Yesterday we took a look at those who should be the major award winners in the American League. Today, it's the National League's turn.
Whereas the junior circuit winners were pretty clear-cut by and large, the NL has some more intriguing battles. There are even a couple of battles where my vote probably won't mesh up with the voters say, but that's okay. Everyone has different criteria. For example, part of what I look for is how players performed when the pressure was at its zenith. How did a pitcher perform in the heat of a September pennant race? How well did a batter hit when all eyes were on him? I think that's a critical element.
So, without further ado, here they are:
OPS = on base plus slugging percentage (the higher the better)
WHIP = Walks plus hits, divided by innings pitched (the lower the better)
National League Cy Young Award
The candidates: Los Angeles' Clayton Kershaw, Philadelphia's Roy Halladay, and Arizona's Ian Kennedy.
Kershaw: 21-5, 2.28 ERA, 0.98 WHIP in 233.1 innings pitched
Halladay: 19-6, 2.35 ERA, 1.04 WHIP in 233.2 innings pitched
Kennedy: 21-4, 2.88 ERA, 1.09 WHIP in 222 innings pitched
Here is where I will probably differ with the voting writers. Kershaw's season was suburb. Amazing. Spectacular. But he never had anything to really play for, as the Dodgers never contended. In the second half of the season, Los Angeles didn't get above .500 until after they had been eliminated, and trailed in the NL-West by double digit games every day of the season from June 27 on.
Conversely, Halladay led a staff that was baseball's best. This season, the Phillies ran away and hid from the rest of the pack, evidenced by the events of April 26. Why is that day special? That was the only day Philadelphia not in first place in 2011. However, Halladay's numbers are only marginally better than teammates Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.
Most votes will either go to Kershaw or Halladay. However, the pitcher that gave his team the biggest lift was Kennedy.
What the Arizona Diamondbacks did this season was nothing short of incredible. Using basically a bunch of no-names, rookies, and has-been's, the Diamondbacks shocked the baseball world in 2011 by winning the NL-West. Arizona didn't take over first place until Aug. 10 and never had a double-digit lead in the division at any point.
In September, where divisions are won and lost, Kennedy was practically unhittable posting a 4-0 record with a 2.08 ERA. In fact, if you dial back to Kennedy's final 10 starts, he went 8-1 with a sparkling 2.19 ERA. And while Kershaw and Halladay were both outstanding down the stretch as well, by virtue of the magnitude of every single one of Arizona's games, my vote breathes warm, dry desert air.
My vote: Kennedy
National League MVP Award
The candidates: Arizona's Justin Upton, Milwaukee's Ryan Braun, Milwaukee's Prince Fielder, and Los Angeles' Matt Kemp.
Upton: .289, 31 HR, 88 RBI, .898 OPS, .529 SLG, plus 21 stolen bases
Braun: .332, 33 HR, 111 RBI, .994 OPS, .595 SLG, plus 33 stolen bases
Fielder: .299, 38 HR, 120 RBI, .981 OPS, .566 SLG
Kemp: .324, 39 HR, 126 RBI, .986 OPS, .529 SLG, plus 40 stolen bases
This is a classic case of the most outstanding player and the most valuable player not meshing up. For a while, Upton was in the mix, but a late season fade essentially wiped his chances out. Fielder had an great year, but wasn't even the most valuable nor most outstanding on his own team. This leaves us with Kemp vs. Braun.
As is the case above against Kershaw, Kemp didn't lift his team out of third place, or even above .500 for the vast majority of the season. How valuable can a player be if his team otherwise was awful? Value, to me, signifies that you played games that had vital meaning late in the season. The Dodgers didn't do that.
It's not a knock on Kemp. He was fantastic in 2011. He would win almost anyone's most outstanding player award – if such an award existed. However, by sheer virtue of an incredible season, stellar play down the stretch (Braun hit .330 in September), and playing in meaningful games, Braun has a clear advantage. Furthermore, if Braun had played in the 12 games he missed due to injury, his numbers might be closer to identical with Kemp's.
Matt Kemp had a wonderful season. However, his numbers are not that much better than Braun's, and Braun had the added pressure of playing in a pennant race. The vote will be close, but the most valuable player in the National League is very clear-cut.
My vote: Braun
National League Rookie of the Year
The candidates: Philadelphia's Vance Worley, Arizona's Josh Collmenter, and Atlanta's Craig Kimbrel.
Worley: 11-3, 3.01 ERA, 119 strikeouts in 119 innings pitched
Collmenter: 10-10, 3.38 ERA, 100 strikeouts in 154.1 innings pitched
Kimbrel: 46 saves, 2.10 ERA, 127 strikeouts in 77 innings pitched
Let me begin by saying that I would be shocked if Kimbrel does not win the award when the final votes are announced. For most of the season he simply was a dominant closer, racking up 46 saves with his 100+ miler per hour fastball. However, along with the rest of his team, he melted down like the Wicked Witch of the West during the last 10 days of the season.
As the Braves were frittering away their 9.5 game lead in the Wild Card race, Kimbrel was in the midst of a Turnbow-like funk. Sept. 9 at St. Louis, he surrendered two runs after walking a pair of batters with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of a game the Cardinals eventually won 4-3.
On Sept. 18, Kimbrel began a four game stretch that cost the Braves a postseason berth. In that contest, he gave up a home run to New York's Lucas Duda that may have messed with Kimbrel's head. The next night at Florida, after getting the first two hitters out, Kimbrel gave up an infield single to Emilio Bonifacio, setting up Omar Infante's 2-run, walk-off home run.
But Kimbrel saved his best implosion for last. Sept. 28, the Braves were at home against the Phillies, who were essentially playing for nothing, having long wrapped up home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Atlanta came into that game desperately clinging to hope that they could at least force a playoff with St. Louis for the Wild Card. After having seen their lead in the race evaporate like Lindsay Lohan's dignity, Kimbrel gave up a leadoff single to Placido Polanco in the top of the ninth inning. After a Carlos Ruiz strikeout, Kimbrel walks pinch hitter Ben Francisco. Then he walks Jimmy Rollins. Chase Utley hits a sacrifice fly, tying the game at 3-3. After Kimbrel's walk to Hunter Pence, manager Fredi Gonzalez had finally had enough, yanking his fading closer after he blew his eighth save of the year.
After the Phillies won the game in 13 innings, Kimbrel was inconsolable and reportedly got himself into a rather embarrassing personal situation. Nevertheless, for as dominant as Craig Kimbrel was for 5 ½ months, he was abysmal when it counted the most.
But should that cost him the Rookie of the Year Award?
Looking at the September's that his competition had, probably not.
In Philadelphia, Worley did what Joe Blanton was supposed to do – solidify the back end of the Phillies rotation. When Blanton went on the disabled list with right elbow inflammation, manager Charlie Manuel gave the ball to Worley and he did not disappoint.
Choosing between Worley and Kimbrel is difficult, but Worley's pedestrian 4.05 ERA in September did not set him apart.
As for Collmenter, while Brewers fans certainly remember his stellar 2-hit performance in Game 3 of the NLDS, Collmenter was solid for Arizona the entire season. His September is marred by a Sept. 11 contest with San Diego in where he was tagged for six earned runs in seven innings which bloated his ERA to 4.44 for the month, but otherwise didn't do enough down the stretch to make me overlook Kimbrel or Worley.
The bottom line is this: while I place more weight on meaningful September games, even if your middle name is Chernobyl as the season winds down, it still doesn't erase the first 5 ½ months of the season.
My vote: Kimbrel
National League Manager of the Year
The candidates: Arizona's Kirk Gibson and Milwaukee's Ron Roenicke
Last season, the Diamondbacks were 65-97, the second-worst team in the National League and the third-worst team in all of baseball. Except for a change from Adam LaRoche to a combination of several first basemen and the replacing of Mark Reynolds for Ryan Roberts at third base, the everyday lineup was virtually the same from 2010-2011.
Gibson's pitching staff still had Ian Kennedy and Joe Saunders as holdovers. The rest of the Arizona rotation was a hodgepodge of no-names like Wade Miley, Armando Galarraga, and Barry Enright.
Yet Arizona still improved 29 games and wound up in the playoffs.
Roenicke, meanwhile, took over a team that was in a malaise after Ken Macha's reign of error wasted two years of Prince Fielder's career and everyone else's time. Roenicke brought a fresh approach and a new style to Milwaukee, and the Brewers thrived on it.
That having been said, Roenicke also was given a significantly better rotation than Macha ever had when Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum were brought in via two separate trades. Roenicke's team was flat-out better than Gibson's was from top to bottom, and while Roenicke should not be penalized for that, no one expected Arizona to do anything this year with most of the same cast Gibson inherited when he managed the second half of the 2010 season.
My vote: Gibson
National League Executive of the Year
The candidates: Milwaukee's Doug Melvin and Philadelphia's Ruben Amaro, Jr.
What Phillies fans don't want to realize is that they have become the new Yankees. They always win (five straight trips to the playoffs), they have an enormous payroll ($166 million in 2011), and the few players they actually developed have been their most important staples (Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Cole Hamels).
The other pieces that Amaro has put together have worked spectacularly. Roy Halladay was brought over in a trade with Toronto. Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence were dealt from Houston. Cliff Lee came first via trade, then free agency.
Thus you see Amaro's genius. Getting Lee to come back after his nomadic two-year, four-team odyssey was critical in Philadelphia's success in 2011. Adding Pence at the trading deadline solidified one of the only holes in the Philadelphia lineup. Promoting and starting Vance Worley paid enormous dividends.
Any other year and Amaro would win the award hands-down.
However, Melvin, while operating with just over half of what Amaro had in terms of dollars, addressed Milwaukee's woeful pitching rotation by dealing talented but road blocked infield prospect Brett Lawrie for control artist Shaun Marcum. He then traded a good portion of the Brewers farm system for the most sought after starting pitcher on the market, Zack Greinke.
Shortly before spring training ended, Melvin sent marginal prospect Cutter Dykstra to Washington for Nyjer Morgan, unknowingly setting off a chain reaction that became known simply as baseball's "Plushdamentals."
Shoring up the Milwaukee bullpen at the all-star break, Melvin dealt for New York Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez. After Rickie Weeks got injured, he purchased infielder Felipe Lopez, who had performed well in his first stint in Milwaukee in 2009. When Lopez didn't work out, Melvin went after veteran utilityman Jerry Hairston, Jr., who proved to be a godsend down the stretch both with his bat and his many gloves.
My vote: Melvin. It's close. But Melvin.
How many days until pitchers and catchers report?
Doug Russell has been covering Milwaukee and Wisconsin sports for over 20 years on radio, television, magazines, and now at OnMilwaukee.com.
Over the course of his career, the Edward R. Murrow Award winner and Emmy nominee has covered the Packers in Super Bowls XXXI, XXXII and XLV, traveled to Pasadena with the Badgers for Rose Bowls, been to the Final Four with Marquette, and saw first-hand the entire Brewers playoff runs in 2008 and 2011. Doug has also covered The Masters, several PGA Championships, MLB All-Star Games, and Kentucky Derbys; the Davis Cup, the U.S. Open, and the Sugar Bowl, along with NCAA football and basketball conference championships, and for that matter just about anything else that involves a field (or court, or rink) of play.
Doug was a sports reporter and host at WTMJ-AM radio from 1996-2000, before taking his radio skills to national syndication at Sporting News Radio from 2000-2007. From 2007-2011, he hosted his own morning radio sports show back here in Milwaukee, before returning to the national scene at Yahoo! Sports Radio last July. Doug's written work has also been featured in The Sporting News, Milwaukee Magazine, Inside Wisconsin Sports, and Brewers GameDay.
Doug and his wife, Erika, split their time between their residences in Pewaukee and Houston, TX.