WHADDYA KNOW, THERE’S BASEBALL TODAY…
…And unless the game never ends, Iowa Baseball Confederacy-style, the Yankees might even have a playoff opponent before it’s too late.
Meanwhile, the conclusion of the PB awards ballot. Check out Part I here.
AL CY YOUNG AWARD
1. Zack Greinke, Kansas City Royals
2. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
3. Roy Halladay, Toronto Blue Jays
4. CC Sabathia, New York Yankees
5. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
Jon Lester and Mariano Rivera rank just out of my top five. If Greinke wins, that will be three Cy Young awards and five winning seasons for the Royals since 1989. His 16-8 record doesn’t seem like much until you consider that he received only about four runs of support per start and that his .667 winning percentage towers over the team. Adjusted for time and place, his 2.16 ERA against a league average of 4.75 is top 40 all-time.
What’s most impressive to me is the weak contact batters made against him when they weren’t striking out (9.5 times per nine innings); though Greinke is a fly ball pitcher, he allowed just 11 home runs in 229.1 innings, which is a number out of 1909, not 2009. Parenthetically, Andy Pettitte allowed only seven home runs in 240.1 innings in 1997, something I don’t recall hearing a peep about at the time.
Hernandez had a terrific season, the combination of a still-young pitcher maturing and a Mariners defense that was best in the league at turning balls in play into outs. Halladay was his usual excellent self, his only failing being not approaching Greinke’s level of dominance. The Jays have been on a treadmill for his entire career; let’s hope he has something left to give to a real team. Sabathia had a 3.83 ERA after his first 22 starts, a 2.52 ERA in his final 12, even with the embarrassing October 2 blowout by the Rays. The stretch-drive CC is an award winner; the guy who was around before that was just very good. You can say something similar about Verlander, except that he was unhittable at midseason and after that he was still very good, but not quite at the same level (3.90 ERA in August-September).
NL CY YOUNG AWARD
1. Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
2. Chris Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals
3. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals
4. Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants
5. Jair Jurrjens, Atlanta Braves
The differences in quality among Lincecum, Carpenter, and Wainwright are so small as to be insignificant, and you could pick any of the three and the other two would have no kick coming. Carpenter boggles the mind — twice in his career he’s disappeared for more than a year and come back to pitch well. Carpenter was important to a division winner, while Lincecum helped the Giants make an unlikely, pitching-based run at contention. I’m giving the kid the edge, but I’m open to arguments that see it another way.
AL MVP AWARD
1. Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
2. Derek Jeter, New York Yankees
3. Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay Rays
4. Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees
5. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
Sentimentally, I’d quite like to see Jeter pick up this award in the way that John Wayne got one for “True Grit,” or Henry Fonda did for “On Golden Pond.” Unfortunately, the magnitude of Mauer’s season dwarfs such considerations. Though he missed 25 games, the season he did have (is having, through tonight) was essentially the best in the American League by a catcher in over 50 years (only Mike Piazza’s 1997 slides past it). Mauer’s impact was not only historical; by tonight, the Twins might be on their way to the postseason, something that would not have come close to happening had Mauer not been so good.
Jeter had one of the top five seasons of his career and was a better defensive player than he was in his offensive prime. Zobrist had what will probably prove to be a forgotten great season of 2009, hitting like a right fielder while also playing the middle infield. Teixeira had a big offensive season, though not a special one by the standards of his position, and his defense was a key to the Yankees’ success this season; the Yankees tied for second in the league in defensive efficiency, and Teixeira’s vanquishing of the Jason Giambi clank was a big part of that. Just as without Mauer there would be no Twins tonight, without Cabrera there would be no Tigers. Extending this list to include a top 10 would see Jason Bartlett, Evan Longoria, and Kevin Youkilis added.
1. Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
2. Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins
3. Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies
4. Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies
5. Prince Fielder, Milwaukee Brewers
Pujols is the easiest No. 1 here, even with some weird power outages during the season. Ramirez’s season wouldn’t look out of place on the back of Honus Wagner’s baseball card. Tuluwitzki rebounded from a slow start to bat .325/.402/.616 from June to the end of the season, helping to propel the Rockies’ unlikely comeback. Utley had his usual fine season in helping the Phillies defend their pennant, and missed little time despite hip surgery. Fielder had bigger slugging seasons than any of the three middle infielders I listed ahead of him, but the middle infielders reap a huge positional bonus from me, one so huge that it’s bigger than Fielder himself. My top 10 would also include Ryan Braun, Pablo Sandoval, Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Zimmerman, and Derek Lee.
Head to head rankings of the Yankees against whoever the heck they’re playing already. If we don’t know soon, I may just substitute the 1949 A’s or 1980 Indians… Johnny Damon ’09 better than Miguel Dilone ’80? The mind reels…
THE THEOLOGY OF JOSE MOLINA
Jose Molina is Friday night’s designated hitter. Did you know that Molina has set his career high in walks this season? His 14th free pass did the trick, shattering his 2005 record of 13. There are all kinds of players — I bet somewhere in his career Barry Bonds got 13 walks in four games. To give Molina all the credit he’s due for his feat, it really does represent a huge uptick in patience. Last year, when Jorge Posada’s injury forced the Yankees to give Molina more playing time than he’d ever received before or ever will again, he walked only 12 times in 297 plate appearances. He’s exceeded that total by two despite coming to the plate 147 times. He’s walking twice as often as he used to. No doubt this is just another example of the cosmic dice finding the sweet spot on Molina’s Strat-O-Matic card again and again, Rosencrantz’s coin coming up heads 92 times in a row. Albert Einstein famously said that God does not play dice with the universe, but this is pretty clear evidence that He does play dice with Jose Molina’s walk rate. Coming soon: The Book of Molina: When Good Things Happen to Inoffensive Reserve Catchers — featuring a new translation of the Book of Job revealing that the whole thing was just a big misunderstanding.
ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE ZACK GREINKE …
… And Jim Leyland is Ophelia. Really. Tonight’s attempt to resolve the never-ending battle of the AL Central features Jake Peavy and the White Sox against Edwin Jackson of the Tigers and Lenny DiNardo of the Royals going against Jeff Manship (whose name always makes me think either of slave-rowed galleys or alien abductions, or both. Methinks the Twins will be but one game out at the end of the night. DiNardo is a journeyman lefty lacking in control or strikeout pitches, and while the Twins have had problems with southpaws this year (they’re under .500 in games started by lefties) DiNardo doesn’t merit any consideration because of his handedness. Manship of Space is a rookie, equally unimpressive in his own way, another Twins pitch-to-contact guy. The thing is, when you’re facing the Royals, pitching to contact isn’t such a big deal.
The Tigers get to try their luck against Peavy, who completely dominated them last week. Familiarity shouldn’t breed success, not with a pitcher of his quality, though it is fair to note that the previous game was at Chicago, and the Tigers have been miserable in road games. As for their own starter, Jackson was impressive early, but note that in the second half his ERA has jumped by two full runs, from 2.52 to 4.53. His strikeout rate has also dropped in that time, going from seven a game to six. In short, his season is a mirror-image of CC Sabathia’s. In his last start against the White Sox, just days ago, he gave up five runs in seven innings. His September includes a solid but unspectacular game against the Rays and seven shutout innings against the Indians. The rest has been mush, the aggregate coming to an ERA of 5.08.
Saturday the odds shift back to the Tigers, as the Twins draw Greinke and they get the sore-armed Freddy Garica. They bombed Garcia last week, but he had actually been pitching very well to that point, with a 3.09 ERA in his previous five starts. Unfortunately, his strikeout rate has been less than intimidating, even in that time, and that means that even if he’s at his best he could give up some runs. The one fly in the ointment for the Tigers is that they’re starting rookie Alfredo Figaro, a sort of functional sinker/change-up guy. One imagines he won’t have too long a leash. The results of Saturday’s play should make Sunday a day of for-all-accounts-and-purposes exhibitions, and the Yankees can get on with the business of figuring out how to beat the Tigers.