MLB: Handing Out Some Offbeat Awards
Year-end awards in sports are getting a bit stale. Everybody is familiar with the MVP and the critical argument over the definition of “Valuable” in that paradigm. Baseball fans know the drill: Cy Young, MVP, Rookie of the Year, Manager of the Year, Executive of the Year, etc.—all awards we know very well.
The existing awards, however, always miss one critical element: the fans. Not that fans should win awards, but that the players who added more to the fan experience than others should be celebrated.
It is in this light that I am creating a series of superlative awards for Major League Baseball players who made significant contributions to the entertainment value of a sport.
Most Entertaining Player: The Pedro Martinez Award
Every sport should celebrate its most entertaining player.
After all, the player who puts on the best show tends to put more rear ends in the seats and stick more eyeballs to a television. There are people who even casual fans will flip channels to see in both leagues.
The coolest thing about a MEP is how they create an instant demand for tickets regardless of the team’s existing popularity.
Fans would come to the ballpark to watch their last place local team play the Mariners in the late nineties, because who wouldn’t want to see Randy Johnson pitch and Ken Griffey Junior hit? In his prime, Pedro Martinez’s starts in Boston carried the buzz of a hit play, a rock mega-band on tour and a great baseball team all rolled up in one (that’s no exaggeration).
There needs to be an award for this. Naming such an award after Pedro seems only fitting.
AL: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
Hardly even needs an explanation.
As a rookie, Trout is a dominant player who leads all of baseball in Wins Above Replacement. No, the Angels won’t make the playoffs and with Albert Pujols in the same lineup, Trout was given the gift of protection.
Still, this was a “turn the channel” kind of season for Trout.
Often, baseball people tout a prospect from a high-profile organization and that young player never hits his potential. Then, once every few blue moons, something like Mike Trout happens.
-Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers. Not great with the glove and not great on the base paths, but it helps to have everybody’s attention for an entire month, as Cabrera’s had this September. Most of his entertainment value comes from the fantasy baseball owners whose teams he propelled to the top of the rotisserie.
-Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers. For opponents, Verlander is about as entertaining as Jason Voorhees. He cannot be stopped. He cannot be reasoned with. Nobody in the audience expects anybody to take down his fastball.
-Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners. “King Felix” has been a force in this league for quite some time. Extra credit for being the bright spot on a perpetually-rebuilding Mariner roster.
-Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers. Sometimes, a player’s personality makes them that much more entertaining. Beltre’s reaction to teammates touching his head is always priceless. Home runs hit from his knee are spectacular. He deserves mention in the MEP race after a season like he’s had.
NL: Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
Special considerations hand this award to the Pirates center fielder.
See, regardless of what the various people who have mismanaged the Pirates over the past twenty years love to claim, Pittsburgh is a town that loves baseball and supports their Pirates through thick and thin.
Those fans, who have been ignored and outright neglected by three straight ownership groups, deserve a top-tier player (actually, they really deserve a winning team, but that might interfere with Mr. Nutting’s bottom line).
McCutchen runs away with the inaugural NL Pedro despite a top-notch field.
-R.A. Dickey, New York Mets. Love the knuckleball and perhaps no knuckleballer has had a season as superb as Dickey had with the Mets. Here we have the case of a very hard-working pitcher who has paid his dues and finally found his stride. He throws the dancing pitch, picking up the helm from Tim Wakefield almost instantly upon Wakefield’s retirement.
-Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals. The controversy about the Strasburg Shutdown made every pitch he threw more intriguing, but obviously he deserves more credit than that. What’s entertaining in pitching? Power pitchers who make opponents look bad with incredible stuff.
-Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals. For one, the kid is decidedly unrefined, which we expect in our nineteen year olds. Face it: Reckless baseball is entertaining baseball, regardless of what the numbers tell us. Few people across baseball look like they’re having more fun.
-Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds. Smoke-throwers like Chapman make the most entertaining relief pitchers, because they are extremely unpredictable. Chapman only struggled for a very brief period around midseason and his emergence as a closer has propelled Cincinnati back into the postseason.
The Least Entertaining Player Award
Like failure, the LEP is an orphan. It will not be named after a player like its positive counterpart, the Pedro Martinez Award. The LEP is the player who, through performance, injury or bad luck ends up being the guy who makes fans cringe. You can’t bring yourself to watch, because you assume they’re not going to play well.
AL Least Entertaining Player: Nick Blackburn, Minnesota Twins
Blackburn had been a feature in Minnesota’s rotation for a couple of years and in that capacity he had been performing well until 2012.
There’s something just difficult about watching a pitcher lose again and again when they pitch for your team.
Minnesota did a lot to try and change the culture around the Twins—new ballpark, big investment in local hero Joe Mauer, a front office seemingly loaded with guys capable of winning on a budget—but everything has gone wrong for the Twins over the past couple of years.
This, of course, is not to say that Blackburn couldn't get back on track in 2013.
-Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox. Daisuke Matsuzaka isn’t eligible because he did not pitch enough in 2012. Lester deserves mention here for just how long this season has been for him. Not only has he been off his game, but the team has performed well below expectations, making Lester’s starts very hard to watch for the Fenway Faithful.
-Justin Smoak, Seattle Mariners. The special circumstances here are that Smoak was never just a marginal talent. In the Rangers’ organization, Smoak was held in extremely high esteem and was a big enough deal to pull off Texas’ trade for Cliff Lee. Since breaking into the league with Seattle, Smoak has been a liability at the plate.
-Travis Hafner, Cleveland Indians. There’s something especially difficult in watching a big-name player who had some great times in your city get old and struggle. It was just five years ago that Pronk was among the league’s most feared hitters.
-Daniel Bard, Boston Red Sox. A year ago at this time, Bard was Boston’s closer-in-waiting. In part by his own request, the Red Sox made him a starter. This did not go well and Bard was back in the minor leagues before long. He rode out most of the rest of the season pitching alongside Mark Prior in Pawtucket.
NL Least Entertaining Player: Alfonso Soriano
Recent years have been rough on Cubs fans. Twice in the past ten years they had a team that looked good enough to win it all.
Every other season has been some shade of miserable.
Soriano, through no real fault of his own, has ended up the face of a bad Cubs team. By the time the young players in Chicago’s organization get good, Soriano will be long gone.
To think, this was once a player who was good enough to get Texas to trade Alex Rodriguez for.
-Carlos Lee, Florida Marlins (formerly Houston Astros). The big midseason acquisition that performs poorly seems to be a yearly baseball tradition. This year, it was Lee flailing around for a Marlins team best described as a disaster.
-Jeff Francis, Colorado Rockies. Rocktober seems a lot longer away than just five years ago, doesn’t it?
-Chris Young, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks. Not to be confused with the pitcher Chris Young. Young laid an egg this season after a couple of years of solid statistics. Arizona has a major Rookie of the Year candidate, a pitcher they acquired from the American League and Justin Upton. Yet they can’t compete in a somewhat easier NL West.
-Chris Volstad, SP, Chicago Cubs. The Cubs’ no. 3 starter, Volstad has an ERA over 7.00. Life did not need to be that much more difficult for the Cubs.
Most Entertaining Team
The team that captured fans’ attention the most might not be a playoff team. They might not even be a contender. What is most important for the MET is that they wow fans and appear on a lot of highlight reels.
American League: the Texas Rangers
In cartoons, when a character faces a moral dilemma they often hear arguments from an angel and a devil on their shoulders.
In Texas, the devil is Jerry Jones and his unique brand of crazy. The angel, then, is Nolan Ryan.
The Texas Rangers are a treat to watch. The team is well-built in every aspect of the game, they play hard and they have the advantage of being two-time defending AL champions.
-The Baltimore Orioles. Orioles fans have been waiting for this. They even seemed to have a plan. After years of being outnumbered in their home stadium by visiting Red Sox and Yankees fans, Oriole fans made a point of traveling to those cities to extract a little payback.
-The New York Yankees. With the exception of Mariano Rivera’s injury, this season sets up about as well as a Yankee fan could script it. Jeter’s having a resurgent year, the team’s in first place, the Red Sox are in shambles and the Mets are even worse than that.
-The Tampa Bay Rays. David Price is a legitimate ace. James Shields has been superb all year. The Rays picked fights, scored runs, prevented runs from being scored and continued to serve notice that they’re here to stay.
-The Oakland Athletics. Moneyball II. They run the bases, they take risks…they’re the Oakland Athletics once again. At least until the San Francisco Giants determine that Oakland is also their territory.
National League: the Washington Nationals
The presence of Harper and Strasburg helps, obviously, but the Nationals' presence on this list is no coincidence.
Mike Rizzo built the Nationals specifically to be the team that they are now. Too bad most people were busy talking about how awful the Jayson Werth signing was to notice that the hardest working player in his division deserves some credit.
-The Cincinnati Reds. Maybe the Pirates didn’t make it, but the Reds did. The home of the very first professional baseball team is going back to the postseason. Chapman was fun to watch, the hitting was fun to watch and they have a prospect waiting for next year that set a minor league record for steals this year.
-The San Francisco Giants. Lots of people like offense over defense, but anyone who appreciates pitching and weirdness can enjoy the Giants. Tim Lincecum was a roller coaster of a pitcher this year, alternating between above average and terrible. Pablo Sandoval is fun to watch because he has to really try to not swing at a pitch and Buster Posey is the league’s best catcher.
-The Atlanta Braves. Jason Heyward is an interesting case study in the “maybe we shouldn’t compare every good young athlete to a Hall of Famer” argument. If he came into the league as a mega-talented outfielder with a unique skill set, he would already be living up to much of his potential. When viewed through the lens of a comparison to Ken Griffey Junior, his great first few seasons look a lot less so.
-The Pittsburgh Pirates. If there were an award for fans, Pittsburgh would run away with it in 2012. After twenty years of losing, Pirates fans took up hope by the end of April that this season would be different. They came out to PNC Park in force. Pittsburgh deserves a winner and Andrew McCutchen deserves to be on a winner.
Least Entertaining Team
Fans of a baseball team can have a long year if their team does not perform. If it really doesn't perform, baseball itself becomes difficult to keep up with. One tires of hearing people theorize about what has gone wrong with their team.
American League: the Boston Red Sox
It’s bad enough that Red Sox fans had to endure going from “1918” jokes to “you’re just like the Yankees.”
Matters were made worse when the organization tried to call the fanbase a “nation,” forgetting that Oakland Raider fans had already taken that term for their own years prior.
Last September’s collapse was like a shot to the city’s gut. But this 2012 season was brutal for a group of baseball fans who, while certainly self-important, do seem to care about their baseball team far more than most.
-The Minnesota Twins. Just a couple of years ago this was a playoff team that, but for a call here and a break there, might have done something even more memorable. Now the Twins are a wreck with no simple fix in sight.
-The Boston Red Sox. This is probably the first time in history that New Englanders have paid this much attention to the Patriots training camp and preseason.
-The Seattle Mariners. A rough stretch of years was made even more painful to Seattleites when the team traded Ichiro Suzuki over to New York. Ichiro was a longtime mainstay in Seattle and it’s sad to see him leave so close to the end of his career.
-The Boston Red Sox. The 2002 Red Sox were so bad that Dan Duquette couldn’t find another GM job in baseball for ten years. After this season, it might be a good twenty before another team looks at Bobby Valentine as either media-savvy or a disciplinarian.
National League: the Chicago Cubs
A few years ago, the well-heeled Ricketts Family purchased the Cubs. Fans became excited, glad to be out from under the businesslike thumb of the Tribune Company and even happier to be in the hands of a very rich person.
That fan interest must have gone up after 2011, when the Cubs brought in Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. But no major move was made last offseason, and the Cubs had a miserable season.
Sooner or later, the other shoe will drop and the big names will begin to trickle in. Until then, even happy-go-lucky Cub fans will struggle.
-The Pittsburgh Pirates. Pittsburgh deserves a winner. The Pirates’ owner prefers turning a profit with other teams’ luxury tax money and calling it a day. The city, and the players on this iteration of the team, deserve better.
-The Philadelphia Phillies. Remember when people used to be so certain that money was the only advantage a baseball team needed? The Phillies spent money wisely over the years, but they definitely spent it. How much of an advantage has that been?
-The Colorado Rockies. Still a young franchise, Colorado needs to build a lasting fanbase. While Denver’s civic pride will always help, finishing in last will always hurt. This is the worst season the Rockies have ever had.
-The Houston Astros. Already the odds-on favorite for American League LET in 2013.