Posted by: Mike Cornelius | November 13, 2014

Deserving Winners All, But All Without Rings

The Great Game’s annual awards week wrapped up Thursday evening with the naming of the American and National League’s Most Valuable Players. This followed the announcements of each circuit’s Rookie and Manager of the Year on Monday and Tuesday, and the Cy Young Award winners on Wednesday. There have been times when the results of the voting for one or more of these individual achievement honors has touched off fierce debate among fans, but this year there were at most only a couple of mild surprises among the eight winners.

Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox was the ninth unanimous choice as a Rookie of the Year. The 27-year old Cuban was the first rookie in major league history to rank in the top five in each of the Triple Crown categories. His .317 average was fifth best in the AL, while his 36 home runs and 107 runs batted in were good for third and fourth best in the league, respectively. The Mets’ Jacob deGrom was nearly as popular a pick, being named first on 26 of the 30 ballots. After starting the year in AAA, deGrom was called up to Queens in May and allowed just one run in seven innings against the Yankees in his big league debut. He was twice named the NL Rookie of the Month and tied a modern record by starting a September outing against the Marlins with eight consecutive strikeouts.

While fans in the Baltimore – Washington area may not have gotten the Beltway World Series that many were hoping for, the managers of the Orioles and Nationals were recognized on Tuesday. For Buck Showalter of the O’s, it was his third Manager of the Year Award, won with three different teams in three different decades. Matt Williams of the Nationals became the first rookie manager to win the award since Joe Girardi in 2006. The veteran Showalter took Baltimore to an easy win in the AL East despite a raft of injuries, while Williams guided the Nats to a whopping 17 game edge over second place Atlanta in the NL East, maintaining a remarkably drama-free clubhouse along the way.

The one award announcement that was absolutely certain came Wednesday, when the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw claimed his third NL Cy Young Award in the past four years. The left-hander, who is still just 26, went 21-3 on the season, surpassing the twenty win mark for the second time. His 1.77 ERA led the majors, as did his six complete games. Kershaw also threw a no-hitter and finished the year with 239 strikeouts and an absurdly low WHIP of 0.857. The only drama in the NL voting was the order of finish behind Kershaw. The runner-up spot went to the Reds’ Johnny Cueto, with Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals finishing third.

The news that Cleveland’s Corey Kluber was this year’s winner of the AL Cy Young Award counted as a slight surprise, with Kluber himself seemingly the most genuinely shocked. The right-hander, who in his brief major league career had never been named on a Cy Young ballot before this year, edged out the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez 169-159 in the final tally. Since most of King Felix’s numbers were slightly better than Kluber’s, the latter’s victory may say something about the power of momentum. The Cleveland starter led the majors in ERA, strikeouts and innings pitched after the All-Star break, and won his final five starts.

Finally came the MVP Awards Thursday evening. After twice finishing as runner-up to Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout of the Angels was the unanimous choice for this year’s American League award. Thus each of the three player awards had one unanimous winner. Trout led the league with 111 runs batted in and the majors with 115 runs scored while stroking a career-high 36 home runs. He also led all position players in the sabermetric statistic of Wins Above Replacement, with a WAR of 7.9. Having just turned 23 in August, Trout became the fifth youngest MVP in history, and just the third member of the Angels to claim the award.

The National League winner was also from southern California, as Kershaw added to his hardware haul for the year, claiming 18 of the 30 first place votes to beat Giancarlo Stanton of Miami and Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen, last year’s winner. It’s hard to argue with the naming of Kershaw, though his relatively easy victory was a bit of a surprise. There are always some members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America who protest that a player whose role is limited to an appearance only every fifth game can’t possibly be considered “most valuable.” But despite the inevitable carping of a few, Kershaw became the first pitcher since Detroit’s Justin Verlander in 2011 to claim both awards, and the first in the senior circuit since the Cardinals’ Bob Gibson in 1968.

The voting for all of these awards takes place after the regular season and before postseason play begins. That’s as it should be, because these honors recognize achievement over the long grind of 162 games. Having voting potentially colored by fresh memories of playoff performances, either good or bad, would be unfair. While Kershaw would almost certainly still have won the NL Cy Young and Trout the AL MVP, one can’t help but wonder if they both would have been unanimous, or if the Dodgers’ pitcher would have also claimed the NL MVP, if voters were casting their ballots after the World Series. Instead of the gaudy regular season numbers noted above, would the voting writers have been thinking about Kershaw’s 0-2 NLDS record with a 7.82 ERA or Trout’s 1 for 12 hitting performance in the ALDS?

It’s a question that, like the awards announcements themselves, serves to remind that in the Great Game individual achievement can only take a team so far. While five of the eight winners came from teams that made the playoffs, none of this year’s recipients played for either the Giants or the Royals, the two teams that made it to the World Series. While San Francisco’s Bruce Bochy and Kansas City’s Ned Yost both finished third in the voting for their respective league’s Manager of the Year award, no player for either World Series contestant were among the three named finalists for any of the player awards. So there are trophies in Queens and Chicago, in Baltimore and Washington, and in Cleveland and sunny southern California as well. But they have rings out west by the Bay, and in K.C. they got to play for them. My guess is that all of this week’s winners would trade their prize for that opportunity in a heartbeat.

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