MLB Predictions 2012: Who the Experts Pick for All Major Awards
The calendar has finally turned to April, meaning that warmer weather is coming and Major League Baseball is about to get underway in earnest.
As we draw closer to meaningful games being played, fans around the world are dusting off their prognostication hats and making their predictions for the upcoming season.
If we're being honest, one person's opinion is just that—one person's opinion.
When it comes to baseball's biggest individual honors, the major awards that are presented at the end of the season, these are not awarded based on one opinion—it takes a group of people who know the game inside and out to determine who wins the hardware.
Thankfully, B/R has a number of people who fit that description, and 16 of us have come together to predict how it will all shake out.
So without further ado...
Before We Get to the Awards
Sorry, I lied—there's a bit more ado before we get to the awards.
I'd be remiss if I did not introduce the other 15 members of the selection committee:
American League Manager of the Year
1. Joe Maddon (56.25 percent)
2. Mike Scioscia (12.5 percent)
3 (tie). John Farrell (6.25 percent)
3 (tie). Joe Girardi (6.25 percent)
3 (tie). Jim Leyland (6.25 percent)
3 (tie). Bobby Valentine (6.25 percent)
3 (tie). Ron Washington (6.25 percent)
Joe Maddon won the award in 2011 and the voters overwhelmingly pick him to repeat again in 2012. With an offense led by All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria and arguably the deepest starting rotation in all of baseball—one that will start the year with über-prospect Matt Moore as their fourth starter, it's easy to see why that's the case.
What We Were Thinking
Ian Casselberry: Joe Maddon seems like an easy pick, but he keeps the Rays competitive against the Yankees and Red Sox by brilliantly mixing and matching pieces throughout the season. This, despite not making big offseason additions. Plus, the press and fans love him, and I don't think that can be underestimated.
Ely Sussman: Toronto's John Farrell will exceed expectations and contend with his team of 20-somethings in a brutal AL East race. The former pitching coach will turn Brandon Morrow into an All-Star.
Rick Weiner: Joe Maddon is the best manager in the best division in baseball—something that will be proven again this season when as many as three playoff teams emerge from the AL East.
Joe Yanarella: Don't let the punchline exterior fool you, Maddon is a sharp baseball mind whose players love going to war for. I'll pencil the Rays in for a wild-card spot and Maddon as AL Manager of the Year.
National League Manager of the Year
1, Ozzie Guillen (37.5 percent)
2 (tie). Davey Johnson (18.75 percent)
2 (tie). Charlie Manuel (18.75 percent)
4. Fredi Gonzalez (12.5 percent)
5 (tie). Bruce Bochy (6.25 percent)
5 (tie). Terry Collins (6.25 percent)
The majority of voters believe that the influx of talent this past winter—namely Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes—coupled with the return of staff ace Josh Johnson and the continued development of outfielders Logan Morrison and Giancarlo Stanton gives Ozzie Guillen a roster that he can't help but win with.
What We Were Thinking
Ian Casselberry: Winning a sixth straight NL East title won't be easy for the Phillies with the Marlins and Nationals making a charge, particularly with the team short-handed in the infield. But Charlie Manuel has a knack for putting the right players in the right roles, and will get just enough offense to go with his spectacular pitching.
Robert Knapel: The Nationals should be one of the more surprising teams in the major leagues this year and they will almost certainly be in contention for a playoff spot when the year winds down. If they can snag one of the two wild-card spots, then Johnson should win the NL Manager of the Year award.
Greg Pinto: The Nationals finally have all of the pieces to make a run at the postseason in 2012, and if they are able to do so, Davey Johnson will undoubtedly be praised as the man that brought them there.
Rick Weiner: In what figures to be a hotly-contested NL East, Johnson will have his work cut out for him. But there is no denying that Johnson knows how to win, and the Nationals have a young, talented team that will only get better when Bryce Harper is ready to play center field for the next decade...which should be sometime in May.
Joe Yanarella: I'm going to go with a dark-horse candidate in Fredi Gonzalez. Despite the Braves' collapse last year and departure of Derek Lowe and loss of Chipper Jones to injury, I think the Braves have enough strong young pitching (enter Mike Minor) along with another year of seasoning for Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward which will propel Braves to one of the wild-card spots.
Adam Hirshfield: Honestly, who doesn't love Ozzie Guillen? He's second only to Jose Canseco in terms of amazingly hilarious baseball Twitter accounts, and—hey, whaddaya know? He actually has an interesting team in Miami this year. Adding Reyes to an already young and talented lineup—coupled with the fact that Hanley Ramirez can't possibly have another season as bad as 2011—makes them a potential playoff team in the NL. And given where they've been in recent years, that should earn ole Ozzie the MOY.
American League Comeback Player of the Year
1, Carl Crawford (37.5 percent)
2. Adam Dunn (31.25 percent)
3. Brian Matusz (18.75 percent)
4 (tie). Phil Hughes (6.25 percent)
4 (tie). Justin Morneau (6.25 percent)
Once considered to be one of the most exciting players in baseball, things haven't gone according to plan for Carl Crawford since he left the comfort of Tampa Bay for the bright lights and big money that awaited him in Boston.
While Crawford is expected to start the season on the 15-day disabled list as he continues to recover from off-season wrist surgery—something that is expected to keep him out of action until May at the earliest—that did not discourage voters from throwing their support behind the four-time All-Star.
What We Were Thinking
Ian Casselberry: Crawford's comeback bid is going to suffer with him missing time to begin the season. But Dunn has nowhere to go but up. He has to want to erase the stench of 2011 as quickly as possible, and will do so for a White Sox lineup that really needs him to produce.
Robert Knapel: Carl Crawford certainly had a tough time during his first season with the Boston Red Sox and his second year is not getting off on the right foot as he is recovering from wrist surgery and likely will not play until May. When Crawford does get back, he should produce close to the level that he used to perform at. We could see a year where Crawford hits for a .280 average with 10 home runs and 35 steals.
Stephen Meyer: I may be biased as an unabashed Yankees supporter, but Phil Hughes has squashed all concerns about his velocity and work ethic this spring. He was an All-Star in 2010 and has improved his changeup to the point that it should now be an asset as opposed to a project.
Ely Sussman: His [Dunn's] 2011 was inexplicable, but I feel he'll once again be a lock for 35 HR and 100 RBI. It's all in his head.
Rick Weiner: My vote went to Brian Matusz of the Baltimore Orioles. While he has been hittable this spring—opponents are hitting .293 against him but have yet to take him deep—he has shown command over all of his pitches and misses bats nearly as much as they make contact. He has racked up 22 strikeouts over 24.2 innings pitched this spring while only walking three.
Joe Yanarella: Crawford may represent a logical choice—but my hatred for the Red Sox prevents me from selecting him. I'll go with Matusz who is reportedly throwing like the stud prospect of the Orioles system he was touted as before coming off the rails in 2011. And hey, after posting a 10-plus ERA last season, he already has a leg up on the competition in terms of room for improvement.
National League Comeback Player of the Year
1, Adam Wainwright (37.5 percent)
2 (tie). Josh Johnson (18.75 percent)
2 (tie). Jason Heyward (18.75 percent)
4. Hanley Ramirez (12.5 percent)
5 (tie). Pedro Alvarez (6.25 percent)
5 (tie). Johan Santana (6.25 percent)
When it was revealed that Adam Wainwright needed Tommy John surgery and would miss the entire 2011 season, many believed that any chance the St. Louis Cardinals had of making a run at a World Series title, or even making the playoffs, left with him. Instead, the Cardinals surprised everyone and captured their second World Series championship in the past six years.
Now Wainwright is back, and as the results show, voters believe that he'll return to his dominant ways, once again sitting amongst the best pitchers that the game has to offer.
What We Were Thinking
Ian Casselberry: Players such as Buster Posey and Adam Wainwright will be coming back from injury, and that's not insignificant. But coming back from mediocrity is more impressive. Hanley Ramirez seems invigorated by Jose Reyes joining him in the Marlins infield, and by the team's revitalized competitiveness. Third base will be an adjustment, but he'll make the transition with flair.
Robert Knapel: Johan Santana. The competition for this award will likely come down to the pitchers that are coming back from surgery. Santana has been lights-out when he has been on the mound for the New York Mets and he has never posted an ERA higher than 3.13 during his time with the team. While Santana's win total may leave something to be desired this season, his other numbers should be good enough for him to take home this award.
Stephen Meyer: People understandably forget just how important Adam Wainwright was to the Cardinals rotation in 2010—a World Series ring will do that to a fanbase. His return will be needed more than ever with Chris Carpenter now a question mark, and he will be there for them when they need him.
Ely Sussman: Coming off a season where he didn't play, Adam Wainwright will respond with excellent, economical pitching and a sub-3.00 ERA. Tommy John surgery works!
Rick Weiner: Pitcher A has a 2.28 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 248 strikeouts over 233.1 inning's pitched. Pitcher B has a 2.14 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 242 strikeouts over 244 inning's pitched. Pitcher A is Clayton Kershaw. Pitcher B is Josh Johnson. If Johnson is even remotely close to the pitcher that he was before getting injured nine games into the 2011 season, he'll not only win this award, but he'll be in the thick of the Cy Young race as well.
Joe Yanarella: Coming back from an injured shoulder that sapped him of his power and forced him to make adjustments to his swing which saw him slump further ruined all of Jason Heyward's 2011 season. I expect a full return to the budding star we saw in his rookie season in 2010 with more power and a higher batting average.
American League Rookie of the Year
1, Matt Moore (50 percent)
2. Yu Darvish (37.5 percent)
3. Yoenis Cespedes (12.5 percent)
Who are Yu? The name's Moore, Matt Moore, and the small sample size that voters saw of him at the end of 2011 outweighed the gaudy numbers that Darvish has posted in his five seasons as a professional in Japan.
Moore enters 2011 with slightly less pressure on him than Darvish will face in Texas, and that, coupled with the jump in competition that Darvish will be facing every fifth day was taken into consideration as well.
What We Were Thinking
Ian Casselberry: Moore is a phenom and will have much to do with the Rays contending in the AL East. But Darvish is going to have the hype following him from the very beginning. Can he live up to the $100-plus million already committed to him? Will he adapt to the American style of baseball quickly? When he does, Darvish will impress everyone waiting to be impressed.
Robert Knapel: As good as Matt Moore is, he will likely finish in second to Yu Darvish in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. Darvish will get to take advantage of facing the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics a number of times this year. Darvish could win as many as 15 games with an ERA in the low-to-mid 3.00s. It is hard to see him not winning the award if that happens.
Ely Sussman: Generally, pitchers thrive against batters who have never faced them before. Expect Darvish to dominate the opposition early in the season before they have a chance to make adjustments. He is stretched out from his full seasons in Japan and won't tire during the dog days of summer.
Rick Weiner: When people are talking about you as if you're the ace of the staff—a staff that includes David Price and James Shields—you're something special. Moore has filthy stuff and while Darvish is no slouch, he does play half of his games in the cozy confines of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, a stadium that is unforgiving to mistakes pitchers make. And as we know, rookies make mistakes.
Joe Yanarella: While I know the trendy pick is Yu Darvish, I'll go with the next phenom in the Rays pitching rotation, Matt Moore. His fastball is electric, curveball filthy and changeup above average. I watched him dominate the Yankees after his call-up in September and was blown away by his pitching arsenal. He had the best stuff out of any young pitcher I saw last year outside of early-season Michael Pineda (who only had two dominating pitches compared to Moore's potential for three). Without a doubt, he's a future ace.
National League Rookie of the Year
1 (tie). Yonder Alonso (31.25 percent)
1 (tie). Drew Pomeranz (31.25 percent)
3 (tie). Zack Cozart (12.5 percent)
3 (tie). Bryce Harper (12.5 percent)
5 (tie). Rex Brothers (6.25 percent)
5 (tie). Julio Teheran (6.25 percent)
If things play out like this, the National League will have their first Co-Rookies of the Year since 1976 when San Diego's Butch Metzger and Cincinnati's Pat Zachry shared the award.
Yonder Alonso, one of the four prospects that the San Diego Padres received in return from the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for Mat Latos, will start the season as San Diego's first baseman. While his power numbers are likely to be negatively impacted by the cavernous Petco Park that he now calls home, his sweet swing was sweet music to voters,
Drew Pomeranz, the centerpiece of the deal that saw Ubaldo Jimenez go from the Colorado Rockies to the Cleveland Indians at last year's trade deadline, is a left-handed starter who, even at this early stage in his development, has better pure stuff than many of the more established left-handed starters in the game. Pitching in front of a potent Rockies lineup that includes Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki certainly didn't hurt his case with voters.
What We Were Thinking
Ian Casselberry: Of all the Rookie of the Year candidates in the NL, no one will have more of an opportunity to succeed than Alonso. He has a starting position and no competition for the job, unlike his peers. His candidacy might suffer from a lack of power numbers, but Petco Park is made for his gap-to-gap swing and he'll get a lot of hits.
Ely Sussman: This isn't a terribly deep group, but at least Yonder Alonso will be playing everyday. Although he doesn't possess prototypical first baseman power at this point in his career, he still has a beautiful swing.
Robert Knapel: Bryce Harper may not be starting the year in the major leagues, but he will join the Washington Nationals sooner rather than later. The Nationals need outfield help and Harper is the solution to their problem. While he will certainly go through some rough patches once he reaches the majors, Harper should put up some very impressive numbers while he is still a teenager.
Dan Tylicki: Zack Cozart, shortstop, Cincinnati Reds. In a short time, he has displayed great work both with the bat and glove, and should be the surprise of the season.
Rick Weiner: I was torn between Bryce Harper and Drew Pomeranz but ultimately went for the young hurler. Pomeranz, the centerpiece of the Ubaldo Jimenez trade last season, has a live fastball, killer curve and a steadily-improving changeup. It won't take him long to unseat Jamie Moyer as the No. 2 starter in Colorado and he'll likely be the unquestioned ace by the end of the season.
Joe Yanarella: This is a tough one for me because I don't want to jump on the Bryce Harper bandwagon. As a result, I'm going to go off the grid and take SS Zack Cozart of the Reds. Cozart will break camp as the Reds starting SS and will bat in the No. 2 hole. He had an incredible spring where he batted over .400, including an eight-game hitting streak where he batted .650. He can hit for power and steal bases and that's a great combo at SS.
American League Cy Young Award
1 (tie). Justin Verlander (31.25 percent)
1 (tie). Jered Weaver (31.25 percent)
3. CC Sabathia (18.75 percent)
4 (tie). Dan Haren (6.25 percent)
4 (tie). David Price (6.25 percent)
4 (tie). Ricky Romero (6.25 percent)
You bet, and it would mark only the second time in AL history for the Cy Young voting to end this way. Mike Cuellar of the Baltimore Orioles and Denny McLain of the Detroit Tigers shared the honors in 1969.
It's impossible to argue with the selection of Verlander, especially after his remarkable 2011 season that saw him not only claim the AL Cy Young award, but the AL MVP award as well. The Tigers have virtually the same lineup this season as they did last year, with two big exceptions—a healthy Brennan Boesch and the behemoth of a man that they call Prince.
Jered Weaver finds himself in a similar situation. The Angels return virtually the same lineup as they had in 2011, but one that also has two big changes—the eventual arrival of Mike Trout and the addition of Albert Pujols, arguably the best player in the game.
Those changes did nothing to hamper either pitcher's chances with this group of voters.
What We Were Thinking
Ian Casselberry: Weaver was on the verge of winning the AL Cy Young last year, until he showed he wasn't up to the task mentally. He'll learn from that lesson and realize he has to keep his emotions in check through the whole season. Dan Haren and C.J. Wilson will consistently push him to excel, and Weaver will follow through with his best season.
Robert Knapel: CC Sabathia pitches in a difficult division and a hitter's park and he has managed to produce great numbers since he joined the New York Yankees. Cy Young voters seem to care about a pitcher's win total and that should not be a problem for Sabathia as he will certainly pick up a few extra wins thanks to the Yankees' powerful offense.
Ely Sussman: Dan Haren is actually the best pitcher on the Los Angeles Angels. The defense behind him will be very tight and he attacks the strike zone like few other pitchers in baseball do. Voters aren't blinded by wins anymore, but Haren's 20-plus will only help his case.
Rick Weiner: This one is a gut feeling, which last year would have been an appropriate segway into conversation about CC Sabathia. But the one thing I've not been able to get out of my head since interviewing him back in February was the kind of shape that Sabathia was in. He looked to be in the best shape of his Yankees career, something that will go a long way towards him having his best season to date.
Joe Yanarella: I'm going to opt for Verlander in a repeat because I think he's a lock for 20 wins with the Tigers' potent offense and bullpen. King Felix will be lights out but will still struggle to win 15-plus games with the Mariners' average offense.
National League Cy Young Award
1. Clayton Kershaw (31.25 percent)
2 (tie). Roy Halladay (18.75 percent)
2 (tie). Cole Hamels (18.75 percent)
2 (tie). Cliff Lee (18.75 percent)
5 (tie). Josh Johnson (6.25 percent)
5 (tie). Tim Lincecum (6.25 percent)
This very scenario is why the trio of aces that the Phillies send out to the mound 60 percent of the time will not take home the Cy Young award—they steal votes from each other. That opens the door for Clayton Kershaw to claim his second consecutive Cy Young award.
With NL MVP runner-up Matt Kemp motivated to leave no doubts as to who should be the NL MVP in 2012 and Andre Ethier entering a contract year motivated to improve on his 2011 season that saw a precipitous drop in his power and run production, voters believe that Kershaw could put up even better numbers than he did last year.
What We Were Thinking
Ian Casselberry: Lee doesn't have the pressure of carrying a pitching staff like his peers do. And I think that's the way he likes it, going about his business quietly. The Phillies will win on pitching, and Halladay might be wearing down a bit. Lee had a great spring and will keep it going during the regular season.
Greg Pinto: There may not be a pitcher in baseball with more to gain following a stellar season than Cole Hamels. Ticketed for free agency, a Cy Young Award would give him even more leverage than he already has, helping him to a huge payday, either from the Phillies or elsewhere. Consider the fact that the changeup specialist posted a record of 14-9 with an ERA of 2.79 in 2011, despite pitching with loose bodies in his left elbow and a sports hernia. Fully healthy and with the cutter that has turned him into one of the best left-handed starters in the game fully developed, Hamels has all of the tools to win a Cy Young in 2012.
Robert Knapel: There is little doubt that Roy Halladay is one of the best pitchers in baseball right now and he is almost certainly going to be a Hall of Famer. Halladay will have a little added pressure on him because of the Phillies' injury situation and he should be able to rise up to the occasion.
Stephen Meyer: Call me crazy, but this is the year that Hamels becomes the lead dog of the "Big Three." He is in a contract year and has about 150 million reasons to give every ounce of himself to the mound this season. He will lead the team in wins in 2012, and the offensive injuries will shine a light on just how vital Hamels is to the staff/team.
Ely Sussman: Josh Johnson will benefit from pitching his home games in a cavernous new stadium. Staying healthy will obviously be imperative, but who else is as talented?
Rick Weiner: Clayton Kershaw is only 24 years old. He's going to get better. That's a scary proposition for the rest of the league.
Joe Yanarella: Until Doc shows any signs of slowing down, I'll keep banking on him to be the best pitcher in the NL, although I'm tempted to take Clayton Kershaw.
American League MVP
1. Albert Pujols (50 percent)
2. Miguel Cabrera (25 percent)
3 (tie). Jose Bautista (6.25 percent)
3 (tie). Robinson Cano (6.25 percent)
3 (tie). Prince Fielder (6.25 percent)
3 (tie). Adrian Gonzalez (6.25 percent)
If Albert Pujols pulls this off, he'll become only the second player to ever win the MVP award in each league, following the immortal Frank Robinson. Robinson took home the National League MVP award with the Cincinnati Reds in 1961 and then, as a member of the Baltimore Orioles, was named American League MVP in 1966.
Pujols, arguably the best player in baseball, joins a talented Angels lineup that should provide him with the same protection he enjoyed in St. Louis. Hitting between Kendrys Morales and Torii Hunter certainly didn't hurt his MVP chances with voters—not that someone who already has three MVP awards to his name needed any additional help garnering support.
What We Were Thinking
Ian Caselberry: Picking Pujols for MVP in his first year in the AL might be a bit hasty. But the Angels are ready to challenge the Rangers now, and Pujols is more likely to dominate early in his contract, rather than late. I don't believe anyone in Anaheim is interested in waiting for this to come together. The future is now.
Robert Knapel: This is one of the tougher selections on the list. The options for the American League MVP are all outstanding players and they should be on top of the leaderboards in a number of different categories. Pujols should rebound from what was arguably the worst season of his career last year and put up numbers that show why the Angels were willing to overpay for him.
Stephen Meyer: Pujols will have every watchful eye in baseball on him this season, and all he has to do is rise to the occasion to capture the hardware. I picked the Angels to win the World Series in 2012, and an MVP for "The Machine" will be a big part of that.
Ely Sussman: Jose Bautista is baseball's most dominant offensive player and that will carry him to the 2012 AL MVP award. He combines tremendous plate discipline with extraordinary power. Bautista runs the bases well and plays a very strong right field. He was the American League's No. 1 position player last season. He would have taken home the 2011 award had Justin Verlander not been so unstoppable.
Rick Weiner: Prince Fielder anchors what I believe will be the most explosive top half of a lineup in baseball this season. With Austin Jackson, Brennan Boesch and Miguel Cabrera hitting in front of him, Fielder will step to the plate more often than not with runners on base. While some teams will try to pitch around him, I expect Fielder will set a new career high in RBI this season. His previous high mark was 141 with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2009. Players who drive in over 140 runs in a season typically win MVP awards.
Joe Yanarella: The combination of great pitching (Jered Weaver/Dan Haren/C.J. Wilson) combined with the best manager in baseball (Mike Scioscia) should ensure the Angels win the AL West and MVPs usually come from division winners/playoff teams. I think Pujols will be extremely motivated to put up huge numbers this year with all the focus on his monster contract and it'll result in the AL MVP. I'll take Robinson Cano to finish second in AL MVP voting.
National League MVP
1 (tie). Matt Kemp (31.25 percent)
1 (tie). Troy Tulowitzki (31.25 percent)
3 (tie). Justin Upton (18.75 percent)
3 (tie). Joey Votto (18.75 percent)
The last time there was a tie for National League MVP was in 1979, when Keith Hernandez of the St. Louis Cardinals and Willie Stargell of the Pittsburgh Pirates both took home MVP honors.
Ryan Braun, last year's controversial winner, is conspicuous by his absence. Matt Kemp, who many thought deserved the award even before the performance enhancing drug allegations against Braun came to light, is in the prime of his career and motivated to show voters that they made a mistake in 2011. Some members of this panel received his message loud and clear.
What We Were Thinking
Ian Caselberry: Tulowitzki stands out at his position, the most difficult one on the field. While playing shortstop, he also puts up numbers right up there with the other big bats. I believe the Rockies will contend for the NL West, largely on Tulo's back.
Robert Knapel: Kemp is a legitimate threat to have a 40/40 season this year. His batting average will likely drop closer to .300 this season, but that won't have too much of a negative impact on his MVP hopes. He 27 years old this season and should be continuing to develop in his prime.
Stephen Meyer: I have received a lot of flack for predicting Justin Upton will be the NL MVP, but I stick by my gut. With Pujols and Fielder now gone to the AL, it's time for Upton to rise up and take the D-Backs to even higher levels than they surprisingly reached in 2011. He has what it takes, and 40 HR and 50 doubles are in the conversation.
Ely Sussman: His [Votto's] production will improve with better protection in the Reds lineup this season. There is a slight bias towards players on winning teams and his should challenge for first place in the NL Central.
Rick Weiner: While I knew he had little chance of actually winning, I was singing the praises of Justin Upton for National League MVP last season. As with Clayton Kershaw, Upton is only 24 years old. He's going to continue to get better, and 40 home runs, 30 stolen bases and 200 hits are not out of the question.
Joe Yanarella: To me, Votto is the best hitter in the NL now that Pujols is gone and Kemp will be hard-pressed to duplicate his magical season and Braun may face too much scrutiny and pressure to be able to completely focus on baseball.