The 2009 regular season is now in the books, meaning that it’s time to fling some hardware — or at least to pretend to fling it, since no one on our panel of esteemed WEEI.com staffers is a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Though we can’t offer an actual trophy, we will be happy to offer a signed copy of “Chasing Steinbrenner” to those players whose superlative performance (good or bad) earned them recognition from Curt Schilling, Lou Merloni, Rob Bradford and Alex Speier. And really, which do you think Albert Pujols wants more — another MVP trophy that he can use as a doorstop, or a fine piece of literature?
AMERICAN LEAGUE MVP
Bradford: Mark Teixeira: .292-39-122, .383 OBP, .565 slg
When you weigh in his defense along with what he did to the middle of that order, leading the AL in homers and RBI, he has my vote.
Merloni: Joe Mauer .366-28-96, .442 obp, .589 slg
How can anyone argue this one? MVPs show up when their team needs them the most. Since August 1st, Mauer has hit .376-10-39 in 57 games. On September 12th, Justin Mourneau went down and everyone thought that the Twins' chances to make the playoffs looked slim to none, but Joe Mauer has kept this team in it to the end.
Jeter could make an argument, as could Cabrera and Teixeira. Youkilis has to be talked about, too. But Mauer is on another planet.
Led the league in average, OBP, slugging, OPS, and despite missing all of April, still managed to play in 137 games and hit 28 homers and drive in 96. Several lengths behind Mauer, a peleton of Youkilis, Zobrist (yup, Zobrist), Teixeira, and Cabrera dukes it out for second.
NATIONAL LEAGUE MVP
Bradford: Albert Pujols: .327-47-135, .443, .658
As much as it pains me because that means I traded away the NL MVP in fantasy baseball
This is a no brainer. A legit Triple Crown threat, Pujols is the most feared hitter in the game.
Hanley is a distant second.
If eligibility was limited to humans, this would be a pretty interesting race between Chase Utley and Hanley Ramirez. Perhaps the most incredible single stat this year is that after undergoing surgery on his hip labrum this spring, Utley stole 23 bases and grounded into just five DPs.
RED SOX MVP
Bradford: Victor Martinez: .336-8-41, .405 OBP, .507 slg with the Red Sox
I don’t care if he has only been here for two months, there is no player who has been more valuable to the Red Sox season than Martinez.
Merloni: Kevin Youkilis, .305-27-94, .413 OBP, .548 slg
In a season of inconsistent play, Youk was as steady as they come all year. Just look at his HR and RBI totals from month to month:
That’s consistent. Let's not forget to mention that Youk played both first and third at a high level.
Slow and steady wins the race. The guy plays every day, plays his ass off and produces on both sides of the lines.
The lineup was transformed by the arrival of Victor Martinez. The only way the Sox can make that upgrade is by having Youkilis, who delivers consistently ferocious at-bats and above-average defense regardless of whether he is playing first or third. He is the key to the formation of the rest of the Sox lineup. Jason Bay deserves an honorary mention here, since his power production played a major role in the team’s best stretches during the first and last two months of the year.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CY YOUNG
Bradford: Felix Hernandez: 19-5, 2.49 ERA
Because he was the one (along with Youkilis) for whom I traded Pujols. I know Greinke’s ERA was better, but his OBA, innings pitched, and wins weren’t. And as good as Greinke was down the stretch, Hernandez was better (6-0, 1.52 ERA, .193 OBA in the final month).
Merloni: Zach Grienke, 16-8, 2.16 ERA
He has been the best pitcher in the game from the opening week. If he wasn't on the Royals, Grienke would have easily surpassed the 20-win mark. In Grienke's nine no-decisions, he had a 2.35 ERA and in five of those games gave up two runs or less. As bad as the Royals were again this year, every fifth day, they were the best team in the league.
A 2.16 ERA in the AL, nothing more to say really. Props to Mariano Rivera, to have one of the best seasons of his career at this point, and to be that dominant. If you didn't consider it before this year, it's a mortal lock now: greatest closer ever.
He was wire-to-wire great, and his ability to carve the strike zone with a multitude of pitches, leaving opposing hitters utterly flummoxed, was reminiscent of Pedro in his prime. Greinke’s 16-8 record and 2.16 ERA would have looked even more spectacular but for nine no decisions when he had a 2.35 ERA but was betrayed by poor run support (2.4 runs per game). King Felix is a solid second.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CY YOUNG
Bradford: Tim Lincecum, 15-7, 2.48 ERA
Carpenter has two more wins, and a slightly better ERA, but Lincecum has thrown almost 35 more innings while limiting opponents to an ungodly .206 batting average.
Merloni: Chris Carpenter 17-4, 2.24 ERA
You may hear names like Tim Lincecum or Carpenter's teammate, Adam Wainright, but to me Chris Carpenter has been the best pitcher in the league down the stretch. As good as he was in the first half, Carpenter was even better in the second half by going 10-1 with a 2.06 ERA. To me, that’s the clincher.
Schilling: Carpenter, barely, over Lincecum.
Wins aren't a big deal often times, but they do tell a story here. Both pitched in pitchers’ parks, both had three blown saves, but Carpenter was such a stud over the last three-quarters of the season.
If wins were the barometer, then it would be Adam Wainwright. But they’re not, so the nod goes to Lincecum over Carpenter, since The Freak had four more quality starts, 30 more innings, led the league in punchouts, finished second to Carpenter in both ERA and adjusted ERA. Lincecum and Carpenter were similarly dominant, but Lincecum did it with an extra month’s worth of work. That’s the separator.
BEST RED SOX PITCHER
Bradford: Jon Lester: 15-8, 3.41 ERA
As monumental a run as Beckett went on, and as good a year Papelbon had (perhaps his best statistically), from June 1 on, Lester has a better ERA than Greinke and only slightly worse than the best of the bunch, Hernandez. That says it all.
There were some concerns coming into this year about Lester with the amount of innings he logged in 08. I ask you, are you still concerned? Jon once again got off to a slow start. After his first eight starts, he was 2-4 with a 6.51 ERA. Since then, in 24 starts, Lester went 13-4 with a 2.48 ERA and held hitters to a .219 batting average against. There's a reason why Jon Lester will be given the ball Game 1 in the postseason.
Schilling: TIE: Lester/Jonathan Papelbon (1-1, 1.85 ERA, 38 saves)
Lester broke through this year to become the true ace he was slated to become. He’s only going to get better, giving the Sox a 1 and 1A for the next 2 years.
Papelbon, regardless of what people say was a down year, was a stalwart. To have those numbers in a 'bad year' tells you all you need to know about how good he is. Late game losses are far and away the most crippling kind, especially in October. This guy blows few, if any, and none in October.
Lose either Lester or Papelbon and this team has trouble making the playoffs.
Among left-handed pitchers who have thrown at least 500 innings in their careers, Billy Wagner ranks first in history with 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings. Wagner has also pitched with lefties Randy Johnson and Johan Santana, so he’s seen greatness up close and personal. Wagner thinks that Lester is the most dominating left-hander he’s ever seen.
RED SOX ROOKIE/BIGGEST DEVELOPMENTAL LEAP
Bradford: Jacoby Ellsbury, .301-8-60, .355 OBP, .415 Slg, 70 SBsDaniel Bard would be the Rookie of the Year for the team, but Ellsbury has made the biggest developmental jump. A big reason Ellsbury was taken out of the leadoff spot after two months was his inability to get on base against left-handers (.274 OBP through May 31). Since June 1 he has the best OBP vs. southpaws on the team (.426).
Merloni: Daniel Bard, 2-2, 3.65 ERA
Not many others up for this one. The question that everyone asks is, can this kid be the next closer for the Sox? I think that we have to wait and see more from Mr. Bard before we can go there. He got off to an electric start, but a second half where he has posted a 4.94 era has a few people wondering what to expect. But overall, you have to like what you see from the young flamethrower.
Jeff Niemann (13-6, 3.94) gets my vote for AL Rookie of the Year. There was a reason why the Rays felt that they could trade away Edwin Jackson. Niemann stepped right in and was one of the cost consistent starters in an already deep starting rotation. Any rookie that can post those kind of numbers in the AL East has my vote.
In the National League, Tommy Hanson Tommy Hanson (11-4, 2.89 ERA) had a lot of hype coming into the year and lived up to every bit of it. He proved to be one of the more dominating pitchers in the league. I know that their are a lot of candidates for this one, but to me, Hanson gets the nod.
His progress from 2-3 years ago has to be a huge relief, and as exciting a development as they've had. This guy has that once in a generation arm and with Farrell coaching him has obviously harnessed that. He could be in line to allow them to let Paps go get his 4x17 deal, or they could have a Wettland/Rivera bullpen for years to come.
Speier: Clay Buchholz, 7-4, 4.21 ERA
Bard was so obvious as Red Sox Rookie of the Year that he requires no explanation. That being the case, the category of the most improved player on the Red Sox is slightly more interesting to consider. For that, it has to be the staggering emergence of Clay Buchholz as a legitimate middle-of-the-rotation option. Buchholz remade his plan of attack, going from someone who only trusted his breaking pitches to one who completely unsettled opponents with his fastball and slider.
For what it’s worth in our Chasing Steinbrenner awards, I’d go with Andrew Bailey as the AL Rookie of the Year and Andrew McCutchen as the guy in the NL.
Rick Porcello, Jeff Niemann and Brett Anderson all delivered strong rookie seasons, with Niemann earning bonus points for having survived in the toughest division in baseball. But Bailey wasn’t just among the best rookies – he ranked among the best closers in the game with a stellar 1.86 ERA, 26 saves and 90 punchouts in 92.1 innings. I understand that Elvis Andrus is a great talent and a terrific defender, but it's tough to imagine a guy whose OPS was .702.
As for McCutchen, yes, Chris Coghlan of the Marlins was a hit machine and produced a dazzling OPS (.850). But the fact that his defense was terrible has to count for something. McCutchen had a similar OPS (.836) with much better defense at a tougher position, and he was a threat on the bases (22 steals). The spectacle of watching him gallop around the bases while legging out triples was worth the cost of admission.
BIGGEST SURPRISE OF THE YEAR FOR THE RED SOX
Bradford: Ortiz’ first two months
Merloni: The play of Nick Green
Nick Green was signed in the offseason to add depth for this organization. He had some big-league experience and was supposed to be a Triple-A insurance policy for injuries. Nobody ever thought that he would be called upon to be the starter at shortstop. With injuries to Jed Lowrie and Julio Lugo out of camp, that’s exactly what happened. Green gave the Sox consistency at shortstop and occasionally came up with the big hit. Overall, he was a pleasant surprise and whether or not he is able to go in the playoffs, Nick Green played a big role in getting this team to the postseason.
Schilling: Papi’s first half
Speier: TIE — Ortiz’ terrible first two months, and Ortiz’ ability to salvage a respectable season over a final four months that included the circus of his positive test for PEDs in 2003. He is once again a bad man.
BIGGEST RED SOX DISAPPOINTMENT
Bradford: DaisukeNot even close.
I know he's thrown the ball well lately, but Dice came into camp out of shape and put this organization in a bad situation when it came to their starting rotation. After going 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA, the Sox had high hopes for Dice. They counted on him to give them innings and quality starts and he was unable to do so. He can turn that all around by performing well in the playoffs, but to me the damage is already done.
Speier: The brutal performances of Brad Penny (7-8, 5.61) and John Smoltz (2-5, 8.32). Though these two pitchers seemed like great buy-low gambles, the Sox ultimately felt that they were better off dumping both of these players and instead signing Paul Byrd from off of his couch. At least Daisuke has pitched his way back to relevance.
BIGGEST MOMENT OF THE SEASON FOR THE RED SOX
Bradford: Trading for Victor Martinez
Again, not even close.
Merloni: Oct. 1, 2009
Jon Lester took the mound and delivered 6-1/3 of two-hit, shutout baseball against the Cleveland Indians, and all of Red Sox Nation took a deep sigh of relief. After what we all saw the week before at Yankee Stadium, this start was more than just another start. It confirmed the belief that this team still has a chance to win in the postseason.
Schilling: The decision to move Clay into the rotation permanently
Speier: The July 31 acquisition of Victor Martinez without giving up Clay Buchholz.
Any other major deal at the deadline (Felix Hernandez, Roy Halladay, Adrian Gonzalez) would have required parting ways with Buchholz. While any of those players might have been better than Martinez (who was, of course, exceptional over the final two months) in a vacuum, none would have contributed more than both Martinez and Buchholz down the stretch. The Sox held onto their top handful of pitching prospects (Buchholz, Kelly, Bard, Tazawa, Pimentel)
while making a huge addition.