Welcome to the awards.
For award definitions, see this year’s primer.
Joe Carter Award
Carlos Lee drove in 89 runs in 2010, demonstrating what being in the middle of the lineup every day, even for a bad team, can do for one’s counting stats. Lee was dreadful overall, hitting .246/.291/.417 for the Astros. He only walked 37 times in 605 at bats. He hit 24 home runs, but his slugging percentage reflects the fact that he can’t leg out singles anymore and he only gave the Astros 29 doubles. His defense in the outfield has eroded to the point where he is easily a millstone around the Astros pitching staff’s collective neck when he is playing an outfield corner. And late in the season he often acted as a roadblock for young Brett Wallace, who might turn into a respectable regular at first base and needed at bats.
Lee’s teammate, Hunter Pence, drove in 91 and while he was better than Lee, at .282/.325/.461, he was only so-so for a starting right fielder. Major League right fielders as a whole hit .257/.325/.403.
I remain unsure exactly how James Loney managed to drive in 88 runs while slugging under .400. With a .267/.329/.395 line, Loney has devolved into a slightly better version of Casey Kotchman or, in other words, a destitute man’s Sean Casey.
Because of their defensive value and slugging ways, Matt Kemp and Alex Gonzalez were positive contributors to their teams, but with 89 and 88 RBI and .249/.310/.450 and .250/.294/.447 lines respectively, this is my opportunity to complain about their poor OBPs—and I’m one to take opportunities like that.
Delmon Young (.298/.333/.493) and Casey McGehee (.285/.337/.464) were productive players. For Delmon it was really the first time in his career. I would not begrudge the two of them for carrying this season as feathers in their caps. Still, with 112 and 104 RBI on the year, they are out of their league. Young drove in more runs than Robinson Cano, who hit .319/.381/.534 and only one less than Joey Votto, who hit .324/.424/.600. McGehee drove in the same number as Evan Longoria, who hit .294/.372/.507, and one more than Matt Holliday, who finished the year at .312/.390/.532. Again, no disrespect to them, but this is a group of hitters that are clearly superior to the pair.
Garrett Jones was a nice free talent find for the Pirates last year, but he is what he is at this point in his career, and that basically translates to a less extreme version of El Caballo. At .247/.306/.414 he still drove in one more run than the clearly superior Jayson Werth (.296/.388/.532), Ryan Zimmerman (.307/.388/.510), and Gaby Sanchez (.273/.341/.448).
Yuniesky Betancourt wasn’t as bad as expected, but he wasn’t what I would consider good, courtesy of his profound intolerance for the base on balls. 78 RBI from a shortstop is good – .259/.288/.405 is not good.
Finally, one significant reason behind the Cubs disappointing season was the decay of Aramis Ramirez, who hit a meager .241/.294/.452 and drove in 83 runs.
Rey Sanchez Award
Howie Kendrick hit 117 singles and drew 28 walks for the Angels in 616 plate appearances for a .279/.313/.407 line.
Julio Borbon hit .276/.309/.340 in 438 AB.
Before he got hurt, Felix Pie hit .274/.305/.413.
Rajai Davis was off my radar for much of the year. He did two things well offensively this season. He stole bases (50 in 61 attempts) and he hit singles. Nevertheless, he hit .284/.320/.377. For all of the whining about how Billy Beane only wanted beer league sluggers, I haven’t heard much praise for his willingness to employ a guy who would draw 26 walks in 525 at bats.
Ryan Theriot was disappointing at .270/.321/.312.
Miguel Tejada hit .269/.308/.362 for the Orioles and was a drain on the offense. Then he was traded to the Padres, hit .268/.317/.413 and was good for a 104 OPS+. Behold the power of park effects.
In part time action (only 139 AB), Aaron Miles hit .281/.311/.317.
Harmon Killebrew Award
Andruw Jones’ .230/.341/.486 in 328 was good for a 119 OPS+.
Jorge Posada’s first season since 1999 with a batting average under .250 still resulted in his being wildly productive at the plate with a .248/.357/.454 line.
Steve Balboni Award
Rick Ankiel was injured for much of the season and struggled for most of what was left, striking out 71 times in 240 plate appearances. Ankiel stumbled to a .232/.321/.389 line and was roughly replacement level.
It didn’t take long. I wondered last year how long it would take for Mark Reynolds’ record strikeout rate to catch up with him and do damage that his walk rate and power could not mend. And while he wasn’t a complete loss, as FanGraphs has him at 2.4 Wins Above Replacement, his .198/.320/.433 is nothing to brag about. 211 strikeouts in 596 PA is a tough tightrope to walk.
Like Reynolds, Carlos Pena took a step back this year, falling down to .196/.325/.407 with his 158 K in 582 PA. He lost 31 points off of his OPS+.
Am I the only one who sees Drew Stubbs and B.J. Upton as roughly the same player at this point in their careers? Stubbs struck out 168 times in 514 AB, walking 55 times, and launching 22 home runs while going .255/.329/.444 and playing a spectacular defensive center field. Upton fanned 164 times in 536 AB with 67 walks and 18 home runs and a .237/.322/.424 line and very good defense in center field.
Adam Lind was disappointing in a number of ways this season, but if he hopes to be an asset to the Blue Jays in the future (while striking out 144 times in 613 PA), he needs to improve his secondary skills. .237/.287/.425 isn’t going to get it done.
Three true outcomes
The usual suspects are here as Mark Reynolds launched 32 home runs, walked 83 times, and whiffed 211 times in 596 times.
Carlos Pena went 28-87-158 in 582 PA.
Adam Dunn was Adam Dunn, going 38-77-199 in 648.
Jim Thome went 25-60-82 in 340 PA.
Dan Uggla gave us a typical Uggla season at 33-78-149 in 674.
New faces joined the TTO crew, headlined by Jose Bautista and his 54-100-116 in 683.
Joey Votto went 37-91-125 in 648.
Juan Pierre is a name you expect to hear here. He deserves to be heard here this year given that he went one-45-47 in 734 PA.
I have always regarded Alberto Callaspo as kind of a Placido Polanco for the next generation, only without the glove work Polanco used to bring to the table. Polanco went six-32-47 in 602 PA while Callaspo went 10-31-42 in 601. That’s pretty close.
A.J. Pierzynski went nine-15-39 in 503 PA.
This year in franchise milestones
Followers of the awards know that ever since the Phillies caught press attention with their 10,000th loss back in 2007, we have tracked other significant franchise milestones. I will list the milestones that passed this season and also preview possible milestones for 2011.
The Diamondbacks and Rays each played their 2,000th game and while the Rays didn’t pass any significant won/loss totals, given they sit at 922, as long as the bottom doesn’t fall out of that team, they stand a good chance of passing 1,000 wins in 2011. The Snakes passed the 1,000 mark in both wins and losses, ending the campaign at 1,035 and 1,071.
The Braves/Boston Bees/Boston Beaneaters are 9,945 and 9,954 as a franchise. In 134 years of life, they are within nine games of .500. They will likely pass both 10,000 wins and 10,000 losses in 2011. There are currently four members of the 10,000 win club (the Giants, Cubs, Dodgers, and Cardinals) and the Phillies remain the only member of the 10,000 loss club.
Next year the St Louis Browns/Baltimore Orioles will likely lose their 9,000th game. Also note that I don’t know who provided it, but one of the denizens of Camden Yards rapped out the 150,000th hit in the history of the franchise.
Sometime midsummer the Cubs played their 20,000th game.
If the Reds manage to win 85 games next year, it will be their 1,0000th.
The White Sox are only 12 homers away from 10,000.
Barring a meteor striking the earth or an unforeseen agreement between the players and owners to shorten the season, the Rockies and Marlins will each play their 3,000th game.
The Astros can pass the 4,000 mark in losses if they win fewer than 83 games. Less likely but still theoretically possible, they could pass 4,000 wins if they win 112 games.
The Angels lost their 4,000th game late in the season, I believe on Saturday, September 25. With 3,967, loss number 4,000 will likely come next summer.
The Mets have 4,064 losses, the final 83 of which came in 2010.
It always amazes me to think of exactly how bad the Phillies were in the first half of this century. Since 1950, the franchise has only 11 seasons where they have lost 90 or more games and they are still a staggering 1,097 games under .500. Between 1919 and 1949, there were only seven years where the franchise did not lose 90 games (and 12 where they lost more than 100). They would have to duplicate this season’s 97-65 record for 34 consecutive years (and change) to reach .500.
2011 will see the Giants lose their 9,000th game. As bad as the Phillies history is, the Giants are that good, at 1,478 games over .500. Only the Yankees at 9,670 and 7,361 have a better winning percentage.
The Rangers/Washington Senators v2.0 are 41 games away from playing their 8,000th and at some point this year, passed 70,000 hits.
The spread between the best and worst teams in baseball was 40 games. The Phillies went 97 and 65 and the Keystone State’s other team went 57 and 105. That is the equivalent of the best NBA team going 49-33 and the worst going 29-53. In the NFL, the equivalents would be (rounding off of course) 10-6 and 6-10. Of course that is not how things panned out in those two leagues because it would never be that way. The Cleveland Cavaliers went 61-21 and the historically bad New Jersey Nets went 12-70. Scaled out to a 162 game schedule, the Nets would have ended up at 24-138. The NFL’s Indianapolis/St Louis spread was 14-2 and 1-15. It is pretty easy to scale those up to 162 games and obviously records would be set.
Every year I talk about this subject and point out that despite the fact that teams routinely finish 20 to 30 games out of the playoffs, the difference in real terms between the best team and worst teams in baseball is much less than in basketball, or especially football, which ironically has the phrase “any given Sunday” attached to it even though the chances of the worst teams beating the best team in even one out of 10 Sundays is remote.
Well, the Pirates beat the Phillies in four of the six games the teams played this season—even taking three of four from the Phillies in early July—in a week where they also won a series on the road against the uncompetitive, but still presentable, Cubs. They beat Halladay on the road and Hamels at home. Any given Tuesday, any baseball team can beat any other baseball team, even if that team has the year’s likely Cy Young winner starting the game.
Another parity related issue is mobility within the standings from one year to the next. Every league has its perennial basket cases and baseball has had more than its fair share through the recent past. But one team I find unique in baseball, and in American sports in general, is the Diamondbacks. They have only been in existence for 13 seasons now and have had some of the highest highs and some of the lowest lows. They have been to the playoffs four times, all via division titles. They have won a World Series title. They have a 100-win season, a 98-win season. They also have a 111-loss season, one of the worst years in recent memory that came despite a classic season from Randy Johnson, where he posted a 2.60 ERA in 245 innings. They have finished last in their division four times. three times losing 97 games or more. This coming June they will pick third in the rule four draft, four years after losing in the NLCS to the Rockies.
The Rockies themselves have had significant ups and downs in their brief history, albeit in a less manic fashion; a bit of early respectability (mostly mediocrity), followed by some years in the wilderness, and finally competitive showings in each of the last four campaigns. You can make rapid improvements in baseball and then see collapses just as quickly. Good teams tend to stay good and bad teams tend to stay bad, but there are opportunities that smart teams grab and pitfalls that dumb teams fall into. Baseball is not static.
AL: Josh Hamilton lost some value by losing time to some cracked ribs. It is remarkable that he played as well as he did knowing that he had those cracked ribs for some time before he was removed from the lineup. Hamilton led the AL in WAR via FanGraphs and was tied for sixth in the Baseball Reference version. He also led in OPS with a .359/411/.633 line. I give him the nod over Miguel Cabrera mostly because of defensive value, as Cabrera hit .328/.420/.622 but is a leaden glove even for first base.
Adrian Beltre’s .321/.365/.553 with stellar defense at the hot corner, Jose Bautista’s breakout .260/.378/.617, and Robinson Cano’s .319/.381/.511 are great seasons as well and deserve mention, but you knew all that already.
NL: For me this year it comes to a photo finish between Albert Pujols and Joey Votto. I would lean towards Pujols and his .312/.414/.596 over Votto’s .324/.424/.600 because—while the numbers don’t reflect a significant difference in their defense or park effects—my perception of both is that they go to Pujols. I realize the irony of my using aesthetics for a tiebreaker, but I really think it is a coin flip between the two and don’t begrudge anybody disagreeing with me in the comments.
I also loved Adrian Gonzalez this year and really wish he had been able to shine in a post-season spotlight, even though I was not really holding any torch for the Padres in general. Hitting .298/.393/.511 with his home park is just staggering.
Ryan Zimmerman’s .307/.388/.510 also gets on the ballot as does Troy Tulowitzki’s .315/.381/.568.
I hope you enjoyed the season as much as I did. Enjoy the rest of the playoffs and I will see you again in April.