Welcome to the awards.
All stats are for the period of Monday, July 5 through Sunday, July 11. All season stats are through the 11th. For award definitions, see this year’s primer.
This week’s proof that assigning wins and losses to a pitcher is an archaic practice that must stop
Good luck division
The big comeback victories by the denizens of Denver negated some ugly efforts by starters and ensured that they wouldn’t receive Ls in the stat column. Jeff Francis started Tuesday’s game with an ugly five-run, four-inning line. He was relieved by Jhoulys Chacin who yielded four in three frames of what seemed to be mop-up duty. Chacin wouldn’t have received the loss anyway, but anytime you give up that many runs and don’t get blamed, it should be noted somewhere. The next day, it was Aaron Cook who was dominated by Matt Holliday and Jon Jay to the tune of five runs in five innings before getting bailed out by Chris Iannetta and friends.
Bad luck division
Wes Littleton Award
Francisco Rodriguez had a three-run lead to protect and three outs to get. The three batters he had to face were Matt Diaz, Yunel Escobar and Melky Cabrera, all of whom have struggled to keep their jobs due to poor hitting.
Please hold the applause
To Jason Berken’s credit, he got the Orioles out of a tough spot with a man on third in the seventh. Unfortunately when he came out for the eighth he allowed two triples, a single and a pair of runs. He got a hold despite himself.
Any sufficiently advanced defense is indistinguishable from pitching
Joe Carter Award
Coco Crisp drove in seven runs in 30 at-bats for the Elephants, going .227/.280/.455.
Season: Jose Guillen has 54 RBI and has been one of the better hitters in the Kansas City lineup. The second fact is a good indication of how poor the Royals offense has been this season. His .279/.340/.467 is presentable, but not really outstanding, which is what I think people are usually talking about when they speak of guys who drive in 100. Guillen is on pace to drive in exactly 100.
Since I talked about Guillen and his 54 RBI, I need to mention that Carlos Pena’s batting average difficulties have him and his RBI sitting at .203/.321/.415. We might talk about him more later on.
Mark Reynolds has 56 RBI and a .214/.328/.473 line.
Ichiro Suzuki posted a perfect Sanchez line, producing nine hits in 30 plate appearances with no walks and no extra base hits. .300/.300/.300 is a perfect illustration of what this award is all about.
Ryan Theriot gave the Cubs a .290/.333/.387 week.
Season: Ronny Paulino isn’t demonstrating much in the way of secondary skills, smacking just 17 extra base hits and walking only 15 times in 250 PA. His .282/.324/.380 isn’t terrible for a catcher, but nobody should be impressed.
Theriot has 16 stolen bases, but zero home runs and only 18 walks in 335 at-bats have him dragging down the Cubs offense at .278/.317/.313.
I mentioned Howie Kendrick and Jorge Cantu earlier. They both certainly qualify here.
I am not citing Mike Aviles as a winner here, but I mention him as a warning. Given the fact that he has nine walks in 220 PA, his .332 OBP isn’t going be sustainable if he has any kind of bad luck on balls in play.
Harmon Killebrew Award
Carlos Pena collected only three singles in 27 plate appearances, but he hit two home runs and walked six times for a .238/.407/.524 line.
Andres Torres has surprised a lot of people with his hitting this season. The journeyman did well this week despite a lack of singles, going .238/.333/.714.
Season: The surprising Jose Bautista had a terrible June that brought his numbers down, but in a small sample size July, he is back to mashing like it was May all over again. He is sporting a very Killebrew .237/.361/.543 line.
Is this one of Carlos Quentin’s good years? The slugger is going .244/.344/.523 with 19 home runs so far.
Steve Balboni Award
Russell Branyan did what Russell Branyan does and struck out an ungodly 12 times in 22 at-bats, negating a lot of the good work he did with his three extra base hits and four walks. His .182/.308/.409 is not very good for a first baseman or designated hitter. The sad part is, Mariners first basemen have combined to hit .215/.299/.350 this season, and designated hitters wearing an M’s uniform have gone .193/.256/.310. So he has already been an upgrade even in a bad week.
Season: Carlos Pena is on a pace to set a new personal high in strikeouts, which is saying something given that he has never been shy about swinging and missing. This causes a problem given that it is sinking his batting average lower than his penchant for walks and home runs can make a significant difference. His .203/.321/.415 is directly linked to his 93 strikeouts in 358 plate appearances. He is swinging at a higher percentage of pitches outside the strike zone than he has since his brief tenure in Boston in 2006 that got him released.
We’re back in the same place we have been before with B.J. Upton. His 78 strikeouts in 331 PA isn’t something his walk rate and isolated slugging percentage can save. You can make the argument that his defense in center field turns him into a productive player, but we all expect more from him, don’t we? And we expect more than .230/.320/.395 from an outfielder. The 24 home run power he flashed in 2007 doesn’t look like it is going to return. Is it possible to shorten his swing and turn him back into the OBP machine that we saw in 2008?
Three true outcomes
Adam Dunn did what Adam Dunn does and uncorked five home runs, walked three times, and struck out nine times in 25 plate appearances.
Prince Fielder went two-11-seven in 30 PA.
Jayson Nix surprised me by going five-two-six in 31 PA.
Season: Mark Reynolds is tied for fifth in the National League with 20 home runs, tied for 12th with 44 walks, and leads all of baseball with 122 strikeouts, roughly the same pace he set last year in all three categories with 351 plate appearances.
Prince Fielder is at 20-61-87 in 397 PA.
Yunel Escobar went zero-one-zero in 25 PA.
Cody Ross went zero-zero-one in 26 PA.
Season: David Eckstein is at one-16-12 in 325 PA.
Pedro Feliz isn’t doing much offensively this season. Three things he definitely isn’t doing are hitting home runs, drawing walks, and striking out, racking up only three-nine-25 in 266 PA.
Neither here, nor there
One of the things I find interesting in the LeBron James kerfuffle is that people seem to have a fetish for players spending their entire careers with one franchise. I don’t mean to take away the people of northern Ohio’s ability to grieve that their team will probably be terrible for the next few years. But there was a certain segment of the general sports public that talked as if star players have an obligation to stay with their original organization until they are no longer wanted. I do not get that.
Sure, I hope that Zack Greinke is happy enough in Kansas City that he does stay with the team, but I would not hold it against him if he decided that he had a better chance to fulfill certain career goals in another city. There is no moral obligation in the relationship between a team and a player beyond whatever contractual status is in effect. The people who think that it players who do stay with a team for their entire careers are morally superior to those who move a couple of times probably would have no problem with the team throwing LeBron in the nearest ditch had he blown out his knee and become Penny Hardaway 2.0.
The way most players end up on their teams is highly dependent on arbitrary factors beyond the athlete’s control. Very few players have the ability to dictate who gets their rights. It usually has to do with the opinions of scouts and management people who may not be there when the player reaches free agency. The organization may have the same name as it did five or 10 years ago, but the people who he bonded with as a young player might be long gone.
So you are left with fans and geography. And although it may seem arrogant to say so, fans are fans are fans in the eyes of most athletes because for the most part they are the same people in different cities. The fan atmosphere may be different between small market and large market, East Coast or West Coast, but in general they react the same. If you win, they embrace you. If you fail, they don’t.
So what should guide where a player goes when he has control of his own destiny? Whatever reasons he wants to make the decision. If he wants to play in a warm climate with two of his best friends? That’s fine with me. If he wants to play in his hometown? That’s cool too. If he wants to go chase the biggest paycheck? I have no problem with that. It’s what most of us do at some point in our professional careers. If he wants to go to the team that offers him the best supporting cast? More power to him.
I guess what I am saying is that everybody deserves to decide where he works at some point in his career and it isn’t any more admirable to make the pragmatic decision to value familiarity and what you have now than it is to chase what may or may not end up being a better situation. I hope LeBron finds whatever it is that he uses to define happiness.
This week’s MVP
AL: Miguel Cabrera is having a nice year, but this week was one of his better ones, with a .435/.481/.913 line in 26 PA, featuring six extra base hits.
Season: Cabrera shares the lead with fellow Central Division first baseman Justin Morneau, who is hitting .345/.437/.618. Morneau is the better of the two defensively. But Cabrera has a little more impressive numbers, going .346/.423/.651. Right now Morneau is the player the writers thought he was when they handed him the MVP. Cabrera is having the peak season we expected him to have back when he was getting MVP blocked by Albert Pujols as a Marlin.
NL: Buster Posey is going off on the National League. This week the rookie responded to getting the full time starting catcher job by slugging five home runs to go with eight singles. .556./594/1.222 is unreal.
Season: With apologies to David Wright, who is having a great comeback year and helping keep the Mets in the playoff hunt, even adjusting for home park Joey Votto is having a remarkably good year. I suppose it is a good year to be a first baseman from Big Ten country given my AL ballot. Votto leads the league in OBP, SLG, OPS (duh), and OPS+. He is hitting .314/.422/.589 with 22 bombs and 55 walks in 370 PA.
Due to the short All-Star week and a busy weekend, the Awards are taking next week off. When we return in two weeks, we will look at the season’s pitching leaders.