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Sunday, October 24, 2010

BBA Ballot: Stan Musial Award

I'm going to have plenty to say about what I consider the most exciting World Series matchup since at least 2005, but there's plenty of time between now and Game One.  So, to prevent myself from being distracted by the BBA Award deadline, which unfortunately falls during the Series, I'm going to go ahead and get in my ballot for the most valuable position player in each league:

American League:

10. Shin-Soo Choo (Indians)
9. Paul Konerko (White Sox)

Let's begin with a couple of players from the AL Central who will probably be largely overlooked.  Konerko had a career year at the age of 34, driving in 111 with 39 bombs, while batting .312 with a career high 977 OPS.  Without his tremendous performance, it's hard to imagine the Sox would've hung with the Twins for as long as they did.  Choo's team, of course, didn't hang with anybody, unless you count the Royals, who barely beat the Indians out for worst team in the division.  Choo, however, hitting in a lineup absent of other threats, continued his ascension towards the top of the AL with his second consecutive 20/20 season.  He hit .300 with a .401 OBP and drove in 90 runs, while playing a very commendable right field.

8. Joe Mauer (Twins)

It may have seemed a disappointing season when compared with his MVP campaign in 2009, but Mauer is still a premium defensive catcher who finished third in the league in hitting (.327) and OBP (.402).  With no Morneau in the second-half, he was the driving force in a lineup that was among the best in baseball, while also guiding a rotation which dramatically outperformed expectations.  Will he be worth $20 Million in 2018?  That remains to be seen, but he certainly was this season.

7. Evan Longoria (Rays)
6. Carl Crawford (Rays)

It was difficult to separate the Rays studs, who actually finished in a tie for third in the AL in WAR (6.9, also tied with Jose Bautista).  Longoria was the RBI man (102) with power (32 HR), while Crawford was the speedy table-setter (110 R, 47 SB), who also posted plenty of extra-base hits (62).  Both played exceptional defense at their positions, hit for high averages, and played basically every game.  Crawford, of course, benefitted from having Longoria batting behind him, while Longoria benefitted from frequently having Crawford on base in front of him, driving pitchers crazy.  This could easily be flip-flopped, but I gave Crawford the slight edge.

5. Adrian Beltre (Red Sox)

The Red Sox played much of their season without Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Mike Cameron.  When you lose more than half your Opening Day starting lineup, you're not supposed to win 89 games, particularly in the AL Easy.  The main reason the BoSox stayed in the hunt until the final weeks of the season was Adrian Beltre, who was nothing short of spectacular both offensively and defensively.  He led the AL in doubles, was fourth in the league in hitting, and fifth in OPS.  His 11.8 UZR was easily the best among third-basemen.

4. Robinson Cano (Yankees)

The Yankees postseason lineup featured five players making more money than Cano, but there's no denying who New York's MVP was in 2010, both during the regular season and in October.  Cano, who the Yankees have signed through 2013, has turned into a real bargain.  Not only did he set career highs in HR (29), RBI (109), and OPS (914), while again hitting well above .300, but he also made dramatic strides with his fielding for the second straight season.

3. Jose Bautista (Blue Jays)

Bautista's season was nothing short of remarkable.  The 30-year-old breakout sensation was the first player to break the 50 HR plateau since 2007, and had 15 more bombs than any other player in the American League.  Bautista also showed excellent plate discipline (100 BB/116 K) and versatility, by playing 3B as well as both corner outfield spots.  Many will question his ability to duplicate this type of performance, but all the underlying metrics, including his spectacularly low .233 BABIP, suggest this was not a fluke.

2. Miguel Cabrera (Tigers)

Miggy led the league in OBP (.420), OPS+ (179), and RBI (126), among other things, while hitting at the center of a beleaguered lineup, which is why he also led the league in intentional walks (32).  Clearly, his offseason pledge to stay off the sauce paid major dividends for the Tigers and his massive contract has thusfar been warranted.  In fact, one gets the sense that, at 27, Miggy's best years are still in front of him, which is frightening, considering he's gotten MVP votes every year since he entered the league.  If it weren't for Pujols, we'd probably be talking about this eight-year stretch as among the best ever to begin a career.

1. Josh Hamilton (Rangers)

Every day is a challenge for Hamilton...outside the lines.  But he proved again this year that when he's healthy - physically and mentally - the game of baseball is actually pretty easy for him.  His 8.0 WAR paced baseball, even though he missed most of the final month of the season.  He won his first batting titles, led the AL in OPS, and played excellent defense in both center and left.  Most importantly, the team he led made their first trip to the postseason in over a decade, won their first playoff series, and has now punched their first ticket to the World Series.  None of that happens without Hamilton.

National League:

10. Andres Torres (Giants)

Certainly, Torres is among the best "feel good" stories of the 2010 season.  However, most people don't realize that he actually finished 7th in the NL in WAR (6.0), ahead of preeminent names like Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, and Ryan Braun.  Certainly, Torres was good as the Giants leadoff hitter, bring power (67 extra-base hits) and speed (26 SB), but he was outstanding in the outfield, easily leading the league with a 21.2 UZR.  Flanked on both sides by below average fielders, Torres' defensive range, as much as anything, explains why the Giants season really took off after he was made an everyday player.

9. Matt Holliday (Cardinals)

Although it was a disappointing season overall for the Cardinals, Holliday definitely lived up to expectations in his first full season in St. Louis, hitting .312 with 28 HR and 103 RBI.  He provided exactly what the Cardinals were looking for in terms of protecting El Hombre.

8. Adrian Gonzalez (Padres)

As A-Gonz goes, so go the Padres.  He carried his team through much of the season and, at the All-Star Break, was probably neck-and-neck with Pujols and Votto in terms of MVP consideration.  However, he fell off slightly in the second half and slumped dramatically down the stretch (.200 AVG in final 17 games), and the surprising Padres ended up falling short of a playoff berth.  Still, 31 HR, 101 RBI, and a 904 OPS playing at PETCO Park and hitting in the middle of a terribly lineup is very, very impressive.  Someday Gonzo will leave San Diego and when he does, the numbers could be truly terrifying.

7. Jayson Werth (Phillies)

In the past, Werth has always been a great compliment to the cast of MVP candidates at the top of the Philadelphia lineup.  This year, however, J-Roll, Utley, and Howard all spent significant time on the DL, and Werth was the only constant.  He rose to the occasion and helped the Phillies put up the best record in baseball, despite their plague of injuries.

6. Aubrey Huff (Giants)

I made the Huff for MVP case a couple weeks ago.  I'm not going to rehash the details, but, clearly, Huff was the only constant at the heart of the lineup for the eventual pennant-winners and he also showed versatility and was surprisingly efficient in the field.  Not enough to warrant top five consideration, but a very commendable season for the journeyman.

5. Troy Tulowitzki (Rockies)

If Colorado had made the postseason the back of Tulo's historic September (15 HR, 40 RBI, 1120 OPS), he might've cracked the top three.  Tulo, of course, also brings outstanding defensive prowess at a key position, but the fact that he missed a quarter of the season holds him back slightly.

4. Ryan Zimmerman (Nationals)

Another guy who flashes some major leather, but also missed a substantial amount of time, unfortunately.  If you don't live in D. C., you may not have noticed how good Z-Pack was this year.  Even with his trip to the disabled list, he managed to finish third in the NL in WAR (7.2).

3. Joey Votto (Reds)
2. Carlos Gonzalez (Rockies)
1. Albert Pujols (Cardinals)

This is, of course, the much-publicized battle, as each of these guys seemed like Triple Crown threats at one point or another.  In the end, they all finished top five in the league in nearly all the major categories.  Pujols paced the senior circuit in homers (42) and RBI (118), while CarGo won the batting title (.336) and Votto the OPS crown (1024).  But in none of these categories did one have a tremendous advantage over the others.  You could say that CarGo's numbers are inflated by the Coor Field factor, but, of course, Great American Ballpark isn't exactly a pitchers park.  You could say that Votto's numbers are inflated because he was hitting at the center of the NL's most productive lineup, but the Rockies (#3) and Cardinals (#6) weren't that far behind.  Freakishly, all three of these guys also had double-digit steals, so it was difficult to make an argument for CarGo based on his clearly better speed.  You can make a strong argument for ranking these guys in any order, but here's my rationale.

1.) It ain't that easy being Albert.  Even with Holliday batting behind him, Pujols once again led the NL in intentional passes, for the third year in a row.  While Votto and CarGo are still earning the respect of the league, Pujols frequently gets the Bonds treatment, where opposing managers choose to force somebody else to beat them.  This helps his run totals (he led the league with 115) and OBP (.414), but makes those RBI seem even more exceptional.

2.) For power-hitters, Votto and CarGo don't have extremely high strikeout rates, but Pujols is just flat-out superhuman.  For the eighth consecutive season he walked more than he struck out (103/76).  Again, that's Bonds-esque.

3.) All three of these guys are good defenders, but Pujols is one of the best ever at his position.  And, CarGo gets a little bonus because of his ability to play center, a premium defensive position.  

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