The end of Daylight Saving Time, colder weather, and the conclusion of another World Series make early November a sad time for many baseball fans. Thankfully, the sport gives us one last treat by recognizing the game’s top players during the 11th month.
Announcements won’t begin until Veterans Day, so let’s take time to offer predictions on the likely winners versus who I believe should win, which is often a major chasm.
American League Rookie of the Year
My winner/Likely winner: Wil Myers, Tampa Bay Rays
Thankfully we begin with a straightforward choice. Though I watched Wil Myers blossom in Omaha during the 2012 campaign, I was still impressed to see the 22-year-old outfielder tear through American League pitching following his June 18 promotion. A top prospect since Kansas City drafted him in 2009, Myers launched a grand slam off C.C. Sabathia at Yankee Stadium a few days later, and despite just playing 88 games, the North Carolinian led AL rookies in on-base percentage, slugging and Wins Above Replacement.
National League Rookie of the Year
My winner: Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins
Though there are many good candidates in the Senior Circuit, this right-hander stands out.
Amazingly an “unexpected addition” to the Marlins’ roster out of spring training, Fernandez dazzled from his first start, finishing with the lowest ERA (2.19) for a 20-year-old in more than a century, and as just the fourth rookie ever with a sub 2.20 ERA (only Clayton Kershaw was better in that category, while only Kershaw and Matt Harvey boasted a lower WHIP). The Cuban, who finished second in the National League with 9.75 strikeouts per nine innings, permitted a measly 5.8 hits per nine innings this season. Only three pitchers with 170 or more innings pitched have done that since 1969.
Likely Winner: Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers
This is where the media gets predictable, since they’ve hyped Fernandez’s countryman all season for various reasons.
That the Dodgers began their remarkable 2013 run once Puig was called up from Chattanooga in early June will influence most voters greatly. However, Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Hanley Ramirez and others were just as important. The massive L.A. market also plays a factor in bias, as very few people watch Marlins games by comparison.
With many sloppy throws, poor base running and an arrogant attitude hurting the Dodgers during the regular season and playoffs, Puig also hit just .236 with runners in scoring position. In arguably the best rookie class since 2006, the Dodger outfielder was quite good, but Fernandez was better.
Unfortunately the media rarely let facts get in the way of agenda, but maybe they’ll surprise us this year.
American League Manager of the Year
My Winner: Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians
The former Boston skipper took a 94-loss team, that had posted one of the worst final two months in Cleveland’s long, futile history and brought it to 92 wins. The Tribe leapfrogged four teams in the final month of the season to capture an unexpected wild card berth, finishing just one game from the division title. No one saw that coming.
Those accomplishments were achieved despite one of the lowest payrolls in the American League, an influx of questionable free agent signings, a dreadful closer, no reliable power hitters, no fan support and the loss of the team’s best pitcher down the stretch. The 2013 Indians were remarkable, making Francona a no-brainer recipient to me, but unlikely to receive support from a large segment of the media that doesn’t watch Cleveland games.
Likely winner: John Farrell, Boston Red Sox
Postseasons are not factored into voting, yet I’d be surprised if the former Cleveland pitcher didn’t capture the award. He took a 69-win Boston team to 97 triumphs and eventually their third World Series title in the past decade.
But the Red Sox had one of MLB’s highest payrolls, stellar offseason (and in-season) acquisitions and great support from fans and management. The 2012 season was an aberration due to a horrid manager/silly man, considering Boston averaged well over 90 wins the past decade. Leading the Red Sox is nearly the opposite of managing in northern Ohio, and Farrell probably knows it. Cleveland baseball writers are cognizant too, because they follow the team.
National League Manager of the Year
My winner/Likely winner: Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates
Not a hard choice. The pieces finally fit in the Steel City this season, as the Pirates — with the NL’s second lowest payroll — exorcised 21 years of demons, made the playoffs and earned fans’ admiration.
There really are no other choices. Other managers either underachieved or accomplished what they should have with massive payrolls. And one subpar skipper finally got what he deserved, a few days after I opined.
American League Most Valuable Player
My winner/Likely winner: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
There is again a lot of talk about Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout deserving this award, and as you’ll see with my next choice, I’m not opposed to rewarding men from losing teams. But, when you look at Detroit’s batting order, you realize no one is more valuable than Miggy. Even Trout graciously agrees.
Cabrera topped the Angels’ sophomore in average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Detroit’s offense sputtered when their third baseman was gimpy toward the end of the season and into October. And though Trout’s overall body of work was amazing for the most disappointing team in baseball (again), Cabrera posted .348/44/137 in just 144 games. Yes, those are better offensive stats than his 2012 Triple Crown season!
National League Most Valuable Player
My winner: Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona
Goldschmidt led the entire National League in five different major categories: home runs (36), runs batted in (125), slugging percentage (.551), OPS (.952) and total bases (332). For good measure, the Texan also led in intentional walks (19), and hit .302 with an on-base percentage of .401 (fourth in the NL).
To top it off, the big man stole 15 bases, scored 103 runs and only missed two games for a team in the wild card race until the final few weeks of the season. Few outside of Phoenix can name anyone else in Arizona’s starting lineup.
Likely winner: Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh
Few people outside of Pittsburgh are bigger fans of “Cutch” than I am. I watched the Florida native in person for two years in Indianapolis, I met the guy twice and consider him an upstanding man who will lead his team and Major League Baseball toward great things for years to come.
But Andrew McCutchen is not the 2013 NL MVP. It seems like the media wanted to give the award to him last season, but the Pirates fell apart down the stretch. Interestingly, McCutchen’s 2012 statistics were superior to 2013, and it’s not even close.
Pittsburgh is not a big market, but as the best story in baseball this season, the Pirates received a ton of publicity. The narrative of McCutchen as the best player on that Bucs team will resonate with emotional folks. I hope voters they partake in a modicum of research instead.
American League Cy Young
My winner/Likely winner: Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers
Sabermetric types who are paid a lot of money to spit out stats may disagree, but that doesn’t sway me. I was very supportive of Felix Hernandez taking the 2010 award despite a 13-12 record, because the evidence was overwhelming.
Scherzer’s 21 wins and near 90 percent winning rate notwithstanding, the right-hander struck out 10.08 hitters per nine innings and 240 total. That was good for second-best in the AL, while his 0.97 WHIP led the Junior Circuit. His 2.90 ERA — perhaps his only “weakness” — was in the top five.
As a Cleveland fan, I dislike the Tigers, but the 29-year-old Missourian earned the honor in 2013 from day one.
National League Cy Young
My winner/likely winner: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
Sorry to close on a anticlimactic note, but perhaps we saved the best for last.
I penned a piece in late August musing about Kershaw as a potential MVP candidate — in addition to his second Cy Young award in three seasons — and his place in history. Ultimately September was the lefty’s “worst” month of the campaign (he had a 2.53 ERA, though a startling 1.59 for the entire second half), but the 25-year-old still topped the NL in ERA (1.83), WHIP (0.92) and strikeouts (232).
Kershaw’s 1.83 ERA was the lowest for a starting pitcher since Roger Clemens in 2005. Despite his youth, the Texan is also just a darn good human being, which matters most in the end, doesn’t it?
Let’s see how his contract negotiations go, I suppose.