NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Jeff Francoeur
As I see it, this race is basically between Francoeur and Ryan Howard. Some people are talking about Willy Taveras, but the only advantage Taveras has is playing time. He is the only significant rookie to play the full season (617 PAs), but he has played so poorly (325/341/291) that he's been surpassed even by the half-season rookies. People like Taveras because he's fast, hits for a good average, and plays good defense. All these are true, but that's literally all he does. He has a below-average OBP and almost no power. Average and defense alone are okay, but okay isn't good enough to be the Rookie of the Year this year.
Francoeur's hitting line is (336/549/300), while Howard's is (356/567/288). Howard would seem to have a slight edge, but he plays in a much friendlier hitter's ballpark. Also, Francouer plays a more valuable defensive position (RF to Howard's 1B) very well. This edges Francouer past him. The knock on Francouer is his small amount of playing time (268 PAs compared to Howard's 345) and the fact that he got off to an awesome (ahem lucky) start before spiralling back down to earth. Howard, on the other hand, has played longer and more consistently. If there are any intangibles to be taken into account, I can't see as how one player has the advantage. Both men took the place of injured players on contending teams and played very well, helping the team stay in contention (although Howard admittedly replaced a much more important player in Jim Thome).
It's a very close call, and I couldn't really disagree with someone who voted for Howard. But my vote goes to Francoeur.
My top 3:
- Jeff Francoeur
- Ryan Howard
- Ryan Langerhans
AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Huston Street
This is another close race, although it's much more difficult to narrow down the field. The other contenders would be Tadahito Iguchi, Jonny Gomes, Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, as well as Joe Blanton and Gustavo Chacin. Add in Street, and we've got a very crowded field. Whom can we eliminate?
What about Blanton and Chacin? I'm afraid we'll have to eliminate them. Both have pitched pretty well. Blanton compiled a 3.53 ERA in 201.1 IP with 23 HR allowed and a 67:116 BB:K ratio. Chacin posted a 3.72 mark in 203 IP with 20 HR allowed and a 70:121 BB:K ratio. When you take into account that Chacin pitches in a tougher ballpark, they're closer candidates. But I think we have to let them go. Neither one could really be considered among the top 20 starters in the league, and although their ERAs are fine, their BB:K ratios are both pretty suspect.
This leaves Iguchi and Jonny Gomes to go with Street. Gomes has been a much better hitter (372/534/282) than Iguchi (342/438/278), although the gap really narrows when you take into account Iguchi's defense. If they had played an equal amount of time, I'd take Gomes. But Iguchi has a pretty large margin in terms of playing time (558 PAs to Gomes' 387). So while I think it's a close call, I'll take Iguchi.
So Iguchi is the main challenger to my pick of Huston Street. I'll just reiterate that Iguchi is a fair hitter with solid defense who has played the whole year. This gives him an edge over the short-timers like Gomes and Swisher, as well as the not-quite-brilliant pitchers such as Chacin and Blanton. So has Street been good enough to beat him?
Street has gone 5-1 with a 1.72 ERA and 23/27 in saves. He's thrown 78.1 IP (not too shabby for a closer) allowing just 3 HR with an impressive 26:72 BB:K ratio. Street has been just excellent as a closer, the best in the league after Rivera. And although he hasn't had such a significant impact in terms of playing time, I'll pick him over Iguchi.
It's a very tough process, weighing quality against quantity. Sometimes a player's quality outweights the lack of quantity, and sometimes the opposite is true. We have statistics to guide us, but we often have to make a judgment call based on our best understanding of the evidence. Francoeur and Street are tough choices; if you were to pick Howard and Iguchi, I couldn't make a huge argument against them. Such is baseball.
My top 3:
- Huston Street
- Tadahito Iguchi
- Jonny Gomes
NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR: Bobby Cox
I'm going with the majority on this one. Cox has proven able to win under almost any circumstances, and this year is a very good example of that. The only other serious challenger to Bobby is, in my opinion, Tony LaRussa. But while LaRussa's team did win more games, I don't think he faced nearly as much adversity as Cox. It's a tough choice between two Hall-of-Famers, but I'll take Bobby.
My top 3:
- Bobby Cox
- Tony LaRussa
- Ned Yost
AL MANAGER OF THE YEAR: Eric Wedge
Ozzie Guillen will most likely win this award, for the brand of "smart ball" that got the White Sox the AL Central Division title. Except that what I just said was a lie; Ozzie's brand of baseball didn't help the Sox get to the playoffs; if anything it hurt their chances. Ozzie's "smart ball" gets all the credit for Chicago's turnaround. Which is an example of people seeing two things together and assuming one causes another. But if Ozzie's smart ball helped the White Sox to the division title, how come they scored fewer runs this year than last year, when they didn't make the playoffs? Ozzie's style isn't helping the Sox score runs; it might be hurting them. The White Sox scored 4.57 runs/game this year. Last year, they scored 5.33 runs/game. So in a year that they go from also-rans to 99-game winners, the White Sox became a significantly worse offensive team. If an executive's style is seen as making a business more successful, shouldn't someone actually check the bottom line to make sure the business is more successful before slobbering affection all over him?
So how come the White Sox are such a better team this year? Well, their ERA this year was 3.61, just a hair worse than Cleveland's in the entire American League. Last year, their ERA was 4.91. So while their hitting got worse, their pitching got a whole lot better. "Smart ball" and Scott Podsednik didn't help the Sox in the run column this year; their amazing pitching staff did. Which, I must admit, Guillen deserves his share of credit in the handling of. Guillen did a good job handling the pitching staff. But he's being hijacked by the anti-Moneyball squad as the poster child for old-fashioned baseball. But no one has pointed out that el presidente has no clothes.
So yeah, instead my pick is Eric Wedge.
My top 3:
- Eric Wedge
- Mike Scioscia
- Ozzie Guillen
NL ROLAIDS RELIEF MAN AWARD: Billy Wagner
This award pretty much belonged to Chad Cordero for most of the year. But then he stumbled down the stretch. He finished with a 1.82 ERA (3rd-best among NL closers), despite pitching in one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in baseball. He did lead the league with 47 saves, but he also led the league with 54 save opportunities. We don't give the batting title to the guy with the most hits, right? Because some guys get a lot more ABs (or chances) to get hits. So why do we celebrate the guy with the most saves without recognizing that some guys get a lot more chances to get saves, just like hits. So is save percentage more important than number of saves? You bet your sweet patoot.
Cordero had 7 blown saves (47/54 = 87%). Billy Wagner had 3 blown saves (38/41 = 93%). Wagner's 1.51 ERA was best among all NL closers despite pitching in a very tough home ballpark. His 6 HR allowed are not excessive (especially considering the ballpark), and his 20:87 BB:K ratio (in 77.2 IP) is pretty darn good. There's no Eric Gagne among this year's candidates, but Billy Wagner was the best.
Oh, and if you're wondering about Todd Jones, he too had a bad September, stumbling to a 2.10 ERA (despite a very friendly ballpark), going 40/45 (89%) in saves.
My top 3:
- Billy Wagner
- Derrick Turnbow
- Scott LinebrinK
AL ROLAIDS RELIEF MAN: Mariano Rivera
Well, here's one we can pretty much all agree on. Rivera just ran away with the AL, at least in terms of closers. The only guys who got close were the aforementioned Street (who did just have 23 saves) and Dustin Hermanson (whose injuries got to him -- or maybe it was his 17:33 BB:K ratio in 57.1 IP).
Rivera finished with a 1.38 ERA (best among all AL relievers with at least 40 IP), went 43/47 in saves (91%) in 78.1 IP, and allowed just 2 HR to go with 18 BB and 80 (count 'em) strikeouts. That's a fine season, and no other AL closer was better.
My top 3:
- Mariano Rivera
- Huston Street
- Dustin Hermanson
And now for a few more random awards, to be discussed tersely ...
NL EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR: John Schuerholz
Granted he didn't do a whole lot this year (although that Farnsworth trade looks mighty nice), but this year saw the fruition of his historically brilliant farm system. The Braves' organization as a whole is just the class of baseball. Other candidates include Omar Minaya, Walt Jocketty, and Doug Melvin.
AL EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR: Mark Shapiro
Speaking of someone whose plans came to fruition ... Shapiro's amazingly quick rebuilding of the Cleveland Indians nearly got them into the postseason just 3 years after their collapse. He shunned free agents (with some exceptions, such as the best bargain of the off-season, Kevin Millwood) and built up a stable of kids. Now he's got a killer lineup of Travis Hafner, Jhonny Peralta, Victor Martinez, Grady Sizemore and others such as Coco Crisp and Ron Belliard that will carry him for years. The bullpen is strong, although Bob Wickman can't last forever, but the starting pitching is a little shaky. However, being able to put a dynasty back together this quickly and then scare the daylights out of the AL's winningest team deserves some major kudos. Other candidates: Brian Cashman, Billy Beane.
NL COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Ken Griffey, Jr.
You've gotta give Griffey the love here, especially considering everything that he's come back from. Although he may not have been the best player of the 1990's, he probably was the best player of the 1990's (non-steroid class). Other candidates include Andy Pettitte, Todd Jones, Troy Glaus.
AL COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jason Giambi
Well this award is fraught with implications. To make a long story short, we can't convincingly connect Jason Giambi's rise and fall with steroids. He admittedly started taking them after his MVP season, and he thereupon got worse every year from 2002-2004. So we can't really say that steroids is behind this award, or that he's "coming back" from using steroids.
I certainly don't think Giambi is a "hero" for admitting that he used steroids. Neither is he the anti-Christ. Just as no one was willing to stand up and defend accused Communists (until Edward R. Morrow), no one is going to stand up and say that we're being too hard on the steroid users. But the holier-than-thou attitude of the mainstream media is sickening. If most of them had the opportunity to reach the major leagues if it meant taking steroids, how many of them would do it? How many of us would do it? We can't celebrate Giambi, but we must admit that he has taken all of the heat for something a whole lot of people have done. And I will say that it was an amazingly brave thing to admit that in front of the grand jury. Others weren't quite so forthright ...
Other candidates: Kevin Millwood, Richie Sexson
I'll be back tomorrow with some more frivolous and fun end-of-2005 awards. Cross your fingers for Jorge Sosa! Hell, cross everything ya got.