Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Handing Out the Hardware

The post-season is upon us. A few major moves have already been made and starting tomorrow at midnight, it’s going to be a free-for-all on free agents. With these major events transpiring and the impending arrival of the Winter Meetings just around the corner, I figured now would be the right time to dish out my awards for the year that was. That’s right folks, it’s time for the 2008 Graveys!!

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Manager of the Year

Ron Gardenhire – Minnesota Twins – 88-72 (2nd Place – AL Central)

Okay, here it comes. This is the point where I’m expecting a plethora of insults for being a homer and going with the Twins, but let’s be real here folks. I know that Joe Maddon’s magic touch in Tampa is the feel-good story of 2008, but everyone expected the Rays to be in the mix. Look back at all of the preseason rankings from the “experts” the Rays were set to contend and merely arrived a year early than expected.

The Twins were left for dead after the losing Torii Hunter and Johan Santana in the offseason. The team only returned three regulars to the lineup and featured Livan Hernandez as the team ace for the first half of the season. In the end the Twins found themselves tied with the equally surprising Chicago White Sox after 162 games and lost to the ChiSox in a one-game tiebreaker to miss the playoffs. Call me crazy, but that’s a pretty good turnaround for a team that was expected to finish in the AL Central. Gardenhire works his magic every year and never receives the appreciation he deserves, well this year, he’s getting it from me. Enjoy your Gravey, Gardy…you’ve earned it!!

My Preseason Pick: N/A

Rookie of the Year

Evan Longoria – Tampa Bay Rays – .272 / 27-HR / 85-RBI

Longoria was the favorite to win this award from day one; the question was whether or not the Rays would call him up early enough to allow that to happen. As it turns out they did and he had a rookie season that was far more Ryan Braun than Alex Gordon. The Rays benefitted greatly when Longoria was in the line-up. In addition to his outstanding offensive contributions, he also played Gold Glove defense at the hot corner and served as one of the major motivators for a very young, very hungry ballclub.

Longoria possesses the presence and poise of a cagey veteran, not that of a 22-year-old rookie. The fact that he put up those numbers despite missing time at the beginning of the year in the minors and then late in the season due to an injury only further hit home the fact that this kid is something special and will be a major force for a long, long time.

My Preseason Pick: Evan Longoria

Cy Young

Roy Halladay – Toronto Blue Jays – 20 W / 246 IP / 206 K / 2.78 ERA / 1.05 WHIP

I had a very good feeling about ‘Doc’ Halladay in Spring Training. Reports were that he showed up to camp looking and feeling better than he had in years and it showed through out the season. Halladay returned to form as a dominant strikeout pitcher in 2008, a flashback to his 2003 Cy Young campaign, by recording 206 strikeouts his best since ’03 and the best of his career. He logged 246 innings by pitching nine complete games, an unheard of amount in today’s game. His overall record took some hits due to the Blue Jays ineffective offense in the season’s first-half, but he showed down the stretch that when he’s on, he’s as dominant as ever.

I know many will disagree with this selection and want to give the nod to Cliff Lee, who had an amazing year as well, but one look at the head-to-head numbers shows that Halladay, given more innings, a better WHIP, more strikeouts and five more complete games was clearly the more dominant pitcher in 2008.

My Preseason Pick: Roy Halladay

Most Valuable Player

Kevin Youkilis – Boston Red Sox - .312 / 29 HR / 115 RBI

The American League MVP race is a tight one this season, as no one player stands head and shoulders above the competition. Dustin Pedroia, Carlos Quentin, Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Josh Hamilton and Kevin Youkilis all put up great numbers and could logically win the award, but my vote goes to Youk.

In a season that saw the Red Sox suffer through numerous injuries to big-time run producers David Ortiz and Mike Lowell; and the loss of Manny Ramirez, Youkilis was a constant. He was bashing the ball all over the yard all season long, he came up in clutch situations and he played Gold Glove defense at first-base and then shifted over to third base when Mike Lowell went on the DL. Without Youkilis stepping up to shoulder the load throughout the season the Red Sox very well may have been sitting in third or fourth place in the standings this season. Without a doubt, the most valuable player in the AL for 2008 is Kevin Youkilis.

My Preseason Pick: Alex Rodriguez


National League


Manager of the Year

Fredi Gonzalez – Florida Marlins – 84-77 (3rd Place – NL East)

Again, I’m bucking the general trend of choosing the manager who led his team to the best record or a League Championship. Personally, I’m of the belief that the sign of a good manager is someone who is able to win when he isn’t expected to. Lou Pinella? Charlie Manuel? Is there anyone who didn’t forecast those two talent-laden teams to be in the playoff mix? Gonzalez took a Marlins team that traded away its ace and star player in the offseason and guided them right into the thick of the NL East and Wild Card races for most of the season, a prospect no one would have expected entering the season.

My Preseason Prediction: N/A

Rookie of the Year

--TIE--
Geovany Soto – Chicago Cubs - .285 / 23 HR / 86 RBI
Joey Votto – Cincinnati Reds - .297 / 24 HR / 84 RBI

This one was a tough call, and ultimately, one I couldn’t bring myself to make.

Soto generally gets the nod because he plays a premium position. I’ll give him that. It takes some serious moxie to catch 136 games and still put up solid offensive numbers. Soto’s ability to handle the Cubs dynamic pitching staff, coupled with his extraordinary offensive prowess earned him a spot on the NL All-Star team and propelled him into the elite class of catchers in the majors.

Votto’s season started out well-enough as he beat out incumbent first-basemen Scott Hatteberg and proceeded to rake from then on. Many predicted that one of his Reds’ teammates, Jay Bruce or Johnny Cueto, would be the biggest impact rookie of 2008, but Votto’s quiet approach led to a very solid, very under-the-radar campaign that earns him his first-ever Gravey.

My Preseason Pick: Johnny Cueto

Cy Young

Johan Santana – New York Mets – 18 W / 234 IP / 206 K / 2.53 ERA / 1.14 WHIP

Okay, here come the boos again assuming I’m making this call in favor of Santana because I’m a fan. Well safe to say, that’s not the case. Once again, I refuse to buy into the feel-good story for the Cy Young. Yes, “Tiny” Tim Lincecum had a great season. Just like Cliff Lee did in the AL, but statistically Lincecum and Santana were right on the same page. As such, I’m going to give the edge to Santana. He was adjusting to a new league, a new team, new opponents and had to deal with batting regularly for the first time in his professional career. In addition, the abysmal Mets bullpen cost him more than a half-a-dozen games along the way. There is no doubt that Santana with 20 wins runs away with this award in everyone’s eyes. Well Johan, you may not get the real hardware, but you’ve earned another Gravey!

My Preseason Pick: Johan Santana

Most Valuable Player

Albert Pujols – St. Louis Cardinals – .357 / 37 HR / 116 RBI

Without a doubt, the most underappreciated star in all of baseball. Pujols put up a very typical Pujols year again in 2008 and, as usual, flew largely under the radar. In addition the gaudy numbers above it is notable to mention that he also scored 100 runs—a feat he’s only missed once in his eight big-league seasons (99 runs in 2007)—and posted a ridiculous .462 on-base percentage.

Pujols’ value, however, extends beyond his mammoth offensive contributions. He plays a great first-base defensively (he posted a .996 field percentage in 2008, the same as Gold Glove winner Adrian Gonzalez) and he boosts the line-up around him both on and off the field. Pujols is without a doubt the clubhouse leader and the heart-and-soul of the Cardinals franchise. In addition, his presence in the line-up helped generate career years for Ryan Ludwick and Rick Ankiel. Without Pujols the Cardinals would not have stuck around the NL Central and NL Wild Card races until September, without a doubt Pujols win the 2008 NL MVP.

My Preseason Pick: Matt Holliday


So there you have it folks, the end of the 2008 Graveys. It was a great season and it figures to be an exciting offseason. We’ve already seen numerous players switch uniforms and free-agency hasn’t even opened up to the masses yet. Expect much more baseball commentary, insights and opinions as the offseason heats up.