All of this year’s Major League Baseball awards are pretty easy to figure out — and then there’s the American League MVP Award.
The American League Rookie of the Year Award is all about Hideki Matsui. Yes, after eight years of professional ball in Japan, Matsui is not a traditional rookie. But I hate hearing this argument. Let’s remember that the award is named after Jackie Robinson, who played pro ball in the Negro Leagues before breaking the color barrier in 1947. And there is also the precedent of Ichiro, a seven-year veteran in Japan himself, winning the award in 2001. So Matsui might lose some votes for this bogus reasoning, but his batting average of .286 and 106 RBIs are too good not to win.
At the All-Star Break, the NL’s best rookie was Dontrelle Willis, but Brandon Webb is now the runaway winner for this award. With a 9-1 record and a 2.08 ERA before the break, Willis seemed like a lock. But he finished the season 14-6 with a 3.30 ERA. Meanwhile, Brandon Webb was 10-9 with a 2.84 ERA on a lesser team. Webb was just more consistent throughout the season, even if Willis blasted off to a faster start and grabbed the attention of the baseball world with his charisma.
Eric Gagne deserves the NL Cy Young because he had the best season of any closer in history. In other seasons, Jason Schmidt — who had a record of 17-5 and a league-best 2.34 ERA — or Mark Prior — who was 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA — would have had the Cy Young locked up. But Gagne was perfect in his 55 save attempts, with an ERA of 1.20 and an overpowering 14.98 strikeouts per nine innings.
In the AL, Roy Halladay pulled away from Esteban Loaiza in his last few starts of the season to nab the top pitching honors. Loaiza did finish with a better ERA (2.90 compared with Halladay’s 3.25) and three more strikeouts. But Halladay finished stronger down the stretch — the Blue Jay went 5-1 with a 1.41 ERA in September despite tossing a whopping 266 innings this year, compared to Loaiza’s total of 226. With the White Sox in the playoff hunt, Loaiza put up only mediocre numbers — 3-3 with a 5.30 ERA — in the season’s final month.
Barry Bonds should be the favorite to pick up his record sixth NL MVP Award over Albert Pujols. This vote could be really close even if it shouldn’t be. Pujols was a Triple Crown contender throughout the season. He finished up by winning the batting title with an average of .359, hitting 43 homers and knocking in 124 runs. On the other hand, Bonds cracked 45 dingers, but his average was 18 points lower at .341, and he only accumulated 90 RBIs.
Still, Bonds has some advantages that work overwhelmingly in his favor. First, the Giants’ lineup around Bonds doesn’t compare to Pujols’ supporting cast. Pujols has Jim Edmonds, Edgar Renteria and Scott Rolen to force pitchers to throw to him. Bonds has who? Benito Santiago? A better measure of the two stars would be to evaluate them outside of their teams through OBP and slugging percentage. Here, Pujols had a phenomenal season with an OBP of .439 and a slugging percentage of .667. But Bonds dwarfs him with .529 and .749. Finally, Bonds took his team to the playoffs and Pujols didn’t, despite being in a weaker division.
The dreaded AL MVP race is just a mess. There is not really a terrific candidate in the pool. None of top three teams — the Yankees, A’s, and Red Sox — supplies a legitimate contender. For the Yankees, Jorge Posada is being hyped as an MVP. Posada had his best season both at bat and behind the plate, but he wasn’t even the best player on his own team. The MVP of the Yankees this year would have to be Derek Jeter or, more likely, Hideki Matsui, who hit .286, drove in 106 runs, and filled in at center field for an injured Bernie Williams.
Nobody on the A’s actually had a great offensive year, while too many guys had good years on the Red Sox. If you had to pick an MVP from the Sox lineup, who could you take? Manny Ramirez, Bill Mueller, David Ortiz and Nomar Garciaparra all had very strong years, but none of these players distinguishes himself from the group.
Unfortunately, the lack of a traditional candidate has convinced many that this is A-Rod’s year. The layman’s line is “sure, his team finished last, but he put up monster numbers.” Well, that’s what makes them laymen. A-Rod’s year was not that amazing. He only hit .298, and his 47 homers and 119 RBIs are aided by the heat and cozy dimensions of the Ballpark at Arlington. If you want a player from a non-playoff team, Carlos Delgado is your man. His team was actually 10 games over .500, and his numbers are better than A-Rod’s in every category excepting his having five fewer home runs.
Shannon Stewart of the Twins might not be a bad pick. He is not a traditional selection because he played most of his games with the Blue Jays this year. Nevertheless, the Twins turned their season around with Stewart’s arrival. While Stewart hit .322 out of the leadoff spot, the Twins raised their runs per game from 4.6 to 5.4 and went 46-23 as a team. Stewart had the most impact of this AL playoff run, making him the MVP.