11th and Washington

11th and Washington: November 2006

Monday, November 20, 2006

Way to go, Marlins

Was there any surprise to the last three awards? No, not really.

American League Manager of the Year. Jim Leyland. Of course. He took a team that lost 119 games three years ago to the postseason. His was the best team in the American League. They made the playoffs, so we can overlook that slight slide at the end of the season that had them arrive there as Wild Card entrants rather than AL Central division winners.

Where would the Phillies have been had they hired Leyland before the 2005 season instead of Charlie Manuel? Philadelphia finished second in the two years under Manuel, compiling 88 and 85 wins and missing the Wild Card by no more than three games in either year. Considering the talent the Phillies already have, you'd have to think they'd have played postseason ball one of those years, if not both. But the Phillies cut Leyland out of consideration rather early, and he surfaced a year later in Detroit.

National League Manager of the Year. Joe Girardi. Everyone knew this was coming. When the Marlins fired Girardi right after the season, it was talked about as firing the NL Manager of the Year. In his first stint as skipper, Girardi took a rookie-laden squad from 20 games under .500 back to the break-even mark by Labor Day and even had his young Fish in the Wild Card hunt until mid-September. How can you overlook that? That the Marlins couldn't get along with Girardi and chose to fire him is the team's fault, and they'll have to live with that when next year's squad doesn't improve. We'll see what happens, but even if the Marlins can't reach 80 wins in 2007, I wouldn't lay the blame on new skipper Freddi Gonzalez.

That the Mets' Willie Randolph was second was also no surprise. Randolph didn't win the award for the same reason Joe Torre's only award came in 1998, when the Yankees established a new American League record with 114 wins (and Lou Pinella got it in 2001 when the Mariners broke that record). Like Torre in '98, Randolph had too many tools at his disposal. The Mets' payroll and their lineup of All-Stars essentially precluded Randolph from collecting the hardware, because he had so many resources. That the Mets demolished the National League and were the best team from start to finish wasn't enough. Had they won 100 -- actually, they probably would've needed to win 105 or 110 -- games, Randolph probably would've taken it. (More wins for the Mets likely would have also meant a better record against the Marlins than the 11-8 the Mets put together, which may have reduced Girardi's star some.)

American League Cy Young. Johan Santana. For the second time in his career, Santana won the award with 100 percent of the vote. Another unanimous winner in a year that wasn't quite as good as his first Cy Young campaign -- but that's splitting hairs. This time, too, his competition wasn't as strong. As best as I can tell after a quick look at the voting totals, Santana is the first pitcher to win each of his first two Cy Young Awards unanimously since the voting went to first-second-third in 1970, rather than just one vote for a pitcher.

Today, we'll get the most up-in-the-air award of the postseason -- or second-most, after NL Rookie of the Year. Will Albert Pujols retain the NL MVP, or will Ryan Howard come away with it? My guess is that the writers stick with Pujols, but I'm not so sure he should get it. Hopefully, I'll have time to break down some numbers before 2 p.m. If not, I'll look into the results after the announcement.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Looking over the NL Cy Young results

Argh. OK, so enough of this "didn't have time" crap. Chris Carpenter had but 15 wins this past season, one less than the 16 I said he'd had. Brandon Webb was indeed named the Cy Young Award winner today, after finishing the season with 16 wins, which tied him at the top of the National League.

My pick, Trevor Hoffman, finished second by 26 points, yet received 12 first-place votes to Webb's 15. It was Webb's 7-3 edge on second-place votes -- and, more importantly, his appearance on 29 of the 32 ballots, compared to just 23 of 32 for Hoffman that sealed it. Chris Carpenter also was named on 23 ballots, but only two of them placed him first.

I would love to see the breakdown of votes, similar to the way the Associated Press releases its college football votes each week.

Anyway, when I had the time, I looked at the numbers for Webb and Carpenter more closely. And they were, it turns out, surprisingly close:

Webb 16 8 3.10 33 5 3 235 216 91 81 50 178 1.13
Carpenter 15 8 3.09 32 5 3 221.2 194 81 76 43 184 1.07


Hoffman 0 2 2.14 65 46 51 63 48 16 15 13 50 0.97

I added Hoffman's stats as well, though they're hard to compare, because of his different role. The Padres' closer allowed less than a baserunner per inning (he hit one batter this season), which in his role is more important than allowing just over more than one per inning as a starter, as Carpenter and Webb each did. I'm not saying Webb is a bad choice, because in a year like this, with no clear frontrunner, it's hard to say whose mediocre numbers (in relation to other cy Young winners) are better than the other guys'.

I just think that if I had a vote, I would've cast it for Hoffman, who had a direct part in 46 Padres wins, more than twice as many as Webb's 18 -- counting no-decisions that the Diamondbacks won, since a starting pitcher can have a big impact in close games. That Arizona won only two of Webb's nine no-decisions is interesting (they went 18-15 in games he started), if misleading, because the scores in those seven team losses were 3-2, 5-4, 1-0, 4-3, 11-7, 7-6 and 4-2. And both wins were by one run.

For comparison, the Cardinals went 21-11 in games started by Carpenter, winning 6 of 9 games in which he got a no-decision. The losses were by scores of 3-2, 7-6 and 8-7.

How to put Hoffman into this argument is hard to say, because by the nature of his role, he'll pitch in way more wins for the Padres than in losses. However, looking at his stats, we see the Padres lost all five games in which Hoffman blew the save, plus a sixth game in which he came into a tie game to pitch the 10th and took the loss. In the nine games that featured an appearance by Hoffman but not a win, loss or save for the closer, San Diego went 9-4. So of the 65 games in which Hoffman pitched, the Padres won 55 and lost 10. That puts the Padres' winning percentage in "Hell's Bells" games, we'll call them, at .846. In Webb games, Arizona was .545 and in Carpenter games, the Cardinals were .656.

I'm not sure if those percentages mean anything, as I said, because of the different nature of a starting pitcher's role vs. a reliever's. But there they are.

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Quick prediction on NL Cy Young

Didn't have time to get this going sooner, so with less than an hour until the announcement, I'll just throw out the three presumed front-runners for the National League Cy Young Award, along with my prediction. I'm wondering if this will be a slightly different year, considering Hanley Ramirez's narrow Rookie of the Year victory over Ryan Zimmerman. But more on that when I have time.

Chris Carpenter: The reigning Cy Young holder won 16 games, which would be the lowest since the Cubs' Rick Sutcliffe went 16-1 for Chicago in 1984. But that was after he came over in a midseason trade; overall, Sutcliffe went 20-6, though I'm sure the voters were only supposed to consider his NL achievements. As for Carpenter, his Cardinals did win the World Series with the lowest win total (83) in history, so maybe he'll take a similar track to his second Cy Young.

Brandon Webb: The Arizona righty didn't lose any of his first 13 or so starts, but was just so-so over the second half. Appearing to run away with it in the early months, he became just another candidate as the season wore on.

Trevor Hoffman: There are some who say that a win for Hoffman this year -- a year without a 20-game winner or otherwise dominant starter -- would be akin to a lifetime achievement Cy Young, and perhaps a makeup honor for 1998, when Hoffman saved 53 games but lost the award to Tom Glavine. With no stellar starter, I think this just might be the year the Cy Young bell tolls for Hoffman.

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Verlander expected, but Ramirez a surprise ROY

Justin Verlander as American League Rookie of the Year wasn't too surprising -- as the margin of victory showed -- but Hanley Ramirez's NL ROY was quite the upset. Sure, he was considered a contender, but that description usually came with a caveat along the lines of "after Dan Uggla and Ryan Zimmerman."

Clearly, Ramirez and Uggla did not draw too many votes from one another as teammates, since both finished in the top three. But Ramirez's four-point victory over Washington's Ryan Zimmerman was the smallest margin in the 26 years that the Baseball Writers Association of America has used the 5-3-1 scoring system for the postseason awards.

This outcome shows just how interesting this system is. Two writers in each National League city (or American League, for AL awards) submit ballots on which they name, in order, their top three candidates. First-place votes get five points, second place nets three and third place garners one. Zimmerman, who had 101 points, was named on 29 of the 32 ballots -- 10 in first place, 16 in second and three in third. Ramirez, though, earned his 105 points on just 27 ballots -- 14 first place, 11 second and two third. So looking at it another way, that means 29 of 32 writers thought Zimmerman was one of the three best rookies in the National League in 2006, but only 27 of 32 thought Ramirez was among the top three. It's kind of like Al Gore winning the overall popular vote for president in 2000, but George Bush getting the election based on the point-scoring system, aka the Electoral College.

As for the stats...

Ramirez .292 119 46 17 59 51 .353 .480 .833 .963
Zimmerman .287 84 47 20 110 11 .351 .471 .822 .965

Pretty comparable, with Ramirez's runs close to making up for the difference in RBIs. The shortstop's 11 triples to Zimmerman's three account for the difference in slugging.

I think, in the end, it was a toss-up. It came down to a leadoff hitter vs. a three-hole hitter, an emerging power guy who drives in runs vs. a speedy leadoff guy (with power) who scores them. The two should be NL All-Star reserves for years to come.

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Rookie of the Year Awards upon us

I've given up the New Jersey minor league blog I've been attempting to write for NJ.com, so hopefully I'll have more energy and inspiration to write here.

We shall see.

But the postseason awards are upon us -- the Rookies of the Year will be announced tomorrow. To me, one seems obvious, the other an interesting situation.

First, the obvious...

American League Rookie of the Year

At different points this season, there were what seemed to be clear frontrunners. First there was Jonathan Papelbon, who shot out of the gate with a nearly perfect April and cruised for a few months from there. But he tired, then got hurt and didn't finish September. He barely finished August, and his fall coincided with Boston's.

Then came Francisco Liriano, who was moved from the Twins' bullpen to the rotation and couldn't seem to lose. Overlapping his emergence was another that was just as expected: that of Jered Weaver, who tied an AL record by winning his first nine decisions (or starts; I'm not positive which). Liriano, though, developed an elbow problem, had to take himself out of a September start, and underwent Tommy John surgery last week and won't be seen on a mound again until spring training in 2008. Weaver pitched well enough, but struggled a little in his final starts, though that wouldn't have been enough to take the award away from him on its own.

But what earns Detroit's Justin Verlander the recognition is his steadiness and consistency throughout the season. The hard-throwing right-hander was pretty consistent each month, winning at least two games per month and losing more than two in a month only once. The only month in which he didn't make at least five starts was July, when he was given two weeks off around the All-Star break to save his arm for the stretch run -- which proved to be a very wise move.

This should be a pretty easy win for Verlander, with Liriano, Papelbon and Weaver following him in that order.

National League Rookie of the Year

Does the quietly solid and only sometimes spectacular player win it, or does the out-of-nowhere guy who made a big splash get it? Or does the latter player's team hurt his chances?

Second guy first. Of all the rookies on the Marlins -- I believe they used 33 this year, 28 of whom were regular contributors -- Dan Uggla was the most spectacular and the most consistent. He also got all the pub, becoming the first Rule 5 draft pick to make an All-Star team in his rookie season. Uggla seemed to be the Marlins rookie who caught on the quickest, while the other solid hitter with a case -- Hanley Ramirez -- started slowly, then came on strong over the balance of the season. But will Uggla, Ramirez and pitchers such as Josh Johnson draw vote from one another? That's a very strong possibility.

So I think Washington's Ryan Zimmerman will take it. Z was the only rookie this season to drive in more than 100 runs, and he made highlight reels with more than a few game-winning walk-off hits, including a walk-off two-run homer to beat the Yankees in June. I think Zimmerman edges out Uggla for this one.

I'll get to the other races as the week goes on.

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