Facing baseball withdrawal? The season officially ended last week, as the San Francisco Giants defeated the Kansas City Royals in game seven of the World Series. And the next Major League Baseball game won’t be played until Opening Day 2015 in April. That’s a long time without America’s favorite pastime. But wait, there is still hope to feel the warmth of baseball one more time before it recedes into hibernation. Next week, Major League Baseball (MLB) will recognize the league’s best with year-end awards. And if you’re not a Giants fan, and the odds are you’re not, this is your team’s last chance to leave this season with a trophy.
Starting next Monday, one of the four major awards will be announced every day of the week until Thursday, when the baseball award season will wrap up with the presentation of the Most Valuable Player award. For those of you tuning in at home, that is Manager of the Year on Monday, Rookie of the Year on Tuesday, and Cy Awards on Wednesday. Each award will acknowledge one player from both the American and National leagues, which leaves the question: Which player really is the MLB’s most valuable asset? This question is never officially answered, for which I propose a televised primetime arm-wrestling battle between both leagues’ MVP champs to determine who is truly the best. I digress.
Some years, deciding the winners of the awards is easy, such as Barry Bond’s 2001 MVP selection, for which the slugger hit 73 home runs and received 98% of the MVP voting; other years are not so clear.
2014 saw a healthy batch of rookies enter the league. The Rookie of the Year Award (ROY) recognizes players who usually aren’t given much acknowledgment, which is an injustice considering how difficult it is to transition into the top level of play that the MLB offers. For the American League ROY, Jose Abreu, who plays first base for the Chicago White Sox, is almost a certain winner. The slugger is 27 years old and had already played many seasons in his native country’s Cuban National League before joining the White Sox and beginning his American baseball career this year. Abreu had one of the best batting averages in the league at .317 while still launching 36 home runs. Abreu’s only threat, which is not very big with his scary numbers, comes from the Yankee’s rookie relief pitcher, Dellin Betances, who dominated late in games with a 1.40 earned run average and 135 strikeouts in 90 innings pitched.
The National League’s Rookie of the Year race is much harder to predict and is a tight race between the New York Mets’ starting pitcher Jason deGrom and Cincinnati Reds’ center fielder Billy Hamilton. The two rookies both had excellent seasons, and yet they could not be more different from each other. DeGrom went 9-6 as a starting pitcher with 144 strikeouts in 140 inning pitches, while Hamilton was a speed demon with 56 stolen bases and patrolled center field with excellent defense. A telling stat line that may give deGrom an edge is the fact that he had six wins and one loss in 10 starts in the second half of the season, all while Hamilton slowed down to a lackluster .200 batting average after starting batting .285 in the first half. But Hamilton has the advantage of more exposure, playing 152 games of the 162 game season, while deGrom, a starting pitcher, had a more concentrated presence, playing in only 22 games.
Another tight race dominated by two star players is the American League Cy Young Award. The Cleveland Indians’ Corey Kluber and the Seattle Mariners’ Felix Hernandez are both dominant starting pitchers with downright scary stats. Both pitchers have sub-three earned run averages, which is elite for starters, and both won 15 or more games; Kluber had 17 wins and Felix had 15 wins. Yet it is difficult to determine who did more for his team as neither the Indians nor the Mariners made it to the playoffs. Hernandez won the Cy Young in 2010 and, as “the King,” may not reign over this race, but, if Kluber won the prize, it would be in one of the closest Cy Young races ever. For this award, honorable mention goes to Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox, who went 12-4 over the season with 2.17 earned run average and an impressive 208 strikeouts. But his 174 innings pitched puts him way behind in playing time compared with Kluber (235 innings pitched) and Hernandez (236 innings pitched).
The National Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards go hand-in-hand this year, as it is expected that both will go to the Los Angles Dodgers’ starting pitcher, Clayton Kershaw. The Los Angeles Dodgers’ star pitcher was a one-man wrecking crew this season, striking out 239 and winning 21 games with only three losses, all while pitching six shutouts and two complete game shutouts. It is difficult to argue that Kershaw is not the most valuable player and deserves his $215 million seven-year contract that made him the highest paid pitcher in league history. But his playoff performance leaves a sour taste in voters’ mouths, as the pitcher went 0-2 in the play offs and gave up a disastrous three-run homer to St. Louis Cardinals in a elimination game that would actually end the Dodgers’ season in one swing of the bat.
In the American League, it is difficult not to give Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels the award he played the last three years to obtain. The center-fielder “jack of all trades” was phenomenal in almost all aspects of his game, hitting for average (.287), power (36 home runs) and runs with a league leading 111 runs batted in, while topping it all off with a solid 16 stolen bases. Shockingly, this might have been Trout’s worst season in his three year career, as he batted .326 and .323 in the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Yet Mike Trout is valuable and almost indispensable in every part of the game he is involved. The Angels might even want to try him out as a pitcher. But in all seriousness, between Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw, it is likely that both MVP Trophies will be sent to Los Angeles.