The end of Daylight Saving Time, frigid weather, and the conclusion of a stellar World Series make November a sad time for many baseball fans. Thankfully the sport gives us one last treat by recognizing the season’s best players during the 11th month.
Announcements run this coming Monday through Thursday, so let’s take time to offer predictions on the winners.
Rookie of the Year
I’ll skip an AL analysis since it’s Chicago’s Jose Abreu in a walk. The NL has weak candidates, but since media darling Billy Hamilton, like his team, faded badly in the second half (.200 BA. .254 OBP, just 18 stolen bases and 10 runs scored after the All-Star break), I’d probably learn toward Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom, who improved all season (ERA under 3.00 in the second half with a WHIP under 1.00).
Manager of the Year
Buck Showalter is as obvious a choice for this award as Abreu was for his. He took a team that lost three of its four best hitters — who combined for 87 home runs in 2013 — yet conquered the AL East with baseball’s second-best record, leading the Orioles to their best season in nearly two decades. He handles players extraordinarily well and is arguably the sport’s best overall skipper.
We don’t count the postseason, which hurts Bruce Bochy’s case, but also aids Clint Hurdle’s run for a second consecutive MOY award. If the Buccos don’t run into Madison Bumgarner in the Wild Card round, who knows how far they go? Tempting as that selection is, Matt Williams should take the NL award. Like his counterpart up I-95, the Nats leader overcame injuries to many key players (Gio Gonzalez, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, among others) to lead the Senior Circuit in wins (96) during his first campaign. (We’ll overlook his NLDS Game 2 blunder.)
The AL is a fascinating race.
Chicago’s Chris Sale was stellar again, but missed nearly a month, which is hard to overcome when Seattle’s Felix Hernandez and Cleveland’s Corey Kluber basically dominated throughout 2014. All three pitchers suffered from poor offenses that probably lost them three games or more during the season.
While King Felix was possibly more consistent, I’m going with Kluber. The righty had a 1.73 second half ERA, a league-high 18 wins (three more than Hernandez), 269 strikeouts and much more. The Tribesman saved his best for September as Cleveland clung to playoff hopes, winning five games (Hernandez had just two) with a sparkling 1.12 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 40 innings pitched.
Too bad Johnny Cueto (20 wins, 2.25 ERA) and Adam Wainwright (20 wins, 2.38 ERA) pitch in the same league as Clayton Kershaw (21 wins, 1.77 ERA). There’s no augment here. Luckily for Kershaw, we don’t count another postseason debacle (1-5, 5.12 career ERA).
Most Valuable Player
Mike Trout is the best all-around player in baseball, but I made a strong argument against his winning this award even before his 2014 playoff failures. When your batting average is nearly 50 points lower than the competition and you lead the league in failures (184 Ks vs. 173 hits), I don’t value your power numbers, defense or whatever sabermetrics you have as much.
Victor Martinez hit .335 with just four fewer homers (32) and eight fewer RBI (103) than Trout. Perhaps most impressive is Martinez punched out only 42 times in nearly 650 plate appearances. Think of how much more that helps his team than 184 at bats where you do nothing.
The silver slugger winner also played first base and, as someone who follows the AL Central more than any other division, had an amazing amount of clutch hits and home runs late during big games down the stretch. He also played nearly 40 games in the field too, so V-Mart wasn’t always a DH, despite what most muse.
But Martinez, like Trout, has stellar teammates. So if you’re looking for truly the most “valuable” AL player, it’s Cleveland’s Michael Brantley.
The 27-year-old blossomed like no other in 2014, hitting in a weak lineup, keeping the Tribe in the playoff race until the final weekend with his clutch bat, glove and leadership.
The first Indians outfielder to win a Silver Slugger since 2008, Brantley hit .327 with 94 runs, 20 homers and 23 steals. The most underrated position player in the game was one of only two players to knock out 200 hits this campaign. Even with such accomplishments, Brantley received little recognition from the elite media, thus I doubt he will win the award. Cleveland is a 75-win team max without Brantley; they won 85 in a good division this season.
I don’t give pitchers MVP awards. Clayton Kershaw was only involved in 16 percent of the Dodgers’ games this season, and the team has an incredible offense to support him. The lefty may win, as Justin Verlander did in 2011, but he shouldn’t.
Giancarlo Stanton and 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen are the other options. It’s hard to ignore the Miami mauler’s league-leading 37 homers (and 105 RBI) in just 145 games. Surely the Marlins don’t have any other big weapons, so he’s very valuable.
But the Pirates center fielder had a better batting average (.314 to .288), OBP (.410 to .395), OPS (.952 to .950), and played just one more game. And though McCutchen was aided by the likes of Josh Harrison, his team won 88 games and made the postseason. I’d pick No. 22 for the second consecutive year.