Before the official start of free agency on Friday, the BBWAA has already given out a few of the major awards for the 2009 season. Let's recap the awards given so far, and I'll provide my own opinions too.
American League Rookie of the Year-
Andrew Bailey handily took home top honors after an outstanding season with the A's in which he earned 26 saves and posted a 1.84 ERA. I would have voted for Rick Porcello, who in my opinion has the biggest upside of the lot, and pitched like a stud as a 20-year old for a team that almost went to the playoffs. Bailey made the All-Star game for the not-so-playoff contending A's, and now looks to avoid the similar regression experienced by the last two A's ROY winners, Huston Street and Bobby Crosby.
My Pick: Rick Porcello, Detroit. Although, in the final analysis, I don't think I realized how good of a season Bailey had.
National League Rookie of the Year-
Chris Coghlan won the NL Rookie of the Year award, besting Philadelphia's J.A. Happ in a much closer vote. Coghlan wasn't called up to the Majors until May, but wasted no time in making an impact, hitting .321 with 31 doubles in 128 games. Ironically, a good portion of his production came against the Phillies, against whom he hit .432 with an on-base percentage over .500 in 2009.
My Pick. J.A. Happ, Philadelphia. He was the most consistent starter in 2009 for a team that won the pennant. Even though the vote does not take the playoffs into consideration, he was wire-to-wire the best pitcher for the defending champs.
American League Cy Young-
Zach Greinke lapped the field, taking 25 of 28 first place votes. I'm happy for this young man, who battled back from an anxiety disorder in early 2006 to shed the 'bust' label and establish himself as a legitimate front of the rotation horse. Despite playing for the moribund Royals, Greinke led the league in ERA, WHIP and HR/9 innings. In 229.1 innings, Greinke struck out 242, walked 51, gave up only 195 hits and allowed 11 home runs. The only thing that would have hurt him was having only 16 wins, but wins is a stat often beyond the pitcher's control, particularly on a bad team
My Pick: Greinke. He is the AL version of Tim Lincecum, without the hair or avatar.
AL/NL Manager of the Year-
Mike Scioscia and Jim Tracy. When I worked with Delaware's baseball team in 2007, our head coach Jim Sherman won the conference's Coach of the Year award. One thing he told me about that award that I think is very true is that Coach or Manager of the Year awards don't honor the individual so much as the team. This principle is very true in both the AL and NL recipients of the Manager of the Year award for 2009. Scioscia led his Angels team to a fifth division title in six year despite losing their record-setting closer from 2008 in Francisco Rodriguez, as well as perenial All-Star Mark Teixeira. Additionally, they had to battle through the unthinkable loss of 22-year old pitcher Nick Adenhardt in the season's first week. Despite all of the obstacles, Scoscia's crew kept it together and won the AL West handily over Texas. Tracy wasn't even employed by the Rockies when the 2009 season kicked off, but took over a team that was 18-28 in May when Clint Hurdle was let go. From that point forward, Tracy guided the Rockies to a record of 74-42 in securing Colorado's second playoff berth in three seasons.
My Picks: Scioscia and Tracy. Who else? Joe Girardi only had to roll the ball out on the field and let his team play. Ron Gardenhire brought the Twins back from a big hole, but without the adversity the Angels faced. In the NL, Charlie Manuel and Joe Torre had the best two teams, and Tony LaRussa probably loses some credit because of who good his pitching coach Dave Duncan is.
NL Cy Young-
Despite having an admitted man crush on Tim Lincecum, I fully understand the merits of voting for one of the two aces from St. Louis. Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter were as good a 1-2 punch as there is in all of baseball, and largely on the strength of their right arms did the Cardinals waltz to the NL Central crown. Carpenter led the NL in ERA, while Wainwright led in starts, wins and innings, and Lincecum led in strikeouts, complete games and shutouts. To me, the statistical categories Wainwright led in are compiler stats and not nearly as impressive as Carpenter's or Lincecum's. In a lot of ways, my decision here is like the Gold Glove awards--- I know who the top candidates are, and I don't care what the numbers say, I know what I saw watching each of these guys throughout the season. Wainwright and Carpenter were great, don't get me wrong. But I never got the sense with them that if either was on top of his game, you just had no shot. Lincecum had that. When Tiny Tim is rolling, just pack up and go home, because his combination of fastball, change and curve is nasty. Lincecum is also the reigning NL Cy Young champ, and if you want the crown, you've got to beat the champ, not play him to a draw. I don't think Wainwright or Carpenter did that, so I'll keep my vote with Lincecum. I also think he will win, if for no other reason, because Carpenter and Wainwright will split votes. We shall see.
My Pick: Lincecum.
AL Most Valuable Player-
In what I think is the toughest of the post-season awards to call, the AL MVP award for 2009 blends a very different group of candidates. I'll limit mine to three. I think the most deserving candidates for 2009 are Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Joe Mauer. Jeter had the highest batting average (.366) of any shortstop as old as he is since Honus Wagner the season after Noah landed the Ark. He also hit 18 homers and drove in 66 from the leadoff spot, from which he also scored over 100 runs. He played well defensively (probably not as well as the Gold Glove he got suggests), and was the ever present heart of the best team in baseball in 2009. He also played the full season, which neither Mauer nor A-Rod can say. Mauer had an unbelievable season for a catcher, leading the AL in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, and then of course OPS. He put up 28 homers and 96 RBI for a Minnesota team that needed every single one of them to overtake Detroit in a one-game playoff, and he did this all without former MVP Justin Morneau in the lineup for most of the second half. Mauer was also solid behind the dish, working with a young Twins staff and earning his second Gold Glove. A-Rod is an interesting case. He didn't make the All-Star team, didn't win a Gold Glove, hit under .300. But, he hit 30 home runs and 100 RBI in only 124 games played after returning from hip surgery on May 8th. The other factor to consider is that with Rodriguez out, the Yankees were sputtering along at 14-15, looking up at Boston. Once A-Rod returned, the Yankees went 89-44 the rest of the way, cruising to a division crown.
My Pick: Mauer. If you took A-Rod or Jeter away from the Yankees in 2009, they're probably still a playoff team. If you took Mauer away from the Twins in 2009, they'd probably win about 70 games.
NL Most Valuable Player-
Albert Pujols. He had this award wrapped up by August 1st. Ryan Howard should finish second. That's all there really is to say about that.
My Pick: Pujols