Awards put a bow on 2009

MLB’s awards season wrapped up today in fitting fashion with Albert Pujols’ unanimous selection as NL MVP, making him just the 10th player in history to win the award three times. As if he needed this to make his case, it essentially secures his place in Cooperstown since every three-time winner who is eligible has been enshrined.

But now that the awards are out, the 2009 season is complete. Yankee fans can continue shopping for Christmas, but the rest of us can put a bow on ’09 and stash it on the shelf — or bury it in the backyard for us Mets fans. Before we turn our focus completely to 2010 with free agency fully open and the Winter Meetings in a couple of weeks, I want to touch on some issues I have with the awards process or certain votes this year, in no particular order.

How, with a unanimous winner, does anyone give votes to another player on the same team? I can see how you’re putting Pujols first, saying you believe he was the most valuable player in the league to his team. But how do you say Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday (a midseason acquisition at that) and Yadier Molina also had some level of “most” valuable impact to the Cardinals? All of those players received votes. In the American League, after most valuable Joe Mauer, several other Twins and even more Yankees were more-valuable-than-most-but-not-as-valuable-as-Joe.

As for that Jeremy Affeldt vote in the NL? One the one hand, I like it as a throwaway vote, a statement that 10 deep is a bit much when determining the most valuable player in the league. However, the guy is nuts, no matter how he tries to defend it.

The Gold Glove Awards are MLB’s equivalent of the college football coaches poll. If you weren’t aware, the Gold Glove Awards are voted on by the league’s managers and coaches, who aren’t allowed to vote for players on their own teams. But just as their counterparts in the NCAA do, MLB’s field staff members tend to base their votes more on reputation than actual on-field performance. You also have to think that how good a player is offensively, relative to his positional peers, plays a small part, too, even if only subconsciously. The process should’ve been revamped in 1999 when Rafael Palmeiro won in the American League despite only playing 28 games at first base that year. The rest of his appearances came at designated hitter — for which he won the Silver Slugger Award. That’s right: he won two position-specific awards at different positions in the same season.

And while Ryan Zimmerman is a deserving winner and a fine fielder, did he win on his own, or did David Wright’s down season offensively play a part? Maybe it’s just the opposite of last year’s situation. Has Jimmy Rollins won each of the last three years for his fielding alone, or has his leadoff ability and his mouth boosted his profile, the way it did with the 2007 MVP? While 2009 was in fact Rollins’ best of the three with the glove, I’m not sure it was as good as Troy Tulowitzki’s season, nor was it in 2007. Tulo’s injury in 2008 make it tougher to make a case for him over Rollins, but it may be there.

My other issue with the Gold Glove Awards is that they are supposed to be position-specific, yet they do not differentiate the outfield positions. Not every outfielder can play all three positions. Guys who play right field don’t have the speed for center, and guys who play left don’t have the arm for right or the speed for either other slot. Five of the six outfield winners in the two leagues this year are center fielders, as they were in 2008 — and even then, Ichiro played 69 games in center. Divide up the outfield into left fielders, center fielders and right fielders. Let’s talk about who the best left fielder is in the National League, rather than who are the three best outfielders out of them all.

Assuming he started from the top and worked down in order, a reporter in Seattle actually managed to write in Miguel Cabrera’s name before Joe Mauer’s. Regardless of the statistical breakdowns, how did he miss the final two weeks of the season, when Mauer — without the help of his biggest sidekick in the lineup, Justin Morneau — led the Twins past Cabrera’s Tigers to win the AL Central? And even when Mauer was taking his 0-fers, he was catching the pitching staff and had as much of an impact — if not more — on the Twins’ 17-4 run to end the season as any player and manager Ron Gardenhire.

I have no arguments with either Cy Young winner — Kansas City’s Zack Greinke and San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum — but I see Keith Olbermann’s point about how it’s a bit moronic that Lincecum won despite not getting the most first-place votes.

The Rookie of the Year races in both leagues were wide open and a suspensful kickoff to the Baseball Writers Association of America awards, but I’m surprised Atlanta’s Tommy Hanson didn’t have more support. I wonder what kind of numbers Andrew McCutchen would’ve put up with a full season in Pittsburgh. Or Garrett Jones for that matter.

And finally, when you leave it to the fans to vote, is there any doubt Derek Jeter is going to win the Hank Aaron Award as the American League’s best offensive player over Mauer? When it comes to voting and online presence, both in the U.S. and around the world, you’re going to find exponentially more Yankees fans than Twins fans.

But statistically, Mauer was simply a better hitter in 2009. Even with 15 fewer games, Mauer surpassed Jeter in doubles, homers, RBIs, total bases and walks. The RBIs are in part because Mauer hits in the heart of the Twins’ order while Jeter is the Yanks’ leadoff hitter (that also explains the difference in runs scored), but the bottom of New York’s lineup — which would be the runners on base for Jeter — is better than most teams’ bottom of the order.

Jeter’s only significant wins over Mauer were in runs and hits, yet Mauer trounced him in batting average, OBP and slugging percentage. And to compare those two categories, runs and hits, Jeter scored .699 runs per game (107 runs in his 153 games) but Mauer was right behind him with .681 RPG. Jeter had 1.385 hits per game (212 hits in 153 games), Mauer 1.384 (191 in 138 games). Had Mauer kept those paces in 15 more games to match Jeter at 153, he’d have 211.7 hits and 104.2 runs.

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