- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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Hate to break this to you, but it's now October. And if it's October, it must be time to hand out those major -- and not-so-major -- end-of-season awards. Again this year, Charlize Theron, Queen Latifah and Tina Fey weren't available to attend the prestigious Rumblings and Grumblings awards gala. So if I have to present all these darned awards myself, I'd better get going. Uh, the envelopes please
NL MVP: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
He used to be the best player in baseball that nobody outside of the Skyline Chili line had ever heard of. But it isn't safe to say that anymore about Mr. Joseph D. Votto. From the moment the Reds nudged themselves into first place in May, Votto has been the single biggest reason. And that hasn't changed, not even for 30 seconds, at any point since. Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki needed to carry the Rockies all the way to October if they were going to win this award, so they're out. There's an excellent case to be made for the great Adrian Gonzalez, but he's a not-quite. And you could argue Albert Pujols' MVP credentials every year. But sorry, this is Joey Votto's year. He's in the top three in his league in just about every offensive statistic I care about. And he's first in six of the categories I care about most -- on-base percentage, OPS, OPS-Plus, runs created, offensive winning percentage and Win Probability Added. But what really sells me on this guy is that the bigger the moment, the larger he's loomed: .374 with men on base, .369 with runners in scoring position, .355 in the late innings of tight games, .357 from the seventh inning on, .336 since the All-Star break and 27 homers that have either tied games, put his team ahead, brought his team within a run or broken open a one-run game. But the big thing to remember is that he's done all this for a team that hasn't won a postseason game in 15 years. And there's zero chance the Reds would be getting a shot to rewrite that sentence if Joey Votto hadn't exploded into stardom when they needed him most.
AL MVP: Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers
Once upon a time, this AL MVP section was going to be the easy part of writing this column. Then Hamilton had to go mash his rib cage into the outfield fence in Minnesota. And since then I've spent the past four weeks pondering the question: Can a guy really win the MVP award if he gets only six plate appearances in September? Well, obviously, from the headline, you can tell I've decided that answer is yes. But it's tricky. I know, thanks to the Elias Sports Bureau, that no position player has ever won an MVP award in a non-strike season without playing at least 10 games from Sept. 1 on. (Dick Groat was the only MVP with 10, and that was 50 years ago.) But I also know Miguel Cabrera's fantastic year has been slightly devalued, for MVP purposes, by his team's two-month disappearance from any kind of race. And the more I reflected on Hamilton's candidacy, the more I started thinking about Joe Mauer. It was Mauer who won this same MVP award last year. You might remember that. And, in quite an incredible coincidence, Mauer also missed a month of his MVP season. Nobody held it against him because he missed the first month, not the last month. But guess what? You know how many games Mauer played last year? How about 138? And if Hamilton plays all three games this weekend (as expected), he's going to wind up in a very similar neighborhood -- at 133. And Hamilton's numbers are comparable, or better, in several other noteworthy departments. For instance:
JOSH HAMILTON (2010) VS. JOE MAUER (2009)
Amazingly close. And just as the Twins won the AL Central over the last five months last year -- in other words, the five Mauer played in -- the Rangers put away the AL West this year over the first five months, not coincidentally the five Hamilton played. They were already nine games up the day Hamilton and his rib cage left that game in Minnesota. So he'd done what he needed to do, they'd done what they needed to do, and this MVP race was decided right then. We just didn't know it yet.
NL LVP (Least Valuable Player): Manny Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers
If you just look at the numbers on the old stat sheet, you'd wonder how our man Manny could possibly win an LVP award. After all, in the 65 games he worked into his schedule for the Dodgers this season, he hit .311/.405/.510. But this isn't about numbers. It's about a team giving a guy a $20 million salary (even though most of it was deferred) and assuming it would matter to him, at least a little, if he earned it. But when the Dodgers built a lineup around Manny, they spent this summer learning they'd made a biiiiiig mistake. It's hard to say exactly when this man lost interest in this season. But we do know this: He basically stopped being an every-day player after the third week of April. After April 22, only twice did he ever start more than four games in a row in the field. He did DH for a week during interleague play, but he went weeks at a time without starting more than two games in a row in left. And the Dodgers' offense turned into a disaster area without him. Their other cleanup hitters had a slugging percentage under .400 (as in .395), with a ridiculous 14 homers and 53 RBIs in 115 games. And that act just kept on playing while Manny made three visits to the disabled list and his team started tuning into the vibe that he wasn't exactly on a mission to make it back. Just as well, as it turned out, because when he did come back, his signature moment was getting himself ejected after one unforgettable pitch in his not-so-grand Dodgers finale. After which they shipped him to Chicago so fast, you'd have thought he was radioactive. There was a time when this man owned that town. He got $45 million out of that love affair. Unfortunately, all the Dodgers got was a vivid education in the power of female fertility drugs.
AL LVP: All Mariners hitters not named Ichiro Suzuki
Back at the All-Star break, I handed out the prestigious LVP of the Half-Year non-trophy to Chone Figgins. But upon further reflection, I concluded it just wasn't fair to single out one hitter in what we can now safely proclaim as The Worst American League Lineup of Modern Times. What the 2010 Mariners have accomplished, they've accomplished as a group. So let's review their remarkable ability to avoid reaching home plate, and other spectacular feats: It took the Mariners 151 games to score 481 runs. That's as many as the Red Sox scored before the All-Star break. The Mariners were at 507 runs with three games left in the season. So unless they average nearly eight runs a game this weekend, they're going to become the first AL team to score fewer than 530 runs in a full, non-strike season since the invention of the DH in 1973 -- and only the third to fail to reach 550. They're also just two offensive meltdowns away from becoming the first AL team in the DH era to score three runs or fewer 100 times in one season. (They're at 98.) And this juggernaut also has a Jerry Dybzinski-esque .235 team batting average and .298 on-base percentage, putting this outfit in position to obliterate the full-season DH-era AL records in those departments. And here's the amazing part: The Mariners are doing all this even though one of their lineup spots is occupied by a fellow who leads the league in hits (the one, the only Ichiro). At least that helps explain how the guy who leads the American League in hits has somehow scored fewer runs (72) than the man who is last in the National League in hits (that .198-hitting Mark Reynolds, who has scored 79), among qualifiers for the batting title. And if that doesn't qualify the rest of this lineup for an LVP Award, I'm not sure what does.
NL CY Young: Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies
In Philadelphia, people seem to think there's no other possible Cy Young choice than Doc Halladay. They couldn't be more wrong. Maybe Adam Wainwright hadn't pulled ahead of Halladay a week ago, but it was at least a dead heat. And any rational voter who doesn't take the Coors Factor into account when considering Ubaldo Jimenez is just being lazy. But once Halladay (21-10, 2.44 ERA) had finished slapping another two-hit-shutout masterpiece onto his canvas Monday, in the game in which his team clinched first place, this debate was over. I remember sitting with a bunch of scouts in April who predicted that, now that Halladay was in the NL, he might go undefeated. Well, he didn't pull that off -- but if he hadn't had to scuffle through eight starts in which the Phillies scored one run or none for him while he was in the game, you never know. And in the big picture, failing to go undefeated might be the only expectation he didn't live up to. He led the league in wins, innings pitched, shutouts, complete games, strikeout/walk ratio, fewest walks per nine innings and the holy trinity of sabermetric stats: VORP, Wins Above Replacement and Win Probability Added. He piled up 7.3 strikeouts for every walk, the third-best strikeout/walk ratio since 1900 among pitchers who worked 250 innings. And he did all this while facing 24 more hitters than any other pitcher in the league. (Heck, only six guys were even within 100 of him.) Only four pitchers in history have won a Cy Young in each league -- Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez and Gaylord Perry. But No. 5 is coming right up, as soon as they finish counting the votes next month.
AL CY Young: Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
In 1987, a living legend named Nolan Ryan led his league in ERA and strikeouts (how 'bout 270 whiffs in 211 2/3 innings?) -- and was rewarded for it by receiving precisely zero first-place Cy Young votes. Why was that? Because he went 8-16 pitching for a team (the Astros) that never scored for him. And why else was that? Because it was 1987, and nobody knew any better. Well, we don't live in 1987 anymore. We live in an age when we have more information to evaluate just about everything than we've ever had in the history of mankind. So I'd like to think the Cy Young voters of 2010 are going to use that information, do the right thing and hand Hernandez the Cy Young Award he deserves. I wouldn't bet the beach house on it (possibly because I don't have a beach house). But I'd still like to think it. If a 15-game winner (Tim Lincecum) could win this thing last year, why can't a 13-game winner win it this year? Hernandez (13-12, 2.27) leads the AL in ERA, strikeouts and innings -- and every pitcher who has done that in the Cy Young era has won the award. He also leads the league in every big sabermetric stat that Abner Doubleday never heard of -- Wins Above Replacement, Win Probability Added, Adjusted ERA-Plus and VORP -- which definitively tells us he has outpitched everybody else in this field. True, King Felix doesn't pitch in the AL East. But he has a 0.54 ERA against the Yankees and Red Sox. Granted, he doesn't pitch for a playoff team. But he has a 2.47 ERA in 14 starts against teams that are either in the playoffs or still breathing. Yeah, he has eight fewer wins than CC Sabathia. But Felix's ERA in the 21 starts he hasn't won (3.31) is almost as low as CC's overall ERA (3.18). So what more was this man supposed to do? Hernandez pitches for the Worst AL Offense of Modern Times. Have I mentioned that in the last four paragraphs? So he has left seven of his past 14 starts in the seventh inning or later with zero runs on his side of the board. And his run support (3.06 per game) isn't merely the worst in baseball this year. It's the worst in this millennium. And according to Elias, it's the second-worst support in the entire DH era for an AL pitcher with an ERA under 2.50. And the only guy who got crummier support (Jon Matlack) was doing his thing way back in 1978. So if Felix hasn't won 20, that's not his fault. But if those of us who vote don't give him this Cy Young Award, that will be our fault.
NL CY Yuk: Oliver Perez, New York Mets
It wasn't easy to hand the ever-popular Cy Yuk Award to someone who doesn't work for the Pirates, the first staff since the 1946 A's to produce three starters with at least 10 losses but no more than three wins. But when Perez is still in our midst, raking in his $12 million a year, that's hard for even the Cy Yuk Award Committee to overlook. It was some year for Ollie, all right. He showed up in the box scores in 16 games. The Mets won one of them -- on April 27, in a game in which Perez got gonged in the fourth inning. But that just got this guy rolling toward a truly historic disaster of a year. His record: 0-4. His WHIP: a terrifying 2.02. His ERA: a messy 6.65. His strikeout/walk ratio: an ugly 36 whiffs/39 walks. So how many other pitchers since 1900 who made as many starts and pitched as many innings as Ollie managed to rack up a WHIP and ERA as bad as this man's and avoid winning a game, even by accident? Exactly one -- Jim Converse, of the 1994 Mariners (0-5, 8.69). But those numbers only tell the story of Perez's on-field debacle. Off the field, he was just as inspirational. He was so adamant about not going to the minor leagues to get his mechanics ironed out, the Mets all but invented an injury to send him out on a rehab option. After he returned, he was one of three Mets who skipped out on a team trip to visit wounded veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. And his team was so delighted with his whole M.O., the Mets made it through 25 consecutive games in August without asking him to pitch once, even though he was on the active roster. No other pitcher on any club could make that claim, according to Elias. So it isn't often you run across a pitcher who so clearly grasps the true essence of Cy Yuk-iness. But Ollie Perez -- he gets it. In more ways than one.
AL CY Yuk: Scott Kazmir, Los Angeles Angels
It wasn't so long ago that Kazmir led the AL in strikeouts. And made two All-Star teams. And got almost an entire front office fired in New York, just for having the temerity to trade him. What happened to that Scott Kazmir, anyhow? Who the heck is this impostor? This Scott Kazmir has turned into the first Angels pitcher to lose 15 games or more and have an ERA over 5.50 (as in 9-15, 5.94). In 28 starts, this Scott Kazmir had only six quality starts -- the fewest by any pitcher who was allowed to make that many starts since Sid Hudson of the 1948 Senators. This Scott Kazmir managed to get an out beyond the sixth inning only four times all year. This Scott Kazmir hasn't had an outing since his fourth game of the season in which he had more strikeouts than innings pitched. So maybe you wondered last August how a team like the Rays could give up on a 25-year-old left-hander with power stuff and an affordable contract. Well, now you know. And now this Scott Kazmir has a Cy Yuk to show for it.
NL Rookie of the Year: Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
Full disclosure: I have to cast an official ballot for this award. So feel free to send me a sympathy card, because this is impossible. How could I not vote for Jason Heyward, whose .394 on-base percentage would be the sixth-best in history by a guy his age? How could I not vote for Jaime Garcia, the man who gave up three earned runs or fewer (in five innings or more) in the first 15 starts of his career, the longest streak in the past 35 years? And how could I leave phenoms like Gaby Sanchez, Chris Johnson, Jonny Venters, John Axford, Neil Walker, Mike Stanton and Starlin Castro off this ballot completely? I didn't feel real warm and fuzzy about that, either. But if you think trying to figure out which names to cram onto a three-name ballot is rough, try deciding who ought to finish first. That makes the Grey Labyrinth look like tic-tac-toe. I've changed my mind on this three times just this month. But I finally settled on Posey, and here's why: Because since the day he arrived in the big leagues (May 29), Posey hasn't merely been the best rookie in his league. He's been one of the best players, period, in his league. The only NL hitters who can match his .313 batting average and .511 slugging percentage since then are Albert Pujols, Carlos Gonzalez, Joey Votto and Matt Holliday. The only five NL rookies in the past 45 years to match or beat those numbers, in a season of 400 plate appearances or more, are Pujols (2001), Todd Helton (1998), Mike Piazza (1993), Ryan Braun (2007) and Hunter Pence (2007). And the only rookie catcher who has ever done better, since baseball defined what the heck a "rookie" was in 1957, was Piazza. Finally, when you factor in what all that -- not to mention this guy's emerging defense and leadership -- has meant to Posey's offensively challenged team these past four months, it pushes this guy just ahead of the pack. There might be eight rookies who deserve this award, but it's Buster Posey who deserves it most -- barely.
Apologies to: Heyward, Garcia, Sanchez, Axford.
AL Rookie of the Year: Neftali Feliz, Texas Rangers
This is another one of those questions with no right answer. On one hand, it's hard not to like Detroit's Austin Jackson. He still has a chance to hit .300, with more than 100 runs scored, 25 steals and 185 hits. And the only rookie in history who ever had a year like that was Ichiro Suzuki, who got a 2001 Rookie of the Year trophy out of it. I've been leaning toward Jackson for weeks. But then I realized I'd become a prisoner of my own logic. If my rationale in voting for Buster Posey in the NL was that he was one of the best players -- not rookies -- in his league, I'd look like a total dope if I didn't apply the same thought process in the AL, right? And that process led me to Feliz. He hasn't simply been the most dominant rookie closer in the AL. He has been just about the most dominant closer in his league, bar none -- including Mariano Rivera. I'm not overwhelmed that Feliz has just broken the who-cares rookie saves record (with 39). But what means something is that all 39 of those saves were vital to the well-being of his first-place team. And he's blown only three saves all year, making him one of just three AL closers to convert more than 90 percent of his save opportunities. (The others: Joakim Soria and Rafael Soriano.) And if you toss out the saves column, which is always an excellent idea, you find only two other closers who have held those poor opposing hitters to as low a batting average (.177), on-base percentage (.248) and slugging percentage (.272) as Feliz. (Those two would be Billy Wagner and Soriano.) So while Jackson has had a great year, it's hard to argue he's been one of the three or four best players in baseball at his position. But you can sure argue that in Feliz's case. Matter of fact, I just did.
Managers of the Year: Bud Black and Ron Gardenhire
It was no fun trying to sort this out in the NL, where Charlie Manuel, Bobby Cox, Bruce Bochy and Dusty Baker did fabulous managing jobs. But I keep coming back to this: Where are all the Nostradamus think-a-likes who predicted in spring training that the Padres were going to spend 131 days in first place? I sure don't know any -- outside of the Hairston family, at least. So even though this season might not have a happy ending for those Padres, Black deserves major props for creating an atmosphere that enabled a team of overachieving grinders to spend six months shocking the world. And over in the AL, the most underrated manager alive, Gardenhire, has done his greatest managing job yet. How exactly did the Twins manage to roar off to the best record in their league after the All-Star break, while remaking their rotation on the fly, replacing their closer for the second time this year, learning how to play home games in the great outdoors and fielding zero lineups that included their first-half MVP (Justin Morneau)? How? Because Ron Gardenhire is one of the great leaders in sports. That's how.
Apologies to: Manuel, Cox, Bochy, Baker, Ron Washington, Joe Maddon, Terry Francona.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.