Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Handing Out MLB's Regular Season Hardware

With the first pitch of the World Series hours away, I have caught my limit with regards to the analysis and hype - if you can call it that when the two teams involved are the losingest team in the history of sports and a baseball team from Tampa Bay.

Personally, I'm looking forward to the Series. However, there are just so many "get ready for the boos" and "Tampa's stadium has weird lighting" stories I can take.

So I figure I'd turn my attention to a race in which I've got a true horse. That race would be the National League Cy Young and that horse would be the ace of my San Francisco Giants, Tim Lincecum.

That's what the Major League Baseball regular season awards are about, considering...

Both Most Valuable Player races are boring because there isn't really a compelling winner in the American League and Albert Pujols walked away with the award in the National League.

In the AL, it's a race of seriously flawed contenders who all are equally worthy, depending on which flaw you find most disqualifying. Regardless of who you like, the difference between the winners and losers will be barely discernible. Popular wisdom says the MVP will come from:
  1. Carlos Quentin - he missed the stretch run, but his team still made the playoffs despite sinking like a rock in his absence, he put up monster numbers in 200 fewer at-bats than everyone but Longoria, and gets extra points for coming out of nowhere.
  2. Evan Longoria - weaker stats despite hitting in a stacked lineup, but he missed 200 at-bats in the minors and on the shelf, he still put up great numbers, played great D at premium spot, and gets extra points for doing it in his first year.
  3. Justin Morneau - probably the best candidate except his team didn't make the postseason despite a colossal stumble down the stretch by the division leader.
  4. Dustin Pedroia - his team couldn't win its division despite fielding $133 million of talent (a lot of it offensive), he didn't hit 20 homeruns, and he didn't drive in 100 runs.
  5. Josh Hamilton - awesome statistics, but his team wasn't even competitive for much of the year, and he hit in an devastating lineup.
You see what I mean? I'd have Quentin winning, but there's not that much difference between his case and Hamilton's. Nor between his and Pedroia's.

I think Pedroia will win because of those red socks (the media really seems to love those red socks). But I can't really say they're wrong in this case.

In the NL, it's just not a race. You can twist yourself into distorting a case for Manny Ramirez and his 50 games of exceptional play. But that's ridiculous both because he only played a third of the season for Los Angeles and because he dogged his way off a gravy train in Boston.

As for CC Sabathia's dominance propelling the Brewers, Ryan Howard's power numbers, or some other such nonsense, they're interesting hypotheticals that can be easily dismissed. Pujols' production rivals Howard's without support like Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Pat Burrell. Additionally, St. Louis was competitive for the majority of the season. They fell away early in the stretch, but that's enough.

The races for Manager of the Year mirror the MVP races except the romp switches Leagues.

That would be Joe Maddon and the "race" for AL Manager of the Year. It's no contest.

In the NL, it will most likely be Lou Pinella for taking the Cubbies to the postseason and meeting insanely high regular season expectations. I've got no problem with that. I'd give the award to Fredi Gonzalez for piloting the Marlins to such surprisng heights despite a miniscule payroll (lower than even Tampa Bay's) and trading their best everyday player in the offseason (Miguel Cabrera).

But just like Pedroia, I can't really say that Pinella is a bad choice.

The Rookie of the Year competitions don't even merit discussion. It's Longoria in the AL and Goevany Soto in the NL. Period.

The same can be said of the AL Cy Young.

Roy Halladay makes it surprisingly close, but even his brilliance doesn't compare to that of Cliff Lee. All you need to know is that Lee threw over 220 innings and lost a total of three games for the Cleveland Indians. The Tribe ended up finishing at .500, but they were well below that for much of the year. Plus, Lee came from nowhere and performed the entire season under a dark cloud of doubt.

Which brings me to the NL Cy Young.

I should be able to dispose of it as easily as the AL's race. But it doesn't seem to be getting the same treatment. It should; consider the suspects:
  1. Tim Lincecum - 2.62 earned run average, 18-5, 227 innings pitched, 265 strikeouts, 1.17 WHIP, .316 opponents' slugging percentage, and .297 opponents' batting average.
  2. Johan Santana - 2.53 ERA, 16-7, 234.1 IP, 206 Ks, 1.15 WHIP, .362 opponents' slugging percentage, and .286 opponents' batting average.
  3. Brandon Webb - 3.30 ERA, 22-7, 226.2 IP, 183 Ks, 1.20 WHIP, .334 opponents' slugging percentage, and .302 opponents' batting average.
Again, you can make an argument for Sabathia or Brad Lidge, but this is a three-dog fight and Webb drops away immediately. Those 22 wins are nice, but they quickly lose their luster when you look at his peripheral stats. He trails both leaders significantly.

No, it comes down to Santana and Lincecum.

The Johan actually stacks up much better than I expected. He's got the Franchise beat in ERA, WHIP, IP, and opponents' batting average. Still, those are very small advantages. Almost totally offset by Lincecum's substantial leads in Ks and opponents' slugging percentage.

But the Freak's strongest argument is his win-loss record.

That's odd for me to say because I believe wins and losses are usually the emptiest stat a pitcher generates. But there are exceptions to every rule and Lincecum presents such an exception.

Consider he has a better winning percentage than Santana, won more games than Santana, and lost fewer games than Santana. Then consider Lincecum labors for the San Francisco Giants while Santana takes the mound as a member of the New York Mets.

and Aaron That would be the Giants, who have $24 million of a $77 million payroll locked up in Barry ZitoRowand while the Mets are $138 million in cleats.

That would be the Giants, who blazed to a 72-90 record while the Mets clattered to an 89-73 finish.

And that would be, as they say, a wrap.

Except it's not.

Everyone knows that Maddon should and will win. Everyone knows the same regarding Longoria and Soto. And Pujuols. And Lee.

But I don't get that feeling from the talk around the NL Cy Young. There seems to be some hesitation to add Lincecum's name into the circle of foregone conclusion. That's insane.

The Franchise has a stronger argument than both Lee and Pujols. It's as strong as Soto's. Only Maddon and Longoria are more deserving of their award. And they are the surest to get them.

Yet Tim Lincecum must sweat it out.

It will be an egregious mistake if the voters deprive him of his just deserts. But he's young and hopefully has many more seasons in him.

And that means many more Cy Youngs.

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