candidates to win baseball's major awards after the season. Today: the AL Cy Young Award winner.

View contenders for the: AL MVP | NL MVP

The AL Cy Young is pretty much a foregone conclusion as Justin Verlander continues to run away with the award. But the ballot gives you five names to put in, so Verlander won't be the only one getting votes. Let's take a look at the top five candidates alphabetically:

Josh Beckett, Red Sox: Beckett has two things working against him in consideration for the award -- that being his recent injury derailing him and possibly costing him a chance at 200 innings pitched. When you compare that to the four other pitchers on the list, that will be a significant issue. In addition, while pitcher wins are an irrelevant statistic when it comes to actually evaluating performance, there are still plenty of voters who believe in it. Beckett's 12-5 record won't do him any favors despite a 2.49 ERA. One thing working in his favor is that Beckett has showed up against the Yankees or any other team with a record over .500, as his 2.06 ERA in 16 such starts indicates.

CC Sabathia, Yankees: Sabathia is no Verlander, but he's racked up the second-most wins thanks to pitching behind New York's offensive, gifting him a 19-5 record. He's also already logged 218 1/3 innings and his 2.97 ERA as-is would be his best mark as a Yankee. Oh, and Sabathia leads all AL pitchers in Wins Above Replacement, so there's that. The reasoning behind that is that Verlander has pitched behind a tight defense that has only allowed 23.5 percent of batted balls to fall in, while the Yanks' defense is at 31 percent, making Sabathia and Verlander's ERA difference greater than it should be.

James Shields, Rays: Shields used to be known as Big Game James. It's Complete Game James now, as the righty has dazzled baseball with 11 complete games, four of them shutouts. He's come close a couple other times to complete games and/or shutouts as well, and has racked up 218 innings pitched over 29 starts, checking in with a 2.77 ERA and 14-10 record. The last time a pitcher had at least 11 complete games in a season was Randy Johnson (a name you will hear again in this space) back in 1999.

Justin Verlander, Tigers: It would be a surprise if Verlander didn't win the award unanimously after the year he's having. He's already notched 21 wins and is on pace to throw over 250 innings, which would be a career high. Add in 226 strikeouts in 224 2/3 innings currently with a 2.40 ERA leading the league and there simply isn't any other checkboxes one can tick off in stating a Cy Young Award case. This will very likely end up a career year for the 28-year-old ... not because he can't keep it up, but because he's had a perfect storm of a year. The last pitcher to win more than 22 in a season was Randy Johnson in 2002, when he came away with 24.

Jered Weaver, Angels: Up until a recent hiccup, Weaver was keeping pace with Verlander in the Cy Young Award race. After his Aug. 5 start against the Mariners, Weaver had a 1.78 ERA in 24 games started, posting a 14-5 record in 176 2/3 innings. Add in 150 punchouts and four complete games, and it's easy to see why some thought he could mount a challenge to Verlander. Fast-forward a month later and the righty is still having a strong year, but is solidly behind Verlander at this point with a 2.49 mark in 206 1/3 innings. There might even be an argument that Weaver was a better pitcher in 2010.

Who is the best candidate to win the AL Cy Young Award? We'll answer that later in the year, but have your say in the comments.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeonBaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: September 7, 2011 12:01 am
Edited on: September 7, 2011 1:06 am
 

Sizing up the NL MVP contenders



By C. Trent Rosecrans

During the week, Eye on Baseball will be profiling candidates to win baseball's major awards after the season. Tonight: the NL MVP.

Lacking perhaps the sizzle or controversy of the American League MVP race, the National League MVP race could be just as interesting. While there's plenty of buzz in the AL about whether a pitcher should win the MVP, the NL question of the MVP status quo may be about a member of a losing team taking the game's top honor. While the contending teams have some worthy candidates, the Dodgers' Matt Kemp, the Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki, the Reds' Joey Votto and the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen all have compelling arguments to be included even if their teams are well out of the race.

In alphabetical order, here are the 10 candidates that figure to appear on many of ballots:

Ryan Braun, Brewers: Braun leads the league in batting average (.335), slugging percentage (.595), OPS (.999) and runs scored (96), he's also in the top five in RBI (95) and top ten in homers (27) -- and he's doing it for a team that will be headed to the playoffs. Last season Joey Votto beat Albert Pujols convincingly on the MVP ballots (31 first-place votes out of 32), if not so convincingly on the stat sheet. The two were close to even in their offensive stats, with Votto's team winning the division title perhaps giving him the edge in the very vague category of "value." The Brewers' record could be Braun's trump card on many ballots.

Roy Halladay, Phillies: Widely considered the best pitcher in the National League, if not baseball, Halladay is having another stellar season with a 16-5 record and a 2.49 ERA. However, the pitcher for MVP argument is being made with Justin Verlander, not Halladay. While Halladay may be the best pitcher in the National League and could appear near the bottom of several ballots (he does lead the NL in pitcher WAR, 6.2 according to Baseball-Reference.com), but it will take a clear-cut best pitcher in the league to win the MVP. The Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw is making a late push for Cy Young with a 17-5 record and 2.45 ERA) and Cliff Lee may be having the best season of any Phillies' starter.

Matt Kemp, Dodgers: Going into Tuesday night's game, Kemp was third in batting average (.320), tied for second in home runs (32) and third in RBI (106), giving him a shot at becoming the National League's first triple crown winner since Joe Medwick did it in 1937. The knock on Kemp will certainly be his team's 68-72 record and a season in Los Angeles much better remembered for the drama off the field than anything done on it.

Andrew McCutchen, Pirates: At the All-Star break, this would have been a popular pick, but since then, the Pirates have faded and the star around Pittsburgh's center fielder has dimmed. But McCutchen is still having a fabulous year, cementing himself as one of the game's emerging stars. His stats have taken a dip, hitting .269/.372/.464 with 20 homers and 81 RBI to go along with 20 stolen bases. According to FanGraphs.com, he's seventh among position players in WAR, but much of his value comes from his defense. McCutchen won't win the MVP and won't finish in the top five, but he may get some votes based on his all-around game and the Pirates' impressive start.

Albert Pujols, Cardinals: You can't talk National League MVP and not bring up Albert Pujols, can you? Not even this year -- when so many counted him out at the beginning of the year and others thought he'd miss a good chunk of time with a broken bone -- can you leave out the three-time winner. He's bounced back from an awful start to hit .295/.367/.553 and lead the league in homers (34). Pujols won't win, not just because he failed to live up to the expectations he's set for himself, but also because the Cardinals have faded in the seasons last months once again.

Jose Reyes, Mets: Reyes' reward will likely come after the November announcement of the MVP and be in the form of a huge contract. A front-runner for the award for much of the season, hamstring injuries have hampered the Mets' shortstop, limiting him to 105 games. He's fallen behind Braun in the batting title race, but is still putting up a very good .332/.371/.493 line with five homers, 37 RBI and 35 stolen bases. 

Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies: The Rockies have seriously underachieved, but not Tulowitzki, who is hitting .304/.376/.550 with 29 homers and 100 RBI while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense. It seems like a matter of time before Tulowitzki wins an MVP (or two), but it won't be this year. Colorado's collapse was too great and while his offensive numbers are great, they aren't so much better than any other category that he's going to vault to the top of many ballots. He may be the best all-around player in the game (especially considering his position), but won't be the MVP.

Justin Upton, Diamondbacks: It looks like the Diamondbacks are going to run away with the NL West and their best (and perhaps only recognizable player) is Upton, the 24-year-old center fielder. Upton is hitting .296/.378/.540 with 27 homers, 82 RBI and 20 stolen bases. He's having a fantastic season and has a very bright future. That said, in what was the most important month of the season and one that saw Arizona take control of the NL West, Upton maybe his worst month of the season, hitting .260/.342/.481.

Shane Victorino, Phillies: Overshadowed by Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and even Jayson Werth in previous years, Victorino has been outstanding in 2011. He's hitting .303/.380/.529 with 15 homers and 56 RBI, while scoring 84 runs. He's won three straight Gold Gloves in center field and has been a constant for the Phillies over the years. However, on a team built around its stud pitchers, a position player may get overlooked for MVP. He finished 18th in 2009, but look for a top 10 finish this season as respect grows for one of the game's most unsung stars.

Joey Votto, Reds: Last year's winner won't repeat, but he's again having another great season, hitting .316/.428/.536, leading the National League in on-base percentage and third in OPS. He's also doing it without Scott Rolen's protection behind him. Rolen has been injured much of the season, missing 76 of the team's 141 games and his play suffering in the 65 games he has played. That's allowed pitchers to pitch around Votto, who leads the National League in walks (100) and the majors in Win Probability Added (6.9). His numbers may not quite be where they were a year ago, but he's done nothing to suggest he's not the best first baseman in the league -- and that's some pretty heady competition.

So all in all, who is the best candidate to win the MVP? We'll answer that later in the year, but you can have your say in the comments. 

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @eyeonbaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: September 6, 2011 2:07 pm
Edited on: September 6, 2011 5:47 pm
 

Sizing up the AL MVP contenders

Verlander, Bautista

By Evan Brunell

During the week, Eye on Baseball will be profiling candidates to win baseball's major awards after the season. Today: the AL MVP.

The AL MVP race is shaping up to be one of the more interesting races as of late, with compelling cases to be made for several candidates. Increasingly, the MVP race in the junior circuit looks to be one that could bear out a surprise candidate. Without a clear-cut candidate, players will lose votes due to team performance, being a pitcher or seeing teammates stealing votes. This last distinction is important, as the Red Sox, Yankees and Tigers will all boast multiple candidates.

In alphabetical order, here are the 10 candidates that figure to appear on the majority of ballots:

Jose Bautista, Blue Jays: The presumptive top candidate, Bautista is getting dinged due to Toronto being way out of the postseason race. But since when does one player control the fate of a team that could be in the hunt if it didn't play in the AL East? Bautista leads baseball with 40 homers and is far and away the most productive hitter with a .306/.444/.632 line. Any votes he loses due to playing for Toronto could easily be negated with rivals splitting the vote with teammates, so Bautista remains the most likely victory.

Robinson Cano, Yankees
: Entering play Tuesday, both Cano and Dustin Pedroia had equal production on offense as wOBA suggests (basically OPS, but weighted on an OBP scale and tweaked to account for OPS' weaknesses). Cano checks in at .307/.350/.535, while Pedroia lands at .304/.391/.469 in one less game than Cano. The difference is on defense, where Pedroia has played worthy of a Gold Glove and Cano has slipped back to below average, but fielding isn't considered a major factor in MVP balloting. Both players are deserving, but aren't even considered the best MVP on the team.

Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
: Voters will be dealing with a lot of AL East fatigue in MVP ballots, which could cause Cabrera to slip up the ballot further than anyone may have otherwise thought. The first baseman will crack 100 RBI before the year is out and should also slide over the 30-homer barrier, which will be enough to make him viable to the voters still adamant about relying on traditional counting metrics. This is a player to watch.

Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
: Ellsbury has been a wrecking machine all season and may be the most popular candidate on the Red Sox for voters, who will love the five tools Ellsbury brings to the table. Leading off much of the year, the center fielder has contributed a .311/.371/.520 line, swiping 36 bags and hammering 24 homers. If he can get hot down the stretch and toss in a 30/30 season for good measure, his candidacy will be overwhelming and could take home the honors. But will it be enough to cut through the noise of two other Boston contenders?

Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox
: Gonzalez leads baseball in batting average with a .339 mark and while his power has suffered with the move to Fenway, 23 homers and 67 extra-base hits is nothing to sneeze at. An August swoon dropped his RBI pace down and no longer leads the league in that respect, but he's still collected 103 on the season. Pair that with fantastic defense as always, and he's another strong candidate. Someone who was considered a lock to win the award before the year and even for the first few months of the season, Gonzalez may fall short thanks to Bautista's overpowering talents and Ellsbury doing it all on the same team.

Alex Gordon, Royals
: Gordon's not going to win the award, but with the MVP balloting going 10 deep, he figures to show up on enough to place on the ballot. He's been the Royals' best hitter by far, with a sneaky .303/.376/.502 line that would get far more play if he played on a better team or in a better media market. Gordon has also taken to left field, leading all outfielders with 20 assists. (Second best: Nick Markakis, 14.) While some of these assists are certainly players taking a risk early on in the season with an unknown entity manning left, it's still to Gordon's credit that he's become a strong fielder. If he keeps up these type of numbers in the coming years, he could have a MVP waiting for him down the line.

Curtis Granderson, Yankees
: Granderson is doing all he can to outslug Bautista with 38 homers and 109 RBI to his name, but where he drops off is in batting average, with his .271 line the lowest among any hitter on this list, and the only one under .300. That's going to hurt Granderson, as well as the presence of Cano as a candidate. And, while not listed here, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira could also steal votes. Mitigating things is Granderson's 24 stolen bases. If you throw fielding out of the equation, Granderson easily clears Ellsbury in terms of offensive value. But when you add in overall game... well, the balloting results should be interesting.

Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
: As mentioned above, Pedroia has the same offensive value as Cano, but wins it all on fielding. Yet, Pedroia pales in comparison -- at least as far as MVP chatter goes -- to Ellsbury and Gonzalez. Pedroia is the Red Sox at this point and is one of the most indispensable players in the game. But that doesn't necessarily mean he's MVP, and it's hard to look past the gaudy numbers Ellsbury and Gonzalez are putting up in favor of someone who just keeps motoring along. Perhaps in a weak class, he'd stand out.

Justin Verlander, Tigers
: The only pitcher on this list, Verlander has a chance to win it all because when he pitches, the Tigers win. When he doesn't the Tigers... well, they win too, but a lot less to the point where they'd be out of the postseason chase by now. Scott Miller describes his chase as well as anyone could: "Most dominant single individual player in baseball this season. In line to win the first pitching Triple Crown in the AL since Johan Santana in 2006, and he's 14-3 this season after a Detroit loss."

Michael Young, Rangers
: Young will get some love here for two reasons: First, he's not in the AL East. Second, the Rangers are currently poised to win the AL West, although the Angels may have something to say about that. (And even then, there's no clear MVP candidate in Los Angeles.) Plus, Young had that well-publicized spat with the Rangers over the winter, when he was booted to the DH spot, causing the infielder to ask for a trade. It didn't work out, but Young has been immeasurably valuable in his ability to play around the infield and has thrown up a .334/.376/.482 line, driving in 91 games, so he'll top 100. Getting votes as a MVP after the offseason he had would be an interesting story.

So all in all, who is the best candidate to win the MVP? We'll answer that later in the year, but drop in your responses in the comments.

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Posted on: August 24, 2011 3:52 pm
Edited on: August 24, 2011 4:00 pm
 

Should a pitcher be eligible for the MVP?

Halladay

By Evan Brunell


Here's an easy question: Who are the MVPs in the AL and NL?

Not so easy, right?

There are plenty of candidates for the award, players you've certainly heard of before. Jose Bautista, Curtis Granderson, Jacoby Ellsbury in the AL. Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp, Prince Fielder in the NL. All good players.

All position players.

What about pitchers? Justin Verlander is having a sublime season for the Tigers. Roy Halladay is nailing down his reputation as one of the best pitchers to ever take the mound. Yet, pitchers are rarely considered for the MVP award, with the last victor coming in 1992 with Dennis Eckersley. The closest since was Pedro Martinez in 1999, when he lost out to Ivan Rodriguez because two sportswriters left Martinez off their ballot completely. Never mind that one of the sportswriters, George King of the New York Post, had Rick Helling and David Wells on the ballot the year before. (In fortuitous timing, Marc Normandin of SB Nation wrote Wednesday about Martinez and how Halladay and Verlander will have an uphill battle if Martinez couldn't even win the MVP.)

"It really made [writers] all look very dumb," Buster Olney, who covered the Yankees for the New York Times at the time, told Baseball Digest. "People were operating under different rules. The question of eligibility is a very basic thing. People were determining eligibility for themselves."

1999 is a long time ago, but Olney's sentiments could be repeated today. Voting for the MVP is a mess, as everyone comes to it with their own preconceived notion of who qualifies for the MVP award, and one of the bigger touchstones of the argument is whether a pitcher should be eligible. For the purposes of this discussion, we're not going to debate the merits of Verlander as opposed to Jose Bautista, or even to Jered Weaver. What we want to learn here is if pitchers should be on the MVP ballot, and if so, how important they should be weighted.

Taken straight from the actual MVP ballot, as was e-mailed to C. Trent Rosecrans when he voted for the NL MVP in 2010, are the following guidelines:
1. Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.
2. Number of games played.
3. General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.
4. Former winners are eligible.
5. Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.

Keep in mind that all players are eligible for MVP, including pitchers and designated hitters.
While the latter three points are irrelevant to the debate, we immediately run into an issue to start. The first guideline is that the value of a player on offense and defense need to be considered when voting, which would seem to exclude pitchers, even though the ballot takes care to mention that pitchers are included. Where the heck is the pitcher supposed to contribute? One could argue that a pitcher's value can be considered part of defense. I polled several colleagues of mine in baseball, the vast majority contending that a pitcher's value should be considered part of defense. Take the definition of defense a step further, and the inclusion of pitchers becomes clear: "defense" can really be thought of as "run prevention," which is the primary (and really, only) job of a pitcher.

So a pitcher counts, even if he might be dinged for his lack of offense.

What about the next point, though? "Number of games played."

Most starting pitchers are lucky to get to 33 games started. That's just 20 percent of the entire season's 162 games. Relievers play in far more games, but even then, the percentage isn't anything to get worked up about. Dennis Eckersley, the last pitcher to win a Cy Young Award and did so as a closer, appeared in 65 games, or 40 percent of the entire season. That percentage would plummet below starting pitchers if you changed the scaling to total innings in a season, not games, so no matter what, a pitcher is not even close to being responsible for half the team's games.

That's a pretty damning guideline against pitchers, but guidelines are just that -- guidelines. If a pitcher is extraordinarily valuable to his team, that should outweigh the amount of games he's appeared in, especially given precedent has already been established with 20 pitchers winning the award. Those who want to adhere to the guideline strictly are welcome to do just that and ding pitchers for their contributions in that department, but it should not by any means prevent a truly great pitcher from snagging the award.

Take Roy Halladay, for example. He's a starting pitcher who has appeared in 26 games to date, yet he outpaces everyone else in the NL in Wins Above Replacement (Fangraphs version). Halladay's 6.9 WAR stands above Shane Victorino and Justin Upton's 6.2, with Upton playing in 128 games, or almost five times as many games as Halladay. Yet, it's hard to argue against Halladay having been the most valuable player in the NL, and he's a pitcher. Can you really hold games played against Halladay? No, you can't.

But should we really be comparing games played? Isn't a better way to compare hitters and pitchers to look at plate appearances? After all, if someone pinch-hit in all 162 games and received exactly one plate appearance per game and registered a hit in each one, his batting average would be 1.000... and yet, not qualify for the batting title. And this is someone that, by the guidelines of games played, should be considered over a pitcher.

Looking at plate appearances, last year's NL MVP award winner in Joey Votto walked to the plate 648 times. How many batters did Halladay, the 2010 NL Cy Young Award victor, face? That would be 993, or 53 percent more times Halladay faced a batter at the plate than Votto walked to the plate.

Aside from the guidelines, the most popular argument against pitchers winning the MVP centers around pitchers having their own honor in the Cy Young Award, and it makes sense that people would treat the MVP and Cy Young as two separate awards for two separate pools of talent. But that's just not the case. The MVP award is open to all players, pitchers included. You want an award just for hitters? Feast your eyes on the Hank Aaron Award, given annually to the best hitter (so defense doesn't count). The award isn't well-known, perhaps due to the award only starting in 1999, or because it's not part of the awards that the Baseball Writers Association of America gives out (the Cy Young Award and MVP award are part of the BBWAA's domain), but it's there. Hitters are not being penalized by having to share the MVP with pitchers.

The debate on whether or not pitchers should win the MVP contributed to robbing Pedro Martinez of his rightful award in 1999. Let's not make the same mistake in 2011.

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