Welcome to the awards.
For award definitions and background on the column itself, please consult the Primer.
Joe Carter Award
Aubrey Huff produced 85 RBI for the Orioles and Tigers, batting .241/.310/.384. As a first baseman and DH, that is simply awful, an anchor dragging down his lineup.
Sometimes, just being in the lineup every day will lend some juice to your counting stats. Kevin Kouzmanoff’s 88 RBI, Brandon Inge’s 84, Jhonny Peralta’s 83, Pedro Feliz’s 82 and Orlando Cabrera’s 77 are a testament to that. These batters hit .255/.302/.420, .230/.314/.406, .245/.316/.375, .266/.308/.368, .284/.316/.389. None of them was what you would consider a particularly good hitter this year. But just by being there enough times, they accumulated a relatively high number of RBI.
Jose Lopez was far from useless this season. A second baseman with enough pop to smack 25 homers and 42 doubles is almost categorically useful. But with 96 RBI, his .303 OBP stands out as an indicator that his offensive prowess is one dimensional. He would be a much more valuable player with just a hint of plate discipline. Alas, he has none and he stands as a good, but very flawed player. One thing that stands out is the fact that Lopez batted third for 380 of his 653 plate appearances. Another is that he had three more RBI than the far superior Chase Utley.
Amidst the vocal worries of Red Sox nation, David Ortiz still drove in 99 runs this year. This isn’t a particularly ringing endorsement. As I mentioned above, just being there will get you opportunities to drive in runs. And Ortiz had 541 at-bats this year in the heart of the Red Sox order, behind OBP luminaries like Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Victor Martinez.
DHs hit .264/.347/.447 as a whole this year. Ortiz hit .238/.332/.462, so you are basically treading water with him compared to his peers at this point in his career. The 100-RBI plateau may be a kind of arbitrary point at which broadcasters and other fans of the traditional triple crown stats start considering somebody’s season as being a “great year,” but Papi clearly had just an ordinary year, one that only looks great if you compare it with the dreck that Huff called 2009.
James Loney drove in 90 runs while not really doing what players traditionally tagged as “run producers” do, which is hit for power. Loney tagged only 13 home runs and 25 doubles in 158 games. He slugged under .400.
Rey Sanchez Award
Delmon Young has been a regular fixture in the awards since their inception at Beyond the Boxscore back in 2007. He won the first Sanchez award back in ’07. He was an honorable mention last year. It is easy to see why he has such a hold here as his career line is a punchless .290/.322/.416. He was right in line with that this season, hitting .284/.308/.425 for the Twins in 395 plate appearances. His home run power has ticked up—he set a career best with a home run in almost three percent of his plate appearances—but his strikeout rate rose to 22 percent of his PA, and his walks fell, not just lower than they were in 2008, but lower than they were in his first year as a regular back in Tampa.
A corner outfielder who hits .290/.322/.416 is not useful. If he keeps the trajectory he established this season, he might end up as a kind of right-handed Mike Jacobs, a guy with some power, but no ability to get on base, a bad glove and no other discernible skills.
Gerardo Parra didn’t do so well himself, hitting .290/.324/.404.
This might have been Nomar Garciaparra’s swan song, as he flailed his way to a .281/.314/.388 line. I don’t see what any right-minded team would see in him at this point.
Wes Helms has to be near the end, too, since .271/.318/.364 is wretched.
I already mentioned Orlando Cabrera and his .284/.316/.389. Fellow shortstop Cristian Guzman hit .284/.306/.390. And Freddy Sanchez, another yearly fixture here, ended at .293/.326/.416 and deserved very little of the hand-wringing that was apparent in the Pittsburgh fan base after he was dumped on the Giants. His only discernible skill is rapping a few singles here and there.
On crime and BITGODs
Ryan Sager recently pointed out a tendency for people to perceive crime rates as increasing even when they are decreasing and speculates on how it is part of a broader pattern of people’s memories of yesterday, overlooking flaws that we don’t overlook today: “Kids were better behaved back when I was younger.”
I would extend this out to “traditionalist” baseball fans (and, for that matter, many regular fans who don’t see themselves as clutching onto a bygone era) who offer sepia-toned memories of yesteryear. We get stories of players who were kinder, more generous, better behaved, devoid of selfishness or immaturity. Most importantly, they are recalled as more fundamentally sound, never botching the little things like defense or base running. Pitching was better. Everything was better. There weren’t any rainouts, the guys played for the love of the game. The sport was as pure as freshly fallen snow (which also didn’t fall because God loved baseball).
If you’ll pardon the liberties I took above, it seems to me that the instinct to gloss over the fact that the present isn’t as bad as people think it is and the past wasn’t as flawless as we would like to remember transcends sports or politics or societal ills. Players still played for money. Players held out for more and complained when they didn’t get it. Players committed errors. And there were hopeless clubs
Harmon Killebrew Award
Carlos Pena has made a career out of secondary skills. Batting average is not his strength, with his career total of .247. This year was no different: He ended the season at .227. But he led the AL in home runs with 39 and chipped in 87 walks. .227/.356/.537 is an untraditional line, but it is a good one.
On the other side of Florida, Dan Uggla hit .243/.354/.459.
Nick Swisher rebounded nicely with a .249/.371/.498 line with the Yankees. It justifies the anger I felt with the Royals when they decided that Jacobs was a good idea, but more or less ignored Swisher, whom the Yankees got for a song.
Chris Iannetta hit .228/.344/.460 and really should get more playing time in Denver.
Jim Thome is in a slow decline in his late 30s. He still hit .249/.366/.481 and got shuffled off to LA to be a really famous pinch-hitter
Steve Balboni Award
It was a weird year for the Balboni as the top two finishers in strikeout total had very good seasons. Mark Reynolds shattered the single season strikeout record with 223 but still hit .260/.349/.543. And with 186 strikeouts, Ryan Howard racked up a pretty high total too. But he also slugged 45 home runs and carried a .325 BABIP for a .279/.360/.571 line.
To get the winner, you have to go to the guy who whiffed his way out of a plum job with a surprise team. Chris Davis of the Rangers had a Reynoldsesque 150 strikeouts in 391 at-bats. If he had carried the K rate through the entire season and still kept his job as the everyday first baseman, he would have struck out 215 times. To carry the weight of that many whiffs, you have to have supernatural power and walk rates. Reynolds hit 44 home runs and drew 76 walks in 578 at-bats. Davis managed only 24 walks and had an isolated slugging percentage almost 80 points lower than that of the Diamondbacks slugger. Davis ended the year with an ugly .238/.284/.442 line. If he is to fend off Justin Smoak, he is going to have to be selective, draw a bunch of walks and stop hacking at everything white and airborne.
Chris B. Young might end up being his generation’s Mike Cameron if he doesn’t start figuring this thing out. He hasn’t shown the power or the patience to carry a .212 batting average: He ended the season with a .711 OPS.
We know Jacobs at this point. We know who he is. We know what he does. We know he hits some home runs, but he has the worst glove in the game, strikes out a lot, and never walks. I don’t know who Dayton Moore was expecting, but they got the guy who hit .228/.297/.401 this season.
Kelly Shoppach struck out 98 times in 271 at-bats, which goes a long way toward explaining how despite 12 home runs in half a season’s worth of work, he compiled only a .399 slugging percentage.
Three true outcomes
In a season that was abbreviated by broken fingers, Carlos Pena slugged 39 home runs, walked 87 times and struck out 163 times. He amassed these totals in 471 at-bats. This is how you win a Killebrew.
Prince Fielder posted 46 homers, 110 walks and 138 strikeouts in 591 AB.
Adam Dunn is old news in the category: 38 HR, 116 BB, 177 K
We covered Reynolds before: 44 HR, 76 BB, 223! K
Adrian Gonzalez was pitched around all year as the lone big threat in the Padres lineup. That boosted his walk total. His new career high in home runs gave opposing managers and pitchers even more reason to hold up four fingers when he came up: 40 HR, 119 BB, 109 K
For the most part, Albert Pujols is missing a category here. He never strikes out. And, like Gonzalez, he gets handled with kid gloves by opposing pitchers. Of course, even as great as Gonzalez is and as great as he was this season, opposing pitchers would gladly walk Pujols to get to him. Pujols is just that good: 47 HR, 115 BB, 64 K
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. Earlier this year we mentioned the Dodgers becoming the third team in history to cross 10,000 wins as an organization.
The Cardinals joined the Dodgers, Cubs and Giants in the 10,000 win club, though I admit I missed that one when it happened. The Giants still lead professional sports with 10,344 wins.
Elsewhere, the Orioles won their 8,000th. The Phillies won their 9,000th (they still lead with 10,167 losses). And the Padres won their 3,000th.
Looking forward to next season, with 3,887 wins and 3,921 losses, the Angels are theoretically within striking distance of 4,000 in each category, although obviously doing both in a 162-game season is impossible since it would require 113 wins (which seems unlikely) and 79 losses. Chances are we will be here a year from now talking about how each will happen early in 2011.
The Mets have 3,981 losses, so 4,000 should come early next season.
The Diamondbacks have 970 wins and 974 losses, so 1,000 should come early for both. That brings me to another aspect of this discussion, which is total games played. The Diamondbacks and their expansion partner, Tampa, will play their 2,000th game as a franchise. If you are good at math (which seems likely since you read The Hardball Times), you already have figured out that the Snakes need 56 games. The Rays need 59.
With 19,890 and 19,922 respectively, the Dodgers and Cubs will be the first two professional sports teams to play 20,000 games.
One interesting thing to note is that while they came into existence late enough that the Giants still have a 769-win advantage on them, the Yankees do lead the sport with an overall win percentage of .568. The Rays have the worst win percentage at .426. Among pre-expansion clubs, the Phillies have the worst winning percentage at .471. Among the franchises that do predate the 1960s expansions, only the Orioles/Browns, the A’s, Braves and Phillies are under .500. And the Braves are only 29 games below the break-even point. The “lovable losers” on the north side of Chicago are 564 games over .500, a fact that surprised most of my friends and family who grew up in the Midwest thinking of them as being cursed with bad teams and bad management. They’re rarely bad though, mostly just unlucky.
Every year in the finale, I make the point that I firmly believe much of the unpredictability in the NFL standings is due purely to sample size issues associated with a 16-game schedule, something that is a complete 180 from MLB schedules that are almost exactly 10 times as long. Much of the perceived “parity” that is associated with the NFL is schedule-related. Playing 16 games and having one game playoff series lends itself to weird things happening. It also increases the chances that teams will have outlier won/loss totals. And after New England just missed pulling off an undefeated season, the Lions managed to go winless. The modern record for the worst record in baseball history is the 1916 Philadelphia A’s at 36-117. The worst post-war record was the ’62 Mets at 40-120, the equivalent of a 4-12 record in the NFL. Six teams did that or worse last year alone. The best record is the ’06 Cubs at 116-36. The best post-war record is the ’01 Mariners at 116-46, the equivalent of 11-5 or 12-4. Five NFL teams went 12-4 or better last year.
To illustrate the point, if the baseball season were only each team’s first 16 games this year, the playoffs would have featured the Blue Jays, Cards, Dodgers and Marlins, all at 11-5. The Royals would have won the AL Central. The Padres would have won the AL Wild Card. Short seasons lead to unpredictable results.
On the worst teams list, the Angels would have tied with Oakland, Tampa and Cleveland at 6-10 for last in the AL. The Nationals would have finished with the worst record at 3-12, still better than three NFL teams fared.
The NBA season is half as long as MLB at 82 games. The Cavaliers finished the season at 66-16, which would have put them on pace for 130 wins if they had a 162-game schedule. Obviously that would have been a record. Sacramento finished with a 17-65 record, a pace for 34 wins in a baseball schedule, another record.
Of course none of this is intended to denigrate baseball or football or to even say that baseball is perfect. All it is intended to do is to point out that for all of the shots that baseball has taken from writers, fans, and even some of the owners about parity, the teams are more even than you would ever actually acknowledge. And a lack of shocking seasons like the 2001 Chicago Bears is almost purely a function of the length of the schedule weeding out flukes.
I love all three sports and don’t wish to change any of them significantly. I like how chronic incompetence is punished in baseball with never-ending failure, even if my own favorite team is the current poster child for that. I love the randomness of the NFL. And I love the long dynasties of the NBA with dominant teams that crush their opponents year after year. Viva la difference.
AL: This one seems like a no-brainer for me. I hope that it appears that way to the writers who vote for MVP. And I hope the fact that the Twins made the playoffs was not the deciding factor. When a Gold Glove-caliber catcher leads the league in batting average, slugging percentage and OBP (by a huge 70-point margin), there really isn’t a valid argument against him. Joe Mauer is the MVP of the AL by a pretty good margin.
One thing the writers do seem to have right is that the closest competitor is Derek Jeter, though probably not for the right reasons. It seems staggering that he not only had an offensive renaissance but also his best defensive season on record. I don’t know if I can get used to Jeter turning into a defensive asset at shortstop at the age of 35. Add in that he added almost 100 points of OPS to the mix and he’s a pretty valuable player. Never mind the fact that he was the best player on the best team in the league; he was simply one of the best players in the league. He wasn’t the reason the Yankees are the class of the league, but he was a significant reason among many.
Ben Zobrist was almost as big a surprise as Jeter’s defense. Sure he showed some pop last year with the Rays. But he never had done anything to indicate that this kind of explosion was a possibility. He was ticketed to be a utility player with just enough bat to keep his glove in business. Well, all he did was bat .297/.405/.543 and put up positive defensive numbers both in the outfield and at second base.
If you’re curious who the leader in WPA was in the AL, it was Zack Greinke. I would not vote him as the MVP, but he would be an easy top five for me.
NL: Pujols ran away with this even more than Mauer ran away with the AL. He led the league in OPS by 87 points. He led in OBP by 17. Led in slugging by 56 (over a guy who hit 46 home runs). He walked 51 times more than he struck out. He is the best defensive first baseman in the game. He led the league in WPA and VORP by large margins. He was successful in 16 of his 20 attempts to steal a base. There is basically nothing he doesn’t do well. He is practically perfect.
Prince Fielder came in second in slugging, home runs and OPS. He was in the top five in OBP. He was second in WPA. If you’re going up against a mere mortal, you expect to win the MVP when you hit .299/.412/.602. The next step down in OPS is 83 points away.
Hanley Ramirez is a fixture on these lists. An average defensive shortstop (which he has become) who hits .342/.410/.543 with 27 steals in 35 attempts belongs here.
Adrian Gonzalez hit .277/.407/.551 for the Padres in a hostile environment for hitters. He also was a +11 glove. Sign me up for that.
I will go one deeper in the NL than the AL because I want to acknowledge that Chase Utley is ridiculously valuable and one of the most overlooked players in the game despite being the best player on one of the elite teams in the NL. This is a Gold Glove second baseman who hits .298/.397/.508. He stole 23 bases without getting caught so much as one time. He has been the best player on the Phillies even in the years where teammates won the trophy. He was better than Jimmy Rollins when Rollins won it. He was better and more valuable than Ryan Howard when Howard won it.
That does it for another year of the awards. I hope you had fun. This year’s columns are dedicated to my grandfather Chuck Leemon, who among other things was a Cubs fan for all of his 81 years on the planet. The trials of living for that long without ever celebrating your team’s having won a World Series pales in comparison to the challenges of being a farmer for 50 years, raising five children and 10 grandchildren, and suffering through bladder cancer. But in the context of this column, it seems appropriate to mention that I really wish that they had done it for him this year or some other year.