It's Awards Week in Major League Baseball and there are some new twists planned for the major awards handed out by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Finalists for each honor were announced last week for the first time and the actual winners will be announced in the next four days on a series of nightly shows that will begin at 6 p.m. on MLB Network.
The process is expected to be air-tight, with teams and players involved not even made aware of the BBWAA's final voting tally until the winner is announced live on the air. Monday night's show will feature the Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Awards in both leagues, the Managers of the Year will be unveiled Tuesday, followed by the Cy Young winners on Wednesday and Most Valuable Player winners Thursday.
Voting was conducted at the end of the regular season. Two voters in each MLB city vote for each award, meaning there are 32 voters for each National League award and 28 for each in the American League. That will even out to 30-30 beginning next year, when Houston moves to the American League.
Here's one view of how the voting might go:
• American League: Wow. What a choice. History favors Detroit third baseman Miguel Cabrera, the game's first Triple Crown winner in 45 years. Stat geeks favor Los Angeles rookie Mike Trout. Sorry, Josh Hamilton. You have to sit this one out. Sort of like how you finished the season (what happened on that fly ball the last game in Oakland?).
Trout batted .326 with 30 homers, 83 RBIs, and led the league in runs (129) and stolen bases (49). How many spectacular catches did he make in center field as well? Cabrera's numbers are historic (.330-44-139) and his team won its division. He also led the league in slugging and OPS, although he's not much of a baserunner and his play at third base is average at best.
I'm inclined to get all stat-geeky on you and pick Trout and his all-around game. But a Triple Crown is a Triple Crown. And it came on a team that made the playoffs. Trout's team probably would have had the Angels not foolishly kept him in the minor leagues to start the season but the fact is the Angels sat out come October and a third-place finish in the AL West was considered a complete underachievement. The choice: Cabrera wins by a hair but I'm not going to be shocked at all if Trout gets the nod.
• National League: With apologies to 2011 winner Ryan Braun of the Brewers, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and first-half favorites Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates and David Wright of the Mets, this one really shouldn't be close. Giants catcher Buster Posey should be a runaway winner. He was terrific defensively and captured a batting title while hitting .337 and also led the league in on-base percentage at .410. The NL race is as simple as the AL race is complicated.
• American League: The Trout-Miguel Cabrera MVP race (stay tuned) has gotten far more publicity but the Cy race in the AL is far more muddied and nearly just as intriguing. The top candidates from this view are Tampa Bay's David Price, Detroit's Justin Verlander, Seattle's Felix Hernandez and Los Angeles' Jared Weaver. For sake of argument, I'm going to say King Felix (13-9, 3.06, 223 Ks) is out of the running for No. 1 after finishing the season 0-4, 6.62 in his final six starts. Weaver is out because he only was 20th in the AL in innings pitched (188) and 24th in strikeouts in spite of a 20-5 record and 2.81 ERA that was third in the league.
That leaves Price (20-5, 2.56) and Verlander (17-8, 2.64). Remember, no postseason. So no memories of Verlander pitching against the A's or Yankees (you'd have to throw out Game One in San Francisco). Verlander led the league with 238∑ — 27 more than Price and had a league-high 239 strikeouts (34 more than Price). He was second in opponents average (.217) and Price was fourth (.226). The choice: Verlander, largely for his incredible finish down the stretch when his team needed him (4-0, 0.64, 27Ks in 28 innings).
• National League: There's a case to be made for Braves reliever Craig Kimbrel (42 saves and all-time record of 16.7 strikeouts per nine innings) but I wouldn't vote for someone who threw only 63 innings. Matt Cain of the Giants went 16-5, 2.79 and threw a perfect game for a division winner. Gio Gonzalez of the Nationals led MLB with 21 wins and had a 2.89 ERA. Defending winner Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers could easily go back-to-back after leading MLB with a 2.53 ERA and posting a 14-9 record.
Then there's Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. He led the NL in innings pitched (233∏), strikeouts (230, one ahead of Kershaw), complete games (5) and shutouts (3). My favorite stat, however, is that Dickey went 20-6 for a team that won only 74 games. No one comes close to that percentage of his team's wins. The former Bison became one of the most compelling stories in the game this year and better get his Cy while he can before an unrestricted Strasburg starts piling them up. The choice: Dickey over Kershaw.
• American League: Give Robin Ventura of the White Sox huge plaudits for the job he did as a first-year skipper, until his team finally caved in the final 15 games of the season. Tampa Bay's Joe Maddon won 90 games again despite missing Evan Longoria for long stretches. Oakland's Bob Melvin did an amazing job as well, keeping the A's together when they were seemingly out of the AL West race and watching them roar back to the game's best record in the second half capped by that incredible final week sweep of the Rangers to clinch an unlikely division title.
But this choice is easy. Baltimore's Buck Showalter flipped his team's record from 69-93 to 93-69, and nearly upended the Yankees in the AL East. The Orioles played hard, maybe because they were so young they didn't know any better, and showed remarkable poise in close games and extra innings that really keyed their run to a wild-card and their first playoff appearance since 1997. Showalter got the Yankees and Arizona close as well, but someone else needed to take those teams over the top. It will be interesting to see if that happens in Baltimore or if he can get the job done in 2013. The choice: Showalter, relatively easily, over Melvin.
• National League: Remember, it doesn't include the postseason. If it did, San Francisco's Bruce Bochy would get the award in a walk. Bochy will still get his fair share of votes for directing the Giants to a division title despite losing Brian Wilson to injury and Melky Cabrera to a steroid suspension. First-time skipper Mike Matheny of the Cardinals will do well in the voting and so will Dusty Baker of the Reds (although he proved to again be deficient in the playoffs).
This voting, however, is as simple as the one in the AL. Davey Johnson of the Nationals led his youthful team to an MLB-best 98 wins and even survived all the chaos caused by the Stephen Strasburg decision. Baseball is now entrenched with a legitimate contender in the nation's capital for the first time since the 1930s and Johnson seemed energized by his team even as he approaches 70. The choice: Johnson.
• American League: This is the one race where there is absolutely zero suspense. Trout will win, likely by unanimous vote. I would be astonished to find any voter who would not choose him No. 1 on their ballot. This is one of the best rookie seasons in baseball history and he's an easy choice. In any other year, however, Oakland outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and Texas pitcher Yu Darvish would certainly have a chance to take the award. The choice: Trout, by nine miles.
• National League: This is a far different picture. We're in the East, saw a lot of Nationals games and read a ton of Bryce Harper stories (he may have even come up in this space once or twice).
We didn't see a whole lot of Arizona pitcher Wade Miley and that's probably too bad because he had a sensational year. Those would be the top two, with Cincinnati's Todd Frazier, Milwaukee's Norichika Aoki and Colorado's Wil Rosario a step down.
Miley led all MLB rookies in innings pitched (194∏) and finished tied with Darvish for the lead in victories (16). He was second in ERA (3.33) and fourth in strikeouts. Harper had a fabulous year for a 19-year-old (.270-22-59, 18 steals) and was excellent defensively. He was in the top 10 among NL rookies in virtually every offensive category but didn't lead in any. I really like that he recovered from a .232 July-August swoon to bat .330 in September.
My own feeling is I tend to favor starting pitchers as rookies because there's nowhere for them to hide. Winning 16 games and throwing 194 innings is sensational, especially for a losing team. The choice: Miley, by a whisker.