Previewing the BBWAA awards (cont.)
To Be Announced: Thursday, Nov. 18
Expected Winner: Felix Hernandez, Mariners (13-12, 232 K, 2.27 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 3.31 K/BB, 6 CG, 1 SHO)
Deserving Winner: Hernandez
This is the most compelling vote out of the eight awards this year because of what it will tell us about the continued devaluation of pitching wins as measure of pitching success. Last year, Tim Lincecum set a record by winning the Cy Young in a non-strike year with just 15 wins, while Zack Greinke simultaneously set the AL low with 16 wins. That bodes well for Hernandez, who would break both records if he were to pull down the award with a mere 13 victories. It's also worth noting that no pitcher has won the award in either league for a season in which he had double-digit losses since Pat Hentgen went 20-10 in 1996 and no Cy Young award winner has lost more than Hernandez's 12 games since Jim Palmer and Randy Jones went 22-13 and 22-14, respectively, back in 1976.
For those able to see past wins and losses, there is little doubt Hernandez was the best pitcher in the American League this year. Not only did he lead the majors in ERA, but did it while leading the AL in innings, falling just one frame shy of Halladay's major league-leading total. Hernandez also finished just one strikeout behind Jered Weaver's major league-leading total, one complete game behind Cliff Lee and Carl Pavano's league-best mark, was second to Lee in WHIP, led the majors in quality starts and quality start percentage (30 of his league-leading 34 starts were quality), and held opposing batters to a .212/.273/.312 line. He did benefit a bit from his ballpark (Clay Buchholz slips past him in adjusted ERA) and the Mariners' solid defense (his opponent's .265 average on balls in play aided his league-low hit rate and that handsome opposing batting line), but no other American League pitcher was as consistently dominant or as thoroughly dominant as Hernandez in 2010. (Those who point to his poor performance against the division leading Rangers are advised to check out his splits against the Yankees, who boasted the top offense in the majors in 2010).
Which brings us back to wins. Hernandez won just 13 games and lost 12 because he received just 3.07 runs per game of support from the dreadful Mariners' lineup, which scored fewer runs per game than all but one AL team since the introduction of the designated hitter (the 1981 Blue Jays scored 3.10 R/G to the M's 3.17). That's not his fault, and it's encouraging to see that there is growing recognition of that fact. As late as August, Hernandez seemed likely to lose the award to eventual 20-game winner CC Sabathia, but the debate that sprung up around his candidacy, as well as Sabathia's underwhelming finish, which we now know was due to a torn meniscus in his right knee, seemed to melt the resistance of a significant portion of the electorate, warming them up to the idea of a dominant 13-game winner as the proper Cy Young choice. We'll find out on Thursday just how much progress has been made on this front. Rooting against progress: likely runner up David Price (19-6, 188 K, 2.72 ERA).
To Be Announced: Monday, Nov. 22
Expected Winner: Joey Votto, 1B, Reds (.324/.424/.600, 37 HR, 113 RBI, 16 SB, 7.7 WARP)
Deserving Winner: Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals (.312/.414/.596, 42 HR, 118 RBI, 14 SB, 8.9 WARP)
Votto is going to win this award because he had an incredible season and his Reds were the surprising winners of the NL Central after a decade and a half of losing seasons. I get that and I'm fine with it. The gap between Votto and Pujols this season was tiny; both were good in the field, surprisingly effective on the bases (Votto was caught stealing just five times, Pujols only four times), and monsters at the plate. Still, it deserves mention that Pujols has already won the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger. How is it that he could be the best fielder and best hitter at the position both men play, yet not the league's MVP? It's largely because of the standings. Votto's Reds not only won their division, they did it by upsetting Pujols' Cardinals. Votto was easily the best player on that Reds team and a clear counter-weight to Pujols given just how similar their seasons were. Had the Cardinals repeated as division champs, or even finished second to a third team with Votto's Reds back down in the second division, Pujols would be about to win his third straight NL MVP. I don't agree with that logic. It's unfair to penalize a player for the performance of the other 24 men on his team. This is an individual award and should be awarded based solely on the performances of the individual players. Still, I don't really have a problem with Votto winning it. It's that close.
To Be Announced: Tuesday, Nov. 23
Expected Winner: Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers (.359/.411/.633, 32 HR, 100 RBI, 8 SB, 8.2 WARP)
Deserving Winner: Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers (.328/.420/.622, 38 HR, 126 RBI, 7.5 WARP)
I'm probably the only non-Tigers fan alive who still thinks Cabrera should win this award, but I just can't get past the fact that Hamilton only played at an MVP level for three months of the 2010 season. When the calendar flipped to June, he was hitting an underwhelming .281/.335/.500, and he later missed 24 games in September due to a pair of broken ribs. Yes, what he did in the three months in between was absolutely insane. He hit .410/.461/.717 over 349 plate appearances, racking up 22 homers and 70 RBIs in half a season. That's just nuts. I get that. I get that he was a solid defender in left and center field and a threat on the bases while Cabrera was a liability at first base and a statue on the bases. Still, Cabrera hit like an MVP from the opening series in Kansas City (8-for-14, 2 homers, 7 RBI) through the end of August, when he was hitting .340/.435/.643 five months into the season. Cabrera's worst month to that point was his .323/.400/.576 June, which still blew the first two months of Hamilton's season out of the water. Yes, the Tigers collapsed after the All-Star break, but that had everything to do with rookie Brennan Boesch going from hero to an almost literal zero at the plate and Magglio Ordoņez suffering a season-ending broken ankle and nothing to do with Cabrera, who just kept on hitting. Even in September, his one truly underwhelming month, Cabrera slugged .500 and drove in 19 runs. Given that there's not a huge gap in their overall numbers, I favor Cabrera's full-season of consistent mashing over Hamilton's white-hot half-season of multi-faceted brilliance, but again, I'm probably alone on this one.