Posted by: Mike Cornelius | November 19, 2015

Worthy Winners Of MLB’s Consolation Prizes

With Thursday evening’s announcement that Toronto’s Josh Donaldson was this year’s American League Most Valuable Player the weeklong rollout of the Great Game’s major individual honors reached its conclusion. Shortly before the Blue Jays third baseman was revealed as the top player in the AL, Washington outfielder Bryce Harper was named the winner of the honor in the senior circuit. Donaldson and Harper join Astros rookie shortstop Carlos Correa and Cubs prodigy Kris Bryant, Jeff Banister and Joe Maddon, managers of the Rangers and Cubs, and pitchers Dallas Keuchel of Houston and Jake Arrieta of Chicago’s north side nine as recipients of the awards voted on by thirty members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

As is always the case, this year’s awards were a mix of repeat winners and new names, of runaway votes and close races. For Maddon it was a third Manager of the Year Award, following the pair he won in 2008 and 2011 while leading the Tampa Bay Rays. While this was Harper’s first time as the league MVP, the award can sit next to his Rookie of the Year prize from just three seasons ago. At the other extreme Banister won in his very first season as a manager; although the Texas skipper may not want to make too much of that fact. Last year rookie manager Matt Williams captured the NL award for leading the Nationals to the playoffs. One season later he was fired as soon as Washington’s disappointing season ended.

Named first on all 30 ballots, Harper was the unanimous choice as NL MVP. Twelve days short of this 23rd birthday when the regular season ended, he becomes the youngest unanimous MVP in the history of the Great Game. That’s not surprising after a season in which he was the one consistent star for the underperforming Nationals. Harper finished the year with a .330 batting average, tied for the NL lead in home runs with 42, and led the league in runs scored and both on base and slugging percentage. He also had 124 walks, and the youngest player ever to have as many homers and walks in a season.

Bryant was also a unanimous choice as NL Rookie of the Year, making this the second straight year that one league’s best rookie was chosen by acclamation. Last year it was the White Sox Jose Abreu. In contrast Correa won narrowly over Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor, collecting 17 first place votes to 13 for the runner-up.

But perhaps the biggest surprise of MLB’s awards week was that the votes for the Cy Young Award in both leagues were not as close as expected. While Keuchel and Arrieta were the only two pitchers to cross the 20-win threshold this year, the BBWAA voters have lately looked to the plethora of advanced metrics now available and discounted wins as the key measure of a starter’s worth. By many of the sabermetric statistics both of the Cy Young winners had serious competition.

In the American League, David Price, who began the season in Detroit and finished it helping the Toronto Blue Jays return to the playoffs, had a higher winning percentage and slightly lower ERA, as well as more strikeouts in fewer innings pitched. The L.A. Dodgers’ pair of Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw both had award worthy seasons. Greinke led the league in ERA, WHIP and winning percentage, while Kershaw was tops in strikeouts by a wide margin.

But the left-hander Keuchel received 22 first place votes to just 8 for Price, while Arrieta was named first on 17 ballots to 10 for Greinke and just 3 for Kershaw. Of course Kershaw had won the NL Cy Young three of the last four years, and both Greinke and Price had picked up the award in the American League; the former in 2009 while pitching for Kansas City and the latter in 2012 while starring for Tampa Bay.

So perhaps the voters were looking to share the wealth and reward not just raw performance on the mound, but a couple of good stories as well. Keuchel and Arrieta began the year with a combined career record of 55-59, pitching for two teams considered promising but still a year or two away from being true contenders. By the end of the longest season each was pitching shutout ball to lead his team to victory in a Wild Card game. Keuchel shut down the Yankees in the Bronx for six innings before giving way to the Houston bullpen in an eventual 3-0 Astros win; while Arrieta struck out 11 Pirates in a complete game gem at Pittsburgh, won by Chicago by a score of 4-0.

At twenty-seven Keuchel is the younger of the two. In his first two seasons with the Astros he posted a record of 9-18 with an unsightly ERA of 5.20. But just as his team started to turn the corner in 2014 so did he, improving to 12-9 and lowering his ERA to under three, before finally blooming this year when he finished a perfect 15-0 at home.

Two years older, the right-hander Arrieta was a similarly indifferent performer through the first several years of his career. It’s doubtful that Baltimore fans were mourning when the Orioles traded Arrieta to the Cubs in early July 2013 after three-plus forgettable seasons at Camden Yards. But the Baltimore coaching staff had tried to change the mechanics of his delivery, while in Chicago he was encouraged to pitch as he wanted. The result was instant improvement over the remainder of 2013, flashes of brilliance one year later, and dominance in the season just ended.

So this year’s Cy Young winners remind fans that in the age of instant gratification and attention spans measured in milliseconds, patience and perseverance is still rewarded. But taken as a whole, MLB’s awards week also serves to remind that while the individual achievements recognized at this time every year are remarkable, the Great Game remains a team sport.

After all, it was the Royals and the Mets who contested the recently concluded World Series. Yet except for New York manager Terry Collins and Kansas City outfielder Lorenzo Cain, both third place finishers in the balloting for NL Manager and AL MVP respectively, no member of those teams was even among the finalists for any of this year’s awards.  That’s no surprise.  But for Buster Posey’s twin wins as Rookie of the Year in 2010 and MVP in 2012, in recent years these awards have bypassed members of World Series teams.

That doesn’t mean one should feel sorry for the Royals or Mets. It’s safe to say that players on both squads wouldn’t trade their places on the field in the final and most important series of the year for a shiny individual trophy.

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Responses

  1. It is interesting how the best players in the game don’t necessarily end up on teams that made the playoffs. That’s something that I don’t think happens as often in any other sport. As for Arrieta, there’s something to be said for coaches just keeping their mouths shut, and not tinkering too much with the natural abilities of some players.
    Some Mike Trout fans seem to think he got robbed “again.” Personally, though I think Trout remains the best overall player in the game, I have no problem with Donaldson winning the A.L. MVP award.
    Nice overview,
    -Bill

    • Thanks Bill. As to your first point, my take is that none of the other “team” sports are as much about the team as baseball. There is no position that can dominate every game like a quarterback or point guard or goalie. An ace pitcher is the obvious equivalent, but they only go in at best one-fifth of their team’s games.

      As for Mike Trout, I suspect that his fans will have to deal with more disappointment over the course of his career. I don’t disagree with your assessment of him, but I think it means that for some BBWAA voters he is held to a higher standard. No matter his numbers compared to the rest of the AL, if he doesn’t top his previous year stats then they will regard him as having an off season. Having said that, I have little doubt that by the time he retires he’ll have plenty of personal trophies.

      Thanks again, and I hope you and your family have a great Thanksgiving!

      Mike

      http://www.onsportsandlife.com

      Michael Cornelius

      603.498.5527


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