Awards, milestones, amazing feats and more
Originally Published: September 30, 2007By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com
Whew. What a year.It was a great year to join a club -- as long as it was the 500 Homer Club, the 500 Save Club or the Wildfire Schulte Memorial 20-20-20-20 Club. It was a tremendous year to contemplate all the thrilling cash-register implications of being a 50-homer Bronx Bombardier with an opt-out clause. And it was an especially tremendous year to go off and get your PhD in Baseball Tiebreaker Scenarios. But with the finish line upon us, let's hand out the awards you've waited all year for. The envelopes please ...
National League MVP: Jimmy Rollins, PhilliesWe could easily make a case for Matt Holliday, a guy who is going to have his season unfairly devalued because his home ballpark is a mile above sea level. We could easily make cases for Prince Fielder, particularly if he'd tugged the Brewers into the Octoberfest, and David Wright, who has had a tremendous second half. But after long and tortured deliberation, our vote goes to the 5-foot-8 shortstop who set the tone for the Phillies' wild and crazy season the minute he decreed last winter that they were the team to beat in the NL East. Rollins has blown away the modern NL record for runs scored (139) and extra-base hits (88) by a shortstop. No player at any position has ever matched his combination of runs, hits, doubles, triples, homers and steals in the same season. And he's not just a product of that offensive paradise his team plays in, either. (He has more runs, hits, doubles and RBIs -- and a higher OBP -- on the road.) But here's the real reason to vote for him: His team never would have been in position to make this historic September climb back from oblivion without him. Everybody but the Phanatic went down around him. But Jimmy Rollins kept plugging -- and Sunday he became the first NL shortstop in 34 years to start all 162 games. So he should be sputtering right now. Instead, he's the biggest energizer in the park and the most dependable defensive player on the field. If you take into account every area -- offense and defense, tangibles and intangibles -- it seems to us he's been a more important player (just barely) than Holliday, Fielder or Wright. And that's what that big word of the day, "valuable," means to us. Apologies to: Holliday, Fielder, Wright, Chipper Jones, Albert Pujols, Jake Peavy, Chase Utley, Hanley Ramirez.
American League MVP: Alex Rodriguez, YankeesJudging by the back pages of those indispensable New York tabloids, it's definitely been The Year of A-Rod. And without it, where would the Yankees be next week? Polishing up their fishing rods? Or trying to decide between their lob wedge and sand wedge? They wouldn't be participating in any playoff games. That's for darned sure. So to have a player like A-Rod have a season like this, in the midst of his team's astonishing midseason reincarnation, makes A-Rod the AL's easiest MVP pick in a decade. Only two players in the history of the American League have had this many homers (54), RBIs (156) and runs scored (143) in a season -- and they've been dead for a total of 99 years. That would be Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx. And nobody in any league has ever hit this many homers and stolen 24 bases in the same season. So as stupendous as Magglio Ordonez, Vladimir Guerrero, Jorge Posada and Ichiro Suzuki may have been, we regret to inform them there's no need to clear any space in their trophy rooms. This election was over before it started. Apologies to: Ordonez, Guerrero, Posada, Suzuki, Mike Lowell, David Ortiz, J.J. Putz, Curtis Granderson, Victor Martinez.
National League LVP: Michael Barrett, Cubs/PadresAs free-agent marketing campaigns go, Barrett's walk year ranked right down there with, say, Armando Benitez's. Too bad. Barrett is one amiable fellow, and at least he's always swung the bat a little until this year. But from the moment Carlos Zambrano tried out his Johnny Nitro impression on him in the Cubs' dugout in May, this poor guy's season seemed to avalanche out of control. Lou Piniella couldn't export him out of Chicago fast enough. And the Padres haven't been able to figure out what the heck to do with a guy who missed three weeks with a concussion, has thrown out seven of 40 base stealers, has gone 8 for his last 46 (.174) at the plate and never seems to be involved in any games they actually win. (They're 11-20 when Barrett starts behind the plate -- and 25 games over .500 when anyone else has strapped on those shin guards.) Hard to believe, folks. Sighs of relief for: Marcus Giles, Ray Durham, Andruw Jones.
American League LVP: Richie Sexson, MarinersHe's the seventh-highest paid position player in the whole sport. He makes more moolah ($15.5 million) than Vladimir Guerrero, David Ortiz or Carlos Beltran. And he's definitely one large (6-foot-6), imposing human. So all the Mariners envisioned when they signed Richie Sexson was your basic 40-homer, 120-RBI, middle-of-the-order production. Not too much to ask for $15.5 million a year, right? But what they got instead this year, in a critical season in the life of the franchise, was a little different than that. As in the lowest batting average (.205) of anybody in the big leagues who made it to the plate 300 times. A lower OPS (.694) than Marco Scutaro. A mere 21 homers and 63 RBIs, which are more miniscule numbers in both those departments than, just to pick a name, Ty Wigginton. And a spectacularly disastrous 3-for-45 nightmare against that Angels team the Mariners chased all summer. Yep, 3 for 45. But one thing you have to say for Sexson: At least he was consistent. He hit .205 before the All-Star break -- and .205 after. Sighs of relief for: Josh Barfield, J.D. Drew, Bobby Crosby, Elijah Dukes, Jay Gibbons.
National League Cy Young: Jake Peavy, PadresIf we even need to explain this pick, you've been spending way too much time on your fantasy football roster. But what the heck. We'll explain it anyway. There have been 10 pitching Triple Crown winners since the invention of the Cy Young Award (i.e., pitchers who led their league in wins, strikeouts and ERA). Those Triple Crown authors then went 10-for-10 in the Cy Young voting. And Jake Peavy is about to make it 11-for-11. But here's the crazy part of Peavy's year: You wouldn't think it would be possible for a guy to go 19-6, with a 2.36 ERA, and still be able to say he'd pitched better than his record. But in Peavy's case, that's actually true. This man has had one run or none scored for him, while he was in the game, in nine different starts, (And it would be 12 if we did this less technically and counted the score when he was pinch hit for). So he could easily have 25 wins, maybe more. And he's no Petco Park creation, either, friends. He's been better on the road (10-1, 2.16) than at home (9-5, 2.51). So this is the slam-dunk Cy Young case of the millennium. Apologies to: Brandon Webb, Aaron Harang, Brad Penny, John Smoltz, Takashi Saito.
American League Cy Young: C.C. Sabathia, IndiansAs much as we admire the brilliance of Josh Beckett and John Lackey, and as easily as we could make a case for putting about a half-dozen other pitchers on this ballot somewhere, not one of those men has quite managed to outpitch the human mountain range who should be on the verge of becoming the largest (OK, heaviest) Cy Young winner ever. We're talking, ladies and gentlemen, about 6-foot-7, 260-pounds (give or take 50) Carsten Charles Sabathia. And for those who have their doubts about this choice, let's subtract wins and losses from the argument and look at Sabathia versus Beckett and Lackey. True, Lackey leads the league in ERA, and Beckett has a better strikeout rate. But check these categories: Starts of seven innings-plus: Sabathia 24, Lackey 19, Beckett 15. Starts allowing no more than two earned runs in six-plus innings: Sabathia 19, Beckett 15, Lackey 15. Innings pitched: Sabathia (241 innings) led Lackey by 17 and Beckett by 40. Then there's Sabathia's amazing 5.65 strikeout-to-walk ratio (209-37), the best by any left-handed pitcher in American League history. But the clincher is the way Sabathia kept outdueling those other AL Central aces down the stretch, especially his 3-0, 1.64 record in three late-season starts against Johan Santana. There has never been a 260-pound Cy Young winner, let alone one whose first name would be unrecognizable to 99 percent of all living Americans. But six weeks from now, unless there's a massive miscarriage of voting justice, we won't be able to say that anymore. Apologies to: Beckett, Lackey, Fausto Carmona, Johan Santana, J.J. Putz, Erik Bedard.
National League Cy Yuk: Kip Wells, CardinalsTough call here between the Kipper and Adam Eaton, a fellow who compiled the highest ERA (6.29) since 1894 by a pitcher who had a .500 record and made at least 30 starts. But in the end, we looked at it this way: Eaton was signed by the Phillies to be a back-of-the-rotation starter. And that's what he was, although not a real reliable one. Wells, on the other hand, was signed by the Cardinals to be (gulp) their No. 2 starter. He was their biggest starting-pitching addition of the winter, a man who would come to St. Louis and finally harness his always-photogenic stuff. But that's not quite how it worked out. By the time the Cardinals yanked him out of the rotation, Wells was 6-17, with a 5.81 ERA (5-17, 6.27 as a starter), and had allowed at least six runs in more starts (nine) than any pitcher in the league. So in another tight Cy Yuk field, our vote went to the pitcher who did more to foul up his team's season than anyone else we considered. Cys of relief for: Eaton, Anthony Reyes, Guillermo Mota, Jason Jennings, Rick VandenHurk, Scott Olsen, Chris Capuano.
American League Cy Yuk: Horacio Ramirez, MarinersIf we were sitting around the old corner saloon, debating the Ugliest Trade of the Year award, it wouldn't be a long debate. We could stop the conversation as soon as we got to the deal that sent Ramirez from Atlanta to Seattle last winter for Rafael Soriano. While Soriano was allowing the lowest on-base percentage in the National League among pitchers who worked as many innings as he did, Ramirez led his league in a slightly less prestigious department: highest ERA (7.16). In fact, he had the worst ERA in the big leagues among men who pitched more than 80 innings. Somehow, thanks to the miracle of run support, Ramirez finished with a winning record (8-7). But that just allowed him to sidle alongside Colby Lewis as the only starting pitchers in history to have ERAs over 7.00 and still win more than they lost. It isn't often we find a Cy Yuk candidate with these kinds of credentials: an 8.70 road ERA, more walks (42) than strikeouts (40) and a .417 opponent average/.696 slugging/.481 OBP with men in scoring position. So this case is now just as closed as that Ugliest Trade of the Year debate. Cys of relief for: Jeff Weaver, Bartolo Colon, Cliff Lee, Vicente Padilla, Casey Fossum.
Special Bi-Leagueal Cy Yuk: Mike Maroth, Tigers/CardinalsMaroth was actually reasonably respectable (5-2, 5.06) when he was still in Detroit. But he did allow 133 baserunners in 78 1/3 innings, which turned out to be a clear portent of things to come. After he got to St. Louis, he took it to another plateau, though, compiling the highest ERA (10.66) and highest WHIP (2.37 baserunners per inning) by any Cardinals pitcher since 1897. Here's what clinched him this award, however: After Brandon Webb reached 42 straight innings without allowing a run, we went looking for the anti-Brandon Webb -- and found that in Maroth's last 42 innings, he'd allowed (no kidding) 53 runs. We still can't believe that happened in real life. Bi-Leagueal Cys of relief for: Jose Mesa, Rick White.
National League Rookie of the Year: Ryan Braun, BrewersWe've gone back and forth on the merits of Braun versus Colorado's dynamic Troy Tulowitzki for a couple of weeks now. So now that our head is officially pounding, we've concluded there's not even a true correct answer. Tulowitzki has had a historic defensive season, accumulating more assists than any shortstop since Ozzie Smith. But Braun had a historic offensive season, wiping out Ted Williams' record for most homers in a season by players who debuted as late in the year (May 25) as he did. It's amazing how close their numbers are in departments like total bases (Braun 286, Tulowitzki 284), multihit games (47 apiece), RBIs (Braun 97, Tulowitzki 98) and on-base percentage (Braun .370, Tulowitzki .357). But if Baseball Prospectus' Value Over Replacement Player rankings are any guide, they rank Braun No. 18 in the big leagues (right behind Vlad Guerrero) and Tulowitzki 52nd. And we keep coming back to a couple of things: (1) Since Braun's first game, he almost as high of a slugging percentage (.634) as A-Rod (.630), more extra-base hits (67) than Curtis Granderson (54) and 34 more RBIs (97) than Todd Helton (63). And (2) this guy got dropped into the No. 3 hole in the lineup of a first-place team in his third day in the big leagues. "And you know what was more impressive?" says hitting coach Jim Skaalen. "He thought he belonged there." Apologies to: Tulowitzki, Hunter Pence, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Chris Young, Josh Hamilton, Tim Lincecum, Yovani Gallardo and a stellar cast of dozens.
American League Rookie of the Year: Dustin Pedroia, Red SoxAt any given point in any given month this season, you could have talked us into a vote for Daisuke Matsuzaka, Brian Bannister, Jeremy Guthrie or Hideki Okajima. But there's something fitting about the way the long-underrated Pedroia has outlasted and outperformed them all. When he gimped out of April hitting .182 and slugging .236, it's a miracle he wasn't banished to Pawtucket for the next four months. But since May 1, you'd have a tough time distinguishing Pedroia's numbers (.333. .389 OBP, .467 SLG, 36 doubles, 81 runs scored) from Derek Jeter's (.319, .386, .454, 36 doubles, 84 runs). And in case anybody's wondering, that's a compliment. Plus there's something you can't help but love about fire-breathing dirtballs who care way more about winning than about trophies. Pedroia may not have been the Red Sox rookie with his own 175-member international media entourage this spring, but six months later, there's no doubt he's the Red Sox rookie who most deserves a rookie of the year award. Apologies to: Matsuzaka, Delmon Young, Bannister, Okajima, Guthrie, Joakim Soria.
Managers of the Year: Bob Melvin, Diamondbacks, and Mike Scioscia, AngelsHow does a team go into the last weekend of the season with the best record in its league, even though it has gotten outscored for the year, scored almost 200 fewer runs than the Phillies, had Randy Johnson for only 10 starts all season and starts a lineup consisting of Eric Byrnes and seven people that nobody in Nebraska has ever heard of? That's called managing, friends. Meanwhile, this year reminded us again that no manager makes a greater imprint on the on-field and off-field personality of his team than Scioscia. This team doesn't hit homers, doesn't walk, doesn't make the big trade, doesn't conform to all the trendy sabermetric trends of our time. Yet it's a team no one wants to deal with in October. That, too, is called managing. Apologies to: Charlie Manuel, Lou Piniella, Clint Hurdle, Manny Acta, Joe Torre, Eric Wedge, Terry Francona, Jim Leyland.
Top five injuries of the year• Fifth prize (killer ZZZs division): Didn't your mom always tell you to be careful about where you close your eyes? Mariners outfielder Raul Ibanez must have missed that pearl of wisdom. He was out for a week in May after he hurt his back, somehow or other, trying to catch some sleep on a plane. • Fourth prize (coaching can be hazardous division): No wonder managers and coaches spend so much time at the ballpark. It isn't safe outside those walls. Ask Brewers manager Ned Yost. He tried jogging to Wrigley Field one day -- only to trip over a patch of loose concrete and break his collarbone. Or ask Devil Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey. He went out golfing -- and got attacked by his own golf shot. It missed the fairway, caromed off a curb and drilled him in the eyebrow. He needed surgery for a detached retina. • Third prize (ifs, ands or butts division): Some maladies are tougher to describe than others. So no wonder the Nationals struggled to come up with just the right words to categorize a June injury to reliever Jesus Colome. It was first described as "a soft tissue injury in a lower right extremity." Later, though, they amended that to report that Colome was suffering (and boy, was he ever) from a (yikes) "abscess on his right buttock" that deposited him in a hospital for more than a week. "It's a serious situation," GM Jim Bowden told The Washington Post's Barry Svrluga. "We pray for his buttocks and his family." • Second prize (license to grill division): The heck with all those home run milestones. We're pretty sure 2007 produced an all-time record for most barbecue injuries. Phillies center fielder Aaron Rowand missed two games in July after "tweaking" his back while playing tag with a bunch of neighborhood kids at a postgame barbecue. Meanwhile, Cubs reliever Bobby Howry's back also lost a barbecue-related battle -- when he wrenched it trying to carry a gas grill across his patio. But amazingly, neither of those guys won the gold medal in the barbecue-mishap triathlon. Pirates pitcher Ian Snell seared away with that prestigious honor in June -- when a routine chicken-grilling expedition went amiss and he burned the tip of his index finger, forcing him to miss a start. Luckily for him, Tom Gorzelanny took his place, beat the Mariners and told the Beaver County Times' John Perrotto afterward: "Ian owes me dinner for this -- takeout. • First prize (don't mess with Bud Black division): We've chronicled hundreds of bizarre and innovative injuries here at Year in Review. But we've never, ever chronicled one quite as bizarre or innovative as Milton Bradley's torn ACL. Anybody ever heard of a player getting hurt while arguing with an umpire? We haven't. Anybody ever heard of a player injuring himself in a tangle with his own manager? We haven't. But Bradley wrapped both of those unprecedented feats into one surreal mishap last weekend, and knocked himself out for the rest of this season (and a chunk of next season) in the process. If the WWE doesn't put in a call this winter to Bud (Bam-Bam) Black for a guest WrestleMania appearance, somebody is asleep at the switch. • Bonus injury of the year (distinguished spectator division): How important was it to some folks to witness those historic Barry Bonds home runs? Well, as The San Francisco Chronicle's Henry Schulman reports, it was so darned important to Steve Sockolov, the grown son of one member of the Giants' ownership group, that even flying bats couldn't pry him out of his seat. He was sitting in that seat Aug. 6 when Bengie Molina lost the grip on his bat. Which then soared into the stands and conked Socklov in the head area, breaking his nose and clavicle. But when paramedics arrived and told him he needed treatment, Sockolov resisted. Why? Because he didn't want to miss Bonds' 756th home run. Why else? (Barry was one away at the time.) • Bonus injury No. 2 (order of the Moose division): Is Geiko offering mascot insurance? Red Sox center fielder Coco Crisp hopped out of the dugout in Seattle on Aug. 5 -- and promptly got drilled in the knee by the Mariner Moose mobile, driven by said Moose. Luckily for moose impersonators everywhere, Crisp saw the Moose mobile coming at the last moment and veered away from an antler-first hit. So whew. No harm, no foul. Crisp even told The Seattle Times' Steve Kelley he'd be happy to go grab lunch with the Moose next time he was in town. "Maybe," he said, "I'll have some moose jerky." • Bonus No. 3 (most innovative noninjury excuse for missing time): Anybody who changed teams as often as Tigers/Braves/Padres pitcher Wilfredo Ledezma this year needed a visa more than most people. But that turned into a slight problem for Ledezma in July. He headed home to Venezuela for the All-Star break and broke International Travel Rule No. 1: Never put your visa through the laundry. That unfortunate bout with the rising tide of detergent left him visaless and stuck in Venezuela. So the Braves had to put him on the restricted list for a whole week because of what GM John Schuerholz called a "washing incident." The Braves were so delighted, they spin-cycled him off to the Padres a week and a half after his return.
Box score lines of the yearBox score line of the millennium (one and done division): When historians look back on the Houston Astros' Jason Jennings Era, there's a good chance they're not going to rank it with, say, The Nolan Ryan Era. Or The Bagwell-Biggio Era. Or even The Jim Deshaies Era. And once those historians are through picking apart the dubious three-for-one trade that made Jennings an Astro in the first place, they'll turn to this poor guy's July 29 start against the Padres as Exhibit A in their what-a-mess portfolio. Fasten your seat belts: 2/3 IP, 8 H, 11 R, 11 ER, 3 BB, 0 K, 2 HR, 39 pitches to give up 11 runs. So where does this one rate on the list of all-time box score train wrecks? Here goes: Jennings was the first pitcher in modern history to give up 11 earned runs without getting three outs. ... He was the second pitcher since 1897 to give up 11 runs in the first inning. ... And he was the first pitcher in 113 years, as best we can tell, to give up 11 earned runs in the first inning. Quote of the day (from the victim himself): "I was embarrassed for my teammates to be out on the field." Mathematical impossibility division
• Oakland's Kiko Calero, July 12 in Minnesota: 2/3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1 pitch. How'd that happen? How does a guy throw one pitch, give up a hit and still pitch 2/3 of an inning? Simple. Torii Hunter singled into a double play. That's how. Justin Morneau got thrown out trying to go from first to third. Then Hunter got nailed trying to make it to second on the throw. • Philadelphia's Antonio Alfonseca, July 29 in Pittsburgh: 1 K, 1 pitch. How'd that happen? Yeah, it's still three strikes, and you're out, even in Pittsburgh. But Alfonseca had to come in after an injury to reliever Ryan Madson, whereupon he inherited a 1-2 count and struck out Jason Bay with the next pitch. • Atlanta's Chipper Jones, July 29 in Arizona: 1 AB, 0 R, 1 H, 5 RBIs, 0 HR, 0 BB. How'd that happen? How does a guy accumulate five RBIs in a 1-for-1 day without a walk or a homer? He thumps a three-run double and two sacrifice flies. How else? It's the first 1-0-1-5 line of the past half-century, in case you were curious. Mystery pitcher division
In a season in which six different position players were allowed to head for the old pitcher's mound, we have lots of tremendous mystery-pitcher heroes to choose from. But only one of those men got to pitch twice. So here's to Cardinals do-it-all utility wiz Aaron Miles. And here are his two dazzling pitching adventures:
- • The good news: Aug. 4 vs. Washington -- 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K.
• The bad news: Sept. 20 vs. Houston -- 1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1 HR (to Astros rookie J.R. Towles).