Rob Neyer says that Derrek Lee and Albert Pujols are going to split the "sophisticated" vote for the NL MVP and hand it to the undeserving Andruw Jones, which makes me unhappy. I doubt very many (if any) BWAA members are going to come here to make up their minds before filling out their awards ballots, but I would feel remiss if I didn't at least try.
NL MVP: Derrek Lee (.339/.422/.668, 45 homers, 104.1 VORP) has been the best hitter in the majors this year by a wide margin. But they have an award for best hitter. Pujols (.330/.428/.606, 39, 96.9) has been nearly Lee's equal while carrying a St. Louis offense that's not nearly as loaded as people think (Scott Rolen and Larry Walker have been hurt, Jim Edmonds is having a slightly down year for him). Pujols would have won multiple MVP's in the past few years were it not for the otherworldliness of Barry Bonds. He deserves to win this year as his Cards have the best record in baseball and Lee's Cubs are an uninspiring 77-80. Why Jones (.264/.347/.579, 51, 61.4) is even in the discussion is a mystery to me. His OBP is good only for 42nd in the NL. And, if you care about "complete players," he only has four steals to Pujols' 16 and Lee's 15. Just say no to Andruw Jones.
AL MVP: Another two-man race, but in this case both players are on teams in contention: Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz. If you leave out the fact that A-Rod plays Gold Glove defense at third and Ortiz is primarily a DH, Rodriguez still gets over on his hitting numbers alone. Rodriguez (.320/.422/.607, 46, 98.0) is second in the majors in VORP (which includes defense) and Ortiz is fifth. (Lee and Pujols are first and third.) Who's #4, you ask? Why, it's Pittsburgh's Jason Bay. Who knew? Travis Hafner missed a little time this season with a concussion but he's had an amazing year, look out for him in 2006.
NL Cy Young: I can't stand Alex Rodriguez, and I can't stand Roger Clemens, but a full-season ERA of 1.89 in the modern era is completely ridiculous. His won-loss record is unimpressive but people who think a starter's win total is his most important stat are likely people who think Andruw Jones is a slam-dunk MVP. Chris Carpenter and Dontrelle Willis have had fine years but Clemens is just on another planet. One day I'm going to have to tell The Next Generation that yes, I saw Roger Clemens and yes, I saw Barry Bonds and they were both huge jerks.
AL Cy Young: What's both good and bad about the major leagues' top awards is that there's really no rules. In the absence of an obvious, slam-dunk best pitcher or position player for a year, you can let all sorts of things color your thinking -- his team's record, his historical importance, whether or not he's won a bunch of times before. The AL doesn't have a starter with perfect credentials. Kevin Millwood is the ERA leader but has a losing record. Johan Santana (and, significantly, his team) was better last year, when he won it. The White Sox duo of Jon Garland and Mark Buehrle has faded badly down the stretch. Bartolo Colon has 20 wins but he's not even in the majors' top 10 in VORP. So where do you turn? Easy: Mariano Rivera. He's the greatest closer who ever lived and at age 35 he's had a career year: 1.41 ERA, 42 saves, 0.88 WHIP, .178 BAA, 9.31 K/9. I have the end of the Baltimore-New York game on as I'm writing this and I know I don't even have to look up, even with the Yankees having but a one-run lead. Rivera is as sure a sure thing as there ever was in the game. Except against the Red Sox. He deserves to win a Cy Young, just as he deserves to one day enter the Hall of Fame.
NL Rookie of the Year: Tight, tight race between Ryan Howard (Philadelphia) and Jeff Francoeur (Atlanta). Francouer has the average (.306 to .284) but eschews the walk (.343 OBP to Howard's .348). Francoeur's got 14 homers to Howard's 20. Jeff has a slight edge in slugging (.565 to .547). The Braves have sewn up yet another division title (ho, hum) and the Phillies will at least be in it into the final days. They're 1-2 in the NL for VORP among rookie position players (Howard at 24.1, Francoeur at 23.5). I'm tempted to call it a tie but I've grown sick of draws watching Liverpool the last few weeks so I will give it to Howard seeing as he has played slightly more. (Also, it will make it all that much more hysterical when Philadelphia has to trade Howard due to the foolish contract they signed Jim Thome to.) If Pittsburgh's Zach Duke had spent the whole year with the big club, this title would be his.
AL Rookie of the Year: Way more candidates over in the Junior Circuit. Two rookies arguably saved the Yankees' season (Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang). Joe Mauer arrived at last for the Twins and was everything they said he would be (.302/.378/.422). Unheralded guys Jonny Gomes and Chris Shelton were revelations for the Tigers and Devil Rays. Tadahito Iguchi quickly became a linchpin for the White Sox after arriving from Japan. Counting on rookies in a pennant drive is becoming more and more common in the current economic climate, but Oakland abused the privilege with Nick Swisher, Dan Johnson, and Joe Blanton. It seems fair that an Athletic should get the award, and I'm throwing my support behind Huston Street, who at age 22 assumed the closer's mantle in Oakland and thrived -- in fact, he was practically Rivera-like. How does a 1.63 ERA, 22 saves, a .193 BAA, 0.98 WHIP, and 8.26 K/9 strike you? Strikes me like a Rookie of the Year winner.
There's games left to be played, of course, so I reserve the right to change my mind. Big Papi might go insane at Fenway Park this weekend, and so might Rivera (for the wrong reasons). Ryan Howard could slug the Phillies past the Astros, maybe. But this is how I see things as of right now. If I impress anything upon you at all, please, let it be that Andruw Jones is a pretender as an NL MVP candidate. .347!