Posts Tagged ‘American League’

MLB: New York Yankees at Houston Astros

Baseball does not usually get much credit for moving very quickly. However this winter has been the equivalent of a Rickey Henderson wind sprint, as the movements around the game have come quick, early and often out of nowhere.

Last week provided a flurry of action on the 2014 season that saw the landscape of both leagues, but most intensely the American half, change tremendously. The New York Yankees both provided (and were victims of) major additions and loss, in making Jacoby Ellsbury the third highest paid outfielder ever, but also watching the Seattle Mariners go to a place they would not for their incumbent top star, Robinson Cano. What the impact is on the field in Seattle is yet to be seen, as is how much more New York is willing to do in order to reassure the potency of their team, but either way it goes, no less than everything changed in regards to the way the baseball winter was expected to play in just under 72 hours….and a week early.

Instead of being the base of operations for change, this week’s MLB Winter Meetings will see the finishing touches be put the majority of the major additions for the winter. Will the pitching scene finally start to clear up? And what will be the continued domino effects of the Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran deals? Whatever it is, the baseball windmill has began spinning, and isn’t showing signs of slowing up soon.

But as for what has been established thus far, here is the most recent effects and aftershocks of the newest deals handed out for these now former free agents. (All rankings are their original ranks on the full Top 75 Free Agent rankings)

1. Robinson Cano-Second Baseman-30 years old-2013 Team: New York Yankees

Signed: Seattle Mariners—10 years, $240 million

The Mariners made the splash of the offseason so far over the course of 24 hours, by luring Cano away from the spotlight of New York and into their now full-on rebuilding spree. The deal makes him the third-highest paid player paid player in baseball, and also instantly makes him the axis of a Mariner team that was not too long ago an afterthought on the competition scene.

For the Mariners, it was an opportunistic signing that provides a major starting point towards a push towards the postseason, however one man cannot change the entire course of a franchise, and it is still unlikely that they are in a position to overcome the Oakland and Texas teams that are far more complete staffs. It is an all-in deal, that looks good in the moment, but will be a failure of mass proportions if they cannot add more around him, due to his price tag. In New York, despite their rampant additions to their team, they will feel the loss of their best overall player, and most potent run producer. Yet, they still most likely make out better without another albatross of a contract to work around in years to come.

6. Carlos Beltran-Right Fielder-37 years old-2013 Team: St. Louis Cardinals

Signed: New York Yankees—3 years, $45 million

He’s become baseball’s equivalent of the ace bandage; after joining the Cardinals to be a replacement impact bat in the middle of the Cardinal lineup two years ago, he will go on to do the same thing for the post-Cano Yankees now. Due to the evolving St. Louis lineup, there was no more room for Beltran, and he will now play an important role as part-time outfielder/designated hitter in the Yankees’ quest to retake the AL East. Beltran was the most courted part of the free agent market, and now the Red Sox, Mariners, Rangers, Red Sox, Tigers, Indians and Royals, among others, all either will or have looked in different directions.

9. Mike Napoli-First Baseman-32 years old-2013 Team: Boston Red Sox

Resigned: Red Sox—2 years, $32 million

The complex year of Mike Napoli finally comes to an end where he wanted it to all along. After seeing the extra years on his original contract voided shortly after he signed it due to a hip injury, Napoli gets them back and at a larger sum to stay where he wanted. The Red Sox return the top power hitting infielder available to their mix for the next two years and return an invaluable part of their everyday balance.

14. Curtis Granderson-Left Fielder-33 years old-2013 Team: New York Yankees

Signed: New York Mets—4 years, $60 million

The Yankees addition of Jacoby Ellsbury and pursuit of Carlos Beltran made Granderson the odd man out, and the crosstown Mets pounced on the opportunity. They made a slightly out of character commitment to acquire the outfielder, due to their rebuilding financial situation, however the purpose and value are clear. Granderson provides an impact support bat behind David Wright and makes their competitive push over the next two years in a better place.

16. Hiroki Kuroda-Starting Pitcher-39 years old-2013 Team: New York Yankees

Resigned: Yankees—1 year, $16 million

Kuroda was either coming back to the Yankees or going all the way back to Japan for the next season. His decision to stay in the Bronx allows the Yankees most consistent pitcher over the past two years to remain at the heart of a rotation that is desperately in need of an upgrade. Keeping his consistency (a 3.31 ERA over 65 starts in two years) is essential to having the flexibility to add either a top notch free agent arm, or a lower cost/high value pair of contributors underneath him and CC Sabathia.

30. Brian Wilson-Relief Pitcher-32 years old-2013 Team: Los Angeles Dodgers

Resigned: Dodgers—1 year, $10 million

He went to the open market to find a job as a closer again, but instead took a high dollar deal to return to LA as a setup man. This gives him a chance to show his stuff to teams that could have had interest in him this season, but needed to see more than the 19.2 innings he pitched in 2013, albeit at a high level (0.42 ERA, 21 strikeouts to 4 walks).

31. Edward Mujica-Relief Pitcher-30 years old-2013 Team: St. Louis Cardinals

Signed: Boston Red Sox—2 years, $9.5 million

Mujica had an up and down year in 2013. After making the All-Star team after taking over the closer role in St. Louis, he lost his touch down the stretch and was relegated to extra part during their October run. He’ll switch World Series dugouts to return to his more familiar late inning role as a bridge/set up man to Koji Uehara, and is a very good value pickup for the Red Legs.

35. Nate McLouth-Outfielder-32 years old-2013 Team: Baltimore Orioles

Signed: Washington Nationals—2 years, $10.75 million

The Nationals offseason plan seems to be to add depth and round out a roster that was high on talent, but low on substance a year ago. McLouth is the perfect addition for that effort; a multi-tooled outfielder that can run, play every outfield position and provide an instant injury replacement if injury woes revisit the DC frontline outfield again.

54. Scott Feldman-Starting Pitcher-31 years old-2013 Teams: Chicago Cubs/Baltimore Orioles

Signed: Houston Astros—3 years, $30 million

This is probably the clearest case of an overpay to just get something, anything, of experienced substance into the Houston rotation. Feldman is a solid pitcher, but more along the lines of a bottom half of the rotation fourth-fifth starter. Instead, he’ll get a deal that rivals that of Dan Haren and Kyle Lohse to lead the Astros starters, despite only having two seasons in his career where he has topped 10 victories.

61. Rafael Furcal-Shortstop-36 years old-2013 Team: St. Louis Cardinals

Signed: Miami Marlins—1 year, $3 million

Furcal missed the end of 2012 and all of 2013 due to an elbow injury that necessitated Tommy John surgery. However, after showing in late season workouts he would likely be capable of returning to the field, the Marlins picked him up to be a much needed veteran presence. He is slated to play second base, which is a much easier and less varied throw for his maligned elbow.

For more on moves made in the moment, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

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There have been many great men to guide other men to find their own greatness, but perhaps none is still above Cornelius McGillicutty. The long-time manager of the great Philadelphia Athletics, the man better known as Connie Mack won over 3,700 games and five World Series, while making the names of Lefty Grove, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, Home Run Baker and Mickey Cochrane all reach Cooperstown while under his guise.

Fast forward to 2013, when the times of managers wearing the three-piece suits that Mack made famous are long gone, and find two men that pulled off two of the more impressive resurrection jobs in all of the game. In the National League, the longest drought in the history of pro sports finally came to a close, while in the American, a season that started with a trade for his services, saw him pull a revival act unlike any one could have forecasted just a year ago.

And with that, it is time to honor the “Macks” of the year, the top managers in all of baseball this last time around.

2013 National League Connie Mack Manager of the Year: Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates

MLB: NLDS-St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates

Coming into 2013, the ice was beginning to thin underneath the footing of Clint Hurdle. Despite pulling the Pirates to two of its most encouraging finishes within the last two decades over the past two seasons, late summer collapse began to make it seem as if there was only so much that he could do in regards to finally getting the team over the hump. Armed with a talented young roster with emerging stars such as Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez, the talent was there, but the timing just had not met yet.

The ingredient that was missing was experience, which cannot be rush and cannot be taught; sometimes, you just have to walk through the fire. Ownership made the right decision to stick with Hurdle again, as everything finally clicked in his third year on the bench and he was able to guide Pittsburgh to its first winning record in 21 years. The team finished with 94 wins and return to the playoffs for the first time since the early 90’s. Yet, a winning record was far from the goal, it was nearly the byproduct of the Pirate emergence. They nearly won the NL Central title, and exorcised any and all of the ghosts that could have potentially haunted the club after it tanked to a second half record that finished 15 games under .500.

The mark of an effective manager is being able to carry a team through the unknown, and being able to put the right player in the situation that is best for him. While the Pirates as a club made the right additions and continued maturing as individuals, it was the decision to stick with man that brought them to the brink of success that was truly the move of the year. Sometimes less is actually more.

Runners Up:

2. Mike Matheny, St. Louis Cardinals

3. Kirk Gibson, Arizona Diamondbacks

2013 Connie Mack American League Manager of the Year: John Farrell, Boston Red Sox

John_Farrell

To say the Red Sox were in ruins when John Farrell returned to Boston last October. It was on the heels of a last place finish, and clubhouse fallout that caused a second managerial change in as many years and a turnover of nearly 50% of the roster from the season before. Farrell was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays to put an end to this, but to also bring a familiar face to the Boston culture to rebuild the chemistry that seemed irreplaceably damaged. The team’s former pitching coach from 2007 through 2010 was just the man for the job.

The Sox went into an understated, yet aggressive rebuilding phase and brought in team that was low on ego, but high on potential. But more than anything else, it was a team with plenty to prove, both as individuals and as a franchise. Farrell put this mix to work, and it led to a 24 game, last to first turnaround in Beantown. And amid what continues to be the toughest division in all of baseball, that is quite a feat. The Red Sox went on to finish tied for the best record in baseball at 96-66, and took the East by 5.5 games, a year after finishing 26 games in the back of it.

The resurrection of the Red Sox behind standard bearers David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, combined with the life injected by Shane Victorino, Koji Uehara and Mike Napoli, was undeniable. It was a team that was buoyed by being the source of inspiration, distraction and, eventually, pride for the city of Boston. It was the perfect storm of events coming to pass, and Farrell’s return to the town was the glue job that made it all possible.

Runners Up:

Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians

Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay Rays

Alright, so today was to be the day that the National League Stan Musial winner was announced as well, but the Mack Award deserves its own day and the Musial will have its own shine too. The final day of the MLB Award Tour for 2013 is upon us in the CHEAP SEATS, before the march to 2014 gets under way with the updated, offseason countdown of the Top 70 Free Agents in play.

But before we get there, here’s a recap both what has been and what’s to come:

November 6: NL/AL Goose Gossage Relief Pitcher of the Year—Koji Uehara and Craig Kimbrel

November 7: NL/AL Willie Mays Rookie of the Year—Jose Fernandez and Wil Myers

November 8: AL Walter Johnson Pitcher of the Year—Max Scherzer

November 11: NL Walter Johnson Pitcher of the Year—Clayton Kershaw

November 12: AL Stan Musial Most Valuable Player—Miguel Cabrera

November 13: NL/AL Connie Mack Managers of the Year—Clint Hurdle and John Farrell

November 14: NL Stan Musial Most Valuable Player

chris_davis_orioles

The American League had the Mid-Summer Classic on lock for what felt like an eternity. They ran up a record 13 All-Star Game undefeated streak, until the National League took control back two years ago a few years back.

Fast forward to this time around the bases, and the AL may have as talented of an offering has they have since before that initial streak started. From a staff of dominant arms, to a lineup that boasts the likes of at least five MVP candidates that would miles ahead over in the NL, the home of the DH is going to be a few handfuls to get through.

There are sure to be some slights in the end, as there definitely were more than a few I to accept in putting this together. But as it would stand today, a ticket to ride to New York in July for the AL means you’ve been a world beater all year so far. Here’s the best as they shake out today from my seat towards the field:

Catcher: Joe Mauer (Twins)*, Carlos Santana (Indians)

Mauer is back at the top of his game, and thus putting distance between himself and the rest of the AL catching pack. His .330 average is by far the tops at the position, and 9th in the AL this season. Santana has kept his offense at a solid level in his full-time return behind the plate, hitting eight home runs, along with a .284 average.

First Base: Chris Davis (Orioles)*, Edwin Encarnacion (Blue Jays)

Davis has proved that his power swing is truly a coming of age, not a flash in the pan. He has led the AL in home runs all season (currently at 17, along with 47 RBI), and isn’t looking like that’s going to change any time soon. His tremendous season has been somewhat put in the shadows, due to Miguel Cabrera’s onslaught. On his heels is Encarnacion, who has heated up recently and is third in the AL in both home runs and RBI.

Second Base: Robinson Cano (Yankees)*, Dustin Pedroia (Red Sox), Jose Altuve (Astros)

Second base is one of the best positions in the league this year. Cano did an incredible job not only holding the Yankees together, but somehow making them the most surprising team in baseball. Pedroia is healthy and playing the best ball since his MVP year of ’07, with a .332 average. Altuve is in the mix as well, and his 60 hits prove he’s not just the obligatory Astro.

Third Base: Miguel Cabrera (Tigers)*, Evan Longoria (Rays), Manny Machado (Orioles)

While second base has been great, third has been absurd. Cabrera’s effort needs no introduction, as he’s making his Triple Crown year look like light work so far. Yet Evan Longoria and Manny Machado have been huge for their respective clubs as well. Longoria has been the catalyst for reviving the Rays offense (.320 average, 30 RBI), while Machado’s breakout season thus far shows that he deserves a  spot in the best prodigy in baseball convo. With a MLB best 23 doubles and a .335 average, he’s legit.

Shortstop: Jhonny Peralta (Tigers)*, Elvis Andrus (Rangers)

Peralta has swung a very potent bat to start the season off, sitting at third in the AL with a .339 average, and cleaning up the lower half of the Tigers brutal lineup. Andrus has shown why he was worth the investment and the long-term vote of confidence for the AL-best Rangers as well. He’s stolen 13 bases, and had his usual superb glove work as well.

Trout didn't blaze out the barrel as hard as he did a year ago, but he already has a grand slam and become the youngest player to ever complete the cycle this year.

Trout didn’t blaze out the barrel as hard as he did a year ago, but he already has a grand slam and become the youngest player to ever complete the cycle this year.

Outfield: Alex Gordon (Royals)*, Mike Trout (Angels)*, Adam Jones (Orioles)*, Jose Bautista (Blue Jays), Alex Rios (White Sox)

Outfield is coming together in a nice way in the AL. The do-everything encore season for Trout has started to fall in place; he’s third in the AL in total bases and has just started heating up. Gordon and Rios are carrying two struggling clubs in the Central, while Joey Bats has shown his wrist is just fine, busting 12 long balls over the fence as he tries to salvage the Jays year. Not to be overlooked Jones, with his 17 double/10 home run campaign thus far.

Designated Hitter: David Ortiz (Red Sox)*

Ortiz started off disabled but came back to be the final piece in the Red Sox shocking push into contention this season. He started the year with a 27 game hitting streak, and proved he’s the best DH of his era still for a reason.

Pitcher: Matt Moore (Rays), Clay Buchholz (Red Sox), Justin Verlander (Tigers), Felix Hernandez (Mariners), Yu Darvish (Rangers), Max Scherzer (Tigers), Anibal Sanchez (Tigers), Chris Sale (White Sox)

A good season isn’t enough to slide onto into the ASG over here this year, because virtually every arm in the mix has been dominant this season. Verlander and King Felix’s efforts are to be expected, but Moore, Buchholz and Scherzer are yet to taste defeat this season (combined 22-0). Darvish is on pace to become the first pitcher to hit 300 strikeouts in 10 years, while Sale and Sanchez both have one-hit outings on their resumes.

Reliever: Mariano Rivera (Yankees), Joe Nathan (Rangers), Grant Balfour (A’s), Tom Wilhelmsen (Mariners)

Rivera is having a hell of a comeback/farewell tour. The ninth inning G.O.A.T., has 18 saves added to his historical tally. Win early out West, as the division has a trio of dominant ninth inning guys in Nathan (16 saves), Balfour (28 consecutive saves) and Wilhelmsen (0.41 ERA).

For more on the run up to Citi Field and the All-Star field developing in real time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

The American League on the mound in 2011 was like a Japanese building next to Godzilla, only there were no Mothra’s or annoying little tanks to slow down Justin Verlander. He ran so thoroughly through the opposition that his Cy Young win looked small next to the eventual MVP he took on.

A year later, the class step up their ballgame to come up to his level, and even surpass it. The race to call name the best arm in the AL was as even and spread out of a race as was offered. The consistency the perennial threats such as the Yankees’ CC Sabathia was battled by the undeniable rise of Chris Sale and the White Sox along with him. Meanwhile out west, Jared Weaver joined the No-Hit bandwagon, while Felix Hernandez did a notch better tossing a Perfecto on the Rays. And Tampa Bay showcased the brilliance that is watching an amazing skill set come together every day, such as David Price’s 2012 endeavor showed.

However, all things considered, Mount Verlander still posed a considerable task peak to climb on its 2012 merits alone. While he faced an impossible encore performance, was even a return to Earth still finding him on a level of his own? Well…yes, it still did. Soon enough, could the Baseball Bloggers Alliance AL entry to the Walter Johnson Award be due for a renaming? If this keeps up, maybe.

2012 AL Walter Johnson Award—Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

Nobody was in a more impossible position than Verlander was every time out in ’12. He was coming off one of the most decorated years any pitcher has ever authored, and was doing so for a team that had upgraded around him. But there had to be a happy medium; winning 20 games is a task to repeat, so winning 24 again? No, there was no way that he had as good of a year as he did a summer ago, but still the AL couldn’t keep up with the game’s ultimate Ace.

Verlander’s effort epitomized the Tigers season. He was gritty, leading the Majors once more in innings pitched (238.1), strikeouts (239) and complete games (6). The wins were down to 17, which was his lowest total in four years, however when the chips were down, he was never better. The Tigers, who won the AL Central by 15 games a year ago, had to fight until the season’s last week to overcome the Chicago White Sox. Over that stretch, Verlander went 5-1 in September, sporting a 1.93 ERA and 41 strikeouts.

Last season, his outright domination wowed an amazed to a point that the Tigers closed out business better than anybody in baseball. This year, he had to focus it late to pull the team into the playoffs. That versatility and dependency makes him the definition of an Ace. There’s a legit buzz of history and hopelessness around any appearance he makes on the mound. 2012 wasn’t 2011, and it proves that clutch grit is just as great as distance producing excellence. And it also makes him the best pitcher in the world, until somebody outdoes him.

Best of the Rest

2. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners: He once again defied the confines of his place as the top arm on a non-contending team. King Felix finished with 223 spread across 232 frames, and led the Majors with 5 shutouts. From mid-June to August, he struck out 100, while walking only 14 on a 1.40 ERA.

3. David Price, Tampa Bay Rays: In year four, Price became the complete package.  His 2.56 ERA was the lowest in the AL, and he became the first Ray to ever top 20 wins in a season, also the top total in the league.

4. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox: Sale’s rise to prominence totaled 17 wins and 192 strikeouts, as well as grabbed the White Sox by the collar nearly drug them back into the playoffs. Not bad considering he made his first career start this past April.

5. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels: Weaver was the rock of the Angels through a tough team start and injuries himself. He went undefeated in July, and only lost once in both May and September, racking up his first 20 win season, tying for the league lead.

Later today, the ballot for the Goose Gossage Reliever of the Year in both leagues will be revealed.

MLB Awards Season in the CHEAP SEATS, recap & preview

October 9Connie Mack/Manager of the Year Award: Davey Johnson & Buck Showalter

October 10Willie Mays/Rookie of the Year Award: Bryce Harper & Mike Trout

October 11—Walter Johnson/Pitcher of the Year Award: Clayton Kershaw & Justin Verlander

October 11—Goose Gossage Reliever of the Year Award:

October 12—Stan Musial Most Valuable Player Award

For more on the run through a crazy October, and tomorrow’s big MVP announcement in the CHEAP SEATS, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

There’s been a lot of stories to be had this season, but what’s really ran the course of the season is the youth movement that’s being served. Yet another highlight of it was served when the Chicago Cubs made a long-term deal with Starlin Castro, putting away the 22-year-old until nearly his 30th birthday last week. That follows on the heels of the rise of the Washington Nationals, Oakland A’s and Pittsburgh Pirates, all pushed by young pace-setters that have shook up the establishment in both leagues this year.

However, when it’s broken down, who really are the best of the best when it comes to baseball’s precocious youngsters? While previous early bloomers such as Ryan Braun, Robinson Cano, Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto and Justin Verlander are moving out of the youth movement stage and into perennial standard bearers, the more recently debuted ballplayers are arguably making the biggest impact of any age group across the game. So in my most recent leap of ranking-based faith, here are the 25 best players 25 years or younger in the game today.

Mike Trout has gotten off to as big of a debut as anyone ever, but is it enough to take him even to the top of his peer group yet?

Before we get started, here’s a few guys just claimed by their 26th year but who would’ve definitely found a spot on this list a year ago: Felix Hernandez, Mark Trumbo, Yoenis Cespedes, Yu Darvish, Evan Longoria, Todd Frazier, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann.

 

25. Brett Anderson (24): There’s a reason he’s still been consistently considered the ace of the A’s despite missing most of the last two years. When he’s out there, he’s as good as it gets, as the one run surrendered in his first 20 innings back healthy shows. He has won all three starts since his return.

24. Mike Moustakas (23): The raw power of the Moose is clear, and he’s still figuring it all out. He’s come back from a light rookie year with 19 homers headed into the last month of the year for Kansas City.

23. Austin Jackson (25): The perfect centerfielder for the enormous outer territory of Comerica Field, Jackson has the highest average on balls hit in play over the last three years (.374) playing for the Detroit Tigers.

22. Alcides Escobar (25): It’s easy to not be noticed at being the best at something when you play in Kansas City, but Escobar has a rightful claim to the title of best glovesman at shortstop in baseball.

21. Wade Miley (25): The Diamondbacks’ surprise rookie lefty hurler has gone from last pitcher to make the rotation to being an All-Star and 20-win candidate in a few months.

20. Manny Machado (20): The second youngest player on this list, it’s eerie how much the Oriole resembles A-Rod at the same age in both frame (6’3, 185) and early impact (extra bases on 8 of first 15 hits).

Machado’s surprise promotion has been a big catalyst in the O’s shocking the world this summer.

19. Jeremy Hellickson (25): Last year’s AL Rookie of the Year doesn’t have a ton of wins, but still has nasty stuff that will let him pitch for a long time, which his 3.18 career ERA for the Rays is a preview of.

18. Eric Hosmer (22): There’s been a lot of worry about how his second year has gone (.240, 12 homers, .310 on-base %), but settle down. Being the by-far best player on an MLB squad at 22 is a tough haul on anybody, and the prophecy of The Hos as the leader of the Royal revival will be fulfilled.

17. Anthony Rizzo (23): He’s been everything he was billed as being as the Red Sox’s, Padres’ and Cubs’ top prospect over the last two years. After being traded for all the right reasons over the past two years, he’s finally settled in one place, where he’ll stay for awhile: third in the Cubs’ lineup.

16. Jason Heyward (23): In year three, his average is up over 50 points, and he’s pushed his homer total up 10 from a year ago. What’s more: The Brave has just as many home runs and doubles as the much more heralded Andrew McCutchen.

 

For the top 15 of the list, including what may seem like a shocker at the top, considering what’s going on this summer, head over to THE CHEAP SEATS at The Sports Fan Journal here: http://www.thesportsfanjournal.com/sports/baseball/youth-movement-baseballs-top-25-25-and-under/

 

And for more on the day-to-day of the game, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

So far in the MLB “Award Tour” here in The CHEAP SEATS, the rundown in awards season has been pretty straightforward: name a winner, qualify him and then show the almost there’s behind him. With today being the big flourish in the American League, the MVP, it would make sense to go in and do that formula up as big as possible again.

Well no dice. Just last week, I ran down Justin Verlander’s credentials when I went through the pointless exercise of appointing him as the best pitcher in the American League this year.

This was made “official” in the big sense of things yesterday when he was announced MVP of the AL by Baseball Writers of America as well, But well over a month ago, during the first week of the playoffs, when I cast my ballot for the Baseball Bloggers Alliance’s Stan Musial Award for the best player in the AL, I had little difficulty settling on Verlander for the MVP as well. And he won it from a few different angles.

From his throne on the mound, Verlander rose above all others in the game this year.

I’ll qualify my biases here up front: I’m an ex-pitcher. I would rather watch a crafty 2-1 game any day than a final score that looks like a football game in the summer. It’s the best part of the game to me; the competitive, moment-by-moment chess match that pitching is.  And this year, Verlander looked like Bobby Fisher…if he threw pawns and bishops 100 mph in the eighth inning.

But this time around, even if I hated pitchers more than Ted Williams, it’s undeniable that one was way ahead of the pack.

However, back to the point: his effort this season shattered the bias that a pitcher should win the Cy Young and a hitter should win the MVP….which is some of the craziest alleged logic in all of sports. Is a pitcher not a player (which is what comprises the “p” in M-V-P)? For all intensive purposes, the Cy Young is a ultimate silver medal in all of pro sports awards. It’s got a big name cred, but in the end it still plays second fiddle to the nod that a “Most Valuable Player” gets. So, by saying that a pitcher is not worthy of the MVP because “he doesn’t play every day” or “already has his award” is akin to saying that the best a pitcher can be is the second best player in the game on any given year.

I call shenanigans on that, and although it takes a tremendously dominant effort like Verlander gave this season, notching 24 wins on a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts, no player in the American League came close to making a difference on their more often and pulling them further away from the pack than he did for the Detroit Tigers, and isn’t that the true definition of an MVP?

In May, the Tigers were looking up at the Cleveland Indians & wrestling back the Kansas City Royals, when Verlander went Martian on all of baseball, and over the next four months, the club went 20-3 when he took the ball, and the Tigers won the Central by 15 games. Also during that stretch, he went undefeated during two months and during two of the three games he lost they were by one run, including a 1-0 loss in July. In June alone, he went 6-0 with a 0.92 ERA in 49 innings and struck out 54 to only 6 walks.

Wow.

Verlander did more every fifth day than any other player in the AL did daily this summer.

However, what makes it such a runaway for him is that no other player has anywhere close to case that says they should have the trophy on their mantle. I when I filled out the required 10 man ballot for the BBA’s Musial Award, it was much harder to select two than one, because the pack was just so full of the same type of guys, with the same qualifiers and disqualifiers to really have an honest shot at saying they made a bigger impact on the season than Verlander did. Here are the nine other guys on my ballot and why a viable threat is not emerging from this group (where they ended on my ballot in parentheses):

The Yankee pack – Robinson Cano (2), Curtis Granderson (5) & Mark Teixeira (9): The title says it all on why no one of this group deserves it over the other. They all played a vital role in the Yankees winning out the East. Granderson had a career year with 41 homers and 119 RBI, but Teixeira was right on his heels with 39 and 111 himself. Cano is the best overall player on the team, and his .302 average was 40 points higher than CJ’s average and 50 points better than Tex’s. In the end, how can you pick one from this group and not the other?

The Dead Sox – Jacoby Ellsbury (4) & Adrian Gonzalez (8): I’ll say it right now, if the Red Sox didn’t have that historic collapse and miss the entire playoffs despite being in the driver’s seat for much of the season, either of these guys would have been good choices. But in the end, after the impression of the Titanic this club did, there’s no way anybody involved can be called an MVP.

Best Players on the Best Team – Michael Young (7) & Adrian Beltre (10): Both had solid seasons and carried the Rangers at one point or another. But no team wins more ways than the Rangers do across the board, and they fall into the same grip that the Yankee guys do, albeit carrying a bit more weight at times.

The Teammate – Miguel Cabrera (3): He’s the best hitter in the game not named Albert Pujols, and he put up another effort while winning his first batting title this year. But Miggy wasn’t even the most impactful player on his own team, and that says a lot about what Verlander did. Tigers didn’t start playing their best ball until Verlander shifted into gear, not him.

The One Man Show – Jose Bautista (6): He had another epic season, but it didn’t pull the Blue Jays into above 4th place. Joey Bats has big, yet still empty, numbers until they start to equal a more competitive club up North.

So in the end, what’s it going to be? Disqualifying the most perfect storm season of any major player in the league based on the fact that he doesn’t swing a bat? No, can’t do it. In the end, the fact that it only took Verlander every fifth game to make the biggest impact in baseball says even more for his cause. In a year of an even field, with flawed candidates abound, one amazingly dominant effort did more to raise his team’s level of play than any other player that had a chance to do it on a nightly basis.

Nothing says most valuable pitcher player than that.

For more on why the pitcher isn’t a second class citizen in baseball, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

Welcome back to CSP’s MLB year-end Awards nod series. Here’s a quick review of where we are so far in my Baseball Bloggers Alliance year-end awards ballot so far:

NL Manager of the Year:  Kirk Gibson

The American League was a roller coaster of a League this year, with pennant races coming and going across the board. For most of the year, at the very least, two clubs could have taken the title in each division. In the end, a dark horse, perennial underrated club may have scored the biggest coup of the entire season, and despite having a nearly constantly uncertain situation around his club all year, Tampa Bay’s master strategist once again made overcoming the odds (and walls of money) in front of his club and reached the promised land of October baseball again.

 

2011 American League Manager of the Year: Joe Madden – Tampa Bay Rays

Mad Men: In a career that has been defined by being the underdog that made it, Maddon may have done more with less than ever in '11.

The nod for the AL edition of the Connie Mack Award goes to guy that is virtually the opposite of his award namesake. While Mack pushed some of the highest paid teams of his day with many of the brightest stars of the day, Madden’s Rays were the ultimate David’s in the double Goliath AL East. After an offseason where he had no choice but to watch many of his best players from his previous two postseason clubs either walk away (Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Rafeal Soriano) or be dealt (Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett). Overall, he was charged with rebuilding a team within the game’s most competitive division. Not an easy charge.

Early on it looked to be a loss cause too. Manny Ramirez was intended to be a stop-gap bat to add some experience to the young Rays. Instead he was suspended for the second time for performance enhancing drugs for 100 games, and retired. At the same time the team started 0-6, and had to battle through an injury to its best player in Evan Longoria at the same time. But by the end of the month, they pulled over .500 and that was the just the opening act of a season defined by perseverance.

The Rays entered September down nine games, but put the pressure on a collapsing Red Sox team and put themselves in position to make their year-long foe’s failure complete, nearly immediately. Longoria hit a walk off home run to cap Madden’s most remarkable managing job to date. In a season where he had to take the wheel of a nearly completely rebuilt team, pull off an almost immediate salvage job out the gates and still pulled them into the playoffs with the 29th ranked payroll in the game, Maddon is the class of the game for good reason.

LEFT ON DECK

This year the name of the Detroit Tigers has been synonymous to Justin Verlander, and for good reason. But there was a lot more to the AL Central champs than just him. Jim Leyland formed them into a team that was characterized by a steady, non-relenting approach, followed up by a killer instinct in the end. Leyland did a masterful job of not only tracking down the Cleveland Indians, who controlled the Central for much of the first half of the year, but also guiding the team into complete shutdown mode during a 14 game winning streak that sealed the deal for the team winning its first ever AL Central title.

The Texas Rangers followed up their run to the World Series with a tough start to the 2011 year. Injuries of all sorts plagued the team’s most critical members, and they were locked in an up and down fight with the Los Angeles Angels for control in the West. However, Ron Washington rallied his troops in the month’s final season to a 19-6 record, including picking up a crucial sweep in LA and the Rangers won their second straight West title.

 

For balloting purposes: 1) Joe Maddon, 2) Jim Leyland, 3) Ron Washington

 

For more on CSP’s award picks and constant descent into MLB Playoff madness, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.