2011 MLB Regular Season Awards Part I: The American League

Posted on September 28, 2011

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As the beginning of fall is officially upon us and another fantastic season of regular season baseball comes to a close, it is time for the Pop Fly Boys to hand out their regular season awards. Given that Jeremy’s favorite (Royals) team is in the AL, and Geoff’s is in the NL (Dodgers), it only makes sense that we would divide the analysis to reflect this. Besides, Geoff is the oldest, and has a rightful claim to the “Senior Circuit”, which is coming tomorrow.

American League Awards

By Jeremy Sickel

For the most part, the 2011 American League’s Award races are tight, with several individuals deserving of consideration for each piece of hardware,  although, there is one trophy that will be handed out that epitomizes the definition of a “blowout victory”.

The Rookie of the Year award is where I am most torn. There are a handful of names that can be thrown out as viable candidates but three are head and shoulders above the rest. Sure, some have certain statistics that stick out like Ivan Nova’s wins or Michael Pineda’s strikeouts, but we can’t pinpoint one category and hand someone the honor. All aspects of the player’s performance must be looked at in order to do so.

Jeremy Hellickson, Mark Trumbo and Eric Hosmer, in no particular order, have had the most consistent rookie campaigns. Setting the actual numbers aside, I don’t think anyone will be disappointed if any of these three players were to receive the award, but there is no shot at a three-way tie.

Let’s take a look at Hellickson first, since he is the only pitcher in this group. He ranks first among qualifying rookie starting pitchers in era, innings pitched, games started and complete games and is second in wins and strikeouts. Although this is a down year for rookie starting pitchers as a whole, these numbers are nothing to scoff at. And if it weren’t for a couple of rookie first baseman, Hellickson would more than likely get the nod here, which leads us to the real competition.

The position they play is really the only thing that Trumbo and Hosmer have in common. Trumbo is the slugging type with power to spare and Hosmer is an all-around chalk to chalk threat. While Trumbo leads all rookies in HRs, RBIs, doubles and SLG (players with at least 250 ABs) he is near the bottom in batting avg. and OBP. Hosmer, on the other hand, is a well-rounded player and seems to show up in the top five in all of the major statistical categories, despite a late call up from the minors. So the question is do you want the slugger or the consistency?

I will take my chances with the steady hand and go with Hosmer here. Although he didn’t debut until early May he has stayed the course and has outperformed Trumbo on a per at bat basis in every category but HRs, RBIs and SLG. And with a late season push it looks like Hosmer has room to grow as a player, which could be very scary to opposing pitchers in the years to come.

Manager of the Year (MOY) is actually a bit trickier than one would think. If the Cleveland Indians had stayed the course and not fallen off the planet, Manny Acta would, no doubt, be the run-away winner here. But the Indians eventually started playing to their talent level, allowing the Detroit Tigers to scamper past them in the AL Central standings, and knock Acta out of the running for Manager of the Year.

That brings us to Jim Leyland, the type of old-school manager that everyone respects but is a little scared of too; he probably still visits the tunnel for a smoke every so often. The Tigers under achieved for most of the first half, and then the light came on. Players started performing up to expectation, they have a closer that hasn’t blown a save since last year and a guy named Verlander, who decided to go Rambo-style on the entire league. But this is exactly why Leyland will not win the award; too good of a team to stay down so long and he didn’t have to deal with any out of the ordinary circumstances, which leads me to my MOY winner.

Joe Girardi is my AL Manager of the Year. You think I am crazy right? How does the manager of the team with the highest payroll in baseball win this award? He is getting it precisely because of his status as a Yankee. Girardi deals with a lot of issues other than the actual X’s and O’s of the game; the pressure from coaching in New York, the demands from the owner to win, multiple distractions off the field with certain players, handling of career milestones, tons of injuries, horrible starting pitchers – besides Sabathia and Nova – you get the hint right?

Everyone hates the Yankees and all they have done is take care of business this year when the Red Sox went out and made all the big moves in free agency. For the Yankees to be sitting in the catbird seat with all that has gone on this year is the reason that Girardi gets the honor.

The Cy Young award is given annually to the best pitcher in their respective league. Believe me when I tell you this and please quote me; this is the closest that sports has gotten to sheer dominance since Secretariat finished out the Triple Crown in 1973 with a record 31 length victory at the Belmont Stakes.

Justin Verlander is doing just that to the rest of the field in the American League. Sure everyone started out of the gate at the same time and has had equal opportunity to take the lead, but on July 21st, or a bit past the mid-way point of the race, Verlander put on his blinders and left the entire league, literally, eating his dust, winning twelve consecutive decisions and helping the Tigers move into first place in the AL Central.

Verlander leads all of baseball in wins, innings pitched, strikeouts, whip, games started, opponents batting avg., and is first in the American League in earned run average. This to me signifies absolute domination in a game that is thought to be the most difficult to master of the four major North American sports due to its rigorous schedule and unique and specialized skill sets.

There are other candidates that would have been worthy in any other year but this one, however CC Sabathia and Jered Weaver just happened to run into a buzz saw.

With condolences to the hitters that may be slighted here, we will see the twenty-first pitcher in the history of the game take home the Most Valuable Player award this year and the first since Dennis Eckersley back in 1992. As alluded to in a previous post, the MVP should be given to the most valuable PLAYER to a particular team in respect to the entire league. Simply put, the acronym for the award is not MVH – Most Valuable Hitter – so why are so little pitchers handed the honor? The most logical answer is that we don’t see seasons like Justin Verlander is having very often.

We can leave all of the actual pitching statistics out of this with Verlander’s dominance stated earlier in respect to the entire league, so I will just focus on what Verlander means to his own team. When it comes to the MVP I ask this question, “How would the absence of that player affect the results of his current team?” This is exactly why it is so easy to etch Verlander’s name into the award. He means more to the Detroit Tigers than any other player on any other team means to their respective team.

Let’s look at Curtis Granderson. He is putting up a fine offensive season that is admired by all around the game, but what would the Yankees be without him. The easy answer is that they would still be the Yankees. This is in no way a slight towards Granderson, it is just the fact that if the Yankees were without him, they could easily attempt to replace him by spending the money like they have done in the past. In addition there are tons of pieces around him to pick up the slack if he weren’t present…Cano and Teixeira to name the obvious.

A simple exercise to help solve the debate is if you put each player on the opposite team for the entire season. Would Granderson be doing what he is doing if he were on the Tigers? Well, we have already seen that experiment and the answer is no. I know it is difficult to project what a player would do on another team but Granderson has pretty much played to the ability of his team’s success his entire career. What he is doing this season isn’t much different from when he was hitting in a lesser lineup while putting up lesser numbers, the projection aspect of it anyway. But, if you put Verlander on the Yankees, we might even be seeing a more spectacular campaign than we are even witnessing now…if that is even possible.

This brings me to the real competition to Verlander. No one will argue how much Jose Bautista means to the Toronto Blue Jays, but if there is any such tiebreaker, to extinguish any uncertainty in the voter’s mind, it is overall team success. Bautista is quite arguably the single most important cog to his team’s success in all of baseball, but the overriding dynamic is how much success is he actually contributing? So I apologize to you Joey Bats, the Blue Birds just aren’t there yet; but you could lobby for a swap of divisions with the Cleveland Indians!

Some will question why I left out player’s from the Boston Red Sox that might seem deserving. But the “collapse” has squashed any chance of Adrian Gonzalez or Jacoby Ellsbury to be considered. It is one thing to have not been in contention all year like Bautista and the Blue Jays but MVPs, when put in the position to carry their team, do not relinquish the opportunity when it is handed to them. Although the individual stats are impressive from these two, they faltered down the stretch, erasing any idea of receiving the award.

Posted in: MLB