Breaking down awards season (cont.)
Manager of the Year
The idea behind picking the managers is getting the guy who has done the most with the least. I imagine there are scientific methods of determining this, though I'm not aware of any great ones. So what this award mostly comes down to is taking the guy who has done what is loosely considered the "best" job. That always means a winning manager on a highly placing team.
In the NL, that's Lou Piniella, who guided the Cubs to the best record in the league. Piniella had a defending division champ with a $118 million payroll, so he wasn't exactly working with the down and out. But he did help the team through some injuries and a challenge from the Brewers to win 97 games. Good enough for me.
(Though, you know, Cecil Cooper got the Astros to play according to their Pythagorean winning percentage. The Pythag formula determines how many wins a team should have, based on the number of runs they score and allow. The Astros finished 86-75, nine games better than the formula said they should be. Cooper, maybe?)
(One more aside: Charlie Manuel? The awards are voted on before the postseason begins, so what Manuel did in guiding the Phillies to a World Series title isn't a part of the equation. But Charlie did get the Phils past the Mets to win the NL East, you know.)
Nobody's going to beat out the ringleader of that AL feel-good story, the Rays, for this award. Joe Maddon, eloquent and endearing with the press and a fan favorite to boot, not only led Tampa Bay to its first winning season and into the World Series, he got the Rays to play at least a little over their heads by outdoing their Pythag by four games (thanks in large part to a 29-18 record in one-run games). The Angels' Mike Scioscia deserves a few votes, too, I'd think.
No award will be more hotly contested than the Cy on the NL side. As I said, Santana was fantastic for the Mets, leading the league with a 2.53 ERA. He didn't lose a game after June 28, and in the last three months of the season, he almost single-handedly kept the Mets' playoff hopes alive, going 9-0 in 17 starts with a 2.09 ERA. That's Cy Young stuff. If he wins it, no one should feel slighted.
But I have a hunch this might go to young Tim Lincecum of the Giants. It'd be an interesting pick, in the face of the staid old way of doing things, but Lincecum's numbers on that team are nothing short of remarkable. He was second in the league in wins (18), second to Santana in ERA (2.62), he led the league in strikeouts and strikeouts per nine, he killed the league in opponents' batting average and OPS against ... on a team, remember, that gave him little support and lost 90 games.
The interesting point here is that Lincecum not only could beat out a higher-profile pitcher in Santana to win this award, and a media favorite in the Phillies' Cole Hamels, he also should get past Brandon Webb of the Diamondbacks, who led the league with 22 wins. That used to be an automatic ticket to winning this award. No more. The cranky ol' BBWAA, if this vote goes the right way, seems to be changing.
In the AL, there should be no debate: It's Cliff Lee of the Indians, who led the league in wins (22) and ERA (2.54). The Angels' closer, Francisco Rodriguez, had a fine season in setting the record for saves, with 62. But if he wins the Cy Young, I'll be burning that new BBWAA card by week's end.
Most Valuable Player
In the postseason, there was some alarming waffling on the NL MVP among my scribing buddies. In my mind, it's the Cardinals' Albert Pujols and no one else.
I'm not going to go chapter and verse on you here -- for the numbers, head to the highly indispensable baseball-reference.com, a place where statheads and storyheads hang out in anonymous harmony -- but, suffice it to say, this guy deserves it. The other pick most mentioned was the Phils' Ryan Howard. Yeah, he topped the league in home runs (48) and RBIs (146) and he had a monster September (.352, 11 homers, 32 RBIs, a 1.274 OPS). But check out the stats. Pujols, carrying this team even with a bad elbow, was MVP.
Don't even bring Manny Ramirez or Carlos Delgado into this. Neither one of them was around in the NL during the first half of the year, if you get what I'm saying. That should disqualify them both.
The AL pick's looking a lot grainier, and for good reason: No one stood out. The guess is the old school wins this one by voting for Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who had a fantastic season (.326, .376 on-base, .493 slugging), inspired his team, pushed them into the playoffs, played wonderful defense blah blah blah blah blah. The problem with that, as I wrote back in late September, is that I don't think he was the MVP on his team. That honor belongs to Kevin Youkilis, who not only provided a solid bat but impressive defense at both corner infield spots.
Others have had, statistically speaking, better years. Depending, of course, on the statistics you use. Cleveland's Grady Sizemore is up there as an all-around threat. Milton Bradley of the Rangers had offensive numbers that were better than Pedroia's, though being a designated hitter knocks him out. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau of the Twins should be considered, depending on which statistical column you click and most believe in. It's a mess, I'm telling you.
Carlos Quentin of the White Sox had a chance at this award, too, but missing September because of his bout of self-flagellation by bat will cost him. The Rangers' Josh Hamilton was a nice story for a long time, but his fade can't be ignored even by those who choose story over stats.
Whatever happens, the MVPs will be the last of the big awards announced (see schedule above). That won't be the last of the debates, though. We'll be hearing them for many years to come.
NOTE: As a full-time baseball scribe at SI.com for the past several years, I was among the first small wave of Internet writers to be admitted as a member of the BBWAA in 2008. Two writers from each league city vote on each of the BBWAA awards. Not all writers get a vote on all the awards.
The BBWAA asks that voters don't reveal their choices ahead of time, so I won't say who I voted for in which category. But I will say I'd go for these guys if given the chance. (And understand, because I live in Atlanta, I'd be ineligible to vote on the AL side.)
AL Rookie of the Year -- Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay
AL Cy Young -- Cliff Lee, Cleveland
AL MVP -- Kevin Youkilis, Boston
AL Manager of the Year -- Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay
NL Rookie of the Year -- Geovany Soto, Chicago
NL Cy Young -- Tim Lincecum, San Francisco
NL MVP -- Albert Pujols, St. Louis
NL Manager of the Year -- Lou Piniella, Chicago