Hello all! First, an apology for the long layoff. With the summer of my lifetime giving way to fall, my already crowded writing schedule has only gotten bigger. In addition to wrapping up an e-book for my Presidents Baseball franchise, I’ve also taken on a second book for the Sacramento Historical Society, this one detailing the Governor’s Mansion. (If you can’t deduce what the first book is about, well, why are you bothering reading this site?) On top of that, Last Token Gaming, the video game commentary site I’ve been working on with friends for over a year now, has taken on a bigger staff and following. Even after graduation, I’ve been busy enough to still need a weekly planner to organize everything. And I wouldn’t have it any other way!
This isn’t to imply I’ve had a shortage of things to write about for BBP. We are, after all, in the midst of a surreal playoffs that featured an Orioles vs. Royals ALCS. That alone gives me carte blanche to unspool endless references to the last years either team won the World Series, 1983 and 1985 respectively. (The ultimate question in that vein for the ALCS: “Sister Christian” or “I Want to Know What Love Is”? Which year had the better power ballad?) Or, more dishearteningly, I could write a grueling eulogy for my Los Angeles Dodgers, who saw their season end in a manner so laden with deja vu that Yogi Berra would throw his hands up in a flippant, silent gesture. Seriously, what can I say beyond Clayton Kershaw getting rocked in the seventh inning twice in a series by left-handed batters named Matt, after he had dominated lefty hitters all season? And that, in true “only the goddamn Dodgers” fashion, this isn’t the first time a left-handed batter named Matt dressed in red has helped dash LA’s World Series dreams in consecutive years?
So, rather than masticate the remainder of the postseason or pathetically try to elicit sorrow for the demise of my $240 million team, I’m going to skip ahead just a hair and lay down my picks for this year’s award-winners. This won’t be an unbiased guess at who will actually win each one, but rather who I think should. Luckily, this year’s probable winners are so clear-cut and widely agreed upon for the most part, that who I think should win and who actually will should end up intersecting 100 percent.
Rookie of the Year:
Jose Abreu, AL: From the get-go of the 2014 season, this was likely going to be an easy pick no matter what. At first, you could have made a Floyd Mayweather-esque bet on Masahiro Tanaka receiving it for the Yankees, but his mostly flawless season was derailed for weeks by a partially torn UCL. Thus, the prime choice for AL Rookie of the Year is another international import: Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox. The Cuban first baseman quickly announced himself as one of the most surefire hitters in the entire game, walloping 36 home runs and 107 RBI. And that’s alongside a .317 average, proving Abreu is a genuinely resolute batter rather than just a one-note slugger. The White Sox as a whole don’t look like an emerging threat in the AL Central right now, but any South Side fan could forget their team’s shortcomings while watching Abreu’s mammoth shots leave craters in ballparks across the country.
Billy Hamilton, NL: Much like my colleague Brad here, I was somewhat surprised at how discordant the Cincinnati Reds were in 2014. While they face the daunting challenge of playing in baseball’s best division, they’ve amassed a pool of talent that seems to add another name or two every time I blink: Alfredo Simon, Joey Votto, Todd Frazier, Aroldis Chapman, Jay Bruce and Homer Bailey, just to name a few right away. Nonetheless, this season witnessed a step back for the Redlegs, with endless injuries (chiefly to Bailey, Votto and Brandon Phillips) and a meager offense in the second half. In spite of the team’s troubles, their deepest collection of great players in perhaps a generation got even stronger this year. In a season that witnessed the emergence of Johnny Cueto as an elite pitcher, and Devin Mesoraco quickly become a powerful batting asset, no player delivered a one-man highlight reel like centerfielder Billy Hamilton. The 24-year-old speedster had a rusty start to his 2014 campaign, but when all was said and done, his line was glistening with 56 stolen bases and 8 triples. He even muscled 6 home runs and 48 RBI, showing a dose of power alongside his superior speed. If the Reds can stay healthy in 2015, don’t be surprised if Hamilton is next October’s Jarrod Dyson.
Cy Young Award:
Corey Kluber, AL: In my AL Central preview for this season, I predicted the Indians would miss the postseason due to the volume of starting and relief pitchers who left after 2013. While my call of them missing the October dance came true, they were certainly not without a top-tier presence toeing the rubber. That was singlehandedly assured by righthander Corey Kluber, who made himself the Cy Young front runner with an 18-9 record and a 2.44 ERA. He also notched 235 IP, his heaviest workload yet, alongside a mammoth 269 strikeouts. The fact that this all manages to edge reigning winner Max Scherzer’s year makes Kluber the clear choice for 2014.
Clayton Kershaw, NL: Does this really need any explaining? I guess there’s one mitigating factor I have to trot out for those who either don’t know or are just being plain stupid: No, Kershaw’s case for any award is not marred by his disappointing showings in the playoffs. These awards are given solely on the bases of the regular season, with the only potential factor October brings being if a player helped his team get to the postseason (i.e. Andrew McCutchen last year as NL MVP). With that out of away, let’s just run through his unbelievable line in 2014 for posterity. That is, a 21-3 record, 1.77 ERA, 239 strikeouts, and 0.86 WHIP. He’s the only player in the modern era to win 21 games in a season where he pitched 27 or fewer. And for a finishing touch, let’s not forget his no-hitter in June against the Rockies that was one of the most dominant in baseball history (and a typical Hanley Ramirez defensive blunder away from being a perfect game). The easiest award choice this year, hands down.
Most Valuable Player:
Mike Trout, AL: After being the tough luck runner-up to Miguel Cabrera’s 2012 and 2013 MVP campaigns (the first of which was of course Miggy’s Triple Crown season), Mike Trout left no doubt that he should win it this time around. He led the AL in RBI (111) and runs scored (115), along with his 36 homers (his highest season total yet). His incredible five-tool skill set helped the Angels to the most wins in all of baseball and their first division crown in five years. As Derek Jeter went about his retirement tour, outgoing (thankfully) Commissioner Bud Selig openly said he’s happy with Trout as the likely face of MLB for years to come. Considering Trout carries himself like a veteran great, and he’s only 23, that’s a prospect any baseball fan should eagerly anticipate.
Clayton Kershaw, NL: As has been discussed for the majority of the year, the real question isn’t whether Kersh will win the Cy Young, but whether he should tack on MVP as well. In my mind, there’s no doubt he should. Put aside his endless string of superlative stats, and simply consider this: The Dodgers were clearly a different, and more cohesive, team when he took the mound. When he was out with an injury for the beginning month of the season, the Boys in Blue were simply sluggish, and whether win or lose they simply looked like a collection of talented players without gelling as a unit.
When Kershaw hit his stride, the Dodgers erased a nine-game deficit by July. Not to mention, pitchers as MVP’s isn’t as unlikely or antiquated as some might think. Just three short years ago, before he was taking nude selfies with Kate Upton and declining as a starter, Justin Verlander took both AL Cy Young and MVP. The most intriguing example, though, would have to be Willie Hernandez (a reliever) winning it after the historic 1984 Detroit Tigers season. On a squad that reads like a baseball equivalent of Greek gods (Alan Trammell, Jack Morris, Lance Parrish, Lou Whitaker, Kirk Gibson, Darrell Evans), Hernandez taking the hardware is all the more impressive. To put it kindly, the 2014 Dodgers will never occupy a place in baseball history as hallowed as the Roar of ‘84, but Kershaw’s case can nonetheless draw upon Hernandez’s win. Just as the Detroit closer was able to win AL MVP amidst all those other names, Kershaw being a frontrunner on a team that also boasts Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig and Adrian Gonzalez is pretty remarkable too.
Comeback Player of the Year:
Phil Hughes, AL: I may actually be more biased in making this call than in choosing Kershaw for most valuable player. While I didn’t follow the Twins as closely this year due to Ron Gardenhire’s presence (which is now mercifully over), Hughes was an absolutely pivotal signing and one that needed to flourish. When Minnesota signed him last offseason, it entailed two reclamation projects at once. First, and most crucially, the Twins have been beleaguered by one of the worst starting rotations in the game every year since the abysmal 2011 season. Hughes, meanwhile, had struggled under the intense pressure of the Bronx spotlight. Those who predicted Hughes would succeed away from the Yanks were vindicated. While MN’s starting pitching was still largely putrid in yet another losing season, Hughes was a welcome exception: 16-10, 3.52 ERA, and 186 K. Most impressively, and in my view the fact that clinches this award for him, is that he posted the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in baseball history. He’s the only major league pitcher in the modern era to throw 200 or more innings and walk 16 or fewer batters. The last pitcher to do that was Denny Driscoll back in ’82 … 1882, that is.
Justin Morneau, NL: Alright, can I just admit I’m a wee bit teary eyed writing this? Morneau is by far my favorite player in the entire game, and will be until he retires. When he suffered his devastating concussion in 2010, and looked anemic in the following seasons, many understandably predicted he would never be the same player again. After being traded from Minnesota to Pittsburgh for a quick postseason trip, he came to Colorado (aka the Land of Hope and Dreams for all old ex-Twins) to upgrade the seemingly eternally potent Rockies offense. The Rox faded fast after a streaky start, with injuries to Troy Tulowitzki, Michael Cuddyer and Carlos Gonzalez. But Mornie stayed hot until season’s end, enough to clinch the NL batting title with a .319 average. I can say this without bias: When you juxtapose that alone with the severity of his concussion beforehand, he’s a perfect choice.
Manager of the Year:
Buck Showalter, AL: This is an easy and very comforting choice. I’ve always been a fan of Showalter, both as a commentator and manager, and seeing him lead such a likeable team so deep into the playoffs is a joy to behold. The fact that his Orioles ran away with the AL East alone would be reason enough to hand him MOTY, but that doesn’t do his effort justice. It’s the fact that Baltimore ran away with what is often the toughest division in the game while losing so many seemingly irreplaceable core players. First, catcher Matt Wieters was injured, leading him to miss the All-Star Game. Next, and perhaps more crucially, the Brooks Robinson-esque Manny Machado suffered a brutal knee injury, costing the O’s a key figure defensively and offensively. Finally, slugger Chris Davis was suspended at the tail end of the season for amphetamine use. And in spite of all this, Baltimore won. In fact, they seemed to get *better* as the injuries piled on, finishing with 96 wins. Without a doubt, Showalter was a key reason the team stayed resourceful and powerful when they needed to most.
Bruce Bochy, NL: Even as a grouchy Dodgers fan in the heart of Giants country, I have never had any chagrin in tipping my hat to Bochy as he’s led the Giants to World Series glory. If anything, he’s an indispensable reason why they’ve done it in such improbable fashion, with brilliant in-game managing. Not to mention, seemingly nondescript players, whether they’re veteran castoffs or barely familiar rookies, seem to flourish just when they need to the most. After the Giants slogged to a second wild-card spot, they’ve caught fire once again and as of this writing are up 3-1 in the NLCS. Especially considering they made it with Angel Pagan and Matt Cain out for the season, it’s time Bochy’s already uncontested reputation was bolstered with a managerial trophy.