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July 17, 2004

Baseball Mid-Season Awards

by Michael Bushnell, Page Editor
Parity is for real.

In a sport where only 4 teams make the playoffs, one would think that places would be sorted out by this point. And while there are clunkers this year (Arizona, Seattle, Baltimore, Kansas City), there are also 22 teams within 7 games of a playoff spot.

Baseball itself is doing well. Many thought that the Bay-Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) steroid scandal would hurt baseball and taint the home run, but attendance is higher than ever, with 23 teams improving on their attendance from last season, and no team drawing fewer than 22% less fans from 2003 (Montreal).

As the All-Star festivities wrap up in Houston, the home stretch is ready to begin. But first, lets look back at the first half that was, with the Midseason Awards.

AL MVP: Manny Ramirez (LF/DH, Boston; .344, 26 HR, 77 RBI)

This was an extremely tough pick between Ramirez and Vladimir Guerrero. The tie went to Ramirez because he has hit three more homers (both Vlad and Manny have the same batting average and RBI) and has had more clutch hits than Guerrero. Plus, Boston is winning the wildcard, while Anaheim is third in the AL West (both have been killed by injuries, Anaheim more so than the Sox). Just five months ago, Ramirez was so disliked that the Red Sox put him on irrevocable waivers, available for any team willing to pay his $20 million salary - and there were no takers. If the Red Sox waived him now, he’d be on a plane to some team somewhere in about five minutes.

NL MVP: Scott Rolen (3B, Saint Louis; .339, 18 HR, 80 RBI)

Few in the NL have combined average with RBI this year as well as Rolen. As if his offensive numbers weren’t amazing enough (80 ribbies leads baseball), factor in the fact that he is easily the best defensive third baseman in baseball, and plays with hustle Pete Rose would envy (minus the gambling) and you have the MVP of the National League. Rolen has helped lead the Cardinals, who are running away with the NL Central (7 games up on Chicago). This award could have gone to Barry Bonds, whose presence alone makes him a top three choice every year. Any person with a .628 on-base percentage is unbelievably valuable to their team. Jim Thome has carried the Phillies to first in the east with his big bat, and should be considered as well.

AL Least Valuable Player: Juan Gonzalez (OF, Kansas City; .276, 5 HR, 17 RBI)

Gonzalez, who has not played over 85 games since 2001 (140 with the Indians), came to Royals training camp with a shirt that said “162" on it, the number meaning the amount of games Gonzalez hoped to play in the regular season. Hey, nobody said they would all come this year. Gonzalez hurt his hamstring May 22 and has been out ever since. The former MVP was supposed to be a move that could help Kansas City reach the playoffs after a great year in 2003. But both the Royals and Juan Gone have been terrible; while Gonzalez was healthy he hit just 5 home runs and was often chided by manager Tony Pena for being lazy and showing no hustle. The Royals are 31-54, the worst record in the American League.

NL LVP: Ryan Klesko (OF/1B, San Diego; .271, 2 HR, 30 RBI)

Sure new PETCO Park in San Diego is a pitcher’s park, but for Klesko, someone who has averaged over 20 homers and 80 RBI a year over the last decade, two, count 'em two, home runs all year is just inexcusable. Klesko was supposed to help anchor a revamped Padres lineup, but manager Bruce Bochy has had to move him way down in the order due to his befuddling struggles. Klesko went over 2 months between home runs. San Diego is only 2 games back of Los Angeles in the NL West, but no thanks to Klesko. Other strugglers have been Shawn Green and Morgan Ensberg, whose lack of power in Houston of all places has been surprising to say the least.

AL Cy Young: Mark Mulder (SP, Oakland; 12-2, 3.23 ERA)

The starter for the All-Star game has the best record and third best ERA in the National League. Mulder has held opposing hitters to just a .242 batting average. He leads the league in quality starts, and can be counted on to eat up innings, something that is extremely important for a bullpen, especially one that has struggled like Oakland’s has this year. Mulder has four complete games this year and has gone into the seventh in all but three outings.

NL Cy Young: Jason Schmidt (SP, San Francisco; 11-2, 2.51 ERA)

I wanted to put Roger Clemens here, and after his 8-0 start it seemed like that would have been a wise and obvious choice. However, Schmidt leads the NL in wins and is second behind Milwaukee’s Ben Sheets in ERA. Not only that, but Schmidt, arguably the best pitcher in baseball, has held hitters to a .195 batting average, an astounding feat. There were other good choices here, and in most years Clemens, Ben Sheets or Carlos Zambrano would likely win the Cy. But Schmidt has just had an incredible year to this point.

AL Cy Blech: TIE; Sidney Ponson, Baltimore (3-12, 6.29 ERA) and Brian Anderson, Kansas City (1-7, 7.26 ERA) and Jose Jimenez, Cleveland (1-8; 8.42 ERA)

Oooh, there are too many good choices here. While Ponson may have more wins and a lower ERA than Anderson and Jimenez, one can’t forget that the Orioles paid Sir Sidney (yes, he’s a real life knight in Aruba) $22.5 million to anchor their staff and provide a base in an otherwise iffy rotation. After all, he DID win 15 games in 2003. Well, while other O’s like Daniel Cabrera have emerged as solid big leaguers, Ponson has been the staff's worst, going 1-12 in his last 13 decisions to lead the AL in losses. He is second among starters in ERA (Bartolo Colon’s first, who could be considered for this, but he is 6-8) and hitters are batting a whopping .319 off of him. He is on pace to be the first non-knuckle baller to allow 300 hits since Jim Kaat in 1975. As for Anderson, he was another horrendous off-season sign by GM Allard Baird. Anderson’s making $3.25 million this year to go 1-8, which adds up to $3.25 million per victory. Instead, he has been pushed into the bullpen, and could be on his way to AAA. Jimenez is already there. He was the Indians’ closer coming into the year, and has only contributed to a bullpen that is pitching Cleveland out of the AL Central pennant chase.

NL Cy Trash: Rocky Biddle (RP, Montreal, 1-4; 7.09 ERA)

Biddle had a great season in 2003, saving 34 games. This year it hasn’t been nearly as good. In fact, Biddle has been outright awful, putting up a 7.09 ERA and being yanked by manager Frank Robinson as the team’s closer. Batters facing Biddle are hitting .324, one of the worst numbers in the league, especially for a closer, who is counted on to shut hitters down. Hideo Nomo’s 3-10, 8.06 ERA and Mike Hampton’s $12.5 million dollar 5.25 ERA came close to this award.

Scott Elarton Award for General Lousiness: Scott Elarton (SP/RP, Cleveland, 0-8; 8.33ERA)

Elarton was cut by Colorado after killing their rotation with an absolutely putrid 0-6 record and a worse 9.80 ERA. 9.80! That was the worst ERA by a starter by over three runs! Elarton has had an ERA over 6.00 the past three seasons, and since winning 17 games with Houston in 2000, has not won more than four games in a season since then.

AL Rookie of the Year: Bobby Crosby (OF, Oakland; .266, 11 HR, 35 RBI)

Nobody’s offensive numbers jump out in the AL, so Crosby’s mediocre 35 RBI takes the cake. Chicago closer Shingo Takatsu (4-1, 1.30 ERA) is a very, very tempting choice, as was Nate Robertson of the Tigers (8-4, 4.11) and Daniel Cabrera, who came straight from AA Bowie to the show and has gone 6-3, 2.90, which is really, really good. Come to think of it…

Real AL Rookie of the Year: Daniel Cabrera (SP, Baltimore; 6-3, 2.90 ERA)

Cabrera didn’t show up in the big leagues until May 13, and already has six wins, including two shutouts. He made his presence felt his first day in the Majors with six innings of two-hit ball in a 1-0 game at the White Sox. This number 35 is beginning to make Orioles fans forget about the old #35. That Mussina guy. What happened to him?

NL Rookie of the Year: Jason Bay (OF, Pittsburgh; .304, 12 HR, 39 RBI)

While playing with far less fanfare than Khalil Greene or Kaz Matsui, Bay has put up numbers on pace for 25 homers and 80 RBI, more than enough to win this award. All while spending the first three weeks in Nashville recovering from shoulder surgery. He’s hitting over .400 with runners in scoring position, and is leading all NL rookies in homers and RBI. This was a good category as well, with Atinori Otsuka, Greene, Matsui, Chad Cordero and Ryan Madson all worthy of consideration.

AL Manager of the Year: Buck Showalter (Texas; 49-37, 1st in AL West)

Showalter took over a team that had floundered in last place in the AL West since 2000. Thanks to Buck and pitching coach Orel Hershiser, the pitching rotation ERA is down over 1.50 earned runs from last year and role players have blossomed into All-Stars (Michael Young, Francisco Cordero). Buck is not afraid to make gutsy moves, and his leadership has taken the Rangers out of the doldrums and into the top of the gritty AL West.

NL Manager of the Year: Ned Yost (Milwaukee; 45-41, 1.5 GB in Wildcard)

Yost, pitching coach Mike Maddux and hitting coach Butch Wynegar have rebuilt the Brewers from top to bottom and made them one of the biggest shocks in the NL this year. Ben Sheets became an All-Star who anchors the rotation and Danny Kolb has emerged as a reliable closer (26 saves) after years of searching for a replacement to Bob Wickman since he was dealt in 2000. Lyle Overbay has turned into a star and the Brewers’ fleecing of Arizona in the Richie Sexson trade has helped Milwaukee get to within legitimate striking distance of a playoff spot.

General Manager of the Year: Doug Melvin (Milwaukee)

He gets the nod just for making the move of the off season, acquiring Craig Counsell, Lyle Overbay, Ernest Spivey and two minor leaguers from Arizona for Richie Sexson. Sexson was headed into the last year of his contract and Melvin had the guts to deal the Brewers’ most marketable and most popular player. The move was bemoaned in Cheese Country, but Sexson hurt his leg in May and is out for the season. While the Diamondbacks are in disarray and years from ever contending again due in major part to this and other poor trades (Curt Schilling for Brandon Lyon and Casey Fossum? Ouch.), the Brew Crew are enjoying their best season since 1992, thanks in large part to the trio of Counsell, Spivey and Overbay.

AL Breakout Star: Michael Young (SS, Texas; .332, 12 HR, 53 RBI)

In two years, Young has gone from a forgotten platoon player to an All-Star shortstop that gives the Big 4 at short in the AL East another member. Young has also made the fans in Dallas forget about that A-Rod fella, as Young’s defense and 105 RBI pace have helped carry Texas into a 2 game lead in the AL West. There are about four or five guys on Texas who could have gotten this award, such as R.A. Dickey and Francisco Cordero with his 27 saves. Also up there are Joe Nathan, Minnesota’s closer, and Jose Guillen, who was forgotten in Seattle and has put up All-Star numbers as a Tiger. His .325-12-65 is actually better than Young, but Guillen has always put up quality numbers. The Cleveland Indians had five All-Stars, including Jake Westbrook’s 3.21 ERA. Carl Crawford, arguably the best pure athlete in baseball, has been Tampa Bay’s sparkplug with 13 triples and 38 steals, which leads the second place guy (Brian Roberts) by 16 stolen sacks. There are many players to choose from to win this award.

NL Breakout Star: Lyle Overbay (1B, Milwaukee; .344, 10 HR, 62 RBI)

The gem of the Richie Sexson trade with Arizona last off season was the snubbiest of the All-Star snubs. His 62 RBIs, and incredible batting average have led the Brewers to respectability after 90 loss campaigns in Beer Town year after year. Don’t forget Lyle’s 37 doubles, easily the best in all of baseball. Overbay was virtually unknown this time last year by anyone who wasn’t a Diamondbacks season ticket holder, and now he is on his way to being the Brewers' MVP.

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