Posts Tagged ‘Andrew McCutchen’

 

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There is no more fun position in the game than center field. It is baseball’s equivalent of an ultra-amazing wide receiver, an eye-popping wing in basketball or a puck-handling magician at center in hockey. The position is home to some of the most iconic players in MLB history, such as Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Ty Cobb and the Hall of Fame’s newest superstar, Ken Griffey Jr.

As a result, it is a position that carries quite an impressive standard for its current inhabitants. And luckily enough for today’s viewers, it is home to the most diverse collection of talents in the game today. There are two former MVPs at spot who can also be argued as being two of the top three players in the game overall. There is also a collection of power hitting, mileage covering, run scoring, Gold Glove collecting talents that are nucleus of each of their teams. And such is the depth at the position that this description is apt for those that even just missed the list.

As a result, ranking out the top center fielders in any year is a task that is based in a certain level of guaranteed error. So many crucial talents are bound to double back on each other in some way, shape or form. On any given day, a match-up between any pair of players on this list could see them change the game with the glove in the top of an inning, while then following it up in the same fashion with the bat in the bottom of the same frame.

But regardless of that, it is time to get into the task of separating and splitting hairs for the top 10 players in the heart of the outfield, today.

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10. Jacoby Ellsbury, Yankees (#6 in ’15)

2015: .257/.318/.345 7 HR, 53 RBI, 15 doubles, 66 runs scored, 21 stolen bases, .663 OPS

Last 3 Years: .277/.335/.401 11 HR, 52 RBI, 24 doubles, 76 runs scored, 37 stolen bases, .736 OPS

It is completely fair to say that Ellsbury has not lived up to the standards of the $153 million deal that he inked before the 2014 season. However, it is also not completely accurate to say that he has been a total bust either. In reality, Ellsbury has settled into a more of a groove of the type of player he truly is: a solid on-base speed threat, whom can make a strong defensive effort while being a traditional top of the line up bat.

As has been his constant story in his career, injuries limited his playing time and effectiveness a year ago. A right knee sprain took curbed him mid-May, after he worked to a .324 average over the first two months of the year. After missing all of June and returning in July, he hit below .230 for the rest of the year. Despite this, his quick start still saw him top 20 stolen bases and work 24 extra base hits. With an offseason of healing time behind him, Ellsbury could continue at the pace that he opened the year at.

 

9. Carlos Gomez, Astros (#4 in ’15)

2015: .255/.314/.409 12 HR, 56 RBI, 29 doubles, 61 runs scored, 17 stolen bases, .724 OPS

Last 3 Years: .276/.338/.468 20 HR, 67 RBI, 30 doubles, 79 runs scored, 30 stolen bases, .806 OPS

This is a rather steep dip for Gomez, who before last season had back-to-back All-Star appearances for the Brewers and had established himself as one of the major all-around threats in the game. However, this is also not what could be called a legit decline for the 30-year-old now Astro. A rash of injuries zapped his power and speed, while limiting him to 115 games. While always a free swinger, his numbers were hampered by a lowered contact rate even by his standards, but regardless of that his skill set remains intact.

Gomez looks primed for a rebound if his health is faithful to him this year. He translates well into the Astro lineup and 81 games at Minute Maid Park look awfully good for him as well. His 12 home run dip was more than half of what he had been good for from 2013-14, and his average declined nearly 30 points. As a result, Gomez is primed to be one of the big bounce back candidates in the game this year.

 

8. Adam Eaton, White Sox (NR in ’15)

2015: .287/.361/.431 14 HR, 56 RBI, 28 doubles, 98 runs scored, 18 stolen bases, .792 OPS

Last 3 Years: .285/.353/.407 6 HR, 38 RBI, 21 doubles, 71 runs scored, 13 stolen bases, .760 OPS

Not enough people know how good Eaton is becoming, and that’s not quite fair. While he showed steady improvement over his first few seasons, Eaton made the big jump last year into affirming himself as one of the game’s better leadoff hitters. He had a major uptick in power last year, hitting 9 more home runs in 2015 alone than he had in his three previous years between Arizona and Chicago.

Otherwise, he showed the ability to either maintain and/or improve everywhere else in his offensive repertoire. He matched his .360+ on-base percentage for the second straight year, while also nearing double digits in triples (19 since 2014) and increasing his hits, doubles, stolen bases and runs scored (from 76 to 98).

 

7. Charlie Blackmon, Rockies (NR in ’15)

2015: .287/.347/.450 17 HR, 58 RBI, 31 doubles, 93 runs scored, 43 stolen bases, .797 OPS

Last 3 Years: .291/.340/.449 14 HR, 51 RBI, 25 doubles, 70 runs scored, 26 stolen bases, .780 OPS

Blackmon proved that his full-time breakout of 2015 was no fluke. While he carried some prototypical home/away splits that are evident for many Rockies bats (.331 home average vs. .238 road, 890 home OPS vs. .695 road), an impact is an impact and Blackmon made plenty of those a year ago.

The 29-year-old had career-highs in OPS (.797), hits (176), runs scored (93), doubles (31), triples (9) and stolen bases (43), the latter of which was good for the second most in the National League. Blackmon also contributed nine outfield assists, while working to a respectable 2.35 zone rating in the field.

 

6. Kevin Kiermaier, Rays (NR in ’15)

2015: .263/.298/.420 10 HR, 40 RBI, 25 doubles, 62 runs scored, 18 stolen bases, .718 OPS

Last 2 Years: .263/.305/.432 10 HR, 38 RBI, 20 doubles, 48 runs scored, 12 stolen bases, .737 OPS

In many ways, he is becoming the Andrelton Simmons of the outfield; a true game changer on nearly everything hit into grass beyond the infield. No Major League defender changed the outcome of more games with his defensive exploits last year than Kiermaier. His 5 defensive Wins Above Replacement outpaced every other MLB by more than 3 wins, while he also had more center field assists (15) and covered the largest range factor (3.26) as well. His 42 defensive runs saved were the most in the game, and he appropriately won both the Gold and Platinum Glove Awards.

While he is still developing as a hitter, the tools that make him such a dynamic outfielder also carried over to the plate as well. Kiermaier hit double digits in doubles (25), triples (12) and home runs (10), in addition to swiping 18 bases as well.

 

5. Adam Jones, Orioles (#3 in ’15)

2015: .269/.308/.474 27 HR, 82 RBI, 25 doubles, 74 runs scored, 3 stolen bases, .782 OPS

Last 3 Years: .279/.313/.479 30 HR, 95 RBI, 30 doubles, 87 runs scored, 8 stolen bases, .792 OPS

Jones’ has comfortably settled into become the top power hitting center fielder in the game, outside of the guy in Anaheim. 2015 marked the fifth year in a row that he has topped 25 home runs, and he had a chance at making it his third year north of 30. However, his remarkable streak of durability –he had played in at least 150 games for four straight years— was clipped due to a string of nagging injuries.

This led to five-year lows across the board for AJ 10, however even in a down year, Jones put up impressive overall numbers, making his fourth consecutive All-Star Game in the process. He is still an above-average defender and is just a year removed from winning three consecutive Gold Gloves. And while he is no longer a threat in the stolen base department (10 steals in 12 chances since 2014), he is a smart base runner that can still stretch the right hit for a tough extra base.

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4. Lorenzo Cain, Royals (#7 in ’15)

2015: .307/.361/.477 16 HR, 72 RBI, 34 doubles, 101 runs scored, 28 stolen bases, .838 OPS

Last 3 Years:  .289/.339/.419 8 HR, 57 RBI, 28 doubles, 70 runs scored, 23 stolen bases, .759 OPS

While he had long been most wide-ranging, dynamic center fielder in the American League, Cain made as unexpected of a jump into the overall impact class as any player in the game last season. He had a substantial uptick in power in 2015, which saw his OPS rise by 80 points and reach career highs in home runs, doubles, triples, hits and batting average as well. He fueled the Royals offensive attack by driving in 72 runs, while scoring an additional 101.

His 28 stolen bases remained steady from where his 2014 total was and was good enough for the second best total in the American League. Overall, he contributed an impressive 20.4 Power-Speed figure, which measures a combination of home runs x stolen bases, divided by stolen bases + home runs, and was good for third in the AL. Overall, he contributed a strong 7.2 overall WAR figure, good for fourth in the American League and solidified his third place finish in AL MVP voting.

 

3. A.J. Pollock, Diamondbacks (NR in ’15)

2015: .315/.367/.498 20 HR, 76 RBI, 39 doubles, 111 runs scored, 39 stolen bases, .865 OPS

Last 3 Years: .297/.349/.468 12 HR, 46 RBI, 29 doubles, 72 runs scored, 22 stolen bases, .817 OPS

Oh what a difference a full year makes. Staying both healthy and having a full time position were two elusive elements for Pollock throughout the first few years of his career. He gave a great sample sized look at his potential in 2014, but a broken right hand ended his season just as it was taking off after 75 games of posting a .302/.353/.498 split line.

It was a brief, yet clear indicator of what Pollock was capable of, but the question remained whether he could keep up that pace over a full year. And that is a question that no longer exists, as Pollock put on one of the best all-around assaults on the game a year ago. He became a five-tool star, finishing fifth in total bases with 303, which came on the heels of placing in the National League top 10 in doubles (4th), triples (8th), stolen bases (4th) and runs scored (2nd). Add in his (very legit) Gold Glove campaign as well, built on the back of having the top Total Zone runs saved number in the NL (20), and this is a proven quantity as one of the most well-rounded talents in the game.

 

2. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates (#2 in ’15)

2015: .292/.401/.488 23 HR, 96 RBI, 36 doubles, 91 runs scored, 11 stolen bases, .889 OPS

Last 3 Years: .308/.405/.512 23 HR, 88 RBI, 37 doubles, 92 runs scored, 19 stolen bases, .917 OPS

One of the game’s truly elite talents, McCutchen continued his role as one of the game’s most pivotal players in 2015, and as a result, kept the Pittsburgh Pirates among the elite teams in the game. Cutch continued to put on display his plethora of baseball talents, besting a .290 average, 20 home runs, 80 RBI, 35 doubles, 85 runs scored and a .400 on-base percentage for the third straight year. And while his totals dipped some from previous years due to an injury-plagued start, his 2015 was still worthy of a top 5 MVP finish, a fourth straight Silver Slugger and a fifth consecutive All-Star Game. This was due in part the fact he hit .330, .337 and .348 in May, June and August, respectively.

Thus is the life of a perennial MVP candidate, as the 2013 winner of the NL’s top player prize has not left the top 5 in voting since 2012. This is as much of a result of his all-around excellence as it is the fact that it has fueled the Pirates to a regular spot in the postseason picture. Since McCutchen made his All-Star debut in 2011, the Pirates’ annual win total has risen steadily, with last year’s 98-win effort being the most for the Bucs since 1991.

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1. Mike Trout, Angels (#1 in ’15)

2015: .299/.402/.590 41 HR, 90 RBI, 32 doubles, 104 runs scored, 11 stolen bases, .991 OPS

Last 3 Years: .303/.404/.569 35 HR, 99 RBI, 37 doubles, 109 runs scored, 20 stolen bases, .973 OPS

What else can be said about Trout at this point? It is a moot point to state that he’s the best player in the game, because it goes without saying. At the age of 24, the conversation about how good he can be is done, rather it is about just how legendary he can become. He continued to push his own boundaries again last season, setting career highs in home runs and OPS last season, while also remaining in the AL top 10 in batting average, runs scored and leading the circuit in slugging percentage as well.

While many make light of the fact that his stolen base total declined down to 11 last year, it is far from a loss of a skill set. Rather, it just shows the unavoidable evolution of his game from an ultra-catalyst at the top of the order and into a multi-skilled middle of the lineup bat. Because while his stolen base total dropped, so did his strikeout rate, while his walk rate climbed. Simply put, he is getting better overall because for as much raw talent as he possesses, he is gaining maturity & discipline to go along with it, which is truly a frightening thought. Thus far in his career, Trout is yet to finish any lower than second in an MVP race and he has essentially become the measuring mark for whether another player is worthy of the award instead of him. Because that is what the best player in the game should do annually, and he has yet to fail to live up to his role.

 

Just A Bit Outside: Kevin Pillar, Blue Jays; Denard Span, Giants; Dexter Fowler, Cubs; Randal Grichuk, Cardinals.

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As it has for as long as the game has existed, center field is the home of some of the best-rounded talents in the game. It takes a blend of being able to do it all to be truly considered one of the elite players at the position, and currently there is an especially gifted group manning the position.

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In each of the past two seasons, a center fielder has won a league Most Valuable Player nod. And it would be fair to say that there are multiple favorites to bring yet another MVP to position this year. Due to this surplus of talent, ten spots are nowhere near enough to capture all of the significant players at the heart of the outfield. Even an All-Star from a year ago that had a downturn in the second half of the season failed to make his way onto the list. Thus is the nature of one of the game’s most competitive spots.

Yet with that being said, let us take a look at the players that did make the cut. Starting with a duo that most likely populates the top five of the best players in the game, regardless of position.

 

1. Mike Trout, Angels (#1 in 2014): He won his elusive MVP –or as elusive as one can be for a 22-year-old – a year ago, and did it by attacking the season in a completely different way than he had in his previous two years. Trout played the part of heart of the order producer instead of all-world table setter that he had in his first two seasons, and the results lead to yet another stunning display of complete dominance. He connected for a career-best 36 home runs and 111 RBI, while leading the AL in runs scored for the third consecutive year. When coupled with his 39 doubles, 9 triples, superb base running and solid outfield play, there is no wonder why he is now firmly entrenched as the game’s top talent.

2-year average: .305 average/.964 OPS/32 home runs/104 RBI/39 doubles/24 stolen bases/.994 Fld%

2. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates (#2 in ’14): He followed up his MVP 2013 year with another comprehensively brilliant year. He led the NL in a varied platter of measures including on-base % (.410), on-base + slugging % (.952), total runs created (130), extra base hits (69) and offensive Wins Above Replacement level (7.8). Toss in the fearless range he shows defensively and the leadership model he puts on, and there is perhaps on one more complete player than him—maybe.

2-year average: .316 average/.931 OPS/23 home runs/84 RBI/38 doubles/22 stolen bases/.981 Fld%

3. Adam Jones, Orioles (#4 in ’14): Mr. Consistency was at his usual high standard again last season, right in the 30 home run, 100 RBI, .280 average neighborhood again (a true split of .281/29/96, to be exact), while playing to a third straight Gold Glove in the field as well. Jones is the understated MVP of the O’s, who drove them towards their American League East Title on the strength of his dependable everyday output.

2-year average: .283 average/.795 OPS/31 home runs/102 RBI/32 doubles/10 stolen bases/.989 Fld%

4. Carlos Gomez, Brewers (#7 in ’14): The ever-excitable Gomez has continued to round into one of the game’s top all-around talents, with a rare blend of power and speed that is unleashed at a moment’s notice. He topped 20 home runs for the second consecutive year, while swiping 30 bases for the third straight campaign. He remains on the short list of best defensive outfielders alive as well, capable of reaching any part of his mid-field terrain with the same ease.

2-year average: .284 average/.838 OPS/24 home runs/73 RBI/30 doubles/37 stolen bases/.987 Fld%

5. Yasiel Puig, Dodgers (#4 in Right Field in ’14): Puig made the shift over from right out of necessity last season, and for the time being he profiles to stay there. But with his freakish athletic gifts, there is really nothing he can’t do, as his diverse offering across the board showed last year. He turned in 37 doubles, 9 triples, 16 home runs and 11 stolen bases, as well as 15 total outfield assists with his cannon of an arm (8 from center). While the process of him finding harmony in using all of his gifts is a work in progress, the talent is undeniably tantalizing.

2-year average: .305 average/.888 OPS/18 home runs/56 RBI/29 doubles/11 stolen bases/.949 Fld%

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6. Jacoby Ellsbury, Yankees (#3 in ’14): His first year in pinstripes did not necessarily live up to the lofty standards that his contract may have brought on, but at the same time it was far from a lost year as well. He played his usual lockdown center field, leading the AL in range factor at the position. Offensively, his batting average dropped to a personal full-season low, but he still swiped 39 bases, hit 16 home runs, which contributed to his AL-best power x speed ratio (most home runs multiplied by stolen bases).

2-year average: .285 average/.764 OPS/12 home runs/62 RBI/29 doubles/46 stolen bases/.994 Fld%

7. Lorenzo Cain, Royals (Not Ranked): Cain’s defensive contributions played a huge part in the overall success of the Royals, and he was mostly robbed of a Gold Glove by Jones’ reputation this past year. But he made his talents clearer than ever before, topping both .300 and 20 stolen bases for the first time in his career, then revving it up to a sensational .333 postseason average as well. A star may be being born.

2-year average: .278 average/.708 OPS/4 home runs/50 RBI/25 doubles/21 stolen bases/.996 Fld%

8. Marcell Ozuna, Marlins (Not Ranked): The middle portion of the Marlins dynamic young outfield had a powerful first full-season in 2014. He popped 23 home runs and drove in 85 runs, while playing a very solid defensive campaign as well. Ozuna contributed eight outfield assists, and while he is the least decorated of his outfield mates, his potential is just as exciting.

2-year average: .268 average/.746 OPS/13 home runs/58 RBI/22 doubles/4 stolen bases/.988 Fld%

9. Denard Span, Nationals (Not Ranked): The always steady leadoff man and uber-consistent defender had perhaps his most notable season to date a year ago. He turned in a .302 average and 31 stolen bases, as well as a career-best 39 doubles and .416 slugging %. In addition, he tied as the NL leader in hits with 184, although that was the lowest full-season league leading total since 1988.

2-year average: .290 average/.739 OPS/4 home runs/42 RBI/34 doubles/26 stolen bases/.995 Fld%

10. Juan Lagares, Mets (Not Ranked): He is the most exciting outfielder to watch in all of the game and perhaps since Jim Edmonds and Andruw Jones roamed MLB outfields a decade ago. Lagares can flat go get it and has one of the most impressive CF arms the game has seen in years, so the 25-year-old was correctly honored with his first Gold Glove a year ago. While his offensive output is still developing (his on-base% increased by 40 points last year), he is talented enough in his specialty to have made a 5.5 WAR figure based mostly on his defense alone.

2-year average: .262 average/.669 OPS/4 home runs/40 RBI/22 doubles/10 stolen bases/.983 Fld%

 

Runners Up: Charlie Blackmon, Adam Eaton, Jon Jay, A.J. Pollack

Picking apart the top guy in the National League this year is no easy task. There was brilliance at the plate, as well as over and above dominance on the mound that was worth noting as well. There were also shifts in the waves of impact across the year as well. From the hot start of Tulowitzki and Puig, to the way that Lucroy and Kershaw threw their clubs on their backs, as well as the postseason clinching efforts of McCutchen and Posey. But with all things considered, there was one man’s effort that literally overpowered the rest of the pack and stood out above the rest. Here is his story….

2014 National League Stan Musial Player of the Year—Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins

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“Most Valuable Player” is a term that, at best, is variously defined. Sometimes it is the biggest stat monster, while in other cases it is the player whose presence made the biggest difference on the course of the season. I personally tend to graze the fence between those two elements and think of it as the player who makes the biggest impact on the season, where his performance made the biggest day-to-day impact, while also improving his team’s fortunes and changing the layout of the season.

Giancarlo Stanton checked off each of these boxes with ease this season. The rhetoric on Stanton has been that he is one of the game’s great young talents, BUT….then the conversation always took away from what he was accomplishing on the field. Between injuries, playing for a perpetual lame duck franchise and being the favorite trade rumor on the yearlong hot stove league, what he was actually capable of on the field was taking a backseat.

Yet the receipts that Stanton turned in this summer were enough to drown out any other background noise around his play, because what he accomplished was a thorough destruction of all things pitching related, and in the course of it all, he raised the Marlins into immediate respectability as well. During his year 24 season, Stanton crushed NL pitching to the tone of a league-best 37 home runs. And they were not just run of the mill shots either, as quite often they were the type outfielders or pitchers do not bother turning around to see land either. His “average” (because these type of shots are common for him alone) long ball checked in on average at 415 feet, and defined the term ‘moonshot’ by getting up to 85 feet high and leaving the park at 107 mph, on average. He hit seven shot that went at least 450 feet this year, including a 484 shot in April that flat out defied logic. That is a complete obliteration of the baseball, and he made it his specialty this summer.

But there was more to Stanton than just his signature impact, as he began to round out his game even more. He set career-highs in RBI (105), hits (155), doubles (31), runs scored (89), stolen bases (13), walks (90) and posted his second-best batting average of his career with a .288 mark, despite playing in 22 more games than he did when he set his career high of .290 in 2012. The 37 long balls tied his career best also set in 2012, while his 299 total bases led the National League too, as did his .555 slugging percentage.

Pitchers attempted to wise up to approaching Stanton, and intentionally avoided him 24 times this year, one less time than he been purposefully passed in his entire career to date. But that approach did not breed the expected results, because it put Stanton in place to create opportunity for the other emergent Marlins on the year and created a far better outcome than was expected. With Stanton both as a conduit of run production and an element to be created around, the Fish improved by 15 games from the previous season, even without their emergent star in pitcher Jose Fernandez. This is a credit to having their premier property in Stanton both available, producing and maturing throughout the entire season.

His season was brought to sudden, and scary, stop in mid-September when he was hit in the face by a pitch. Subsequently, the Marlins (smartly) shut his season down, but Stanton is mostly back to good health and in position to return to the field on time next season. But while the clipped schedule on the year shorted him likely from a 40 home run year and an RBI title (where he finished second to Adrian Gonzalez), it should not take away from the fact that no other player made a more decisive difference more often than Giancarlo did. And therefore, he deserves the year’s top NL nod for works done and the path he not only laid, but drug into place this year.

Runners Up

  1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: I discussed the brilliance of Kershaw’s year in his Pitcher of the Year column, and he did make a calculable push for MVP as well. No player made a bigger difference in the direction of the pennant chase than he did and he had one of the great seasons in recent history off the mound.
  2. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates: He finds a new way to steer the Pirates every season, and an MVP-caliber year is his norm. This year he finished third in average (.314), first in on-base percentage (.410) and topped 20 home runs and 80 RBI for the fourth straight year, while playing a brilliant center field as well.
  3. Buster Posey, Giants: He went into overdrive in the second half, hitting .354 after the break and finishing fourth in the NL with a .311 average. Once again spearheaded a Giant charge into September.
  4. Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers: He had a brilliant overall year, pulling himself into the talk for the NL’s elite at catcher. He led the Majors with 53 doubles, 46 of which set an MLB record for a catcher.
  5. Anthony Rendon, Nationals: In a team full of bigger names, he was the most important property. Rotating between second and third base as needed, Rendon posted 21 homers, 39 doubles, 83 RBI and 17 stolen bases.
  6. Josh Harrison, Pirates: His breakout year was crucial to filling the many capacities he did for the Pirates. The first-time All-Star spent time at second and third base, shortstop, left and right field, and nearly took the NL batting title as well, hitting for a .315 second place finish.
  7. Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers: He played a brilliant first base and led the NL in RBI at 116. Gonzo added 41 doubles to his resume as well, and was the key run producer for the talented Dodger lineup.
  8. Yaisel Puig, Dodgers: He did a little bit of this and little bit of that, providing whatever was needed for LA at the given time. Puig hit .296 with 16 homers, 69 RBI and played his sometimes awe-inspiring (and sometimes confounding) game on the bases and with the glove.
  9. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies: Oh what could have been. Tulo’s most brilliant campaign to date was once again curbed by injured. When his season ended in August, he was sporting a .340 average, with 21 homers and 69 RBI in just 315 at-bats.

Previous CSP Votes

2013: Yadier Molina, Cardinals

2012: Buster Posey, Giants

2011: Ryan Braun, Brewers

2014 CSP/BBBA BALLOT REVIEW

 

Stan Musial Players of the Year Awards

NL: Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins—.288 avg/37 HR/105 RBI, 31 doubles, .555 slugging %

AL: Mike Trout, Anaheim Angels—.287 avg/36 HR/111 RBI, 39 doubles, 115 runs scored

 

Walter Johnson Pitchers of the Year Awards

NL: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers—21-3 record, 1.77 ERA, 239 strikeouts, 6 complete games

AL: Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners—15-6 record, 2.14 ERA, 248 strikeouts, .200 average against

 

Willie Mays Rookie of the Year Awards

NL: Jacob deGrom, New York Mets—9-6 record, 2.69 ERA, 144 strikeouts, 22 starts

AL: Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox—.317 avg/36 HR/107 RBI, 35 doubles, .581 slugging %

 

Goose Gossage Relief Pitcher of the Year Awards

NL: Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves—47 saves, 1.61 ERA, 92% saves converted, 13.9 strikeouts/9

AL: Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals—46 saves, 1.44 ERA, 96% saves converted, 90 strikeouts

 

Connie Mack Managers of the Year Awards

NL: Bruce Bochy, San Francisco Giants: 88-74 record, 2nd place NL West; Wild Card winner

AL: Buck Showalter, Baltimore Orioles: 96-66 record, 1st place AL East; First division title since 1997

2014 is now officially in the books in the Cheap Seats, and onward to 2015. Stay locked here for more on the upcoming free agent blitz, as w@CheapSeatFanell as a variety of other biz as well. And if you need to now in the moment, as always follow on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Seattle Mariners

It has been an interesting half-season of Baseball thus far. It is one that emerges from the break today with only one divisional lead that is greater than four games. The entire National League is wide open, while the American League East and West are shaping up to fight it out for the long run on the other half. Six teams are within four or fewer games in both Leagues’ Wild Card race. Simply put, it has been a vice grip of a struggle for position this summer.

As the second half takes off this afternoon and evening, who is in the driver’s seat for the awards that will outcome as the seasons turn, the fat is trimmed and the postseason takes charge.

Most Valuable Player

American League—Mike Trout, Angels: Every year of his career thus far he has posted an MVP-caliber campaign, while each has seen him reach a higher peak day-to-day. 2014 has been no exception that either, as Trout continues to do everything possible on the diamond with exceptional skill. This year’s Trout Version 3.0 has seen him launch impossibly long home runs with stunning ease, while leading the AL in on-base + slugging% at 1.005 and total bases (209). However, what’s best is that he’s getting to do it while leading a finally successful Angels club, and the numbers always mean more when they are stacking into W’s as well.

National League—Andrew McCutchen, Pirates: After leading the NL in hits two years ago and then winning its MVP a year ago, somehow The Cutch continues to get even better. He is keeping Pirates relevant in the game’s best division via a stunning campaign that seems him in the top 10 in eleven different categories and playing his usual swarming defense as well. It’s a tight race between himself, Troy Tulowitzki and Giancarlo Stanton, but his all-around masterpiece he’s half-finished with is stunning thus far.

Cy Young

American League—Felix Hernandez, Mariners: It looks almost too easy, but the King (who is just touching his prime) has made dominance the norm. He is the owner of the AL’s top ERA, an 11-2 record and comes in second in K’s and first in WHIP as well. Along the way he has allowed more than 2 earned runs only three starts and has nine games of at least 9 strikeouts and 2 or fewer walks.

National League—Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: What is from Kershaw this year is simply awe-inspiring, as he sits in the top five in wins, ERA, strikeouts, WHIP and average against. But what’s most impressive is that he missed a full month and is still there. Imagine if he’d had that time to work? We would be looking potentially at one of the greatest seasons of all-time—not that we still couldn’t be, however.

Rookie of the Year

American League—Jose Abreu, White Sox: He has already exceeded most full-season expectations here as the second half is yet to begin. Abreu comes out the break the Major’s top home run mark, with 29 and is pushing on the door of 80 RBI already. If he keeps at this pace, he has a pretty good shot at meeting Mark McGwire’s record of 49 rookie home runs.

National League—Billy Hamilton, Reds: The Cincy speedster has delivered where expected on the base paths, with 38 first half steals and six triples to boot. But most impressively, he is putting to bed the rhetoric that he is all sizzle, but no steak at the plate, hitting .317 since the break of June.

Manager of the Year

American League—Bob Melvin, Athletics: In the midst of rapidly toughening division, Melvin has held the A’s head above all in the AL for the duration of the season. Armed with a completely all-in for ’14 Billy Beane in the front office and a full cupboard of perfect pieces in his dugout, the Oakland skipper has his club looking like they are ready to break out of the first round (at least) for the first time since 2006.

National League—Nick Price, Reds: The Reds entered the year, and spent a decent part of the beginning of it, in flux towards the bottom of the NL Central. Plagued by injuries both to the lineup and pitching staff, it was an unpredictable day-to-day situation. But their first year manager Price has done a masterful job of pulling the most of what has been available to him. This has included pulling into within ear shot of the Central lead, as well as sending five of his guys to the All-Star Game, with none of them being Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Mat Latos or Jay Bruce.

Comeback Player of the (Half) Year

American League—Albert Pujols, Angels: The reports of his death have proven to be greatly exaggerated. While he is not pumping out the .300+ batting average that used to be standard for him, Pujols has already reached 20 home runs, 19 doubles and driven in 64 runs. It is far from a one-man reason why Anaheim is looking newly minted this year.

National League—Tim Hudson, Giants: After that gruesome ankle injury ended his 2013 in Atlanta, Hudson declared himself ready to go this winter much earlier than anticipated. In turn, the Giants took a flier on him and in return he has given them an All-Star in return. That’s more than fair return on investment, I’d say.

Reliever of the Year

American League—Greg Holland, Royals: The emerging dominance he showed in his first year in the ninth in KC has carried over, and it is fair to say that he has a more than fair claim to be the AL’s premier closer. His strikeouts-per-nine rate is still absurd at 13.7 and has converted 25-of-26 save ops thus far.

National League—Craig Kimbrel, Braves: Let’s see—MLB-best 29 saves, sub 2.00 ERA, batters surviving to a .131 average against and over 20 more strikeouts than innings pitched. In other words: just another run of the mill year at the office for Kimbrel.

Injury Setback of the Year

American League—Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees: After putting to bed any and all doubts about his effectiveness translating to the America and the $120M+ the Yankees inked him to as well, Tanaka took the tumble of many a pitcher this season, by tearing his UCL. He was authoring one of the best seasons in the Majors this year, and now will join CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda as injured impact starters for a Yankee team that is suddenly out of answers off the hill again.

National League—Jose Fernandez, Marlins: The most deflating injury of the year is easily Fernandez’s, who joined the Tommy John list in May after getting off to another sensational start. While the game lost one of its most exciting young properties, the surprisingly competitive Marlins lost the biggest difference maker in what could potentially be a stunning breakthrough season for the franchise.

090499-matt-carpenter

It is debatable if the NL Central was baseball’s best division a year ago, but what is not is that it had the toughest road to its title a year ago. Between the Cardinals, Pirates and Reds, the division had three legitimate title holders throughout the year, and in the end sent all three clubs to the postseason, with St. Louis finishing with the league’s best record and Pittsburgh and the Reds facing off in the National League Wild Card Game. It was only fitting that the Cardinals and Pirates had one final showdown, and it was a Division Series showdown that went the full five games and took a two game rally from the Cardinals to pull it off.

2013 Finish

  1.        St. Louis Cardinals (97-65)
  2.        Pittsburgh Pirates (94-68)
  3.        Cincinnati Reds (90-72)
  4.        Milwaukee Brewers (74-88)
  5.        Chicago Cubs (66-96)

Fast forward a year later and the Central looks to be even stronger headed into the spring. The league’s most improved team a year ago, Pittsburgh looks to continue to develop and push their fortunes further. With the league’s MVP in Andrew McCutchen leading the way and a team synched around him, it is more than likely to continue trending up. The Reds are looking to be at full strength more often than they were a year ago, and return to the form that made them division champions just two years ago. St. Louis has reached the last three National League Championship Series and two out of the last three World Series, and yet somehow still managed to improve this winter. After a year marred by injuries and the loss of their top star Ryan Braun to a performance enhancing drug suspension, the Brewers look back to full strength, if not slightly improved. The Cubs are a distance away from their division mates, but are continuing a slow burn along their most recent rebuilding effort, and feature a roster slated to show plenty of increasing levels of young talent throughout the year.

In a division that has regularly been a gauntlet to survive, but has still produced multiple postseason clubs in each of the past three seasons. Will the Cardinals continue to ride their run atop the National League, or will they be clipped before they even make it out of their home division?

All-Division Lineup

1. Matt Carpenter—Cardinals, Third Base

2. Joey Votto—Reds, First Base

3. Andrew McCutchen—Pirates, Center Field

4. Ryan Braun—Brewers, Right Field

5. Matt Holliday—Cardinals, Left Field

6. Yadier Molina—Cardinals, Catcher

7. Brandon Phillips—Reds, Second Base

8. Jean Segura—Brewers, Shortstop

 

Starting Pitcher: Adam Wainwright—Cardinals

Starting Pitcher: Francisco Liriano—Pirates

Starting Pitcher: Shelby Miller—Cardinals

Starting Pitcher: Homer Bailey—Reds

Right Handed Reliever: Marc Melancon—Pirates

Lefty Handed Reliever: Justin Wilson—Pirates

Closer: Aroldis Chapman—Reds

 

If Gomez, who led the NL in Wins Above Replacement a year ago (9.3), produces a similar 2014, it will assure the Brewers of an elite offense.

If Gomez, who led the NL in Wins Above Replacement a year ago (9.3), produces a similar 2014, it will assure the Brewers of an elite offense.

Lineup

1. Cardinals

2. Brewers

3. Pirates

4. Reds

5. Cubs

With the addition of Jhonny Peralta, STL has five reigning or former All-Stars in their everyday lineup, and the Cardinals can score runs at any point in their attack. Not far behind them are the diverse and timely Pirates, who have an attack similar to the Cardinal clubs of a generation ago: speed in bunches, based around a hammer in Pedro Alvarez. However, the Brewers could be back at their 2011-12 levels of elite run production if their rising stars from last year continue to trend up, and Braun and Aramis Ramirez can stay on the field.

Heart of the Lineup

1. Cardinals

2. Brewers

3. Reds

4. Pirates

5. Cubs

While they have no high level power hitter, the middle of the Cardinal lineup in Matt Holliday, Allen Craig and Yadier Molina are all relentless, and timely, line drive hitters. The trio combined to hit .405 with runners in scoring position, with Craig leading the way at .454. The Reds have a potent duo in Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, which could reach even higher levels with returns to form of Ryan Ludwick or Todd Frazier.

Table Setters

1. Reds

2. Cardinals

3. Brewers

4. Pirates

5. Cubs

The Reds could have a duo that approach 100 runs scored each in Billy Hamilton and Brandon Phillips, who will return back to the second slot in the order. Matt Carpenter led the NL in hits with 199 last year, while Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura both topped 30 steals a year ago in Milwaukee. Starling Marte is bordering on All-Star level in Pittsburgh, stealing 41 bases and working in 10 triples as well.

Depth

1. Cardinals

2. Pirates

3. Cubs

4. Reds

5. Brewers

With Jon Jay, Peter Bourjos, Matt Adams, Mark Ellis and Matt Adams all rotating in-between roles in the Cardinal lineup, the team’s biggest improvement is its depth. Each could play a regular role at will, and the team will employ all of its working parts regularly. Clint Barmes and Travis Snider are all solid former regulars in Pittsburgh, while the Cubs actually have a really versatile roster, brought on by having a lot of players at the same level, but some solid versatility in Ryan Roberts, Emilio Bonafacio, Justin Ruggiano, Luis Valbuena and former Gold Glover Darwin Barney.

The Reds gave Bailey $100 million headed into the spring as a reward for his steadily improving performance, which included career-bests in ERA, strikeouts and innings pitched a year ago.

The Reds gave Bailey $100 million headed into the spring as a reward for his steadily improving performance, which included career-bests in ERA, strikeouts and innings pitched a year ago.

Rotation

1. Cardinals

2. Pirates

3. Brewers

4. Reds

5. Cubs

Adam Wainwright is an automatic matchup advantage in nearly every instance, but he is backed by a high talent, and regularly maturing rotation that performs far beyond its 24-year-old average age. The Pirates have a strong mixture of veteran experience and emerging youth, while the Brewers bolstered their rotation in an impressively patient fashion yet again, by adding Matt Garza to Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse and the emergent Marco Estrada and Wily Peralta. Cincinnati has a chance to have a very, very good rotation as well IF Mat Latos and Johnny Cuerto can both stay healthy.

1-2 Punch

1. Cardinals

2. Reds

3. Brewers

4. Pirates

5. Cubs

Wainwright and Wacha stand to be the new Carpenter and Wainwright, with Wacha having the talent to push Waino’s hold as the Cardinals top arm the same way a young Wainwright did to the incumbent regular Cy Young competitor in town when he joined the Cardinal staff full time a half decade ago. Homer Bailey is one of the game’s regularly bettering arms, while Yovani Gallardo has four 200 strikeout years under his belt as well.

Bullpen

1. Cardinals

2. Pirates

3. Reds

4. Cubs

5. Brewers

Trevor Rosenthal became a force of nature last October, proving move than ready to move into the ninth inning for a full season this year. When coupled with a nearly equally impressive Carlos Martinez and the looming return of Jason Motte as well, and the Cardinals could have final call in the 6th inning. Not far behind however is a Pirates pen featuring two All-Stars in Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon, and that is setup by Tony Watson and Justin Walker. The uncertainty around the availability of Aroldis Chapman and Sean Marshall clouds the potential of the Reds pen, while the Cubs have put together a grouping Jose Veras, Wesley Wright and James Russell, albeit if none is a clear cut closer option.

 

McCutchen's all-around effort is what led him to the the NL MVP a year ago. The one-time Gold Glove winner is as much the glue in the field as he is at the plate,

McCutchen’s all-around effort is what led him to the the NL MVP a year ago. The one-time Gold Glove winner is as much the glue in the field as he is at the plate,

Defense

1. Reds

2. Pirates

3. Cardinals

4. Brewers

5. Cubs

The Reds can get to anything that’s hit even remotely close to their way, with plus defenders in Phillips, Bruce and Votto, as well as underrated performers in Frazier and Zack Cozart. All of that team speed does well in Pittsburgh, with Andrew McCutchen, Barmes and Marte all being fantastic defenders, and Russell Martin being one of the best field generals in the game. Speaking of which, Molina makes the biggest singular defensive difference in the game—as his six straight Gold Gloves attest to.

Manager

1. Pirates

2. Cardinals

3. Brewers

4. Reds

5. Cubs

Clint Hurdle went from nearly taking the fall for the Pirates 2012 slide to being rightfully honored as the NL Manager of the Year for the outstanding work he did in keeping the Pirates on track to end their 20+ year losing season curse. Nick Price and Rick Renteria will take over a clubhouse for the first time in Cincinnati and Chicago, while Mike Matheny looks to reach the NLCS for the third time in his third season.

Finances

1. Cubs

2. Cardinals

3. Reds

4. Brewers

5. Pirates

The Cubs are sleeping giants in the Central as they have unparalleled buying power in the division, and whenever they are ready, could pull themselves back into the race quicker than any other team. Outside of them, every other club is either at or close to their spending potential already.

Impact Additions

1. Jhonny Peralta (Cardinals via free agency)

2. Matt Garza (Brewers via free agency)

3. Peter Bourjos (Cardinals via trade)

4. Jose Veras (Cubs via free agency)

5. Mark Ellis (Cardinals via free agency)

Plenty of waves were made by the contract the Cardinals handed to Peralta coming off of his PED suspension, but his offensive capabilities could make him the quintessential “final piece” move. The Brewers made another patient free agent add to strengthen their empty rotation in their surprising grab of Garza late in the winter as well.

Leap Forward

1. Michael Wacha—Cardinals

2. Garrit Cole—Pirates

3. Trevor Rosenthal—Cardinals

4. Khris Davis—Brewers

5. Junior Lake—Cubs

There is an abundance of young potential that is driving each club in the division, and on the mound is where it is most prevalent. Wacha’s star took off like a rocket with his regular flirtation with no-hitters (resulting in a 1.76 September/October ERA) late in the year. He was MVP of the NLCS after yielding only seven hits and no runs over his two starts. No far behind him is Cole, who pitched much better than his 10-7 record would lead to believe in his 19 starts last year. He should become the Pirates unquestioned ace by the end of the summer.

Cubs top prospect Baez took camp by storm this year, hitting five home runs and impressing to the point that star shortstop Starlin Castro said he would move positions to make room for him if needed.

Cubs top prospect Baez took camp by storm this year, hitting five home runs and impressing to the point that star shortstop Starlin Castro said he would move positions to make room for him if needed.

Rookies/Propects To Watch

1. Billy Hamilton—Reds

2. Oscar Taveras—Cardinals

3. Kolten Wong—Cardinals

4. Javier Baez—Cubs

5. Kris Bryant—Cubs

Hamilton has a chance to be the sensation of the summer and make a real push for seeing 70 stolen bases and 100 runs, with relative ease. The questions about his ability to hit every day seems more hopeful than realistic, as he hit .368 in his brief stint up last year and followed with a .294 clip in over 50 spring at-bats. The Rookie of the Year should be here in the central. Bryant and Baez could both push for that honor as well, as the Chicago youth movement takes some serious steps throughout the summer.

PREDICTIONS

1. St. Louis Cardinals

2. Pittsburgh Pirates

3. Miwaukee Brewers

4. Cincinnati Reds

5. Chicago Cubs

Consistency is tough to imagine here, because it is a tough division. In all reality, any of the top four clubs could compete in any division and have a legit chance at still pushing for the playoffs. However, there are only six playoff spots and at the most, only three can come from these four clubs. And while postseason talent is here, there will be a lot of beating up on each other that will work in the favor of clubs in the East and West wild card hopes. Because like last summer, this one will come down to the end of September in the Central as well, but unlike last time, it will be a fatal four-way, not just a triple threat.

The Cubs will be holding up the wall once again; forced to be content to continue their process of rebuilding well outside of the hope of any surprise progress in the wins column. Of the competitors, the Reds are the most volatile. While they have a strong lineup, their pitching staff is in disarray, and it could take well into the season to see their entire club together, which is a tough shake for their rookie manager. Milwaukee has a potent offense that should be among the league’s most productive and an impressive starting rotation, but they have a thin bullpen and will need the most to work in their favor to max out their potential. The Pirates stand to continue to mature and grow from their experience last year, a run for a division win would not be in the least bit surprising.

However, there is something special about this Cardinal team it seems. It has the perfect marriage of mid-prime veterans, high-talent and maturity youth and depth in both pitching and offense. Most importantly, it has experience and the hunger for more based off two straight near misses in October. They have something to prove, and the talent to prove it with. That’s why the Cardinals will win another Central, but be joined by (at least) the Pirates in the postseason again—a rematch that may not be in their best interest to find.

 

Come back soon for the complete predictions, including a World Series look-ahead that is sure to be wrong (because its March) next week. And for real-time commentary, follow me now on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Oakland Athletics

There is no position in the history of the game that has more of an illustrious history than center field. Decked out with the likes of Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Ken Griffey Jr, Joe Dimaggio, Tris Speaker and Mickey Mantle, reaching up rungs of the middle of the outfield means nothing less than immortality.

And while the center fielders of today’s game still have quite a ways to go before they are to be mentioned in that class, it still remains perhaps the most impressive gathering of a talent pool of any in the game. To be in the top 5 of the position is to be among the 1% or so of the best players in the game. In the listing below, there is an impressive selection of both crowned, and in many people’s minds, uncrowned MVPs.

At this position, to be in the handful of the best of the best, “V” is better suited to stand for “versatile” than anything else, because to be among the best requires at least four of the 5 Tools of the complete ballplayer to be put to use, and with at least one being at an elite level.

But that’s enough of the posturing—here are the best of the best in the heart of the outfield today.

10. Coco Crisp, Athletics: He has long been one of the most effective runners in the game, stealing 35 bases on average since arriving in Oakland, as well as being charged with guarding the super spacious center field in the o.Co Coliseum. But he also added a power swing last summer, hitting 22 balls over the fence as well.

9. Gerardo Parra, Diamondbacks: The best outfielder in the game with the glove, he’ll move back from right field this year to line up between Mark Trumbo and AJ Pollack. He was good for 4 defensive wins above replacement a year ago, and took home his second Gold Glove in three years.

8. Austin Jackson, Tigers: The multi-skilled Jackson has been one of the most active run scorers in the game (395 since 2010), reaching base in front of Miguel Cabrera’s historic run. He has twice led the AL in triples within the last three years, and cut his long-plaguing strike out total down to 129 last year.

7. Carlos Gomez, Brewers: He took his game to a new level a year ago, finishing with the highest WAR figure in the NL. This came on a combination of 61 extra base hits and 40 stolen bases, in addition to his nearly unequaled range and ability in the field.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Los Angeles Angels

6. Matt Kemp, Dodgers: Injuries sunk the former Triple Crown threat to career-low in games played a year ago, but he is far too talented to consider a “has been” yet. From 2011-12 when he at 100%-to-mostly healthy, his average effort was a .315/.387/.567 slash line, with 31 home runs, 98 RBI and 24 stolen bases. He’s just got to get out there and do it again.

5. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies: Moving over from left field this season, where he was among the best defenders in all of the game. He won his second consecutive Gold Glove in left, while reaching 26 home runs, 70 RBI and 21 stolen bases, despite having his season cut short to only only 110 games.

4. Adam Jones, Orioles: He has become one of the most impressive all-around players in either league, winning his third Gold Glove a year ago, while hitting a career-best 33 home runs, 108 RBI and 186 hits.

3. Jacoby Ellsbury, Yankees: The most dangerous leadoff hitter in the game, he’s both a terror on the bases (52 steals per year in his last four full campaigns) and carries a consistent stick to the plate as well (career .297 hitter). With the generous right field fence in his new home in the Bronx, a return of his power stroke could also be in play.

McCutchen_

2. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates: The reigning National League MVP does some of everything, and does it all good. He spread his contributions around the board more in 2013 than in 2012, but within the past two seasons he has led the NL in hits once, took home a Gold Glove, two Silver Sluggers and stolen 47 bases—all while resurrecting the D.O.A. Pirates franchise.

1. Mike Trout, Angels: The game’s best all-around talent is easily the class of his position, and that’s saying a lot considering the level McCutchen is at. In his two full pro seasons, he has changed the course of 18.8 games by his impact alone. There was no sophomore slump for Trout, who in year two came within one double, one triple and three RBI of being the only player in history to post a 40 double/10 Triple/20 home run/100 run/30 stolen base season—all while hitting .323 at the reverent old age of 21 years.

Just A Bit Outside: Dexter Fowler, Chris Denorfia, Denard Span

For more on the rankings and the now near sprint to spring in real-time on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan. For more content, head to The Sports Fan Journal and I-70 Baseball.

One of the great debates of any year is what exactly is “most valuable”. Does it mean the player with the best numbers, the one that made the most irreplaceable difference or the best player on the best team? Every year there is a case for each type of candidate for the award, however in this year’s National League, there is more variety than ever before.

There are the candidates with the raw power numbers, as well as those with the balance of impact across the board. In the same vein, there are the engines that pushed the league’s best teams, as well as those that had major seasons, but couldn’t quite pull their team along with them. Also, there were those that made major impacts on the pennant chase, but did so around injury. Yet then, there were those that had such a unique touch across the board, which numbers alone can’t quite account for it all.

Yes, it was a grab bag year from the National League’s best, but in the end, the most all-encompassing impact comes from the player who’s impact simply blanketed not only every game he participated in, but also the rest of the fortune of not only his club, but the approach of every team that faced them.

2013 Stan Musial Most Valuable Player—Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals

World Series - Boston Red Sox v St Louis Cardinals - Game Three

The Numbers: .319, 12 HR, 80 RBI, 161 hits, 68 runs, 44 2B, 3 SB, .836 OPS, 5.7 WAR

What Yadier Molina brings to the St. Louis Cardinals simply crosses over just what he does at the plate or how many snap throws he makes on would be base runners. Because it could be argued that there is a player that impacts the game in more ways than Molina does, but it would be a losing debate. Ranging from what could be the finest glove in the game, to the game’s best quarterback behind the plate and concluding with a bat that carries its own weight as well, there’s literally nowhere to escape Yadi’s grasp.

If you are a raw numbers guy, Molina is not your man. Likewise, for the mathematical baseball crowd, he won’t be thrilling either. Yet, for a dye in the wool baseball guy, Molina had a season that was of epic proportions. This was not always the case, but now Molina has become among the more consistent hitters in the game. He finished fourth in the NL batting average, second in doubles and struck out a mere 55 times in 541 plate appearances. With runners in scoring position, he turned it up to a .373 clip.

Behind the plate, he was once again the measuring stick for all catchers, throwing out 43% of the few runners that challenged him on the bases and allowing a paltry three passed balls in over 1115 innings caught. One of the toughest feats in sports is to quantify the value of a catcher in calling a game, but it was there in-between the lines that he had his defining impact. Tasked with a pitching staff that lost three of its projected Opening Day starters in the first half of the year, as well as its first two closers shortly thereafter, he worked wonders behind the plate. By the end of the year, he made a staff that deployed 12 rookies across the year into a 96-win team, who finished in the top five in NL ERA and opponent average against. By their own acclimation, the success of Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha and Trevor Rosenthal was tied to “throwing whatever Yadi put down.” And all of this was a bonus to stellar return to form that Adam Wainwright authored following his lead as well.

The individual numbers at the plate do tell a great story, yet in the terms of “most valuable” the story can go far beyond one component of man’s year. And Yadier Molina touched more parts of the success of the National League’s best team than any other, and in that, he defined every definition of the award’s purpose this summer. Those 96 wins say more about what Molina pulled off than the average, RBI and Gold Glove say combined. Sometimes, less truly is more–especially in the ultimate game of inches.

The Rest

2. Andrew McCutchen-Pirates: .317, 20 HR, 84 RBI, 185 hits, 97 runs, 31 2B, 27 SB, .911 OPS, 8.2 WAR

Another whose impact was bigger than his numbers showed, the numbers were lower in several areas for The Cutch than they were a year ago, but his 2013 effort led the Pirates back to prosperity. Along the way, he finished in the top 10 in three in the NL in hits, on-base percentage and hit .339 after the All-Star Break.

3. Paul Goldschmidt-Diamondbacks: .302, 36 RBI, 125 RBI, 182 hits, 103 runs, 36 2B, 15 SB, .952 OPS, 7.0 WAR

Goldschmidt gave the stat sheet the Thanksgiving turkey treatment all summer, leading the NL in RBI, tying for the circuit lead in home runs and finishing in the top three in four other categories as well.

4. Matt Carpenter-Cardinals: .318, 11 HR, 78 RBI, 199 hits, 126 runs, 55 2B, 3 SB, .873 OPS, 6.6 WAR

Carpenter’s breakout season provided the spark to the Cardinal punch. He led the NL in hits, runs and doubles, as well as double plays turned in his first season at second base.

5. Freddie Freeman-Braves: .319, 23 HR, 109 RBI, 176 hits, 89 runs, 27 2B, 1 SB, .897 OPS, 5.5 WAR

Freeman was perhaps the most underrated player in baseball this season. Along the way, he finished third in both RBI and average, and was elected to his first All-Star Game.

6. Clayton Kershaw-Dodgers: 16-9, 1.83 ERA, 236 IP, 232 Ks/52 BB, 3 CG/2 SHO, 0.92 WHIP, .195 BAA

7. Hanley Ramirez-Dodgers: .345, 20 HR, 57 RBI, 105 hits, 62 runs, 25 2B, 10 SB, 1.040 OPS, 5.4 WAR

8. Joey Votto-Reds: .305, 24 HR, 73 RBI, 177 hits, 101 runs, 30 2B, 6 SB, .926 OPS, 6.4 WAR

9. Allen Craig-Cardinals: .315, 13 HR, 97 RBI, 160 hits, 71 runs, 29 2B, 2 SB, .830 OPS, 2.3 WAR

10. Jayson Werth-Nationals: .318, 25 HR, 82 RBI, 147 hits, 84 runs, 24 2B, 10 SB, .931 OPS, 4.8 WAR

Here it is, the full run of the CHEAP SEATS’ Baseball Bloggers Alliance Award rundown—the Award Tour.

Stan Musial Most Valuable Player Award

National League—Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals

American League—Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers

Walter Johnson Pitcher of the Year Award

National League—Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

American League—Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers

Connie Mack Manager of the Year Award

National League—Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates

American League—John Farrell, Boston Red Sox

Willie Mays Rookie of the Year Award

National League—Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins

American League—Wil Myers, Tampa Bay Rays

Goose Gossage Relief Pitcher of the Year Award

National League—Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves

American League—Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox